'Boys, attend! Each of you take off his left boot.'
The boys stared incredulously.
'Your left boots,' repeated the master. 'This gentleman is—eh—a chiropodist, and eh—come, come!' Joel Ham slashed the desk: the boys hastened to remove their left boots, handed them to the stranger, and watched him curiously as he examined them at the desk. The astonished scholars could see little, but the man in drab had two plaster casts before him and he was deliberately comparing the boys' boots with these. When he came to Dick's boot he turned carelessly to the master and said:
'This is our man.'
'Richard Haddon, the first boy on the back seat.'
The chiropodist did not look up.
'Boy with red hair,' he said. 'Mixed up in that Cow Flat road affair. Evidently an enterprising nipper, on the high road to the gallows.'
Joel Ham drew thumb and forefinger from the corners of his mouth to the point of his chin, and blinked his white lashes rapidly.
'No,' he said, quite emphatically; 'I don't often give advice—sensible people don't need it, fools won't take it—but you might waste time by regarding that boy's share in this business from a wrong point of view. If he has had a hand in it—and I have no doubt of it since his foot appears—think of him at the worst as the accomplice of some scoundrel cunning enough to impose upon the folly of a romantic youngster stuffed with rubbishy fiction, and gifted with an extraordinarily adventurous spirit.'
This was perhaps the longest speech ever made by Joel Ham in ordinary conversation since he came to Waddy, and it quite exhausted him. The stranger yawned pointedly.
'Where does he live?' he asked.
'Third house down the road. Mother a widow.'
'Right. You might make an excuse to send him home presently. You are a discreet man, Mr. Ham.'
'In everybody's business but my own, Mr. Downy.
The stranger took up his parcel and marched out, and the boots having been restored to their owners work was resumed. About twenty minutes later Dick was called out, and Joel presented him with an envelope.
'Take that note to your mother, Ginger, will you? Stay a moment,' he said, as Dick turned away. He took the boy by the coat and blinked at him complaisantly for a moment.
'When in doubt, my boy, always tell the truth,' he said.
Noting a puzzled expression in Dick's face, he condescended to explain.
'When you're asked many questions and want an answer, tell the truth. Lies, my boy, are for fools and rogues—remember, fools and rogues.'
Dick set his lips and nodded; and the master, after regarding him curiously for a moment, actually patted his head—an uncommon exhibition of feeling on his part that caused the scholars to gape with wonderment.
When Dick reached his home he was astonished to find his mother seated in the front room with her handkerchief to her eyes, crying quite violently. Opposite her sat the man in drab, swinging his hat between his knees and looking exactly as if he had just been awakened from a nap. The man walked to the door, locked it, and then resumed his seat.
'Now, my lad,' he said, 'attend to me. My name is Downy. I am a detective, and I have found you out.'
The admission was not a wise one; it blanched Dick's lips, but it closed them like a spring-trap.
'I have found you out,' continued the detective. 'He has been arrested.' The detective emphasised the 'he,' and watched the effect. Dick stood before him, white and silent, his heart beating with quick blows, and his blood humming in his ears, 'Who? Who? Who?'
'The man who went down with you has been arrested, my lad, and now you must tell me the whole truth to save yourself. He says you hammered Harry Hardy on the head with an iron bar, and if you do not clear yourself I must take you to gaol.'
Dick answered nothing; his eyes never moved from the green bee on the wall even to glance at his mother sobbing in the corner.
'Come, come, come!' cried Downy impatiently, 'it's no good your denying that you were in the mine on Sunday night. You came home covered with slurry, marked with blood, and very frightened. Your mother admits that, and we have found your footprints in the clay of the Silver Stream drives at both levels. Besides, the man says you were there. Now, tell me this, and I will let you go free: who has the key of the grating over the mouth of the old Red Hand?'
'Oh! Dickie, my boy, my poor boy—why don't you answer?' sobbed Mrs. Haddon.
The detective tried again, threatened, pleaded, and cajoled, and Mrs. Haddon used all her motherly artifices; but not one word came from the boy's locked lips. Dick was possessed by a vivid hallucination; he seemed to be standing in the centre of a whirlwind. Downy and his mother were dim figures beyond, seen through the dust; and like shreds of paper whirled in the vortex, visions of Miss Chris's face, netted in fair hair, passed swiftly before his eyes, and the expression on each face was beseeching and sorrowful. Nothing could have dragged the truth from him at that moment.
Downy stood up and hung over Dick, scratching his head in a despairing way.
I'm sorry, ma'am,' he said, 'but I'll have to take him.'
'He's shieldin' some villain,' moaned Mrs. Haddon.
The detective took the widow aside and whispered with her for a few minutes, with the result that she dried her eyes and was much consoled.
Dick was taken away in Manager Holden's trap and lodged in gaol at Yarraman; and when the news leaked out, as it did towards evening, Waddy had a new sensation, and quite the most startling one in its experience. Before the women went to bed that night they had found Dick guilty of robbing the Silver Stream of thousands of ounces of gold and perpetrating a murderous assault on Harry Hardy. The news brought Joe Rogers and Ephraim Shine together at their secret meeting-place in the corner paddock—Rogers much disturbed and puzzled, Shine shaken almost out of his wits.
'I'm goin' to bolt, I tell you!' cried the searcher.
Rogers gripped him roughly.
'Bolt,' he said, 'an' you're doomed—done for. Hell! man, can't you see you'd be grabbed in less'n a day? With that mug an' that figure you'd be spotted whatever hole you crept into.'
'I know, I know; but it'll come anyhow—it'll come!
'Not so sure, unless you blab in one of these blitherin' fits. What does that kid know? Nothin'. He's found our gold, an' he's hid it away. He wants to keep it, an' you know what a stubborn devil he is. This is just a try on, an' they'll get nothin' out o' Dick Haddon. If they do they get the gold, an' we're all right if we don't play the fool.'
Rogers's reasoning was very good as far as it went; but the discovery of the boy's footprints in the drives had been kept a close secret, or even he might have admitted the wisdom of bolting without delay.
Dick spent a day and two nights in the cell at the watch-house in Yarraman. Public report at Waddy was to the effect that every influence short of torture had been used in the effort to induce him to divulge the truth, and not a word had he spoken. His mother and Mrs. Hardy and Harry had all visited him in the cell, and had failed to persuade him to open his lips. His callousness in the presence of his poor mother's distress was described in feeling terms as unworthy of the black and naked savage. All this was much nearer the truth than speculation at Waddy was wont to be; and when Dick was restored to his home in the flesh on Saturday at noon and permitted to run at large again without let or hindrance, Waddy was amazed and indignant, and Waddy's criticism of the methods of the police authorities was scathing in the extreme.
The boy was driven home by the sergeant, the same who had been commissioned to quell the Great Goat Riot.
'He's looking pulled down,' said the trooper, delivering him into his mother's arms. 'It's the confinement. Let him run about as usual, Mrs. Haddon; let him have lots of fresh air, particularly night air, and he'll soon be all right. At night, Mrs. Haddon, the air is fresh and healthy. Let him run about in the evenings, you know.'
Mrs. Haddon was very grateful for the advice and promised to act upon it. But Dick was a new boy; he remained in doors all Saturday and Sunday, wandering about the house in an aimless manner, trying to read and failing, trying to divert himself in unusual ways and failing in everything. He presented all the symptoms of a guilty, conscience-stricken wretch; and his mother, who had been priming him with camomile surreptitiously, began to lose confidence in that wonderful herb.
Meanwhile a very interesting stranger had made his appearance at Waddy; he was believed to be a drover, and he was on the spree and 'shouting' with spontaneity and freedom. His horse, a fine upstanding bay, stood saddled and bridled under McMahon's shed at the Drovers' Arms by day and night. His behaviour in drink was original and erratic. He would fraternise with the man at the bar for a time, and then go roaming at large about the township in a desultory way, sleeping casually in all sorts of absurd places; but Waddy had a large experience in 'drunks' and made liberal allowances.
Miss Chris called in at Mrs. Haddon's home on evening shortly after tea. She had not been to chapel, and was anxious about her father, who had absented himself from his duties as superintendent of late and whose behaviour had been most extraordinary when she called on him on two or three occasions during the week. She was afraid of fever, and sought advice from Mrs. Haddon, who unhesitatingly recommended camomile tea. Then Dick's ailment was discussed and Chris, much concerned, went and sat by the boy, who cowered over his book, too full to answer her kind inquiries. She put an arm about him and talked with tender solicitude; she sympathised with him in his troubles, and was angry with all his enemies, more especially the police, whose folly amazed her. Here a large tear rolled down Dick's nose and splashed upon the open page, and when she pressed him to tell all he might know and not to suffer abuse and shame to shield some wicked villain, he quite collapsed, and sat with his head sunk upon his arms, sobbing hysterically. This was so unlike the boy that Christina was quite amazed, and her eyes travelled anxiously to and from Dick's bowed head and his mother's distressed face. Then the women, to give him time to recover himself, sat together talking of other matters—Harry Hardy mainly—and Dick, ashamed of his tears, crept away to bury his effeminate sobs amongst the Cape broom in the garden.
Dick had not sat alone more than a minute when he heard a sharp whistle from the back. It was Jacker Mack's whistle and at first Dick did not respond, but sat mopping his tears with his sleeves. The whistle was repeated three or four times, and at length he determined to meet Jacker, thinking there might be some news about the reef in the Mount of Gold. He passed out through the side gate, and along to the fowl-house at the corner, behind which he expected to find his mate sitting. But when he reached the corner a pair of strong arms snatched him from the ground, and he was borne away at a rapid pace in the direction of Wilson's paddock. His face was crushed against the breast of the man who held him, in such a way that it was impossible for him to utter the slightest sound.
Across the flat in the shallow quarry he was thrown to the ground, and for a moment he caught a glimp of his captor in the darkness, a powerfully built man, wearing a viator cap that covered the whole of his face and head, with the exception of the eyes.
'Let one yelp out o' you an' I'll crush yer head with a rock!' whispered the man ferociously.
Dick was blindfolded and gagged, and his arms and legs were tied with rope, his enemy kneeling on him the while and hurting him badly in his brutal haste.
The boy was caught up again and thrown on the man's shoulder, and the journey was continued at a trot. He knew when the bush was reached, because here a fence had to be climbed. He tried to understand what this adventure might mean, but his thoughts were all confused and the gag made breathing so difficult that once or twice he feared he was going to die.
