The Gully of Bluemansdyke, and Other stories, p.1Arthur Conan Doyle / Mystery & Detective
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THE GULLY OF BLUEMANSDYKE, AND OTHER STORIES.
A small Edition of this Book was published in 1889, under the Title of Mysteries and Adventures.
THE GULLY OF
AND OTHER STORIES.
By A. CONAN DOYLE,
_Author of Micah Clarke, The White Company, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, &c._
LONDON: WALTER SCOTT, LTD., 24 WARWICK LANE, PATERNOSTER ROW
THE GULLY OF BLUEMANSDYKE 7
THE PARSON OF JACKMAN'S GULCH 50
MY FRIEND THE MURDERER 79
THE SILVER HATCHET 114
THE MAN FROM ARCHANGEL 144
THAT LITTLE SQUARE BOX 188
A NIGHT AMONG THE NIHILISTS 226
_THE GULLY OF BLUEMANSDYKE._
A TRUE COLONIAL STORY.
Broadhurst's store was closed, but the little back room looked verycomfortable that night. The fire cast a ruddy glow on ceiling and walls,reflecting itself cheerily on the polished flasks and shot-guns whichadorned them. Yet a gloom rested on the two men who sat at either sideof the hearth, which neither the fire nor the black bottle upon thetable could alleviate.
Twelve o'clock, said old Tom, the storeman glancing up at the woodentimepiece which had come out with him in '42. It's a queer thing,George, they haven't come.
It's a dirty night, said his companion, reaching out his arm for aplug of tobacco. The Wawirra's in flood, maybe; or maybe their horsesis broke down; or they've put it off, perhaps. Great Lord, how itthunders! Pass us over a coal, Tom.
He spoke in a tone which was meant to appear easy, but with a painfulthrill in it which was not lost upon his mate. He glanced uneasily athim from under his grizzled eyebrows.
You think it's all right, George? he said, after a pause.
Think what's all right?
Why, that the lads are safe.
Safe! Of course they're safe. What the devil is to harm them?
Oh, nothing; nothing, to be sure, said old Tom. You see, George,since the old woman died, Maurice has been all to me; and it makes mekinder anxious. It's a week since they started from the mine, and you'dha' thought they'd be here now. But it's nothing unusual, I s'pose;nothing at all. Just my darned folly.
What's to harm them? repeated George Hutton again, arguing to convincehimself rather than his comrade. It's a straight road from the diggin'sto Rathurst, and then through the hills past Bluemansdyke, and over theWawirra by the ford, and so down to Trafalgar by the bush track.There's nothin' deadly in all that, is there? My son Allan's as dear tome as Maurice can be to you, mate, he continued; but they know theford well, and there's no other bad place. They'll be here to-morrownight, certain.
Please God they may! said Broadhurst; and the two men lapsed intosilence for some time, moodily staring into the glow of the fire, andpulling at their short clays.
It was indeed, as Hutton had said, a dirty night. The wind was howlingdown through the gorges of the western mountains, and whirling andeddying among the streets of Trafalgar; whistling through the chinks inthe rough wood cabins, and tearing away the frail shingles which formedthe roofs. The streets were deserted, save for one or two stragglersfrom the drinking shanties, who wrapped their cloaks around them andstaggered home through the wind and rain towards their own cabins.
The silence was broken by Broadhurst, who was evidently still ill atease.
Say, George, he said, what's become of Josiah Mapleton?
Went to the diggin's.
Ay; but he sent word he was coming back.
But he never came.
An' what's become of Jos Humphrey? he resumed, after a pause.
He went diggin', too.
Well, did he come back?
Drop it, Broadhurst; drop it, I say, said Hutton, springing to hisfeet and pacing up and down the narrow room. You're trying to make acoward of me! You know the men must have gone up country prospectin' orfarmin', maybe. What is it to us where they went? You don't think I havea register of every man in the colony, as Inspector Burton has of thelags.
Sit down, George, and listen, said old Tom. There's something queerabout that road; something I don't understand, and don't like. Maybe youremember how Maloney, the one-eyed scoundrel, made his money in theearly mining days. He'd a half-way drinking shanty on the main road upon a kind of bluff, where the Lena comes down from the hills. You'veheard, George, how they found a sort of wooden slide from his littleback room down to the river; an' how it came out that man after man hadhad his drink doctored, and been shot down that into eternity, like abale of goods. No one will ever know how many were done away with there._They_ were all supposed to be farmin' and prospectin', and the like,till their bodies were picked out of the rapids. It's no use mincingmatters, George; we'll have the troopers along to the diggin's if thoselads don't turn up by to-morrow night.
As you like, Tom, said Hutton.
By the way, talking of Maloney--it's a strange thing, said Broadhurst,that Jack Haldane swears he saw a man as like Maloney with ten yearsadded to him as could be. It was in the bush on Monday morning. Chance,I suppose; but you'd hardly think there could be two pair of shouldersin the world carrying such villainous mugs on the top of them.
Jack Haldane's a fool, growled Hutton, throwing open the door andpeering anxiously out into the darkness, while the wind played with hislong grizzled beard, and sent a train of glowing sparks from his pipedown the street.
A terrible night! he said, as he turned back towards the fire.
