“Isn’t it nearly bed-time?” she murmured to Adela as she passed.
Adela looked at her with frank curiosity. There were no fine shades of feeling about Adela. She always went straight to the point—unless restrained by Jack.
“Oh, it’s quite early yet,” she said, wholly missing the appeal in the girl’s low-spoken words. “What have you two been doing? Moonshining?”
Fletcher looked as contemptuous as his immobile countenance would allow, and sat down by his untouched drink without a word.
But it took more than a look to repress Adela. She laughed aloud. “Does that mean I am to draw my own conclusions, Mr. Hill? Would you like me to tell you what they are?”
“Not for my amusement,” said Hill, dryly. “Where did you get this whisky from, Jack? I hope it’s a legal brand.”
“I hope it is,” agreed Jack. “I don’t know its origin. I got it through Harley. You know him? The manager of the Fortescue Gold Mine.”
“Yes, I know him,” said Hill. “He is retiring, and another fellow is taking his place.”
“Retiring, is he? I thought he was the only person who could manage that crowd.” Jack spoke with surprise.
Hill took out his pipe and began to fill it. “He’s got beyond it. Too much running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. They need a younger man with more decision and resource—someone who can handle them without being afraid.”
“Have they got such a man?” questioned Jack.
“They believe they have.” Hill spoke thoughtfully. “He’s a man from the West, who has done some tough work in the desert, but brought back more in the way of experience than gold. He’s been working in the Fortescue Mine now for six months, a foreman for the past three. Harley tells me the men will follow him like sheep. But for myself, I’m not so sure of him.”
“Not sure of him? What are you afraid of? Whisky-running?” asked Jack, with a twinkle.
There was no answering gleam of humour on Hill’s face. “I never trust any man until I know him,” he said. “He may be sound, or he may be a scoundrel. He’s got to prove himself.”
“You take a fatherly interest in that mine,” observed Jack.
“I have a reason,” said Fletcher Hill, briefly.
“Ah! Ever met Fortescue himself?”
“Once or twice,” said Hill.
“Pretty badly hated, isn’t he?” said Jack.
“By the blackguards, yes.” Hill spoke with characteristic grimness. “He’s none the worse for that.”
“All the better, I should say,” remarked Adela. “But what is he like? Is he an old man?”
“About my age,” said Hill.
“I wish you’d give us an introduction to him,” she said, with animation. “I’ve always wanted to see that mine. You’d like to, too, wouldn’t you, Dot?”
Dot started a little. She had been sitting quite silent in the background.
“I expect it would be quite interesting,” she said, as Hill looked towards her. “But perhaps it wouldn’t be very easy to manage it.”