Roy Glashan's Library
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"AND this is the place?" the tall, refined- looking young man asked, as he seated himself on a stone upon the hillside and surveyed the country at his feet. "This is Marranga you have talked to me so much about, Tady?"
"'Tis, misther Leonard; we are in it a last, praises be. There faceint you is big Mount Roban, with the little township lying at the pit of it, just the same as it was twelve years ago. And now look below you to your right: do you see the low house wid the trees a'most a-top of it, and Roban Creek creeping along by it like a thread of silver in the grass? Well, that's St. Herrick's place."
"Ah, I see it, Tady; and your golden claim, where did it lie?"
"Where it lies yet, please God. Do you see the big dead tree sticking white like a skeleton, out of the slope behind the house? The claims were not twenty yards from that."
"Well, now Tady, just tell me the story of the St. Herrick's on the spot while I smoke a pipe. It has always seemed to me a very unreal story; perhaps I may feel more like crediting it if I hear it here on the spot from which I can see the scene itself."
"You were ever an' always a hard nut, misther Leonard, and wouldn't believe the priest himself if he wint against you; but here you are now, afther travellin' thousands av miles to make a liar of me an' you can't do it."
Leonard Prosser laughed pleasantly as he manipulated his tobacco, and looked slyly at the comical figure seated near him on the grass.
"I don't know so much about that, Tady. What witnesses have you at Marranga?"
"I was just wonderin'," Tady returned, thoughtfully. "If he's here yet. There's a gentleman lives in one of them white houses beyant the bridge that can tell you the story as well as I can, an' bedad, he may tell it, for I don't never again. I'm tired of being misbelieved and misdoubted."
"If I thought you were in earnest, I'd go right back to Corbally again," the young man replied, laughingly, as he put a match to his pipe and began to smoke enjoyably, "but I know that you cannot wish for a greater proof of my confidence in you than that I should have followed you half round the world to see Marranga and the lost claim."
"That's true, sur, but all the same I'd like Mr. Pollard to tell you about it, if he's to the fore, but twelve years is a long time."
"Who was Mr. Pollard?"
"He was a magistrate, an' a great friend intirely of Colonel St. Herrick's. But here, I'll say no more till we go down to the township. —See, there's the coach just turnin' 'round the Gap road—she'll get in an hour before us."
The young gentleman did not reply. He was thoughtfully scanning the landscape beneath and around him with the doubly intense enjoyment of a lover of nature debarred from a view of her charms for the many weeks occupied by a long sea voyage, and thinking not a little about the events connected with the St. Herricks, of whom he had so often heard from his humble friend, Thadeus Connor. As they are seated there, silently, let me describe the two dissimilar beings who play no uneventful part in this.
Leonard Prosser was twenty-three, and a picture of handsome and muscular health. In his bronzed face, every feature indicated an intelligent and lovable nature, his dark hazel eyes especially having the clear, frank expression of a thoughtful yet frank and fearless nature. He was attired in serviceable, well-cut tweed, and had a soft brown felt hat on his short brown curls.
Thadeus Connor was thirty-five, if a day, and was about as ordinary a specimen of humanity as you could imagine. He was short of stature, thin-limbed and big-jointed. His arms were too long for the size of his little form, and his eyes; set deep in their sockets under penthouses of red hair, were fiery and small like a ferret's. His round shoulders and odd figure were exaggerated by a tightly fitting coat and trousers of a bright blue, decorated amply with brass buttons, and brilliant peacock's feather was stuck in the front of his stiff, low-crowned black hat.. A very glittering Albert denoted the presence of a watch in his pocket, and a great gold ring adorned one of his stumpy little fingers. The expression of every line of his form and every twinkle of his little eyes was of cunning and self-conceit, but those who knew the little Irishman well could have told how true and faithful was the heart few gave him credit for possessing.
"There's a path close to us on the right; where it goes to?" said Leonard, breaking the silence at last.
"The place where the Colonel was buried on the side of the hill," replied the Irishman, as he tuned his face over his shoulder to scan the track alluded to; "but by the piper that played before Moses, wherever it goes to there's an angel comin' down it."
As was only natural, young Prosser turned also to see what had drawn the exclamation from his humble friend, and he too saw coming along the green hillside, a form that might at least have been one in a dream of heaven so sweet and unearthly it was in the fairest loveliness.
About eleven years old, as I have said the girl was small for her age and by far too delicately slender. She was attired in a pale blue dress over which fell down to very waist a cloud of the most lovely fair hair that ever grew on a child's head. It was not golden hair, but that far rarer hue that resembles the side of a young fawn with the gloss of satin on very hair. The pale face, overshadowed by the drooping brim of a of a broad Tuscan hat was so delicately outlined in every feature that no waxen one was ever more perfectly modelled, nor yet had a brighter rose on its cheeks, and in every line o the face and form there was expressed a calmness and peace that was surely not of this world.
As the girl neared the men she looked at them steadily, and without a trace of fear in the soft blue eyes over which the fair lashes fell like a veil; but the great dog moved steadily to her side and examined the friends cautiously as she paused before them and spoke.
"You are strangers?" she asked gently.
"Yes, quite strangers," Leonard replied, with a smile that at once assured the child she was addressing one who was to be trusted.
"We have only come to Marranga within the hour; and you?"
"I? I am no stranger. I was born at Marranga."
There was a pause, in which Tady's small eyes seemed to settle themselves on the child's face with a great wonder in them.
"Are you the gentleman who has taken St. Herrick's?" she asked hesitatingly, as she gazed at Leonard, while she held more closely to her breast a cluster of golden blossoms she was carrying.
"I think not; we have as yet made no arrangements for residing at Marranga."
"I beg your pardon," the child said gently; "but Herrick's was mama's home once, and we heard some gentleman had rented it. I did so hope it would be someone nice."
The last sentence was repeated thoughtfully, as her eyes wandered down to the low house among the trees that Tady had pointed out as St. Herrick's.
"Stay Miss," the Irishman said eagerly, as the girl was turning to go on her way. "Are you a St. Herrick?"
"Yes, I am Resignation St. Herrick—the late Colonel St. Herrick was my father."
"I thought so," Tady cried, "you have the poor Colonel's eyes as like as two peas."
"Mama says so; did you know him? did you know my dear father?" and the rosy flush spread from the soft cheeks all over the fair face.
"Yes, Miss, I knew him well. I was here at Marranga I suppose before you were born."
"Yes, it must have been. Papa was dead before I was born, that is the reason mama called me Resignation. Did you love my papa?"
"Everyone respected and liked him," Tady said quickly.
"No, not everyone; there was a bad man—you forget—the man who killed him."
"Yes, the curse o' God on him, I forgot Dan Lyons!" Tady cried angrily.
"Hush, do not speak wrong words. God knows best himself. May I shake hands with you because you know my dead papa?"
"God bless the child!" the honest Irishman said, as he clasped the little slender hand that was tendered him.
"You will shake hands with me, too, as a new friend? My name is Leonard Prosser," the young gentleman said, putting out his hand also, "and will you introduce me to your dog? Dogs and I are always great friends."
"My dog is called Guardian, sir, for he takes care of me, and is a very faithful dog. Are you going to stay here sir?"
"Yes, dear, we think of remaining for some time near Marranga."
"I am glad, I shall see you again. Goodbye now," and the child made a grave bow to Leonard and Tady, and then glided down the path toward St. Herrick's.
"Isn't that quare now?" the Irishman asked as they stood and watched the light form passing through the underwood that skirted the eminence on which they had been seated, "that we should meet Colonel Herrick's daughter the very first on landing in the place?"
"It is a strange coincidence, truly. This child was not born then, when you left Marranga, Tady?"
"No, but one was expected if the mother lived. God help her, it was a hard trial she had to bear. What do you say to getting down to the township now, Mr. Leonard? The coach is nearly in, and we'd better be seein' afther our thraps."
A FEW hours later found Leonard Prosser and his companion, the little Irishman, seated in Mr. Pollard's office at Marranga, and Tady jubilant over the fact of that gentleman being still a resident of that neighborhood. He had introduced his young master, and given the J.P. a sketch of his doings during his absence from Australia, and now he was greedily inquiring as to the events of the last twelve years in quiet Marranga.
"And so you tell me that a pick has never been struck in them claims since, Mr. Pollard?"
"Not since our poor friend's exhumation, Tady. None of the claims had paid well, you know, and they were abandoned after that awful murder. Even you went, Tady."
"I wint, yes," the Irishman said aggressively, "but 'twasn't on account of the bad prospect, for we had the best in No. 2, but on account of the place gettin' a bad name—you know that yourself, sir."
"Yes, a story of the claim being haunted got abroad, and every shaft was deserted; but as I said before, there was not much temptation—no lead was ever found."
"I don't know that," obstinately asserted Tady, "I had a fool of a mate, or I believe we were on the right track. An' thin' I got the master's letter callin' me home to look afther Mr. Leonard here."
"He means my father," explained the young gentleman. "You must know that Tady and I are foster brothers, and his jaunt out to the diggings was an escapade of which his friends did not approve."
"Well, I'm back again in spite of 'em," said Tady; "And now, Mr Pollard, tell Mr. Leonard the story—no one knows it better nor yourself."
"It was a sad story," the pleasant-looking, middle-aged gentleman went on, as he pushed the wine toward his new friend, young Leonard; "and a great shock to me person was the death of my friend, Colonel St. Herrick. It is about fifteen yean ago now, I think, since he first settled here with a wife as beautiful as an angel, and a son who died shortly after their arrived at Marranga. The colonel had some independent means, and built the house known yet as St. Herrick's on the ground he purchased; but when, some years after, the gold fever found its way to Marranga, he was one of the first who sank a shaft and found, as he considered, sufficient indications of the precious metal to induce further efforts.
"For some time, however, he could not succeed in inducing anyone to join him, the few residents being occupied in farming, or business of one kind or other, and the place having not yet become known sufficiently to encourage regular diggers. At last, however, the Colonel came to me one day in great spirits with the news that he had employed a man who had accidentally called in travelling toward the Murray.
"It was some time, however, before St. Herrick told me that he had been previously and unfavourably acquainted with Dan Lyons, and when the facts came out and were made public there were many who wondered that my friend would have ventured on such a step as permitting the man to work as his partner, as well as become an inmate of his home. The facts appeared to be that in Ireland, through the evidence of St. Herrick, Dan Lyons had been sentenced to ten years penal servitude for shooting with intent at a land bailiff, whom he was obnoxious to, and that the evidence was never forgiven, the murder of poor St. Herrick was a proof."
"It was Dan Lyons, then, who committed the foul dead?" Leonard questioned.
"Undoubtedly, though the wretch has escaped and baffled justice. It was Lyons himself that gave the alarm that No. 1 claim had fallen in. You remember that, Tady?"
"Av coorse, I mind it well. There was a regular hullabaloo when he kem to No. 2 screechin' that the claim was fell in an' that the Colonel was below. There was only four shafts an' half of 'em deserted, and round about No. 1 was so druv wid drives that we knew 'twas unsafe to stand anear where the great gap of ground fell in. The way 'twas done at last was by putting a drive in from No. 4, an' it took us three days to do it."
"Aye," responded Mr. Pollard, "three terrible days for the poor widow who would hope to the last, though we all knew that the Colonel must have perished for want of air shortly after the ground fell in. Lyons pretended to be one of the most active workers, but he was in reality retarding the search, and he disappeared from the moment that St. Herrick's corpse was seen with a note-book in one stiffened hand and a pencil in the other."
"The poor fellow had left evidence against his murderer?"
"Yes. In the few scrawled words written in darkness and in the oppression of death, he told how Lyons had cut away the props and told him of the revenge he had planned—told him of it ere he escaped himself, and while the soil was slowly settling down between him and his victim. There was no more but a blessing on his wife and his unborn babe."
"We saw the little girl to-day," Leonard said, and he related what had passed between Resignation and them. "She is a lovely girl," he added, "but looks very delicate."
"She has grown up with the very shadow of the grave on her," Mr. Pollard returned. "The very name given her was the last that should have been chosen, for her mother has never been and never will be resigned. She nourishes a morbid idea that somehow and some day she will see her husband's murderer brought to justice here on the spot where he died, and the dead father is almost the sole subject of conversation between, her and her little girl."
"Where do they live now?" Tady asked.
"In a little house I had built for them after the Colonel's death. On his affairs being settled it was found that there was but a few hundreds left after the house and land was paid off. St. Herricks being put in the market, I bought it myself, and offered to take Mrs. St. Herrick as a tenant, but she declared it would be impossible to remain where she had been so happy, and where everything would remind her of her dead husband, so I built the cottage where they now live; it is on the slope above the old place, Tady; you will remember it?"
"Yes, Sir, well."
"The property has been a loss to me," the good man continued, "for a story of its being haunted stood in the way of its being occupied. Now, however, I have just secured a tenant whose profession ought to prevent any superstitious terrors from affecting him."
"What is he?"
"By his dress, I should say a member of some religious order, and his mother calls him Father James."
"He has a family, then?"
"A mother and sister, and one serving man, as far as I could see. And now about yourselves. You really mean to attack the old ground again, Tady?"
"Wi' the help o' God. I'm as sure as I sit here that there's lumps of gold in that gully, Mr. Pollard."
"Well I hope there may be, for your sake, and Mr. Leonard's too. Where are you going to put up?"
"At the hotel, for the present, Mr. Pollard," replied Leonard. "I must have a look at these wonderful claims before I decide on entering the life of a digger, for I must confess that I don't at all share Tady's certainty of a golden claim."
"More shame for you to say it," cried Tady, angrily, as he got up from his seat; "but if you're comin', we have no time to lose, Mr. Leonard."
"We had proposed a visit to the claims," young Prosser explained. "It is not a long walk, I believe."
"About half a mile only. Stay, Mr. Prosser; if you have no objection, I will walk with you. It is years since I saw the place, which has, as you may suppose, sad recollections for me."
It was a lovely spring afternoon; and as the trio crossed Roban Creek and mounted the slope beyond, it was an almost simultaneous impulse that slackened their steps to admire the scene around them. The gliding waters of the creek, glistening among its fringes of sweet-scented flowering wattle; the stately Mount Roban, heaving up his huge sides, laden with their wealth of forest, flushed in the warm, bright sunbeams; the sweep of far pasture, dotted for miles with content sheep and cattle, until lost in the low line of blue hills in the distance—all formed as sweet a landscape as Leonard Prosser had ever gazed upon.
"It is lovely," he said, "and so different from what I fancied. My idea of Tady's diggings was of something wild and rough, and not of a loveliness such as this."
"In ten minutes you will see something more like what you expected, Mr. Prosser," observed the J.P. "The gully is even wilder now than when you left it, Tady. The curse of shed blood seems to be on its very grass."
Turning to the right they passed the overgrown garden that surrounded the dwelling known as "St. Herricks," and then entered a gully wild enough to fulfil all Leonard's dreams. It seemed to be a cleft in the hills down which the dry track of a winter torrent, and up the sloping sides of which straggling trees grew, and wild foliage flourished rankly. Here and there were broad level spots that had been swept in winters gone by from the green hill sides, and toward one of these level places the steps of Mr. Pollard turned. A spot that looked weird enough to justify all that Mr. Pollard had said of it, where the grass vainly struggled to hide the sunken level and the thrown up heaps that denoted the place where they had dug to recover the body of a foully-murdered man. Huge trees without one sign of leafy verdure on them stretched their bare, bleak, crooked limbs over it as if in warning and guard, and among the scarred, hard soil, where no grass would grow, a few treacherous holes with lichen waving long tendrils down their cavernous depths, denoted where the deserted shafts of the long ago miners had been.
"Is this at all like what you expected, Mr. Leonard?" the gentleman asked, as he paused on the edge of the sunken level.
"It is worse," almost whispered the young man, while Tady gazed around him with horror. "I scarcely wonder that men would be unwilling to work here, even for gold; What do you say, Tady?"
"I don't know what to say, sir; there's an awful change here sure enough, and they say that a curse will always lie where a man has been killed. What happened the trees, Mr. Pollard? They were fine box trees twelve years ago."
"There was a bush fire that helped the desolation, I believe, Tady. Can you point out your old claim?"
"For sure, sir. The Colonel's No. 1 was here where the ground's low, and ours was that one beyant there, where the green thing is swinging about."
They advanced to the edge of Tady's old shaft and looked down into the darkness, Leonard lifted a stone and threw it down, and as it splashed into hidden water the Irishman shuddered as if a cold wind had struck him.
"I think your gold-digging at Marranga will never be resumed, Tady," young Prosser said. "There is water down there, and a flooded claim is no joke to tackle. At all events, I resign on the spot all interest in No. 2, it would seem to me like digging in a grave."
"The place of graves has not always been respecter in the search for gold in our new land," observed Mr. Pollard, "but let us go; I own I shall be glad to get away from this melancholy spot."
"What was I sent here for at all?" murmured the Irishman discontentedly. "Day an' night I was dreamin' of it for eleven year; warnin's of all sorts, I had to come back again to the ould place; what was it for if 'twas not for the goold?"
"Maybe 'twas to meet the priest, Tady," Leonard said smilingly. "Is this your new tenant approaching, Mr. Pollard? I should judge so from his dress."
"Yes, it is he," replied Mr. Pollard, as he paused to speak to the clergyman who was approaching.
Father James was a man so strange in form and movement, as to draw the eyes of both Leonard and his foster-brother closely upon him; he was tall and gaunt in make, and his long, priest-like black coat hung so loosely around him as to suggest a decrease in bulk since it had been made for him. Indeed, the face, showing palely under the broad brim of the clerical hat that was drooped over it, was that of an invalid—the white, hollow, close- shaved cheeks, the great, sunken dark eyes, with the blue circles round them, suggesting a far from perfect state of health.
On meeting him Tady, with the usual respect of his countrymen for their clergy, made him a respectful reverence, that was acknowledged by a curt nod as the stranger stopped to speak to his landlord.
"A strange looking man and a sickly one, I should say," observed Leonard when they had separated by some steps. "He belongs to some foreign order I think—eh, Tady?"
"Aye, sir, the dress is different from our clergy; but what eyes he has—they seemed to look right through me, an' I declare it seems to me as if I'd seem 'em before somewhere."
"Maybe you did, Tady. There were two or three continental priests at Corbally collecting for some charity last summer."
"'Twas none of them, Mr Leonard, for I never lost a mass while they were there, an' I seen 'em all."
"I don't think you ever lost a mass if you could help it, Tady. What will you do here? I understand there is no chapel here."
"No!" replied Tady viciously, "it's mostly Protestants that are at Marranga—the hathens; I beg your pardon, Mr. Leonard, I was forgettin' you wor one, but you must own that if there were as many Catholics about, the place wouldn't be without a church or chapel. Well, I'm glad, anyhow, that there is a priest. If he's in orders 'twill be a great comfort to me."
They were now rejoined by Mr. Pollard, whose pleasant countenance had a broad smile on it as they moved on, Tady falling, as he always did, a little in the rear.
"You have heard something pleasant from our clerical friend?" said Leonard. "I don't know that it was exactly the agreeable nature of what Father James told me that tickled me, but it was the idea of Paddy's sensations when he hears it. What do you think the priest told me, Tady?"
"He wouldn't tell you anything bad, anyhow," the Irishman replied stoutly.
"Of course not, but something very unexpected. What do you think he is going to do, Mr. Prosser?"
"I can't guess."
"He is going to open up the old ground we have just been inspecting. He is going over to see it now. He says that he has a man with him who knows the ground, and who has a' great opinion of the prospects in No. 1 before it was abandoned, and he's going to take possession of that claim. What do you think of that, Tady?"
"I'll tell you what I think!" cried Connor, triumphantly. "I think that priest or no priest he won't get No. 2 claim, for I'll go back and peg it out this minnit! By Jove, we can set all the ghosts in the country at defiance now when there's a clergyman in the ground, an' we'll take plinty av gold back to ould Corbally yet afther all, Mr. Leonard!"
LEAVING his companions suddenly, Tady Connor started back toward the gully they had just left, but long before he reached it he saw the tall, black figure of the priest stand near the scattered spot which had been the grave of Colonel St. Herrick, and it seemed to the Irishman that in spite of the presence of that old man, the gloom of the spot was deeper, and the gaunt branches of the dead trees even more threatening of aspect than they had been a short hour previous; but he cast the fancy from him with an execration on his own folly.
"I was ever an' always a fool with the superstition, an' I must have sucked it wid me mother's milk, for she was just as bad! What'ud make the place blacker because the father is there?" and he trod toward him with a step that made the dry sticks crack, and the dead grass rustle.
The clergyman heard the sounds and turned slowly to meet, as he doubtless expected, the gentleman he had so lately parted from, but a quick frown shaded the white face as he drew the broad hat lower over it at sight of Tady Connor.
"Mr. Pollard tould me that ye wor going to take up one of the old claims, your reverence, and I came hack to tell ye that No. 2 is mine. You see I worked it long ago, and it belongs of right to me, plaze your reverence."
"I am not in orders," was the reply, in a deep, hollow voice as if the words were spoken through clenched teeth, "and claim no right as a clergyman. What is that you are saying about these claims?"
"Mr. Pollard ses you're goin' to work 'em, sir, an' I am makin' it known to you that No. 2 was my claim long ago."
"When?" asked the man we know as Father James.
"Nearly twelve years ago, your reverence, before that murtherin' villain Dan Lyons killed the Colonel in this claim—may the curse of God rest on him now and forever, amen!"
Father James started back almost as if the impulsive Irishman had struck or threatened him, and Tady's repentance was quickly evinced.
"I beg your reverence's pardon, humbly," he said. "But when I think of the scoundrel I forgets myself. You have heard of Colonel St. Herrick's bein' dug out dead here, sir?"
"Yes, I have heard the story. And you worked here?"
"Yes, sir, in No. 2—that shaft there; I'll work in it again, please God, now that your reverence is going to have a hand in it."