When at last the man stopped and Dick was dropped to the ground, they had travelled about a mile and a half into the bush. He heard the sound of timbers being moved, and presently was caught up again; after much fumbling and an oath or two from his companion the latter withdrew his support, and Dick felt himself to be dangling in the air from the rope that tied his limbs. Now the bandage was pulled from his eyes, and the boy, after staring about through the starlit night for a few moments, terrified and amazed, began to realise his position.
'Know where you are, me beauty?' asked the big man who stood before him, and who spoke as if with a pebble on his tongue.
Dick knew where he was. He was hanging over the open shaft of the Piper Mine, another of Waddy's abandoned claims, suspended from one of the skids by a stout rope.
'Look down,' commanded the man.
Dick obeyed and saw only the black yawning shaft. 'Know she's deep, don't yer? There's three hundred feet o' shaft below you there. That's the short road to hell. Now look here.'
He flashed the bright blade of a large knife before the eyes of his prisoner; then, seating himself on a broken truck near the shaft he began deliberately to sharpen the knife on his boot. The operation was not in the least hurried—the man was desirous of making a deep impression.
'There,' he said at length, 'that's beautiful. Feel!' He cut the skin of Dick's nose with a touch of the keen edge. 'Now, listen here. I'm goin' to take this bandage off yer mouth, 'cause I've a few perticular questions to ask an' you must answer 'em, but understand first that one little yell from you, an'—' He made a blood-curdling pretence of cutting at the rope above Dick's head. 'You'd go plug to the bottom an' be smashed to fifty bits!'
The man removed the gag and reseated himself on the old truck. As he talked he toyed with the ugly knife, making occasional passes on the side of his left boot resting on his knee.
'Look here, young feller,' he said, 'if you tell me lies down you go, understand? D'ye believe me?' he asked with sudden ferocity.
'Yes,' whispered Dick.
'Well then listen, an' answer quick an' lively. Where's the bag of gold you stole outer that big tree beyond the Bed Hand?'
Dick's heart jumped like a startled hare. He recognised his enemy now in spite of his cap and his disguised voice. It was Joe Rogers.
'D'ye deny takin' it?' asked the man sharply.
'Yes,' said Dick, cold at heart and quaking in every limb.
'Damn you for a young liar! Fer two pins I'd send you straight to smash. I know you've got that gold stowed somewhere. Where?'
The boy gave him no answer, and Rogers sprang to his feet, and tickled him again with the knife.
'You whelp!' he said hoarsely. 'I'd think ez much of slaughterin' you ez I would of brainin' a cat. Speak, if you want to live! Where's that gold?'
Dick was convinced that the man would be as good as his word, but he still lingered, casting about helplessly for an excuse, a hope of escape.
'Blast you, won't you speak?'
Dick felt the knife cut into the rope above his head, and shrieked aloud in a paroxysm of terror.
'Stop, stop! I'll tell!'
'Tell then, an' be quick. That's one strand o' the rope gone; there's two more. Speak!' He raised the knife threateningly.
'It's under that big flat stone near the spring in the Gaol Quarry.' The lie came almost involuntarily from the boy's lips in instantaneous response to a new impulse. But he was doomed to disappointment.
'Good!' ejaculated the man. 'Now, you go with me. I don't trust you; you're too smart a kid to be trusted.' As he spoke he twisted the gag into Dick's mouth again. 'No,' he cried with a sudden change of intention, 'you'll stay where you are. You're safe enough here. While I'm away think o' what's below you there, an' pray yer hardest in case you've lied to me, because if you have you're done fer. I'll kill you, s'elp me God, I will!'
Rogers took a bee line through the scrub in the direction of the quarry, leaving Dick hanging over the open shaft. The Gaol Quarry was not more than half a mile off, and Rogers ran the whole of the distance. He made his way clumsily down the rocky side from the hill, falling heavily from half the height and bruising himself badly, but paying no attention to his injuries in the anxiety of the moment. He found the big flat stone after a minute's search, and succeeded in turning it only after exerting his great strength to the utmost. There was nothing underneath. Yes, there was something; a snake hissed at him in the darkness and slid away amongst the broken rock. Rogers fell upon his knees and groped about blindly, but the ground was hard. There was no sign of the gold anywhere, and not another stone in the quarry that answered to the boy's description. Possessed with a stupid blundering fury against Dick, Rogers turned back towards the Piper. He breathed horrible blasphemies as he ran, and struck at the scrub in his insensate rage. He was a man of fierce passions, and meant murder during those first few minutes-swift and ruthless. He reached the Piper breathless from his exertions and wild with passion. He did not even pause to resume his disguise, but ran to the shaft, cursing as he went. There he stopped like a man shot, his figure stiffened, his arms thrown out straight before him; his eyes, wide and full of terror, stared between the skids rising from the shaft to the brace above.
Dick Haddon was not there. The space was empty, the rope's end moved lazily in the wind.
The revulsion of feeling was terrible: it left the strong man as weak as a child, it turned the desperate criminal into a mumbling coward. Rogers staggered to the shaft and examined the rope. It had broken where one strand was cut; the other strands were frayed out. The gold-stealer fell upon his knees and tried to call, but a mere gasp was the only sound that escaped his lips. He remained for a minute or two gazing helplessly into the pitch blackness of the shaft; then, recovering somewhat with a great effort, he rose to his feet, untied the remainder of the rope from the skid and dropped it into the shaft, and turning his back on the mine fled away through the paddocks towards Waddy. As he issued from the bush a quarter of an hour later, and crossed the open flat, a slim figure slipped from the furze covering the rail fence and followed him noiselessly at a distance.
WHEN Rogers reached his hut he sat for some time in the dark, thinking over his position. It had been his intention all along to make his escape from the district the moment he succeeded in recovering the gold, and now, in his horror at the consequences of his last act, he was incapable of cold reason. His one desire was to get away as far as possible from the scene of his crimes. He lit a candle, and the drunken drover, peeping through a crack, saw him spread a blanket on the floor and set to work hastily to make a swag. The drover watched him for a minute and then sped off in the darkness. Shortly after this Rogers was startled at the sound of a shrill and peculiar whistle. Jumping up on the impulse of the moment, with the quick suspicion of a criminal, he snatched his gun from a corner and stepped out. Standing in the light thrown from his hut door, he heard the tramp of horses' hoofs and a voice calling:
'Stand and deliver! You are my prisoner!'
Joe slipped into the shadow, sheltering himself behind the chimney, and saw two troopers riding at him. Instinctively his gun was lifted to his shoulder.
'Bail up!' he cried. 'A step nearer an' I fire!'
The troopers spurred their horses. Rogers clinched his teeth, his eye ran along the barrel, he covered the leading man and fired. The trooper was flung forward on his horse's neck, his arms dangling limply on each side. His horse sprang to a gallop, and a minute later the man slid over its shoulder and fell, rolling almost to Joe's feet as the animal rushed past.
The second trooper fired a revolver, and the bullet chipped a slab at the gold-stealer's ear. Rogers had him covered, and his finger was on the trigger when the gun was whirled from his hands and a man who had stolen up from the back closed with him. The newcorner was slim, and Rogers felt that he might break him between his hands if he could only get a proper grip; but the drunken drover—for it was he—was as sinuous as an eel, and a moment later Joe was on the broad of his back with the 'darbies' on his wrists and a trooper kneeling on his chest, while the drover, transformed into Detective Downy, stood over them, mopping his face with his big false beard.
The wounded trooper had recovered somewhat, and was on his hands and knees, with down-hanging head, in the light of the open door.
'How are you, Casey?' asked the detective anxiously.
'Aisy, sor. I'm jist wonderin' if I'm dead or alive,' said the trooper in a still small voice, watching the blood-drops falling from his forehead.
'Then the devil a bit's the matter with you, Casey.'
'Thank you, sor,' said the trooper, with a trained man's confidence in his superior. 'Thin I'd best git up, p'raps.' And he arose and stood dubiously fingering the furrow plowed along the top of his head by the gold stealer's bullet.
'Get him into the hut,' said Downy, indicating Rogers with a nod; 'and hobble the brute—he's dangerous.'
Rogers, sitting on the edge of his bunk, handcuffed and leg-ironed, gazed sullenly at the detective.
'Well,' he said, 'an' now you've got me, what's the charge?'
'A trifle of gold-stealing,' replied Downy, 'and this,' indicating Casey's bleeding head. 'To say nothing of the murder of your accomplice.'
Rogers blanched and glared at the detective, his face contorted and his eyes big with terror.
'Shine,' he murmured, 'd'ye mean Shine? It's a lie; he's not dead!'
Harry Hardy, who had just come upon the scene and was standing in the doorway, cried out at this.
'Great God!' he said. 'Then it was Ephraim Shine after all!'
'Pooh!'' cried Rogers, 'it was a trick to trap me into givin' his name. You needn't 'a' troubled yerself. I don't want to shield him—damn him!'
'Do you know where this Shine's to be got at?' asked Downy, appealing to Harry, who had been working in concert with the detective ever since his appearance in Waddy.
'Yes,' was the reply. 'I know his house. He'll be easily taken.'
'Then go with the sergeant. Take Casey's horse. It'll be with the other. Here,' he threw Harry a revolver. 'Case of need, you know, but no shooting if it can be avoided.'
Harry thrust the weapon in his belt, and a minute later he and Sergeant Monk rode off in company to take Ephraim Shine in the name of the Queen.
Meanwhile Dick was not at the bottom of the Piper shaft, as Rogers concluded in his haste. Joe had not left the boy half a minute when a second man made his appearance on the other side of the shaft. This was Downy, in his drover disguise. The detective, whose sole object in assuming the disguise was to watch Dick, believing that the boy would be sure to communicate with the real thieves, had witnessed his capture by Rogers and had followed in the latter's tracks; and now, after being entertained and instructed by the words that had passed between Rogers and his captive, he cut Dick down, quickly frayed the end of the rope between two stones, and cut away Dick's bonds, throwing the rope and gag into the shaft.
'Now, my lad,' he said sternly, 'after that man. Take me the nearest track to the quarry you spoke of as quick as you can cut, and don't make noise enough to wake a cat or I'll hand you over to him when we get there.'
Dick did as he was bid; and they were in time to overlook Rogers as he searched amongst the stones, and to overhear some of the language that announced his failure. At this stage the detective, who had retained his grip of Dick's wrist, whispered:
'You can go now, but you must take a message from me to Harry Hardy. Go straight to his house and say, 'Downy says 'Ready.'' Can I trust you?'
