It Is Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade
Black Will no sooner found himself inside the tent than he took out a dark lantern and opened the slide cautiously. There lay in one corner the two men fast asleep side by side. Casting the glare around he saw at his feet a dog with a chain round him. It startled him for a moment--but only for a moment. He knew that dog was dead. mephistopheles had told him within an hour after the feat was performed. Close to his very hand was a pair of miner's boots. He detached them from the canvas and passed them out of the tent; and now looking closely at the ground he observed a place where the soil seemed loose. His eye flashed with triumph at this. He turned up the openings of the tent behind him to make his retreat clear if necessary. He made at once for the loose soil, and the moment he moved forward Robinson's gut-lines twisted his feet from under him. He fell headlong in the middle, and half a dozen little bells rang furiously at the sleepers' heads.
Up jumped Tom and George, weapons in hand, but not before Black Will had wrenched himself clear and bounded back to the door. At the door, in his rage at being balked, he turned like lightning and leveled his pistol at Robinson, who was coming at him cutlass in hand. The ex-thief dropped on his knees and made a furious upward cut at his arm. At one and the same moment the pistol exploded and the cutlass struck it and knocked it against the other side of the tent. The bullet passed over Robinson's head. Black Will gave a yell so frightful that for a moment it paralyzed the men, and even with this yell he burst backward through the opening, and with a violent wrench of his left hand brought the whole tent down and fled, leaving George and Robinson struggling in the canvas like cats in an empty flour-sack.
The baffled burglar had fled but a few yards, when, casting his eye back, he saw their helplessness. Losing danger in hatred he came back, not now to rob, but murder, his left hand lifted high and gleaming like his cruel eye. As he prepared to plunge his knife through the canvas, flash bang! flash bang! bang! came three pistol-shots in his face from the patrol, who were running right slap at him not thirty yards off, and now it was life or death. He turned and ran for his life, the patrol blazing and banging at him. Eighteen shots they fired at him, one after another; more than one cut his clothes, and one went clean through his hat, but he was too fleet, he distanced them; but at the reports diggers peeped out of distant tents, and at sight of him running, flash bang went a pistol at him from every tent he passed, and George and Robinson, who had struggled out into the night, saw the red flashes issue, and then heard the loud reports bellow and re-echo as he dodged about down the line, and then all was still and calm as death under the cold, pure stars.
They put up their tent again. The patrol came panting back. "He has got off--but he carried some of our lead in him. Go to bed, captain, we won't leave your tent all night."
Robinson and George lay down again thus guarded. The patrol sat by the tent. Two slept, one loaded the arms again and watched. In a few minutes the friends were actually fast asleep again, lying silent as the vast camp lay beneath the silver stars.
And now it was cold, much colder than before, darker, too, no moon now, only the silver stars; it makes one shiver. Nature seemed to lie stark and stiff and dead, and that accursed craake her dirge. All tended to shivering and gloom. Yet a great event approached.
A single event, a thousand times weightier to the world, each time it comes, than if with one fell stroke all the kingdoms of the globe became republics and all the republics empires, so to remain a thousand years. An event a hundred times more beautiful than any other thing the eye can hope to see while in the flesh, yet it regaled the other senses, too, and blessed the universal heart.
Before this prodigious event came its little heralds sweeping across the face of night. First came a little motion of cold air--it was dead-still before; then an undefinable freshness; then a very slight but rather grateful smell from the soil of the conscious earth. Next twittered from the bush one little hesitating chirp.
Craake! went the lugubrious quail, pooh-poohing the suggestion. Then somehow rocks and forest and tents seemed less indistinct in shape; outlines peeped where masses had been.
Jug! jug! went a bird with a sweet jurgle in his deep throat. Craake! went the ill-omened one directly, disputing the last inch of nature. But a gray thrush took up the brighter view; otock otock tock! o tuee o o! o tuee oo! o chio chee! o chio chee! sang the thrush, with a decision as well as a melody that seemed to say: "Ah! but I am sure of it; I am sure, I am sure, wake up, joy! joy!"
From that moment there was no more craake. The lugubrious quail shut up in despair, perhaps in disdain,* and out gurgled another jug! jug! jug! as sweet a chuckle as Nature's sweet voice ever uttered in any land; and with that a mist like a white sheet came to light, but only for a moment, for it dared not stay to be inspected, "I know who is coming, I'm off," and away it crept off close to the ground--and little drops of dew peeped sparkling in the frost-powdered grass.
* Like anonymous detraction before vox populi.
Yock! yock! O chio faliera po! Otock otock tock! o chio chee! o chio chee!
Jug! jug! jug! jug!
Off we go! off we go!
And now a thin red streak came into the sky, and perfume burst from the bushes, and the woods rang, not only with songs some shrill, some as sweet as honey, but with a grotesque yet beautiful electric merriment of birds that can only be heard in this land of wonders. The pen can give but a shadow of the drollery and devilry of the sweet, merry rogues that hailed the smiling morn. Ten thousand of them, each with half a dozen songs, besides chattering and talking and imitating the fiddle, the fife and the trombone. Niel gow! niel gow! niel gow! whined a leather-head. Take care o' my hat! cries a thrush, in a soft, melancholy voice; then with frightful harshness and severity, where is your bacca-box! your box! your box! then before any one could answer, in a tone that said devil may care where the box is or anything else, gyroc de doc! gyroc de doc! roc de doc! cheboc cheboc! Then came a tremendous cackle ending with an obstreperous hoo! hoo! ha! from the laughing jackass, who had caught sight of the red streak in the sky--harbinger, like himself, of morn; and the piping crows or whistling magpies modulating and humming and chanting, not like birds, but like practiced musicians with rich baritone voices, and the next moment creaking just for all the world like Punch, or barking like a pug dog. And the delicious thrush with its sweet and mellow tune. Nothing in an English wood so honey-sweet as his otock otock tock! o tuee o o! o tuee o o! o chio chee! o chio chee!
But the leather-heads beat all. Niel gow! niel gow! niel gow! off we go! off we go! off we go! followed by rapid conversations, the words unintelligible but perfectly articulate, and interspersed with the oddest chuckles, plans of pleasure for the day, no doubt. Then ri tiddle tiddle tiddle tiddle tiddle tiddle! playing a thing like a fiddle with wires; then "off we go" again, and bow! wow! wow! jug! jug! jug! jug! jug! and the whole lot in exuberant spirits, such extravagance of drollery, such rollicking jollity, evidently splitting their sides with fun, and not able to contain themselves for it.
Oh! it was twelve thousand miles above the monotonous and scanty strains of a European wood; and when the roving and laughing, and harshly demanding bacca-boxes and then as good as telling you they didn't care a feather for bacca-boxes or anything else, gyroc de doc! cheboc cheboc cheboc! and loudly announcing their immediate departure, and perching in the same place all the more and sweet, low modulations ending in putting on the steam and creaking like Punch, and then almost tumbling off the branches with laughing at the general accumulation of nonsense--when all this drollery and devilry and joy and absurdity were at their maddest, and a thousand feathered fountains bubbling song were at their highest, then came the cause of all the merry hubbub--the pinnacles of rock glowed burnished gold, Nature, that had crept from gloom to pallor, burst from pallor to light and life and burning color--the great sun's forehead came with one gallant stride into the sky--and it was day!