Yes, a wild, tempestuous night; a night for birds of darkness and forbeasts of prey. A strange night for seven men to lie out in the gully atBluemansdyke, with revolvers in their hands, and the devil in theirhearts.
* * * * *
The sun was rising after the storm. A thick, heavy steam reeked up fromthe saturated ground, and hung like a pall over the flourishing littletown of Trafalgar. A bluish mist lay in wreaths over the wide track ofbushland around, out of which the western mountains loomed like greatislands in a sea of vapour.
Something was wrong in the town. The most casual glance would havedetected that. There was a shouting and a hurrying of feet. Doors wereslammed and rude windows thrown open. A trooper of police cameclattering down with his carbine unslung. It was past the time for JoeBuchan's saw-mill to commence work, but the great wheel was motionless,for the hands had not appeared.
There was a surging, pushing crowd in the main street before old TomBroadhurst's house, and a mighty clattering of tongues. What was it?demanded the new-comers, panting and breathless. Broadhurst has shothis mate. He has cut his own throat. He has struck gold in the clayfloor of his kitchen. No; it was his son Maurice who had come homerich. Who had not come back at all. Whose horse had come backwithout him. At last the truth had come out; and there was the oldsorrel horse in question whinnying and rubbing his neck against thefamiliar door of the stable, as if entreating entrance; while twohaggard, grey-haired men held him by either bridle, and gazed blankly athis reeking sides.
God help me, said old Tom Broadhurst; it is as I feared!
Cheer up, mate, said Hutton, drawing his rough straw hat down over hisbrow. There's hope yet.
A sympathetic and encouraging murmur ran through the crowd.
Horse ran away, likely.
Or been stolen.
Or he's swum the Wawirra an' been washed off, suggested one Job'scomforter.
He ain't got no marks of bruising, said another, more hopeful.
Rider fallen off drunk, maybe, said a bluff old sheep-farmer. I kinremember, he continued, coming into town 'bout this hour myself, withmy head in my holster, an' thinking I was a six-chamberedrevolver--mighty drunk I was.
Maurice had a good seat; he'd never be washed off.
The horse has a weal on its off fore-quarter, remarked another, moreobservant than the rest.
A blow from a whip, maybe.
It would be a darned hard one.
Where's Chicago Bill? said someone; he'll know.
Thus invoked, a strange, gaunt figure stepped out in front of the crowd.He was an extremely tall and powerful man, with the red shirt and highboots of a miner. The shirt was thrown open, showing the sinewy throatand massive chest. His face was seamed and scarred with many a conflict,both with Nature and his brother man; yet beneath his ruffianly exteriorthere lay something of the quiet dignity of the gentleman. This man wasa veteran gold-hunter; a real old Californian 'forty-niner, who had leftthe fields in disgust when private enterprise began to dwindle beforethe formation of huge incorporated companies with their ponderousmachinery. But the red clay with the little shining points had become tohim as the very breath of his nostrils, and he had come half-way roundthe world to seek it once again.
Here's Chicago Bill, he said; what is it?
Bill was naturally regarded as an oracle, in virtue of his prowess andvaried experience. Every eye was turned on him as Braxton, the youngIrish trooper of constabulary, said, What do you make of the horse,Bill?
The Yankee was in no hurry to commit himself. He surveyed the animal forsome time with his shrewd little grey eye. He bent and examined thegirths; then he felt the mane carefully. He stooped once more andexamined the hoofs and then the quarters. His eye rested on the bluewheal already mentioned. This seemed to put him on a scent, for he gavea long, low whistle, and proceeded at once to examine the hair on eitherside of the saddle. He saw something conclusive apparently, for, with asidelong glance under his shaggy eyebrows at the two old men beside him,he turned and fell back among the crowd.
Well, what d'ye think? cried a dozen voices.
A job for you, said Bill, looking up at the young Irish trooper.
Why, what is it? What's become of young Broadhurst?
He's done what better men has done afore. He has sunk a shaft for goldand panned out a coffin.
Speak out, man! what have you seen? cried a husky voice.
I've seen the graze of a bushranger's bullet on the horse's quarter,an' I've seen a drop of the rider's blood on the edge of thesaddle--Here, hold the old man up, boys; don't let him drop. Give him aswig of brandy an' lead him inside. Say, he continued, in a whisper,gripping the trooper by the wrist, mind, I'm in it. You an' I play thishand together. I'm dead on sich varmin. We'll do as they do in Nevada,strike while the iron is hot. Get any men you can together. I s'poseyou're game to come yourself?
Yes, I'll come, said young Braxton, with a quiet smile.
The American looked at him approvingly. He had learned in his wanderingsthat an Irishman who grows quieter when deeply stirred is a verydangerous specimen of the genus _homo_.
Good lad! he muttered; and the two went down the street togethertowards the station-house, followed by half-a-dozen of the more resoluteof the crowd.