You're a plucky lad,' said Downy, 'and I'll take your word. Off you go, but make no noise.'
Dick crept quietly along the grass till he was well beyond hearing, and then ran down by Wilson's ploughed land and out into the open country. He understood that the career of Joe Rogers as a gold-stealer was drawing to a close, and the knowledge brought him a certain sense of relief in spite of the fact that he quite realised Shine's danger, and was more than ever devoted to the searcher's daughter, more than ever pleased with the idea of her hearing some day how faithful and bold he had been, how true a knight to his liege lady.
He burst into the room where Mrs. Hardy and Harry and Mrs. Haddon were seated, hatless and breathless, and filled his friends with alarm.
'Please, Harry, Downy says 'Ready!'' blurted Dick.
Harry sprang to his feet and made for the door.
'That mens he's discovered something important, mother.' he said as he passed out.
Dick followed, leaving the women astonished and curious, slipped away around the fence enclosing Harry's home, and made off towards the other end of the township. His intention was to warn Ephraim Shine of the danger that threatened. He did not doubt but that Rogers, if he fell into the hands of the troopers, would tell all.
There was a light burning in Shine's skillion, and Dick's knock was answered by Miss Chris, who wore her hat and was on the point of leaving for her home at Summers'.
'I want your father,' said Dick quickly. 'The troopers 'r' after him. Tell him to bolt.'
'Dickie—Dickie, whatever do you mean?' cried Christina, greatly agitated.
The next moment she was thrust aside and Shine appeared, showing a drawn gaunt face, the skin of which looked crinkled and yellow in the candle light, like old parchment.
'What's that?' he gasped. 'Who wants me?'
'You're found out,' said Dick, drawing back, shocked by the ghastly appearance of the man. 'They're after Rogers. They've got him by this, I expect, an' they'll soon have you if you don't make a bolt fer it.'
Shine uttered a wailing cry and Dick turned and fled again, afraid of being seen in the vicinity of the searcher's abode by Downy or any of his men. Looking back he saw that the house was now in darkness, and surmised that Ephraim had taken advantage of his warning to escape into the bush.
When Harry Hardy and the trooper rode up to Shine's house half an hour later, they found the place deserted. The door was on the latch, and the interior gave no indication of a hurried departure, but the searcher was nowhere to be seen.
'It's all right,' said Harry, 'he'll be somewhere about the township. I'll take a trip round an' see if I can hit on him, if you'll stay here an' keep watch.'
'Right,' said the sergeant, 'but you'd best drop in on Downy and let him know. If our man gets wind of what's happened he'll skedaddle.'
'If he doesn't we'll nab him at the mine at one.'
Harry found that Downy had disposed of his prisoner, having converted the cellar at the Drovers' Arms into a lock-up for the time being, and smuggled Joe Rogers in so artfully that McMahon's patrons in the bar were quite ignorant of the proximity of the prisoner and of the presence of the guardian angel sitting patiently in the next room, tenderly nursing a broken head and a six-barrelled Colt's revolver.
Harry and Downy searched Waddy from end to end in quest of Ephraim Shine, and saw nothing of him. Downy interviewed Christina without betraying his identity or his object, but could get no inforination of any value; and when the missing man failed to put in an appearance at the Silver Stream to search the miners from the pump coming off work, the hunt was abandoned for the time being.
'He's got wind of my game and cleared,' said Downy, 'but we'll have him before forty-eight hours have passed.'
'But how could he know?' asked Harry, impatient to lay Shine by the heels.
'May have heard the shots. May have been hiding anywhere. But, never fret, we'll round up your friend, my boy. Men of his make and shape are as easy to track as a hay waggon.'
In the early hours of the morning Downy drove his prisoner into Yarraman, and that day's issue of the local Mereury contained a thrilling description of the capture of the Waddy gold-stealer—a description that created an unprecedented demand for the Mercury, and quite compensated the gifted editor for, the heartburnings he had endured over the bushranging fiasco.
Waddy was dumbfounded when the Mercury came to hand, and horribly disgusted to think the stirring incident described had happened right under its nose, without its having the satisfaction of witnessing the least moving adventure or catching even a glimpse of the prisoner. Joe Rogers a free man was a familiar and commonplace object, but Joe Rogers handcuffed and leg-ironed in the custody of the law was a person of absorbing interest, and Waddy would have turned out to a man and woman to give him an appropriate send-off.
There, before their eyes, set forth in the columns of the Mercury, were the details of Detective Downy's ruse, and valuable remarks enlarging upon the almost superhuman astuteness of the officer in question; the story of Dick's capture by Rogers, the flight to the Piper shaft and all that happened there, the fight between the gold-stealer and the troopers, the shooting of Casey, the overthrow of Rogers, and the hunt for Ephraim Shine; all these things had happened in a small township within the space of a few hours, and Waddy, that had always found its Sunday nights hang so heavily on its hands, had been cheated out of every item of the bewildering list. It was a shame, an outrage. Detective Downy was voted a public enemy, and his name was execrated from the chapel yard to McMahon's bar.
The only satisfaction available to the people was in going over the ground, and they flocked to Joe's hut and congregated there, discussing, arguing, and predicting; examining with owlish wisdom the bullet mark on the hut chimney, and counting the blood spots on the worn track near the door where the hero Casey bled in defence of his country's laws. Of course, 'the boy Haddon' was a favourite theme, and now Dick appeared as a public benefactor. The matter of the stolen gold had yet to be settled, but the most generous view of this business was popular, and the confidence in Richard Haddon was complete. The women declared emphatically and without a blush that they had always believed in the honesty and intelligence and brave good heart of the boy. To be sure he was a bit wild and a little mischievous—but, there, what boy worth his salt was not? and, in spite of everything they had all seen long ago that Widow Haddon's young son was a good lad at bottom. His conduct in deluding Joe Rogers in the face of so terrible a danger reflected credit upon Waddy, and Waddy gratefully responded by being heartily proud of him. A crowd marched to Mrs. Haddon's back fence expressly to cheer Dick; and cheer him they did, in a solemn, matter-of-fact way, like a people performing a high public duty. Dick was not in the least moved by this display of feeling, but his mother was delighted and kissed him heartily, and responded on his behalf by shaking a towel out of the back window with great energy and much genuine emotion.
THE detective had asked Harry to keep careful watch upon Dick, but the boy betrayed no inclination to roam, and when he did venture out it was to call upon Harry himself. Dick's spirits had recovered marvellously, and if it were not for an occasional fit of sadness (induced by thoughts of Christina Shine) he would have been quite restored to his former healthy craving for devilment, and eager to call together the shareholders of the Mount of Gold with a view to arranging further adventures. Harry, too, no longer felt the ill effects of his injuries, and intended returning to work in the course of a few days. The recent discoveries had served to lighten his heart, and yet thoughts of Christina welled bitterness; but his mother was happy in the confidence that at last justice would be done and her son restored to her.
Dick found Harry moodily smoking in the garden, and addressed him through the fence.
'What d'ye think?' he said, with the air of one propounding a conundrum.
Harry was not in a guessing mood; he gave it up at once and Dick took another course.
'I got somethin' p'tickler to tell you,' he said.
'Have you, Ginger?' Harry was quite alert now. 'About this gold-stealin'?'
'No—o, not quite about that. I'm goin' to tell all that to Downy, but it's somethin' jist as p'tickler—about a reef we found.'
'A reef? Nonsense, Dick. How could you find a reef?'
'By diggin' fer it, I s'pose. What'd you think if I said we fellers' ye got a mine—a really mine—me an' Jacker Mack, an' Ted McKnight, an' Billy Peterson, an' Phil Doon? What'd you say, eh?'
'I'd say you didn't know what you were talking about, Ginger, my boy.'
'But if I took you down the shaft an' showed you the reef, an' showed you stone with gold stickin' in it—suppose I done that, how then?'
'Where is this reef?' asked Harry, becoming impressed by the boy's earnestness.
'But didn't you come to tell me?'
'Come to tell you we'd found it, an' to ask what to do, so's no one can jump it. We want it took up on a proper lease, all right fer me an' the rest o' the fellers, an' we'll let you stand in.'
'I can't take up a lease unless I know where the reef is, can I?'
'Well, it ain't far from the Bed Rand.'
'Nonsense, Dick! The bottom must be over three hundred feet deep there. You couldn't cut a reef any shallower than that.'
'On'y we have.'
Harry sat for a moment lost in thought. He had suddenly recalled old talk about mysterious indications of a shallow reef in that locality, a reef the existence of which would have been in open opposition to mining traditions, and contrary to all locally known theories of scientific mining. He remembered hearing of a shaft that had been put down by a few believers, in defiance of local derision; he recalled, too, the eccentric and unheard-of drive thrown out by the Red Hand in some such absurd quest, and his respect for the boy's opinion grew into something like conviction.
'It's very queer, Dick,' he said; 'but if you'll show it to me I'll do all I can for you.'
'That's good! You see we're all in it. We're the Mount of Gold Quartz-minin' Company—me an' Jacker an' them—but it's on'y a make-believe company, an' I'd like Mr. McKnight, an' Mr. Peterson, an' Mr. Doon to come, an' the detective cove too, cause there's somethin' else there—somethin' else p'tickler too.'
'Very well, we can go an' see McKnight an' Peterson, but they'll laugh at us.'
'When they laugh we'll show 'em this,' said Dick, producing a lump of quartz.
Harry took the stone in his hand; it was not larger than a hen's egg and of a dark colour, but studded thickly with clean gold, and as he gazed at it his pipe fell from his mouth and his eyes rounded. He pursed his lips to whistle his astonishment, and forgot to do it; he lifted his hand to scratch his head and it stuck half-way; he turned and turned the stone, stupid with surprise.
'By the holy, your fortune's made if there's much o' this!' he blurted at length.
'Think there's heaps of it,' said Dick coolly.
'When can we go to it?'
'When the detective cove comes, an' I've told him 'bout somethin'.'
'Somethin' good for us, Dick?' asked Harry anxiously.
Dick nodded his head slowly several times.
'Well, if this don't lick cock-fighting. Have you told your mother?'
'No,' said Dick.
'Nothing about this either? How's that?'
'Oh,' said Dick with a man's superiority, 'she wouldn't understand. She don't know nothin' 'bout minin', you know.'