Out shone ten thousand tents of every size and hue and shape, from Isaac Levi's rood of white canvas down to sugar-loaves, and even to miserable roofs built on the bare ground with slips of bark, under which unlucky diggers crept at night like badgers--roofed beds--no more--the stars twinkling through chinks in the tester. The myriad tents were clustered for full five miles on each side of the river, and it wound and sparkled in and out at various distances, and shone like a mirror in the distant background.
At the first ray the tents disgorged their inmates, and the human hive began to hum; then came the fight, the maneuvering, the desperate wrestle with Nature, and the keen fencing with their fellows--in short, the battle--to which, that nothing might be wanting, out burst the tremendous artillery of ten thousand cradles louder than thunder, and roaring and crashing without a pause.
The base of the two-peaked rock that looked so silvery in the moon is now seen to be covered with manuscript advertisements posted on it; we can only read two or three as we run to our work:
"Immense reduction in eggs only one shilling each!!! Bevan's store."
"Go-ahead library and registration office for new chums. Tom Long in the dead-horse gully."
"If this meets the i of Tom Bowles he will ear of is pal in the iron-bark gully."
"This is to give notice that whereas my wife Elizabeth Sutton has taken to drink and gone off with my mate Bob, I will not be answerable for your debts nor hold any communication with you in future.
A young Jew, Nathan, issued from Levi's tent with a rough table and two or three pair of scales and other paraphernalia of a gold assayer and merchant. This was not the first mine by many the old Jew had traded in.
His first customers this morning were George and Robinson.
"Our tent was attacked last night, Mr. Levi."
"Tom thinks he has got enemies in the camp."
"Humph! the young man puts himself too forward not to have enemies."
"Well," said George, quickly, "if he makes bitter enemies he makes warm friends."
George then explained that his nerve and Robinson's were giving way under the repeated attacks.
"We have had a talk and we will sell the best part of our dust to you, sir. Give him the best price you can afford for Susan's sake."
And away went George to look for his quartz river, leaving the ex-thief to make the bargain and receive the money.
In the transaction that followed Mr. Levi did not appear to great advantage. He made a little advance on the three pounds per ounce on account of the quantity, but he would not give a penny above three guineas. No! business was business; he could and would have given George a couple of hundred pounds in day of need, but in buying and selling the habits of a life could not be shaken off. Wherefore Robinson kept back eight pounds of gold-dust and sold him the rest for notes of the Sydney Bank.
"Well, sir," said Tom, cheerfully, "now my heart is light; what we have got we can carry round our waists now by night or day. Well, friend, what do you want, poking your nose into the tent?"
Coming out suddenly he had run against a man who was in a suspicious attitude at the entrance.
"No offense," muttered the man, "I wanted to sell a little gold-dust."
Levi heard what Robinson said, and came quickly out.
He seated himself behind the scales.
"Where is your gold?"
The man fumbled and brought out about an ounce. All the time he weighed it, the Jew's keen eye kept glancing into his face he lowered his eyes and could not conceal a certain uneasiness. When he was gone, Levi asked Robinson whether he knew that face.
"No," said Robinson, "I don't."
Levi called Nathan out.
"Nathan, look at that man, follow him cautiously, and tell me where we have seen him; above all, know him again. Surely that is the face of an enemy."
Then the old man asked himself where he had seen such an eye and brow and shambling walk as that; and he fell into a brown study and groped among many years for the clew.
"What! is Erin-go-bragh up with the sun for once?" cried Robinson to Mary McDogherty, who passed him spade on shoulder.
"Sure if she warn't she'd never keep up with Newgut," was the instant rejoinder.
"Hem! how is your husband, Mary?"
"Och, captain, it is a true friend ye are for inquiring. Then it's tied in a knot he is.
"Mercy on us, tied in a knot?"
"Tied in a knot intirely--wid the rheumatism--and it's tin days I'm working for him and the childhre, and my heart's broke against gravel and stone intirely. I wish it was pratees we are digging, I'd maybe dig up a dinner any way."
"There is no difficulty, the secret is to look in the right place."
"Ay! ay! take your divairsion, ye sly rogue!--I wish ye had my five childhre."
"Oh! you spiteful cat!"
"Well, Ede, come to sell?"
"What is to do out there? seems a bit of a crowd."
"What, haven't you heard? it is your friend Jem! he has got a slice of luck, bought a hole of a stranger, saw the stuff glitter, so offered him thirty pounds; he was green and snapped at it; and if Jem didn't wash four ounces out the first cradleful I'm a Dutchman."
"Well, I am right glad of that."
A young digger now approached respectfully. "Police report, captain."
"Hand it here. May I sit at your table a minute, Mr. Levi?" Mr. Levi bowed assent.
"No clew to the parties that attacked our tent last night?"
"None at present, captain, but we are all on the lookout. Some of us will be sure to hear of something, course of the day, and then I'll come and tell you. Will you read the report? There is the week's summary as well."
"Of course I will. Mum! mum! 'Less violence on the whole this week; more petty larceny.' That is bad. I'll put it down, Mr. Levi. I am determined to put it down. What an infernal row the cradles make. What is this? 'A great flow of strangers into the camp, most thought to be honest, but some great roughs; also a good many Yankees and Germans come in at the south side.' What is this? 'A thief lynched yesterday. Flung headforemost into a hole and stuck in the clay. Not expected to live after it.' Go it, my boys! Didn't I say law is the best for all parties, thieves included? Leave it, Andrew, I will examine it with the utmost minuteness."
The dog used fine words on these occasions, that he might pass for a pundit with his clique, and being now alone he pored over his police-sheet as solemn and stern as if the nation depended on his investigations.
A short explosion of laughter from Andrew interrupted this grave occupation. The beak looked up with offended dignity, and, in spite of a mighty effort, fell a sniggering. For following Andrew's eyes he saw two gig umbrellas gliding erect and peaceful side by side among the pits.
"What on earth are they?"
"Chinamen, captain. They are too lazy to dig. They go about all day looking at the heaps and poking all over the camp. They have got eyes like hawks. It is wonderful, I am told, what they contrive to pick up first and last. What hats! Why, one of 'm would roof a tent."
"What is up now?"
"Hurroo!" And up came Mary McDogherty dancing and jumping as only Irish ever jumped. She had a lump of dim metal in one hand and a glittering mass in the other. She came up to the table with a fantastic spring and spanked down the sparkling mass on it, bounding back one step like india-rubber even as she struck the table.
"There, ould gintleman, what will ye be after giving me for that? Sure the luck is come to the right colleen at last."
"I deal but in the precious metals and stones," replied Isaac, quietly.
"Sure, and isn't gould a precious metal?"
"Do you offer me this for gold? This is not even a metal. It is mica--yellow mica.
"Mikee?" cried Mary, ruefully, with an inquiring look.
At this juncture in ran George, hot as fire. "There!" cried he, triumphantly to Robinson, "was I right or wrong? What becomes of your gold-dust?" And he laid a nugget as big as his fist on the table.
"Ochone!" cried the Irishwoman, "they all have the luck barrin' poor Molly McDogherty."
