But all was hushed and still.
"Go forward, Garstang, and search the cave," ordered the leader in a voice of authority.
With a firebrand in one hand and a revolver in the other, the big, burly man crept forward; his mates alert to fire over him at any object he might discover. His search was haphazard, and his feet were naturally uncertain among the debris which had accumulated on the floor of the cavern.
Skirting the grotto's edge, he examined the inky shadows that lay behind pillar and projection, till he came to the stairs which led to the Organ Gallery.
Tresco, filled with an unspeakable dread, contemplated a retreat down the passage he had lately explored, where he might be driven by the murderers over the abyssmal depth which he had failed to fathom, when suddenly the man with the torch tripped, fell, and the flame of his firebrand disappeared in a shower of sparks. With an oath the prostrate man gathered up his bruised limbs, and by the aid of the flickering fire-light he groped his way back to his fellows, but not before he had placed his ear to the damp floor and had listened for the sound of intruders.
"There's nobody," he said, when he reached his mates. "The row was only a blanky spike that fell from the roof an' broke itself. The ground's covered with 'em."
"Come on, then," said Sweet William; "let's finish our business."
They gathered again round the treasure.
"You see, I have arranged it in two heaps," said Dolphin—"nuggets in one, gold-dust in the other. I propose to measure out the dust first."
Each man had provided himself with one of the leather bags which had originally held the gold, and their leader filled a pint pannikin with gold-dust. "That's one," he said, lifting it heavily. "That's for you, old crooked chops." And he emptied the measure into Garstang's bag.
"Two." He emptied a pannikinful of gold into Carnac's bag.
"Three." Sweet William received a like measure.
"Four." Dolphin helped himself.
"That makes four pints of gold," he said. "What d'you say, mates, will she go round another turn?"
"No," said Carnac, "try a half-pint all round."
Dolphin fetched a smaller pannikin from the swags, and the division of the gold continued.
To share the nuggets equally was a difficult matter, and a good deal of wrangling took place in consequence. This, however, was quieted by the simple expedient of tossing a coin for disputed pieces of gold. The biggest nuggets being thus disposed of, the smaller ones were measured in the half-pint pot, till at length the envious eyes of the goldsmith saw the last measureful disappear into its owner's bag.
This exceedingly delicate matter being settled, the bushrangers sat round the fire, drank tea which they brewed in a black "billy," lit their pipes, and—as is invariably the case with a gang of thieves—enacted again the awful drama in which they had lately played their horrible parts.
Shivering on the damp floor of the dripping gallery, Tresco strained his ears to hear every diabolical detail of the conversation.
"Garstang, old man, Dolly's right; you'd better see to that shirt of yours. It looks as if you'd killed a pig in it."
"The chap I chiv'd was as fat as a pig, anyway," said the crooked-mouthed murderer, as he attempted to rub out the guilty stains with a dirty piece of rag. "The blood spurted all over me as soon as I pulled out the knife."
"Take it off, man; it looks as bad as a slaughterman's," said the leader of the gang. "Throw it in the fire."
"I consider I did my man beautifully," said Carnac. "I told him to say his prayers, and while he knelt I just shot him behind the ear. Now, I call that a very pretty method of dying—no struggling, no fuss, no argument, simply a quick departure in an odour of sanctity." And the gentlemanly murderer laughed quietly and contentedly.
"The blanky banker went ratty when he saw my gun," said Sweet William. "I had to fair yank 'im through the supple-jacks an' lawyers. It was something horrid—it made my arm ache. At larst I says, 'Look 'ere, are you goin' to walk, or am I to shoot you?' An' he kept on sayin', 'All the gold is on the horse; don't take it all, please,' till I felt sick. 'Up you git,' I says, an' I dragged 'im through the bush, and then bli'me if 'e didn't sit down an' cough an' cry. Such dam' foolishness made me lose patience. I just 'squeezed' 'im where he sat."
"My bloke was the devil to die," said Garstang. "First I shot him one way, then I shot him another; an' at larst I had to chiv 'im with the knife, though it was the larst thing I wanted to do."
"They should all have been 'squeezed,'" said Dolphin, "and nothing's easier if you've got the knack—noiseless, bloodless, traceless, the only scientific way of doin' the work."
"All of which you've said before, Dolly." Sweet William rose and groped his way to the mouth of the cave.
"It's the blamed horses that bother me," said Carnac. "We left their carcases too near the track. We should have taken them a mile or more along, and have shoved them over a precipice, down which they might have fallen by accident in the storm. As it is, they'll be putrid in a fortnight, and make the track impassable."
"By which time," said Dolphin, "we shall be out of reach."
"What about the Bank?" Garstang asked the question almost insolently. "I thought you 'ad such wonderful plans of yer own."
"The thing's easy enough," retorted Dolphin, "but the question is whether it's worth while. We've made a haul to be proud of; never did men have a better streak o' luck. We've taken hundreds of ounces from a strong escort, which we stopped at the right place, just in the right way, so that they couldn't so much as fire a shot. It would be a crying shame to spoil such a job by bein' trapped over a paltry wooden Bank."
"Trapped be sugared!" said Garstang.
"The inference 'll be"—Sweet William had returned from the cave's mouth, and took up the conversation where he left it—"everybody with any sense'll say the escort an' the banker made orf with the gold—nothin' but blood'ounds could ever find their bodies."
"It's bin a wonderful time," said Dolphin, "but we can't expect such luck to foller us around like a poodle-dog."
"I'm for havin' a slap at the Bank, anyway," growled Garstang.
"Imagine the effect upon the public mind—the robbery of an escort and a bank, both in one week!" This was how the gentlemanly Carnac regarded the question. "It'd be a record. We'd make a name that wouldn't easily be forgotten. I'm for trying."
"Well, it's stopped raining, blokes," said Sweet William, "but outside it's dark enough to please an owl. If we want to get into Timber Town without bein' seen, now's the time to start." So saying, he picked up his "swag," which he hitched upon his back.
The other men rose, one by one, and shouldered their packs, in which each man carried his gold.
With much lumbering, stumbling, and swearing, the murderers slowly departed, groping their way to the mouth of the cave by the light of the fire, which they left burning.
Tresco waited till the last sound of their voices had died away, then he stretched his cramped, benumbed limbs, heaved a deep sigh of relief, and rose to his feet.
"My God, what monsters!" He spoke under his breath, for fear that even the walls should hear him. "If they had found me they'd have thought as little of cutting my throat as of killing a mosquito. If ever I thanked God in my life—well, well—every nerve of me is trembling. That's the reaction. I must warm myself, and have a bite of food."
After carefully scattering the murderers' fire, he groped his way to his inner cell, and there he made his best endeavours to restore his equanimity with warmth, food, and drink.
The Perturbations of the Bank Manager.
The windows of the Kangaroo Bank were ablaze with light, although the town clock had struck eleven. It was the dolorous hour when the landlord of The Lucky Digger, obliged by relentless law, reluctantly turned into the street the topers and diggers who filled his bar.
Bare-headed, the nails of his right hand picking nervously at the fingers of his left, the manager of the Bank emerged from a side-door. He glanced up the dark street towards the great mountains which loomed darkly in the Cimmerian gloom.
"Dear me, dear me," murmured he to himself, "he is very late. What can have kept him?" He glanced down the street, and saw the small crowd wending its way from the hostelry. "It was really a most dreadful storm, the most dreadful thunderstorm I ever remember." His eye marked where the light from the expansive windows of the Bank illumined the wet asphalt pavement. "Landslips frequently occur on newly made tracks, especially after heavy rain. It's a great risk, a grave risk, this transporting of gold from one place to another."
"'Evenin', boss. Just a little cheque for twenty quid. I'll take it in notes."
The men from The Lucky Digger had paused before the brilliantly lighted building.
"Give him a chance.... Let him explain.... Carn't you see there's a run on the Bank."
"Looks bad.... Clerks in the street.... All lighted up at this time o' night.... No money left."
"Say, boss, have they bin an' collared the big safe? Do you want assistance?"
The Manager turned to take refuge in the Bank, but his tormentors were relentless.
"Hold on, mate—you're in trouble. Confide in us. If the books won't balance, what matter? Don't let that disturb your peace of mind. Come and have a drink.... Take a hand at poker.... First tent over the bridge, right-hand side."
"It's no go, boys. He's narked because he knows we want an overdraft. Let 'im go and count his cash."
The Manager pulled himself free from the roisterers and escaped into the Bank by the side door, and the diggers continued noisily on their way.
The lights of the Bank suddenly went out, and the Manager, after carefully locking the door behind him, crossed over the street to the livery stables, where a light burned during the greater part of the night. In a little box of a room, where harness hung on all the walls, there reclined on a bare and dusty couch a red-faced man, whose hair looked as if it had been closely cropped with a pair of horse-clippers. When he caught sight of the banker, he sat up and exclaimed, "Good God, Mr. Tomkinson! Ain't you in bed?"
"It's this gold-escort, Manning—it was due at six o'clock."
"Look here." The stable-keeper rose from his seat, placed his hand lovingly on a trace which hung limply on the wall. "Don't I run the coach to Beaver Town?—and I guess a coach is a more ticklish thing to run than a gold-escort. Lord bless your soul, isn't every coach supposed to arrive before dark? But they don't. 'The road was slippy with frost—I had to come along easy,' the driver'll say. Or it'll be, 'I got stuck up by a fresh in the Brown River.' That's it. I know. But they always arrive, sometime or other. I'll bet you a fiver—one of your own, if you like—that the rivers are in flood, and your people can't get across. Same with the Beaver Town coach. She was due at six o'clock, and here've I been drowsing like a more-pork on this couch, when I might have been in bed. An' to bed I go. If she comes in to-night, the driver can darn well stable the 'orses himself. Good night."
This was a view of the question that had not occurred to Mr. Tomkinson, but he felt he must confer with the Sergeant of Police.
The lock-up was situated in a by-street not far from the centre of the town. The Sergeant was sitting at a desk, and reading the entries in a big book. His peaked shako lay in front of him, and he smoked a cigar as he pored over his book.