Harry looked down upon his young friend curiously for a moment.
'D'you know,' he said, 'you're a most amazing kind of a kid?'
'How?' asked Dick shortly.
'Why in the way you get mixed up in things.'
'Tain't my fault if things happen, is it?' asked the boy in an injured tone.
'S'pose it ain't,' replied Harry with a grin; 'but they all seem to come your way somehow. Look here—it can't matter now—tell me how you came to be in the Stream drive that night?'
Dick kicked up a tuft of grass, bored one heel into the soft turf, and answered nothing.
'Come on, old man, I won't turn dog.'
'I'm goin' to tell it to Detective Downy first. 'Twasn't nothin' much anyhow. I jes' went down.'
Dick would say nothing more. He found himself on the side of the law for the first time, and felt he owed a duty to Downy, whom he regarded as almost as great a man as Sam Sagacious. Downy had come to his rescue in an hour of dire peril, Downy had trusted him and taken him into his confidence to some extent, and he was determined to do the fair and square thing by the detective, at least so far as he could do so without interfering with his sacred obligation to handsome, unhappy Christina Shine.
The detective returned to the township in the afternoon to prosecute the search for Ephraim, of whom nothing had yet been heard. In the presence of his mother and Mrs. Hardy and Harry, Dick faced the officer to tell his story; but he found it hard to begin.
'Well, my lad,' said Downy, 'you're going to tell all you know?'
Dick nodded, abashed by his new importance.
'Out with it then. You were in that drive?'
'You went down with Rogers and Shine?'
'Very well, my boy, how did you go?'
'Went by myself. Out of a drive what I know into the Red Hand workin's, an' down the Red Hand ladders.'
'But why? Go ahead—why?'
'To—to drag Harry out o' the water.'
There were three distinct gasps at this, and even the detective's eyelids went up a trifle.
'Go on, Dick.'
Now having started, Dick told his story in full. The incidents were not told consecutively, and he needed considerable cross-examining before the tale was properly fitted together and his audience of four had grasped the full details. Then Mrs. Hardy arose from her seat and moved towards him somewhat unsteadily; knelt by his side, took him in her arms softly and quietly, kissed him, and said in a very low voice:
'God bless you, Richard; God bless you, my brave boy.'
This, for some reason quite incomprehensible to the boy, caused a lump to swell in his breast and gave him an altogether uncalled-for inclination to blubber; but he swallowed it down with an effort, and then his mother hugged him in that billowy energetic way of hers. After which Harry took his hand and shook it for quite a long time without speaking a word. The detective alone was undemonstrative.
'Now,' said he, 'what about this gold? You hid it?'
'Yes. In our shaft.'
'Look here, Master Dick, why have you kept all this so quiet? Why did you go down that mine in stead of running for help? Come, there is something at the back of all this; out with it!
Dick's lips closed in a familiar way, and their colourlessness indicated a stubborn defiance of all argument and persuasion.
'Did you want to steal the gold yourself?'
'No,' cried the boy angrily.
'Then you were afraid of something. By heaven! I have it. You rip! 'twas you gave warning to Ephraim Shine. You deserve six months.'
'Shame!' murmured Mrs. Hardy.
''Tisn't fair!' expostulated Dick's mother. Dick's lips were closed again, and he stared defiantly at the detective.
'Well, well,' groaned Downy, 'this is the most extraordinary thing in boys that I have ever encountered, but he's a mass of grit—for good or bad, all grit. Shake hands, Dick.'
Dick brightened up, and shook hands cheerfully.
'You're quite sure about that gold? You hid it securely?' queried the detective.
'Yes, I buried it under the reef quite safe.'
'And nobody knows of this hole but yourself?'
'Yes, Jacker knows, an' Ted, an' Billy Peterson, an'—'
'Bless my soul, the whole township knows! We won't get an ounce of that gold—not a colour. We'd better make the search at once, Mr. Hardy. You'll need a rope and tools, I suppose. Hunt up the men you spoke of as quickly as possible, will you?'
Harry and Dick started off together in quest of McKnight. He was on the night shift, and they found him in bed. Harry explained. McKnight was scornful and profane.
'What—that boy Haddon again?' he cried. 'Now what's his little game? What devilment's he up to?
'But this looks all right,' Harry expostulated.
'All right, my grandmother's cat! You'll be findin' quartz reefs in a gum-tree next.'
'You ask Jacker an' Ted,' put in Dick resentfully, hurt to find his well-intentioned efforts so ungraciously received.
'Ask Jacker, is it? If Jacker comes playin' any of your monkey tricks with me, my lad, I'll make him smell mischief, I tell you.'
'But hang it all, Mack! you might as well come an' see. I own the chances o' finding a shallow reef in that locality look blue, but you know there was talk o' something of the kind years ago.'
'Yes, talk by fellers that didn't know a quartz lode from a load o' bricks or a stone wall. Get out, I'm sleepy.'
'Show him the specimen,' said Dick.
Harry handed it over.
'The boy says this is from his show. How's that?' he said.
McKnight took the stone indifferently, cast his eye over it, and then sat up with a jerk. He moistened the stone here and there, glared again in a strained silence, and one leg shot out of bed. He weighed the specimen in his hand, and the second leg followed. Then McKnight fell to dressing himself; he literally jumped into his clothes, and as he buttoned his vest all askew, he gasped:
'Hold on there—I'll be with you in two twos!'
'Wouldn't break my neck about it, old man,' said Harry sarcastically, 'p'raps the boy made that specimen out of a door knob an' a bit of brick.'
'Did he, but—That's just the same class o' stone as the specimen Henderson found in the back paddock twelve years ago, that sent everyone daft after a reef there. Come on.'
McKnight was now much the most eager of the three, and led the way at a great pace to Peterson's house. Peterson was more easily convinced, and in a few minutes the four joined Downy at Mrs. Hardy's. The detective had borrowed a coil of rope, the necessary tools were provided, and the party set off. The five no sooner appeared on the flat with their burdens than they were sighted by many of the people of Waddy, now eagerly on the lookout for adventure, and before they reached the bush they had quite a mob at their heels, fed by a thin stream of men, women, and children hurrying to witness the newest development of Waddy's latest and greatest affair.
Dick led the men into the Gaol Quarry, and at the spring turned and pointed the way through the scrub growth under which he and his mates always crawled to get at the opening leading into the Mount of Gold.
'In there,' he said, 'agin the wall.'
Harry and McKnight broke a passage through the saplings and ti-tree.
''Tween them two rocks,' said Dick; 'low down under the fern.'
'Yes,' cried Harry, 'here we are! Let's have the hammer, Peterson.'
Harry broke away projecting pieces of stone, widening the aperture, and Dick and the detective joined them at the opening.
'I'll go first,' said the boy. 'I can go down the ladder we made, but it mightn't bear a man.'
Dick went below and lit a couple of candles. Nothing had been touched in the drive, and he peeped into the shaft and saw that the loose dirt there was as he left it. Harry joined him in a few minutes and McKnight followed. The men came down on the boys' curious ladder, but with a rope about their waists, paid out from above. Downy was the last to go below, Peterson remaining on the surface to keep the crowd back from the entrance.
McKnight seized a candle, crawled to the extremity of Dick's diminishing drive, and examined the place curiously.
'It's right,' he cried, 'right as the bank. She's a dyke formation, I should say, an' rich. By the holy, we're made men—made men, Hardy!
Detective Downy was too deeply interested in his own quest to pay much attention to the miners.
'Now, my lad,' he said, 'where are we?'
'The bag's there under them lumps.' Dick held his candle low, throwing its light into the shaft. Downy dropped from the slabs placed across from drive to drive into the bottom, and going on his knees threw aside the lumps of mullock indicated by the boy. Dick followed him holding the candle, and watching his movements, anxiously at first, and then with terror. He flung himself down beside the detective, and plunged his hand amongst the rubble, then ceased and faced the detective, mute, despairing.
'Well, well,' cried Downy in alarm, 'what is it?
'Gone!' whispered Dick.
'Gone? Are you sure? We have not searched yet.'
'You may have made a mistake. Hardy, Mc Knight, lend a hand here.'
'No good,' said Dick, 'it's gone.—it's stolen. I put it right here, coverin' it with this flat junk an' a lot o' small stuff. I know—I know quite well.'
Harry and McKnight went into the shaft with shovels, and turned over the dirt stowed there to the depth of two feet, but the bag was gone.
'Show a light here,' Downy said suddenly, looking up at Dick from the slab on which he was seated above the two workers. He took the candle and examined the edge of the slab closely.
'You said the bag containing the stolen gold was made of hide.'
'Yes,' said the boy, 'green hide—just a calfskin bag, with the hair on.'
'Humph! Then here is proof that part of your story is true anyhow.' He held up a little tuft of reddish hair.
'Rogers had a skin bag, a red-an'-white one. Used to use it fer haulin' in the shallow alluvial at Eel Creek. I've seen it at his hut often,' said McKnight. 'But, I say, mister, if you' take the advice of an old miner you'll get out o' this just as quick as you can lick. See, the timber's been taken out o' this shaft, an' it's a wonder to me it ain't come down in a lump an' buried them kids long since. It's damn dangerous, I tell you.'
'Very good,' said Downy. 'First have a look into these drives and then we'll clear. Show me how you got through into the Red Hand workings, Dick.'
Dick led him along the drive and pointed out the little heap covering the opening where he had broken through.
'Do you think that dirt's been touched by anyone since you piled it there?' asked Downy.
'No,' said Dick, 'it seems jist the same.'
'Then the thief did not come that way.' The detective scattered the heap and examined the rough edges of the opening carefully. 'No cow hair there,' he said. 'We must hunt for that skin bag somewhere up aloft, Dick.'
When Dick reached the surface he found Hardy, McKnight, and Peterson standing apart from the crowd, with elate faces, talking earnestly.
'She's a rich dyke,' McKnight was saying, 'an' she'll go plumb down to any depth. We must get the pegs in at once, an' apply fer a lease. She just misses Silver Stream ground, an' the ole Red Hand is forfeit long ago. Boys, it's a fortune fer us.'
'Remember Phil Doon's a shareholder, too; his father's got to be in it,' said Dick.
'To be sure, lad, to be sure; all honest an' fair to the boy pioneers.'
Dick felt little enthusiasm about the Mount of Gold just then, for the loss of the bag of stolen gold troubled him sorely. He feared that Detective Downy regarded him as a liar and a cheat.
