"Exactly what I should have imagined. Did you know the four men? Who were they? What were their names?"
"I knew the names they went by, and I recognised their faces as those of men I had met in Timber Town."
"Tell the jury all that you heard them say and all that you saw them do in the cave?"
"I had returned from exploring a long passage in the limestone rock, when I heard voices and saw a bright light in the main cave. For reasons of my own, I did not desire to be discovered; therefore, I crept forward till I lay on a sort of gallery which overlooked the scene. Four men were grouped round a fire at which they were drying their clothes, and by the light of the flames they divided a large quantity of gold which, from their conversation, I learned they had stolen from men whom they had murdered. They described the method of the murders; each man boasting of the part he had played. They had stuck up a gold-escort, and had killed four men, one of whom was a constable and another a banker."
"That was how they described them?"
"That is so. The two remaining murdered men they did not describe as to profession or calling."
"You say that you had previously met these fiends. What were their names?"
"They called each other by what appeared to be nicknames. One, the leader, was Dolly; another Sweet William, or simply William; the third was Carny, or Carnac; the fourth Garstang. But how far these were their real names I am unable to say."
"Where did you first meet them?"
"In The Lucky Digger. I played for money with them, and lost considerably."
"When next did you meet them?"
"Some weeks afterwards I saw two of them—the leader, known as Dolphin, or Dolly, and the youngest member of the gang, named William."
"Where was that?"
"On the track to Bush Robin Creek. I had come out of the bush, and saw them on the track. When I had hidden myself, they halted opposite me at a certain rock which stands beside the track. From where I lay I heard them planning some scheme, the nature of which I then scarcely understood, but which must have been the sticking-up of the gold-escort. I heard them discuss details which could have been connected with no other undertaking."
"Would you know them if you saw them again?"
"Look round the Court, and see if they are present."
Benjamin turned, and looked hard at the sea of faces on the further side of the barrier. There were faces, many of which he knew well, but he saw nothing of Dolphin's gang.
"I see none of them here," he said, "but I recognise a man who could bear me out in identifying them, as he was with me when I lost money to them at cards."
"I would ask you to point your friend out to me," said the Judge. "Do I understand that he was with you in the cave?"
"No, Your Honour; I knew him before I went there."
"What is his name?"
"On the diggings, he is Bill the Prospector, but his real name is William Wurcott."
"Call William Wurcott," said the Judge.
William Wurcott was duly cried, and the pioneer of Bush Robin Creek pushed his way to the barrier and stood before the Court in all his hairiness and shabbiness.
Tresco stood down, and the Prospector was placed in the box. After being sworn according to ancient custom, Bill was asked all manner of questions by counsel and the Judge, but no light whatever could he throw on the murder of Isaac Zahn, though he deposed that if confronted with the visitors to Tresco's cave, he would be able to identify them as easily as he could his own mother. He further gave it as his opinion that as the members of the gang, namely, Sweet William and his pals—he distinctly used the words "pals" before the whole Court—had drugged him and stolen his money, on the occasion to which Tresco had referred, they were quite capable, he thought, of committing murder; and that since his mate Tresco had seen them dividing stolen gold in his cave, on the day of the thunderstorm, he fully believed that they, and not the prisoner at the bar, were the real murderers.
All of which left the minds of the jury in such a confused state with regard to the indictment against the prisoner, that, without retiring, they returned a verdict of Not Guilty, and Jack left the Court in the company of Rose, the Pilot, and Captain Sartoris.
The Way to Manage the Law.
It may have been that the Prospector's brief appearance in Court had roused the public spirit latent in his hirsute breast, or it may have been that his taciturnity had been cast aside in order that he might assume his true position as a leader of men; however that may have been, it is a fact that, on the morning after the trial, he was to be seen and heard haranguing a crowd outside The Lucky Digger, and inciting his hearers to commit a breach of the peace, to wit, the forcible liberation of a prisoner charged with a serious crime.
"An' what did 'e come for?—'e come to see his pal had fair play," Bill was exclaiming, as he stood on the threshold of the inn and faced the crowd of diggers in the street. "'E proved the whole boilin' of 'em, Judge, law-sharks, police, an' bum-bailies, was a pack of fools. He made a reg'lar holy show of 'em. An' what does 'e git?—Jahroh."
Here the speaker was interrupted by cries, approving his ruling in the matter.