"I tell you, man, I am not in orders, and I don't want any of your reverences," Father James repeated angrily, as he turned his thin white face away from Tady.
"Sorra one o' me cares whether you are in orders or not, your reverence," reiterated Tady. "At all events, you wor once, an' I knows my duty in respect to the clergy. Besides"—and the speaker dropped his voice and looked around him timorously, "it gives me courage to stand here anear a man that has stood before the altar."
"What do you mean? What are you afraid of, you fool? Do you think that a dead man has power to harm you?"
"No, your reverence; but I know well that the place where a soul has been parted from the body by foul murder is cursed. Look around you, sir; the trees have withered here, and the grass won't grow. There isn't a bird ever sings in them dead branches, or a drop of rain ever falls to wet that hard clay. But I b'lieve in my heart that if the murderer was to come and put his foot on that ground it would open and swallow him!"
Involuntarily Father James drew his foot back from the spot where it rested on the sunken level, and an angry red burned in his hollow cheeks.
"You are a fool, I told you that before," he said, "as if Nature's laws would permit of miracles; but I wish it was true. I wish that the ground would open up at the touch of Dan Lyons' foot, for it would save me a good deal of labour digging out all this soil."
"Does your reverence know where he is?" added Tady, in open- mouthed wonder.
"Know! not I, of course not; but one fool makes many, and we are told to answer a fool according to his folly."
"Yes sir," Tady replied humbly, though he didn't at all understand what father James meant.
"But will you please tell me sir if it's true that you're going to open up No. 1 again?"
"I am," was the short reply. "I have machinery coming up in a day or two, and a man that knows the ground to work it. Which shaft do you claim?"
"That one sir," and Tady pointed to the shaft down which the long sprays of a weeping plant were lovelily swaying, "and I'll peg it out now for safety's sake."
"Have you a miner's right?" Father James asked with a scowl.
"Yes sir, and so has Mr Leonard; we came apurpose to dig at Marranga."
"Who is Mr. Leonard?"
"My master, your reverence; you saw him with Mr. Pollard a bit ago," and honest Tady launched into a volley of praises all devoted to Mr. Leonard.
Very few were the words the priest said, but before he parted from the voluble Irishman he knew all about his long-ago experiences at Marranga, and his foster-brother's wealth position, while of himself or family Tady could not carry to the township one iota of intelligence.
"A holy man," was Tady's opinion, self expressed, as he walked to rejoin his young master, "and I think he has some vow on him, he is so quiet and still."
Aye! Father James had a vow on him, but it was one that Tady Connor would no more have dreamed of than he would of robbing a sacristy.
LET us follow the clergyman and see what was his opinion of the garrulous Irishman. At the weather-stained gate that opened to the overgrown gardens of St Herrick's, he paused for a little to look down upon the township that was plainly visible from where he stood, but had any one been there to watch that pallid countenance they must have recognised the fact that his thoughts were not on the white house by the roadside, or the painted bridge over the creek, near which the V.R. on the board at the white police station was plainly visible. In the deep set eyes a lurid fire burned. The long fingers with which he clutched the top bar of the gate seemed to hold it with a grip of iron, rigid as the set teeth and compressed lips of the man.
A step came down the garden walk; but he did not hear it, for he started when a hand was laid on his arm.
"Has anything gone wrong, brother?" was the question that he heard, and saw repeated in the dark face so near his own.
"No—yes," was the contradictory reply. "I have been down at the old place."
"At the claims?"
"And it has upset you. I thought you were of different stuff, brother.
"It was not altogether that, but I met a man there whose presence may be an evil influence for us. Do you remember a little Irishman named Tady Connor working in the Gully twelve years ago?"
"Aye, do I; he was in No, 2"
"Well, he has come back all the way from Ireland to try that claim again, and I am afraid of him."
"Why? Do you remember him? Does he know you?"
"Brother, you have forgotten that Dan Lyons is dead; how should I, who have never seen Marranga before, know this man, or he me?"
"I stand corrected," the man who called Father James "brother" said, "yet there are sometimes fancied resemblances."
"Yes," interrupted the priest, "and I think this Connor saw something in my face that reminded him of the past. I hope it is not so, but the idea troubled me."
The brother looked long and steadily into Father James' face, and then he said with decision—
"There is not the most distant semblance; there is not a line or an expression like Dan Lyons."
"That is well. Cornelius, what sort of man was this Connor in those days? Dan Lyons, I think, knew very little about him."
"Connor was a fool—an ignorant, prejudiced, conceited fool, who would believe anything you told him, but was very religious in his way. Curse these religious people! They do more mischief than a host of devils! How did he treat you?"
"With the greatest respect—with exaggerated reverence, in fact."
"As a clergyman, of course?"
"Oh, then it is all right you can twist Tady Connor around your finger."
"I saw another old acquaintance of Dan's."
"Ah! did he see any family likeness?"
"No, I am sure he did not. I told him of our intention to reopen the old claim."
"That's right; and you told him that you had one of the old men who understood the ground?"
"Then everything is going right. I think you had better go in to the mother; she's been awfully restless since you went out."
Father James looked toward the west, where in a gorgeous robe of red and purple and gold the sun was saying farewell to Marranga, and a strong shudder shook him from head to foot.
"Will you never get over it, brother?" Cornelius asked, with an almost womanly tenderness; "and you so strong-minded in every other way. You are ready to face the retribution we are working for at any day and any hour, yet you shudder at a phantom of your own fancy."
"It is no fancy, Cornelius; I am ready for the living, but not for the dead. Fancy? Is that fancy? Are these fancy?" and he held out his emaciated, trembling wrists.
"No, but you are killing yourself by trying to fortify yourself for the imaginary horrors of the night; the spirits you drink would kill the strongest man alive."
"It does not kill me, I should die without it!"
He turned toward the house, half hidden by the trees, as he was shaking, and walked toward it, a tall unbending form that seemed shadowy enough to belong to some other world, yet had hidden beneath the black robe all the horrors that the crimes of earth could concentrate into one deed.
The house known as St. Herrick's was a low-roofed building of small accommodation, and its dark stone walls were so covered with ivy, that only here and there whore the gleam of small windows made themselves known, could the material of which it was built be identified. It had more than the gloomy look, too, of a house untenanted for long years, especially at sunset, when the tall cypress-like trees cast their long shadows across the threshold.
Standing on the threshold as the brothers approached it, was an indolent-looking young girl of low stature and a heavy build. Every feature in her face was heavy, from the snub nose and the slow, dark eyes, to the thick fringe of black hair out straight across her low flat forehead. She had a sulky look, too, as she stood there watching her brothers' approach listlessly, and her ungainly figure was so bedizened with soiled finery, in the shape of lace and ribbons that the befringed and beribboned black dress looked shabbier than even it was under the contrast.
"It isn't bad enough to be in a gaol like this, but we must be starved waiting for our supper," she said, sullenly, as Father James, passed her, and went inside, but Cornelius only laughed in her face as he chucked her; fat, heavily moulded chin.
"A pretty girl like you, Nora, wont be in gaol, as you call it, long. You'll be having no end of sweethearts about you when the Marranga boys begin to find you out."
"I don't think there's any boys about," she said, with a pout of her thick lips.
"That's where you're wrong, Nora; there was one asking about you to-day."
"Now you're up to some of your larks, Corney," she said, doubtingly; but her eyes sparkled, and her brother saw it.
"Faith I'm not. Oh, honour bright, Nora, he saw you through the trees, and he's bound to make your acquaintance."
"Who is he?" the girl asked eagerly.
"His name is Tady Connor;"
"Tady Connor," she repeated thoughtfully; and little guessed Cornelius Brady, as he called himself, what a bomb of destruction he had thrown under his own roof when he mentioned the name of Tady Connor to his sister Nora.
In the kitchen of St. Herricks, which, it would seem, was used as a common room by the-Brady family, a smoking supper-was spread upon the table, at which a woman of some sixty years was standing when Father James entered. She was a tall, thin woman, with strong hands and wiry arms—the hands, and arms of a woman who had worked hard her life, and was dressed in the homely fashion of an Irish farmer's wife. Her grey hair was drawn up from her low forehead under a white muslin cap, her dress was pinned up over a blue woollen petticoat, and a checked apron was spread over all the front of her skirts. A small shawl covered her shoulders, and was crossed on her breast, and if a person had cursorily glanced at Mrs. Brady they must have set her down as an active, bustling woman, and a notable housewife.
But there was that in the woman's face, and especially in her dark, deep set eyes, that was a warning to a closer observer. It was a hard face, a cruel face, an obstinate face, an utterly untrustworthy face. If ever ignorance and prejudice, and a total want of moral consciousness were stamped upon features they were stamped in the countenance of Mrs. Brady. Each of the three children that seated themselves at the table round her on the occasion of which I write had some resemblance to the mother; but the unscrupulous cunning of Cornelius, the animal vanity of Nora, and the ungovernable passions that gleamed in the eyes of Father James were all doubled and intensified in the old woman's face.
As the man we call Father James seated himself opposite to where she stood she leaned on both hands as she rested them on the table and bent over it toward his bowed face, as she muttered angrily between her set teeth: "So it's on you again? Oh, blood of the clever Bradys, of Clogher, turned to water, the night is comin' on an' it's freezin' ye are!"
The bitter scorn of the tones was felt keenly by the man to whom they were addressed, and a glance was flashed from his awful eyes into the woman's that was terrible to meet.
"By ——!" he cried, "if you weren't my mother you would haunt me too, for I'd kill you! And as it is you'd better be warned, for you may go too far some day, and my life is of little worth."
She started back as his clenched fist was struck so violently on the table that the dishes a were disturbed, but at a warning movement from Cornelius her mood seemed to instantly change, and she laughed harshly.
"One can't say a word to you at all, James, these times," she said; "can't you take a joke from your mother?"
"Joke!" he repeated, as he stood up and dashed his chair back from the table. "Am I a child again that you think to twist me round your finger! Joke! who in their senses would joke with blood on their hands and the hangman's rope round their necks?" and he slammed the door of an adjoining room behind him, leaving his supper untouched on the table.
Mrs. Brady's face grew white as chalk, and she fell into a chair, staring at Cornelius with her terrified dark eyes. "What, has come over him at all, Conn," she cried; "he's not the same man since we come here. Oh, my God, do you think he'll go back on us after all?" and she rocked herself to sod fro despairingly.
"To tell you the truth, mother, I'm getting afraid," replied Cornelius, as he attacked his food with an appetite. "I hope that the black coat isn't putting ideas of religion and repentance in his head."
"If I thought so I'd tear it off his back! A son of mine turn white livered? A man with my blood in him turn back from the revenge I swore him to on the cross? If I thought so, I'm his mother, and I'd knife him with my own hands."
She looked as if she would. She seemed quite capable of any deed as she rose and shook her right hand out clenched against the air around her. As her long fingers gripped each other, then so they would doubtless have gripped an enemy's throat had it been within reach when the hot blood was boiling in her veins—the same blood as she had truly said, that had made Father James a haunted man. And Nora ate her food hastily, and scarcely hearing a word that was passing round her; for she was used to her mother's temper, though she was not in her secrets, and never troubled her head as to what aroused it. At the present she was too much occupied about the admirer her brother had given her in his idle chaff, and calculating the effect of a dress she intended to don on the morrow with the sole hope of exhibiting herself in it to the unconscious Irishman. As for Mrs. Brady, she had forgotten the presence of her youngest until it was recalled to her by a motion of Cornelius as he spoke in a low voice. "You forget, mother, that somebody is here."
"Oh, Nora? She never hears anything that doesn't concern her own self, or sees anything, God help her, but her own handsome face in the glass. Nora! Nora, I say!"
"What?" returned Nora, with a start, on her return from the realms of fancy.
"What were you thinking of?"
"Tady Connor," promptly replied the girl, and Cornelius rose from the table with a loud laugh that made the angry blood rush into his sister's face.
THE hut is high up on a spur of Great Mount Roban in a sheltered spot nearly hidden by trees and big brown rocks half covered with green moss and grey lichen; it was built of heavy timber slabs, and covered by sheets of box bark, both of which showed the weatherworn hue of many years.
From the front of this hut on the side of the mountain one of the grandest views around Marranga was discernible, and if it had been built for the purpose of espionage, no situation could have been better chosen. The township lay under the eye like a green map, dotted with little white cubes that represented dwellings, and right across the long line of the gleaming creek, past St. Herricks, and up the slope where the lone cemetery lay, not a human being could move without being traced from Nan Griffith's hut. The very gully where lay the long-deserted claims was open to the view from that hill home; and as far as the eye could reach—far across the plains bounded by the low, purple-blue hills, one could follow the track along which the coach passed once a day; in short, the eyrie of an eagle was never built in a more commanding and yet retired spot.
Two or three days after that on which my story opens, Nan Griffiths was sitting on a block of wood outside the door of the hut, and under the heavy shadow of a spreading tree that bent its crooked branches over her uncanny-looking figure. She was a very old woman, with white hair hanging loosely over her shoulders, and a long cloak that covered her even down to her feet; to this cloak there was a hood that could be drawn at will over her head, and holes, through one of which a skinny hand was passed to grasp a crutched stick. The old creature was toothless, and her skin was shrivelled up on her face like sun-tanned leather; but the keen dark eyes that sparkled under the long white hairs of her eyebrows were apparently as serviceable as when she was 20 years younger.
She was muttering and mumbling to herself in a dissatisfied way that made her sharp nose and chin meet in a manner that gave her some resemblance to a bird of prey, when she saw a woman climbing up the track among the trees leading toward the hut. It was a tall, pale-faced woman of about thirty five, with dark hair and eyes, and a weary, helpless look in her face that would have won the sympathy of a stranger, but did not seem to be noticed by Nan, who was her mother.
"What a time you've been! Faugh, the women there is in these days!"
"I was as quick as I could be," Ellen Griffiths returned, as she seated herself wearily near the hag, "and I'm as tired as death."
"Death is never tired, you fool, and you always are," Nan growled; "and now you sit there staring before you without telling me a word; did you see the child."
"Yes, but I had a rare hunt for him."
"Where was he?"
"Up in the cemetery at the Colonel's grave."
"No, he was with Resignation St. Herrick."
The reply seemed to stun the old hag with surprise. "With Resignation St. Herrick! With her of all the children in the world!" and then a harsh, cackling laugh burst from Nan's lips, as she clapped her hands joyfully. "It would be grand," she screeched; "I wish I'd thought of it afore; but there's time enough. I'll make a policeman—a trap of him."
"A policeman! Of who?"
"Of Dan! would it not be grand if he were to trap Colonel St. Herrick's murderer!"
Ellen looked at her mother with a stony horror, but she said nothing, though the hag went on as though she had. "Oh it's awful isn't it! your mother is a hard-hearted, cruel old woman, that would hunt to death the man you loved. Faugh! you white-livered worm, that would turn and lick the hand that struck you; are you a child of mine at all?"
Ellen was used to such talk, and she said nothing save what was expressed in the worn to death, weary look in her poor white face.
"Tell me what you heard, curse you, and don't sit there like a senseless image driving me mad," shouted Nan, as she seized her daughter's arm and shook her violently; "open your mouth and speak, fool that you are."
"What am I to tell about first?"
"The new people at St, Herricks, who are they?"
"Their name is Brady, an old mother, two sons, and a daughter. They've taken St. Herricks—rented it of Mr. Pollard."
"And is it true that they're going into the old ground again?"
The hag gave her daughter another vicious shake, and her sharp, prominent chin worked like the half of a pair of nut- crackers as she shrieked—"I'll throttle you if you don't speak out! what has come over you at all fool? Have you seen a ghost—the ghost of Colonel Herrick, eh?"
"No, but I have seen a face like Dan Lyons."
At the reply the old woman's hand fell from her daughter's arm as she questioned anxiously.
"You don't mean that he has come back Ellen?"
"No, it was in a woman's face I saw the likeness, and then it was in the eyes only. When I was looking for little Dan I went round by the fence at St. Herrick's, and found a young girl- looking over it as if watching for some one; it was the daughter of the Brady's that have taken the place."
"Well! you spoke to her of course?"
"Yes, and got a good deal of news out of her, but before I left her mother came out and called her angrily away. It was in Mrs. Brady's eyes I saw Dan Lyons."
"It was in your own eyes you saw a fool," said the hag scornfully. "You think of nothing morning, noon, and night, but that double dyed murderer that left a curse on you and yours. Go on with what you were saying."
"She's a young girl, and a silly one, the Brady girl; but you'll soon see her for yourself, for I told her about you, and she's sure to pay you a visit. She thinks of nothing but sweethearts, and her brother has told her that a man is in love with her."
"Do you remember Tady Connor, mother?"
"That Connor that worked in the Gully when the Colonel was killed?"
"Something is going to happen!" exclaimed Nan, wildly. "No wonder I dreamed of strange things and saw strange signs! Go on!"
"When Mrs. Brady called the girl inside I went on toward the cemetery, and I met Connor himself on his way from the Gully."
"Did he know you, Ellen?"
"Yes, at once, and asked me if you were alive yet. He is coming to see you about some dream."
"Aye?—he was always a soft fool, but an open-handed one, too, so he's welcome."
"If I don't mistake, that's he coming up the hill now, mother," said the woman, as she pointed down toward a man who was steadily climbing up the steep path.
Yes, it was Tady, in truth, going, after many misgivings, to see once again the fortune-teller of Mount Roban, whom he had more than once consulted in the years gone by; for Tady was one of those not unusual characters in whom are combined deep religious convictions and an ignorant belief in supernatural powers and beings, and his ignorant mind was sorely exercised on account of a strange dream he had had a few nights previous.
"How Mr. Leonard would laugh at me," he was muttering to himself in gasps, as the steepness of the hill tried his lungs severely; "he don't believe in fortune-tellers or witches, or anything, but seein's believin', an' well I know Nan is a witch if there was ever one in this world."
When he reached the hut there was no one in front of it, and the door was shut. He knocked a low, respectful knock, and nearly jumped out of his skin as he was bidden by name to enter.
"Come in, Tady Connor."
"What am I frightened of?" he reasoned with himself as he lifted the latch and pushed open the door. "Of course Ellen has come back and tould her she seen me."
When he entered the low, dim room, with the clay floor and the smoke-blackened rafters, he saw that there was a small fire on the hearth, but no one beside it, and then he turned at a sound that made him shiver to see Nan Griffiths standing on the threshold of an inner door with a huge black cat at her feet. It was the cat's unearthly "me-o-w!" that had made Tady shudder from head to foot.
"Welcome, Tady Connor," said the hag, as she advanced and stood, before him, her skinny hand grasping the stick, her low bent form still covered with the long cloak. "The seas have rolled between us for long years, and now they have brought you back again."
"They have, ma'am," said Tady, as he made a respectful scrape with his right foot; "and I'm glad to see they have left you looking so hearty."
"Time makes no odds to me," she said, as she drew a seat to the table and sat down, while she pointed to another for her visitor. "I'll live until a man dies, and then my work is done. Sit down."
Tady would have liked to ask her whose death was to precede her own, but he daren't, and waited humbly for the hag to speak again.
"You want to consult me?" she asked, as she put her shrivelled face so near to him that the fiery little eyes so far back in her head seemed to burn him. "Speak out what it is while the humour's on me."
"It's a drame I had, Mrs. Griffiths—a drame that's troublin' me intirely; an' knowin' well how knowledgeable you always wor, I kem to ax you about it."
"All right," she replied, as she drew toward her with a skinny paw the coin Tady had laid near her on the table. "Skull, fetch the master's books."
The latter command was addressed to the black cat, who instantly entered the inside chamber and almost instantly returned with a little bag in his mouth, which he deposited on his mistress's lap, taking the opportunity of his vicinity to the terrified Irishman to spit and "w-a-ow" viciously in his face.
"Down, Skull," cried Nan to the cat as she opened the bag and drew a pack of dirty cards from it.
"Now, Connor, tell me your dream."
"It's twice now I've dramed it," he said, turning his face away from the cat, who still glared at him. "I thought, do you see, that I was down in the old shaft at work, and that with every spade I dug I turned up the head of a man. I thought that I always expected a lump of gold, and saw it shinin' as I turned the shovel, but whin it come up it was always the same man's face wid blood on it."
"Did you know the face?" asked the hag solemnly.
"Yes, I did."
"Whose was it?"
"It was Dan Lyon, the murderer's, face."
"Something is going to happen Tady Connor!" she said, almost repeating the words she had used to her daughter. "The dream was always the same?"
With her jaws munching and mumbling horribly the fortune- teller spread the cards before her, and with such a keen anxiety in her own repellent and withered face, that it was evident she possessed some belief in the art she practised. Unconsciously to himself, the little Irishman had uttered the one name in the whole world that had power to excite her worst passions, for there are far worse passions than the reigning one of Nan Griffith's, which was cupidity.
"What man is plotting against you?" she asked him suddenly, as he anxiously watched her face while she scanned the cards. "You have been speaking to him lately, though you have not touched his hand—who is it?" and she turned her eyes keenly upon Tady's face.
"I don't know, Mrs. Griffiths. I haven't spoke to a soul today but my young master, Mr. Leonard Prosser, and I'm sure he'd plot nothing agin his fosterer."
"You spoke to no one else?—mind what you say, Tady Connor."
"Be this an' be that!" asseverated Tady, and then he all at once stopped, and with a gasp ejaculated almost in a whisper, "Sure it wouldn't be Father James!"
"Who is Father James?" Nan asked suspiciously, "and what right have you to be talking of clergymen here? Why, the very cat knows you have named one—look at him!" In fact the black cat had turned toward the terrified Tady, and with every hair on end was me-a-wing and spitting at him.
"Spake to him! Quieten him for my sake, Mrs. Griffith's! Sure I meant no harm, and at any rate Father James isn't a priest at all seein' he isn't in orthers now; he's the gentleman that has rented St. Herrick's an' is livin' there wid his family."