* * * * *
One word before we proceed with our story, or our chronicle rather, asevery word of it is based upon fact. The colonial trooper of fifteen ortwenty years ago was a very different man from his representative ofto-day. Not that I would imply any slur upon the courage of the latter;but for reckless dare-devilry and knight-errantry the old constabularyhas never been equalled. The reason is a simple one. Men of gentleblood, younger sons and wild rakes who had outrun the constable, weresent off to Australia with some wild idea of making their fortunes. Onarriving they found Melbourne by no means the El Dorado they expected;they were unfit for any employment, their money was soon dissipated, andthey unerringly gravitated into the mounted police. Thus a sort ofcolonial Maison Rouge became formed, where the lowest private had asmuch pride of birth and education as his officers. They were men whomight have swayed the fate of empires, yet who squandered away theirlives in many a lone wild fight with native and bushranger, wherenothing but a mouldering blue-ragged skeleton was left to tell the tale.
* * * * *
It was a glorious sunset. The whole western sky was a blaze of flame,throwing a purple tint upon the mountains, and gilding the sombre edgesof the great forest which spreads between Trafalgar and the riverWawirra. It stretched out, a primeval, unbroken wilderness, save at theone point where a rough track had been formed by the miners and theirnumerous camp-followers. This wound amid the great trunks in a zigzagdirection, occasionally making a long detour to avoid some marshy hollowor especially dense clump of vegetation. Often it could be hardlydiscerned from the ground around save by the scattered hoof-marks and anoccasional rut.
About fifteen miles from Trafalgar there stands a little knoll, wellsheltered and overlooking the road. On this knoll a man was lying as thesun went down that Friday evening. He appeared to shun observation, forhe had chosen that part in which the foliage was thickest; yet he seemeddecidedly at his ease, as he lolled upon his back with his pipe betweenhis teeth, and a broad hat down over his face. It was a face that it waswell to cover in the presence of so peaceful a scene--a face pitted withthe scars of an immaterial smallpox. The forehead was broad and low; oneeye had apparently been gouged out, leaving a ghastly cavity; the otherwas deep-set, cunning, and vindictive. The mouth was hard and cruel; arough beard covered the chin. It was the cut of face which, seen in alonely street, would instinctively make one shift the grasp of one'sstick from the knob end to the ferrule--the face of a bold andunscrupulous man.
Some unpleasing thought seemed to occur to him, for he rose with a curseand knocked the ashes out of his pipe. A darned fine thing, hemuttered, that I should have to lie out like this! It was Barrett'sfault the job wasn't a clean one, an' now he picks me out to get theswamp-fever. If he'd shot the horse as I did the man, we wouldn't need awatch on this side of the Wawirra. He always was a poor white-liveredcuss. Well, he continued, picking up a gun which lay in the grassbehind him, there's no use my waiting longer; they wouldn't startduring the night. Maybe the horse never got home, maybe they gave themup as drowned; anyhow it's another man's turn to-morrow, so I'll justgive them five minutes and then make tracks. He sat down on the stumpof a tree as he spoke and hummed the verse of a song. A sudden thoughtseemed to strike him, for he plunged his hand into his pocket, and aftersome searching extracted a pack of playing cards wrapped in a piece ofdirty brown paper. He gazed earnestly at their greasy faces for sometime. Then he took a pin from his sleeve and pricked a small hole in thecorner of each ace and knave. He chuckled as he shuffled them up, andreplaced them in his pocket. I'll have my share of the swag, hegrowled. They're sharp, but they'll not spot that when the liquor is inthem. By the Lord, here they are!
He had sprung to his feet and was bending to the ground, holding hisbreath as he listened. To the unpractised ear all was as still asbefore--the hum of a passing insect, the chirp of a bird, the rustle ofthe leaves; but the bushranger rose with the air of a man who hassatisfied himself. Good-bye to Bluemansdyke, said he; I reckon itwill be too hot to hold us for a time. That thundering idiot! he'sspoilt as nice a lay as ever was, an' risked our necks into the bargain.I'll see their number an' who they are, though, he continued; and,choosing a point where a rough thicket formed an effectual screen, hecoiled himself up, and lay like some venomous snake, occasionallyraising his head and peering between the trunks at the reddish streakwhich marked the Trafalgar Road.
There could be no question now as to the approach of a body of horsemen.By the time our friend was fairly ensconced in his hiding-place thesound of voices and the clatter of hoofs was distinctly audible, and inanother moment a troop of mounted men came sweeping round the curve ofthe road. They were eleven all told, armed to the teeth, and evidentlywell on the alert. Two rode in front with rifles unslung, leisurelyscanning every bush which might shelter an enemy. The main body keptabout fifty yards behind them, while a solitary horseman brought up therear. The ranger scanned them narrowly as they passed. He seemed torecognise most of them. Some were his natural enemies the troopers; themajority were miners who had volunteered to get rid of an evil whichaffected their interests so closely. They were a fine bronzed set ofmen, with a deliberate air about them, as if they had come for a purposeand meant to attain it. As the last rider passed before his hiding-placethe solitary watcher started and growled a curse in his beard. I knowhis darned face, he said; it's Bill Hanker, the man who got the dropon Long Nat Smeaton in Silver City in '53; what the thunder brought himhere? I must be off by the back track, though, an' let the boys know.So saying, he picked up his gun, and with a scowl after the distantparty, he crouched down and passed rapidly and silently out of sightinto the very thickest part of the bush.