He said nothing, he barely moved, when the banker entered; but his frank face, in which a pair of blue eyes stood well apart, lighted up with interest and attention as Mr. Tomkinson told his tale. When the narrative was ended, he said quietly, "Yes, they may be weather-bound. Did you have a clear understanding that the gold was to be brought in to-day?"
"It was perfectly understood."
"How much gold did you say there was?"
"From fifteen to twenty thousand pounds' worth—it depends on how much the agent has bought."
"A lot of money, sir; quite a nice little fortune. It must be seen to. I'll tell you what I will do. Two mounted constables shall go out at daylight, and I guarantee that if the escort is to be found, they will find it."
"Thank you," said Tomkinson. "I think it ought to be done. You will send them out first thing in the morning? Thank you. Good night."
As the banker turned to go, the Sergeant rose.
"Wait a moment," he said. "I'll come with you."
They walked contemplatively side by side till they reached the main street, where a horseman stood, hammering at Manning's stable-gate.
"Nobody in?" said the Sergeant. "You had better walk inside, and put the horse up yourself."
"I happen to know that the owner has gone to bed," said Tomkinson.
The horseman passed through the gateway, and was about to lead his sweating mount into the stables, when the Sergeant stopped him.
"Which way have you come to-day?" he asked.
"From Bush Robin Creek," replied the traveller.
"You have ridden right through since morning?"
"Yes. Why not?"
"Did you overtake some men with a pack-horse?"
"No. I passed Mr. Scarlett, after the thunderstorm came on. That was on the other side of the ranges."
"How did you find the rivers? Fordable?"
"They were all right, except that on this side of the range they had begun to rise."
"Perhaps the men we are expecting," said the nervous banker, "took shelter in the bush when the storm came on. You may have passed without seeing them."
"Who are the parties you are expecting?" asked the traveller.
"Mr. Zahn, the agent of the Kangaroo Bank, was on the road to-day with a considerable quantity of gold," replied the Sergeant.
"You mean the gold-escort," said the traveller. "It left about three hours before I did."
"Do you know Mr. Zahn?" asked the Sergeant.
"I do. I've sold gold to him."
"I'll take your name, if you please," said the Sergeant, producing his pocket-book.
"Rooker, Thomas Samuel Rooker," said the traveller.
"Where are you to be found?"
"At The Lucky Digger."
"Thank you," said the Sergeant, as he closed his book with a snap and put it in his pocket. "Good night."
"Good night," said the traveller, as he led his horse into the stable. "If I can be of any use, send for me in the morning."
"It's pretty certain that this man never saw them," said the Sergeant, "therefore they were not on the road when he passed them. They must have been, as you say, in the bush. There is plenty of hope yet, sir, but I should advise you to get up pretty early to-morrow morning, if you want to see my mounted men start. Good night."
With a gloomy response, Mr. Tomkinson turned his steps towards the Bank, there to toss on a sleepless bed till morning.
The Quietude of Timber Town Is Disturbed.
The crowd which had gathered in front of the verandah of the Post Office of Timber Town was made up, as is not uncommon with crowds, of all sorts and conditions of men. There were diggers dressed in the rough clothes suitable to their calling and broad-brimmed felt hats; tradesmen, fat with soft living, and dressed each according to his taste; farmers, in ready-made store-clothes and straw hats; women, neatly, if plainly, dressed as suited the early hour of the day; a few gaily-dressed girls, and a multitude of boys.
Nailed to the wooden wall of the building was a poster, printed with big head-lines, upon which the interest of all present was centred.
FIVE HUNDRED POUNDS REWARD!!!
WHEREAS persons of the names of ISAAC ZAHN, PETER HEAFY, WILLIAM JOHNSON, and JAMES KETTLE have mysteriously disappeared; AND WHEREAS it is supposed that they have been murdered on the road between Bush Robin Creek and Timber Town; AND WHEREAS, further, they had in their custody at the time a considerable quantity of gold, the property of the Kangaroo Bank;
THIS IS TO NOTIFY that should those persons, or any of them, have been murdered, a reward of FIVE HUNDRED POUNDS (L500) will be given to any person who shall give information that will lead to the conviction of the murderers; AND A LIKE REWARD will be given to any person who shall give such information as shall lead to the restoration of the stolen gold to its lawful owners.
(Signed) WILLIAM TOMKIN TOMKINSON, Manager, Kangaroo Bank, Timber Town.
"Isaac Zahn? He was the gold-buying clerk. I knew 'im well. An' if you ask me, I think I know who put 'im away."
"You're right, John. D'you call to mind that long-legged toff at The Lucky Digger?"
"I do. 'E caught Zahn a lick under the jaw, an' kicked 'im into the street. I seen 'im do it."
"That's the bloke."
"Hi! Higgins. Here, old man. D'you want five hundred pounds?"
"I ain't partic'lar, George—I don't know the man's name."
"But you saw that bit of a scrap in The Lucky Digger, between one of these parties as is murdered and the toff from the Old Country."
"I was in the bar."
"Well, there was very bad blood between them—you see that? And I heard the toff tell Zahn that the next time 'e saw 'im he'd about stiffen 'im. I heard it, or words to that effect. Now, I want you to bear witness that what I say is true."
"Yes, yes, I remember the time. You mean Mr. Scarlett, the man who discovered the field."
"There's wheels within wheels, my boy. They were rivals for the same girl. She jilted young Zahn when this new man took up the running. Bad blood, very bad blood, indeed."
"But is he dead? Has there been a murder at all? Collusion, sir, collusion. Suppose the escort quietly appropriated the gold and effaced themselves, they'd be rich men for life, sir."
"You're right, Mr. Ferrars. Until the bodies are found, sir, there is no reason to believe there has been murder."
At this moment the local bellman appeared on the scene, and stopped conversation with the din of his bell. Subsequently, after the manner of his kind, and in a thin nasal voice, he proclaimed as follows:—"Five hundred pound reward—Five hundred pound reward.—It being believed—that a foul murder has been committed—on the persons of—Isaac Zahn, Peter Heafy, William Johnson, James Kettle—citizens of Timber Town—a search-party will be formed—under the leadership of Mr. Charles Caxton—volunteers will be enrolled at the Town Hall—a large reward being offered—for the apprehension of the murderers—Five hundred pound—Five hundred pound!"
He then tucked his bell under his arm and walked off, just as unconcernedly as if he were advertising an auction-sale.
By this time a crowd of two or three hundred people had assembled. A chair was brought from The Lucky Digger, and upon this a stout man clambered to address the people. But what with his vehemence and gesticulations, and what with the smallness of his platform, he stepped to the ground several times in the course of his speech; therefore a lorry, a four-wheeled vehicle not unlike a tea-tray upon four wheels, was brought, and while the orator held forth effusively from his new rostrum, the patient horse stood between the shafts, with drooping head.
This pompous person was succeeded by a tall, upright man, with the bearing of a Viking and the voice of a clarion. His speech was short and to the point. If he had to go alone, he would search for the missing men; but he asked for help. "I am a surveyor," he said. "I knew none of these men who are lost or murdered, but I appeal to those of you who are diggers to come forward and help. I appeal to the townsfolk who knew young Zahn to rally round me in searching for their friend. I appeal for funds, since the work cannot be done without expense; and at the conclusion of this meeting I shall enrol volunteers in the Town Hall."
He stood down, and Mr. Crewe rose to address the crowd, which had now assumed such proportions that it stretched from pavement to pavement of the broad street. All the shops were closed, and people were flocking from far and wide to the centre of the town.
"Men of Timber Town," said Mr. Crewe, "I'm not so young as I was, or I would be the first to go in search of these missing men. My days as a bushman are over, I fear; but I shall have much pleasure in giving L20 to the expenses of the search-party. All I ask is that there be no more talking, but prompt action. These men may be tied to trees in the bush; they may be starving to death while we talk here. Therefore let us unite in helping the searchers to get away without delay."
A movement was now made towards the Town Hall, and while the volunteers of the search-party were being enrolled two committees of citizens were being formed in the Town Clerk's office—the one to finance, and the other to equip, the expedition.
While these things were going forward, there stood apart from the crowd four men, who conversed in low voices.
"It's about time, mates, we got a bend on."
"Dolly, you make me tired. I ask you, was there ever such a chance. All the traps in the town will be searching for these unfortunate missin' men. We'll have things all our own way, an' you ask us to 'git.'"
"'Strewth, Garstang, you're a glutton. S'far's I'm concerned, I've got as much as I can carry. I don't want no more."
The four comrades in crime had completely changed their appearance. They were dressed in new, ready-made suits, and wore brand-new hats, besides which they had shaved their faces in such a manner as to make them hardly recognisable.
Dolphin, who, besides parting with his luxuriant whiskers and moustache, had shaved off his eyebrows, remarked, with the air of a man in deep thought, "But there's no steamer leaving port for two days—I forgot that. It seems we'll have to stay that long, at any rate."
"And I can't bear bein' idle—it distresses me," said Sweet William.
"This'll be the last place where they'll look for us," remarked Carnac. "You take it from me, they'll search the diggings first."
"When they've found the unfortunate men, they'll be rampin' mad to catch the perpetrators." This from Dolphin.
A rough, bluff, good-natured digger pushed his way into the middle of the group. "Come on, mates," he said; "put your names down for a fiver each. It's got to be done." And seizing Garstang and Sweet William, he pulled them towards the Town Hall.
"G'arn! Let go!" snarled Garstang.
"Whatyer givin' us?" exclaimed William, as she shook himself free. "The bloke's fair ratty."
"Here! Hi!" Dolphin called to the enthusiastic stranger. "What's all this about missing men? What's all the fuss about?—as like as not the men are gone prospecting in the bush."
"A gold-buyer with 5000 oz. of gold doesn't go prospecting," replied the digger. "Come and read the notice, man."
The four murderers lounged towards the Post Office, and coolly read the Bank Manager's placard.