A sudden remembrance of what her daughter had said about Nora Brady made the old hag grin to herself as she ordered her familiar to retire, and she resumed the reading of the cards she had laid down.
"I can tell you nothing about your dream until you dream it once more," she said, "but beware of a dark man that is plotting against your very life."
"How will find out who he is?" asked Tady, anxiously.
"Through a girl," replied Nan; "a young girl with dark hair who is in love with you."
"With me? It's jokin' you are. Ma'am."
"Don't I look like a woman to joke?" was the angry retort. "There's a girl in love with you, and you'll see her this very day, for she's waiting and watching for you at this moment; and now go, for I can tell you no more at present. When you dream the third time come to me again."
Tady got up, and having uttered his thanks, gladly hastened out of the hut. His superstitious terrors of old Nan and her cat, although partly overcome by the wonderfully good news she had told him, were yet quite sufficient to render his escape into the pure air of the mountain a pleasant one, and he hastened down its side to be at leisure to think over his unexpected good fortune.
Good fortune, indeed, and at last! I think I have told you that Tady Connor had numbered some thirty-five years, and during many lustres of those years it had been his hard fate to have been hopelessly over head and ears in love very many times. Tady's heart was soft, but those of the maidens who scorned his turned-up nose, his crooked fingers, and his red hair, were as hard as the nether millstone. In vain had he year after year pictured to himself some lovely inamorata transformed into a loving wife, and called Mrs. Connor. One by one his hopes had been blighted, and his person mocked or laughed at, yet here was a young girl with dark hair in love with him—actually in love with his very self, without being asked or even known at all! Delightful thought! but there was one drawback—he had a rival, for that was the decision Tady came to regarding the dark man old Nan had declared to be plotting against him, and warned him against.
"Of coorse it's some chap that she won't look at on account of her love for me, the darlin'!" he soliloquised. "I wonther who she is at all, at all? but, sure, I'll know soon, for I'm to see her this very day," and poor Tady, believing in Nan Griffiths with all his little heart, went down the hill rejoicing and looking all around him for a sight of the girl who at last had been the one to appreciate the hitherto despised little man.
"Maybe she's behind some of the bushes or rocks watchin' me the crathur," he murmured with a fond smile, as he took off his hat and arranged his red, stiff locks. "It's well I put on me new coat, though 'twas for old Nan I did it. She was ever an always very particular," and he squared round his funny little person to look at his heels, as he gave the admired blue coat with the brass buttons a vigorous tug behind to make it hang more gracefully.
He had to pass St. Herrick's on his way to the township—doubtless the cunning hag he had just left had calculated on that fact, and also another fact, the latter being that Nora Brady was again standing at the fence under the trees, watching and waiting for the sweetheart her brother had promised her, little thinking what events would follow from the effects of his silly fun at the expense of Nora's well-known vanity and weakness for the opposite sex.
She had seen Tady climbing up the hill path, and now watched his return with a beating heart and a conscious smile on her coarse, rosy face. St. Herrick's had, as we know, an interest for Connor that Nora did not guess at, and for a moment, as he passed it, he forgot the fortune teller's prediction and thought of the murdered man whom everyone had loved. In the very middle of these sad thoughts, however, he heard a slight cough, and with a sudden return of his warm admiration of his unknown inamorata's taste, he stopped and turned in the direction of the "ahem."
Had there been an observer of the meeting between Nora and Tady he must certainly have been an amused one. The girl was craning her neck over the fence in trying to follow with her eyes Tady's passing form, when at her cough he turned suddenly and stopped, then she drew her big head back and giggled. Tady struck an attitude, an attitude so ludicrous and comical that nothing but the girl's exaggerated self-conceit prevented her from observing its true nature, but as it was she saw nothing save unbounded admiration of her over decorated self, and was immensely delighted, so with the envious fence only between them Tady grinned from ear to ear, and fell awkwardly upon his knees on the damp grass, under the thick trees that protruded their great branches over the dilapidated fence.
"Are you Tady Connor?" simpered silly Nora, as she scanned her lover's rather singular proportions lavishly displayed by his sprawl upon the grass.
"I am, mavourneen, I am that happy man," cried Tady.
"What makes you so happy?"
"Because at last I see the beauty an' the darlin' of the wide world here forenint me this blessed day."
He-he-he wasn't much, but, with the accompanying leer from Nora's small, heavy eyes, it expressed great encouragement to poor Tady.
"Arrah, don't be laughin' at me asthore; sure, you'll brak my heart if you do!" And with a good deal of grunting, Tady struggled to his knees, and ventured nearer to the fence.
"I'm not laughing at you. How did you know I was here?" Nora asked, as she arranged her ribbons and cheap ornaments pretty much as Tady had arranged the tail of his coat a little previously.
"Nan tould me agra, an' sure it was meself that a'most flew down the hill to come to ye," replied Tady, but he was wondering all the time who told the girl his name, and then deciding it was that dangerous dark man who was plotting against him, he determined to ask her at once.
"I say, agra, who was it tould you me name?"
"Conn did," and as Nora went on, he was muttering, almost audibly, "D——Conn, whoever he is."
"But who is this Nan you are talking about? Is she you're sister?"
"God forbid!". and Tady crossed himself devoutly, "arrah no, asthore, she's an ould woman that has lived up on Mount Roban these twenty years, an' she's a fortune teller."
The latter words were uttered in a whisper, that necessitated Tady's monkey-like face being protruded over the fence in dangerous proximity to that of the delighted Nora, who was, however, woman enough to affect a prudery she was far from experiencing.
"Go away with you—it's a shame for you, and if mother or Conn was to see you, both of as would be killed."
"Divil a care I care! Who's Conn?" asked Connor, with a scornful twist of his ugly nose at the mention of a name he had identified as a fancied rival. "I'd be sorry to vex the mother ov me darlin' girl, but as for Conn—to the divil wid him, I say! Who is he, at all, at all?"
"Conn is my brother, didn't you know that? I've two brothers, you know, Conn and James, Father James, they call him now."
"Oh, Lord! is Father James a brother of yours? But afther all, why should we be afraid of him or any one? I'll keep company wid no dacent girl except for dacency, and sure he could marry as if he was agreeable."
"Marry us," repeated Nora, with a giggle again, at the idea of this ardent wooing.
"'Tis early in the day to be talking of marrying when I've only seen you a minute or two ago; and besides, James couldn't marry us, for he's not in orders."
"Oh, I forgot, he tould me so himself agra; but never mind, when we makes up our minds we can aisy find a priest to tie us together for a happy life. Who's that?"
That was someone shouting shrilly "Nora! Nora!" in the direction of the house.
"'Tis me mother! I must go or she'll kill me."
"Stop one minnit ashtore. Whin'll I see you agin? Tell me quick now before you go. Sure I'll be thinkin' it months till I see your beweheful eyes an' your darlin' face again."
"I don't know, I'm often here at the fence, and if you'll whistle I can come mostly any time in the evenin'."
"Oh, the lovely crathur!" murmured Tady, as he gripped the top rail of the fence and stared after the quickly retreating figure of his fat inamorata. "Isn't she the darlin' of the world to take a fancy to me in this way, an' not a sowl to care for me in this wide world but Mr. Leonard?" and the name reminded him that he had better not keep his young master ignorant of his whereabouts much longer, so he tore himself away and made for the township.
LONE cemetery of Marranga, where the few dead sleep far from the world they may know no more, and where the rustle of the long grass over their neglected graves is rarely caused by a human footstep. There in the quiet nook on the hill- side may the bird rear her young in peace among the spreading trees of the old Bush Land, and the breeze whisper to dead ears unheard save by the young of the wallaby that sometimes venture to peep from among the rocks that bound its fence. To a stranger no desolation could seem greater than that of Marranga graveyard, where a dozen graves had sunk among the grass to sad neglect, and over only one had a name or a date been inscribed.
And that one, on a head-stone of white marble, stood out from its surrounding of flowering plants, like a sentinel who never sleeps, to guard the last resting-place of a St. Herrick. That spot alone in the grass tangled enclosure was carefully tended, and lay an oasis of blossom in a desert of desolation. The black letters on the pure surface of the head-stone had in some measure faded, but the inscription was yet plain enough to the eye had there been one in the vicinity to read it.
But it was yet early in the morning, and the man who was slowly approaching it had not as yet reached the graveyard. Indeed he seemed in no haste, for he toiled up the slope as one afflicted with weakness, and when he had reached the gate, rested long on it, gazing toward the white sentinel tomb, He was a tall man with a white haggard face under a slouched hat, and he wore a long, black semi-clerical coat. It was the new tenant of St. Herricks, the man known as Father James.
Perhaps he did not mean to enter at all. He stood there so long, and so motionless that he might have been as dead as that man over whom the white stone stood, for all appearance of life that he exhibited. Magpies were stalking proudly in the grass, and greeting the early sun with their sweet gurgling notes. The laughing jackass, perched upon the limb of a leafless gum tree, shrieked out a wild chorus to some distant mate. The green paroquet fluttered and chattered among the branches, but that statue-like man did not seem to see them or hear anything until there was the sounds of voices behind him, and then he turned his head just a little way to see who were the unwelcome visitants to a spot he had believed too lone to bring a single human being to gaze upon his face.
It was fair Resignation St. Herrick who came toward him, though he did not know it then, and beside her walked a boy of about her own age, a boy with a bold, intelligent eye, and a fearless mien. Close beside Resignation walked Guardian, her great dog, with his eyes closely and suspiciously scanning the stranger as the trio neared him. Resignation was attired as she had been when I first named her. A pale blue fleecy dress enveloped her slight figure, and from under her broad drooping hat her flossy fair hair fell in a cloud over her shoulders. In one hand she carried a little basket, the other was laid on the dog's great head, as the child noticed his uneasy movements. The boy's stout, healthy figure was clad in a shirt of some light flannel material, and a pair of well-made dark trousers covered his sturdy limbs. A straw hat shaded a pair of fine dark eyes, and a handsome bright face, browned by the sun, and ruddy with health.
"Hush, Guardian, you must not be rude to strangers," Resignation whispered in response to the dog's subdued growl. "He will not bite you, sir."
Father James made no reply, and the children passed him to enter the gate. The lad went on without vouchsafing the man a second glance, but Resignation paused with her soft hand on the still open gate.
"Would you like to come in, sir? It is not private. Would you like to come in and see my dear father's grave?"
"Your father's grave! Why should I want to see your father's grave, child?" The words were spoken so sharply that the child drew back a little; during all Resignation's little life these were the first words she had heard in any other tones than affection or pity, and she fixed her large calm eyes upon the man in a sort of mild wonder as she replied, "I beg your pardon; I thought you were the gentleman who has taken the house where papa used to live, and that you might like to see his grave."
"Who are you, child?" he asked in trembling tones, as his white face seemed to yet blanch of a more ghastly pallor.
"I am Resignation St. Herrick," she answered; "my father was Colonel St. Herrick."
"Stay, I will go with you," he murmured, as she was turning away with a disappointed look to follow her companion. The gentle child waited gladly until Father James had passed the gate, and then she closed it behind him. He allowed her to pass him, and then followed her up the narrow pathway between the long grasses of the old graves. If she could have known what was passing in that man's heart—if she could have read his thoughts, hidden beneath that outward calm and that priestly dress, what would Resignation St. Herrick have done, or what would the poor fatherless child have said?
He followed her light steps until she stopped near a grave, where flowers grew under that white marble headstone, on which the priest's eyes seemed fixed with such a stony glare that the lad who knelt by the grave with a trowel in his hand stared at him in wonder. If the words had been red hot, and pressed against the man's naked breast, his face could not have expressed a greater agony of fear and pain.
THE MEMORY OF
COLONEL THEODORE ST. HERRICK
FOULLY MURDERED AT MARRANGA,
JUNE 19TH, 186—
VENGEANCE IS MINE
I WILL REPAY, SAITH THE LORD.
The child saw that his eyes were tracing the words, and waited silently and respectfully until he turned his face away, and sat weakly down on a grassy tuft with his back to the headstone. The boy looked at Father James with a suspicion that he evidently shared with the dog, for at every movement of the man the animal showed his teeth, though silently, doubtless from respect to his young mistress's former reproof, but Resignation regarded the stranger with a yearning pity that her soft question explained. "Did you know my dear papa, sir?" and as a reply Father James shook his bowed head.
"You have perhaps lost a dear father, too? but not in so sad and cruel a way as I lost mine. Oh, it was cruel, cruel."
"It was worse than cruel; it was inhuman and cowardly!" cried the lad, striking the trowel on the grass he was kneeling on for emphasis; "and if I was a man and met him I would kill him as I would a snake."
"Who are you?" asked the priest, suddenly as he turned his face toward the vehement "Me? My name is Daniel."
"And Daniel is my friend," explained Resignation eagerly. "He has always helped me to keep papa's grave nice, and when he is a man he is going to find papa's murderer and get him punished."
She said the last words in a low, emphatic whisper, looking round her as if fearful of being overheard as in a matter of the most secret consequence.
"Yes, I shall find him," Daniel declared, proudly. "Old Nan wants to make a policeman of me—to run the villain down; but I shall find him without being a trap. He may hide himself anywhere—but I shall find him, for it is fated that my hand shall put the rope about his neck."
"How do you know?" asked the white-faced priest almost in a whisper.
"Because granny has said so, and she is a reader of the stars—they cannot lie, you know, and besides I feel that I shall know Dan Lyons by instinct if ever the villain comes near me."
"Was Dan Lyons the name of the man who—" and he nodded toward the head-stone, though he did not turn his eyes toward it.
"Yes, didn't you know?" Resignation asked wonderingly. "He was poor papa's mate in the claim, you know. It doesn't tell about it there"—and she pointed to the stone—"but mama has told me all about it over and over again. Dan Lyons buried my dear father alive—papa wrote about it in his note-book while he was dying, and mama has the note-book yet. Just fancy what it must have been to be crushed down in the dark ground alive, but smothering, and thinking of mama and me all the time! Oh, poor papa! But I would rather have been him, even then, than the wicked man that killed him, for he was going to heaven, but the murderer can never, ever go there."
"Are you sure of-that?" How eagerly the question was asked! with what trembling lips and craving eyes!
"Of course he can't!" cried Daniel; "he must go among the devils, for he was one of them! he was no man! didn't he bury the Colonel alive and stand looking at him and taunting him while he was dying? Only a devil could do that!"
"Maybe, Daniel, if he was truly penitent," Resignation said doubtfully; "if he is sorry and asks God for Christ's sake, He may forgive him after a great while."
"Never! all the sorrow in the world wouldn't undo his sin or make a dead man live again! Besides, if he was sorry he would have stood out before the world and confessed his crime!"
From one to the other of the children's faces Father James gazed eagerly. What could he be looking for? In Dan's eyes he saw only a fierce anxiety for justice on the murderer, in Resignation's a pitiful doubt, as her knowledge of God's mercy was contending with her righteous abhorrence of the man whose crime had made her fatherless.
"It was cruel," she repeated, as she patted the mould around some plant on the grave beside which she now knelt softly, "and if it was not my poor papa he had killed, I might be sorry for that bad man, but it is hardly natural for me to be sorry for him."
"Sorry for him? I wish I was old enough and—and I'd..."
"Vengeance is mine," repeated Resignation from the stone; "mama says, that as surely as God's sun shines in the sky God's vengeance will overtake Dan Lyons, the murderer."
From one young face to another the man looked voicelessly, the children now tending the flowers on the grave and not regarding him, but each engaged, with their own thoughts. At last the man shuddered from head to foot as though a fit had shaken him with its last throb, and he spoke to the boy.
"Did you say your name was Dan?"
"Yes, I wish it wasn't! Why did they call me the same name as that murdering wretch? I won't have it!"
"I never call you Dan," said Resignation softly; "Daniel is a nicer name, and the Daniel in the Bible was a good man."
"Your name is Dan?" persisted the stranger; "Dan what?"
"My name is Daniel Griffiths if you want to know," the boy replied defiantly, for he resented the priest's insisting on calling him Dan.
"What is your mother's name?"
"Ellen, Ellen Griffiths; she is old Nan Griffiths' daughter."
"My God!" murmured that wretched being, as he got up and went away past the growling dog, "surely my punishment is too great!"
The children both rose and stood looking after the priest's retreating form. Neither of them had heard his despairing ejaculation, that they could see from the unfortunate being's gestures that he was in great pain of some kind.
"He must be very ill," the gentle little girl said.
"Is that a clergyman?" asked Daniel, with, a heavy frown over his fine, and yet angry eyes.
"I think so. He is called Father James, you know Daniel, and don't you see his dress?"
"I know nothing about his dress; I never saw a priest before, but I know one thing, and that is that whoever that man is he is a bad one!"
"Oh dear, how can you tell? He was a little rude I think, but he looks ill, and sickness makes people short-tempered, mama says."
They resumed their work on the grave, and were silent for some moments, and it was Daniel who broke the silence by the abrupt question.
"Resignation, did you ever see a picture of Dan Lyons?"
"Oh no! why do you ask that?" the child asked, as she again lifted her eyes and rested them on the boy's face.
"Because I should like to know exactly what he was like; you know something about it, don't you? I've often asked mother to describe him to me, but she only turns her face away from me when I do. What was he like Resignation? What kind of face had he?"
"Mama has told me," was the reply in a low voice, as the little girl glanced around with a shudder; "and I often dream that I am looking in his bad face. He was a tall, stout man, with a fat, red face, and great coarse hands and feet. He used to drink awfully too, and was always bad, even before he killed my poor, darling papa."
"Of course he was," Daniel observed decidedly, "and Dan Lyons was big and fat—eh?"
"I wonder what became of him; the police never got on his track."
"Oh no, I hope he is dead."
"I hope he is not! I hope I shall see him die by inches!"
Resignation shook her head. Daniel's face was flushed with passion, his hands were clenched, and his grand dark eyes seemed to scintillate.
"It is so strange that you should feel it so," the girl declared, "Mama often remarks that if it had been your own father who was killed you could not have hated his murderer more."
"That is true, I could not."
Again there was a short silence, again broken by the lad.
"Resignation, tell me about a sensitive plant. What is it?"
"A sensitive plant! Oh, it is a plant whose leaves shrink and close at the slightest touch. Why, Daniel?"
"I wish we could get one and plant it here," said the boy, laying his hand just over where the heart of dead man had once rested. "Then, if Dan Lyons put his foot near this, the leaves would tell us."
"I'm afraid they could not do that, Daniel," Resignation said with a little sigh, "but God will tell us some day."
"Aye child, God will tell you some day, bit it will be so near the moment when you shall see your father's face for the first time that the horror of the knowledge shall be overwhelmed for ever in the brightness of an everlasting heaven."
AND that wretched being, who had rushed away from the grave, with his hands clenched and an awful horror in his eyes, opened the gate and went outside the fence of the enclosure. Where was he going? He did not know himself at the moment; anywhere, anywhere away from the presence of those children and the vicinity of that grave. He sat down when he had gone a little way down the hillside, and bent his white face into his hands, but that did not hide from his hidden eyes those staring black letters on the white stone: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."
There was the rustle of leaves and grass around him, and the twitter of birds over his head but he heard only the words Resignation's St Herrick had repeated as her mother's: "As surely as God's sun shines in the sky, God's vengeance will overtake Dan Lyons, the murderer."
Father James sat there for some time and then he suddenly lifted his head and looked up at the pale blue, sun flooded sky above him.. Was he thinking of the great First Cause whose dwelling our human veneration located high above the clouds, whether they float above the far East or the far West, the icy North or the frozen South? Was he doubting the possibility of a prayer reaching the foot of the Great White Throne through that pellucid ether that was as brass to the prayers of the unrepentant sinner? Who may tell? But he got up suddenly as he had seated himself, and drained a little flask he had in his pocket ere he went on his way with a determined step.
He muttered to himself as he went, strange words that but hinted wildly at the secret he carried.
"I have come all these miles to do it, and now that I am here I dread to speak. Nonsense, she is but a woman after all, and if she denies me I cannot be worse than I am."
It was toward a pretty cottage at the very outskirts of the township that his steps were turned. It lay in the midst of encircling verdure, and faced the creek. When one crossed the little bridge that crossed Roban Creek they stood at the gate of the cottage, on the very threshold, as it were, of the garden in front of it. This cottage was the one Mr. Pollard had built for the widow of Colonel St. Herrick, and he had done all that was possible to give brightness to the home of the poor lady whom all pitied; but he had failed. How is it that there is a something always visible in even the outside of a house to hint at the feelings indulged by those who inhabit it?
The garden of the cottage was neatly kept, for Resignation and her rough friend Daniel Griffiths spent much of their time in it, but the very flowers were chosen for their subdued tints. There were no flaunting colours there among the green freshness. Perhaps the principal reason that glaring and gaudy colours were avoided was the fact that everything at the cottage was cultivated with the one idea that at some time or other, in blossom or plant, must go to decorate that sacred grave of the husband and father.
In no garden round Marranga were seen such lovely white and yellow and pale bluish roses. May and jasmine and honeysuckle, and great pale passion-flowers made beautiful the trellis work of the summer-house and drooped from the verandah. In their season tall, white Easter lilies stood sentinel over the beds as did that white stone in the cemetery over the breast of the murdered man, and the Guelder Roses, big balls of clustering blossom, floated in a sea of green leaves near the pale blossoming lilac. Into this garden of pale, pure flowers stepped that black-robed man with the hollow eyes that we know as Father James.
If his heart beat hard and painfully there was no outward evidence of it as he knocked at the door, under the shadowed verandah. There was no sound to tell of life in that still house. The windows in front were hung with dark colours, and there was no floating-breeze-blown lace to give lightness and grace to the rooms within.
When Mrs. St. Herrick's great trouble fell upon her life she accepted it as full and complete as though no sun ever shone on God's other gifts, at least, for her. When she opened the door to that knock, Father James's eyes rested on a woman as white-faced as himself, and with robes as hopelessly black. She was young, at least comparatively so, thirty-two or -three years old perhaps, and she might have been beautiful once, but in her features there was no trace of gentle Resignation's sweet features or expression.