The mica was handled, and George said to her compassionately, "You see, my poor girl, the first thing you should do is to heft it in your hand. Now see, your lump is not heavy like--"
"Pyrites!" said Isaac, dryly, handing George back his lump. "No! pyrites is heavier than mica--and gold than pyrites."
"Mr. Levi, don't go to tell me this is not a metal," remonstrated George, rather sulkily, "for I won't have it."
"Nay, it is a metal," replied Levi, calmly, "and a very useful metal, but not of the precious metals. It is iron."
"How can it be iron when it is yellow? And how is one to know iron from gold, at any rate?"
"Be patient, my son." said the old Jew calmly, "and learn. Take this needle. Here is a scale of gold; take it up on the needle-point. You have done it. Why? Because gold is a soft metal. Now take up this scale from your pyrites?"
"No, because iron is a hard metal. Here is another childish test--a bloodstone, called by some the touchstone. Rub the pyrites on it. It colors it not--a hard metal. Now rub this little nugget of pure gold I have just bought."
"Ay! this stains the stone yellow."
"A soft metal. Here in this little phial is muriatic acid. Pour a drop on my nugget. The metal defies it. Now pour on your pyrites. See how it smokes and perishes. It cannot resist the acid. There are many other tests, but little needed. No metal, no earthly substance, resembles gold in the least."
"Not to a Jew's eye," whispered Robinson.
"And much I marvel that any man or even any woman who has been in a gold mine and seen and handled virgin gold should take mica" (here he knocked the mica clean off the table) "or pyrites" (here he spanged that in another direction) "for the royal metal."
"I'll tell you what to do, Mary," began Robinson, cheerfully. "Hallo! she is crying. Here is a faint heart."
"Och! captain dear, Pat an' me we are kilt right out for want of luck. Oh! oh! We niver found but one gould--and that was mikee. We can't fall upon luck of any sort--good, bad or indifferent--that is where I'm broke and spiled and kilt hintirely. Oh! oh! oh!"
"Don't cry. You have chosen a bad spot."
"Captain, avick, they do be turning it up like carrots on both sides of huz. And I dig right down as if I'd go through the 'orld back to dear old Ireland again. He! he! he! oh! oh! An' I do be praying to the Virgin at every stroke of the spade, I do, and she sends us no gould at all at all, barrin' mikee, bad cess to 't. Oh!"
"That is it. You are on two wrong tacks. You dig perpendicular and pray horizontal. Now you should dig horizontal and pray perpendicular."
"Och! captain, thim's hard words for poor Molly McDogherty to quarry through."
"What is that in your hand?"
"Sure it is an illigant lump of lead I found," replied poor Mary; the base metal rising in estimation since her gold turned out dross. "Ye are great with the revolver, captain," said she, coaxingly, "ye'll be afther giving me the laste pinch of the rale stuff for it?"
Robinson took the lump. "Good heavens! what a weight!" cried he. He eyed it keenly. "Come, Mr. Levi," cried he, "here is a find; be generous. She is unlucky."
"I shall be just," said the old man gravely. He weighed the lump and made a calculation on paper, then handed her forty sovereigns.
She looked at them. "Oh, now, it is mocking me ye are, old man;" and she would not take the money. On this he put it coolly down on the table.
"What is it at all?" asked she, faintly.
"Platinum," replied Isaac, coldly.
"And a magnificent lump of it!" cried Robinson, warmly.
"Och, captain! och, captain, dear! and what is plateenum at all--if ye plaze?"
"It is not like your mica," said Isaac. "See, it is heavier than gold, and far more precious than silver. It has noble qualities. It resists even the simple acid that dissolves gold. Fear not to take the money. I give you but your metal's value, minus the merchant's just profit. Platinum is the queen of the metals."
"Och, captain, avick! och! och! come here till I eat you!" And she flung her arm round Robinson's neck, and bestowed a little furious kiss on him. Then she pranced away; then she pranced back. "Platinum, you are the boy; y'are the queen of the mitals. May the Lord bless you, ould gentleman, and the SAINTS BLESS YOU! and the VIRGIN MARY BLESS YOU!"* And she made at Isaac with the tears in her eyes, to kiss him; but he waved her off with calm, repulsive dignity. "Hurroo!" And the child of Nature bounded into the air like an antelope, and frisked three times; then she made another set at them. "May you live till the skirts of your coat knock your brains out, the pair of ye! hurroo!" Then with sudden demureness, "An' here's wishing you all sorts of luck, good, bad an' indifferent, my darlin's. Plateenum foriver, and gould to the Divil," cried she, suddenly, with a sort of musical war-shout, the last words being uttered three feet high in air, and accompanied with a vague kick, utterly impossible in that position except to Irish, and intended, it is supposed, to send the obnoxious metal off the surface of the globe forever. And away she danced.
* These imprecations are printed on the ascending scale by way of endeavor to show how the speaker delivered them.
Breakfast now! and all the cradles stopped at once.
"What a delightful calm," said Robinson, "now I can study my police-sheet at my ease."
This morning, as he happened to be making no noise, the noise of others worried him.
"Mr. Levi, how still and peaceful they are when their time comes to grub. 'The still sow sups the kail,' as we used to say in the north; the English turn the proverb differently, they say 'The silent hog--'"
"Jabber! jabber! jabber!--aie! aie!"
"Hallo! there's a scrimmage! and there go all the fools rushing to see it. I'll go, too!"
Alas! poor human nature; the row was this. The peaceful children of the moon, whom last we saw gliding side by side, vertical and seemingly imperturbable, had yielded to the genius loci, and were engaged in bitter combat, after the manner of their nation. The gig umbrellas were resolved into their constituent parts; the umbrellas proper, or hats, lay on the ground--the sticks or men rolled over one another scratching and biting. Europe wrenched them asunder with much pain, and held them back by their tails, grinning horribly at each other, and their long claws working unamiably.
The diggers were remonstrating; their morality was shocked.
"Is that the way to fight? What are fists given us for, ye varmint?"
Robinson put himself at the head of the general sentiment. "I must do a bit of beak here!!!" cried he; "bring those two tom-cats up before me!!"
The proposal was received with acclamation. A high seat was made for the self-constituted beak, and Mr. Stevens was directed to make the Orientals think that he was the lawful magistrate of the mine. Mr. Stevens, entering into the fun, persuaded the Orientals, who were now gig umbrellas again, that Robinson was the mandarin who settled property, and possessed, among other trifles, the power of life and death. On this they took off their slippers before him, and were awestruck, and secretly wished they had not kicked up a row, still more that they had stayed quiet by the banks of the Hoang-ho.
Robinson settled himself, demanded a pipe, and smoked calm and terrible, while his myrmidons kept their countenances as well as they could. After smoking in silence a while, he demanded of the Chinese, "What was the row?"
1st Chinaman. "Jabber! jabber! jabber!"
2d Chinaman. "Jabber! jabber! jabber!"
Both. "Jabber! jabber! jabber!"
"What is that? Can't they speak any English at all?"
"No wonder they can't conduct themselves, then," remarked a digger.
The judge looked him into the earth for the interruption.
"You get the story from them, and tell it."
