Chapter LXXIV.
 

Robinson did not overrate the fatal power of the fabulous mass of gold, a glimpse of which he had incautiously given to greedy eyes. It drew brutus like a magnet after it. He came all in a flutter to mephistopheles, and told him he had met the two men carrying a lump of solid gold between them so heavy that the sticks bent under it. "The sweat ran down me at the sight of it, but I managed to look another way directly."

What with the blows and kicks and bruises and defeats he had received, and with the gold mass his lawless eye had rested on, brutus was now in a state of mind terrible to think of.

Lust and hate, terrible twins, stung that dark heart to frenzy. Could he have had his will he would have dispensed with cunning, would have gone out and fired bullets from his gun into the tent, and, if his enemies came out alive, have met them hand to hand to slay or be slain. But the watchful foe had disarmed him, and he was compelled to listen to the more reynard-like ferocity of his accomplice.

"Bill," said the assassin of Carlo, "keep cool, and you shall have the swag; and yet not lose your revenge neither."

"---- you, tell me how."

"Let the bottle alone, then; you are hot enough without that. Come nearer me. What I have got to say is not the sort of thing for me to bawl about. We should not be alive half an hour if it was heard to come from our lips."

The two heads came close together, and Crawley leaned over the other side of the table and listened with senses keen as a razor.

"Suppose I show you how to make those two run out of their tent like two frightened women, and never once think about their swag?"

"Ah!"

"And fall blinded for life or dead or dying while we walk off with the swag."

"Blind, dead, dying! give me your hand. How? how? how?"

"Hush! don't shout like that; come closer, and you, Smith."

Then a diabolical scheme hissed into the listeners' ears--a scheme at once cowardly and savage--a scheme of that terrible kind that robs courage, strength and even skill of their natural advantages, and reduces their owners to the level of the weak and the timid--a scheme worthy of the assassin of Carlo, and the name I have given this wretch, whose brain was so fertile and his heart so fiendish. Its effect on the hearers was great, but very different. Crawley recoiled, not violently, but like a serpent on which water had been poured; but brutus broke into a rapture of admiration, exultation, gratified hate.

"Bless you, bless you!" cried he, with a violence more horrible than his curses, "you warm my heart, you are a pal. What a head-piece you have got! ---- you, Smith, have you nothing to say? Isn't this a dodge out of the common?"

Now for the last minute or two Crawley's eyes had been fixed with a haggard expression on a distant corner of the room. He did not move them; he appeared hardly to have the power, but he answered, dropping the words down on the table anywhere.

"Ye-yes! it is very inge-nious, ah!"

mephisto. "We must buy the turpentine directly; there is only one store sells it, and that shuts at nine.

brutus. "Do you hear, Smith? hand us out the blunt."

Crawley. "Oh, ugh!" and his eyes seemed fascinated to that spot.

brutus (following Crawley's eye uneasily). "What is the matter?"

Crawley. "Lo-o-o-k th-e-r-e! No! on your right. Oh, his tail is in the fire!"

brutus. "Whose tail? don't be a fool!"

Crawley. "And it doesn't burn!! Oh, it burns blacker in the fire!--Ah, ah! now the eyes have caught fire--diamonds full of hell. They blast! Ah, now the teeth have caught light--red-hot nails. The mouth is as big as the table, gaping wider, wider, wider. Ah! ah! ah!"

brutus. "---- him; I won't stay in the room with such a fellow, he makes my blood run cold. Has he cut his father's throat in a church, or what?"

Crawley (shrieking). "Oh, don't go; oh, my dear friends, don't leave me alone with IT. My dear friends, you sit down right upon it--that sends it away." And Crawley hid his face, and pointed wildly to whereabouts they were to sit upon the phantom.

brutus. "Come, it is gone now; was forced nearly to squash it first, though, haw! haw! haw!"

Crawley. "Yes, it is gone. Thank Heaven--I'll give up drinking."

brutus. "So now fork out the blunt for the turps."

Crawley. "No! I will give no money toward murder--robbery is bad enough. Where shall we go to?" And he rose and went out, muttering something about "a little brandy."

brutus. "The sneak--to fail us at the pinch. I'll wring his neck round. What is this? five pounds."

mephisto. "Don't you see the move? he won't give it us, conscience forbids; but, if we are such rogues as take it, no questions asked."

"The tarnation hypocrite," roared brutus, with disgust--hypocrisy was the one vice he was innocent of--out of jail. mephistopheles stole Crawley's money, left for that purpose, and went and bought a four-gallon cask of turpentine.

brutus remained and sharpened an old cutlass, the only weapon he had got left. Crawley and mephistopheles returned almost together. Crawley produced a bottle of brandy.

"Now," said he to mephistopheles, "I don't dispute your ingenuity, my friend, but suppose while we have been talking the men have struck their tent and gone away, nugget and all?"

The pair looked terribly blank--what fools we were not to think of that.

Crawley kept them in pain a moment or two.

"Well, they have not," said he, "I have been to look."

"Well done," cried mephistopheles.

"Well done," cried brutus, gasping for breath.

"There is their tent all right."

"How near did you go to it?"

"Near enough to hear their voices muttering."

"When does the moon rise, to-night?"

"She is rising now."

"When does she go down?"

"Soon after two o'clock."

"Will you take a share of the work, Smith?"

"Heaven forbid!"