* * * * *
The expedition had started from Trafalgar on the afternoon of the sameday that Maurice Broadhurst's horse, foam-flecked and frightened, hadgalloped up to the old stable-door. Burton, the inspector ofconstabulary, an energetic and able man, as all who knew him cantestify, was in command. He had detached Braxton, the young Irishman,and Thompson, another trooper, as a vanguard. He himself rode with themain body, grey-whiskered and lean, but as straight in the back as whenhe and I built a shanty in '39 in what is now Burke Street, Melbourne.With him were McGillivray, Foley, and Anson of the Trafalgar force,Hartley the sheep-farmer, Murdoch and Summerville, who had made theirpile at the mines, and Dan Murphy, who was cleaned out when the clay ofthe Orient turned to gravel, and had been yearning for a solid squarefight ever since. Chicago Bill formed the rear-guard, and the wholeparty presented an appearance which, though far from military, wasdecidedly warlike.
They camped out that night seventeen miles from Trafalgar, and next daypushed on as far as where the Stirling Road runs across. The thirdmorning brought them to the northern bank of the Wawirra, which theyforded. Here a council of war was held, for they were entering whatthey regarded as enemy's country. The bush track, though wild, wasoccasionally traversed both by shepherds and sportsmen. It would hardlybe the home of a gang of desperate bushrangers. But beyond the Wawirrathe great rugged range of the T['a]pu mountains towered up to the clouds,and across a wild spur of these the mining track passed up toBluemansdyke. It was here they decided at the council that the scene ofthe late drama lay. The question now was what means were to be taken toattack the murderers; for that murder had been done no man doubted.
All were of one mind as to what the main line of action should be. To gofor them straight, shoot as many as possible on sight, and hang thebalance in Trafalgar: that was plain sailing. But how to get at them wasthe subject of much debate. The troopers were for pushing on at once,and trusting to Fortune to put the rangers in their way. The minersproposed rather to gain some neighbouring peak, from which a good viewof the country could be obtained, and some idea gained of theirwhereabouts. Chicago Bill took rather a gloomy view of things. Naryone will we see, said he; they've dusted out of the district 'forethis. They'd know the horse would go home, and likely as not they've hada watch on the road to warn them. I guess, boys, we'd best move on an'do our best. There was some discussion, but Chicago's opinion carriedthe day, and the expedition pushed on in a body.
After passing the second upland station the scenery becomes more andmore grand and rugged. Great peaks two and three thousand feet high rosesheer up at each side of the narrow track. The heavy wind and rain ofthe storm had brought down much _d['e]bris_, and the road was almostimpassable in places. They were frequently compelled to dismount and tolead the horses. We haven't far now, boys, said the inspectorcheerily, as they struggled on; and he pointed to a great dark cleftwhich yawned in front of them between two almost perpendicular cliffs.They are there, he said, or nowhere. A little higher the road becamebetter and their progress was more rapid. A halt was called, guns wereunslung, and their pistols loosened in their belts, for the great gullyof Bluemansdyke--the wildest part of the whole T['a]pu range--was gapingbefore them. But not a thing was to be seen; all was as still as thegrave. The horses were picketed in a quiet little ravine, and the wholeparty crept on on foot. The Southern sun glared down hot and clear onthe yellow bracken and banks of fern which lined the narrow windingtrack. Still not a sign of life. Then came a clear low whistle from thetwo advanced troopers, announcing that something had been discovered,and the main body hurried up. It was a spot for deeds of blood. On oneside of the road there lowered a black gnarled precipice, on the otherwas the sullen mouth of the rugged gully. The road took a sharp turn atthis spot. Just at the angle several large boulders were scattered,lining and overlooking the track. It was at this angle that a little bedof mud and trampled red clay betokened a recent struggle. There could beno question that they were at the scene of the murder of the two youngminers. The outline of a horse could still be seen in the soft ground,and the prints of its hoofs as it kicked out in its death-agony wereplainly marked. Behind one of the rocks were the tracks of several feet,and some pistol wadding was found in a tuft of ferns. The whole tragedylay unclosed before them. Two men, careless in the pride of their youthand their strength, had swept round that fatal curve. Then a crash, agroan, a brutal laugh, the galloping of a frightened horse, and all wasover.
What was to be done now? The rocks around were explored, but nothingfresh discovered. Some six days had elapsed, and the birds wereapparently flown. The party separated and hunted about among theboulders. Then the American, who could follow a trail like a bloodhound,found tracks leading towards a rugged pile of rocks on the north side ofthe gully. In a crevice here the remains of three horses were found.Close to them the rim of an old straw hat projected through the looseloam. Hartley, the sheep-farmer, sprang over to pick it up; he startedback in the act of stooping, and said in an awe-struck whisper to hisfriend Murphy, There's a head under it, Dan! A few strokes of a spadedisclosed a face familiar to most of the group--that of a poortravelling photographer well known in the colony by the _sobriquet_ ofStooping Johnny, who had disappeared some time before. It was now inan advanced stage of putrefaction. Close to him another body wasdiscovered, and another beside that. In all, thirteen victims of theseEnglish Thugs were lying under the shadow of the great north wall of theBluemansdyke gully. It was there, standing in silent awe round theremains of these poor fellows, hurried into eternity and buried likedogs, that the search-party registered a vow to sacrifice all interestsand comforts for the space of one month to the single consideration ofrevenge. The inspector uncovered his grizzled head as he solemnly sworeit, and his comrades followed his example. The bodies were then, with abrief prayer, consigned to a deeper grave, a rough cairn was erectedover them, and the eleven men set forth upon their mission of sternjustice.