Mrs. St. Herrick's hair was dark and her eyes grey, but every feature was hard and cold and bitter, for she had never forgiven Fate for the cruel blow that had stricken her life's idol from her side. If I dared to say it I would hint that she had never forgiven the God who had afflicted her, and yet, strange anomaly, she had borne sweet, patient Resignation St. Herrick...
When she stood before the man it was with a hard questioning face that did not change until she grasped his errand.
"I am Father James Brady, the new tenant of St. Herrick's, and have some business with Mrs. St. Herrick."
"I am she," was the reply; but she made no movement to admit him.
"I have come on an errand of such moment that I am sure I need not apologise for requesting an interview. I have come to you at the request of that unhappy man, Dan Lyons."
"It is true, madam; I have come from him."
"Oh, heaven! has the time come at last! Shall I see my darling avenged at last—at last!" She had seized his arm with no gentle hand, and was dragging the priest into the sitting-room while she was speaking.
"He has been caught? He has given himself up? He has confessed? He is condemned? He will die? Come in and tell me all—all!"
He fell rather than sat down upon a chair near the door, and lifted his hat for a moment, only however as if to relieve himself of an intolerable burden for one moment, for he replaced it instantly. Mrs. St. Herrick had, however, seen the tonsure, and it was to her a confirmation of her dearest hopes.
"Yes, you are a priest," she added excitedly, "you have seen the monster, and he has confessed to you, and you bring me the glorious tidings."
"It is a mistake," the visitor replied in a low tone, as his eyes remained riveted on the carpet at his feet. "It is true that Dan Lyons has confessed to me, but he is far away in another land, and is not a prisoner."
"Not a prisoner. You know of his crime, yet the murderer is free. You then are an accomplice—a villain of as deep a dye as Dan the accursed himself!"
"I am a priest," the man replied, in a voice that trembled in spite of him, "and I received the confession of the man under the sacred seal of the confessional. I am here with the words that unhappy man has put in my mouth to speak to you. Will you listen to them?"
"Yes, I will listen." Mrs. St. Herrick sat down opposite Father James with her eyes full of the strong determination that was a prominent point in her character, and her heart was beating with a wild hope. Oh yes, she would listen, and with such acute ears that not one clue that might trap the spiller of blood should escape them.
"I must tell you his story—tell it to you from the moment when he fled from Marranga."
"From the moment that he knew my poor husband had written, denouncing him with fingers that were stiffening in darkness and death! Go on!"
"Well, he fled. He had means, for in the very instant the falling earth in the claim shut in St. Herrick's face, he saw gold in shining pieces in the soil around him, and secured enough to take him far away from the scene of his crime, nor was it exhausted when he came a repentant man, to the monastery of whose order I was a brother."
"Where was it?' the widow asked, as her breath came thick."
"It does not matter. It was on the Continent, and Dan Lyons gave the brothers his gold, and became one of the brotherhood, for years he lived an incarcerated and self-denying life in that monastery, only to grow thinner and whiter, and more bony and haggard with each day, nor he had not confessed his crime, and his sin lay like lead on his soul!
"At last he plucked up courage, and he confessed—"
"To you?" interrupted Mrs. St. Herrick.
"Yes, it was to me, and oh, the tale be told was awful enough to soften the hardest heart. Even you, against whom his sin was greatest, would have pitied the wretched being, had you heard the story of his sufferings."
"I! I pity Dan Lyons!" She actually laughed as she stared in the priest's face, a laugh that was as wild as was a laugh within the cell of a maniac.
"Yes you would," he cried angrily, and then she noted for the first time the smouldering fire in his deep-set eyes; "you are not a rock or a stone, you are a woman, and you must feel!"
"Yes, I feel!" Mrs. St. Herrick exclaimed. "I feel that if I could save Dan Lyons from eternal torture by lifting up my finger I should cut it off, lest I should lift it in my sleep. Who are you who asks a woman to pity her husband's murderer?"
"Listen yet," the priest went on, but both his pallor and the fire in his eyes were intensified as he saw the unforgiving passion in the widow's face, "you know the man's sin but you do not know its punishment. There is not a living being but the man who speaks to you now that knows what were the last words your husband spoke. Shall I tell them to you?"
"Yes, tell them."
"They were these: 'If you leave me here to-day, as you see my face now, you will see it at this hour every night until you die yourself, and your own death will be worse than mine—aye a hundred times.'"
"My husband said that?"
"Yes, and the curse has been fulfilled. It was after sundown when Dan Lyons left him there to die alone in the collapsed claim, and he did not die until after midnight."
"How do you know? Oh, my God, how do you know that my darling suffered so long?"
"Because from sunset to midnight for nearly twelve awful years Colonel St. Herrick's face is before Dan Lyons' eyes. No matter where he goes, or how he hides, it is there, always there. Seas have been between him and the dead man's grave, but that face is clear and fresh as though the real face had not mouldered to dust years ago. Oh, think of that wretched man's misery and pity him now."
Father James might have been pleading for himself so earnest, so craving, so pleading was his trembling tones. With his thin white fingers clasped as in prayer, be bent forward, and, with great tears in his awful eyes, begged for pity on the far distant man who had blood on his hands!
"Was it my pity he sent you all those thousands of miles to ask?" the widow said with a sneer.
"No, it was for your forgiveness, and in the name of that Christ we both worship give it to him."
"Never; if my own salvation was the forfeit I should not forgive Dan Lyons! Go man, you are mocking me! How dare you ask a widow to forgive the murderer of her husband."
"One moment yet, oh listen yet. A holy man has told that wretched man that the moment he receives your forgiveness he will cease to be a haunted man—oh, for the mercy and oh a pity and pity of Almighty God, forgive him!"
"You are mad!" she cried, as she rose and pointed to the door; "you are a madman and I am a lone woman—go! I heard that you were ill and I am sorry for you, but I did not know you were a lunatic or I would not have admitted you. I shall tell no one of this absurd visit, so you see I am merciful, though I would not forgive a monster."
He rose and faced her. "I am not mad," he said, "and I have only delivered Dan Lyons' message. Once more is your answer no—you will not forgive as you hope for forgiveness?"
"Never! Have I not said it? I am a woman, but I could see Dan Lyons tortured to death and rejoice in the eyes that enabled me to see it!"
Father James looked steadily into the excited woman's flashing eyes, a look that she never forgot and that punished her for her hard heart until the light of life left her own eyes.
"I have heard, your answer, and now listen to Dan Lyon's words. 'If she refuses, tell her that what she has suffered in the past shall be as nothing to what she shall suffer in the future—that I swear before high heaven!'"
If Dan had been swearing himself he could not have looked more terrible than that black robed man. As he lifted his thin hand up with the oath, Mrs. St. Herrick fell back on her seat scathed by the terrible look in his eyes, and Father James went out alone, brushing the pale flowers of the garden with the skirts of his black coat and wiping his feet on the threshold as one who leaves a curse behind him.
LET us suppose a gap of two or three weeks between the opening of this chapter and the close of the last, and note a few of the events that had occurred during those weeks.
In the first place shaft No. 2 in the gully had been cleared out, rigged with a windlass and other digging gear, and a company of four, formed as proprietors, though but two of them were working partners. Of the four of course Tady and his master were two, and the other two were Charlie Ellis, the favourite young trooper stationed at Marranga, and a young man named George Clark, the son of a farmer in the vicinity of the township.
In claim No. 1 a great deal of work had also been done, but there was a great deal more to do. For one thing the No. 1 workings had been originally far more developed than any other opened in the gully, and had, at the time of the murder, and in consequence of the murderer's displacement of the props to effect his purpose, fallen in almost from the surface, so that to enable the mining to be resumed on the original plan, a great deal of clearing-out work had to be done.
While his brother Conn and other engaged men were occupied in this work, Father James had been almost entirely confined to his room, and no one could doubt his illness who looked into his face. There was a dreadful warfare going on in that miserable man's breast—a warfare that Nora never once was aware of or noticed, that Conn saw but did not quite understand, but that Mrs. Brady watched with a keen eye and a purpose deathly and vindictive.
He wandered around the gardens in the dusk of evenings; avoiding his kind as though the sight of a human face was hateful to him, and more especially did the sight of his mother act upon him in the strangest manner. He would shudder if his eye met her's, and turn away hurriedly sometimes, while at others he would meet her look with one so awful—so full of white, threatening anger—that she would hasten away with the fear of she dared scarcely think what in her hardened heart. In thee dead hours of night, too, there were sometimes heard shrieks as for mercy, and shouts as of triumph, and groans as of a deathly agony, and when, those of St. Herrick's heard them they were wont to cover their heads up in the bed-clothes, and wait for silence in fear and trembling.
But St. Herrick's was far from another house, and no hint of these disturbances bad as yet leaked out for Nora, who was the only ignorant one of the family, was a heavy sleeper, and easily terrified by a hint at ghosts; so they had little trouble with her; only Tady, her lover, felt the troublesome effects of the ghost rumour, for Nora would not meet him after dusk for all his bribes of ribbons and cheap jewellery, and he was working so hard in the day time that he could not snatch many moments to gladden his little eyes with a sight of his darling's face.
ONE brilliant morning, when the sun's rays were sparkling in the water of Creek Roban, like a rain of diamonds, and when every leaf and flower seemed to have retained all the freshness of the sweet dew, Leonard Prosser mounted his horse and rode the short distance between the Marranga Hotel and the Marranga Police Station. His destination was the latter, for during the time that has elapsed since I closed my last chapter, Leonard had formed a sincere liking for young Trooper Ellis, who had by chance become a partner in No. 2 claim with Leonard Prosser.
As the young Irishman rode up to the station, Charlie Ellis led his horse out from the stable by a side gate and brightly greeted his new friend, and if one had called a parade of all the "mounted men" in Australia, they could not have picked out a cleaner-limbed, a better made, or a handsomer faced member of the corps than Trooper Charlie Ellis.
No one ever called him "Chawles." You could not fancy such a thing, looking in his bright, open, boyish face. He was Charlie with every one, and, as I have said before, a favourite with every one also.
"My word, what a killing swell you are this morning, Charlie!" said Leonard, as he drew his horse up, "whoever gets your breeches up deserves a testimonial."
"Yes, Prosser, I flatter myself they're a good fit," said the young chap as he scanned his handsome limbs, "but as for being a swell, you must remember that it is not every one who can afford to dress as carelessly as yourself."
"Is that intended for a rap, Charlie?" asked Leonard with a smile; "well, I believe I am rather careless, but isn't this tweed good enough for this occasion, eh?"
"You know I don't mean that, Prosser; I mean that your appearance is always that of a gentleman, no matter what you wear, while I must be natty to be noticed at all."
"Oh, such apparent modesty! I thought you were above fishing for compliments, Ellis? I am certain that you know as well as everybody else that there is not a handsomer young chap within miles."
"I know I'm not bad looking, but I envy your inches, and your broad shoulders. I'm such a little chap, Leonard."
"Do you call five feet eight little?"
"Well, yes, I do—for a man. Do you know that Miss Clark is five feet six and a half." Leonard laughed pleasantly, and poor Charlie's face grew rosy as a girl's. "That was a slip at any rate, my dear fellow, and so it is in comparison, with Miss Clark's inches that you are disgusted with your own? Now, do you know that I should much prefer your medium length of limb to my own?"
"Would you really?"
"Yes; and ladies, especially tall ones," he added, with a sly glance at his companion as they rode away together, "always like men of medium size best."
"Hum—I hope it may prove so in this instance, for to tell you the truth as a friend, Prosser, all my future happiness depends on Fanny Clark's opinion of me."
"My dear fellow, you have my very best wishes," and the hands of the two young men were clasped, "and I think that as she is a young lady of taste there can be no doubt as to the result of your hopes."
"But look at my position, Leonard. How can I ask any girl brought up as she has been to become a policeman's wife? The very name is enough. If the claim would fulfil Tady's expectations now, there would be some chance."
"Let us hope Tady will be a good prophet then, if only for your sake, Charlie. You know I care very little for my own. I have enough for comfort, and have no craving for anything beyond what my income will afford me."
"Lucky fellow!" exclaimed Ellis, "and you have never fallen in love, yet?"
"In love? Oh fifty times! I have been in love always ever since I can remember until within the last few years. I think I must have used up all my allowance of what is called love in my school days, and so have none left for my years of discretion."
"What is called love?" Charlie repeated. "Don't you believe in the feeling, then?"
"I can't from personal experience at least," replied Leonard; "for the feeling that did duty for love with me was so inconstant that it seldom lasted longer than until circumstances brought me in contact with a new face. But talking of the tender passion now, there's an instance if you like in my friend Tady Connor," and the speaker threw back his handsome head and laughed joyously.
"Is the d—— fool in earnest?" asked Charlie, with disgust.
"In earnest? I should think so! He is thinking of Nora and nuggets from morning until night, and from night until morning, too, for he mutters 'me darlin' asthore machree Nora,' in his dreams, and fancies he is stringing nuggets to hang round her beweteful neck—oh yes, he is in earnest—quite!"
"Ridiculous!" cried the young trooper almost angrily, "a man of his age and appearance!"
"Be merciful, my dear young Adonis!" returned Leonard with a smile that showed his strong white teeth under his glossy moustache; "must one be handsome to have a heart? I assure you that poor Tady has one, and a warm and true one in spite of his disproportionate shape and funny limbs."
"I don't doubt all that, but at his years one might expect sense enough to hide any ridiculous exhibitions of his folly."
"I'm afraid Tady does not think sufficiently of appearances," responded Leonard with gravity and a sly glance at Charlie's "cords."
"In one sense he does, quite enough," retorted the young "bobby" with some heat; "I'm sure when he dons that blue suit with the brass buttons his airs of conscious self-appreciation are sickening! and besides how can he feel anything for a girl like that?"
"Is Miss Nora Brady not so lovely and lovable as poor Tady imagines her then? You know I have never seen her."
"Nora Brady is a lump of a girl without, I do believe, one ounce of brains. I don't believe I ever saw in my life a creature so unutterably stupid and animal-like as she."
"She is no favourite then, Charlie?"
"Not of mine, and I detest the whole family!"
Leonard looked wonderingly at his companion. Himself of a calm and even temper and an unexcitable temperament, to him the strong feeling exhibited by Charlie Ellis was a matter of surprise.
"I had business at St. Herrick's one day," the young trooper went on, "and had an opportunity of seeing something of these Brady's. Mrs. Brady especially has one of the worst faces I ever saw, and if there was any underhand and hidden law-breaking going on in Marranga, I should be inclined to look for a clue to it under the roof of St. Herrick's."
"Talking of St. Herrick's, that was a sad thing about Colonel St. Herrick's murder. Now if I were a policeman I think I should feel deeply interested in that crime, especially stationed here on the spot."
"So I do. By George! I never see that sweet-looking, sad-faced child, but I feel as if I could give a good deal to punish the villain, Dan Lyons, if it was only for her sake."
"Poor little girl!" said Leonard, sympathetically, "but from what I have heard it is her mother's influence which has made life so gloomy to the child. She has heard nothing since she could understand it, but reiterations of the story of her father's murder, and anathemas and vows of vengeance on his murderer."
"Doubtless to a certain extent poor Resignation's character has been influenced by her mother's injudicious teaching, but her constitution, her delicacy, must be owing, in a great measure, to the shock before her birth."
"Most probably. But here we are Charlie, and here is Pollard."
It was to be a great little day in Marranga, for No. 2 Claim in the awful gully of murder was going to be christened. The idea had originated entirely with Tady Connor, and he had also conceived the grand notion of getting Father James to perform the ceremony.
To his friends Tady had explained the notion in this way: "Ye see the Gully has a bad name and a curse on it intirely, intirely, and may the saints be between us an' all harm—sure it's the 'Murder Claim' every one calls No. 1, so if; we could get his reverence to christen our Claim."
"With holy water, Tady?" irreverent Charlie had interrupted, just there to meet with as reply a withering look of scorn from the little Irishman.
"To christen the claim wid a dacent name, I say, would take away the disgrace of it an' the bad name of it too, wouldn't it now, Mr. Leonard?"
"What would you call It, Tady?"
That was a puzzler. Tady took off his hat, and while holding it in one hand scratched his red head fiercely with the other. Not that he had not thought of the name long before, that you know, but how could he propose to call the claim "my darlin'" or "Bewchewful Nora," or any one of the bewitching and fond appellation she bestowed on heavy, half idiotic Nora Brady, so he scratched his head, stared at the distant roof of St. Herrick's, where dwelt his beloved, and replied that he was only one out four and didn't know, and besides, he didn't care what name they gave it go as it was a decent Christian name.
And at last young Ellis proposed a shake in the hat for it, each partner to throw for his chosen appellation. They were funny names, the chosen four, and stood in this way.
Leonard Prosser simply altered "No. 1" to "A 1".
George Clark said he thought "Die Hard" would do very well, and was met by a look of horror from Tady and merry laugh from Leonard.
"Die hard!" cried Tady, "what do you want to die at all, hard or aisy for? Blest if I ever heard sich a foolish name!"
"True for you, Tady, give us your own," said his master, and poor Tady, driven to his trenches, whispered that he thought he'd propose "The darlin' claim."
"You darling Tomfool!" exclaimed the young Trooper angrily, "do you want us to be laughing stocks?"
"Your own name then Charlie?"
"Hope 1" he cried, and without tossing for it at all, The Hope claim was chosen with acclamation.
That occurred some days previous to the one appointed for the actual christening, however, and father James had proved deaf to poor Tady's pleadings that he would christen for them. In fact Tady came back from his visit to St. Herricks in a rather flustered state, and it was whispered that Father James had chased the deputation off down to the gate with a horsewhip, but that assertion Connor angrily denied.
Everything, was ready for the ceremony on this suspicious day, and perhaps the fact that Fanny Clark was to break the bottle of wine on the occasion of naming the claim, so counted in some measure for Charlie Ellis's particular attention to his toilet that day.
"Don't we look gay!" exclaimed the genial J.P. as he greeted Leonard and Charlie, "yet there is something painful to me—absolutely painful—in the contrast between our preparations and that."
The young man's eyes followed the gentleman's pointing feature, and saw, sitting on a rock on one sided of the gully, Resignation St. Herrick, with the great dog Guardian by her side.
"She has heard so much of the awful event that ruined her young life that I do not doubt she looks with something like honour at any attempts at festivity on the spot."
"One can scarcely call Tady and George's preparations festivity," said Leonard, "though I believe they have provided for the breakage of more than one bottle on the occasion."
"That they have; go in and have a look at the tent."
The tent was a middle-sized; new one, rigged up to be used as a shelter during the necessary changes of attire while the men were cleaning out the wet shaft, and it was now swept and garnished for the temporary reception of the few friends invited to the christening of the claim.
Tady's taste had decorated the ridge-pole with green branches, and the entrance was a perfect bower of verdure. A makeshift table in the centre was ornamented with a very respectable array of bottles and glasses, and Tady himself in working dress only was grinning with delight and pride as he surveyed his work.
But the great attraction of the day was the tall flag-pole that had been erected at no great distance from the shaft itself. It was rigged, duly with signal-halyards, to which was properly bent the flag that was in future to wave proudly over No. 2 claim. But no one, save the initiated, had as yet seen the new flag itself, about the design of which there had been much discussion, and which had been finally left to Tady's supervision.
There was not more than a couple of dozen of persons at the claim altogether, and there was much laughing and chaffing among them as they awaited the last arrivals.
"Now I call this cruel on the part of Miss Fanny," said Leonard, with a sly look at Charlie Ellis, "to keep as waiting when we are dying with curiosity to get a good look at Tady's flag."
"Dying for a pull out of one of those champagne bottle's more likely," returned George Clark, a jolly and good-looking young chap of twenty-five or six. "It isn't every day we kill a pig—I mean taste champagne, and by Jove, I hope the claim will pay for it!"
"It will then," said Tady Connor, sententiously. "Aye, an' twinty more bottles of champagne this very day, you may bet your last shillin' on that, Mr. George Clark, esquire."
"Everyone looked at the Irishman now, and everyone laughed and noticed for the first time his especial air of importance. The gravity, the consequence of his air and manner was immense, was important, was astounding; and it was also so solemn that his oldest friend observed and could not account for it.
"Has anything gone wrong, Tady?" he asked, adding an aside to Ellis. "By George, I'm afraid the claim is flooded from No. 1!"
"No, Mr Leonard sir, nothing has gone wrong, nothing whatever."
"Well, that is satisfactory," replied Leonard.
"Yes sir, it is satisfactory," returned Tady stiffly, with his scrubby chin drawn back well into his throat, "an' if it would be any satisfaction to the present company here present to know that in so far as not bein' wrong, to the contrary everything is right as I, always, ever an' always, sir, tould you it would be."
"Hear, hear!" applauded young Clark, to be withered by a look of ineffable scorn from Tady, who turned his back to him in disgust.
"You had always great faith in No. 2 certainly, Tady," accorded Leonard, who always tried to humour the innocent whims of his follower. "I wish we all had your confidence in the future of our claim."
"You might have it yet, sir, aye, before the brave flag is known to the jackasses an' parrots about these parts."
"By Jove he's got a touch of the sun!" whispered George, who was, to tell the truth, somewhat in awe of the odd little Irishman.
"A touch of the grog, rather," muttered Charlie Ellis, who had a great "down" on drink.
"I don't know what to make of him," laughed Leonard. "I never saw Tady so entirely stiff and consequential before."
"He's afraid to stir for fear he'll fall," growled Charlie with disgust. "A pretty sight for a young lady to see."
"I don't think Tady's been drinking," young Prosser said gravely. "Over indulgence has never been one of my foster brother's failings."
"Oh, the poor fellow is all right, and here comes Miss Clark and her good father," observed Mr. Pollard, as he looked toward the entrance of the Gully, where two horses and their riders were to be seen rapidly approaching.
