He pushed open the door, and was about to step into the room, when catching sight of something on the floor, he recoiled with a cry, and caught Vandeloup by the arm.
‘What’s the matter?’ asked the Frenchman, hastily.
‘He’s dead,’ returned Barty, with a sort of gasp; ’see, he’s lying on the floor dead!’
And so he was! The oldest inhabitant of Ballarat had joined the great majority, and, as it was afterwards discovered, his death was caused by the breaking of a blood-vessel. The cause of it was not clear, but the fact was, that hearing of the discovery of the Devil’s Lead, and knowing that it was lost to him for ever, Slivers had fallen into such a fit of rage, that he burst a blood-vessel and died in his office with no one by him.
The light of the street lamp shone through the dusty windows into the dark room, and in the centre of the yellow splash lay the dead man, with his one eye wide open, staring at the ceiling, while perched on his wooden leg, which was sticking straight out, sat the parrot, swearing. It was a most repulsive sight, and Barty, with a shudder of disgust, tried to drag his companion away, but M. Vandeloup refused to go, and searched his pockets for a match to see more clearly what the body was like.
‘Pickles,’ cried Billy, from his perch on the dead man’s wooden leg; ‘oh, my precious mother,—devil take him.’
‘My faith,’ said M. Vandeloup, striking a match, ’the devil has taken him,’ and leaving Barty shivering and trembling at the door, he advanced into the room and stood looking at the body. Billy at his approach hopped off the leg and waddled up to the dead man’s shoulder, where he sat cursing volubly, and every now and then going into shrieks of demoniacal laughter. Barty closed his ears to the devilish mirth, and saw M. Vandeloup standing over the corpse, with the faint light of the match flickering in his hand.
‘Do you know what this is?’ he asked, turning to Barty.
The other looked at him inquiringly.
‘It is the comedy of death,’ said the Frenchman, throwing down the match and going to the door.
They both went out to seek assistance, and left the dark room with the dead man lying in the pool of yellow light, and the parrot perched on the body, muttering to itself. It was a strange mingling of the horrible and grotesque, and the whole scene was hit off in the phrase applied to it by Vandeloup. It was, indeed, ’The Comedy of Death’!
A whole year had elapsed since the arrival of Vandeloup in Melbourne, and during that time many things had happened. Unfortunately, in spite of his knowledge of human nature, and the fact that he started with a good sum of money, Gaston had not made his fortune. This was due to the fact that he was indisposed to work when his banking account was at all decent; so he had lived like a prince on his capital, and trusted to his luck furnishing him with more when it was done.