After a conference, Mr. Stevens came forward.
"It is about a nugget of gold, which is claimed by both parties."
Robinson. "Stop! bring that nugget into court; that is the regular course."
Great interest began to be excited, and all their necks craned forward--when Mr. Stevens took from one of the Chinese the cause of so sanguinary a disturbance, and placed it on the judge's table. A roar of laughter followed--it was between a pea and a pin's head in magnitude.
Robinson. "You know this is shocking. Asia, I am ashamed of you. Silence in the court! Proceed with the evidence."
Mr. Stevens. "This one saw the gold shining, and he said to the other, 'Ah!'"
Robinson (writing his notes). "Said--to--the-other--'Ah!'--Stop! what was the Chinese for 'ah'?"
Andrew. "Come! the beggars have got hold of some of our words!"
Robinson. "Silence in the court!"
Andrew. "I ask pardon, captain."
Stevens. "But the other pounced on it first, so they both claim it."
Robinson. "Well! I call it a plain case."
Stevens. "So I told them."
Robinson. "Exactly! Which do you think ought to have it?"
Stevens. "Why, I told them we have a proverb--'Losers, seekers--finders, keepers.'"
Robinson. "Of course; and which was the finder?"
Stevens. "Oh! of course this one that--hum! Well, to be sure he only said 'ah!' he did not point. Then perhaps--but on the other hand--hum!"
Robinson. "Why, don't you see? but no!--yes! why it must be the one that--ugh! Drat you both! why couldn't one of you find it, and the other another?"
Robinson was puzzled. At last he determined that this his first judgment should satisfy both parties.
"Remove the prisoners," said he; "are they the prisoners or the witnesses? remove them anyway, and keep them apart."
Robinson then searched his pockets, and produced a little gold swan-shot scarce distinguishable from the Chinese. He put this on the table, and took up the other.
"Fetch in number one!"
The Chinaman came in with obeisances and misgivings; but when the judge signed to him to take up the gold, which he mistook for the cause of quarrel, his face lightened with a sacred joy--he receded, and with a polite gesture cleared a space; then, advancing one foot with large and lofty grace, he addressed the judge, whose mouth began to open with astonishment, in slow, balanced and musical sentences. This done, he retired with three flowing salaams, to which the judge replied with three little nods.
"What on earth did the beggar say? What makes you grin, Mr. Stevens?"
Stevens. "He said--click!"
Robinson. "Come! tell me first, laugh after."
Stevens. "He said, 'May your highness flourish like a tree by the side of a stream that never overflows, yet is never dry, but glides--(click!)--even and tranquil as the tide of your prosperity--'"
Robinson. "Well, I consent!"
Stevens. "'May dogs defile the graves of your enemies! '"
Robinson. "With all my heart! provided I am not dancing over them at the time."
Stevens. "When satiated with earthly felicity, may you be received in paradise by seventy dark-eyed houris--'"
Robinson. "Oh! my eye!"
Stevens. "Click! 'Each bearing in her hand the wine of the faithful; and may the applause of the good at your departure resemble the waves of the ocean beating musically upon rocky caverns. Thy servant, inexperienced in oratory, retires abashed at the greatness of his subject, and the insignificance of his expressions.' So then he cut his stick!"
Robinson. "A very sensible speech! Well, boys, I'm not greedy; I take the half of that offer, and give you the rest--bring in the other gentleman!"
No. 2 advanced with reverences and misgivings. Robinson placed the gold on the table and assigned it to him. A sacred joy illumined him, and he was about to retire with deep obeisances.
"Where is his speech?" cried the judge ruefuly.
Stevens explained to him that the other had returned thanks. On this No. 2 smiled assentingly, and advancing delivered the following sentences:
"Your slave lay writhing in adversity, despoiled by the unprincipled. He was a gourd withered by the noonday sun, until your virtues descended like the dew, and refreshed him with your justice and benignity.
"Wherefore hear now the benediction of him whom your clemency has raised from despair.
"May your shadow increase and cover many lands. May your offspring be a nation dwelling in palaces with golden roofs and walls of ivory, and on the terraces may peacocks be as plentiful as sparrows are to the undeserving. May you live many centuries shining as you now shine; and at your setting may rivulets of ink dug by the pens of poets flow through meadows of paper in praise of the virtues that embellish you here on earth. Sing-tu-Che, a person of small note but devoted to your service, wishes these frivolous advantages to the Pearl of the West, on whom be honor."
Chorus of diggers. "My eye!"
Robinson rose with much gravity and delivered himself thus:
"Sing-tu-Che, you are a trump, an orator, and a humbug. All the better for you. May felicity attend you. Heichster guchster--honi soit qui mal y pense--donner und blitzen--tempora mutantur--O mia cara and pax vobiscum. The court is dissolved."
It was, and I regret to add that Judge Robinson's concluding sentences raised him greatly in the opinion of the miners.
"Captain knows a thing or two."
"If ever we send one to parliament that is the man."
"Halo! you fellows, come here! come here!"
A rush was made toward Jem, who was roaring and gesticulating at Mr. Levi's table. When they came up they found Jem black and white with rage, and Mr. Levi seated in calm indifference.
"What is it?" asked Robinson.
"The merchant refuses my gold."
"I refuse no man's gold," objected Levi coolly, "but this stuff is not gold."
"Not gold-dust," cried a miner; and they all looked with wonder at the rejected merchandise.
Mr. Levi took the dust and poured it out from one hand to the other; he separated the particles and named them by some mighty instinct.
"Brass--or-molu--gilt platinum to give it weight; this is from Birmingham, not from Australia, nor nature."
"Such as it is it cost me thirty pounds," cried Jem. "Keep it. I shall find him. My spade shall never go into the earth again till I'm quits with this one."
"That is right," roared the men, "bring him to us, and the captain shall sit in judgment again;" and the men's countenances were gloomy, for this was a new roguery and struck at the very root of gold digging.
"I'll put it down, Mr. Levi," said Robinson, after the others had gone to their work; "here is a new dodge, Brummagem planted on us so far from home. I will pull it down with a tenpenny cord but I'll end it."
Crash! went ten thousand cradles; the mine had breakfasted. I wish I could give the European reader an idea of the magnitude of this sound whose cause was so humble. I must draw on nature for a comparison.
Did you ever stand upon a rocky shore at evening when a great storm has suddenly gone down, leaving the waves about as high as they were while it raged? Then there is no roaring wind to dull the clamor of the tremendous sea as it lashes the long re-bellowing shore. Such was the sound of ten thousand cradles; yet the sound of each one was insignificant. Hence an observation and a reflection--the latter I dedicate to the lovers of antiquity--that multiplying sound, magnifies it in a way science has not yet accounted for; and that, though men are all dwarfs, Napoleon included, man is a giant.
The works of man are so prodigious they contradict all we see of any individual's powers; and even so when you had seen and heard one man rock one cradle, it was all the harder to believe that a few thousand of them could rival thunder, avalanches, and the angry sea lashing the long reechoing shore at night. These miserable wooden cradles lost their real character when combined in one mighty human effort; it seemed as if giant labor had stretched forth an arm huge as an arm of the sea and rocked one enormous engine, whose sides where these great primeval rocks, and its mouth a thundering sea.