"He come to give Justice a show to git her voice 'eard, and what's 'e find?—a prison." Bill paused here for effect, which followed immediately in the form of deep and sepulchral groans.
"Now I arsk you, ain't there plenty real criminals in this part o' the world without freezin' on to the likes of us? But the Law's got a down on diggers. What did the police know of this Dolphin gang? Nothing. But they collared Mr. Scarlett, and was in a fair way to scrag 'im, if Justice hadn't intervened. Who have you to thank for that?—a digger, my mate Tresco. Yes, but the Law don't thank 'im, not it; it fastens on to the very bloke that stopped it from hangin' the wrong man."
Here there arose yells of derision, and one digger, more vociferous than his fellows, was heard to exclaim, "That's right, ole man. Give 'em goss!"
The crowd now stretched across the broad street and blocked all traffic, in spite of the exertions of a couple of policemen who were vainly trying to disperse Bill's audience.
"Now I want to know what you're goin' to do about it," continued the Prospector. "All this shoutin' an' hoorayin' is very fine, but I don't see how it helps my mate in the lock-up. I want to know what you're goin' to do!"
He paused for an answer, but there was none, because no one in the vast assembly was prepared to reply.
"Then," said the Prospector, "I'll tell you what. I want six men to go down to the port for a ship's hawser, a thick 'un, a long 'un. I want those men to bring that there hawser, and meet me in front of the Police Station; an' we'll see if I can show you the way to manage the Law."
The concourse surged wildly to and fro, as men pushed and elbowed their way to the front.
"Very good," said Bill, as he surveyed the volunteers with the eye of a general; "you'll do fine. I want about ten chain o' rope, thick enough and strong enough to hold a ship. Savee?"
The men detailed for this special duty answered affirmatively, seized upon the nearest "express," and, clambering upon it, they drove towards the sea amidst the cheering of the crowd.
The Prospector now despatched agents to beat up all the diggers in the town, and then, accompanied by hundreds of hairy and excited men, he made his way towards the lock-up, where the goldsmith, who had been arrested immediately after Scarlett's trial, lay imprisoned. This place of torment was a large, one-storied, wooden building which stood in a by-street facing a green and grassy piece of land adjacent to the Red Tape Office.
By the time that Bill, followed by an ever increasing crowd, had reached the "station," the men with the hawser arrived from the port.
No sooner were the long lengths of heavy rope unloaded from the waggon, then deft hands tied a bowline at one end of the hawser and quickly passed it round the lock-up, which was thus securely noosed, and two or three hundred diggers took hold of the slack of the rope.
Then was the Prospector's opportunity to play his part in the little drama which he had arranged for the edification of Timber Town. Watch in hand, he stepped up to the door of the Police Station, where he was immediately confronted by no less a person than the Sergeant himself.
"'Day, mister," said Bill, but the policeman failed to acknowledge the greeting. "You've got a mate of ours in here—a man of the name of Tresco. It's the wish of these gentlemen that he be liberated. I give you three minutes to decide."
The infuriated Sergeant could hardly speak, so great was his anger. But at last he ejaculated, "Be off! This is rioting. You're causing a breach of the peace."
"Very sorry, mister, but time's nearly up," was the only comment that the Prospector made.
"I arrest you. I shall lock you up!"
Bill quickly stepped back, and cried to his men. "Take a strain!" The hawser was pulled taut, till it ticked. "Heave!" The building creaked to its foundations.
Bill held up his hand, and the rope slackened. Turning to the Sergeant, he said, "You see, mister, this old shanty of yours will go, or I must have my mate. Which is it to be? It lies with you to say."
But by way of answer the Sergeant rushed at him with a pair of handcuffs. Half-a-dozen diggers intervened, and held the Law's representative as if he had been a toy-terrier.
The Prospector now gave all his attention to his work. "Take a strain!" he cried. "Heave!" The wooden building creaked and cracked; down came a chimney, rattling upon the iron roof.
"Pull, boys!" shouted the Prospector. "Take the time from me." With arms extended above his head, he swayed his body backwards and forwards slowly, and shouted in time to his gesticulations, "Heave! Heave! Now you've got her! Altogether, boys! Let her 'ave it! Heave!"
The groaning building moved a foot or two forward, the windows cracked, and another chimney came down with a crash. Bill held up his hand, and the hawser slackened.