After coming up Downy examined the opening in the rock critically.
'Do you think a man might have made his way through that hole before you broke the edges down?' he asked Harry.
'Well, yes, with some crowding I think he might've.'
'Yet the boy said he had to squeeze his way through. Did you notice if the opening had been enlarged recently? Were there indications of recent breakages?'
'Yes, the stone had been broken in places. I s'posed the boys did that.'
'Perhaps. Here, Dick.'
Dick was quite sure neither he nor any of his mates had increased the opening. They kept it small because it was easier to hide; besides, he said, it was more fun having to squeeze through.
'Which of your mates took that bag?' asked Downy sharply.
'None of 'em.'
'Why are you so positive?'
''Cause I know they wouldn't be game.'
'Afraid of the darkness or the mine?'
'No, afraid o' me.' Dick squared his shoulders manfully.
'Get out—why should they be afraid of you?'
'Wasn't I legal an' minin' manager an' chairman o' the directors? If one did what I told him not to he'd get the sack an' a lickin', too.'
'Oh, he would, eh? Well, you'd better give me their names anyhow. And now,' he continued after jotting down the names of the shareholders of the Mount of Gold, 'show me the track you took when you dragged the hide bag through the quarry.'
Dick went back over his tracks, and Downy followed slowly on hands and knees, rescuing a hair or two from the edges of the rock or from a bramble here and there.
'Fortunately that bag of yours shed its hair freely, old man,' he said. 'here's corroborative evidence anyhow. The bag went down all right—now let's see what proof there is that it came up again.'
He returned to the hole in the rock and commenced another search, with his nose very close to the ground, moving slowly, and peering diligently into every little cranny amongst the stones. At length, after travelling about ten yards in the direction of the spring in this fashion, be called sharply:
'Hi, Dick What were you doing with that bag here?'
'Never had it nowhere near here,' answered Dick.
'Come, recollect; you put it down for a spell.' 'Didn't,' said Dick. 'Went straight along the side, an' dropped it into the shaft.'
'But look—there's hair on the top of this rock and a tuft on the corner. Mustn't tell me a cow would roost there, my lad.'
'Don't care—'twasn't me.'
Downy sat on the rock for a moment in a brown study, and the crowd, which had made itself comfort able in one end of the quarry and up one side, sat in awed silence, watching him closely, like a theatre audience waiting for some wonder-worker to perform his feats of magic.
The detective did nothing astonishing. After collecting a portion of the hair he deposited it carefully in his pocket-book, deposited the book just as carefully in his breast-pocket, and then climbed out of the quarry and marched away towards the township; and the crowd, relieved from the restraint imposed by the law as personified in him, gathered about the stone and examined it wisely, discovering a much longer and more significant sermon in it than Downy had ever suspected, and finding marrow-freezing suggestiveness in the marks of rust upon the face of the rock, which were declared by common consent to be bloodstains. Waddy confidently expected the gold-stealing case to culminate in the discovery of a particularly atrocious murder, and Ephraim Shine was selected as the probable victim. It was held by many that so good a man as the superintendent had seemed to be could not reasonably be suspected of consorting with a sinner like Joe Rogers with criminal intentions, and the idea that he had been murdered by the real thieves under peculiarly shocking circumstances was held to be more feasible, and was, in addition to that, highly satisfactory from a dramatic point of view.
The investigations of the people stopped short at the entrance to the shaft, where Peterson mounted guard and warned them off in the name of the law, and meanwhile Hardy and McKnight were pegging out the land preparatory to applying for a lease.
Downy went straight from the quarry to Shine's house, and, much to his surprise, found the missing man's daughter there. Christina had altered much during the last few hours: her face was now quite colourless, grief had robbed it of its sweet simplicity, and the buoyant ingenuousness had fled from her eyes. A new character was legible there, a strength of will more in keeping with her fine presence. The almost childlike sympathy was gone, and in its place was a trace of suffering and evidence of the deeper forces of her nature. The detective eyed her keenly, with surprise and interest, and saluted her in his most respectful manner.
'You have had the—eh, misfortune to meet me before, Miss Shine,' he said.
Christina merely bowed her head.
'I am Detective Downy. I have a warrant for the arrest of Ephraim Shine. I wish to search the house.'
'Yes,' said the girl quietly, and stepped from the door to make way for him.
Downy entered and commenced his search at once. He examined the whole place minutely, foolishly it seemed to Christina, who stood by the door apparently impassive but following all his movements with her eyes. He was particularly careful in overhauling a coat that her father had worn, and having gone through the three rooms he walked out and round the house. There was no place near where a man might hide but in the tank, and that was full of water, as he cautiously noted. He faced Christina for a moment, as if with the intention of questioning her, but changed his mind, wished her 'Good day,' and moved off.
Up to six o'clock next day nothing had been heard of Shine; he had disappeared in a most astonishing manner. The police of the whole country were alert to capture him, and it was thought that escape for him was impossible, if only on account of his physical peculiarities, which should have made him a marked man anywhere in Victoria or in either of the neighbouring provinces. Sergeant Monk and several troopers were stationed at Waddy, and were kept busy hunting in the old mines and all the nooks and corners of the district. Harry Hardy joined in the hunt throughout Tuesday. He had a feverish desire for employment—occupation for his mind which, in spite of the efforts he made to dwell upon the villainies of Ephraim Shine and the wrong he had done Frank, and the good reasons he had to hate him, would revert again and again to Christina; and then a wish, a cowardly wish, traitorous to his brother, cruel to his mother, and false to himself, stole into his heart, and he felt for one burning moment a hope that the searcher might escape for her sake, for the sake of sweet Chris, whose victory over him he acknowledged and nursed in secret with a wealth of feeling that amazed him, with a passion he had never dreamed himself capable of. He fought this wish furiously, as if it had been a tangible thing: grappling with it, choking it in his heart, and stirring up in his soul a wilder hatred for his enemy.
Harry saw Chris for a moment on the morning after the arrest of Joe Rogers; the change in her startled him, his love flamed up, and pity tore at his heart strings. His triumph must mean suffering and shame for her. Had he stood alone he would ten thousand times rather have borne what misfortune might have fallen to his lot than see her shamed and sorrowing. It was thoughts like these that rose up to make him his brother's enemy, and they were conquered in sweat and agony; and since his loyalty to his own kin could only be maintained at a fever heat, he stood forth as the most bitter and implacable foe of Ephraim Shine.
Coming from Mrs. Hardy's gate on that night at about nine o'clock, Dick Haddon collided with a breathless boy running at top speed in the direction of the Drovers' Arms, and the two went down together. When Dick had quite recovered he recognised the other, whom he had gripped with 'vengeful intentions, as Billy Peterson.
'Lemme go,' cried Billy. 'Quick, can't yer! I'm goin' fer the troopers.'
'Who for?' asked Dick, hanging to his friend.
'Oh, right you are; but you won't go, that's all.'
'Well, I'm goin' to tell 'em that Tinribs is up at his house.'
'How d'yer know?'
'I was sneakin' round to get a shot at a cat, an' I heard 'em. Lemme go 'r he'll be gone, you fool.'
'Won't,' said Dick, masterfully. 'You ain't goin'.'
'Who'll stop me?'
'Tain't in yer.'
A struggle commenced between the boys and rapidly merged into a stand-up fight. When Harry Hardy appeared on the scene, attracted by their cries, he found the combatants locked in a fierce embrace, each clinging desperately to a handful of the other's hair and hammering vigorously at his opponent's ribs. Harry pulled them apart as if they had been terriers.
'Here, here, what's all this about?' he cried.
'Dick stopped me goin' fer the troopers,' said Billy indignantly.
'Yes, fer Mr. Shine. He's up in his house. I heard him—he was talkin' to Miss Chris in the dark.'
'Stop!' said Harry; but Billy, who had broken away, picked up his heels and ran.
Harry did not linger, but turned and sped off to wards Shine's home, leaving Dick cowering against the fence. The young man had no defined intention—he did not know what he should do if he found Shine in the house. His divided interests left his mind confused at the crucial moment, but he did not relax his speed until he was within a few yards of the searcher's door. Then, to his astonishment, he found lights burning in the house, and Christina confronted him in the doorway as he was about to enter. He drew back a step and his eyes sought the ground. He stood panting and speechless.
'What do you want, Harry?' she asked.
Had she been bitter or angry it might have been easier for him, but her voice was low and kindly, and he was abashed. He was compelled to force himself to his purpose, as he might have pushed a backing horse at a stiff fence.
'I want your father. He is here.' His voice was harsh and strained.
'My father is not in here.'
'He has been seen. Let me pass.'
'No, Harry, you have no right.' She barred the way, tall and calm and strong.
'No right? No right to take the man who has gaoled my brother—who would have murdered me?' His blood had mounted to his head; he had put aside his love as something that tempted him to evil, put it aside by an almost heroic effort of renunciation. 'I will have him,' he cried; 'the would-be murderer, the thief.'
'No,' said Christina firmly facing him.
'Then he's here—he is here?
'You lie thinking to save him, but the troopers are coming.' He pointed back into the night. From where he stood the back door was visible, and he watched it intently.
'The troopers are the officers of the law. I can not deny them, you I can. Harry, you are fierce and cruel—fierce and unforgiving.' The reproach was not spoken fretfully; it was quite dispassionate, but it struck him like a blow and he bent before it, conscious of its injustice but not daring to deny it. They remained so in silence for a few minutes, and then heard the rush of the troopers' horses coming up the grass-grown back road at a gallop.
'They're coming,' said Harry in a low voice.
Christina neither stirred nor spoke, and Monk at the head of four horsemen swept up to the house.
'To the front, Donovan and Keel,' cried Monk. 'He may make for cover in those quarries if he bolts.
Casey, stay here. Managan, follow me.'
He dropped from his horse and led the animal to Harry, to whom he threw the rein. Christina did not attempt to bar his passage, and he and Managan passed into the house. Chris stood by the door jamb, facing Harry, erect and pale; Harry leant against the big galvanised-iron tank, absently fondling the head of the trooper's horse. Suddenly, a moment after the troopers had entered the house, he heard right at his elbow the sound of something striking upon the iron of the tank inside. He started forward with a low cry, and his eyes flew to the face of the girl. She, too, had heard the sound, and their eyes met. The terror in hers told him that he had discovered the truth.
'He's there,' he whispered.