* * * * *
Three weeks had passed--three weeks and two days. The sun was sinkingover the great waste of bushland, unexplored and unknown, whichstretches away from the eastern slope of the T['a]pu mountains. Save someeccentric sportsman or bold prospector, no colonist had ever venturedinto that desolate land; yet on this autumn evening two men werestanding in a little glade in the very heart of it. They were engagedtying up their horses, and apparently making preparations for campingout for the night. Though haggard, unkempt, and worn, one still mightrecognise two of our former acquaintances--the young Irish trooper andthe American Chicago Bill.
This was the last effort of the avenging party. They had traversed themountain gorges, they had explored every gully and ravine, and now theyhad split into several small bands, and, having named a trysting-place,they were scouring the country in the hope of hitting upon some trace ofthe murderers. Foley and Anson had remained among the hills, Murdoch andDan Murphy were exploring towards Rathurst, Summerville and theinspector had ascended along the Wawirra, while the others in threeparties were wandering through the eastern bushland.
Both the trooper and the miner seemed dejected and weary. The one hadset out with visions of glory, and hopes of a short cut to the covetedstripes which would put him above his fellows; the other had obeyed arough wild sense of justice; and each was alike disappointed. The horseswere picketed, and the men threw themselves heavily upon the ground.There was no need to light a fire; a few dampers and some rusty baconwere their whole provisions. Braxton produced them, and handed his shareto his comrade. They ate their rough meal without a word. Braxton wasthe first to break the silence.
We're playing our last card, he said.
And a darned poor one at that, replied his comrade.
Why, mate, he continued, if we did knock up agin these all-firedvarmin, ye don't suppose you and I would go for them? I guess I'd up an'shove for Trafalgar first.
Braxton smiled. Chicago's reckless courage was too well known in thecolony for any words of his to throw a doubt upon it. Miners still tellhow, during the first great rush in '52, a blustering ruffian, relyingupon some similar remark of the pioneer's, had tried to establish areputation by an unprovoked assault upon him; and the narrators thenglide imperceptibly into an account of Bill's handsome conduct towardsthe widow--how he had given her his week's clean-up to start her in adrinking shanty. Braxton thought of this as he smiled at Chicago'sremarks, and glanced at the massive limbs and weather-beaten face.
We'd best see where we are before it grows darker, he said; andrising, he stacked his gun against the trunk of a blue gum-tree, andseizing some of the creepers which hung down from it, began rapidly andsilently to ascend it.
His soul's too big for his body, growled the American, as he watchedthe dark lithe figure standing out against the pale-blue evening sky.
What d'ye see, Jack? he shouted; for the trooper had reached thetopmost branch by this time, and was taking a survey of the country.
Bush, bush; nothing but bush, said the voice among the leaves. Wait abit, though; there's a kind of hill about three miles off away to thenor'-east. I see it above the trees right over there. Not much good tous, though, he continued, after a pause, for it seems a barren, stonysort of place.
Chicago paced about at the bottom of the tree.
He seems an almighty long time prospectin' it, he muttered, after tenminutes had elapsed. Ah, here he is! and the trooper came swingingdown and landed panting just in front of him.
Why, what's come over him? What's the matter, Jack?
Something was the matter. That was very evident. There was a light inBraxton's blue eyes, and a flush on the pale cheek.
Bill, he said, putting his hand on his comrade's shoulder, it's abouttime you made tracks for the settlements.
What d'ye mean? said Chicago.
Why, I mean that the murderers are within a league of us, and that Iintend going for them. There, don't be huffed, old man, he added; ofcourse I knew you were only joking. But they are there, Bill; I sawsmoke on the top of that hill, and it wasn't good, honest smoke, mindyou; it was dry-wood smoke, and meant to be hid. I thought it was mistat first; but no, it was smoke. I'll swear it. It could only be them:who else would camp on the summit of a desolate hill? We've got them,Bill; we have them as sure as Fate.
Or they've got us, growled the American. But here, lad, here's myglass; run up and have a look at them.
It's too dark now, said Braxton; we'll camp out to-night. No fear ofthem stirring. They're lying by there until the whole thing blows over,depend upon it; so we'll make sure of them in the morning.
The miner looked plaintively up at the tree, and then down at hisfourteen stone of solid muscle.
I guess I must take your word for it, he grumbled; but you arebushman enough to tell smoke from mist, and a dry-wood fire from an openone. We can't do anything to-night till we feel our way, so I allow we'dbest water the horses an' have a good night's rest.
Braxton seemed to be of the same mind; so after a few minutes'preparation the two men wrapped themselves in their cloaks, and lay, twolittle dark spots, on the great green carpet of the primeval bush.