"Now, mister," he said, addressing the helpless, struggling Sergeant, "when's my mate a-comin'? Look sharp in saying the word, or your old shed'll only be fit for firewood."
At this point of the proceedings, a constable with an axe in his hand issued from the tottering building; his intention being to cut the rope. But he was immediately overpowered and disarmed.
"That fixes it," said the Prospector. "Now, boys; take a strain—the last one. Heave, all! Give 'er all you know. Altogether. Heave! There she comes. Again. Heave!"
There was a crashing and a smashing, the whole fabric lurched forward, and was dragged half-way across the road. Bill held up his hand.
"Now, Sergeant, have you had enough, or do you want the whole caboose pulled across the paddock?"
But the answer was given by a constable leading a battered, tattered, figure from the wrecked building.
It was Benjamin Tresco.
Led by the Prospector, the great crowd of diggers roared three deafening cheers; and then the two mates shook hands.
That affecting greeting over, Benjamin held up his hand for silence.
"Gentlemen, I thank you," he said. "This is the proudest day of my life. It's worth while being put in limbo to be set free in this fashion. I hardly know what I've done to deserve such a delicate attention, but I take it as a token of good feeling, although you pretty near killed me with your kindness. The Law is strong, but public opinion is stronger; and when the two meet in conflict, the result is chaos for the Law."
He pointed to the wrecked building, by way of proof; and the crowd roared its approval.
"But there's been a man worse man-handled than me," continued the goldsmith, "a man as innocent as an unborn babe. I refer to Mr. Scarlett, the boss of the Robin Creek diggings."
The crowd shouted.
"But he has regained his liberty." Benjamin's face shone like the rising sun, as he said the words. "I call upon you to give three cheers for Mr. Jack Scarlett." The response was deafening, and the roar of the multitude was heard by the sailors on the ships which lay at the wharves of Timber Town.
From the mixed crowd on the side-path, where he had been standing with Cathro and Mr. Crewe, Scarlett stepped forward to thank the man who by his intervention had delivered him from obloquy and, possibly, from death. Immediately the diggers marked the meeting, they rushed forward, seized Scarlett, Tresco, and the Prospector; lifted them shoulder high, and marched down the street, singing songs appropriate to the occasion.
At the door of The Lucky Digger the procession stopped, and there the heroes were almost forcibly refreshed; after which affecting ceremony one body-guard of diggers conducted Scarlett to the Pilot's house, and another escorted Bill and Ben to the goldsmith's shop. But whereas Scarlett's friends left him at Captain Summerhayes' gate, the men who accompanied Tresco formed themselves into a guard for the protection of his person and the safety of his deliverer.
When Scarlett walked into the Pilot's parlour, he found the old sailor poring over a pile of letters and documents which had just arrived by the mail from England.
"Well, Pilot, good news, I hope," said Jack.
"No," replied the gruff old seaman; "it's bad—and yet it's good. See here, lad." He pushed a letter towards Jack, and fixed his eyes on the young man's face.
"I had better not read it," said Jack. "Let Miss Summerhayes do so."
"I've no secrets from you, lad. There's nothing in it you shouldn't know; but, no, no, 'tain't for my dar'ter's eyes. It's from my brother's lawyers, to say he's dead."
"Yes, died last January. They say he had summat on his mind; they refer me to this packet here—his journals." The Pilot took up two fat little books, in which a diary had been kept in a clear, clerkly hand. "I've been looking them through, and it's all as clear as if it had been printed."
Scarlett sat down, and looked at the old man earnestly.
"I've told you," continued Summerhayes, "how I hated my brother: you've heard me curse him many a time. Well, the reason's all set down in these books. It worried him as he lay sickening for his death. To put it short, it was this: He was rich—I was poor. I was married—he was single. He had ships—I had none. So he gave me command of one of his tea-clippers, and I handed over to his care all I held dear. But I believed he proved unworthy of my trust. And so he did, but not as I thought. Here in his diary he put down everything he did while I was on that voyage; writing himself down blackguard, if ever a man did. But he owns that however base was his wish, he was defeated in the fulfilment of it. And here, as he was slowly dying, he puts down how he repents. He was bad, he was grasping, he was unscrupulous, but he wasn't as bad as he wished to be, and that's all you can say for him. I bury my resentment with his body. He's dead, and my hatred's dead. To prove his repentance he made his Will, of which this is a certified copy."