Crash! from meal to meal!
The more was Robinson surprised when, full an hour before dinner-time, this mighty noise all of a sudden became feebler and feebler, and presently human cries of a strange character made their way to his ear through the wooden thunder.
"What on earth is up now?" thought he--"an earthquake?"
Presently he saw at about half a mile off a vast crowd of miners making toward him in tremendous excitement. They came on, swelled every moment by fresh faces, and cries of vengeance and excitement were now heard, which the wild and savage aspect of the men rendered truly terrible. At last he saw and comprehended all at a glance.
There were Jem and two others dragging a man along whose white face and knocking knees betrayed his guilt and his terror. Robinson knew him directly; it was Walker, who had been the decoy-duck the night his tent was robbed.
"Here is the captain! Hurrah! I've got him, captain. This is the beggar that peppered the hole for me, and now we will pepper him!"
A fierce burst of exultation from the crowd. They thirsted for revenge. Jem had caught the man at the other end of the camp, and his offense was known by this time to half the mine.
"Proceed regularly, Jem," said Robinson. "Don't condemn the man unheard."
"Oh, no! He shall be tried, and you shall be the judge."
"I consent," said Robinson, somewhat pompously.
Then arose a cry that made him reflect.
"Lynch! Lynch! a seat for Judge Lynch!" and in a moment a judgment-seat was built with cradles, and he was set on high, with six strange faces scowling round him for one of his own clique. He determined to back out of the whole thing.
"No, no!" cried he; "that is impossible. I cannot be a judge in such a serious matter."
"Why not?" roared several voices.
"Why not? Because I am not a regular beak; because I have not got authority from the Crown."
There was a howl of derision.
"We give you authority!"
"We order you to be judge!"
"We are King, Lords, and Commons!"
"Do what we bid you, or," added a stranger, "we will hang you and the prisoner with one rope!"
Grim assent of the surrounding faces; Robinson sat down on the judgment-seat not a little discomposed.
"Now then," remonstrated one; "what are you waiting for? Name the jury."
"Me!" "Me!" "Me!" "I!" "I!" "I!" and there was a rush for the office.
"Keep cool," replied another. "Lynch law goes quick, but it goes by rule. Judge, name the jury."
Robinson, a man whose wits seldom deserted him, at once determined to lead, since he could not resist. He said with dignity: "I shall choose one juryman from each of the different countries that are working in this mine, that no nation may seem to be slighted, for this gold belongs to all the world."
"Hurrah! Well done, judge. Three cheers for Judge Lynch!"
"When I call a country, give me a name, which I will inscribe on my report of the proceedings. I want a currency lad first."
"Here is one. William Parker."
"Pass over. France."
"Present. Pierre Chanot."
"Here. Hans Muller."
"Here. Jan Van der Stegen."
Spain and Italy were called, but no reply. Asleep, I take it.
"Here. Nathan Tucker."
Here Robinson, casting his eyes round, spied McLaughlan, and, being minded to dilute the severity of his jury, he cried out, "Scotland. McLaughlan, you shall represent her."
"McLaughlan," cried several voices, "where are ye? Don't you hear Judge Lynch speak to you?"
"Come, McLaughlan, come over; you are a respectable man."
Mr. McLaughlan intimated briefly in his native dialect that he was, and intended to remain so; by way of comment on which he made a bolt from the judgment-hall, but was rudely seized and dragged before the judge.
"For Heaven's sake, don't be a fool, McLaughlan. No man must refuse to be a juryman in a trial by lynch. I saw a Quaker stoned to death for it in California."
"I guess I was thyar," said a voice behind the judge, who shifted uneasily.
McLaughlan went into the jury-box with a meaning look at Robinson, but without another audible word.
"Mercy! mercy!" cried Walker.
"You must not interrupt the proceedings," said Judge Lynch.
"Haud your whist, ye gowk. Ye are no fand guilty yet," remonstrated a juror.
The jury being formed, the judge called the plaintiff.
"The man sold me a claim for thirty pound. I gave him the blunt because I saw the stuff was glittery. Well, I worked it, and I found it work rather easy, that is a fact."
"Haw! haw! haw!" roared the crowd, but with a horrible laughter, no placability in it.
"Well, I found lots of dust, and I took it to the merchant, and he says it is none of it gold. That is my tale."
"Have you any witnesses?"
"I don't know. Yes, the nigger; he saw it. Here, Jacky, come and tell them."
Jacky was thrust forward, but was interrupted by McLaughlan as soon as he opened his mouth. The Scottish juror declined to receive evidence but upon oath. The judge allowed the objection.
"Swear him in, then," cried a hundred voices.
"Swear?" inquired Jacky, innocently.
Another brutal roar of laughter followed.
Jacky was offended.
"What for you laugh, you stupid fellows? I not a common black fellow. I been to Sydney and learn all the white man knows. Jacky will swear," added he.
"Left your hond," cried McLaughlan. "It is no swearing if you dinna left your hond."
"Dat so stupid," said Jacky, lifting his hand peevishly. This done, he delivered his evidence thus: "Damme I saw dis fellow sell dirt to dis fellow, and damme I saw dis fellow find a good deal gold, and damme I heard him say dis is a dam good job, and den damme he put down his spade and go to sell, and directly he come back and say damme I am done!"
"Aweel," said McLaughlan; "we jaast refuse yon lad's evidence, the deevelich heathen."
A threatening murmur.
"Silence! Hear the defendant."
Walker, trembling like an aspen, owned to having sold the claim, but denied that the dust was false. "This is what I dug out of it," said he; and he produced a small pinch of dust.
"Hand it to me," said the judge. "It seems genuine."
"Put it to the test. Call the merchant for a witness," cried another.
A party ran instantly for Levi. He refused to come. They dragged him with fearful menaces.
"A test, old man; a test of gold!"
The old Jew cast his eyes around, took in the whole scene, and with a courage few of the younger ones would have shown, defied that wild mob.
"I will give you no test. I wash my hands of your mad passions, and your mockeries of justice, men of Belial!"
A moment's silence and wonder, a yell of rage, and a dozen knives in the air.
The judge rose hastily, and in a terrible voice that governed the tumult for an instant said: "Down knives! I hang the first man that uses one in my court." And during the momentary pause that followed this he cried out: "He has given me a test. Run and fetch me the bottle of acid on his table."
"Hurrah! Judge Lynch forever!" was now the cry, and in a minute the bottle was thrust into the judge's hand.
"Young man," said Isaac solemnly, "do not pour, lest Heaven bring your soul to as keen a test one day. Who are you that judge your brother?"
Judge Lynch trembled visibly as the reverend man rebuked him thus, but, fearing Isaac would go farther and pay the forfeit of his boldness, he said calmly: "Friends, remove the old man from the court, but use respect. He is an aged man."
Isaac was removed. The judge took the bottle and poured a drop on that small pinch of dust the man had last given him.
No effect followed.
"I pronounce this to be gold."
"There," put in McLaughlan, "ye see the lad was no deceiving ye; is it his fault if a' the gowd is no the same?"
"No!" whimpered Walker, eagerly, and the crowd began to whisper and allow he might be innocent.
