Mr Villiers was a frequent customer at the Wattle Tree, and was in the back parlour drinking brandy and water and talking to old Twexby on the day that Pierre arrived. The dumb man came into the bar out of the dusty road, and, leaning over the counter, pushed a letter under Miss Twexby’s nose.
‘Bills?’ queried that damsel, sharply.
Pierre, of course, did not answer, but touched his lips with his hand to indicate he was dumb. Miss Twexby, however, read the action another way.
‘You want a drink,’ she said, with a scornful toss of her head. ‘Where’s your money?’
Pierre pointed out the letter, and although it was directed to her father, Miss Twexby, who managed everything, opened it and found it was from McIntosh, saying that the bearer, Pierre Lemaire, was to have a bed for the night, meals, drinks, and whatever else he required, and that he—McIntosh—would be responsible for the money. He furthermore added that the bearer was dumb.
‘Oh, so you’re dumb, are you,’ said Miss Twexby, folding up the letter and looking complacently at Pierre. ’I wish there were a few more men the same way; then, perhaps, we’d have less chat.’
This being undeniable, the fair Martha—for that was the name of the Twexby heiress—without waiting for any assent, walking into the back parlour, read the letter to her father, and waited instructions, for she always referred to Simon as the head of the house, though as a matter of fact she never did what she was told save when it tallied with her own wishes.
‘It will be all right, Martha, I suppose,’ said Simon sleepily.
Martha asserted with decision that it would be all right, or she would know the reason why; then marching out again to the bar, she drew a pot of beer for Pierre—without asking him what he would have—and ordered him to sit down and be quiet, which last remark was rather unnecessary, considering that the man was dumb. Then she sat down behind her bar and resumed her perusal of a novel called The Duke’s Duchesses, or The Milliner’s Mystery,’ which contained a ducal hero with bigamistic proclivities, and a virtuous milliner whom the aforesaid duke persecuted. All of which was very entertaining and improbable, and gave Miss Twexby much pleasure, judging from the sympathetic sighs she was heaving.
Meanwhile, Villiers having heard the name of Pierre Lemaire, and knowing he was engaged in the Pactolus claim, came round to see him and try to find out all about the nugget. Pierre was sulky at first, and sat drinking his beer sullenly, with his old black hat drawn down so far over his eyes that only his bushy black beard was visible, but Mr Villiers’ suavity, together with the present of half-a-crown, had a marked effect on him. As he was dumb, Mr Villiers was somewhat perplexed how to carry on a conversation with him, but he ultimately drew forth a piece of paper, and sketched a rough presentation of a nugget