"They've got lost, that's about the size of it," said Garstang.
"Why all this bobbery should be made over a few missin' men, beats me," sneered Dolphin.
"Whenever there's a 'rush' in Australia, there's dozens of men git lost," said Sweet William, "but nobody takes any notice—it's the ordinary thing."
"But there's gold to the value of L20,000 gone too," said the enthusiastic stranger. "Wouldn't you take notice of that?"
"It'll turn up," said Carnac. "They must have lost their way in the thunderstorm. But you may bet they're well supplied with tucker. Hang it all, they might come into town any minute, and what fools we'd look then."
"P'r'aps their pack-horse got frightened at the lightning and fell over a precipice. It might, easy." This was William's brilliant suggestion.
"An' the men are humpin' the gold into town theirselves," said Garstang. "There ain't any occasion to worry, that I can see. None at all, none at all. Come an' have a drink, mate. I'll shout for the crowd."
The five men strolled towards The Lucky Digger, through the door of which they passed into a crowded bar, where, amid excited, loud-voiced diggers who were expressing their views concerning the gold-escort's disappearance, the four murderers were the only quiet and collected individuals.
The Gold League Washes Up.
The amalgamated "claims," worked upon an economical and extensive scale, had promised from the outset to render enormous returns to the members of the Gold League.
Throughout the canvas town which had sprung up on the diggings, the news that the "toffs" were to divide their profits had created the widest interest, and in every calico shanty and in every six-by-eight tent the organising genius of the "field," Mr. Jack Scarlett, was the subject of conversation.
Such topsy-turvy habitations as the stores and dwellings of Canvas Town never were seen. The main street, if the thoroughfare where all the business of the mushroom township was transacted could be dignified with such a name, was a snare to the pedestrian and an impossibility to vehicles, which, however, were as yet unknown on the "field."
The "Cafe de Paris" possessed no windows in its canvas walls, and its solitary chimney was an erection of corrugated iron, surmounted by a tin chimney-pot. "The Golden Reef," where spirituous liquors were to be had at exorbitant prices, was of a more palatial character, as it had a front of painted wood, in which there hung a real door furnished with a lock, though the sides of the building were formed of rough logs, taken in their natural state from the "bush." The calico structure which bore in large stencilled letters the name of The Kangaroo Bank, was evidently closed during the absence of the Manager, for, pinned to the cotton of the front wall, was a piece of paper, on which was written in pencil the following notice:—"During the temporary absence of the Manager, customers of the Bank are requested to leave their gold with Mr. Figgiss, of the Imperial Dining Rooms, whose receipts will be duly acknowledged by the Bank. Isaac Zahn, Manager." Upon reading the notice, would-be customers of the wealthy institution had only to turn round in order to see Mr. Figgiss himself standing in the door of his place of business. He was a tall, red-bearded, pugnacious-looking man, with an expansive, hairy chest, which was visible beneath the unbuttoned front of his Crimean shirt. The Imperial Dining Rooms, if not spacious, were yet remarkable, for upon their calico sides it was announced in letters of rainbow tints that curries and stews were always ready, that grilled steaks and chops were to be had on Tuesdays and Fridays, and roast pork and "duff" on Sundays.
But further along the street, where tree-stumps still remained and the pedestrian traversed water-worn ruts which reached to his knee, the true glory of Canvas Town stood upon a small elevation, overlooking the river. This was the office of the Timber Town Gold League. It was felt by every digger on the "field" that here was a structure which should serve as a model. Its sides were made of heavy slabs of wood, which bore marks of the adze and axe; its floor, raised some four feet from the ground, was of sawn planks—unheard-of luxury—and in the cellars below were stored the goods of the affluent company. Approaching the door by a short flight of steps, admittance was gained to a set of small offices, beyond which lay a spacious room, which, at the time when the reader is ushered into it, is filled with bearded men dressed in corduroy, or blue dungaree, copper-fastened, trousers and flannel shirts; men with mud on their boots and on their clothes, and an air of ruffianism pervading them generally. And yet this is the Timber Town Gold League, the aristocratic members of which are assembled for the purpose of dividing the proceeds of their first "wash-up."
On an upturned whisky-case, before a big table composed of boards roughly nailed together and resting on trestles, sits the Manager of the League, Mr. Jack Scarlett, and before him lie the proceeds of the "wash-up."
The room is full of tobacco-smoke, and the hubbub of many voices drowns the thin voice of the League's Secretary, who sits beside the Manager and calls for silence.
But Jack is on his feet and, above the many voices, roars, "Order!"
"Stop that row."
"Order for the boss of the League."
Before long all is still, and the lucky owners of the gold which lies in bags upon the table, listen eagerly for the announcement of the returns.
"Gentlemen,"—Scarlett's face wears a pleasant smile, which betokens a pleasant duty—"as some of you are aware, the result of our first wash-up is a record for the colony. It totals 18,000 oz., and this, at the current price of Bush Robin gold—which I ascertained in Timber Town during my last visit—gives us a return of L69,750."
Here Jack is interrupted by tremendous cheering.
"Of this sum," he continues, when he can get a hearing, "your Committee suggests the setting aside, for the payment of liabilities and current expenses, the sum of L9750, which leaves L60,000 to be divided amongst the members of the League."
Upon this announcement being made, an uproar ensues, an uproar of unrestrained jubilation which shakes the shingle roof, and the noise of which reaches far down the street of Canvas Town and across the flats, where clay-stained diggers pause amid their dirt-heaps to remark in lurid language that the toffs are having "an almighty spree over their blanky wash-up."
"I rise to make a propothition," says a long, thin, young Gold Leaguer, with a yellow beard and a slight lisp. "I rise to suggest that we send down to Reiley's for all hith bottled beer, and drink the health of our noble selves."
The motion is seconded by every man in the room rising to his feet and cheering.
Six stalwart Leaguers immediately go to wait upon the proprietor of The Golden Reef, and whilst they are transacting their business their mates sing songs, the choruses of which float through the open windows over the adjacent country. The dirt-stained owners of the Hatters' Folly claim hear the members of the League asking to be "wrapped up in an old stable jacket," and those working in the Four Brothers' claim learn the truth about "the place where the old horse died."
At length the forage-party arrives with the liquor, and there follows the unholy sound of the drawing of corks.
By this time all Canvas Town has learnt what business is going forward in "the Toffs' Shanty," and from both sides of the river the diggers begin to assemble in anticipation of a "spree." Across the scarred, disfigured valley, over the mullock-heaps, from every calico tent, from out of every shaft, from the edge of the dark forest itself, bearded men, toil-stained but smiling, bent on festivity, collect in Canvas Town's one ramshackle street.
Between the calico shanties and along the miry, uneven ways, men stand in groups, their conversation all of the luck of "the toffs." But around the Office of the Gold League the crowd is greatest, and the cheers of the members are echoed by the diggers outside.
Bill the Prospector and Moonlight are on guard at the door, for though they have no interest in the League's claims, as owners of the two richest patches on the field they stand hand-in-glove with the leaders of that strong combination. Inside, Scarlett has risen to his feet, amid prolonged cheering.
"We have not decided yet, gentlemen," he says, "whether we shall take our dividends in gold or in cheques; and this causes me to allude to a most disagreeable matter. It is well known that the agent of the Kangaroo Bank has been robbed of a considerable amount of gold and perhaps murdered, on his way between this field and Timber Town."
Suddenly the room is filled with groans, deep and sepulchral, which are immediately repeated by the growing crowd outside.
"Evidently," continues Jack, "it is not safe for a man to travel with gold on his person; I therefore wish to propose that payments be made by cheque, and that all members not absolutely needed on the claims form themselves into an escort to convey the gold to Timber Town. And when we adjourn, I suggest that a meeting of all diggers on the field be called for the purpose of forming a vigilance committee, for the detection and suppression of crime on the diggings."
He sits down amid renewed cheering. This has barely subsided and the long, thin young man, who appears to be a person of importance in the League, has risen to speak, when a considerable disturbance occurs outside.
During Scarlett's speech four mounted constables have wended their way through the groups of diggers standing in the street. They dismount in front of the League's Office, and ascend the steps, at the top of which they come into violent altercation with Moonlight and the Prospector. These are immediately ordered in the Queen's name to stand aside, and the four blue-coated men walk into the meeting.
The tall, thin, young man, catching sight of the intruders, pauses in his speech, and says, "What the deyvil!" but the constables walk straight to the improvised table, and their leader, laying his hand on Scarlett's shoulder, say, "John Richard Scarlett, you are charged with the murder of Isaac Zahn. I arrest you in the Queen's name."
For half a minute there rests on the assembly a silence that can be felt. Then there bursts a roar of indignation from fifty throats. In a moment the constables have closed round their prisoner, and with drawn revolvers they stand ready to resist interference.
Not many of "the toffs" are armed, but such as are quickly draw their weapons, and it only needs a single shot to start a fight which must end disastrously for the Law, when Scarlett's voice rings out, "Stand back, you fellows! For God's sake, don't fire! This thing is a mistake which will be more quickly cleared up before a Magistrate than by bloodshed."
Expostulating, but obedient to his wish, his friends one by one lower their weapons.
"I know nothing of a mistake," says the Sergeant, as he takes a piece of paper from his pocket. "But here's the warrant, which any gentleman present is at liberty to see. We are but carrying out our duty."
The handcuffs are now on Scarlett's wrists, and his captors lead him slowly through the crowded room.
"Let me speak." Filled with emotion which he can hardly suppress, Jack's voice almost seems to choke him. "Let me speak before you take me away."
"Not a word," retorts the Sergeant. "You shall say all you want to the Magistrate."
"Men," cries Scarlett, as he is hustled through the door, "I am innocent, I swear." But he has no time to say more. He is hurried down the steps; he is quickly placed on a spare horse; the constables spring into their saddles, and ere the great concourse of diggers can grasp what is happening, Jack is conducted at a trot through the town of canvas, along the track which leads to Timber Town, and is soon out of sight.