Christina staggered back, supporting herself against the wall, and fell into a seat under the window, the light from which streamed upon her fair hair and illumined her as she sat, crushed by her misery into an attitude of profound despair, her head bowed upon her breast, her clasped hands thrust out rigidly be yond her knees.
Harry stood silent and motionless, his eyes fixed upon the grief-stricken figure of the girl, his brain in a tumult. His heart was driving him to forget everything but that he loved her, to take her in his arms and swear to shield her and cherish her, come what might. At this moment Sergeant Monk came from the house.
'Not a sign of him,' he said. 'Did you see any thing of him, Hardy?
'Not a glimpse,' answered Harry mechanically.
'Did you go inside?'
'No; Miss Shine refused admittance.'
'Why are you here, miss?' asked Monk, turning sharply to Christina.
'I am here because it is my home,' she answered unsteadily.
'But don't you live with the Summers family?'
'People may not care to shelter the daughter of—of one suspected of robbery and almost murder.' The girl's head sank lower still and a convulsive sob shook her frame; but she controlled herself with a brave effort of will and sat immovable.
Monk's horse was nosing in the bucket under the tap of the tank, and Harry stooped and turned the tap. The water ran swiftly, filling the bucket in a few seconds. While the horse drank the sergeant gave whispered orders to Casey; and Christina, with steadfast eyes and locked fingers, sat waiting for Harry to speak the dreaded words, wondering at his silence. Monk moved round the house, peering into all the corners, and came to the tank again. It stood on a small platform raised on four uprights, and all was open underneath. The sergeant examined it. He climbed to the top, removed the lid and, striking a light, looked in. The tank was full of water.
'I am going to hunt over the quarries,' said the trooper in a low voice, as he mounted. 'Donovan and Keel are taking a run in the paddock, Casey will try the houses about here. You might keep your eyes open, Hardy. Perhaps that boy was mistaken, but we mustn't miss a chance.'
Harry nodded, scarcely comprehending what the man said, and Monk rode off leaving the two alone. For a minute or more they continued in the same position; then Harry stole to Chris, and kneeling in the shadow by her side took her hand firmly in his.
'He is there,' he whispered.
'What are you going to do?' she added in a strange voice.
'Why don't you get him away?'
'Away?' she murmured vaguely.
'Yes, yes; I will help you.' His left arm clasped her closely, and his breath was on her cheek.
She turned her face towards him, and there was a new hope in it, another spirit in her glorious eyes.
'You are not going to give him up.'
'I can't—I can't do it!'
'Thank God!' she murmured, and there was some thing more than relief for her father's sake in her tone. He had made a revelation that filled her with a passion of joy which for a moment drove out the fears and anxieties that had possessed her heart.
'I love you—I love you, dear,' he continued in a voice ardent, caressing; 'an' I can't bear to see you suffer.'
She let her face sink to his and kissed him on the mouth, and he clasped her to his breast and held her, repeating again and again expressions of his devotion that love made eloquent. Her pale face turned to him seemed luminous with the ecstacy of the moment. For a brief sweet minute she abandoned herself to that ecstacy and forgot everything beside.
'I have always loved you, my darling! my darling!' she whispered—' always. That night at the gate I thought you cared and I was happy, but afterwards I was afraid. I thought you might hate me for his sake, and I was wretched.'
'I did try to, Chris—I tried to hate you. I was a fool. I couldn't do anything but love in spite of myself, an' now I'll help you, dear.'
'No, no, no, Harry; no—you must not!' She put him from her with her strong arms. 'It is wrong. I cannot let you. It is right that I should fight for him—he is my father. He has been a good father to me, and I have loved him and believed in him. It is my duty to fight for him, but you must not, my dear love. In you it would be a wrong, a crime.'
'He is your father—I love you!
'Yes, yes, and oh, I am glad you love me; but you must leave me to do what I can alone. It is not your duty to help him. Think of your mother, your brother, your own honour.'
'We can save Frank now without this.'
'You cannot be sure of that, Harry—you only hope so.'
'Am I to tell the troopers, then?'
'No, no—oh, no; I am not brave enough to say that! I cannot bear to think of you as his hunter, his bitterest foe. 'Twas that thought made my shame and my sorrow so terrible a burden; but I can carry it better now.'
'My poor girl! my poor girl!'
He bent his lips to the white hand upon his shoulder and kissed it tenderly.
'God bless you, Harry!' she faltered, tears springing to her eyes. 'I know how generous you are. As a boy you had a big brave heart, and I admired you and loved you for it; but I can take no sacrifice that might bring more sorrow upon your mother, that might wrong your brother and bring shame to you.'
'But Frank's innocence will be known. Dickie Haddon heard them as good as admit it.'
'Yes, I know the story. I made Mrs. Haddon tell me all, and I know that they left you to drown; and now for my sake you would save him, run the risk of being discovered assisting him to escape from justice—and the risk is great, dear. Think what it would mean if that became known, how it would blacken poor Frank's case. People would say they had all been in league to rob the mine; you would be despised, your mother's heart would break. Harry, that must not be. The shame is mine now; you and yours have borne enough. I cannot drag you into it again. I cannot have your precious love for me made a source of danger and dishonour to you. No, no; I love you too well for that—much too well for that, dear.'
She spoke in little more than a whisper, but there was the intensity of deep feeling in every word.
He drew her to her feet and into his arms again with tender reverence, and softly kissed her tired eyelids. She was only a girl, and the strife of the last two days had told upon her strength. It was sweet to rest so, knowing and feeling his strength, confident of his devotion.
'But I love you—I love you, Chris,' he said.
'Yes, you love me and I love you.' Her hand stole to his neck. 'Ah, how happy we might have been!
'Might have been? We must be happy—we must!' he said vehemently. 'I love you, an' your sorrow is mine, your trouble is mine. I won't let anything interfere. I must help you!
'No, Harry, I will not take your help. You do not stand alone. Before I would have you do that I would tell the truth myself. My father is ill; he may never get away. I think he will not. What would be left to me if he were taken after all, and you were known to have assisted him in his endeavours to elude the police? I could not bear it. No, no, dear, you must leave us alone to that. Promise.'
They were standing in the darkness by the wall. He drew her more closely to him and his only answer was a kiss.
'If he does escape,' she said, 'I will go into court and tell what I know, if it will help your brother. Perhaps I ought to tell the truth now in justice and honour, but I cannot desert my father. There is something here will not let me do that,' She pressed a hand to her bosom.
'No, you can't do that. I'm sorry for you, Chris. It's a hard fight. I want to fight with you. By Heaven! you don't know how I could fight for you.'
Her head had fallen upon his breast again; he felt her sob, and broke into vehement speech—passionate assurances of love half spoken, ejaculations, fierce endearments, tender words—then was as suddenly silent again, and stood over her with his lips amongst her hair until her mood passed.
'I will come to-night,' he whispered, when at length she ceased weeping.
'No,' she said, and she was strong again. 'In asking you to be silent I make you false to your people. I do ask that, but no more. Harry, you must not come again. Promise me you will not.'
'You'll come to me—we'll see each other?'
'No, dear. Better not, till this terrible business is over.'
Chris, I can't part like that.'
'You must, you must. Would you make it harder for me? Would you give me a new burden of shame and grief?'
'I'd die for you! There's nothing I wouldn't do for you!
'Then do this, my true love. Promise me you will not come here again.'
'Will it be for long?'
'No, it cannot be for long. Promise me. Promise me. Promise!'
'You know if he's-taken an' tried I will have to give evidence against him.'
'I do,' she answered, shuddering.
'An' that'll make no difference to our love?'
'I will always love you, Harry.'
'This trouble's making a great change in you, Chris,' he said yearningly. 'You're pale and ill. It'll wear you out.'
She felt herself weakening again, but summoned all her resolution and stood true to her purpose.
'I can bear it,' she said. 'I must! Promise me. Harry, the troopers are coming—your promise!'
'I promise.' He held her a moment caught to his heart, they exchanged a long kiss, and she slipped from him and into the house.
A MINUTE later, when Casey rode up out of the darkness, Harry was sitting alone by the window.
'You've seen nothing?' he said.
Divil a see,' replied the trooper. 'It's sartin to me he ain't within fifty moiles av us this blessed minute.'
'It doesn't seem likely he'd hang round here, does it?'
'The man ud be twin idyits what ud do it, knowin' we'd be sartin sure to nab him, Misther Hardy.'
Harry was not disposed to smile, indeed he scarcely heeded Casey's words; he thought he detected a faint sound of weeping within the house, and his heart was filled with a passionate longing to stand by his dear love in defiance of everything. Casey, looking down upon him, noted the convulsive movements of his clenched hands, and said with a laugh:
'Sure, 'twould be sorrer an' torinint fer that same Shine if you laid thim hands on him now, me boy.'
Harry started to his feet and commenced to fondle the trooper's horse, fearing to follow the train of thought that had possessed him lest he should betray himself. Shortly after Sergeant Monk returned.
'No go,' he said. 'Anything turned up here, Casey?'
'Niver a shmell av anythin', sor,' answered the trooper.
'Well, we can raise this siege, Hardy. That boy was mistaken, sure enough.'
'If he wasn't having a game with us,' answered Harry.
'Urn, yes; that's likely enough among these young heathens of Waddy. But Downy will be here again in the morning; we'll see what he makes of it.'
Harry followed the police as they rode away, and returned slowly to his home. His anxiety for Chris's sake, and his profound sympathy for her, did not serve to quell the wild elation dancing in his veins, the triumphal spirit awakened by the knowledge of her love and fired by her kisses.
Chris, sitting alone in the house, her face buried in her hands, felt, too, something of this exultation; but she nerved herself to look into the future, and saw it grim and starless. She saw herself the daughter of the convicted thief, the thief who had only narrowly escaped having to stand his trial for murdering her lover; the thief who had shifted the burden of his guilt on to the shoulders of an innocent man, the brother of her love. Could she ever consent to be Harry's wife after that? she asked herself with sudden terror. Then she shut out the thought, and her heart sang: 'He loves me! He loves me! 'and there was joy in that no danger could destroy.
Detective Downy was in Waddy again on the following morning, his trip to Yarraman having been taken with the idea of interviewing Joe Rogers in prison and endeavouring to worm out of him some intelligence that might assist in the discovery of Ephraim Shine. But Rogers either knew nothing or could not be persuaded to tell what he knew, so the effort was fruitless.