The Pilot handed to Jack a lengthy legal document, which had a heavy red seal attached to it, and continued, "To my dar'ter he leaves the bulk of his money, an' to me his ships. There, that ends the whole matter."
Jack read the deed while the Pilot smoked.
"You're a rich man, Captain Summerhayes," said he, as he handed back the document to its owner.
"If I choose to take the gift," growled the Pilot.
"Which you must, or else see an immense sum of money go into the maw of Chancery."
"Chancery be smothered! Ain't there my dar'ter Rose?"
"Yes, but she couldn't take the ships except at your wish or at your death."
"Then she shall have 'em."
"Nonsense, Pilot. You know now that your brother never wronged you unpardonably. You own that in a large measure you misjudged him. Now then, place your unfounded charge against his evil intention, and you are quits. He tried to square himself by leaving you half his wealth, and you will square yourself with him by accepting his gift. If you don't do that, you will die a worse man than he."
The Pilot was silent for some time, and drummed the table with his fingers.
"I don't like it," he complained.
"You must take it. If you don't, you will drag before the public a matter that must grieve your daughter."
"All right, I'll take it; but I shall hold it in trust for my gal."
"That is as you please."
"But there's one good thing in it, Jack. Sartoris! Rosebud! Come here. There's a gentleman wants to see you."
Rose Summerhayes and the shipless Captain, when the Pilot opened his mail, had retired to the kitchen, in order that the old man, who was evidently upset by his news, might digest it quietly. They now reappeared, looking half-scared lest the heavens had fallen on the Pilot.
They were astonished to see him radiant, and laughing with Jack.
"Now, my gal and Captain Sartoris, sir, I've got a little matter to clear up. I own there was a problem in them letters as almost bamfoozled me. I confess it almost beat me. I own it got the better of me considerably. But this young man, here—stand up, Jack, and don't look as if you'd stolen the sugar out of the tea-caddy—this young man, my dear, pulled me through. He put it to me as plain as if he'd bin a lawyer an' a parson rolled into one. The difficulty's overcome: there's nothing of it left: it don't exist."
Sartoris' eyes opened wider and wider as he gazed in astonishment at the Pilot, who continued, "Yes, Sartoris, you well may look, for I'm goin' to tell you something you don't expect. You are to have another ship. I have letters here as warrant me in saying that: you shall have command of another ship, as soon as you land in England."
"D'you mean to say your brother has forgiven the wreck of The Witch? You must be dreaming, Summerhayes."
"Probably I am. But as soon as you reach home, Sartoris, there's a ship waitin' for you. That ends the matter."
He turned abruptly to Scarlett.
"There's something I have to say to you, young feller. My gal, here, came to me, the night before last—when some one we know of was in a very queer street—she came to me, all of a shake, all of a tremble, unable to sleep; she came to me in the middle of the night—a thing she'd never done since she was six years old—an' at first I thought it was the hysterics, an' then I thought it was fever. But she spoke plain enough, an' her touch was cool enough. An' then she began to tell me"——
"Really, father," Rose exclaimed, her cheeks colouring like a peony, "do stop, or you'll drive me from the room."
"Right, my dear: I say no more. But I ask you, sir," he continued, turning to Scarlett. "I ask you how you diagnose a case like that. What treatment do you prescribe? What doctor's stuff do you give?" There was a smile on the old man's face, and his eyes sparkled with merriment. "I put it to you as a friend, I put it to you as a man who knows a quantity o' gals. What's the matter with my dar'ter Rose?"
For a moment, Jack looked disconcerted, but almost instantly a smile overspread his face.
"I expect it arose from a sudden outburst of affection for her father," he said.
But here Sartoris spoilt the effect by laughing. "I suspect the trouble rose from a disturbed condition of the heart," said he, "a complaint not infrequent in females."
"An' what, Cap'n, would you suggest as a cure?" asked the Pilot; his eyes twinkling, and his suppressed merriment working in him like the subterranean rumbling of an earthquake.
"Cast off the tow-rope, drop the pilot, and let her own skipper shape her course"—this was the advice that Sartoris gave—"to my mind you've been a-towin' of her too long."
"But she's got no skipper," said Summerhayes, "an', dear, dear, she's a craft with a deal too much top-hamper an' not near enough free-board to please me, an' her freight's valued at over fifty thousand. Where's the man, Sartoris, you'd guarantee would take her safely into port?"
The two old sailors were now bubbling with laughter, and there were frequent pauses between their words, that their mirth might not explode.