The Goldsmith Comes to Town the Third Time.
The flash digger put his elbows on the table, and leered at Gentle Annie who sat, radiant, at the other side of the board.
"You must have made quite a pile."
"My dear, it's never wise to tell a woman all you know or all you've got. But I don't mind telling you this much: I had luck, or I wouldn't be able to satisfy your little whims."
He put his hand into his breast pocket, and drew out a plush-covered case.
"You asked for the biggest diamond in Timber Town, and here it is."
He opened the case, and took out a gold ring, in which was set a stone, fully a carat-and-a-half in weight. Gentle Annie's eyes glittered almost as brightly as the facets of the diamond.
"Dear little jewels for our dear girls." The flash digger held up the brilliant between his finger and thumb. "That bit of carbon cost me L30."
He passed the ring to the girl, who eagerly tried it, first on one finger, then on another.
"Lovely!" she exclaimed: then, as the sudden suspicion struck her, she asked, "You're sure it's real?"
"Well, I'll be——." But he restrained himself. "My dear, if it's shnein, the bargain's off."
Gentle Annie had risen, and was scratching with the stone the glass of a picture-frame which held a gaudy chromo-lithograph.
As she did so, the digger rose, and encircled her waist with his arm.
"Well, are you satisfied?"
"Quite," she replied, with a laugh. "It bites like a glazier's diamond."
"Then give me a kiss."
The girl made a pretence of trying to get away, but quickly gave in, and turned her lips to the digger's hawk-like face, and kissed his cheek.
"That's right," he said; "that's as it should be. Mind you: I'm boss here while I stay; I'm the proprietor of the bloomin' show. All other blokes must stop outside."
His arm still encircled her waist, and she, regarding him through half-closed, indulgent eyes, leaned her weight against him, when a low cough startled both of them.
The door slowly opened, and upon the threshold stood a dark figure which, advancing towards the light, turned into a man, big, broad, and stern.
"No, no," said the flash digger, calm, cool, and collected, while the girl tried to assume a posture of aloofness. "You must get out, mister. I'm boss of this show. No one's allowed here without an invite from me. So, out you go."
But, to his astonishment, the intruder, without saying a word, quietly took a seat, and began to cut himself a pipeful of tobacco from a black plug which he drew nonchalantly from his pocket.
"Make no mistake," said the flash digger, striking a dramatic attitude. "I'm not the man to give an order a second time. Out you get, or I'll drill a hole clean through you."
"One minute." The stranger shut the blade of his knife, which he placed deliberately in his pocket. "One minute. Do me the kindness to lower that pistol, and stand where I can see your face more plainly. I've no intention of resisting—unfortunately I left my shooting-iron behind."
As the digger did not move, the stranger jerked his head now forward, now back, now to this side, now to that, peering at the man who held his life in his hand.
"Yes, it's as I thought," he said. "I've had the pleasure of seeing you before, on two or three occasions. There's no need for you an' me to quarrel. If we're not exactly pals, we're something even closer."
"You're wasting valuable time, and risking your life for no reason whatever," said the digger. "You'd better be quick."
"Oh, I'm going," said the intruder. "Set your mind at rest about that. I was only trying to think where I had met you—it was in a cave. You and your mates knew enough to come in out of the rain. You had made a nice little haul, a very nice little haul."
A look of the utmost perplexity came over the face of the flash digger, and this was followed by a look of consternation. His arm had fallen to his side, and he was saying slowly, "Who the deuce are you? How the deuce d'you know where I've been?" when the man who sat before him suddenly pulled his hand from under the table and covered his aggressor with a revolver.
"One move," said Tresco—the reader will have recognised that the goldsmith had come to town—"one move, Mr. Carnac, and you're as dead as the murdered men on the hill."
The tension on Gentle Annie's nerves, which during this scene had been strung to the highest pitch, had now become too great to be borne silently.
"Don't, don't!" she cried. "For God's sake, for my sake, stop! stop!"
"Don't be frightened, my dear," said the goldsmith, without taking his eye off his rival and antagonist. "If there's to be trouble between this man and me, you can't make or mar it. Now, mister, kindly drop your revolver on the floor."
The man did as he was bid, and the heavy falling of iron sounded loud through the otherwise silent room.
"Right turn. Quick march." Tresco rose slowly, still covering his man. "Open the door for him, my dear!"
"It's a trap! I'm trapped by the woman," cried Carnac, glaring awfully at Gentle Annie. "You slut, give me back my ring."
"Walk straight out, mister," said the goldsmith, quietly, "and don't call the lady names, or you'll repent it. She happens to be my particular friend. And let me tell you before you go, that the one thing that will save you from the hangman's noose is that you don't set foot inside this door again. D'you hear?"
"Yes," said the robber.
"You understand my meaning?"
"Then let him out, Annie."
The door swung open, Carnac walked slowly into the night, and Tresco and Gentle Annie were alone.
The goldsmith heaved a sigh of relief. "Haaaah! Close thing, very close; but Benjamin was just one too many for him. You see, brains will come out on top. Kindly bolt the door, my dear."
He picked up Carnac's revolver, placed it on the table, sat down, wiped his brow, and again gave vent to another sigh of relief.
"My dear, it's brought on my usual complaint—desperate thirst. Phaugh! a low-lived man, and in this house, too! In the house of my little woman, curse him!"
Gentle Annie placed a glass and a bottle before him, and the goldsmith drank.
"What's that about a ring, my dear? Did I understand he had given you a ring?"
The girl took the precious diamond from her finger, and handed it to Tresco.
"Why, it's my own work—I recognise the setting; I remember the stone. Thirty pounds that ring is worth; thirty pounds, if a penny. Did he steal it, or buy it, I wonder?"
"Bought it, he said."
"If so, he's not mean, anyway. I tell you what I'll do—I'll buy it back from you. It's not right you should be defiled by wearing such a man's ring."
"He shall have it back—I'll give it him."
"No, my dear. What he has given, he has given. Thirty pounds."
From his pocket he drew a small linen bag, from which he took eight or ten small nuggets. These he balanced in his palm.
"Seven ounces," he said, contemplatively. "Say eight, to give you good value. That's it, my dear." With a bump he placed the gold on the table. "This ring is now mine. The work is of the best; never did I take more care or pride in my craft than when I set that stone. But it has been in the hands of a vile fellow; it is polluted."
He rose from his chair, placed the jewel on the hearthstone, and fiercely ground the precious stone beneath his iron-shod heel, and flung the crushed and distorted gold setting into the fire.
"That you should have been so much as touched by such a man, is a thing not to be forgotten quickly."
He drank the rest of his liquor at a breath.
"I must go, my dear. I must go."
"What! won't you stop? I want you to stay a little longer."
"Nothing would please me better. But that man is one of a gang. If I stop here, he may bring seven other devils worse than himself, and the last end of Benjamin will be worse than the first. I should be waylaid and killed. And that would be unfortunate."
"Do you suppose they will come here when you have gone?"
"No fear of that, after what I've told him. That man will shun this house as if it was his grave. Well, good night."
He took Gentle Annie's face between his hands. Then he held her at arms' length, and gazed steadfastly into her face. And, the next moment, he was gone.
The girl turned the nuggets over and over with a listless finger. "Men, men," she murmured, "how madly jealous—and when there is so little need. As if I care for one a pennyworth more than another."
The Pilot of Timber Town sat in his dining-room in the many-gabled house; Captain Sartoris sat opposite him, and both looked as miserable as men could possibly look.
"It's a bad business, a terrible bad business," said Captain Summerhayes, "to be charged with robbery and cold-blooded murder. I was in the Court. I heard the Resident Magistrate commit him to the Supreme Court. 'Your Worship,' says Jack, 'on what evidence do you commit me? I own that I was on the road to Canvas Town, but there is nothing wrong in that: there is no evidence against me.' An' no more there is. I stake all I've got on his innocence; I stake my life on it."
"Same here, same here, Summerhayes," said Sartoris. "But I don't see how that helps him. I don't see it helps him worth tuppence. He's still in the lock-up."
"It helps 'im this much," said the old Pilot: "he can be bailed out, can't he?—and we're the men to do it."
"We'd need to be made o' money, man. Ten thousand pound wouldn't bail 'im."
"We'll see, we'll see. Rosebud, my gal!" The Pilot's gruff voice thundered through the house. "We'll put it to the test, Sartoris; we'll put it to the test."
Rose Summerhayes hurried from the kitchen; the sleeves of her blouse tucked up, and her hands and arms covered with flour.
"What is it, father?"
"Young Scarlett's in prison," growled the Pilot, "and there he's likely to stay till the sitting of the Supreme Court."
The pink in Rose's pretty face turned as white as the flour she had been kneading. "Have they found him guilty, father?"
"Not exactly that, my gal, but it looks black for the lad, as black as the pit."
"But he's not guilty!" cried the girl. "Nothing will persuade me to believe that."
"We must bail him out," said her father. "Bring me my deed-box."
Rose rustled from the room, and presently returned with a square, japanned, tin box, which bore her father's initials upon its lid.
The Pilot took a bunch of keys from his pocket, and quickly unlocked the box.
Upon the bare, polished table he placed a number of Bank deposit receipts.
"I can't do it," he said; "no more can Sartoris. But you can, my gal. Just add up these amounts, Cap'n, while I explain." He handed the receipts to Sartoris.
"It isn't often I've mentioned your uncle to you, Rosebud. But he's a rich man, more than ordinary rich, my dear. Ever since you were a little dot, so high, he's sent me money as reg'lar as the clock. I've never asked 'im for it, mind ye; and, what's more, I've never spent a penny of it. I wouldn't touch it, because I don't bear him any love whatever. Before you was born, my gal, he did me a most unforgivable wrong, an' he thinks money will wipe it out. But it won't: no, no, it won't. Howsomever, I banked all that money in your name, as it kept coming in; and there it's been piling up, till I don't really know how much there mayn't be. What's the total, Sartoris? Give us the total, man."