What need is there to describe Fanny Clark? Thank heaven there are hundreds of such girls in grand Australia! With the fresh cheeks, the lithe graceful figure, and the active movements induced by a perfect and untrammelled health, Fanny Clark was a pattern of fair womanhood, and in every feature of her winning face was expressed the brightest of temperaments and the best of hearts. Her riding skirt was of the plainest make, and material, her broad hat worn for need instead of ornament, but many a fine lady who fancies herself the observed of all beholders as she rides for show in some fashionable row, would have been put to the blush by Fanny's perfect and natural horsemanship.
For after all who, of womankind, can sit on the back of a horse with the perfect ease and confidence of the girl who can go and fetch her favourite out of her own grass paddock, and, at a pinch, groom and saddle it herself? The animal is familiar with every tone and every movement of the being whose hand has caressed and fed it since perhaps it was a foal, and there is a perfect confidence on either side that can never be otherwise acquired. I am certain that when pretty Fanny Clark alighted from Nell, her favourite mare, and was welcomed with effusion by the men awaiting her, that sensible animal was quite as proud of her young mistress's consequence at the moment as her young mistress was herself.
"I don't deserve to get such an ovation," declared the smiling girl as she was shaking hands all round, "for I am late, but the butler was rebellious this morning and wouldn't come quick. Now, Tady, won't you show me the flag, for I'm dying of curiosity?"
"All in good time, Miss Fanny," Tady replied very stiffly; "Whin your purty mouth has gev the claim the name, it's to be known by hereafter, you'll see the flag; and not one minnit afore.".
"All right, Tady! so now that we are all here are we all ready for the important ceremony?"
"Yes, everything is ready, Miss Clark," said Leonard; "Ellis has the bottle of wine in his hand, and Tady's flag is ready for hoisting. By the way, Tady, who is to hoist the wonderful bit of bunting?"
"Tady Connor is," replied that individual himself; "he's the man that has the beat right to do that same."
Charlie Ellis again favoured the Irishman with a look that Tady afterwards declared "was as good as a summons," and whispered to Leonard, "If he's not tipsy he's crazy—that's all."
Young Prosser was at a fault in his judgement of his fosterer himself, for long as he had known Tady he had never observed him in such a strange mood as he seemed to be on this important day. He looked his humble friend in the face as he said—"There's something unusual to come out yet, Tady, eh?"
"There is, sir," proudly replied Tady, "an' what it is you'll hear in a brace of shakes, now."
"All right, old friend."
They gathered around the shaft, a little group of men, with glad, animated, bronze faces, and pretty Fanny among them, as Ellis afterwards declared, like a flower among a lot of vegetables. Proudly the young trooper grasped the bottle of "gold top" that was to moisten the unconscious claim in the rite of baptisement, and had there been any jealous watchers, not a few stolen soft glances might have been intercepted between Charlie and the sweet-faced girl. "Now, tell me what I'm to do with this bottle?" she asked, laughingly; "it seems almost a pity to waste such nice wine, eh, Tady?"
"No, Miss, it doesn't," was the sturdy answer; "if there was better the claim's worth it."
"Very well, Tady. Now, I shall break this bottle against the windlass; and as the delicious fluid streams into the thirsty soil I declare the claim duly christened the 'Hope A1.'"
"Stop for one minnit, Miss Fanny, till I have my say," interrupted Tady, as he arranged the halyards ready for hoisting his mysterious banner. "In the first place I've changed the name, an' it isn't to be the Hope at all, at all."
"What, changed the name!" It was almost a universal exclamation. Leonard repeated it with one of his pleasant smiles; young Clark cried it out with a surprised tone, and uplifted eyebrows; while Charlie Ellis' face flashed angrily.
"You've got a blessed amount of cheek, Mr. Tady," the young trooper hotly added to the exclamation, "to take upon yourself so much without consulting anyone! There happens to be four partners in this claim, and you are only one of them."
"Thrue for ye, Misther Policeman," returned Tady, without losing one iota of his new sententiousness; "but the differ is, you see, that I'm the best one of the four."
Such a laugh greeted this self-assertion as rang through the bush like a new music—a laugh that might seem to be against poor Charlie, and was actually led by Fanny herself. How, indeed, could she or any one present know that poor Charlie's anger about the name of the claim was because he had, as it were, incorporated the "Hope" upon which they had decided as his own hope that he might yet be in a position to ask Fanny's father for Fanny's dear hand? So the laugh raised by the girl herself was echoed by all without an idea of Charlie Ellis' discomfiture.
"You're the queerest, Tady," gasped Fanny, as the tears induced by irrepressible mirth rolled down her peachy cheeks, "whatever do you mean?"
"I mean, Miss, that the claim is to be called The Nugget," shouted Tady, "and that you'll plase now to Christen it that name."
"Do so if you please, Miss Clark; Tady had some good reasons for his decision."
It was Leonard Prosser who said this, and in a trice the bottle of "gold top" was raised In the laughing girl's plump hand.
"Break it here, Miss Fanny," instructed Tady, and as she obeyed him and broke the bottle in the centre of the windlass, the champagne flowed over the rope coiled on the barrel and ran down the shaft while she was giving it its name.
"I declare this claim, lately known as No. 2, to be duly christened the Nugget," was what she cried laughingly, and at the words Tady's flag was hoisted, and amid cheers from the young men, mingled with laughter and astonished words, floated oat from the pole with all its elegance of design and hue at last visible to the admiring World in Murder Gully.
"In the name of all the lunatic asylums in Ireland, what does that daub represent?" cried Charlie, angrily, as he stared up at the fluttering bunting, and silence alone replied during some seconds when every eye and brain was at work trying to decipher the device upon it.
"By Jove, its a cauliflower!" shouted George Clark.
"It's not unlike a lump of butter, before its printed with some green leaves round it," whispered Fanny to Charlie Ellis, to his great satisfaction, while Leonard only looked grave, and acknowledged himself puzzled too.
"Tady has a surprise in store for us, I am certain, and I am afraid to guess what it is," he said.
"You needn't, Master Leonard," screeched Tady (no other word would describe the tone). "You needn't, for it is thrue! Oyey, sir, what did I tell ye, at home an' everywhere, an' it's thrue, every word av it!"
He had thrown his arms around Leonard as well as he could, and was hugging him like a mad bear (as Charlie afterwards remarked.) I say as well as he could, for you know his young master was almost head and shoulders taller than Tady, and he was pulling at him and dancing irrepressibly around him until Leonard had to cry for quarter and put him away from himself almost by main force.
"It's all right, my good fellow, but our friends will think you are mad! They don't know you as well as I do, Tady. See, there's Ellis seriously considering the necessity of taking you in charge!"
"I'll take him in charge!" exclaimed the Irishman, as he turned toward Charlie. "He's been sneerin' an' laughin' at me all the mornin', an' now I'll punish him for it! Misther Ellis, esquire, rowl round that windlass handle anear you!"
If Tady had been a general at a review he could not have given the word of command with a greater air of authority, or when it was not obeyed, repeated it more angrily. "Rowl it round I say!"
"Do it," said Leonard, with a nod, and Charlie seized the handle of the windlass and began to draw up whatever was attached to the rope.
"What's coming, Tady?" asked young Clark. "Is it the empty bucket?"
"No, sir, it's not the empty bucket," replied Tady, as the bucket was slowly drawn into view. "Go, Mr. Leonard, and see what's in the bucket."
Leonard advanced and landed the bucket. As he went over it, every breath was suspended, and Tady was a study himself, though an unobserved one. When young Prosser put out his hand and unhooked the bucket, Charlie Ellis let go the windlass crank, and ran to examine the vessel as Leonard placed it on the ground. Fanny was foremost among the others as they crowded curiously round. Tady alone stood still, and shut out, as it were, with a queer grin on his queer-looking face.
"What ever is it?" asked Fanny's clear voice, as she leaned with her pretty ear suspiciously close to the young trooper's.
"By Jove!" shouted George Clark.
Leonard lifted his eyes from the bucket to meet those of Tady, who could no longer contain himself, bat shouted as he tossed his hat high in the air. "Hurrah for the Nugget Claim A1! Three cheers for the Nugget Claim! Hip, hip, hurrah!"
But there was not a voice joined in, for poor Charlie Ellis had staggered, white and faint, and with his eyes fixed on Fanny's, was holding by Leonard's shoulder for support. I have seen stronger and older men than poor Charlie faint dead away as they tried to realise that a fortune had just been unearthed by one stroke of the pick, and lay before them in the shape of a big nugget, with the clay yet clinging to its dull, yellow sides!
"Is it goin' to faint over it ye are, poor b'y?" asked Tady, as he flew to the champagne basket, and offered a brimming glass to the young policeman; "drink that, and 'twill pull ye together again! Glory be to God, there's nothin' killin' in the sight of a man's own gold, and there's plenty more where that there came from! Aye, Miss Fanny, lift it up, an' heft it asthore, and 'twill make your party eyes' brighter than they are, if that's a possible thing!"
Fanny obeyed, lifting the clay-soiled nugget out of the bucket, and holding it out at arm's length for it was dripping with wine! The christening bottle had been broken, so that most of its contents went down into the suspended bucket and over its precious contents.
"And this is your secret, Tady?" asked Leonard, as soon as Charlie had drank his wine and was a man again; "how long have you kept it from us?"
"Since yesterday week only, sir, and the divil's own job I had to get another flag ready in time! Now, Mistier George, what do ye think of the cauliflower?"
Once more every eye was lifted to the flag that braved the air of the Gully, and yet Tady's explanation was necessary to tell them that the yellow daub was intended to represent the nugget itself, and the green leaves George had so disrespectfully fancied belonging to the cauliflower was a wreath of shamrocks painted by Tady's own hand! Above this elegant device were the words, "The Nugget Claim A1;" and great credit did honest Tady take to himself for the whole affair.
"Well, Tady, I never knew you were an artist before," said his master.
"No, nor I either, Mr. Leonard, but whin I tackled it I was determined not to be bet; and I wasn't—I did ivery bit of it with them' ten fingers," and he sprawled them out before him, ten as knobbly and crooked fingers as Her Majesty's dominions could boast. Then you should have heard the compliments that overwhelmed the happy Irishman, and the cheers that ran through that gully. Then you should have seen the quantity of champagne that was broached and the number of "dead marines," in the shape of empty bottles, that were scattered around!
Up on the side of the Gully, where little Resignation, guarded by her big dog, sat so sadly, Daniel Griffiths, the boy whom she called her friend, watched the proceedings around the shaft with a wide-eyed wonder. He was naturally a shrewd lad, and soon saw that something unusual was going on.
"I know they were going to christen the claim to-day," he said, as he shaded his eyes from the sun and commented on the doings below, "but they've pulled something wonderful up out of the shaft in a bucket. I wonder what it is? Would you be afraid to stop here with Guardian while I run down to find out, Resignation?"
"No," the child said, "and I should like to know, too. Do you think, dear Daniel, it would be anything about papa?"
"How could it? Not if it was at No. 1 Claim where they are clearing out the drives it might be, for something of poor papa's were missing, were they not?"
"Yes, a hat; and a knife that papa always carried, and that had his name on it. Go, Daniel, and see."
AS we have just noticed, there was work going on in No. 1 Claim. Men were engaged in clearing out and timbering the drives; but it happened on the day that Tady's nugget was introduced to the christening party on No. 2 claim, these men were working at some distance underground, and it was only the continued cheering from above that at length attracted the nearest worker, who happened to be Father James' brother, Cornelius Brady, to the shaft. They were not favourites, somehow, this family at St. Herrick's, and held but little communion with the residents in the neighbourhood, and it had so happened that Conn Brady was quite unaware of the intended ceremony on No. 2 claim.
We are aware that Father James had been invited by Tady to take a prominent part in the proceedings, but he had not imparted that fact to the family, and Tady was himself so anxious to keep the secret of his nugget to encourage any gossiping friendship between himself and the party in the next claim. So when Conn Brady climbed up the shaft of No. 1 and, stood, with evident wonder in his eyes, staring at the group of merrymakers on No. 2, Leonard saw him with a feeling that his party had not behaved well to the Brady's.
"It was an oversight on our part not to have incited the men in No. 1 to our christening," that young gentleman said, "or did they refuse to come, Tady?"
"Divil a chance they had to do that;" Tady replied, sturdily; "one refusal was enough for me; an' if the place wasn't good enough for his reverence it wasn't good enough for his mates. There's himself now comin' along to see who's doin' what he ought, by rights to have done himself."
"Well, the idea of asking a priest to christen a claim was the very last one I should have expected from you, Tady," Leonard replied, as he turned his eyes toward the advancing figure; "but there is no doubt whatever that they have a right, in fair play, to know of our golden prospects that must affect their own in No. 1. What say you, gentlemen?"
"Tell them, of course!" cried George Clark, while Mr. Pollard expressed a very decided opinion that it would be churlish in the extreme not to do so. By this time the black-robed figure of Father James was so near the claim as to be almost within hearing, and Leonard Prosser walked quickly toward him. "I am sorry you would not join us, Father James," he said, "but I am sure you will come and inspect our good fortune. My friend Connor has been lucky enough to drop on a nugget, which he has kept a secret from us until within the last few moments."
"A nugget!" Father James repeated, "in your claim; in the claim known as No. 2?"
"In the claim to be known in future as the Nugget Claim, sir," replied Leonard smilingly, as he pointed to the flag yet new to the lonely gully, "you will come and see it?"
Father James bowed silently and followed young Prosser He looked worn and haggard beyond the power of pen to describe. The lump of gold was now lying in the tent on the rude table among the bottles, which latter Leonard pushed away so that the priest might have a full view of the valuable find. The sight evidently affected him, but it was in so strange a manner that it was remembered for long after. He laid his long, thin hands on the gold and lifted it, and then let fall so suddenly that bottles and glasses rattled loudly.
"It weighs?" he said questioningly, as he looked in the young man's face.
"Tady tells us it turns the scale at two hundred and fifty ounces."
"One thousand pounds worth! There are four of you, and that is £250 each. It will buy a good deal, but it will not buy one single hour's peace of mind."
"True, sir, but honest men may have that without purchase. You will drink success to both claims, sir?"
The priest took the champagne glass Leonard tendered him—took it with such eager, trembling avidity that those around him looked wonderingly at one another. "I drink to the success of both claims," he said; "to both claims, mind. Ha, ha, ha!" and he tossed the wine at one draught down his throat. Oh it was a hollow, wild laugh that, and its sound had an unpleasant effect on the hitherto little happy group of friends.
As Father James put down the empty glass, and hastened out with scant ceremony, they followed him, exchanging whispers that were in some instances, perhaps, far more charitable than he deserved.
"An unhappy man if there was ever one," Mr. Pollard said; "and a sick one," returned Leonard. "I don't think I ever saw out of a sick bed a more pain-worn face."
"He may be a priest; but if he is it's a clear case of wolf in sheepskin," whispered Charlie to Fanny; "Did you ever see such a hang-dog face, Miss Clark?"
"Poor soul," said Fanny, as she looked after the retreating form with the infinite pity of true womanhood in her sweet eyes, "he must have suffered greatly."
Yes; that man had suffered much; he was suffering now, as he seemed trying to fly from the pretence of his rejoicing fellow men. His brother had stood watching the tent while Father James had drank the champagne, stood with the bucket he had just hauled up and unhooked in his hands, as he had been about to empty its contents on the summit of the stuff thrown up high around the shaft. He emptied it now as his brother emerged from the tent, for Leonard was beckoning to him to come and see the nugget. As Conn descended the elevation, wondering what he was required for, the liquid he had poured from his bucket began to obey the laws of gravitation, and seek its own level.
Where it fell into dried ruts and filled them darkly with little streams of a strange collared fluid, the stuff that had been thrown up from the shaft was chiefly yellow clay, with a great proportion of pipeclay, gleaming white as snow in the sunlight, and on this pipeclay the small streams settled into one, and came down slowly as it thickened on the way by the particles it thirstily imbibed, until it stopped at the priests feet and slowly widened to a little pool there under his starting eyes. He had seen this strangely hued liquid as he lifted his eyes towards Conn, his brother, and watched it stealing down toward him on the spot where his black-robed form seemed to attract it. The power of movement left his limbs—the moisture of his late draught of wine had so suddenly left his lips that his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth. At the moment when that red fluid stopped before him, spreading and widening into the pool that deemed as thick and viscid as real blood to his strained gaze, that wretched man could not have uttered a word if death had been the forfeit.
He had stopped suddenly, stooping his white face over the little red pool, upon which the sun rays burned like fire until Conn's figure was very near him, and then the power of movement was restored to him. Throwing up his thin arms he shouted a cry so horrid that the birds flew away up the gully affrighted, and every human being within hearing shuddered.
"It is blood!" he shrieked. "Blood! blood! blood! Why does it follow me? I shed not one drop! Oh, hide me! hide me!"
"Brother James, for all our sakes!" whispered his brother, as he ran and caught the priest's dropping hands. "For the love of God be quiet, for there are ears and eyes upon your words!"
"I don't care if there were devils, it is true! See, it is blood! blood! blood!" and then he fell back into his brother's arms in some kind of fit.
"IT is a very strange thing," said Mr. Pollard, when the priest had partially recovered, and was gone home, leaning on Conn, "the colour is peculiar."
"But why should any colour terrify his reverence so?" asked Charlie Ellis, doubtfully. "If it was really blood, it need not frighten a man unless he has a bad conscience."
"I don't understand it at all," Fanny Clark observed anxiously. "What is the matter with Father James?"
"That is a question for a doctor to answer, I am afraid," replied Leonard in a low tone. "The immediate cause of his attack appeared to be the colour of the slash there, which the priest took for blood."
"But it isn't, Mr. Prosser?" the young girl asked anxiously.
"No. It seems they are bailing out a dip in one of the old drives where there is a stratum of red clay. The liquid is red certainly, especially in contrast with the white stuff over which it has flowed, but see, now that the sun has gone, how different it looks—no one could mistake it for anything but discoloured water."
It was true, the sun had gone! All at once, as if anew the evil influence had regained its power, over Murder Gully, a black cloud had crept over the luminary, and everything looked cold and gloomy, as it had been wont to do in that deserted spot. The birds had flown away in the shadow of the cloud; the dead trees over the "murder claim" looked ghastly as ever, the withered grass under them as though it had never been green. And all at once a deep howl that seemed to spring from the side of the gully was lifted up and echoed all round from rock to rock, in such an awful, long sustained warning, that even sturdy and unimpressible Farmer Clark started and looked up toward the spot where Resignation St. Herrick had been but a short time previous.
"In the name o' Sod, what's that?" gasped Tady, as he crossed himself, and looked quickly around him.
"It's a dog howling," Leonard replied, "and it seems to come from somewhere on that side of the gully. By-the-bye, the little girl and her dog was there a little ago, eh, Ellis?"
"Yes, and young Daniel Griffiths with them."
"The lad was over there talking to Conn a minute ago," some of the bystanders said, "but he went back up the rocks again to join Resignation, I guess."
"But Resignation has gone," Fanny whispered. "I noticed that, she was no longer up there when Father James joined us. Oh, Father, come away home out of this. I feel shivery and cold, as if something was going to happen."
"A thunderstorm is going to happen, I think, and so we will bid our friends goodbye, and make our way back," the farmer said, as he remounted, and left Charlie Ellis the welcome task of helping Fanny to her saddle; and then there were general adieux, but 'the happy jocularity' seemed to have been damped by the sound of Guardian's howl or the gloom of the shadowing cloud, for it was an almost silent party of four that were left with their nugget and their new flag on the Nugget Claim.
"You had better take the gold to the camp with you, Charlie," suggested Leonard, "it is the safest place I know of; and now let us finish off the champagne, for we need not leave full bottles to Tady's Jackasses."
At the sound of his name, Tady lifted his eyes from the dark pool, that was being rapidly absorbed as he gazed at it, and turned such a woebegone face toward his foster brother that the young gentleman smiled broadly at him.
"What has come over you at all, Tady? You were the life of the christening a bit ago, and now you are as gloomy-looking as an owl. What has come over you, eh?"
"What has come over us all, Mr. Leonard? What has come over the sun, that was here a minute ago? Where are the birds gone that were whistlin' above there a bit ago? What makes George's face there as white as a rag? What brings down that sough of wind like the cry of a dying man for help? God forgive us all, but I'm afeard the curse hasn't yet been lifted out of this place at all? Let us take down the flag and go away."
And they hauled down the flag, vainly attempting to laugh at the change that an approaching storm had wrought in their feelings, "As if a cloud could affect the fact that their claim was a golden one," Leonard said, but Tady shook his head, and even Charlie Ellis, as he rode away with the nugget on the saddle before him, turned back with a shudder, as once again the long howl of the dog followed him from the Gully.
"And so it's you and I for it now until our new hands come down, Tady?" young Clark said, when Leonard had ridden away to overtake Charlie Ellis. "How are we going to manage?"
"Divil a know I know," replied the little Irishman; "sure it never kem into my head that we'd have to watch the claim day an' night, an' to tell ye the truth, George, I don't like the idaya at all."
"Well, it didn't want watching when we didn't know there were big nuggets in it, Tady; but it'll be right enough after to- night, for Tom Doran and his brother will sleep in the tent until we get a hut built. Come, let us cheer up, old chap! the bottles are not empty yet, and Leonard won't forget to send us plenty of grub."
"I'll go down the shaft again an' look for another bit ov goold," returned Tady; "we may as well be at work as standin' here, the only living things, in this lonesome place. Ugh! how cowld it's gettin'."
AT St. Herrick's, where the Brady family had made their home, the cloud that had covered the sun so suddenly while the new flag waved over the lately-christened claim, laid yet darker shadows under the cypress-like shrubbery that surrounded the cottage, and there was a dead silence under its roof when the quick stops of Conn Brady went around to the back, where he opened the door without knocking, and went into the kitchen. The man's coarse face was white as clay, his eyes flashing with a dangerous light, at recognising which his mother's heart sank, for she knew that something serious must have happened to affect her selfish younger son so.