"There was a time," said Sartoris, "there was a time when I'd ha' bin game to take on the job meself."
"What!" exclaimed Rose. "You? Why, you're old and shaky and decrepit."
"Yes, I don't deny it—I'm a bit of a hulk, my dear," but Sartoris laughed as he spoke. "I may have to pass in my cheques, any day. That's why I stand aside; but I'll find you the man to take my place. Here 'e is!" The grizzled old sailor seized Scarlett by the arm, and pushed him towards the girl. "This is him. He's got his master's ticket all right; an' though he's never had command of a ship, he's anxious to try his hand. Pilot, my advice is, let 'im have her."
"Thank 'e, Cap'n." Here the Pilot's laughter, too long suppressed, burst forth with a terrific roar, in which Sartoris joined. "I mark what you say, Cap'n. I take your advice." His words again halted to make way for his Titanic laughter. "I believe it's about the best thing I can do." He had now caught hold of Scarlett's hand. "Come here, my gal." Taking hold of Rose's hand also, he said, "My dear, I built you—an' I pride myself your lines are beautiful, though I've never told you so till now—I launched you in life, an' now I put you in charge of the best skipper I can lay hands on. Always answer your helm quick, take care you don't fall away to lee-ward in making your course, an' I'll go bail he'll treat you fair an' safely carry you into port."
He put his daughter's hand into Jack's.
"There," he said. "A long voyage an' a happy one. May you weather every storm." And, walking to the window, the Pilot made pretence of looking out on the roses in the garden, in order to hide the moisture which clouded his eyes.
Tresco Makes the Ring.
The goldsmith sat at his bench; his spectacles on his nose, his apron round the place where his waist should have been, and in his hands the implements of his craft. Nobody had told him, he had hardly told himself, that it was for the last time that he was sitting within the four boarded walls where he had spent so many hours during the last four years, at the bench which bore on every square inch of its surface the marks of his labour. But Tresco knew, as did also Jake Ruggles and the Prospector who watched him, that the end of his labours had come.
The goldsmith's thoughts were in keeping with his work: he was about to make a wedding-ring, and his speech was of Love.
First, he took a little ingot of pure gold, and, laying it on the smooth surface of what looked like an upturned, handleless flat-iron, he wrought upon the precious, yellow metal with a hammer, till it was shaped like a badly-made rod.
This he handed over to Jake, who put it on the wire "devil" and strove with blow-pipe and flame to bring it to a red heat.
"Woman," said Benjamin, "Woman is like a beautiful scene, or the perfume of a delicate rose—every man loves her, be he prince or pauper, priest or murderer. To labour for Woman is the sweetest work of Man—that's why a goldsmith is in love with his craft. Think of all the pretty creatures I have made happy with my taste and skill. While there are women there must be goldsmiths, Jake!"
"What?" asked the apprentice, taking his lips from the stem of the blow-pipe, and looking at his master.
"You're sure this is the correct size?" Tresco held an old-fashioned ring between his forefinger and thumb, and tested with the point of a burnisher the setting of the rubies in it.
"Yes," replied the shock-headed youth. "I seen her take it orf her finger, when the toff bought her engagement-ring. I was 'all there,' don't you make no mistake. 'Leave this,' I said, looking at the rubies; 'the settin' is a bit shaky,' I says. 'Allow me to fix it,' I says. An' there you are with a pattern. Savee?"
"Mind you make it real good," said the Prospector, who stood, watching the operation. "Person'lly, I'd say put a good big diamond in the centre."
"'Twouldn't do," replied the goldsmith. "Unfortunately, Custom says wedding-rings must be plain, so plain it must be."
"Then let it be pure," said the Prospector. "Anyway it'll bring good luck."
He had divided his lucky nugget, the same that he had refused to sell when he made the goldsmith's acquaintance and sold the first gold from Bush Robin Creek, and while he had retained one half of this talisman, out of the other half Tresco was fashioning a wedding-ring for Scarlett.
The red-hot piece of gold had been cooled suddenly by being cast into the "pickle," and was now subjected to another severe hammering, after which it was drawn, by means of a gigantic pair of tongs fixed to the windlass of a bench by a long leather strap through graduated holes in a strong steel plate. Next, it was branded, by means of certain steel punches, with the goldsmith's private marks, and afterwards it was bent with pliers into a circle, and its clear-cut ends were soldered together under the blow-pipe.