But the Captain had forgotten his calculation, in open-mouthed astonishment.
"'Arf-a-minute, 'arf-a-minute," he said, quickly giving his attention to the papers which lay before him. "Fifteen hundred and two thousand is three thousand, five hundred; and thirteen hundred is four thousand, eight hundred; and seven hundred and seventy-five is—— Why, there's more money here than ever I saw in a skipper's house before. I'll need a pencil and a bit o' paper, Miss Rose. There's a mint o' money—as much as would bail out a duke."
Supplied with stationery, he slowly made his calculation; the Pilot watching him unconcernedly, and Rose checking the amounts one by one.
At last he found his total, and drew a line under it.
"Well, what is it?" asked the Pilot.
"I make it ten thousand, seven hundred and seventy-five pound," he said. "Goodness, girl, here's all this money!—and you baking and scrubbing as if you was a servant. Summerhayes," he added, turning upon the Pilot, "I think you've been doing an injustice, sir; a gross injustice."
"Personally," replied the Pilot, "I don't intend to receive a pennyworth o' benefit from that money. If the gal likes to be a lady now, there's nothing to stop her; but I don't share in the spending o' that money, not in a penny of it. Of that I'm determined."
"You're a contumacious, cantankerous old barnacle," retorted Sartoris, "that's what you are. It'd serve you right if your daughter was to cut the painter and cast you adrift, and leave you to sink or swim."
"We can very well settle that point by and by, Sartoris. The present question is, Shall we bail out young Scarlett, or not? I put it to you, Rosebud. Here's all this money—what are you going to do with it? If you go bail for Scarlett and he runs away, you'll lose it. If he stands his trial, then you'll get it all back and have the knowledge, I believe, that you helped an innocent man. Which will you do?"
"I couldn't hesitate," replied Rose. "I'm sure Mr. Scarlett wouldn't commit such a dreadful crime as that he's charged with. I—I—feel," her breath caught in her throat, and she gave vent to something very like a sob, "I should be glad to do anything to get him out of prison."
"Quite right, quite right!" thundered the old Pilot. "There speaks my gal, Sartoris; there speaks my dar'ter, Rosebud!" Rising from his chair, he kissed her heartily, and stood, regarding her with pride and pleasure.
"My dear young lady," said Sartoris, as he took Rose's hand in his, and warmly pressed it, "it does you great honour. Young Mr. Scarlett an' me was shipmates; we was wrecked together. I know that lad better than I know my own brother—and, I say, you may safely back your opinion of him to any amount."
"Get my hat, gal," said the Pilot. "We'll be going."
And so, after she had hastily performed her toilet, Rose walked into town, with the two old sea-dogs as an escort.
First, they went to the Kangaroo Bank, where the Pilot placed the sheaf of deposit receipts on the manager's table, and said, "It comes to something over ten thousand pound, sir. What we want to know is, will you allow my dar'ter to draw five or ten thousand, and no questions asked?"
"Ah—really," said Mr. Tomkinson, "it would be most unusual. These deposits are made for a term, and the rule of the bank is that they can't be drawn against."
"Then what is the good of all this money to my gal, if she can't use it?"
"She can draw it as it falls due."
"But suppose that don't suit? Suppose my dar'ter wants it at once, what then?"
The manager rubbed his chin: that was his only reply.
"These bits o' paper are supposed to be as good as gold," continued the Pilot, rustling the receipts as they lay upon the table, "ain't they?"
"Better," said the manager, "in some ways much better."
"Indeed," retorted the Pilot. "Then what's the good o' them, if nothing can be done with 'em?"
"For the matter o' that, Summerhayes," said Sartoris, "if this gen'leman don't quite like to trust himself in the matter, there's plenty outside will take them there bits o' paper as security, and be glad to get 'em. I've seen the thing done, Summerhayes, though I can't say I've done it myself, never having had enough money to deposit in a bank."
"Ah—well," said the banker, "of course it can be managed, but you would lose the interest."
"The interests be—be—the interest be hanged!" exclaimed the Pilot.
"But the young lady must act under no compulsion, sir." Mr. Tomkinson spoke with a dignity worthy of the great institution which he represented. "She must do it of her own free will."
"Ask her," said the Pilot.
The manager looked at Rose, who said, "I want to draw seven thousand pounds of this money," but she felt as though she was speaking in a dream, so unreal did the situation seem to her.
"The best way for your daughter to act," said the manager, turning to the Pilot, "will be for her to sign seven thousand pounds' worth of these receipts over to the bank, and to open in her own name an account, on which she can draw to the amount specified."
"Very good," said the Pilot, "that would suit; but why couldn't you say so at first, instead o' boxing the compass?"
The business was soon concluded, and Rose, for the first time in her life, drew a cheque, which was for nothing less than L7000.
"This is a large sum," said the manager, "a large sum to take in a lump."
"Isn't it her own money she's taking?" said the Pilot. "I'm her father, and I don't see anything wrong about it."
"But there her credit ceases," said the manager.
"Let it cease," said the Pilot.
The cheque was cashed at the counter, and Rose walked out of the bank with a mighty sheaf of notes in her hand.
For safety's sake, the Pilot relieved her of some of her wealth, and Captain Sartoris relieved her of the rest, and thus the three walked briskly towards the Red Tape Office. Here, with difficulty and much climbing up and down stairs and traversing of corridors, they found the room of the District Judge, who was, in his minor capacity, likewise the Resident Magistrate.
He was a man of benign countenance, who, after the customary greetings and explanations had been made, politely asked them to be seated. This invitation the Pilot neglected to comply with, but, advancing to the table behind which the Judge sat, he said,
"I believe you have locked up a young man of the name of Scarlett."
"That's so," said the Judge.
"Well, he's a friend o' mine," said the Pilot, "a partic'lar friend."
"Indeed," said the Judge, smiling kindly. "I'm glad that Mr. Scarlett is not without friends."
"I've a great respect for the Law," continued the Pilot. "I always had, but that don't make me feel less anxious to help a friend o' mine that's got into its clutches."
The Judge continued to smile at the Pilot from behind his gold-rimmed spectacles. "I can quite believe it," he said.
"Cap'n Sartoris," said the Pilot, in his gruffest manner. "Stand up, sir!"
"Scarlett was your shipmate, Cap'n?" continued the Pilot.
"Certainly he was," answered Sartoris.
"And he was my very good friend, sir," added Summerhayes, turning to the Judge.
"So you have said," said the Judge.
"Well, we've come to bail him out," said the Pilot; "that's what has brought us here. How much will it take, Judge?"
"A—really—this is very sudden," replied the Judge. "Er—this is—ah—most unusual. In fact, I might say that this is quite an unparalleled case."
"We're plain, sea-faring men," said Sartoris, who felt he was bound to back up the Pilot, and to say something; "law isn't our strong point."
"Would you consider a matter o' five thousand pound might do it?" asked the Pilot.
The old Judge leaned over his table, and took up a book.
"Bail?" he said. "Page 249. Listen to this. 'On charges of murder, it is the uniform practice of Justices not to admit the person charged to bail; although in point of law, they may have power to do so.' That is from The Justice of the Peace—it seems perfectly plain."
"You may give bail, but you make a practice of refusing it," commented the Pilot. "Might I suggest that you set an example to the other Justices, an' come out strong in the matter o' bail? If you've got power to make the lot of a well-known citizen a little happier, why not use it? Hand over them notes, Sartoris."
The Pilot emptied his pockets of all the money that Rose had handed him, and placed it on the Judge's table, and Sartoris contributed his quota to the pile.
"There you are, Judge," said the Pilot, pushing all the money towards the legal magnate, "that should be enough to bail out a Member of the Legislative Council, or even the Governor himself. That should fix it. But don't think, Judge, that me and Cap'n Sartoris is doing this thing. No, sir, it's my dar'ter. She supplies the motive-power that works the machinery. All this money belongs to her. She it is that wishes to bail out this young man who, we believe, has been falsely accused."
"Ah—really," said the good old Judge, "I must say—now listen to this: I have here the newest edition." He took another and bulkier volume from his table. "Page 66, section 176. Allow me to read. 'The exercise of discretion with respect to taking of bail for the appearance of an accused person, where such discretion exists—namely, in all crimes except treason, being accessory after the fact to treason'——"
"Yes," interrupted the Pilot, "that's the Law, an' very good it is, very good to them as understands it; but what Sartoris, my dar'ter, and me want is for you to let this young feller out of gaol till the trial, an' we'll be responsible."
A perplexed look came over the Judge's face. He took off his glasses, and wiped them; readjusted them; gave a bewildered look at the Pilot, and said, "Yes, yes; but listen to what I am reading. The first question is whether bail ought to be taken at all; the second, what the amount should be."
"Place it high, Judge," said the Pilot. "We've come prepared for that. We've come prepared with seven thousand."
"Really, this is most irregular," complained the Judge, his finger marking the place on the page from which he was reading. "The—ah—object of bail, that is the amount of bail should be sufficient to secure the appearance of the accused to answer the charge." He had found his place, and read on determinedly, "'And it may be remarked here, that it is not the practice in England, under any circumstances, to take bail on charges of murder.'"
"Jus' so, Judge," said the Pilot. "Jus' so. It's not the custom in England. That's as I should ha' thought. But here, where murders don't occur every day, you may grant it if you like. That's as I thought, just as I thought. What's your opinion, Cap'n Sartoris?"
"Same here," said Sartoris, tapping his chest. "I'm with you, Pilot; with you on every point."
"Theoretically, that is so," said the Judge, "but practically, how are you going to assess bail for a man who is to be tried for his life? What amount of money will guarantee his reappearance? Why, no sum, however great."
The Judge shut his book with a snap, and set his mouth firmly as one who had made up his mind.
"This young man," he continued, "whom I knew and respected as well as you yourselves, has been accused of most serious crimes. He is said, with the aid of other persons at present at large, to have murdered the members of a gold-escort and to have stolen gold to the value of something like twenty thousand pounds."