Mrs. Brady had been mending some of Father James' attire, and a black garment of his lay across her lap as Conn stood before her and looked steadily into her face.
"What has happened, Conn," she whispered. "James has not—has not—oh Lord! Conn, what is it?"
"This is what it is," he replied, between his set teeth, that gleamed whitely between his pale lips, "I am going to leave this place before the curse of your blood has dragged me down to hell with you and your darling son!"
She shrank back from him in her chair as though fearful he would strike her with the clenched hand he flung out before him as he spoke.
"What are you at all?" he went on with a terrible force in his tone. "A woman! I don't believe it! A mother? oh, there may be such mothers, but they are the mothers of devils, not of men! I am no saint—God knows I am no saint, but you shall not drag me to the gallows with you while my hands are free."
She staggered to her feet in horror, and the black garment she had been mending fell from her lap to the floor as she did so.
"Ha, ha!" he laughed awfully as he pointed to the black coat on the ground; "we have a priest in the family! Good Mother above, to think that such women as you live!"
"What have I done Conn?" the woman croaked with trembling white lips. "In the name of mercy don't look at me that way, you frighten me."
"Frighten you! is it possible? Is there a honour in the whole wide earth or in the whole deep hell that would frighten you? What have you done? you have bred a devil in human form, and you have encouraged him by word and deed to live on human blood! My God, when I think of it I feel as If I was going mad."
He had fallen into a chair and covered his face with both hands, as though to shut out some awful sight, and Mrs. Brady, seeing him quiet for the moment, ventured to approach him and to speak again.
"Wont you tell me what has happened Conn? it must be something terrible, for you can't mean about that deed of the past—that was but just revenge after all."
"No, I do not mean about that; I mean that other deed that you have planned and urged him to, and that you have deceived me about from first to last! Fiend in woman's shape, don't lay a hand on me or will strike you! Strike you! Why should I not? You are no woman at all, but a devil. Don't ask me what has happened again; and if your prayers would not be a mockery and a hopeless one, I would tell you to pray that no one else may ask me, for I should tell them! Let me pass. Let me go I say, before I am poisoned by the air of this house!"
The man banged the door of his room in the woman's face, and when an hour after he was met by Leonard Prosser he was carrying a portmanteau to meet the coach, and was dressed for travelling.
"Hallo! are you going to town, Conn?" the young gentleman asked cheerily.
"For good I'm afraid, sir," was the reply. "The underground work doesn't suit me it seems. I was taken pretty bad just after you left the gully today. I'm going down to see a doctor."
"Ah! I'm sorry for that, and now that I observe it, you certainly do look ill. I hope you will get better with change of air."
"Thank you, Mr. Prosser."
And while the man was flying from Marranga as from a horror beyond all power of description, his wretched mother was sitting in the chair where he had left her, with a face nearly as white as the borders of her cap, and her hard fingers gripping the black cloth coat she had almost unconsciously lifted. Her glaring eyes were fixed on the window through which she had seen the last of her younger son as he strode away toward the township, and in her ears were yet ringing hiss terrible words of repudiation and horror. Did she know the deed that had struck such awful fear into the heart of Conn? Had she guessed what climax had been reached and witnessed to drive him from her with such dread curses? Yes, she guessed all, but knew nothing for certain, and as a hand was again upon the latch, after it might be hours that she had sat there in stony fear, she did not know but what it might be the hand of the law to drag her to her doom.
She turned her white face to the man who entered, and tried to speak, but her lips seemed too stiff to do her will; for a minute she could only stare at him in unspoken horror.
It was Father James who had come in and stood before her now, twining something round his fingers and looking into her face with a mocking sneer on his lips and in his eyes. It would seem as if he knew the terror that had rendered his mother incapable of utterance and gloried in it with the joy of a fiend over the downfall of a human soul. From his restless turning fingers the woman's horrified eyes wandered to the marks of soil on his coat to the stains on his knees—to the soft-looking, dark dabble on the linen cuffs of his white shirt. Something seemed to rise in her throat as though to strangle her, and the words came out at last, gaspingly, as though ejected by a will stronger than her own—
"Oh, my son, what have you done?"
"Your work, my kind-hearted mother," he sneered; "have I not always been a dutiful son, and a credit to the blood of the Brady's you are so proud of?"
"Don't! for God's sake don't talk that way!" she cried, "but go and change your clothes. Oh, my darling, my eldest, do not think I have turned cowardly, for it is only for you I am afraid! Conn, has seen something, and has left us forever; they may be on your track even this very minute. Go and take off them clothes for the sake of the mother that bore you."
"The mother that bore me," he repeated thoughtfully, as it seemed, with his eyes drooped to the floor at his feet. "I wonder if a woman ever did bear me? I have often doubted it in the nights when my fight with him is hardest. If a mother bore me how could I do such deeds, and see such terrible beings from among the accursed? But looking at you, how can I doubt that I am a woman's son—a woman who has made a murderer of me, and driven me mad? Ha ha ha! there is a necklace for the priest's good mother—a present from her devoted son."
He had at first been muttering as if to himself, but now he advanced and threw the object he had been twisting and untwisting in his fingers around Mrs. Brady's neck ere he dashed open the door of his own room, and shut himself in, a madman with his demons. With a stifled cry the wretched woman dragged the object from her neck, and let it drop upon the dark coat in her lap.
What horror was it that lay there under her staring eyes until it seemed instinct with life, and crawling up again as if to re- encircle her throat? Why did she start to her feet, and shake it into the fire, and pound it down, among the embers as if it were a living thing and venomous? Whence that feebleness that took her staggering to her own chamber to hide from, the light and from memory that destroyed token when it was only a long tress of satiny hair, that might indeed have been a necklace—but there was wet blood upon it for a clasp!
AT sunset on the evening of the same day, the woman we have already become acquainted with as Ellen, the daughter of Nan Griffiths, and mother of Resignation's friend Daniel, was standing at the back door of Mrs. St. Herrick's cottage looking anxiously across the creek. A pale, patient and melancholy looking woman always was, Ellen Griffiths, but on this occasion she was startled and anxious to a degree, and when she saw her boy Dan almost running across the creek bridge she darted to the fence so that he should see and go straight to her.
The boy was panting and terrified looking, and as he reached the fence he caught at it for support, as he gasped put, "Oh, no mother! she is not there! Oh where can she be? What can we do?"
"Oh, Daniel, I don't know! Are you sure you have searched everywhere?"
"Everywhere I could think of. I was sure she would be up at the cemetery. Mother, what are we to do?"
"Get your breath Daniel, and run down to Mr. Pollard; tell him all about it, and he will know best what to do. I daren't tell Mrs. St. Herrick; if anything has happened that poor child she will go mad. Daniel, where is Guardian?"
"He would not come home with me mother, he followed me up to the grave and sniffed around, but when I came back he would not leave the hill. Hark, that is him now!"
A distant and most melancholy howl came floating to them on the evening air, and in the break of the sound Ellen heard her mistress calling her by name.
"Go at once to Mr. Pollard," she repeated to the lad, "and it must be, let him tell Mrs. St. Herrick. I will try to keep it from her until Mr. Pollard comes."
The speaker turned into the cottage and Dan ran off to obey her.
Everyone in Marranga knew the J.P.'s habits, and the boy was quite certain of finding him at home enjoying his wine and pipe on the garden verandah after dinner; and there truly the good gentleman was seated, only he was not alone; Leonard Prosser was with him.
They had been talking over the events of the day, and the prospects of the Nugget Claim; in fact they had been down the shaft examining the place where Tady had discovered his gold, and the promising "stuff" that only waited raising to the surface. "The gully will be rushed undoubtedly," the elder gentleman said, "and goodbye to the loneliness of Murder Gully. Have the new men got down to the claim yet?"
"Yes," replied Leonard, "young Clark was helping them to get settled in the tent when I left, and they had a grand fire built outside that will have a weird effect in that wild spot after dark."
"Oh, I daresay they will make a night of it. George is a jolly chap, and the young Dorans are great friends of his. Why, who's this? Oh, it's you, Daniel. What's the matter?"
The boy had entered the garden and come round by the side of the-verandah on which they were seated; he was standing now before them on the steps, so pale and frightened looking in the reaction after his recent fatigue, that it was no wonder Mr. Pollard, with whom the boy was a favourite, should at once notice the unusual expression of his face.
"My mother sent me to you Mr. Pollard. Oh, sir, we don't know what to do, for Resignation is lost, and Mrs. St. Herrick does not know."
"Lost! how could that be, Daniel? I am sure that every inch around Marranga is as well known to that child as to yourself; she couldn't get lost."
"She is, sir; I have ran all over the place without finding her, and something is wrong, for Guardian won't come home, and is sitting up on the cemetery road howling awfully."
"This is serious, Prosser," the old gentleman said; "that dog has been inseparable from the child for years. Why we saw Resignation up on the hill above the gully when the christening was going on."
"Yes sir, and I was with her until we wanted to find out what was in the bucket, and I went down to see. I waited to see the nugget and got a glimpse of it, when Father James lifted it up, and then I climbed up to Resignation again, but she was not there."
"Go on, tell all you know, my boy," said Mr. Pollard encouragingly. "Was the dog there?"
"No sir, and he must have lost her too, somehow, for I met him when I went up to the cemetery. I thought Resignation would be sure to lie up at the grave, but she wasn't, and I've been tip there twice since. Oh, Mr. Pollard, what am I to do?"
The boy had broken down completely at last and sat down on the step sobbing with all the bitterness of a boy's grief. Leonard and the J.P. had both risen by this time, and were with one consent apparently going in search of their hats.
"Did your mother send any particular message to me, Daniel?" Mr. Pollard questioned, turning back as he was about entering the door.
"It was about Mrs. St. Herrick, sir, she could not break it to her, and mother thought you would do it if it was necessary—you see it will soon be dark, sir."
"Yes, that is the worst of it, Daniel. Have you been on the claim since you missed Resignation?"
"Oh yes, Mr. Pollard, I was twice there since dinner- time."
"Well go back now to the cottage and tell your mother to try and keep Mrs. St. Herrick ignorant until I go down myself. I shall make enquiries, and Mr. Prosser here will do all he can, but I am sadly afraid that if the poor child has not returned home by this time something is seriously astray."
"I have seen her up at Clark's—Miss Fanny and the child seemed to be great friends. Might they not have detained her at the farm?"
"If she had gone there the dog would have been with her. I cannot recall having once seen Resignation outside of her own home when Guardian was not close to her. I think our best proceeding will be to report the affair to Charlie Ellis and see what he thinks will be the best steps to take. You go and tell your mother what I have said Daniel. I will see you again soon."
"Poor boy!" whispered Leonard as the lad moved to go, "it is very hard for you—you have been great companions."
"Yes," Dan sobbed, "my mother has been with Mrs. St. Herrick ever since Resignation was born, and though I live mostly with granny, there has not been a day that we have not played together."
"Well don't grieve so, Daniel—cheer up, my boy! If Resignation is to be found we will soon get tidings of her, and it is impossible to think of any casualty that could have altogether deprived us of her."
Daniel went on his errand but half comforted, and Leonard with Mr. Pollard rapidly shortened the distance between the residence of the latter and the police-station.
"Who is this lad's mother?" asked the young gentleman; "has he no father living?"
"That question I cannot reply to," returned Mr. Pollard gravely; "his mother has been servant to Mrs. St. Herrick for a long time, as you hear from himself, but she does not sleep in the house. Her mother is an old and not over reputable woman that you have doubtless heard of as the Witch of Mount Roban; but whether Daniel's father is living or dead even she herself does not know. There was much unpleasant talk about Ellen Griffiths 'misfortune,' as it was called, but you know what the gossip of a country village is likely to be."
"Yes; not worth either believing or repeating. Here is Charlie."
The young trooper was leaning over the white gate of the station enjoying the quiet of the evening and a pipe, when his friends approached, and he listened to the painful news they brought him with something like incredulity.
"It appears ridiculous, you know," he said. "One accident alone is possible, and if the child had fallen in the creek, there was the best water dog in the district with her."
"But the very dog has lost her somehow, it seems. Dan says that he met Guardian only when he was going up to the cemetery, and the dog was then searching for the child."
"Well, I will get my horse, and send out the other man to make inquiries; but as to a search to-night, you know it would be useless in the darkness. We will be able, however, to go all over the child's usual haunts before it is quite dark. As to keeping it from the mother, you can't. If Resignation is not home when you reach the cottage, Mr. Pollard, you must break it to her."
"I will go out to the Gully and set George and the Dorans on a search," said Leonard; "with me there will be five men, and five men can go over a good bit of ground in an hour."
"I will see the lad and examine him myself," said Charlie, "and as it might increase Mrs. St. Herrick's alarm to see the uniform, will you just give the boy a hint to come and meet me, should he be at the cottage when you reach it?"
Promising to do so, Mr. Pollard went on his way, with a weight on his kind heart that was a most unwonted experience with him. He was a bachelor, and without ties of any kind, while his nature was one of those rare and happy ones that extracts comfort from many circumstances that would worry and make miserable a more uneven and fidgety temperament. He thanked the good Lord of all for the quiet of his even life; and he liked to see his friends as happy as himself. It was hard for such a man as this to face the task before him—a task that would to many a man not worse than many of his fellow beings have carried with it a spice of unacknowledged enjoyment—there is something so satisfactory in being the first to communicate tidings of any importance to ordinary beings, even when the tidings are certain to wound the ears upon which they fall. The good man would have been spared some painful thoughts if he had known that the widow of his late friend was already aware of the trouble that had overwhelmed her.
Daniel had run all the way to the cottage and given Mr. Pollard's message to his mother standing at the fence again where she had met him before.
"You think he will be here soon then?" she asked. "Yes, mother, for they both said that it would be a hopeless task searching after dark."
"I am so glad, for the mistress is getting suspicious that there is something being hidden from her, though she does not think it is about Resignation, thank God. I believe she half fancied I was sending you on some unlawful message, Daniel."
"What unlawful message, mother?" the boy asked sharply. Ellen Griffiths smiled a little as she replied: "To bring something from the hotel, Daniel."
"If she could suspect you of that!" he cried, hotly, "You do not do so? If I believed that she could think and watch for that, I'd"—Ellen laid her hand gently on Dan's lips.
"Hush, dear, you are so impetuous and fiery, if you grow up to be a man without getting more control over your feelings, it will be a bad job."
"I can't help it, mother. When I see anything wrong, I always want to get in a rage."
"Yes, I know, dear, but you must try and not get in a rage. But we are forgetting poor Resignation. Oh, Daniel, what ever can have become of her?"
"I don't know how it is, mother," the boy again burst out, "but I feel I shall never see her again! It seems to me that she is dead! Oh, if it is true, I will never care for anyone in the whole world again—there was no one like Resignation, no one so gentle, so good,-And so sad!"
"That is true," responded the woman, as she wiped her own eyes furtively, with one hand caressingly on her boy's head. "But do not cry so, my dear, that will only make your head ache, and prevent you from being so useful as you might perhaps be when Mr. Pollard comes."
"What is that boy blubbering for? A great boy like that! You are making a perfect baby of him, Ellen, and you will be sorry for it some day!" Daniel drew back from the fence he was outside of, and his mother turned quickly to face the speaker. Mrs. St. Herrick was standing at the back of the cottage, a few yards from them, her thin, aristocratic looking face and slender figure in the black widow's robes, she had never left off looking white and shadowy in the dying light. There was an unpleasant expression, too, in the worn face of the woman—an expression that had been growing deeper with every day and night since Father James had visited her, and which was the result of a battle between the still small voice of her conscience and her own bitter feelings of vindictive unforgiveness against her husband's murderer. Now in the night watches as she lay awake, she pictured to herself the repentant man craving for her forgiveness, and sending for it over half the globe.
There were moments when she recalled her husband's life and example, and knew that he himself would have urged her to relent and forgive as she would be forgiven; but she was hardened by the calamity God had permitted her to suffer, hardened instead of softened; and the nearly twelve years she had nursed and fostered her sorrow had so changed her own nature that her dead would scarcely have recognised it could he have returned to life.
This was the mistress toward whom poor Ellen turned trembling in every limb, and dreading the awful tidings she might be driven to tell ere Mr. Pollard arrived to relieve her of the task. What could she say or do to put off the evil moment?
"What is that boy crying for, I say? Are you deaf, Ellen Griffiths, that I have to repeat my words to you like a child?"
"I am afraid he has a headache, ma'am," she stammered.
"Headache? Stuff! why, Resignation would be ashamed to cry for such a trifle, and he's a boy!" There was a tone of such infinite scorn in the words that poor Daniel could not bear it in silence, and he dashed the tears from his eyes with one hand as he said sturdily—"I am not crying for a headache, Mrs. St. Herrick!"
"Oh, you are not, eh? and you are not afraid to accuse your mother of falsehood either? You are a brave boy truly."
"Oh, Daniel, do not speak again my boy!" exclaimed Ellen, as she turned an agonised face toward the lad. "Go away, go away for the present. Go and bid Mr. Pollard come quickly. Oh, do remember how much we must pity her."
"Pity me? What for, Ellen?" the widow asked sharply, as she scanned with cold, hard eyes her servant's face.
"I know mine has been a pitiful case for years, but how has it so much humiliated me that you have to beg your son to pity me now?"
"Oh, for the love of God don't torture me, Mrs. St. Herricks—don't you see I can't bear it? I would rather that any trouble, short of death, should have befallen me than that I should have been compelled to break your heart."
"I insist upon knowing what you mean. What was that boy crying for?"
"For your child," replied the woman, who was a mother after all, and naturally resented the slight cast upon Daniel in her intonation of the words that boy, "for his playmate for whom he would given his little life, humble as it is. Resignation is lost, mistress, lost, lost!"
"Lost!" The word was a scream from the widow's lips, and then they trembled and grew white and rigid, so that she could not speak. Ellen went to her support, for she seemed about to fall, but at the touch of the faithful creature's hand she recovered herself and pushed it away from her.
"Stand back and repeat your words! Am I mad, or did you say that my child was lost? It is not true; how could it be. There is no place in which she could be lost within miles of Marranga. And, besides, there is Guardian. Why Guardian would not lose sight of the child for his life!" She had caught Ellen's shoulder now in a grip of iron, and she was straining her eyes so wistfully into her woman's painfully averted, face, reasoning, poor mother, against her own awful terror, the terror that was growing stronger with every instant as she scanned the speaking features of Ellen.
"Why don't you speak to me, Ellen? Why don't you tell me that you were talking idly? How could my child, my darling, my murdered darling's child be lost? Speak!"
"Spare me, dear mistress, for the love of God! Oh, it kills me to tell you the truth. Our darling is lost, but every one in the place will look for her and find her, don't fear. See, there is Mr. Pollard coming to you—oh, sir I am thankful to see you!"
"Let me lead you inside, my dear Mrs. St. Herrick," the old friend said gently, as he tried to draw her rigid arm through his. "I will tell you all about it if you will be calm and hopeful."
"Hopeful! What do you mean? You are all in league against me to drive me distracted. If my child is dead tell me so. Oh, my God, she is, she is. I see it in your faces."
"There is nothing worse in anyone's knowledge than that one little girl has strayed, I give you my word of that. We know nothing, absolutely nothing, but that she is lost, and by this tune there are scores of men in search of her."
"Lost!" she gasped again, "since when has she been lost?"
"Since about two o'clock, as far as I can learn, and since then poor little Daniel has been to all their old haunts in search of her. But, my dear madam, she most be found. I have told yon that scores of men are in search of her."
She was gazing at him as if her life hung on his words She was weighing every one of them as though to catch some hope she could not feel, and then she burst into a torrent of pleading and reproof, and prayers that sadly approached a blasphemy that would have shocked herself in calmer moments.
"You are playing with me, only, Mr. Pollard; how could you, such an old friend, a man who was valued and respected by my dead husband, how could you come to tell me in earnest that my child, my all is lost? How could she be lost? Guardian is with her. Do you know what lost means in Australia? It means lying dead in the bush, with the eagle-hawks picking out her eyes. How dare you hint such a thing to me? As if a God could dare to be so cruel as to treat my darling so!" Even as she stopped, suddenly she dropped to the ground as one stricken dead, but as they hastened to raise her it was soon evident, from the strong convulsions of her limbs, that the poor woman was in a serious fit.
"Run for Dr. Syme, Daniel," cried Mr. Pollard, "let us carry her in to her own bed, Ellen, now that the violence of the fit is exhausted."
WE return again to the Nugget claim, where, as the evening shades deepened, our friend Tady was preparing to leave the gully for the night. He had shared the supper of the two new men, who were in future to sleep on the claim, and the great fire they had built up against an old fallen tree was throwing strong gleams of red light against the sides of the gully opposite to it, ending on the crooked dead branches straggling above it. The shadows were deepening, too, as the last streams of light faded from the west, and striking contrasts were growing out in queer dark shapes behind the glowing, fire that warned Tady it was time to be off.
"Say a prayer before ye turn in boys," he advised, "for be the powers it's a lonely place."
"Are you afraid of ghosts, Tady?" asked one of the Dorans, laughingly, "take another sup of grog before you go, and the ghosts won't trouble you on the way back. For my part I've got a six-chambered revolver in my tent, and I have more faith in the effects of that than I have in a wagon-load of prayers.'
"No, I've had enough of the drink," Tady returned, as he pulled up his trousers preparatory to what he himself would have called "taking the road", "an' if you had twenty revolvers a prayer would be better than 'em all as regards that spot."
He pointed to the murder claim as he said good night and turned his back upon it gladly and yet with due recollection of the lonely way he had to go before he reached the township. Far had it been from Tady's intention to let the darkness find him away from Marranga, but it had been a day of great excitement, and poor Tady had found the young Dorans' grog so recuperating that it had been, to him, in a certain sense, the waters of oblivion. He would not for fifty pounds have faced the hour in that spot had it not been for the courage inspired by the "sups" he had imbibed, and even now its strength was dying out, as he tramped loudly to keep himself company in the deepening shadow of Murder Gully.