Benjamin peered over the tops of his glasses at the Prospector. "I owe you luck, fortune, and freedom," he said, "and yet, Bill, your power to create happiness is distinctly limited."
"I dessay," replied the Prospector. "But what'd you have me do? Would you ask me to make you into a gold-plated angel with a pair o' patent wings, twelve foot in the spread? It'd save me a deal o' trouble if you could fly away from the police an' Timber Town."
"I wasn't thinking of the police. I was thinking of adorable, elusive Woman. I ought to be making my own wedding-ring: instead of that I must roll my bluey and be footing it over the mountains before to-morrow morning. I'm turned into a perfect Wandering Jew."
"You should be darn glad I give you the opportunity."
"I leave behind the loveliest fallen angel you ever set eyes on."
"You'll find plenty more o' that sort where you're goin'."
"Perhaps: but not one of 'em the prospective Mrs. T. Ah, well, all through life my hopes of domestic bliss have invariably been blighted; but the golden key of wealth will unlock the hardest woman's heart. When I have leisure and freedom from worry, I'll see what can be done. In the meanwhile, Jake, go and fetch some beer." He took a shilling from his pocket, and gave it to the apprentice. "Make tracks," he said, "or my sorrow will have fled before I've had time to drown it."
Jake disappeared, as if shot from a cannon, and his master placed the roughly-formed ring on a steel mandril.
"But this," said the goldsmith, tapping the ring skilfully with a diminutive hammer, "this is for the finger of an angel. Just think, Bill, what it would be to be spliced to a creature so good that it'd be like being chained to a scripture saint for the rest of your life."
"I guess I'd be on the wallaby in a fortnight," said the Prospector. "Personally, I prefer a flesh-and-blood angel, with a touch of the devil in her. But at best marriage is on'y a lottery. A wife's like a claim—she may prove rich, or she may turn out to be a duffer."
The goldsmith was now working upon the ring with a file. Next, he rubbed it with emery paper, and finished it with a burnisher.
"Yes," said he, as he filled his pipe, and lighted it at the pilot-flame of the gas-jet which stretched its long, movable arm over the bench, "men, like flies, are of two kinds—those that fall into the soup, an' those that don't. I have borne a charmed life: you have fallen into the tureen. Here comes the beer!"
There was a scuffling on the side-path, and Jake's voice was heard in shrill altercation. Up to that point, Benjamin's body-guard had attended rigidly to its self-imposed duty, but now, following close on the heels of the apprentice, its members burst into the workshop.
Shaking with laughter, Tresco addressed the thirsty influx.
"I'm sorry, mates," he said, "but I can't see my way to make that quart of beer into two gallons. But I give largess to my vassals—that, I believe, is real, toff, Court dialect. Drink this."
He took a crumpled one-pound bank-note from his pocket, and handed it to the self-appointed captain of his guard, who immediately withdrew his fire-eaters, and the goldsmith was left to complete his work in peace.
"Here's health to the bride that's to wear it," said Benjamin, as he raised his glass to his thirsty lips.
"I'm not much at sentiment," said the Prospector, "but may she always ring as true as the metal it's made of, for she's got a Man for a husband."
"May Luck go with them."
To the Prospector the ring now seemed perfect, but the goldsmith placed a jeweller's magnifier in his eye, and scrutinised the shining marriage-token lest it might contain the slightest flaw. But his work stood the test and, placing the ring in a dainty velvet case, he rose and put on his hat.
"That finishes my career as a goldsmith," he said. "I don't suppose I shall sit at a bench again. To you, Bill, I owe my fortune, to you I owe my liberty. No words of my misshapen tongue can express what I feel; but you, mate, can guess it."
The two men looked silently at each other, and solemnly shook hands.
The Prospector might have said a great deal: he might have expatiated in lurid language on his admiration of Tresco's self-sacrifice, but he said nothing. He silently held the goldsmith's hand, till a tell-tale moisture dimmed the craftsman's eyes, so that they could not see through their spectacles.
Pulling himself together with a sudden effort, Benjamin said firmly, if a little loudly, "Is my swag packed, Jake?"
"Bill done it himself," answered the apprentice. "I seen him do it when he packed his own."
"That's one more little kindness. Thanks, mate." Tresco placed the ring-case in his pocket, and led the way to the kitchen. There the "swags" lay on the table, and each man took his own and hitched it on his shoulders.