The man standing behind the judge said, with a cold sneer: "That is the stuff he did not sell--now pour on the stuff he sold."
These words brought back the prejudice against the prisoner, and a hundred voices shouted, "Pour!" while their eyes gleamed with a terrible curiosity.
Judge Lynch, awestruck by this terrible roar, now felt what it is to be a judge; he trembled and hesitated.
"Pour!" roared the crowd, still louder and more fiercely.
McLaughlan read the judge's feeling, and whimpered out, "Let it fa', lad--let it fa'!"
"If he does our knives fall on him and you. Pour!"
Robinson poured. All their fierce eyes were fixed on the experiment. He meant to pour a drop or two, but the man behind him jogged his arm, and half the acid in the bottle fell upon Walker's dust.
A quantity of smoke rose from it, and the particles fizzed and bubbled under the terrible test.
"Trash! a rope--no! dig a hole and bury him--no! fling him off the rock into the water."
"Silence!" roared Robinson, "I am the judge, and it is for me to pronounce the verdict."
"Silence! hear Judge Lynch!" Silence was not obtained for five minutes, during which the court was like a forest of wild beasts howling.
"I condemn him to be exposed all day, with his dust tied round his neck, and then drummed out of the camp."
This verdict was received first with a yell of derisive laughter, then with a roar of rage.
"Down with the judge!"
"We are the judges!"
"To the rock with him!"
"Ay, to the rock with him."
With this, an all-overpowering rush was made, and Walker was carried off up the rock in the middle of five hundred infuriated men.
The poor wretch cried, "Mercy! mercy!"
"Justice! dog," was the roar in reply. The raging crowd went bellowing up the rock like a wave, and gained a natural platform forty feet above the great deep pool that lay dark and calm below. At the sight of it, the poor wretch screamed to wake the dead, but the roars and yells of vengeance drowned his voice.
"Put his dust in his pocket," cried one, crueler than the rest.
Their thirst of vengeance was too hot to wait for this diabolical proposal; in a moment four of them had him by the shoulders and heels; another moment and the man was flung from the rock, uttering a terrible death-cry in the very air; then down his body fell like lead, and struck with a tremendous plunge the deep water that splashed up a moment, then closed and bubbled over it.
From that moment the crowd roared no longer, but buzzed and murmured, and looked down upon their work half stupidly.
"What is that?"
"It is his head!"
"He is up again!"
"Can he swim?"
"Fling stones on him."
"No! Let him alone, or we'll fling you atop of him."
"He is up, but he can't swim. He is only struggling! he is down again!"
He was down, but only for a moment; then he appeared again choking and gurgling.
"Justice, thieving dog!" was the appalling answer.
"Save me! save me! Oh, save me! save me!"
"Save yourself! if you are worth it!" was the savage reply.
The drowning, despairing man's head was sinking again, his strength exhausted by his idle struggles, when suddenly on his left hand he saw a round piece of rock scarce a yard from him. He made a desperate effort and got his hand on it. Alas! it was so slimy he could not hold by it; he fell off it into the water; he struggled up again, tried to dig his feet into the rock, but, after a convulsive fling of a few seconds, fell back--the slimy rock mocked his grasp. He came up again and clung, and cried piteously for help and mercy. There was none!--but a grim silence and looks of horrible curiosity at his idle struggles. His crime had struck at the very root of their hearts and lives. Then this poor, cowardly wretch made up his mind that he must die. He gave up praying to the pitiless, who could look down and laugh at his death-agony, and he cried upon the absent only. "My children! my wife! my poor Jenny!" and with this he shut his eyes, and, struggling no more, sank quietly down! down! down. First his shoulders disappeared, then his chin, then his eyes, and then his hair. Who can fathom human nature? that sad, despairing cry, which was not addressed to them, knocked at the bosoms that all his prayers to them for pity had never touched. A hasty, low and uneasy murmur followed it almost as a report follows a flash.
"His wife and children!" cried several voices with surprise; but there were two men this cry not only touched, but pierced--the plaintiff and the judge.
"The man has got a wife and children," cried Jem in dismay, as he tried to descend the rock by means of some diminutive steps. "They never offended me--he is gone down, ---- me if I see the man drowned like a rat--Hallo!--Splash!"
Jem's foot had slipped, and, as he felt he must go, he jumped right out, and fell twenty feet into the water.
At this the crowd roared with laughter, and now was the first shade of good-nature mixed with the guffaw. Jem fell so near Walker that on coming up he clutched the drowning man's head and dragged him up once more from death. At the sight of Walker's face above water again, what did the crowd, think you?
They burst into a loud hurrah! and cheered Jem till the echoes rang again.
"Hurrah! Bravo! Hurrah!" pealed the fickle crowd.
Now Walker no sooner felt himself clutched than he clutched in return with the deadly grasp of a drowning man. Jem struggled to get free in vain. Walker could not hear or see, he was past all that; but he could cling, and he got Jem round the arms and pinned them. After a few convulsive efforts Jem gave a loud groan. He then said quietly to the spectators, "He will drown me in another half minute." But at this critical moment out came from the other extremity of the pool Judge Lynch, swimming with a long rope in his hand; one end of this rope he had made into a bight ere he took the water. He swam behind Walker and Jem, whipped the noose over their heads and tightened it under their shoulders. "Haul!" cried he to Ede, who held the other end of the rope. Ede hauled, and down went the two heads.
A groan of terror and pity from the mob--their feelings were reversed.
"Haul quick, Ede," shouted Robinson, "or you will drown them, man alive."
Ede hauled hand over hand, and a train of bubbles was seen making all across the pool toward him. And the next moment two dripping heads came up to hand close together, like cherries on a stalk; and now a dozen hands were at the rope, and the plaintiff and defendant were lifted bodily up on to the flat rock, which came nearly to the water's edge on this side the pool.
"Augh! augh! augh! augh!" gasped Jem.
Walker said nothing. He lay white and motionless, water trickling from his mouth, nose and ears.
Robinson swam quietly ashore. The rocks thundered with cheers over his head.
The next moment, "the many-headed beast" remembered that all this was a waste of time, and bolted underground like a rabbit, and dug and pecked for the bare life with but one thought left, and that was GOLD.
"How are you, Jem?"
"Oh, captain, oh!" gasped poor Jem, "I am choked--I am dead--I am poisoned--why, I'm full of water; bring this other beggar to my tent, and we will take a nanny-goat together."
So Jem was taken off hanging his head, and deadly sick, supported by two friends, and Walker was carried to the same tent, and stripped and rubbed and rolled up in a blanket; and lots of brandy poured down him and Jem, to counteract the poison they had swallowed.
Robinson went to Mr. Levi, to see if he would lend him a suit, while he got his own dried. The old Jew received my lord judge with a low, ironical bow, and sent Nathan to borrow the suit from another Israelite. He then lectured my lord Lynch.
"Learn from this, young man, how easy it is to set a stone rolling down hill, how hard to stop it half-way down. Law must always be above the mob, or it cannot be law. If it fall into their hands it goes down to their own level and becomes revenge, passion, cruelty, anything but--law. The madmen! they have lost two thousand ounces of gold--to themselves and to the world, while they have been wasting their time and risking their souls over a pound of brass, and aspiring to play the judge and the executioner, and playing nothing but the brute and the fool--as in the days of old."