The two seamen stood attentively, with their eyes fixed earnestly on the Judge, whilst Rose covered her face with her hands.
"Besides which,"—the Judge had now regained his judicial composure, and his words flowed smoothly, as though he were on the bench—"we must remember that the accused is reputed to be a wealthy man. Supposing him to have augmented his means by murder and malpractice, what would ten, twenty or even thirty thousand pounds be to him in comparison with his life? That is the question. There can be no guarantee of his reappearance. Bail is impossible. But I will do this: I will extend you the privilege—seeing your affection for this man, who, for your sakes as well as his own, I hope may be acquitted—I will allow you leave to visit him on certain days, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 12 noon, and I will write an order to that effect."
He looked at Jack's sympathisers, who remained dumb. Dipping his pen in the ink, he asked them their names in full, and wrote.
Handing each of them an order, he said, "You will present those to the gaoler when you desire to visit your friend. I may say that I very much admire the strong affection which you have shown towards one who is under such a serious charge as that made against the prisoner, John Scarlett. I wish you good morning."
So saying, he rose from his chair, and, when they had gathered up their money, ushered them out of the room.
In Durance Vile.
With a basket on her arm, Rose Summerhayes issued from the creeper-covered verandah of the many-gabled house, and stood in her garden of roses.
It was the time of the autumn blooms. With a pair of garden scissors she cut the choicest flowers, and placed them upon the snowy napkin which covered the contents of her basket. Then she tripped into the town.
She passed by Tresco's shop, where Jake Ruggles, worried by the inquiries of the police, and overwhelmed with orders which he could not execute, strove to act the absent goldsmith's part. At the door of The Lucky Digger, where stood a noisy throng of men from the gold-field, she heard the words, "It never was the work of one man. If he did it, he had accomplices. How could one man lug the four of 'em up that mountain-side," and she hurried past, knowing too well to whom the talk referred.
As she passed the Kangaroo Bank, a florid man, wearing a white waistcoat, came out through the glass doors with a digger who had been selling gold.
"So you thought you'd bring your gold to town yourself?" said the florid man.
"After that, yes," replied the digger. "I sold the nugget to Zahn for six-pound-ten, and, when next I see it, the Sergeant's got it. There never was a clearer case. It's a good thing they've got 'im safe in gaol."
Rose hurried on, feeling that all the town, watching her with unsympathetic eyes, knew well where she was going. But at last she stood before the gate of the wooden prison. After ringing for admittance, she was ushered into a room, bare of furniture save for a pine table and a couple of chairs, where a warder read the Judge's order, made some entries in a big book, and examined the contents of the basket.
She was next conducted through a species of hall which opened into a small, covered yard, on either side of which stood rows of white-washed, wooden cells.
Unlocking the second cell on the left-hand side, the warder said in a loud voice, as though he were speaking to some one who was either a long way off or very deaf, "Visitor to see you. Stand up, man. 'Tisn't every day that a pris'ner has a young lady to see him."
Rose entered the cell, and the door was closed behind her. The walls were white and bare. On a small bench at the further end sat a figure she saw but indistinctly until her eyes became accustomed to the dim light which crept through the grating in the door, against which she could observe the head of the watchful warder who stood inside the cell.
Jack rose slowly to his feet, and stood speechless, with his hand extended.
"I've brought you a couple of fowls and some fruit," said Rose.
"Thank you." Jack's voice was very low, and his words came very slowly. "Do you know the crime I'm accused of?"
"Please don't talk of that," said Rose. "I know all about it."
"I wonder you come to see me. No one else does."
"Perhaps they're not allowed to. But my father and Captain Sartoris will be here presently."
"Indeed! It's very kind of them."
"But, you see, we don't believe you're guilty; we think you'll be able to prove your innocence at the trial."
Conversation goes but tamely when a prison warder dwells on every word. The two stood in the centre of the cell, Jack holding tightly the girl's right hand, while with her left she held the basket. Withdrawing her hand from his ardent clasp, she placed the roses on the bench and uncovered the dainties which the basket contained. There being no table on which to place them, she spread the napkin on the bench, and laid the delicacies upon it.
"I am allowed to come every other day," she said, "and next time I hope to bring my father with me. He's engaged to-day with a ship."
"I never saw the men after they passed me on the track. I never did this thing."
Rose took his hand in hers, and gently pressed it. "If you don't wish to hurt me, you will not speak about it. At home we agree to say nothing. We hear all sorts of things, but we keep silent—it makes it hurt less."
"You still have faith in me?"
"Do others take that view?"
"I hope so."
"But I'm afraid the men on the diggings think hardly of me."
"Why should they? They are all coming to town, I am told, in order to attend the trial."
"So much the greater will be my degradation, if I am found guilty."
"On the other hand, so much greater will be your triumph, when you prove your innocence."
The conversation had got thus far, when voices were heard without, the door of the cell opened, and the Pilot and Captain Sartoris entered.
"Well, lad," exclaimed old Summerhayes, as he vigorously shook Jack's hand. "Keeping her head well to the wind, eh? That's the style, lad. You'll find she'll weather the storm."
"Aye, aye," said Sartoris. "If she goes down with all hands it's not the fault of the skipper, providing he's steered his true course."
"That's so," said the Pilot; "providing he's steered his true course. We were thinking o' bail, Jack. We thought to make you comfortable till you'd proved they'd arrested the wrong man; but that old barnacle of a Judge wouldn't budge an inch. He consulted his log, and neither Sartoris, nor me, nor my dar'ter, could drive any sense into him. So we gave it up: we intend to do our best to make you happy here."
"Lord bless you," said Sartoris, "it won't seem no time at all before you are out an' about. Then the whole affair will be but an episode,"—he dwelt on the word, which he had been treasuring in his mind for hours past—"simply an episode, only made to be forgotten." This speech was a great effort of oratory, and the Captain drew a long breath, looking sideways at the Pilot, as though he had given a cue.
"Luck goes in streaks, lad," said Captain Summerhayes. "You struck a bad one when you set sail with Sartoris here. I don't mean no offence to you, Captain; but I do not, never did, and never shall, admire the way you handled The Mersey Witch."
"Go on," remarked Sartoris; "rub it in. I can bear it."
"Having got into a bad streak, Jack, you must expect it to stick to you for a time. I did think as how you'd lost it when you come home with all that gold. But, you see, I was right at first; you're in it yet. There's no cure but to bear it. An' that you will, lad, like the man you are."
"We've come to cheer you up, Jack," said Sartoris, "an' I hope we've done it. But there's one thing that I believe is usual in these cases, an' that's a sky-pilot. I have heard as how a sky-pilot's more comfortin' to a man in gaol than anything else. What's your special brand? What kind do you fancy? I'm ashamed to say we've talked so little religion, Jack, that I don't know what religious crew you signed on with when you was young, but if there's any special breed o' parson you fancy, you've only got to give him a name, and if he lives in this town or within a radius of ten miles, he shall come an' minister to you reg'lar, or I'll know the reason why."
During this remarkable speech, Rose had quietly slipped out of the cell and, with her empty basket on her arm, had turned her steps homeward.
On rounding a corner of a street in the centre of the town, she almost ran into Rachel Varnhagen.
"Well, well, well, where have you been?" was the Jewess's greeting, as she stopped to talk to Rose.
"I've been to the gaol."
"To the gaol! Goodness, what for?"
Rose did not reply.
"I do believe you've been to see that contemptible murderer."
"If you mean a friend of mine, who was also a friend of yours who did you a great service, I beg you to stop."
"I mean that man Scarlett."
"And so do I."
"What! you've been speaking to him? You must be mad. The man's a murderer. It's awful!"
"You shouldn't judge him before he has been tried."
"The evidence is the same now as it will be then. There was a nugget of a strange shape, which a digger sold to poor Isaac Zahn, and it was found on your precious Scarlett when he was arrested."
Rose made no answer.
"And to think," Rachel continued, "that I was almost engaged to him."
"I never heard that," said Rose, coldly.
"My dear, I'm thankful to say nobody did, but he used to come regularly to our house when he was in town, and my stupid old father used to encourage him. Such an escape I never had. Fancy being married to a murderer. Ugh!"
"There's no need to fancy anything of the sort. You couldn't have married him till he asked you."
"But, dear, if he had, I should have accepted him. You know, he is so handsome. And he is awfully rich. My father wouldn't have heard of my refusing him. Certainly, he's not of our religion, but then we're not very orthodox. I'm afraid I should have accepted him: I'm sure I should. And then, think of poor Isaac. I really was fond of him. I know it now; but he was so slow in making money—I couldn't waste all my life in waiting."
"You must feel his death dreadfully," said Rose.
"But it doesn't comfort me very much, when my friends go to see his murderer."
"I haven't been to see a murderer."
"Good gracious! If that awful Scarlett didn't murder him, who did?"
"I haven't the least idea, but I feel sure there's been a mistake on the part of the police."
"There's no mistake: they found the bodies yesterday in the bush."
As Rachel spoke, the two girls saw a strange procession coming down the street.
"Look!" cried Rachel, seizing Rose's arm for support. "Look what is coming."
In single file, slowly the searchers were carrying the bodies of the murdered men, wrapped in canvas and strapped to poles cut from the forest trees. As they advanced, a crowd, bare-headed and at every step increasing, accompanied the doleful procession. They passed the spot where stood the two girls, the one supporting the other, and so disappeared out of sight.
The Supreme Court sat in the large hall of the wooden building, ornate with all the decorations of the Elizabethan style, which has been referred to in these pages as the Red Tape Office.
The hall was divided by a barrier, on one side of which were arranged the bench, dock, jury-box, and everything else appertaining to the functions of Justice; and on the other side stood the general public. But as yet the Court was not assembled, save for half-a-dozen be-wigged barristers and a few policemen; and the public, crowded like cattle in a pen, discussed in suppressed tones such matters as seemed good.