"Two such valuable swags," said the Prospector, "it's never been my fortune to see. Twenty thousand couldn't buy 'em."
With these words, he passed into the street; Tresco following.
The body-guard of diggers closed round them, and escorted them to the house of Pilot Summerhayes.
Inside the garden-gate, the party of rough, ill-clad, warm-hearted men paused, and one of their number went forward, and knocked at the front door. Rose opened it.
"We want to see Mr. Scarlett," said the digger.
The girl vanished, and Jack, followed by the Pilot, appeared.
"Hullo! hullo!" exclaimed the gruff old sailor, as he caught sight of the gold-miners in the garden. "We're invaded, Jack: it's another warrant. How now, my man; what have we been doing? Are there more murderers to be lodged in gaol?—I thought they'd caught the lot."
"There's four of 'em in quod, boss," replied the digger; "I guess that's the whole gang, s'far's Tresco's evidence goes to prove."
"Ah! there's the goldsmith himself," exclaimed the Pilot, pressing through the throng in the garden. "How d'you do, sir? I have to thank you, on behalf of my dar'ter and myself." He gripped the goldsmith's hand, and almost wrung it off.
"That's all right," said Tresco. "Yes, that's all right. I couldn't stand by and see an innocent man murdered. Certainly not." Here he got his hand free, and proffered it to Scarlett, who grasped it with a warmth which quite equalled the Pilot's.
"Tresco," said Jack, looking straight into the goldsmith's face, "you have accumulated against me a debt I can never pay."
"I don't know," replied the goldsmith, laughing; "I'm not so sure of that. Sometimes Justice miscarries. How about that kaka nugget? When you've explained that, I shall feel I was justified in saving you from the hand of the Law."
Jack laughed too. "You dog! You know the facts as well as I do. Moonlight took a fancy to the piece of gold and offered a good price, which the Jew took. I bought it from my mate. That point is perfectly clear. But I see you've got your swag on your back: your days in Timber Town are numbered."
"That's so," said Tresco.
"I can only say this," continued Jack: "if ever you are in a tight place, which God forbid, I hope I shall be near to help you out of it; if I am not, wire to me—though I am at the end of the earth I will come to your help."
Tresco smiled. "Yes," he said, "you're going to be married—you look on everything through coloured glasses: you are prepared to promise anything. You are going to the altar. And that's why we've come here." He had taken the little velvet case from his pocket. "As you'll be wanting something in this line"—he opened the case and displayed the wedding-ring—"I have made this out of a piece of Bush-Robin gold, and on behalf of Bill and myself I present it to you with our best wishes for a long and happy life."
Jack took the gift, and drew a feigned sigh. He knew the meaning of such a present from such givers. He looked at the ring: he looked at the assembled diggers.
"After this, I guess, I shall have to get married," he said. "I don't see any way out of it. Do you, Pilot?"
"I reckon he's hooked, gen'lemen," replied the old sailor. "There's many a smart man on the 'field'—I'm aware of that—but never a one so smart but a woman won't sooner or later take him in her net. I give my dar'ter credit for having landed the smartest of the whole crowd of you."
"Well," said Jack, as he turned the glittering ring between his fingers, "I've got to go through with it; but such tokens of sympathy as this ring"—he placed it on the first joint of his forefinger, and held it up that all might see—"will pull me through."
"And when is the happy day?" asked Tresco.
"The choice of that lies with the lady," replied Jack; "but as the Pilot has just received news of his brother's death, I expect my freedom will extend for a little while yet."
"My mate and me'll be far away by then," said the Prospector, and he looked at Benjamin as he spoke. "But you may bet we'll often think of you and your wife, and wish you health an' happiness."
"Hear, hear." The crowd was beginning to feel that the occasion was assuming its proper aspect.
"We hope," continued Bill, "that your wife will prove a valuable find, as valuable a find as your claim at Robin Creek, an' that she'll pan out rich in virtue an' all womanly qualities. H'm." The Prospector turned for sympathy to his friends. "I think that's pretty fair, eh, mates?" But they only grinned. So Bill addressed himself once more to the subject in hand, though his ideas had run out with his last rhetorical effort. "I don't think I can beat that," he said; "I think I'll leave it at that. I hope she'll pan out rich in virtue, an' prove a valuable claim. Me an' Tresco's got a long way to go before night. I hope you'll excuse us if we start to make a git." He held out his hand to Jack, and said, "Health an' prosperity to you an' the missis, mate. So-long." Then he hitched up his swag, and walked down the gravelled path regardless of Tresco or anyone else.