Mr. Levi concluded by intimating that there was very little common sense left upon earth, and that little it would be lost time to search for among the Gentiles. Finally his discourse galled Judge Lynch, who thereupon resolved to turn the laugh against him.
"Mr. Levi," said he, "I see you know a thing or two. Will you be so good as to answer me a question?"
"If it come within my knowledge," replied the senior, with grave politeness.
"Which weighs the heaviest, sir, a pound of gold or a pound of feathers?" and he winked at Nathan, but looked in Isaac's face as demure as a Quakeress.
"A pound of feathers," replied Isaac.
Robinson looked half puzzled, half satirical.
"A childish question," said Isaac sternly. "What boy knows not that feathers are weighed by Avoirdupois, and gold by Troy weight, and consequently that a pound of feathers weighs sixteen ounces, and a pound of gold but twelve?"
"Well, that is a new answer," cried Robinson. "Good-by, sir, you are too hard for me;" and he made off to his own tent. It was a day of defeats.
The moment he was out of hearing, Isaac laughed. The only time he had done it during six years. And what a laugh! How, sublimely devoid of merriment! a sudden loud cackle of three distinct cachinni not declining into a chuckle, as we do, but ending sharp in abrupt and severe gravity.
"I discomfited the young man, Nathan--I mightily discomfited him. Ha! ha! ho! Nathan, did you as I bade you?"
"Yes, master, I found the man, and I sent Samuel, who went hastily to him and cried out, 'Mr. Meadows is in the camp and wishes to speak to you.' Master, he started up in wonder, and his whole face changed; without doubt he is the man you suspected."
"Yes," said Isaac, reflecting deeply. "The man is Peter Crawley; and what does he here? Some deep villainy lies at the bottom of this; but I will fathom it, ay, and thwart it, I swear by the God of Abraham. Let me think awhile in my tent. Sit you at the receipt of gold."
The old man sat upon a divan in his tent, and pondered on all that had happened in the mine; above all, on the repeated attacks that had been made on that one tent.
He remembered, too, that George had said sorrowfully to him more than once: "No letters for me, Mr. Levi, no letter again this month!" The shrewd old man tied these two threads together directly.
"All these things are one," said Isaac Levi.
Thus pondering, and patiently following out his threads, the old man paced a mile down the camp to the post-office, for he had heard the postman's horn, and he expected important letters from England, from his friend and agent at Farnborough, Old Cohen.
There were letters from England, but none in old Cohen's hand. He put them in his bosom with a disappointed look, and paced slowly, and deeply pondering, back toward his tent. He was about half way, when, much to his surprise, a stone fell close to him. He took, however, no notice, did not even accelerate his pace or look round; but the next moment a lump of clay struck him on the arm. He turned round, quivering with rage at the insult, and then he saw a whole band of diggers behind him, who the moment he turned his face began to hoot and pelt him.
"Who got poor Walker drowned? Ah! ah! ah!"
"Who refused to give evidence before Judge Lynch?" cried another, "Ah! ah! ah!"
There were clearly two parties in the mob.
"Down with the Jew--the blood-sucker. We do all the work, and he gets all the profit. Ah! ah! ah!"
And a lump of clay struck that reverend head and almost stunned the poor old man. He sunk upon his knees, and in a moment his coat was torn to shreds, but with unexpected activity he wriggled himself free and drew a dagger long, bright, and sharp as a needle. His assailants recoiled a moment. The next a voice was heard from behind, "Get on both sides of him at once!"
Isaac looked and saw Peter Crawley. Then the old man trembled for his life, and cried, "Help! help!" and they hemmed him in and knocked his dagger out of his hand, and hustled and pommeled him, and would have torn him in pieces, but he slipped down, and two of them got in front and dragged him along the ground.
"To Walker's pool," cried brutus, putting himself at the head of those who followed.
All of a sudden Isaac, though half insensible, heard a roar of rage that seemed to come from a lion--a whiz, a blow like a thunder-clap--saw one of his assassins driven into the air and falling like a dead clod three yards off, found himself dropped and a man striding over him. It was George Fielding, who stood a single moment snorting and blowing out his cheeks with rage, then went slap at the mob as a lion goes at sheep; seized one of the small ruffians by the knees, and, by a tremendous effect of strength and rage, actually used him as a flail, and struck brutus with the man's head, and knocked that ruffian down stunned, and his nose leveled with his cheeks. The mob recoiled a moment from this one hero. George knew it could be but for a moment, so he had no sooner felled brutus, and hurled the other's carcass in their faces, than he pounced on Isaac, whipped him on his back and ran off with him.
He had got thirty yards with him ere the staggered mob could realize it all.
The mob recovered their surprise, and with a yell like a pack of hounds bursting covert dashed after the pair. The young Hercules made a wonderful effort, but no mortal man could run very fast so weighted. In spite of his start they caught him in about a hundred yards. He heard them close upon him--put the Jew down--and whispered hastily, "Run to your tent," and instantly wheeled round and flung himself at thirty men. He struck two blows and disabled a couple; the rest came upon him like one battering-ram and bore him to the ground; but even as he went down he caught the nearest assailant by the throat and they rolled over one another, the rest kicking savagely at George's head and loins. The poor fellow defended his head with one arm and his assailant's body for a little while, but he received some terrible kicks on the back and legs.
"Give it him on the head!"
"Kick his life out!"
"Settle his hash!"
They were so fiercely intent on finishing George that they did not observe a danger that menaced themselves.
As a round shot cuts a lane through a column of infantry, so clean came two files of special constables with their short staves severing the mob in two--crick, crack, crick, crick, crick, crick, crack, crack. In three seconds ten heads were broken, with a sound just like glass bottles, under the short, deadly truncheon, and there lay half a dozen ruffians writhing on the ground and beating the Devil's tattoo with their heels.
"Charge back!" cried the head-policeman as soon as he had cut clean through.
But at the very word the cowardly crew fled on all sides yelling. The police followed in different directions a little way, and through this error three of the felled got up and ran staggering off. When the head-policeman saw that he cried out:
"Back, and secure prisoners."
They caught three who were too stupefied to run, and rescued brutus from George, who had got him by the throat and was hammering the ground with his head.
"Let go, George," cried Policeman Robinson, in some anxiety, "you are killing the man."
"Oh, I don't want to kill him neither," said George.
And he slowly withdrew his grasp, and left off hammering with the rascal's head, but looked at him as if he would have preferred to have gone on a little longer. They captured the three others.
"Now secure them," cried Ede. "Out with your wipes."
"There is no need of wipes," said Robinson.
He then, with a slight blush, and rather avoiding George's eye, put his hand in his pockets and produced four beautiful sets of handcuffs, bran new, polished to the fine. With a magical turn of the hand he handcuffed the three men, still avoiding George's eye. Unnecessary. George's sense of humor was very faint, and so was his sweetheart's--a sad defect.