Presently, a door beside the bench opened, and a very fat bailiff, preceding the Judge himself, who was followed by many minions of the law, advanced into the body of the court, and cried, "Silence for His Honor the Queen's Judge!" struck the butt of his long staff upon the floor, and proceeded to deliver a long rigmarole, couched in early English, the tenor of which was that the proceedings about to take place were most solemn and dignified, and all men must keep silence in order that His Honour the Judge might hear himself speak.
Then the Judge seated himself on the bench, nodded to all the barristers, who thereupon immediately sat down likewise, and then the policemen, looking fiercely at the harmless, herded public, cried in angry tones for "Silence! Silence! Silence!" though not a man had so much as coughed since the great Judge had entered.
There seeming to be no fear of a demonstration against Law, Order, and Justice, a be-wigged gentleman who sat immediately in front of the Judge, in the manner that the clerk used to sit before the parson in the days of the three-decker pulpit, stood up, and after consulting various little bits of paper, called and empanelled the Grand Jury, a most important body of men, comprising all that was substantial and wealthy in Timber Town—short, fat men; tall, thin men; men of medium height; bullet-headed men, long-headed men, bald-headed men, and one man who was known to dye his hair; men whose stomachs rested on their knees as they sat; men who looked as though they had not had a full meal for a month; men dressed in tweeds; men dressed in black broad-cloth as if for a funeral; men with gay flowers in the button-holes of their coats; bearded men, and shorn men; as varied an assortment of men as could pronounce opinion on any case.
Each member of this queer company having been furnished with a little testament, the legal luminary administered the oath, and they kissed the book literally like one man, and sat down with a shuffling of feet that was truly disgraceful in so sedate an assembly.
They having chosen the fattest man of them all as their foreman, the Judge addressed them: "Mr. Foreman and gentlemen of the Grand Jury," he said, "give me your attention. Great crimes have been committed in your district,"—and not a man of them all but dropped his eyes and looked as if he felt himself guilty—"and great excitement has been caused in the public mind. But it is one of the highest triumphs of civilisation that we possess a wholesome system of procedure, whereby time is afforded to elapse for the abatement of popular excitement,"—here he glanced searchingly at the exemplary public on the other side of the barrier, as though he challenged one of them to move—"before such cases as those which will come before you, are heard." Here the Judge paused, and the jurymen looked at each other, as much as to say that after all they might escape. "But," continued His Honor, "we must take all proper precautions in such grave affairs as we are here to consider, lest the eye of reason should be jaundiced by prejudice, or become dazzled by passion, or lest the arm of Justice should smite wildly and without discrimination." Every juryman looked at the Judge, to see if the state of his eye was clear and in keeping with this grave injunction. "The first case which will come before you is that of John Richard Scarlett, who is charged with the murder of Isaac Zahn and others. I am not sure as to what will be the form of the indictment, but I should suppose there will be four separate indictments, that is to say, the prisoner will be charged with the murder of each man killed. I now ask you to retire and consider this grave case with that perspicacity and unbiassed judgment which I feel sure you are capable of exercising in so large a degree."
The Judge had made every juryman's breast swell with pride, and from their box they poured in a long stream, and clattered over the floor of the Court to the jury-room, the door of which stood ajar, ready to receive them.
The public portion of the hall was now crowded to excess, and the gallery above the main entrance was quickly filling. The people maintained perfect order, but on every face was an eager look which showed the intense interest that was being taken in the proceedings. But when the Judge retired, pending the decision of the Grand Jury, there broke out a hum of conversation, subdued but incessant. On the public side of the barrier there was nothing to be seen but a sea of faces, the faces of all sorts of men, and of not a few women, all waiting for the appearance of the prisoner. Suddenly at the back of this tightly-packed throng there arose a slight commotion, caused by a wild, unkempt man pushing his way through the doorway into the middle of the crowd. His hair was long and matted, his clothes were torn and covered with clay, his face was anxious yet determined. Having wedged himself into the living mass, his identity soon became merged and lost in the multitude of men, work-stained and way-worn like himself. For almost the entire population of Canvas Town was assembled to hear the case against Scarlett; the aristocratic members of the League had come to see what fate awaited their president; solitary "hatters" had come to witness the discomfiture of "the boss of the toffs"; the female portion of the concourse had been attracted by the romance which was believed to underlie the tragedy; while the townsmen were there out of sympathy with the young banker whom they had all known. Filling all available space in the hall and overflowing into the great quadrangle outside, this motley crowd discussed the case against Scarlett in all its bearings, though there was a dense ignorance on the part of the critics as to the evidence that would be called. To everything he heard the wild, unkempt man turned a deaf ear; regarding, as he undoubtedly did, the self-appointed judges around him with silent contempt and some degree of amusement.
At length the door of the jury-room opened, and the head of a Grand Juror was thrust out. To him a constable immediately whispered. The Grand Jury had come to a decision, and the Judge was summoned from his room.
No sooner had the great man taken his seat, than amid a murmur of excitement the prisoner was placed in the dock. He looked thin and care-worn. On his legs were heavy irons, and handcuffs were upon his wrists. Otherwise he was as when first arrested; he wore the same riding-breeches and leggings, and the same tweed coat.
Then the Grand Jury filed solemnly in, and stood in a big semicircle between the barrier and the Court, the foreman standing a little in front of his fellows.
"Mr. Foreman and gentlemen of the Grand Jury, how do you find in the case of John Richard Scarlett, charged with the murder of Isaac Zahn?"
"A true bill, Your Honour," answered the foreman.
"How do you find in the case of John Richard Scarlett, charged with the murder of James Kettle?"
"A true bill, Your Honour."
A like answer was returned in respect to the other three charges, and the Judge then discharged the Grand Jury, who promptly filed out of Court, only to reappear in the gallery above the Judge's bench.
A Special Jury—which, the Judge was careful to tell Jack, was a great privilege extended to him by the Court—was empanelled to try the case, but not without a great deal of challenging on the part of the Crown Prosecutor and of Jack's counsel.
"Prisoner at the bar, you are charged with the wilful murder of Isaac Zahn. How do you plead, Guilty or Not Guilty?"
Scarlett's voice rang clear through the hall.
There was a shuffling amongst the barristers on the floor of the Court; papers were rustled, law-books were opened or placed neatly in rows, and a general air of business pervaded the scene.
Then the Crown Prosecutor rose and, after clearing his throat several times, declared that he would call certain witnesses to prove that the prisoner was on the road between Timber Town and Canvas Town on the day of the murder, that he was at open variance with the murdered man, Isaac Zahn, that he possessed when arrested certain property belonging to the murdered man, and certain other important facts, all of which went to prove the prisoner's guilt.
First, he called a constable who deposed as to the finding of the bodies; next, a doctor, who gave evidence as to how Zahn met his death. Then followed a member of the search-committee, who supplied various details respecting the track, the position of the body of Zahn when found, and of the effects found upon it.
These three witnesses but fulfilled the formalities of the Law in proving that the dead man was murdered and robbed, but there was a great stir in the hall when the next witness entered the box.
This was a corn-stalk of a man who wore a long yellow beard, and seemed to consist of legs, arms, and head; his body being of such small importance in the scheme of his construction as to be hardly noticeable.
"John Rutherford," said the Crown Prosecutor, "kindly tell the jury your trade or calling."
"Digger," answered the witness, as laconically as possible.
"The witness means," said the barrister, turning to the jury, "that he mines for gold," an explanation which nobody needed. "But be so good as to inform the Court if you know a hostelry named The Lucky Digger."
A smile stole over the lean witness's face. "I reckon I've bin there," he said.
"Were you there on the afternoon of Saturday, the 25th of February, last?"
"I might ha' bin."
"You can't be certain?"
"You've hit it, mister—I can't be certain."
"Then we'll try to assist your memory. Do you know the prisoner at the bar?"
The witness looked at Scarlett with a grin. Then he turned, and confronted the lawyer. "I know him," he said. "He was boss of the gentlemen diggers."
"Did you know the deceased, Isaac Zahn, with whose murder the prisoner is charged?"
"I did—he bought gold of me."
"Did you ever know the two men, John Scarlett and Isaac Zahn, to quarrel?"
"Please be so good as to describe to the jury the nature of the quarrel."
"I was standin' in the bar of The Lucky Digger, havin' a pint with a friend," said the long, thin witness, "when I heard the prisoner exchangin' words with Zahn."
"Ah! a very important matter," said the counsel for the Crown. "What was the subject of their conversation?"
"Seemed to me they were both sparkin' up to the bar-maid," said the digger, "an' consequently there was bad blood between 'em, specially on the part of Scarlett."
"Did he strike the deceased?"
"Certainly. Struck 'im in the bar, in the passage, an' kicked 'im into the street."
"You swear to that?"
"Decidedly. I seen 'im do it."
"Thank you. You may stand down—unless, of course, my friend the counsel for the defence would like to ask a question."
Scarlett's barrister, a man of jovial countenance, smiled, and shook his head.
"Call Rachel Varnhagen."
The pretty Jewess, dressed in black, walked modestly into the Court, mounted the step or two which led to the witness-box, and bowed to the Judge and jury.
"I should be pleased to spare you the pain of appearing as a witness in this case," said the barrister for the Crown, looking his softest at the lovely Rachel, "but the importance I attach to the evidence I believe you will give, is so great that I am forced to sacrifice my private feelings upon the altar of Justice. I believe you know the prisoner at the bar?"
"Yes, I do," replied Rachel, in a very low voice.
"Did you know Isaac Zahn, with whose murder he is charged?"
"Is it a fact that you were engaged in marriage to Isaac Zahn?"
"I was, but the engagement was broken off some six weeks before his death."
"And that you afterwards became engaged to John Scarlett?"
"I was never engaged to marry the prisoner."
"Ah, then I have been misinformed. Were not the prisoner and the deceased rivals for your hand?"
"I believed them to be so."
"Did you ever know them to quarrel?"
"I once saw the prisoner throw Isaac Zahn out of a house."
"I was passing along the street, when through the door of a public-house I saw the prisoner throw or kick Isaac Zahn into the street, and he fell on the pavement at my feet."
