Chapter XX: Mr. Hector O’Flaherty finds something in the Paper

Perhaps the said old gentleman might have slumbered a little less profoundly could he have seen the sight which met his son’s eyes on the following morning. Ezra had passed the night at Dutoitspan, in the hut of a hospitable miner. Having risen in the morning, he was dressing himself in a leisurely, methodical fashion, when his host, who had been inhaling the morning breeze, thrust his head through the window.

“Come out here, Mr. Girdlestone,” he cried. “There’s some fun on.
One of the boys is dead drunk, and they are carrying him in.”

Ezra pulled on his coat and ran out. A little group of miners were walking slowly up the main street. He and his host were waiting for the procession to pass them with several jocose remarks appropriate to the occasion ready upon their lips, when their eyes fell upon a horrible splotchy red track which marked the road the party had taken. They both ran forward with exclamations and inquiries.

“It’s Jim Stewart,” said one of the bearers. “Him that they used to call Unlucky Jim.”

“What’s up with him?”

“He has shot himself through the head. Where d’ye think we found him? Slap in the middle o’ his own claim, with his fingers dug into the gravel, as dead as a herring.”

“He’s a bad plucked ‘un to knock under like that,” Ezra’s companion remarked.

“Yes,” said the croupier of the saloon gambling table. “If he’d waited for another deal he might have held every trump. He was always a soft chap, was Jim, and he was saying last night as how this spoiled the last chance he was ever like to have of seeing his wife and childer in England. He’s blowed a fine clean hole in himself. Would you like to see it, Mr. Girdlestone?” The fellow was about to remove the blood-stained handkerchief which covered the dead man’s face, but Ezra recoiled in horror.

“Mr. Girdlestone looks faint like,” some one observed.

“Yes,” said Ezra, who was white to his very lips. “This has upset me rather. I’ll have a drop of brandy.” As he walked back to the hut, he wondered inwardly whether the incident would have discomposed his father.

“I suppose he would call it part of our commercial finesse,” he said bitterly to himself. “However, we have put our hands to the plough, and we must not let homicide stop us.” So saying, he steadied his nerves with a draught of brandy, and prepared for the labours of the day.

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