With the first grey light of dawn Chicago sat up and roused his comrade.A heavy mist bung over the bushland. They could hardly see the loom ofthe trees across the little glade. Their clothes glistened with thelittle shining beads of moisture. They brushed each other down, andsquatted in bush fashion over their rough breakfast. The haze seemed tobe lifting a little now; they could see fifty yards in every direction.The miner paced up and down in silence, ruminating over a plug ofBarrett's twist. Braxton sat on a fallen tree sponging and oiling hisrevolver. Suddenly a single beam of sunshine played over the great bluegum. It widened and spread, and then in a moment the mist melted away,and the yellow leaves glowed like flakes of copper in the glare of themorning sun. Braxton cheerily snapped the lock of the pistol, loaded it,and replaced it in his belt. Chicago began to whistle, and stopped inthe middle of his walk.
Now, young un, he said, here's the glass.
Braxton slung it round his neck, and ascended the tree as he had donethe night before. It was child's-play to the trooper--a splendidclimber, as I can testify; for I saw him two years later swarming up thetopmost backstay of the _Hector_ frigate in a gale of wind for a bet ofa bottle of wine. He soon reached the summit, and shuffling along anaked branch two hundred feet from the ground, he gained a point whereno leaves could obstruct his view. Here he sat straddle-legged; and,unslinging the glass, he proceeded to examine the hill, bush by bush andstone by stone.
An hour passed without his moving. Another had almost elapsed before hedescended. His face was grave and thoughtful.
Are they there? was the eager query.
Yes; they are there.
I've only seen five; but there may be more. Wait till I think it out,Bill.
The miner gazed at him with all the reverence matter has towards mind.Thinking things out was not his strong point.
Blamed if I can help you, he said apologetically. It kinder don'tcome nat'ral to me to be plottin' and plannin'. Want o' eddication,likely. My father was allowed to be the hardest-headed man in theStates. Judge Jeffers let on as how the old man wanted to hand in hischecks; so he down an' put his head on the line when the first engine asran from Vermont was comin' up. They fined him a hundred dollars forupsettin' that 'ere locomotive; an' the old man got the cussedestheadache as ever was.
Braxton hardly seemed to hear this family anecdote; he was deep inthought.
Look here, old man, said he; sit down by me on the trunk and listento what I say. Remember that you are here as a volunteer, Bill--you'veno call to come; now, I am here in the course of duty. Your name isknown through the settlement; you were a marked man when I was in thenursery. Now, Bill, it's a big thing I am going to ask you. If you and Igo in and take these men, it will be another feather in your cap, and inyours only. What do men know of Jack Braxton, the private of police?He'd hardly be mentioned in the matter. Now, I want to make my name thisday. We'll have to secure these men by a surprise after dusk, and itwill be as easy for one resolute man to do it as for two; perhapseasier, for there is less chance of detection. Bill, I want you to staywith the horses, and let me go alone.
Chicago sprang to his feet with a snarl of indignation, and paced up anddown in front of the fallen trees. Then he seemed to master himself, forhe sat down again.
They'd chaw you up, lad, he said, putting his hand on Braxton'sshoulder. It wouldn't wash.
Not they, said the trooper. I'd take your pistol as well as my own,and I'd need a deal of chawing.
My character would be ruined, said Bill.
It's beyond the reach of calumny. You can afford to give me one fairchance.
Bill buried his face in his hands, and thought a little.
Well, lad, he said, looking up, I'll look after the horses.
Braxton wrung him by the hand. There are few men would have done it,Bill; you are a friend worth having. Now, we'll spend our day as best wecan, old man, and lie close till evening; for I won't start till an hourafter dusk; so we have plenty of time on our hands.
The day passed slowly. The trooper lay among the mosses below the greatblue gum in earnest thought. Once or twice he imagined he heard thesubterranean chuckle and slap of the thigh which usually denotedamusement on the part of the miner; but on glancing up at thatindividual, the expression of his face was so solemn, not to sayfunereal, that it was evidently an illusion. They partook of theirscanty dinner and supper cheerfully and with hearty appetites. Theformer listlessness had given place to briskness and activity, now thattheir object was in view. Chicago blossomed out into many strangeexperiences and racy reminiscences of Western life. The hours passedrapidly and cheerily. The trooper produced a venerable pack of cardsfrom his holster and proposed euchre; but their gregariousness, and thegeneral difficulty of distinguishing the king of clubs from the ace ofhearts, exercised a depressing influence upon the players. Gradually thesun went down on the great wilderness. The shadow fell on the littleglade, while the distant hill was still tipped with gold; then that toobecame purplish, a star twinkled over the T['a]pu range, and night creptover the scene.
Good-bye, old man, said Braxton. I won't take my carbine; it wouldonly be in the way. I can't thank you enough for letting me have thischance. If they wipe me out, Bill, you'll not lose sight of them, Iknow; and you'll say I died like a man. I've got no friends and nomessage, and nothing in the world but this pack of cards. Keep them,Bill; they were a fine pack in '51. If you see a smoke on the hill inthe morning you'll know all's well, and you'll bring up the horses atonce. If you don't, you'll ride to Fallen Pine, where we were tomeet,--ride day and night, Bill,--tell Inspector Burton that you knowwhere the rangers are, that Private Braxton is dead, and that he saidhe was to bring up his men, else he'd come back from the grave and leadthem up himself. Do that, Bill. Good-bye.