If it had not been for the one fact that he was superstitious, Tady would have been a happy—a perfectly happy man that night. His one hope, nay almost certainty, which had led him back from the Old Land over all those watery miles, was accomplished—the claim was a golden one; and now that a new feeling, or rather the revivification of an old one as "love" was an almost normal condition with Tady, had arisen in his heart the gold had made his darling Nora more than a hope with him. "An' why shouldn't I?" he soliloquised as he began to think of the girl, and half forgot his surroundings.
"I'm a rich man, and the world is before me; why should they deny me Nora? Av coorse she's bether nor me all 'out; I don't deny that; sure she's a priest's sisther—but I'm sober an' honest, and have the main thing," and he tapped his pocket significantly.
A few quick steps onward, and he stopped suddenly.
"Bedad, I don't see why I shouldn't go this minnit and see the crathur; sure she doesn't know of me luck yet, for it isn't afther tellin' her I'd be itself afore Mr. Leonard—Faith, I'll go. It isn't much out of at all."
Thus decided he turned to the left out of the gully instead of keeping to the right down by the creek. St. Herricks, as it was always called, was but a short half mile from the end of the gully, but to reach the cottage Tady had to cross the track that led up to the cemetery.
As he was crossing it along howl, or rather whine, came down the hill to his ears, and he started to almost ran, with all his old feeling of superstitious fear revived. "Bad cess to it for a place," he muttered, "'twas ever an' always a lonesome road up there of a night; but since that black day in the Gully 'tis worse. Lord, betune as an' all harm. I wonder if it is a dog at all."
At the same spot near the fence of St. Herrick's, where he had first spoken to Nora Brady, Tady paused to examine the surroundings, and speculate on his chance of seeing the girl on this occasion. In the shadow of the shrubberies it was now so nearly dark that the light in the only room that would appear inhabited showed like a glare among the thick, dark ivy that coated the wall; this window was near an angle of the main building, where a side wing abutted, and Tady knew it was the window of Father James' room.
"It looks as if they are all in bed," thought the Irishman, as he bent over the fence and looked all round the house, "though it's early yet. That's the priest's windy, an' by all accounts he keeps a light burnin' on till mornin'; I'd be afeard to whistle, he might hear me, and Nora'd get into trouble over me. I wonther what I'll do?"
As he was wondering, a shout so hoarse, so strident, so suggestive of some awful and unknown horror rang around his ears that he raised his hands to them as if to shut it out; his eyes; however, turned toward the lighted window, from which the noise seemed to proceed. Staring at it he saw for a moment cast on the curtain, the shadow of a man who seemed to be twisting and writhing about out of all human form, and the heart of the terrified man seemed to stop for a moment in absolute fear.
"In the name of heaven," he muttered, dropping one hand to cross himself, "is it murder that is goin' on an' I standin' here doin' nothin'? If I thought 'twas that I've a strong pair av hands, but what would I do at all if it's in one of his tantrums he in, and he to see me?"
A moment's silence, as the shadow suddenly disappeared from the blind, gave Tady courage to bound over the fence and begin to creep nearer to the window. He would try and satisfy himself by listening nearer, or perchance by seeing, if he had an opportunity, and then if he could help he would make his presence known, and assist the priest if necessary.
That was the decision that made Tady creep along by the fence until he had reached the part of it that was only separated from the wing of the cottage by the width of a pathway, and then he darted across and stopped again to listen in the shelter of the ivy-clad house itself.
He was now so close to the window itself that by spreading himself along the wall he could have touched it; but he was afraid to rustle the ivy in the silence which seemed to him almost unnatural. He could hear the beating of his own heart, until suddenly again a voice spoke loud, fierce words, and he recognised it as the voice of Father James.
"I have you on the hip now, mine enemy," were the opening words of triumph apparently, and then there was a shriek of such diabolical laughter that Tady trembled.
"There is a talisman that will frighten you out of my path for ever! Ha! I have told many a lie since I saw your living face; if you haven't better company than me by this time, and something else to do besides haunting my life, curse you!"
A pause then, and a gibbering such as one may hear in the cell of a maniac, and then a fresh shout and a scuffle as if of half- a-dozen men. Tady was solely afraid, but he was also very curious to see what was going on in the priest's room Besides he had had various hints that her brother was queer, from Nora—a queerness that the girl attributed entirely to his temper, but which Tady began to suspect might proceed from insanity; at all events, be ventured to crawl, little by little, nearer the window, and to at last get his face pushed through the ivy screen quite close to it.
The window was a low cottage one, and an accident favoured Tady's espial—one of the tacks which had supported the corner of the white blind had given way, and the corner had dropped, leaving the space of a hand breadth of the glass uncovered. This space was above Tady's eyes, but he soon raised them to its level by placing his foot in a nook of the strong ivy-stems, and holding a firm grip of another nook above him. What was it, then, that the poor fellow saw that had such a terrible effect on many awful weeks of his innocent life? What discovery did he make that drove rest from his pillow, flesh from his bones, and peace from his mind for a time that he remembered with dread and horror during all his after life?
He saw in the middle of the room he was peeping into, a man whom he could not immediately recognise as Father James Brady. This man was undressed to his shirt and trousers, and had the sleeves of the former rolled up, showing his thin bare arms. The head of this man was tonsured—Tady saw that—but his face was not the face of the priest. It couldn't be; that face, distorted with a terrible, fierce passion, with eyes aglare with fear and horror, with the moisture of ghastly suffering, falling in great drops from his haggard cheeks, had no resemblance to that of the white-faced priest, even as he had been during his attack in the gaily a few hours previously!
And yet it was a face that seemed somehow terribly familiar to Tady, yet he could not tell how or why. Staring at it in puzzled bewilderment that seemed still to fascinate him, he watched the man's strange movements, and listened to his awful words, shouted aloud as if there were no human ears to listen within wide miles. Who was he talking to? There was no living being within the room, yet he sent his wild jibes at some object he glared at, and he waved something he called his "talisman" in the imaginary face of a foe. Within a circle of many feet there was not around him a tangible object, yet at short intervals he seemed to grasp something in his long thin arms, and struggle with it, throwing and writhing his limbs as it appeared around other limbs, panting meanwhile with fierce, hot pants, until he staggered against the wall exhausted and faint, to be revived when he regained strength to reach a bottle and glass, and pour a fiery draught down his hot throat.
It was a fearful right, yet one that poor Tady's eyes clung to in an awful curiosity. What likeness was it that haunted him as he watched the man's face? Whose voice did the awful shouts and anathemas of this man remind him of? What, again and again he asked himself, what was the object with which he seemed to threaten his unseen adversary as he waved it wildly in the air.
"Foiled again!" he would shout, "the touch of that is better than any exorcism—I've tried that you know. Bell, book and candle, ha! ha! ha! as if they would avail anything in my hands; but I have beaten you, you know, you cannot cross that—beaten you with your own weapons too. Ha! ha! ha!"
Again a season of panting rest, with the light of the lamp full in his face, and the fingers around which his "talisman" was turned was pressed hard again at his left side only to suddenly attack his enemy again until again exhausted. "Your curse, is it? The curse of St. Herrick his own roof! Ha! ha! ha! Much I care for it. See it every day until I die, eh? Well, who cares? I am not afraid of it now."
It was when he staggered once more against the wall gasping and completely worn out that Tady saw at last the nature of his talisman—it was a long tress of pale, fair hair, and there were clinging, dark spots upon it; but it was not that which made Tady's fingers unloose their clasp upon the ivy, and his nerveless limbs bend beneath him; he had recognised the likeness in that terrible face, and shrank from it in an overwhelming horror.
"My God, have mercy upon me!" he cried, in his extremity as he climbed over the fence and hastened from the awful spot. "What'll I do? what'll I do at all, at all? What sin is on me sowl that this secret is to lie upon me like a lump ov lead that'll drag me down into the grave, so it will?"
Forgotten was all poor Tady's fancied love for Nora at that supreme moment, forgotten all his superstitious fears of the lone darkness around him. When he had got so far away from St. Herrick's that he need not dread pursuit, should the man he had been watching have overheard his sudden fall and departure, he dropped down on the grass and buried his honest face in his trembling, labour-rough hands.
Oh, no, there was no thought of Nora just then. The lonely sound of the soughing, breeze among the rustling leaves was unheard by him, and he did not see the moon ray that crept up his knees as the moon in her first quarter neared the tops of the trees in the west. A bright streak it was, filtered through the waving leaves, and restless like them. Sometimes it glanced under the brim of his hat, and sometimes glinted past his bowed shoulders, but Tady saw it not—he saw nothing, and thought of nothing but the dread secret that he ought to tell, and that he must keep for the sake of many hundreds of souls other than his own.
He murmured his thoughts occasionally and unwittingly, and groaned in an agony that he had never felt in a physical pain. "There is no one but Mr. Leonard," he muttered, "and I daren't tell him, for I know what he would say—but how can I tell it, and he a priest? No matter what's past and gone, he has worn the holy vestments, and for the honour of my church I mustn't spake! Oh God Almighty, help a poor sinner, for I don't know what to do!"
Tady got up after this cry for help, and marched on his way to the township. He had to cross the little bridge over the creek near Mrs. St. Herrick's cottage, and he saw lights flitting about from window to window, but he took no notice, for as yet he did not know anything of Resignation being lost, or her mother's serious illness. The garden, with its pale flowers, lay in the moon and shadow silently as he passed—almost as silently as their off-shoots lay on that grave up in the lone cemetery, but how could poor Tady know that never again would the sweet child bend over them, or pluck a blossom from their stems?
The bedroom Tady occupied at the quiet hotel they still remained at was at the back, with a door opening from it direct into the yard, and he would have stolen round to it quietly only that the landlord was watching for him, and saw him as he passed the bar door.
"Stop, Connor!" he cried, "I have a message for you."
"A message from who?" the poor fellow asked, as he turned back unwillingly. "From Mr. Prosser; he has been here looking for you, and wants you to go down to the claim as soon as you come back."
"I can't," said Tady, heavily; "I'm dead beat, and fit for nothing but bed. What can he want me there for at this time o' night."
"Don't you know? Haven't you heard? Good lord, the whole place is ringing with it!"
"I heard nothing; what is it?"
"Why, Mrs. St. Herrick's little girl is lost, and everyone that could has turned out after her. It's the queerest thing, too, for the little girl knew every inch of the country, and that great dog of theirs was with her. We are beginning to be afraid that she's met with foul play, and the poor mother has taken it to heart so that she's got a stroke or something."
"Met with foul play!" They were the last words of the man's explanation that fell upon Tady's ears, and they filled them to the exclusion of all else for a time. Resignation St. Herrick had met with foul play, and was lost! Resignation St. Herrick had long, pale, fair hair; what about that "talisman" Father James raved about, and twisted in his fingers?
Tady uttered an exclamation of horror, and leaned heavily against the bar near him. He could not speak, but he motioned to the landlord to be supplied from a decanter at hand.
"My word but yon do look ill, Tady! Whatever's up with you? Drink that off and see if it will bring the life into you."
Tady obeyed, but the draught brought no colour to his white cheeks; and, refusing a repetition of the dose, he went out to his room, and threw himself upon his bed.
Of the battle he fought there, he never spoke but once, and that was long after to his young foster-brother; but he fought it alone and in silence, save to Him who hears the very thoughts of the humblest of His creatures.
It was quite two hours afterwards that Leonard tried the door of Tady's room, and found it fastened. Tady heard him, but dreading to meet the young man's keen eyes, he took no notice of the attempt to gain admittance. Leonard was not, however, to be put off that way, for the landlord's account of his humble friend's looks had alarmed him, and he spoke sharper than was his wont in his determination to see for himself what was the matter.
"I know you're inside Tady," was what he said, "and you may as well let me in at once, for in I'll get."
The distracted man opened the door instantly, and felt grateful for the darkness that hid his face from his kind young master's gaze.
"You are sick and in the dark Tady; what is the matter?" Leonard asked, as he struck a match and lit the chamber candle he knew was upon the little table.
There was no answer, and when the wick had ignited, gathered nutriment and threw out a sufficient light to see by, young Prosser turned round and looked at Tady. The Irishman was sitting on the edge of his bed supporting himself, as it were, on his hands, which, at either side of him, were spread upon the counterpane. He was staring at the floor before him with his head bowed and an indescribable air of misery and hopelessness prevailing every line of his figure. To tell the truth, Leonard had found himself slightly influenced by Charlie Ellis's persistent assertion that Tady was under the influence of drink, but one look at the well-known face assured him that it was not so.
"What's the matter with you Tady?"
No reply again. "Are you sick? Speak my friend, for I must know."
The Irishman broke down altogether at the a gentle "my friend," and it was with an almost savage energy that he cried out—"For the love, of God don't ask me Mr. Leonard! don't, don't, for I can't tell you!"
"I must ask you Tady, for if you are sick I must go and bring the doctor to you."
"Oh I'm not sick Mr. Leonard! I wants no doctor at all, at all! But for the love o' God I say, ax me no questions!"
"A queer thing to say to me at this time of day, Tady Connor. I should have thought twice before saying such a thing to you. Are we going to begin to have secrets from each other so late in life old fellow?"
"I can't help it sir! I can't indeed! Oh Mr. Leonard, there are things that no one man can tell another after all!"
"They must be very serious things Tady; no such can exist between you and me."
"I ax it of you for the sake of my mother, the woman that suckled you, sir, not to question me. There's something on my mind that will kill me soon, I pray, but that I must carry to my grave a secret. Look, sir, I'd lay down my life for you, yon know that well, but I cannot tell you this, and don't torture me by axing."
"I do not understand it, Tady, but I will only ask you one thing—surely you are more of a man to fed this way over a girl like Nora Brady; if it is a quarrel with her that has put you into this state of misery I cannot pity you."
"Oh, Mr. Leonard, don't name her to me! it's not that! oh, Lord, if it was only that I'd die happy!"
"And you can't explain?"
"I can't, indeed, sir."
"Well, Tady, the day will come when you may tell me, I hope, and when I may at least try to comfort you, so I will say no more now. Isn't this an awful thing about that poor child?"
"I only heard a few words from the landlord as I kem in, Mr. Leonard—have ye no thrace ov her?"
"None of her, exactly. Ellis and I found the dog in the bush behind the cemetery road. It seems he had been howling off and on all the evening, but was silent shortly after sundown. It is a very mysterious case, Tady, The dog Guardian has been stabbed, and has been losing blood little by little until he could hold up no longer. He was nearly unconscious when we carried him home, and he has, it seems had a severe blow on the head also that Dr. Grey thinks must have rendered him unconscious."
Tady's only response to this information was a heart-rending groan.
"We are to commence a regularly organised search as soon as it is daylight," the young gentleman went on, "for the partial moonlight only made the shadows deeper and more puzzling, but I am sadly afraid, Tady, that the pretty child, who was the first to greet us on Marranga, has met with foul play."
Met with foul play! there were the same words again to ring like a shout in poor Tady's ears. Met with foul play! and who had done the foul deed? What was he to do? How to bear this awful burden of another man's secret? He could not do it alone and live; he must tell it to some one or die.
"I think there will be some change in the working of No. 1," said Leonard, when he was leaving the room. "I met Conn. Brady going to the coach to-day, and he told me the work was not agreeing with him. I suppose he has gone to town for advice; it is strange how little faith the people here have in Dr. Syme, for he seems to me a clever and intelligent man. Good-night, Tady—if there is not an improvement in you by the morning, I shall bring him to see you no matter what you say about it."
"Stop a minnit, Mr. Leonard. If you don't see me here in the mornin' don't be frightened, for I'll start at break of day for Yawbenack, it's only a walk of ten miles, and I'll get a lift back in the coach, so I can be here by dinner time."
"Yawbenack? What do you want there?"
"There's a priest there, sir, a regular clergyman," Tady replied in a low voice.
"That's right, Tady; I quite believe in that step; good night again," and so poor Tady was left to battle alone with his awful secret till the day broke in the east.
A TERRIBLE night had been spent at the cottage by poor Ellen Griffiths, the boy Daniel's mother. Under the sedatives prescribed by Dr. Grey Mrs. St. Herrick had slept a greater part of the night, but it was a sleep broken by cries of terror and utterances of such strange words, that Ellen listened to them with an awful wonder that deepened into fear as the night wore on. She was not alone in her watch, for kindly Fanny Clarke had come over as soon as the sad condition of Mrs. St. Herricks had been made known at the farm; but as the patient still slept, though uneasily, Ellen had persuaded the young girl to go to rest until toward morning.
"I can call you if you can help me, Miss Clarke," she said, "and when you come fresh to relieve me I shall be glad of a rest you may be sure."
"And I am to leave you all alone?" Fanny asked doubtfully.
"No, not alone, my boy Daniel is to stay with me. I shall make him a bed up on the sofa in the next room, where I can see him and wake him if it should be necessary."
"And you will call me in a couple of hours, Ellen?"
"I will call you as soon as ever I feel in need of rest—I promise you that."
And so Mrs. St. Herrick slept on and muttered or murmured in her sleep, with ever and anon a wild cry of terror, at which Ellen's hand would be laid on her hot forehead, and Ellen's low voice whisper soothing words in her half unconscious ear; and Daniel sat crouching over the fire that had been lit in the next room, the picture of hopeless despair pitiful to see at his boy's years.
"Daniel, my dear, you had better go to bed," his mother whispered as she came from the invalid's chamber and stood beside her son; "I have made you a comfortable bed there on the sofa, and I shall be quite near you all night."
"Oh, mother, how can I rest or sleep when we do not know where poor Resignation is! She may be bleeding slowly to death somewhere, as Guardian was; how could I sleep?"
"My dear, she is in God's hands," Ellen whispered softly, "and we can do no more now until daylight. Wouldn't it be better, then, for you to try and sleep so as to be strong to-morrow and better able to help than if you weep your eyes oat all night?"
The poor lad nestled against his mother's side, and her arm drew him closely to her.
"If I knew she was dead, mother, it would not be so bad, but to think she may be suffering and tortured—oh, it is hard! You can't know how fond we children were of each other, mother. It seems a part of myself that is gone. We have spent so many summer days together in the bush and up at the grave that I do not think there was one thought we did not tell, and now—"
"And now, my dear, Resignation may he looking into her own father's face in Heaven."
"Do you think so really, mother?"
"I do, dear. From the fact of Guardian's being wounded I fear we have lost her, but it will be her gain."
"Who could kill Resignation?" the boy cried fiercely, as he drew himself from Ellen's embrace and looked into her eyes for an answer. "Everyone loved her, she was so gentle and good and patient always, who could injure her? Mother, there is only one villain in the world that could hurt her, and that was the man—the monster that buried her father alive!"
"Hush, Daniel, oh hush!"
The boy thought he was speaking too loudly, and went on in a lower tone, but without abating one jot of the fierce anger that always took possession of him when he spoke of Dan Lyons, and which had dried up his tears now. He did not see that every word was as a knife through quivering flesh to his sorely tried mother.
"It must be, mother! If Resignation has been killed, Dan Lyons has done it, and he is alive and here again at Marranga. Oh, if I could meet him face to face, and—and kill him!"
"My son, my son, don't!" Ellen pleaded again. "I can't bear to hear you talk so! I won't bear to hear you say you too would like to be a murderer!"
"Killing Dan Lyons would be no murder," the boy persisted, with a frown; "it would be less harm than to scotch a snake. Every one thinks so, and says so. I heard the Dorans and Ted Brown and a lot of men talking about it near No. 1 claim the other day, and they declared that if he was ever to put his foot on Marranga they would lynch—"
"Lynch him!" she gasped. "Yes; hang him without waiting for the law, you know, and I'd like to help them."
"Lord, have pity upon me," the poor, woman murmured, as she hid her face in heir hands, "and have mercy upon him if he lives!"
Who was Ellen praying for? Could it be possible that her fears and her pity and prayer was for Dan Lyons, the murderer?
"Never mind, dear mother," said the lad, seeing her agitation, yet not guessing its true cause, "I won't talk about it any more. You are so kind, just like Resignation, that you pity every living thing. I will just go out once more to see Guardian, and then I will go to bed as you want me."
AS the night waned, Ellen Griffith sat by her unconscious mistress, listening to her murmured ravings, or stood by her boy's bed gazing at him with a mother's unutterable love; and, alas! with an unutterable pain also—a pain that no one but God might know of, and that no one, no one, could ever share. What an infinity of suffering is the poor human heart capable of, only that woman may realise who has not one being to whom she may speak of her misery but must keep it all to herself, hidden and hedged in until her heart, the reservoir, breaks, or death piteously covers her eyes with his pale, heavy hand.
In her restless sleep, Mrs. St. Herrick spoke of strange things that seemed to have no connection with the recent bereavement which had stricken her down. She talked of a man hidden far away in home lonely monastery, and rejoiced in the bitter suffering the weight of his crimes had laid upon him. She scorned him with hard words as if he had been on his knees before, her and begging for her forgiveness in abject humility. She told him to die unforgiven, and meet a Maker that should be more unforgiving still. If she had been a cruel ignorant savage, who had never known better than the old law of "blood for blood," instead of a tenderly-natured and once tender-hearted woman, she could not have given utterance to more hard or relentless words; And Ellen listened to it all, God help her, as she had for nearly twelve yean listened to such sentiments from every being around Marranga who had known Dan Lyons and his crime; but she listened, wondering by what means Mrs. St. Herrick had come to believe that the murderer was alive, and had found refuge in a foreign monastery.
The widow had kept her promise to Father James; she had not divulged the object of his strange visit. Who could have told her this, and was it true? were the questions that Ellen asked herself over and over again in the night watches as she attended to the stricken woman, and the answer came to her just as the first dawn streaked the east. Suddenly Mrs. St. Herrick opened her eyes, sat up in bed, and recognised her nurse. Her face was ghastly white, her long dark hair streaming around her, and damp with the dew of suffering. Her great dark eyes had an awful wildness in them as they searched the room, and then settled on Ellen Griffiths' face.