Perhaps I may as well explain here how Robinson came so opportunely to the rescue. The fact is, that a week ago he had ordered a lot of constables' staves and four sets of handcuffs. The staves were nicely painted, lettered "Captain Robinson's Police, A, B, C," etc. They had just come home, and Robinson was showing them to Ede and his gang, when a hullabaloo was heard, and Levi was seen full half a mile off being hunted. Such an opportunity of trying the new staves was not to be neglected. Ede and his men jumped out of their claim and ran with Robinson to the rescue. But they would have been too late if George, who had just come into the camp at that very part, had not made his noble and desperate assault and retreat, which baffled the assailants for two precious minutes.
Robinson. "What shall we do with them now we have got them?"
George. "Give them a kick apiece on their behinds, and let them go--the rubbish."
Robinson. "Not if I know it."
Ede. "I say blackguard 'em."
Robinson. "No, that would be letting ourselves down to their level. No, we will expose them as we did my old pal here before."
Ede. "Why that is what I mean. Ticket them--put a black card on them with their offense wrote out large."
No sooner said than done. All four were tied to posts in the sun, and black-carded, or, as some spell it, placarded, thus:
"Let us go and see after Mr. Levi, George."
"Well, Tom, I had rather not."
"Why not? he ought to be very much obliged to you."
"That is it, Tom. The old man is of rather a grateful turn of mind--and it is ten to one if he doesn't go and begin praising me to my face--and then that makes me--I don't know which way to look. Wait till he has cooled upon it a bit."
"You are a rum one. Well, George, I have got one proposal you won't say no to. First, I must tell you there is really a river of quartz in the country."
"Didn't I tell you?"
"Yes, and I didn't believe it. But I have spoken to Jacky about it, and he has seen it; it is on the other side of the bush. I am ready to start for it to-morrow, for there is little good to be done here now the weather has broken."
George assented with joy; but, when Robinson suggested that Jacky would be very useful to pilot them through the bush, his countenance fell.
"Don't think of it," said he. "I know he is here, Tom, and I shan't go after him. But don't let him come near me, the nasty little, creeping, murdering varmint. Poor Abner will never get over his tomahawk--not if he lives fifty years."
In short, it was agreed they should go alone at peep of day.
"I have talked it over with Jem already, and he will take charge of our tent till we come back."
"So be it."
"We must take some provisions with us, George."
"I'll go and get some cold meat and bread, Tom."
"Do. I'm going to the tent."
Robinson, it is to be observed, had not been in his tent since George and he left it and took their gold out of it just before sunrise. As he now carried their joint wealth about his person, his anxiety was transferred.
Now at the door of the tent he was intercepted by Jem, very red in the face, partly with brandy, partly with rage. Walker, whose life he had saved, whom he had taken to his own tent, and whom Robinson had seen lying asleep in the best blanket, this Walker had absconded with his boots and half a pound of tobacco.
"Well, but you knew he was a rogue. Why did you leave him alone in your tent?"
"I only left him for a minute to go a few steps with you if you remember, and you said yourself he was asleep. Well, the moment our backs were turned he must have got up and done the trick."
"I don't, like it," said Robinson.
"No more don't I," said Jem.
"If he was not asleep, be must have heard me say I was going to cross the bush with my mate to-morrow at daybreak."
"Well! and what if he did?"
"He is like enough to have gone and told the whole gang."
"And what if he has?"
Robinson was about to explain to Jem. that he now carried all the joint gold in his pocket, but he forbore. "It is too great a stake for me to trust anybody unless I am forced," thought he. So he only said: "Well, it is best to be prudent. I shall change the hour for starting."
"You are a cunning one, captain, but I really think you are overcareful sometimes."
"Jem," said the other gravely, "there is a mystery in this mine. There is a black gang in it, and that Walker is one of them. I think they have sworn to have my gold or my life, and they shan't have either if I can help it. I shall start two hours before the sun."
He was quite right; Walker had been shamming sleep, and full four hours ago he had told his confederates as a matter of course all that he had heard in the enemy's camp.
Walker, a timid villain, was unprepared for the burst of savage exultation from brutus and Black Will that followed this intelligence. These two, by an instinct quick as lightning, saw the means of gratifying at one blow their cupidity and hate. Crawley had already told them he had seen Robinson come out of Levi's tent after a long stay, and their other spies had told them his own tent had been left unguarded for hours. They put these things together and conjectured at once that the men had now their swag about them in one form or other.
"When do they go?"
"To-morrow at break of day," he said.
"The bush is very thick!"
"And dark, too!"
"It is just the place for a job."
"Will two of you be enough?"
"Plenty, the way we shall work."
"The men are strong and armed."
"Their strength will be no use to them, and they shan't get time to use their arms."
"For Heaven's sake, shed no blood unnecessarily," said Crawley, beginning to tremble at the pool of crime to whose brink he had led these men.
"Do you think they will give up their swag while they are alive?" asked brutus, scornfully.
"Then I wash my hands of it all," cried the little self-deceiving caitiff; and he affected to have nothing to do with it.
Walker was then thanked for his information, and he thought this was a good opportunity for complaining of his wrongs and demanding redress. This fellow was a thorough egotist, saw everything from his own point of view only.
Jem had dragged him before Judge Robinson; Robinson had played the beak and found him guilty; Levi had furnished the test on which he had been convicted. All these had therefore cruelly injured and nearly killed him.
Himself was not the cause. He had not set all these stones rolling by forging upon nature and robbing Jem of thirty pounds. No! he could not see that, nor did he thank Jem one bit for jumping in and saving his life at risk of his own. "Why did he ever get him thrown in, the brute? If he was not quite drowned he was nearly, and Jem the cause."
His confederates soothed him with promises of vengeance on all their three his enemies, and soon after catching sight of one of them, Levi, they kept their word; they roused up some of the other diggers against Isaac on the plea that he had refused to give evidence against Walker, and so they launched a mob and trusted to mob nature for the rest. The recoil of this superfluous villainy was, as often happens, a blow to the head scheme.
brutus, who was wanted at peep of day for the dark scheme already hinted at, got terribly battered by George Fielding, and placarded, and, what was worse, chained to a post, by Robinson and Ede. It became necessary to sound his body and spirit.
One of the gang was sent by Crawley to inquire whether he felt strong enough to go with Black Will on that difficult and dangerous work to-morrow. The question put in a passing whisper was answered in a whisper.
"I am as strong as a lion for revenge. Tell them I would not miss to-morrow's work for all the gold in Australia."
The lowering face spoke loud enough if the mouth whispered.
The message was brought back to Black Will and Crawley.
"What energy!" said Crawley, admiringly.
"Ay!" said Black Will, "that is your sort; give me a pal with his skin smarting and his bones aching for the sort of job that wood shall see to-morrow. Have they marked him?" he inquired, with a strange curiosity.
"I am afraid they have; his nose is smashed frightful."
"I am glad of it; now we are brothers and will have blood for blood."
"Your expressions are dreadfully terse," said Crawley, trying to smile, but looking scared instead; "but I don't understand your remark; you were not in the late unsuccessful attack on Mr. Levi, and you escaped most providentially in the night business--the men have not marked you, my good friend."
"Haven't they?" yelled the man, with a tremendous oath--"haven't they? LOOK HERE!" A glance was enough. Crawley turned wan and shuddered from head to foot.