After hearing the story of the previous night, Downy sent for Billy Peterson and questioned him closely; but the boy insisted that he had told the truth, and was quite positive it was the searcher's voice he heard. The detective was puzzled.
'You made a close hunt about the house?' he said to Sergeant Monk.
'In every nook and corner.'
'Yet there must be something in this boy's yarn. Shine is certainly in hiding somewhere near here. If he had made a run for it he must have been seen, and we should have heard of him before this. There might be a dozen holes in those quarries into which a man could creep. We must go over them. Don't leave a foot's space unsearched.'
The troopers spent several hours in the quarries, moving every stone that might hide the entrance to a small cave, and leaving no room for a suspicion that Shine could be lying in concealment there. For a Dick, who, in consideration of the seriousness of recent events with which he had been directly concerned, enjoying a week's holiday, superintended the hunt from the banks; but he wearied of the work at length, and crossed the paddocks to join the men busy in the new shaft. Harry Hardy, McKnight, Peterson, and Doon were sinking to cut the dyke discovered by the Mount of Gold Quartz-mining Company. The mine had been christened the Native Youth; Dick, as the holder of a third interest, felt himself to be a person of some consequence about the claim, and discussed its prospects with the elder miners like a person of vast experience and considerable expert knowledge, using technical phrases liberally, and not forgetting to drop a word of advice here and there. It might have been thought presumptuous in the small boy, but was nothing of the kind in the prospector and discoverer of the lode.
The big shareholder did not disdain even to assist in the work, and it was a proud and happy youth, clay-smirched and wearing 'bo-yangs' below his knees like a full-blown working miner, who marched through the bush with the other owners of the Native Youth at crib-time. Being their own bosses the men of the new mine went home to dinner, and dined at their leisure like the aristocrats they expected to be.
Prouder still was Dick when he discovered brown haired, dark-eyed little Kitty Grey loitering amongst the trees, regarding him with evident admiration and awe. He felt at that moment that he needed only a black pipe to make his triumph complete, and had a momentary resentment against the absurd prejudice that denied a boy of his years the right to smoke in public. Kitty had scarcely dared to lift her eyes to her hero for some time past: the wonderful stories told of him seemed to exalt him to such an altitude that she could hope for nothing better than to worship meekly at a great distance. She was braver now, she actually approached him and spoke to him, yet timidly enough to have softened a heart of adamant; but Dick, stung by a laughing comment from McKnight, would have passed her by with an exaggerated indifference intended to convey an idea of his sublime superiority to little girls, no matter how large and dark and appealing their eyes might be. Then she actually seized his hand.
'Don't go, Dickie,' she said, 'I want to speak to you. Miss Christina sent me.'
Kitty was a member of Christina Shine's class at the chapel, and was one of half a dozen to whom Miss Chris represented all that was beautiful and most to be desired in an angel. The mention of Christina's name served to divest Dick of all pretentiousness.
'What is it, Kitty?' he asked eagerly.
'She wants you. She says you're her friend, an' you'll go to her,' Kitty spoke in a whisper, although the men were now well beyond earshot.
'Yes,' said Dick; 'I'll go now.'
'No, not now,' said Kitty clinging to his sleeve. 'She says have your dinner an' then go. An' oh, Dickie, she's been crying, an' she's all white, an'—an'—' At this the little messenger began to cry too.
'Is she?' said Dick, sadly. 'When my mine turns out rich I'm goin' to give her a fortune.'
'Oh, are you, Dickie?' said Kitty, beaming through her tears.
'Yes,' answered he gravely; 'and then she'll marry Harry Hardy an' be happy ever after.'
'My, that will be nice,' murmured Kitty, much comforted.
'You ain't a bad little girl.' He felt called upon to reward her. 'You can walk as far as the fence with me if you like.'
Kitty was properly grateful, and they walked together to the furze-covered fence.
'Please don't tell anyone you're going to see her, Miss Christina says,' whispered Kitty, at parting.
'Right y'are,' Dick said, delighted with the mystery. 'I say, Kitty, I think p'raps I'll give you a fortune too.'
'Oh, Dickie, no; not a whole fortune, I'm too little,' cried Kitty, overwhelmed.
'Yes, a whole fortune,' he persisted grandly; 'an' maybe I'll marry you.'
'Will you, Dickie, will you? Oh, that is kind!'
'Here.' He had turned over the treasures in his pocket and found a scrap of gilt filagree off a gorgeous valentine. 'Here's somethin'.'
Kitty thought the gift very beautiful, and accepted it thankfully for its own sake and the sake of the giver, as an earnest of the fortune to come; and went her way happy but duly impressed with a sense of the responsibilities those riches must impose.
Harry Hardy had loitered behind his mates on the flat, and when the boy caught up to him again he turned to him with nervous anxiety.
'What did that girl want with you, Dick?' he asked. I heard her mention Miss Shine's name.'
He noted the set, stubborn look with which he was now familiar fall upon the boy's face like a mask, and he questioned no more on that point.
'Dick;' he said earnestly, 'you'll help her if you can. She's all alone, you know; not a soul to stand by her, not a soul. You might get a chance sometimes to make things easier for her. Would you?'
'My word! 'said Dick simply.
Harry wrung his hand, and Dick, looking into his face, was puzzled by its expression; he looked, Dick thought, as he did on that Sunday morning when he wished to flog the superintendent before the whole congregation.
'You're a brick—a perfect brick!' said Harry.
'I'd do anythin' fer her,' Dick replied.
'Thanks, old man. I'll never forget it.'
It did not surprise the boy that Harry should thank him for services to be rendered to Miss Chris; he thought he understood the situation perfectly, and it was all very sad and perfectly consistent with his romantic ideas of such matters.
'Look here, Dick,' said Harry, before parting, 'I owe you an awful lot, my life, p'raps; but for every little thing you do for her I'll owe you a thousand times more—a thousand thousand times more.'
Dick's wise sympathetic eyes looked into his, and the boy nodded gravely.
'You can swear I'll stick up fer her,' he said.
Dick, whilst feeling quite a profound sorrow for Christina Shine, derived no little satisfaction from the position in which he found himself as the champion of oppressed virtue and the leal friend of a devoted young couple, the course of whose true love was running in devious ways. This was a role he had frequently played in fancy; but it was ever so much more gratifying in serious fact, and he took it up with romantic earnestness, a youthful Don Quixote, heroic in the service of his Dulcinea.
At dinner he favoured his mother with the latest news from the mine and glowing opinions on its prospects; and Mrs. Haddon, more than ever suggestive of roses and apples, beamed across the table upon her wonderful son, perfectly happy in the belief that Frank Hardy would presently be released, that their fortunes were practically made, and that she was the mother of the most astonishing, the cleverest, the bravest, and the handsomest lad that had ever lived. Dick's claims to beauty were perhaps a little dubious, but it must be admitted that local opinion, as expressed in local gossip a thousand times a day, went far to justify Mrs. Haddon's judgment on all the above points.
Dick escaped immediately after dinner, and went straight to Shine's house. Fortunately the troopers, in response to information received, were searching a worked-out alluvial flat about a mile off, and Downy was pursuing a delusive clue as far as Cow Flat, so his visit excited no particular attention.
The appearance Chris presented when she admitted him shocked the boy, and stirred his heart with tenderest pity. Her eyes were deep-set in dark shadows, her cheeks sunken, and there was a peculiar drawn expression about her mouth. She who had always been a miracle of neatness was negligently dressed, and her beautiful hair hung in pathetic disorder. She seated herself and drew Dick to her side.
'Dick,' she said, 'I am in great trouble.'
'Yes,' he answered, 'I know—I'm sorry.'
'And you are my only friend.'
'No fear, Harry Hardy'd do anythin' for you.'
'He cannot, Dick; it is impossible. He is generous and noble, but he cannot help me. Dick,' she drew him closer to her side, and held his hand in hers, 'tell me why you would not speak about the gold-stealers and that crime below. Was it because of me—because you wanted to spare me?'
'Yes,' he whispered.
'God bless you! God bless you, Dickie!' she said catching him to her heart and kissing his cheek. 'I guessed it. I do not know if it was right, but it was brave and true, and I love you for it.'
'Don't cry,' Dick said consolingly; 'it'll all come out happy—it always does you know.' This was the philosophy of the Waddy Library, and Dick had the most perfect faith in its teachings.
'Thank you, dear. I am going to ask you to do something more for me. I am afraid this is not right either. I know it is not right, but we cannot always do what is right—our hearts won't let us sometimes. Will you help me?'
'Yes,' he said valiantly, and would have liked nothing better at that moment than to have been called upon to face a fire-breathing dragon on her behalf.
'I want you to go to Yarraman and buy these things for me.'
She gave him money and a list of articles with the help of which she hoped to effect a disguise for her father that would enable him to leave the district. It was a very prosaic service, Dick thought, but he undertook it cheerfully.
'I want you to tell no one what you are going for. Catch the three-o'clock coach near the Bo Peep, and answer no questions.'
'I know a better way'n that,' said the boy, after a thoughtful pause. 'Mother wants some things from Yarraman. I'll get her to let me go fer 'em this afternoon.'
'Yes, yes; that is clever. But you won't tell.'
'Not a blessed soul.'
'And when you get back it will be late—bring the things to me as secretly as you can. The troopers would be suspicious if they saw you—be careful of them.'
Dick had no doubt of his ability to deceive the whole police force of the province, and undertook the mission without a misgiving, his only regret being that it was making no great demands upon his courage and ingenuity.
'Dickie,' said Chris, kissing him again at parting, 'I hope some day, when you are older, it will be a great happiness to you to think you helped a poor heartbroken girl in a time of terrible trouble.'
The boy would have liked to have framed a fine speech in answer to that, but he could only say softly and earnestly:
'I'm fearful glad now, s'elp me!'
Mrs. Haddon was easily deceived, and Dick caught the three-o'clock coach. The Waddy coach took two hours to do the journey to Yarraman and did not start back till after eight, but this was not the first time the boy had made the journey alone, and his mother had no misgivings.
Downy returned to the Drovers' Arms late in the evening, having discovered that his supposed clue led only to a half-demented sundowner living in a hollow log near Cow Flat, and having nothing whatever in common with the missing man. The search of the troopers had been fruitless, too, and at this crisis the opinion of McKnight as a pioneer of Waddy was solicited. McKnight's belief was that Shine was hiding away somewhere in the old workings of one of the deep mines—the Silver Stream perhaps—and he recalled the case of a criminal who got into the old stopes of a mine at Bendigo, and subsisted there for two weeks on the cribs of the miners, stolen while the latter were at work. The detective considered this a very probable supposition, and an invasion of the Silver Stream workings was planned for next morning.