"Can you remember the name of the public-house?"
"It was The Lucky Digger."
The barrister sat down, and looked at the ceiling of the Court—he had finished his examination—and the Judge motioned the fair Rachel to stand down.
The next witness to be sworn was Amiria.
"Do you remember the 3rd of March last?" asked the Crown Prosecutor.
The brown eyes of the Maori girl flashed, and, drawing herself up with dignity, she said, "Of course, I do. Why should I forget it?"
"What did you do on that day—where did you go?"
"I went for a ride, though I can't see how that can interest you?"
"Did you go alone?"
"Who accompanied you?"
"Indeed. Where did you ride to?"
"In the direction of Canvas Town."
"Well, well. This is most important. Did you accompany the prisoner all the way?"
"No. We parted at the last ford before you come to the mountains, and I returned alone to Timber Town."
"What time of day was that?"
"Between nine and ten in the morning."
"And which way did the prisoner take after leaving you?"
"He crossed over the ford, and went towards Canvas Town."
"Thank you." Then the counsel for the Crown turned to the Judge. "I have finished with the witness, Your Honour," he said.
"But I have not finished," cried Amiria, lifting her voice so that it rang through the Court. "There were others on the road that day."
"Ah!" said the Judge. "I understand you desire to make a statement?"
"I desire to say that at the ford were four horrible-looking men."
The Crown Prosecutor laughed. "Yes, yes," he said. "You would tell the Court that there were others on the road besides yourself and the prisoner. What were the names of the men to whom you refer?"
"I don't know. How should I know their names?"
Again the Crown Prosecutor laughed. But Scarlett's counsel was on his feet in a moment.
"Would you recognise them, if you saw them again?" he asked.
"I think so," answered the Maori girl.
"What should you say was their occupation?"
"I don't know, but they looked much more like murderers than Mr. Scarlett did."
"Look if you can see the men you speak of, in Court."
The dark girl glanced at the sea of faces on the further side of the barrier.
"They may be here, but I can't see them," she said.
"Just so. But do you see any persons like them?"
"In dress, yes. In face, no."
"Very good, don't trouble yourself further. That will suffice."
And Amiria was ushered from the Court.
"Call William Tomkin Tomkinson."
The Bank Manager stood trembling in the box, all the timidity of his soul brought to the surface by the unusual situation in which he found himself.
"What quantity of gold do you suppose your agent, Mr. Zahn, was bringing to town when he was thus foully murdered?" asked the Crown Prosecutor.
"I really don't know the exact amount, but I should imagine it was between L15,000 and L20,000."
"You know the prisoner?"
"I have met him in the way of business?"
"What was the nature of his business?"
"He came to ask the Bank to send an agent to the field for the purpose of buying gold."
"And you told him you would send one?"
"I called Mr. Zahn into my room. I told him he would be sent to the field, and I suggested that the prisoner should conduct him to Canvas Town."
"Was that suggestion acted upon?"
"No. Scarlett was willing to comply, but Zahn refused his offer."
"Why did he refuse?"
"He was frightened to trust himself with the prisoner."
"This is very important, Mr. Tomkinson. I must ask you to repeat the murdered man's exact words when he refused to accompany the prisoner to the field."
"I do not recollect his exact words. As nearly as I can remember, he said that he would rather run the risk of getting lost in the bush than be thrown over a precipice."
"Did you know they had quarrelled previously?"
"I learnt so, at the time to which I refer."
"Thank you, sir. Your evidence has proved to be valuable, very valuable indeed. I shall ask the witness no more questions, Your Honour."
Scarlett's counsel was contemplatively tapping his front teeth with his forefinger throughout this examination. He now rose, and informed the Judge that though he desired to ask the witness no questions at the present time, perhaps he might ask for him and the witness Amiria to be recalled at a later stage of the proceedings.
The next witness was a digger, a short man with a bushy, red beard. But even more extraordinary than the man's beard was his casual, almost insolent, bearing. He glanced at the Judge contemptuously, he looked pityingly at the jury, he regarded the barristers with dislike, and then he settled himself resignedly against the front of the witness-box, and fixed his eyes superciliously upon the Sergeant of Police.
"Are you the owner of a claim on Bush Robin Creek?"
"I am, and it's a good claim too." The witness evidently considered himself on familiar terms with the counsel for the Crown.
"Did you sell gold to Isaac Zahn?"
"I did, an' he give me L3 15s. an ounce. The result of a month's work, yer Honour."
"How much did you sell?"
"Forty-six ounces fifteen pennyweights; but, bless yer, I'd on'y begun to scratch the top of the claim."
The idea of the witness blessing the Crown Prosecutor convulsed the bar with merriment; but, looking straight at the witness, the Judge said, "I beg you to remember, sir, that you are in a Court of Law, and not in the bar of a public-house." To which admonition the digger was understood, by those nearest to him, to murmur, "I on'y wish I were."
"Was there anything unusual in the appearance of the gold that you sold to Zahn?"
"It was very 'eavy gold," replied the witness, "an' there was one nugget that 'e give me extry for, as a curio."
"Indeed," said the counsel, as though this fact was quite new to him. "What was it like?"
"It weighed close on two ounces, an' was shaped like a kaka's head."
"What is a kaka, my man, and what shape is it's head?"
"I thought you'd ha' known—it's a parrot, mister."
"Would you know the nugget, if you saw it again?"
"'Course, I would," replied the witness with infinite contempt. "I got eyes, ain't I, an' a mem'ry?"
"Is that it?" The barrister handed a bit of gold to the witness.
"That's the identical nugget," replied the witness: "you may make your mind easy on that. I sold it to Zahn soon after he come to the field."
"Thank you," said the Crown Prosecutor, and, turning to the jury, he added, "That nugget, gentlemen, is an exhibit in the case, and is one of the effects found on the prisoner at the bar, when he was searched after his arrest."
The witness left the box amid a murmur of excitement, and from the gestures of the jurymen it was clear that his evidence had impressed them. The case against Scarlett wore a serious aspect, and the Crown Prosecutor, smiling, as though well pleased with his work, was preparing to examine witnesses to prove the prisoner's arrival at Canvas Town on the night of the murder, when there arose a considerable commotion amongst the public, by reason of a wild, unshorn man pushing his way violently towards the barrier. The Police Sergeant and his constables cried, "Silence in the Court!" but amid noisy protestations from the crowd, the ragged, struggling figure reached the barrier, vaulted over it, and stood on the floor of the Court. The barristers rose to stare at the extraordinary figure; the Judge, open-mouthed with astonishment, glared at everybody generally; the Sergeant made three strides towards the intruder, and seized him roughly by the arm.
"I desire to give evidence!" cried the disturber of the proceedings. "I wish to be sworn."
With his clothes in tatters and earth-stained, his boots burst at the seams and almost falling to pieces, his hair long and tangled, his beard dirty and unkempt, thus, in a state of utter disreputableness, he unflinchingly faced the Court; and the crowd, forgetful of the prisoner, Judge, and jury, gave its whole attention to him.
Beckoning with his hand, the Judge said, "Bring this man forward. Place him where I can see him."
The Police Sergeant led the would-be witness to the space between the dock and the jury-box.
"Now, my man," said the Judge, "I imagine that you wish to say something. Do you wish to give evidence bearing on this case?"
"I do, Your Honour."
"Then let me warn you that if what you have to say should prove frivolous or vexatious, you will be committed for disturbing the Court."
"If what I have to say is irrelevant, I shall be willing to go to gaol."
The Judge looked at this ragged man who used such long words, and said sternly, "You had better be careful, sir, exceedingly careful. What is your name?"
"Oh, indeed. Very good. T-r-e-s-c-o-e, I presume," remarked the Judge, making a note of the name.
"No, Your Honour; no 'e'."
"Benjamin Tresco, of what nature is the evidence you desire to give?"
"It tends to the furtherance of Justice, Your Honour."
"Does it bear on this case? Does it deal with the murder of Isaac Zahn?"
"Would it be given on behalf of the Crown, or on behalf of the prisoner?"
"I can't say. It has no bearing on the prisoner, except indirectly. It affects the Crown, perhaps—the Crown always desires to promote Justice."
"Let the man be sworn."
So Benjamin was placed in the box, and stood prominent in his rags before them all. After he had been sworn, there was a pause; neither the prosecution, nor the defence, knowing quite what to make of him.
At length the counsel for the Crown began, "Where were you on March the 3rd, the supposed day of the murder of Isaac Zahn?"
"I don't keep a diary. Of late, I haven't taken much account of dates. But if you refer to the date of the thunderstorm, I may state that I was in my cave."
"Indeed. In your cave? That is most interesting. May I ask where your cave may be?"
"In the mountains, not far from the track to Canvas Town."
"Dear me, that's very novel. When you are at home, you live in a cave. You must be a sort of hermit. Do you know the prisoner?"
"Did you meet him in your cave?"
"No; but there I saw the men who ought to be in the dock in his stead."
"Eh? What? Do you understand what you are saying?"
"Perfectly? Indeed. Have you come here to give evidence for the Crown against the prisoner at the bar?"
"I have nothing to do with the prisoner. I have come to disclose the guilty parties, who, so far as I am aware, never in their lives spoke two words to the prisoner at the bar."
"Your Honour," said the bewildered barrister, "I have nothing further to ask the witness. I frankly own that I consider him hardly accountable for what he says—his general appearance, his manner of life, his inability to reckon time, all point to mental eccentricity, to mental eccentricity in an acute form."
But the counsel for the defence was on his feet.
"My good sir," he said, addressing the witness, with an urbanity of tone and manner that Benjamin in his palmiest days could not have surpassed, "putting aside all worry about dates, or the case for the Crown, or the prisoner at the bar, none of which need concern you in the slightest degree, kindly tell the jury what occurred in your cave on the day of the thunderstorm."
"Four men entered, and from the place where I lay hid I overheard their conversation. It referred to the murder of Isaac Zahn."