A great quiet rested over the heart of that desolate woodland. The croakof a frog, the gurgle of a little streamlet half hidden in the longgrass--no other sound. Then a wakeful jay gave a shrill chatter, anotherjoined, and another; a bluefinch screamed; a wombat rushed past to gainits burrow. Something had disturbed them; yet all was apparently aspeaceful as before. Had you been by the jay's nest, however, and peereddownwards, you would have seen something gliding like a serpent throughthe brushwood, and caught a glimpse, perhaps, of a pale, resolute face,and the glint of a pocket-compass pointing north-by-east.
* * * * *
It was a long and weary night for Trooper Braxton. Any moment he mightcome on an outpost of the rangers, so every step had to be taken slowlyand with care. But he was an experienced woodman, and hardly a twigsnapped as he crawled along. A morass barred his progress, and he wascompelled to make a long detour. Then he found himself in thickbrushwood, and once more had to go out of his way. It was very dark herein the depth of the forest. There was a heavy smell, and a dense steamladen with miasma rose from the ground. In the dim light he saw strangecreeping things around him. A bushmaster writhed across the path infront of him, a cold, dank lizard crawled over his hand as he croucheddown; but the trooper thought only of the human reptiles in front, andmade steadily for his goal. Once he seemed to be pursued by some animal;he heard a creaking behind him, but it ceased when he stopped andlistened, so he continued his way.
It was when he reached the base of the hill which he had seen from thedistance that the real difficulty of his undertaking began. It wasalmost conical in shape, and very steep. The sides were covered withloose stones and an occasional large boulder. One false step here wouldsend a shower of these tell-tale fragments clattering down the hill. Thetrooper stripped off his high leather boots and turned up his trousers;then he began cautiously to climb, cowering down behind every boulder.
There was a little patch of light far away on the horizon, a verylittle grey patch, but it caused the figure of a man who was moving uponthe crest of the hill to loom out dim and large. He was a sentryapparently, for he carried a gun under his arm. The top of the hill wasformed by a little plateau about a hundred yards in circumference. Alongthe edge of this the man was pacing, occasionally stopping to peer downinto the great dusky sea beneath him. From this raised edge the plateaucurved down from every side, so as to form a crater-like depression. Inthe centre of this hollow stood a large white tent. Several horses werepicketed around it, and the ground was littered with bundles of driedgrass and harness. You could see these details now from the edge of theplateau, for the grey patch in the east had become white, and wasgetting longer and wider. You could see the sentry's face, too, as hepaced round and round. A handsome, weak-minded face, with more of thefool than the devil impressed on it. He seemed cheerful, for the birdswere beginning to sing, and their thousand voices rose from the bushbelow. He forgot the forged note, I think, and the dreary voyage, andthe wild escape, and the dark gully away beyond the T['a]pu range; for hiseye glistened, and he hummed a quaint little Yorkshire country air. Hewas back again in the West Riding village, and the rough boulder infront shaped itself into the hill behind which Nelly lived before hebroke her heart, and he saw the ivied church that crowned it. He wouldhave seen something else had he looked again--something which was not inhis picture: a white passionless face which glared at him over theboulder, as he turned upon his heel, still singing, and unconscious thatthe bloodhounds of justice were close at his heels.
The trooper's time for action had come. He had reached the last boulder;nothing lay between the plateau and himself but a few loose stones. Hecould hear the song of the sentry dying away in the distance; he drewhis regulation sword, and, with his Adams in his left, he rose andsprang like a tiger over the ridge and down into the hollow.
The sentry was startled from his dream of the past by a clatter and arattling of stones. He sprang round and cocked his gun. No wonder thathe gasped, and that a change passed over his bronzed face. A painterwould need a dash of ultramarine in his flesh-tints to represent itnow. No wonder, I say; for that dark active figure with the bare feetand the brass buttons meant disgrace and the gallows to him. He saw himspring across to the tent; he saw the gleam of a sword, and heard acrash as the tent-pole was severed, and the canvas came down with a runupon the heads of the sleepers. And then above oaths and shouts he hearda mellow Irish voice--I've twelve shots in my hands. I have ye, everymother's son. Up with your arms! up, I say, before there is blood uponmy soul. One move, and ye stand before the throne. Braxton had stoopedand parted the doorway of the fallen tent, and was now standing over sixruffians who occupied it. They lay as they had wakened, but with theirhands above their heads, for there was no resisting that quiet voice,backed up by the two black muzzles. They imagined they were surroundedand hopelessly outmatched. Not one of them dreamed that the wholeattacking force stood before them. It was the sentry who first began torealise the true state of the case. There was no sound or sign of anyreinforcement. He looked to see that the cap was pressed well down onthe nipple, and crept towards the tent. He was a good shot, as many akeeper on Braidagarth and the Yorkshire fells could testify. He raisedhis gun to his shoulder. Braxton heard the click, but dared not removehis eye or his weapon from his six prisoners. The sentry looked alongthe sights. He knew his life depended upon that shot. There was more ofthe devil than the fool in his face now. He paused a moment to make sureof his aim, and then came a crash and the thud of a falling body.Braxton was still standing over the prisoners, but the sentry's gun wasunfired, and he himself was writhing on the ground with a bullet throughhis lungs. Ye see, said Chicago, as he rose from behind a rock withhis gun still smoking in his hand, it seemed a powerful mean thing toleave you, Jack; so I thought as I'd kinder drop around promiscus, andwade in if needed, which I was, as you can't deny. No, ye don't, headded, as the sentry stretched out his hand to grasp his fallen gun;leave the wepin alone, young man; it ain't in your way as it liesthere.