SHORTLY after eight o'clock on the night of Dick's journey to Yarraman the figure of a woman approached the searcher's house and knocked softly at the front door. There was a light burning within, but the knock provoked no response. The visitor knocked again with more vigour; presently a bolt was withdrawn and the door opened a few inches, and Christina Shine, seeing her visitor, uttered a low cry and staggered back into the centre of the room, throwing the door wide open. It was Mrs. Hardy who stood upon the threshold.
'May I come in, my dear?' she asked in a kindly tone.
Christina, standing with one hand pressed to her throat and her burning eyes fixed intently upon the face of the elder woman, nodded a slow affirmative. Mrs. Hardy entered, closing the door behind her, and stood for a moment gazing pitifully at the distracted girl, for Chris had a wild hunted look, and weariness and anxiety had almost exhausted her. She faced her visitor with terror, as if anticipating a blow.
'My poor girl,' Mrs. Hardy said gently; 'I suppose you wonder why I have come?'
Again Chris moved her head in vague acquiescence.
'I have heard how heavily this blow has fallen upon you, and my heart bled with pity. I felt I might be able to comfort you.
Chris put her back with a weak fluttering hand.
'My dear, I am an old woman; I have seen much trouble and have borne some, and I know that hearts break most often in loneliness.'
'You know the truth?' asked the girl, through dry lips.
'I know Richard Haddon's story.' 'And you have not come to—to—'
'I have come to offer you all a woman's sympathy, my girl; to try to help you to be strong.'
Mrs. Hardy took the weary girl in her arms and kissed her pale cheek.
'You are good! You are very good!' murmured Chris brokenly, clinging to her. But she suddenly thrust herself back from the sheltering arms and uttered a cry of despair.
The door communicating with the next room had been opened and a grim figure crept into the kitchen, the figure of Ephraim Shine. The man was clad only in a tattered shirt and old moleskins; his face was as gaunt as that of death, and his skin a ghastly yellow. He moved into the room on his hands and knees, seeking something, and chummered insanely as he scratched at the hard flooring-boards with his claw-like fingers, and peered eagerly into the cracks. He moved about the room in this way, searching in the corners, dragging his way about with his face close to the floor.
'I'll find it, I'll find it,' he muttered; 'oh! I'll find it. Rogers is cunnin', but I'm more cunnin'. I know where it's hid, an' when I get it it'll be mine—all mine!
Mrs. Hardy stole close to the girl, and they clasped hands.
'Is he mad?' asked the elder woman hoarsely.
'He has taken a fever, I think,' answered the girl, 'and I can hide him no longer. I cannot help him now.' She sank back upon a chair and followed her father's movements with tearless, hopeless eyes.
'Rogers is a liar!' muttered Shine. 'A liar he is, an' he'd rob me; but I'll beat him. It's hid down here, down among the rocks. The gold is mine, mine, mine!' His voice rose to a thin scream and he beat fiercely upon the boards with his bony hand.
'He has been ill ever since Rogers was taken, but he only took this turn this evening. Oh! I tried hard to help him; I tried hard! He is my father. Oh, my poor father! my poor, poor father!
'Hush, hush, dear,' said Mrs. Hardy. 'We must help him on to his bed. Come!'
Each took an arm of the sick man and raised him to his feet. He offered no resistance, but allowed them to lead him to the bunk in the other room and place him upon it, although he continued to utter wild threats against Joe Rogers and to chummer about the gold, and move his hands about, scratching amongst the bedclothes.
Mrs. Hardy brought the light from the kitchen, and busied herself over the delirious man, making him as comfortable as possible upon his narrow bed. She gave directions to Chris and the girl obeyed them, bringing necessary things and making a fire in the kitchen. She seemed inspired with a new hope, and presently she moved to Mrs. Hardy's side again.
'Do you think he will die?' she asked.
'I do not think so, dear. It is brain fever, I believe.'
'How good you are—you whom he has wronged so cruelly!
She ceased speaking and gripped her companion's arm. The latch of the back door clicked, a step sounded upon the kitchen floor, and the next moment Detective Downy appeared within the room. He glanced from the women to the bunk, and then strode forward and laid a hand upon Ephraim Shine.
'This man is my prisoner,' he said.
Shine sat up again, moving his arms and muttering:
'Yes, yes, down the old mine; that's it! Let me go. It's hid in the old mine—my gold, my beautiful gold!'
'You cannot take him in this state,' said Mm. Hardy; 'it would be brutal.'
The detective examined him closely, and, being satisfied that the man was really ill and unlikely to escape, went to the kitchen door and blew a shrill blast of his whistle in the direction of the quarries. When he returned Chistina was on her knees by the bunk, as if praying, and Mrs. Hardy was bathing the patient's temples. After a few minutes Sergeant Monk rode up and joined them in the room.
'Here is our man,' said Downy quietly. Send Donovan for the covered-in waggon at the hotel. We will have to take him on a mattress.'
'Shot?' cried Monk.
'No; off his head. Send a couple of your men in here. I think I'll get my hands on that gold presently.'
The sergeant withdrew, and Downy touched Chris on the shoulder.
'It's a bad business, miss,' he said. 'You made a plucky fight, but this was inevitable. Will you tell me where he was hidden?'
Chris arose and stood with her back to the wall and answered him in a firm voice. She understood the futility of further evasion.
'He hid in the tank,' she said. 'It has a false bottom, and you get in from below.'
The detective expressed incredulity in a long breath.
'Well, that fairly beats me,' he said. 'When did he fix the tank?'
'I do not know. I had no idea it was done until the night of the arrest of Rogers.'
At this moment Casey and Keel entered.
'Stand by the man, Casey,' said the detective. 'Keel, follow me.'
Downy went straight to the tank and, creeping under it, struck a match and examined the floor above on which it rested. Two of the boards had been moved aside, and in the bottom of the tank there was an opening about eighteen inches in diameter with a sheet of iron to cover it, in such a way as to deceive any but the most careful seeker. The detective ordered Keel to bring a candle, and when it was forth coming he drew himself up into the tank and struck a light. An ejaculation of delight broke from his lips, for there at his hand lay a skin bag covered with red-and-white hair, and by its side shone a magnificent nugget shaped like a man's boot. This the detective recognised as the nugget described by Dick Haddon. There were also a pickle bottle containing much rough gold, and two or three small parcels.
The compartment in which Downy sat was just high enough to allow of a man sitting upright in it, and large enough to enable him to lie in a crescent position with out discomfort. A pipe from the roof was connected with the tap, so that water could be drawn from the tank as usual. The job had been carefully done, and had evidently cost Shine much labour. The searcher had designed the compartment as a hiding-place for his treasure, the quantity of which convinced Downy that his depredations at the mine (in conjunction with Rogers, probably) had been of long standing. The parcels contained sovereigns and there were small bags of silver and copper—a miser's hoard. The detective dropped the bag, the nugget, and all the other articles of value out of the tank, and with the assistance of Keel carried them into the kitchen. He examined the material in the hide bag, and found it to be washdirt showing coarse gold freely. The nugget was a magnificent one, containing, as the detective guessed, about five hundred ounces of gold, and worth probably close upon two thousand pounds. Nothing nearly so fine had ever before been discovered in the Silver Stream gutters, although they had always been rich in nuggets.
When Mrs. Hardy returned home an hour later, Harry had just come in from work. The shareholders in the Native Youth were so anxious to cut the stone that they were putting in long shifts. There were traces of tears about Mrs. Hardy's eyes, and her expression of deep sorrow alarmed her son.
'Why, what's wrong, mother?' he asked quickly. 'Have you had bad news?'
'No, Henry. I have been with Christina Shine.'
'You. You, mother?' he cried, in surprise. 'Not—' He suddenly recollected himself and was silent. He knew his mother to be incapable of a cruel or vindictive action.
'Mrs. Haddon told me how the poor girl was suffering for her father's villainy, and I was deeply sorry for her. I thought that under the circumstances my sympathy might strengthen her.'
'God bless you for that, mother' said Harry fervently, and his mother looked at him sharply, surprised by his tone.
'Shine has been arrested,' she said. 'The police have taken him in to Yarraman.'
'He was captured while I was there.' Mrs. Hardy told her son the story of Shine's arrest, and Harry sat with set teeth and eyes intent for some minutes after she had finished.
'My boy,' his mother said, placing a hand upon his shoulder, 'this does not seem to please you.
His head fell a little, and he opened and clenched again the strong hands gripped between his knees.
'And yet,' she continued, 'it confirms your suspicions. It may mean the assertion of Frank's innocence.'
'I love her!' he said with some passion.
His mother was greatly startled, and stood for a moment regarding him with an expression of deep feeling.
'You love her—his daughter?'
'With all my heart, mother.'
'I don't know. Since that Sunday in the chapel, I believe.'
'She loves me.'
Mrs. Hardy moved to a chair, sat down with her face turned from him, and stayed for many minutes apparently lost in thought. She started, hearing Harry at the door.
'Where are you going?' she asked.
'To see Chris.' He answered in a tone hinting defiance, as if expecting antagonism; but his mother said nothing more, and He passed out.
Harry found Chris sitting alone in her father's house. A candle burned on the table by her side, her hands lay idly in her lap. He had expected to find her weeping, surrounded by women, but her eyes were tearless and the news of Shine's arrest was not yet known in the township. Harry fell on his knees by her side and clasped her about the waist. There was a sort of dull apathy in her face that awed him. He did not kiss her.
'I've heard, dear,' he whispered. 'All's over.'
'Yes,' she said, looking at him for the first time, without surprise.
'Why are you sitting here?' he asked.
'I'm waiting for Dickie Haddon,' she said listlessly. 'He went to Yarraman to buy some things to make a disguise. It is only fair to wait.'
He was touched with profound pity; but her mood chilled him, he dared not offer a caress.
'And then? Oh, then I will go to the homestead. I want rest—only rest, rest!
'Did Summers know the truth, Chris?'
She shook her head slowly.
'No,' she said. 'I deceived him—I deceived them all. I lied to everybody. I used to pride myself once, a fortnight ago, when I was a girl, on not being a liar.
'You mustn't talk in this despairing way, dear. Let me take you home. I will meet Dick an' tell him.'