The goldsmith tarried a moment or two.
"It's hardly possible we shall meet again," he said. "If we don't, I wish you a long good-bye. It is said that men value most those to whom they have been of service; but whether that is so or not, I shall always like to think of the days we spent together on Bush Robin Creek."
"When this little bit of a breeze has blown over," said Jack, "I hope you'll come back."
"Not much." The reply was straight and unequivocal. "I may have retrieved my character in the eyes of the people of Timber Town, but in the eyes of the Law never, even if I satisfy its requirements in its prescribed manner. I shall go to some other country and there live, happy in the knowledge that I expiated my wrong-doing by saving my innocent friend from the danger of death, at the price of my own liberty. Good-bye."
Jack's hand clasped the craftsman's, each man took a long, straight look at the other's kindly face, and then they parted.
The body-guard closed round the goldsmith and the Prospector, and escorted them through the Town to The Lucky Digger, where they saw their charges fed and refreshed for the journey. Then they conducted them out of the town to the top of the dividing range, and there bade them a long adieu.
When the play is over, it is customary for the curtain to be raised for a few moments, that the audience may take a last look at the players; and though the action of our piece is ended and the story is told, the reader is asked to give a final glance at the stage, on which have been acted the varied scenes of the tale of Timber Town.
In the inner recess of Tresco's cave, where he had made his comfortless bed, the dim light of a candle is burning. As its small flame lights up the cold walls, stained black with the smoke of the goldsmith's dead fire, a weeping woman is seen crouching on the damp floor.
It is Gentle Annie.
Between the sobs which rack her, she is speaking.
"While he lived for weeks in this dripping hole, I lodged comfortably and entertained murderers! Vile woman, defiled by hands stained with blood! despised, loathed, shunned by every man, woman, or child that knows me. Yet he did not despise me, though I shall despise myself for ever, and for ever, and for ever. And he is gone—the only one who could have raised me to my better self."
Rising from the ground, she takes the candle, and gropes her way out of the cave into the pure light of the Sun.
In a common Maori whare, built of raupo leaves and rushes, sits a dusky maiden, filled with bitterness and grief. Outside the low doorway, stand Scarlett and his wife.
Forbidden to enter, they beg the surly occupant to come out to them. But the only answer is a sentence of Maori, growled from an angry mouth.
"But, Amiria, we have ridden all the way from Timber Town to see you," pleads the silvery voice of Rose Scarlett.
"Then you can ride back to Timber Town. I didn't ask you to come."
"Amiria," says Jack; his voice stern and hard, "if you insult my wife, you insult me. Have not you and she been friends since you were children?"
Amiria emerges from her hut. On her head is a man's hat, and round her body is wrapped a gaudy but dirty blanket.
"Listen to what I say." The same well-moulded, dusky face is there, the same upright bearing, the same musical voice, but the tone is hard, and the look forbidding. "I learnt all the Pakeha ways; I went to their school; I can speak their tongue; I have learnt their ritenga: and I say these Pakeha things are good for the Pakeha, but for the Maori they are bad. The white man is one, the Maori is one. Let the white man keep to his customs, and let the Maori keep to his. Let the white marry white, and let the brown marry brown. That is all. Take your wife with you, and think of me no more. I am a Maori wahine, I have become a woman of the tribe. My life is in the pa, yours is in the town. Now go. I want to see you no more." So saying she disappears inside the hut.
Scarlett draws himself to his full height, and stands, contemplating the sea. Then his eye catches a fleck of white at his side; and he turns, to see his wife drying the tears which cannot be restrained.
He takes her by the hand, and leads her through the little crowd of natives standing round.
"Come away, little woman," he says; "we can do no good here. It's time we got back to Timber Town."
So mounting their horses, they ride away.
It so happens that as they reach their journey's end, and pass the big "emporium" of Varnhagen and Co., they catch sight of the gay figure of a girl, dressed in fluttering muslin and bright ribbons, beside whom walks a smart young man.
"Wasn't that Miss Varnhagen?" asks Jack after they have passed by at a trot.
"Yes," replies Rose.
"Who was the fellow with her?"
"He's the new gold-clerk at the Kangaroo Bank. She's engaged to him."