I'm a dead man! groaned the ranger.
Then lie quiet like a respectable corpse, said the miner, an' don'tgo a-squirmin' towards yer gun. That's ornary uneddicated conduct.
Come here, Bill, cried Braxton, and bring the ropes those horses arepicketed with. Now, he continued, as the American, having abstractedthe sentry's gun, appeared with an armful of ropes, you tie thesefellows up, and I'll kill any man who moves.
A pleasant division of labour, eh, old Blatherskite, said Chicago,playfully tapping the one-eyed villain Maloney on the head. Come on;the ugliest first! So saying, he began upon him and fastened himsecurely.
One after another the rangers were tied up; all except the wounded man,who was too helpless to need securing. Then Chicago went down andbrought up the horses, while Braxton remained on guard; and by mid-daythe cavalcade was in full march through the forest _en route_ for FallenPine, the rendezvous of the search-party. The wounded man was tied on toa horse in front, the other rangers followed on foot for safety, whilethe trooper and Chicago brought up the rear.
* * * * *
There was a sad assemblage at Fallen Pine. One by one they had droppedin, tanned with the sun, torn by briers, weakened by the poisonousmiasma of the marshlands, all with the same tale of privation andfailure. Summerville and the inspector had fallen in with blacks abovethe upper ford, and had barely escaped with their lives. Troopers Foleyand Anson were well, though somewhat gaunt from privation. Hartley hadlost his horse from the bite of a bushmaster. Murdoch and Murphy hadscoured the bush as far as Rathurst, but without success. All weredejected and weary. They only waited the arrival of two of their numberto set out on their return to Trafalgar.
It was mid-day, and the sun was beating down with a pitiless glare onthe little clearing. The men were lying about on the shady side of thetrunks, some smoking, some with their hats over their faces and halfasleep. The horses were tethered here and there, looking as listless astheir masters. Only the inspector's old charger seemed superior to theweather--a shrewd, _blas['e]_ old horse, that had seen the world, and wasnearly as deeply versed in woodcraft as his master. As Chicago said,Short of climbin' a tree, there weren't nothin' that horse couldn'tdo; an' it would make a darned good try at that if it was pushed. OldSawback seemed ill at ease this afternoon. Twice he had pricked up hisears, and once he had raised his head as if to neigh, but paused beforecommitting himself. The inspector looked at him curiously and put hismeerschaum back into its case. Meerschaums were always a weakness ofpoor Jim Burton's. Demme it, sir, I have heard him say, a gentlemanis known by his pipe. When he comes down in the world his pipe has mostvitality. He put the case inside his uniform and went over to thehorse. The ears were still twitching.
He hears something, said the inspector. By Jove, so do I! Here, boys,jump up; there's a body of men coming! Every man sprang to his horse'shead. I hear hoofs, and I hear the tramp of men on foot. They must be alarge party. They're heading straight for us. Get under cover, boys, andhave your guns loose. The men wheeled right and left, and in a very fewmoments the glade was deserted. Only the brown barrel of a gun here andthere among the long grass and the ferns showed where they werecrouching. Steady, boys! said Burton; if they are enemies, don't firetill I give the word. Then one by one aim low, and let the smoke clear.Rangers, by Jove! he added, as a horseman broke into the clearing someway down, with his head hanging down over his horse's neck. More, hegrowled, as several men emerged from the bush at the same point. By theliving powers, they are taken! I see the ropes. Hurrah! And next momentBraxton and Chicago were mobbed by nine shouting, dancing men, whopulled them and tugged at them, and slapped them on the back, anddragged them about in such a way, that Maloney whispered with a scowl--
If we'd had the grit to do as much, we'd have been free men this day!
And now our story is nearly done. We have chronicled a fact which wethink is worthy of a wider circulation than the colonial drinking-barand the sheep-farmer's fireside, for Trooper Braxton and his capture ofthe Bluemansdyke murderers have long been household words among ourbrothers in the England of the Southern seas.
We need not detail that joyful ride to Trafalgar, nor the welcome, northe attempt at lynching; nor how Maloney, the arch criminal, turnedQueen's evidence, and so writhed away from the gallows. All that may beread in the colonial press more graphically than I can tell it. Myfriend Jack Braxton is an officer now, as his father was before him, andstill in the Trafalgar force. Bill I saw last in '61, when he came overto London in charge of the barque of the _Wellingtonia_ for theInternational Exhibition. He is laying on flesh, I fear, since he tookto sheep-farming; for he was barely brought up by seventeen stone, andhis fighting weight used to be fourteen; but he looks well and hearty.Maloney was lynched in Placerville--at least so I heard. I had a letterlast mail from the old inspector; he has left the police, and has a farmat Rathurst. I think, stout-hearted as he is, he must give a little bitof a shudder when he rides down to Trafalgar for the Thursday market,and comes round that sharp turn of the road where the boulders lie, andthe furze looks so yellow against the red clay.