Page images
PDF
EPUB

with Tom's revolver at his temple, and Carlo flew round and round, barking furiously, and now and then coming flying at him; on which occasions he was always warded off by George's strong arm, and passed devious, his teeth clicking together like machinery, the snap and the rush being all one design that must succeed or fail together.

Captain Robinson put his lips to his whistle, and the tent was full of his friends in a moment.

“Get me a bullock rope.”
“Ay!”
“And drive a stout pole into the ground.”
“Ay!”

In less than five minutes brutus was tied up to a post in the sun, with a placard on his breast on which was written in enormous letters —

THIEF
and underneath in smaller letters -
Caught trying to shake Captain Robinson's tent.

First offence.
N. B. – To be hanged next time.

Then a crier was sent through the mine to invite inspection of brutus's features, and ere sunset thousands looked into his face, and when he tried to lower it pulled it savagely up.

“I shall know you again, my lad,” was the common remark, “and, if I catch you too near my tent, rope or revolver, one of the two."

Captain Robinson's men did not waste five minutes with brutus. They tied him to the stake, and dashed into their holes to make up lost time, but Robinson and George remained quiet in their tent.

“George," said Tom, in a low, contrite, humble voice, “let us return thanks to Heaven, for vain is man's skill."

And they did.

“George,” said Tom, rising from his knees, “the conceit is taken out of me for about the twentieth time; I felt so strong and I was nobody. The danger came in a way I never dreamed, and when it had come we were saved by a friend I never valued. Give a paw, Carlo."

Carlo gave a paw.
“He has been a good friend to us this day,” said George.

"I see it all now; he must bave heard the earth move and did not understand it, so he came for me, and, when you would not let me go, he went back, and says he, — 'I dare to say it is a rabbit burrowing up.' So he waited still as death, watching, and nailed six feet of vermin instead of bunny.”

Here they both fell to caressing Carlo, who jumped and barked and finished with a pretended onslaught on the captain as he was kneeling, looking at their so late imperilled gold, and knocked him over and slobbered his face when he was down. Opinions varied, but the impression was he knew he had been a clever dog. This same evening, Jem made a collar for him, on which was written, “Policeman C.”

The fine new tent was entered and found deserted, nothing there but an enormous mound of earth that came out of the subterranean, which Robinson got a light and inspected all the way to its débouchure in his own tent. As he returned, holding up his light and peering about, he noticed something glitter at the top of the arch; he held the light close to it and saw a speck or two of gold sparkling here and there. He took out his knife and scraped the roof in places, and brought to light in detached pieces a layer of gold-dust about the substance of a sheet of blotting paper and full three yards wide; it crossed the subterranean at right angles, dipping apparently about an inch in two yards. The conduct of brutus and co. had been typical. They had been so bent on theft, that they were blind to the pocketfuls of honest, safe, easy gold they rubbed their very eyes and their thick skulls against on their subterraneous path to danger and crime.

Two courses occurred to Robinson; one was to try and monopolize this vein of gold, the other to take his share of it and make the rest add to his popularity and influence in the mine. He chose the latter, for the bumptiousness was chilled in him. This second attack on his tent made him tremble.

“I am a marked man,” said he. “Well, if I have enemies, the more need to get friends all round me.” ...

Towards evening he collected his whole faction, got on the top of two cradles, made a speech, thanked them for their goodwill, and told them he had now an opportunity of making them a return. He had discovered a vein of gold which he could have kept all to himself, but it was more just and more generous to share it with his partisans.

“Now, pass through this little mine one at a time," said he, “and look at the roof, where I have stuck the two lighted candles, and then pass on quick to make room for others."

The men dived one after another, examined the roof, and, rushing wildly out at the other end in great excitement, ran and marked out claims on both sides of the subterranean.

But, with all their greediness and eagerness, they left ten feet square untouched on each side the subterranean.

“What is this left for ?

“That is left for the clever fellow that found the gold after a thief had missed it,” cried one.

“And for the generous fellow that parted his find,” roared another, from a distance.

Robinson seemed to reflect.

“No! I wont spoil the meat by cutting myself the fat, — no! I am a digger, but not only a digger, I aspire to the honor of being a captain of diggers; my claim lies out there.”

“Hurrah; three cheers for Captain Robinson!”
“Will you do me a favor in return ?”
“Hurrah! won't we?

“I am going to petition the governor to send us out police to guard our tents.”

“Hurrah!”

“And even beaks, if necessary” (doubtful murmurs). “And, above all, soldiers to take our gold safe down, to Sydney.”

“Hurrah!”
“Where we can sell it at three fifteen the ounce.”
“Hurrab! hurrah! hurrah!”

“Instead of giving it away here for three pounds, and then being robbed. If you will all sign, Mr. Stevens and I will draw up the petition; no country can stand without law!”

“Hurrah for Captain Robinson, the diggers' friend.”

And the wild fellows jumped out of the holes, and four seized the diggers’ friend, and they chaired him in their rough way, and they put Carlo into a cradle, and raised him high, and chaired him; and both man and dog were right glad to get safe out of the precarious honor.

The proceedings ended by brutus being loosed and set between two long lines of men with lumps of clay, and pelted and knocked down, and knocked up again, and driven bruised, battered, and bleeding out of that part of the camp. He found his way to a little dirty tent not much bigger than a badger's hole, crawled in, and sunk down in a fainting state, and lay on his back stiff and fevered, and smarting soul and body, many days.

And while Robinson was exulting in his skill, his good fortune, his popularity, his swelling bag, and the constabulary force he was collecting and heading, this tortured ruffian, driven to utter desperation by the exposure of his features to all the camp with “Thief" blazing on him, lay groaning stiff and sore, — but lived for revenge.

“Let him keep his gold, - I don't care for his gold, now. I'll have his blood!”

THE THIEF.

(From “ It is Never Too Late to Mend.") An eye of red light suddenly opened in the silver stream shows three men standing by a snowy tent. It is the patrol waiting to be relieved. Three more figures emerge from the distant shade and join them. The first three melt into the shade.

The other three remain and mutter. Now they start on their rounds.

6 What is that?" mutters one.
“I'll go and see.”
66 Well!”

“O, it is only that brown donkey that cruises about here. She will break her neck in one of the pits some day.”

“Not she. She is not such an ass."

These three melted into the night, going their rounds; and now nothing is left in sight but a thousand cones of snow, and the donkey paddling carefully among the pits.

Now the donkey stands a moment still in the moonlight, now he paddles slowly away and disappears on the dark side the captain's tent. What is he doing? He stoops, — he lies down, he takes off his head and skin, and lays them down. It is a man! He draws his knife and puts it between his teeth. A pistol is in his hand, - he crawls on his stomach, — the tent is between him and the patrol. His hand is inside the tent, he finds the opening and winds like a serpent into the tent.

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 levelled 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 bis 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 hicard the

« PreviousContinue »