"Has he gone, Ellen?" she asked.
"There is no one here, my dear mistress," the woman replied soothingly. "He has been here, you know, and he will haunt me until he gains his purpose. But I will never give in, you may tell him that, Ellen Griffiths. I will never forgive Dan Lyons either in this or the other world!"
"Dear mistress, there has been no one here. Just my little boy, and he is gone to bed. Who did you fancy was here?"
"It was no fancy, woman! He was here. It was that priest, you know, the man with the white face and terrible eyes."
"Father James Brady?" questioned Ellen.
"Yes, Father James, that's what he called himself. I told him he needn't wait—it is no use. If the lifting of my little finger could save Dan Lyons from eternal punishment I would not lift it—I told him so before."
"It is true. How tired I feel! Is my child comfortably asleep?"
"Yes, dear mistress, all is well, do try and sleep again."
Then the invalid relapsed into her dreamy unconsciousness, and poor Ellen sat down dazed at the bedside. How had this man Father James come to know anything about Dan Lyons in whom she, poor creature, took such a mysterious interest? When had he visited the cottage, and how had he obtained such an influence over Mrs. St. Herrick as to ensure her keeping his visit a secret? It had so happened that Ellen Griffiths had never happened yet to meet this Father James face to face, though she had seen his black- robed form often at a distance; now she was occupied with a craving desire to see him, to question him of his acquaintance with Dan Lyons, yet how dared she speak that wretched man's name without imparting suspicions as to what she would give her life to keep hidden?
What connection had the sleeping boy with that hidden thing! As his mother stooped over and kissed him, it was with a kiss of devotion, intermingled with the deepest pity.
"My boy, my darling!" she murmured; "Oh, God will not surely be deaf to my almost hourly prayers that you may never know."
THE sun had risen, and was throwing slant beams against the verdurous face of Mount Roban. .Ellen, relieved from her watch by her sleeping mistress, left the cottage with a pail in her hand. Fanny Clark had taken her place for a few hours, and young Daniel had fed and petted the dog Guardian before starting off to join the organised search for Resignation. Ellen was ill and weak with more than the night's fatigue, and as she went down through the garden, odorous with the lost child's pale blossoms, the cool air of the morning felt pleasant to her feverish brow. She was going down to the creek for water—the limpid, whispering creek that drifted onward between its green banks in a musical murmur, and whose waters were cool and pleasant to the taste in the hottest of summer days.
Before her and beyond her were up-spread the sloping cemetery hill, the spur of Roban range crossed through its timbered hollow by the mail coach track, and the weird, gloomy mouth of Murder Gully. There was not to be seen a human form as she neared the little bridge with its white paling. A few cows were scattered on the nearer uplands; a flock of sheep, just released from the hurdles, were spreading out on the green plain beyond the spur and the coach track. Marranga itself was hardly awake, for there was only one streak of smoke rolling softly from one chimney in the township, and that was at the Marranga Hotel, at which was to be the rendezvous of the searchers for Resignation St. Herrick.
Ellen gazed at it all for a moment, ere at the near end of the bridge she went down the green bank to fill her pail at the creek; but the look might have been but the memory of a dream as far as the notice she took of anything before her—yes, save one object, and that object was St. Herrick's. Looking at its grey roof among the dark shrubberies, she thought only of Father James, and how she might contrive to see and question him. As she bent over the water to dip the pail in the water where a sun-ray, penetrating the white railing of the bridge, made it glitter and sparkle, a shadow suddenly fell upon the sparkle, and she looked up to see leaning over the rail and down upon her Father James himself. Her heart began to beat with such hard throbs that the hand with which she lifted the bucket shook, and the fluid was scattered as she climbed up to the level of the bridge. The opportunity she had wished for was here; what would she do with it?
Haggard at all seasons, the face of Father James on this morning was terrible in its suggestion of a living death. We knew what night he had spent in combating the imaginary spirits conjured up by a diseased brain, and that night, in addition to hundreds of nights previous, had left unobliterable stamps on his pallid countenance. The dark circles under his hollow eyes, the drawn dry lips that almost refused to cover the long, yellow teeth, the sunken temples, where every vein could be distinctly traced—this was what Ellen Griffiths saw as she stood before him, when he turned at the sound of her step.
He had net noticed her as, rambling he scarce knew where, the miserable being reached the bridge. On waking from his sleep of utter exhaustion, his room had seemed terrible to him, and to escape from it an immediate necessity. But, oh, what horrid memories followed him, memories whose awful shadows were deepened a hundred-fold by the awful reaction consequent on his last night's spirituous excitement! Coming on him suddenly in this mood, the face of Ellen Griffith seemed to turn him to rigid stone. And she, in her supreme surprise, not to say terror, at something her eyes only of all Marranga had seen in the priest's visage, Ellen dropped her bucket to the ground, and uttered a cry of anguish.
For a second only his eyes met her's, and then he raised his arm quickly and pulled his hat farther down on his forehead. She put her hand out as if she would have touched him or made a motion of appeal, but he drew back angrily, and spoke in a hoarse voice: "Stand back woman! what do you mean? How dare you?"
How dared she what? Oh, merciful heaven, how dared she what? Ellen repeated it to herself as he kept his arm still raised between them, and moved backward step by step until be had recovered himself partially, and could speak more composedly. "You startled me, as I did not see you until you were close to me," he half apologised; "my health is very bad, and I am nervous. Did you wish to speak to me, my good woman?"
"Oh, Dan!" die moaned. "Oh, Dan! do you think it possible to deceive me? Oh, go, go, before other eyes open also! I am only a woman, and a deceived and betrayed one, but I could not see you suffer here under my very eyes. Oh, for the love and name of a merciful God, who forgives all sins, go before it is too late!"
"You would seem to have taken up my late trade, whoever you are," was the reply, accompanied by one of his awful mocking sneers. "I think you mean to preach to whoever you mistake me for. I do not remember having seen you before. Have you not heard of Father James Brady, who has taken the St. Herrick's Cottage?"
But Ellen only waved her arm desperately, and repeated her moan, "Dan, oh Dan!" and then the dark look, the fierce light, born of that Spirit of Evil who had stood so often at the unhappy man's right hand, burned in his hollow eyes, and flashed its lightning in the woman's face.
"You are mad!" he cried, "and I will not be annoyed by a lunatic. Stand off, or I will strike you!"
"Oh, Dan, as if I would harm you. It is to save you before it is too late! Oh God, I am dying!"
The unhappy creature felt herself growing dizzy, caught at the air to save herself, and fell insensible to the ground.
WHEN she recovered, the cool morning breeze was sweeping over the water and kissing her white face, and there was no one viable around her when she raised herself to her feet. Was it all a dream, as her agitation and want of sleep during the night had overcome her?
Had she really only fainted, and fancied she had seen Dan? There was not a soul near her, to be sure, but there was a man hiding in the shelter of those dark trees at St. Herrick's, and watching her as she carried her bucket through the cottage garden. Could he have told Ellen Griffith if it was in a dream she had seen the man she called Dan?
THE sun had barely risen above the distant tree- tops, when already more than thirty men, young and old, had gathered in front of the Marranga Hotel to organise a search party for the lost child of St. Herrick's. There was not a family settled in the neighbourhood of Murder Gully that was not acquainted with the story of Colonel St. Herrick's murder, and had heard of, if they had not seen, the gentle Resignation, who seemed to inherit in her delicate, flower-like organisation the memories of that awful tragedy that had rendered her fatherless.
The men were scattered about in groups, some on foot and some on horseback. The door of the bar was open for the convenience of those who wished refreshment ere they started, and the various conjectures that passed from lip to lip as to poor Resignation's fate seemed to all to bear a gloomy, foreboding tone.
"We have heard of lost children before now, neighbours," one man said, with a kindly attempt to introduce some element of hope into the minds of those present, "and it isn't a certainty that a lost child must be a dead child. Why, my little Mary was herself three years last fall—you remember about it? She was away from home in the bush for forty-seven hours, but, thank God, we got her all right. She was asleep when we found her, and she had a bunch of wild posies hugged up to her, as if she found the comfort of a living thing in it."
"Aye, but that was different, Brown; your girl got astray going after the cows, and she was used to going into the bush, but this here child has never scarce been out of sight of the township in her life. She has no call to be lost, and she seems to have disappeared all of a sudden like, as if she had gone down in the ground."
"Yes, the boy Dan left her up on the side of the Gully to go down and see the claim getting christened; it couldn't have been more than half an hour, by his account, when he went back to where he had left her, and she was gone."
"Yes, and he went straight up to the cemetery after he had hunted the Gully over—it was then he met the dog."
"No, he didn't meet the dog until later, when he went the second time to the cemetery. I wonder how we're going to take the ground? Do you know, Brown?"
"We have left all the arrangements to Mr. Pollard and the police. I see they are laying their heads together about it now."
The gentleman named was one of a group with the members of which this story is more intimately acquainted. They were standing apart near the roadside, talking in low tones and in reality waiting for Charlie Ellis, who had not yet put in an appearance. This group consisted of Mr. Pollard, Mr. Clark, Fanny's father, George Clark, Fanny's brother, Leonard Prosser and the two young men Doran, who were working in the Nugget Claim.
"Here's the trooper now," said Mr. Pollard, as the policeman appeared riding toward them, and the party spread so as to surround the horses when they drew up in the middle of the road.
"You'll have to start without me," Charlie Ellis said. "I've got a summons to Bendarrack this morning."
"Anything particular," young Clarke asked, as he observed an anxious look on Charlie's face. "Rather. I say, Leonard, step aside here will you; I want to say a word to you before I go—"
The two young men turned a little way apart and then the young trooper explained. "It's rather a sad business, Prosser. I think you told me that you met Conn Brady on his way to the coach yesterday?"
"Well, it seems he met with a serious accident, fell off the coach or something, and is dying at Bendarrack. Did you ever hear of Ike Lyman?"
"No, not that I remember."
"He is rather a character in the district, and it is he who came for me. It seems he and his brother sat up with Brady last night and Ike came for me on his own account, but for what I do not know any more than that. Ike says the dying man has something on his mind that I ought to know. There are no policemen at Bendarrack, you know."
"Ike Lyman. Is that one of the American party who are deep- sinking in Gall's Flat?"
"Ah, I have heard of them, and should like to see him. Where is he now?"
"Gone over to St. Herrick's to send Brady's mother and sister to him. He is to join me at Stacy's cross roads. Now I must be off. By the bye, where is Tady this morning? I don't see him."
"Tady is gone to Yawbenack; he started before dawn."
"I don't mind telling you Ellis, for I know you are no gossip. Poor Tady is in a dreadful state of mind about something he is compelled to keep secret even from me, and he has gone to a clergyman of his own persuasion to get advice on the matter."
Ellis laid his hand on Leonard's shoulder as he said in a low impressive tone—"You never made a truer remark in your life Prosser, and if ever one man was deceived in another, you are in Tady Connor. Mark my words if something isn't found out yet about that Irish friend of yours that will make you doubt Irishmen for the rest of your days."
"You are forgetting yourself, or perhaps never knew that I am myself an Irishman," Leonard said, drawing himself up and so removing the touch of Ellis from his sleeve. "A more faithful or honourable heart never beat than that of my friend Tady; and as for finding out that any suspicions you may entertain against him are verified, I shall never do so. Your profession has led you so much among evil doers that it has rendered you suspicious of even honourable men."
"I cannot stay to argue the point with you, Prosser" said Ellis, "But if that man is not hiding a secret he as no right as an honest man to keep, then I'm a fool, that's all. So long."
Leonard looked after Charlie as he rode away, and in spite of himself his thoughts began to dwell on Tady's conduct of the previous night in conjunction with the words that had just been uttered by. the young trooper. His foster brother had himself owned that there was something in his mind that he could not tell even his master and friend, did young Ellis know what that hidden thing was or were his words only the outcome of a prejudice he had conceived against Tady on account of his nationality?
He had not time, however, to debate the question, for Mr Pollard had arranged with the men as to their several routes of search, and he now joined Leonard in company with poor little Daniel Griffiths.
"Those on horseback are to separate into parties, and take the north and south toads skirting Bogong and the Spur, and so closing in around the Cemetery road, and the Dorans have decided on a foot search from the spot where the child was seen last. Shall you and I join them Mr Prosser?"
"But little Daniel searched all that twice ever yesterday, didn't you my man?" Leonard asked of the boy.
"Yes sir, but I was looking for Resignation alive, and to-day we must look for her dead." The lad's voice choked as he said the words, and he turned his quivering face away.
"Oh! don't give up hope that way my boy; many hundreds of children have been lost for days and recovered alive," Mr Pollard said cheerfully.
"Resignation is dead," Dan said simply.
"Why are you so certain of that?" Leonard asked.
"I dreamt of it. I say her lying deep down among sand and ferns dead, and covered with blood." The boy shuddered as he said it, and his poor, pitiful, white face grew whiter still.
"Dreams are nothing but sleeping fancies, my boy; we shall, I trust, bring Resignation home safely to her mother soon."
"Not living; we may bring her dead, for she is dead, and Dan Lyons has killed her."
As Daniel hurried off to join the brothers Doran, who were starting for the gully, Leonard looked in astonishment to the lawyer.
"Do you hear what he said? What an extraordinary assertion!"
"Most extraordinary," returned Mr. Pollard; "but, I heard him say so before this morning—he is firmly convinced that the girl is dead."
"And murdered by Dan Lyons? Surely you do not place any reliance on the imagination or dreams of a boy of twelve?"
"Let us follow them, and I will tell you as we walk. You see I know more of the events connected with Dan Lyons and St. Herrick's death than, I think, any other man in the neighbourhood, and what I do know makes me listen to the boy with a respect that would be unaccountable to you unless I could tell you all I know myself. For one thing, the tie between these children was a close one, and an almost unnatural one if all was known. Since Daniel's first recollection his unhappy mother has impressed him with a responsibility as to Resignation's comfort and happiness. He has been taught to yield his own will to hers, and to watch over her with the faithfulness of a dog. Seeing how the girl's mind has gathered strength with her years to brood over a loss she has only felt: through her mother morbidly, Daniel has learned to hate Colonel St. Herrick's murderer with a pitiable hatred."
"Pitiable?" questioned Leonard.
"In Daniel's case, yes—most pitiable. You cannot understand and I cannot explain." Leonard sighed, for it seemed to him that he was surrounded with secrets and mysteries that were both repellent to his frank manly nature.
"I do not understand you, of course," he said; "but I can see readily how much the tragic fate of this child, should it occur, might influence the future and character of the boy we are talking of. Did Ellis tell you about the business he has been summoned on?"
"It is a sad one. I observed one thing, however, that Ellis made no mention of Father James, the brother of the injured man, to me—did he to you?"
"No, he said simply that Ike Lyman had gone over to St. Herricks to send Brady's mother and sister to him."
"He's a strange being that Father James," murmured Mr. Pollard, thoughtfully, "and seems to lead almost the life of a hermit."
"His health, I suppose, and besides he has been, I understand, for many years in some foreign monastery."
"Yes, I have heard so."
"Do you know much of that American party at Gall's Flat Mr. Pollard?" asked Leonard, with some interest.
"The Lymans? Yes, I drew out the agreement of partnership for them, and it showed some peculiarities I assure you."
"I have heard a good deal about them that interests me, as a tale of brigandage or Californian life often interested me when I was younger. I should like to see them."
"Nothing is easier, they are very hospitable, and good humoured—as miners generally are when getting gold."
"They are getting gold then?"
"Undoubtedly, and plenty of it. There are twelve of them all told, and the brothers Ike and Abe are the leading spirits. Fine athletic fellows all of them, but rough with the great roughness of Californian Gulchers. I should not like to offend one of them unless I wished to tempt revolver retribution from all the others. Here we are once more at the Gully, and bad enough it somehow looks to-day."
Yes, it did look sad in comparison with the previous day, at least when Tady had hoisted his flag for the first time, and the champagne had flowed so freely over the christening of the claim. No one was working on No. 1 or No. 2 either, and in the gloom of a clouded early morning the gaunt old timber looked eerie, and the faded grass dank and unwholesome to every eye that looked upon it. George Clarke, however, shared the practical sensible spirit of his pretty sister Fanny, and a big fire had already done breakfast duty at the men's tent.
"I knew none of ye would think of a good breakfast before you started, so here's one ready for you all!" George cried, as he took them into a well laden table, "and I can tell ye that hot coffee, with a drop in it, is not to be despised any morning in the year."
The party had a hurried breakfast, little Daniel sitting outside and gazing wistfully up toward the rock where he had left Resignation sitting, and heard her voice for the last time. He would not go in to share George's hospitality, but drank the coffee put into his hand, seeing all the time, poor boy, the dead form he had seen in his dream, and hearing the echo of Resignation's last words in every morning whisper down the breezes of Murder Gully. The birds flitting through the branches said it so plainly that he would have wondered had the awful dread that was over him not overwhelmed all other feelings.
The rustling grass whispered, "Go Daniel and see!" and even the voices of the men breakfasting in the tent behind him seemed to collect and amalgamate into four words uttered in the lost child's well remembered voice, "Go Daniel and see!"
The boy set down his pannikin, for the coffee seemed to choke him, and he rose to climb up the side of the gully. It seemed to him that he must go and see the place where he had seen her once again, and that he should find there some token that should guide his search and that had escaped his double search of the previous evening.
"There goes little Dan," said one of the men as he swallowed his last drop of coffee, "he can't wait any longer. I never saw a boy of his age take on so about the loss of anyone. And you say he has dreamt of the girl, Mr. Pollard?"
"Yes, that she is dead down deep among sand and ferns. Now, shall we follow him, my friends?"
"Have you heard how Mrs. St. Herrick is this morning?" Leonard asked as they left the tent.
"Yes, I saw Dr. Grey; he thinks her case a very serious one. She passed a bad night with a good deal of delirium. He has very little hopes of her recovery."
"Poor woman! it is to be hoped die may never know the truth if the child is really dead."
Daniel climbed up the well-known side of the gully, and paused only when he stood upon the little plateau where he had left Resignation sitting upon the rock. How awful it was to the poor, affectionate boy to see there upon the bent grass and leaves the impress of the child's feet where he had last seen her, and a drooping spray of fern she had dropped from her hand! It was a feature of the child's sweet character, the fond love she bore to every leaf of the forest and to every Bower of the field. No one could ever recall having met her that she did not carry some specimen of her forest or garden treasures—a spray of wattle from the side of the creek, a bunch of pale eucalyptus blossom, a white rose from her father's grave, or maybe a simple cluster of flowering grasses.
Daniel lifted the bit of fern, as he knelt upon the grass where Resignation had rested, and laying the fern against his face he bent down to the rock, and wept such a passion of tears as he would have teen ashamed to let anyone, even his mother, see him shed. Daniel's ideas of prayer were very limited, but he had been accustomed to hear his lost playmate talk so intimately of the joys and happiness of that heaven she never doubted her dead father was enjoying, that he thought only of her now as another one of those in shining garments who gathered everlasting flowers by ever flowing waters in the presence of that mighty Essence of all Creative power we know as "God."
Weeping there with his face among the withered fern on the chill damp rock, his heart was very lowly at the great footstool, where the poor lad felt his own weakness and helplessness to the very uttermost; but Daniel had no words to put his heart's cry for help into—do you think that Daniel's aspirations went not up to Him, whose ears are ever open to prayer, as strongly as though they had been shouted torn a platform to a chorus of Hallelujahs from men and women who do not often enough recall that—"BUT THOU, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and SHUT THE BOOK?"
Well, you see, that may be a matter of opinion, but I believe that such unspoken aspirations as Daniel's on that damp spot of grass go straighter to God who "see-eth in secret" than any irreverent shouting will ever do, no matter in what words of eloquence the unseemly noises may be made.
The boy rose as he heard ascending steps, and wiped the tears from his eyes. There was not one of the five men who soon stood before the rock but sympathised with Daniel, and he knew it, though Mr. Pollard's hand alone was placed caressingly on his shoulder.
"It was here you left her, Daniel?"
"Yes, sir, sitting on that rock; and see, here is a bit of the fern she held in her hand."
"Which way did yon come to get down here, my boy?"
"We came from the cemetery. We struck off the cemetery road by a path over the hill. We often came here, but there is a shorter way to go home from this. I will show you if you come."
"Stop a moment, Daniel. Have you no idea what might have induced Resignation to have this after she had sent you down to see what was going on in the chum? She said she would wait for you, didn't she?"
"Yes. I don't know why the went unless something frightened her. Resignation was easily frightened. A sudden noise would make her tremble."
"Was there any noise yesterday?" Mr. Pollard asked of his companions, "there was the cheering, but that would not alarm her."
"I think she had left this before the cheering," one of the men said. "I noticed that she was there, and I noticed that she had gone about the time I first observed Daniel here on the claim."
"Do you think she could have heard Father James?" asked Leonard, "he shouted 'Blood!' loud enough to horrify anyone."
"It is possible," said Mr. Pollard. "Now supposing she had heard that shout of Father James, what way would she most likely have taken Daniel?"
"Straight for home I should think. And Resignation might have been afraid of Father James, for she did not like him. We met the priest several times, and she used to get paler and stop speaking when she saw him."
"Go on, my boy, and we will follow. Keep on the way you think she would be the most likely to take."
Along by the side of the hill until it dropped into the slope of its spur the boy went quietly. There was no actually marked path, but the way was not difficult. Grassy patches studded with granite; clusters green wattle or low gum saplings; little rifts down which the winter rains had run in heavy streams, but where fern tufts now flourished in the moist deposit—all these were passed without one trace of that they had lost, and at last Daniel stood at a spot where a broken track from the gully led past him towards the cemetery road.
At this spot there was a soft alluvial deposit swept down from the hills, round a perfect tangle of rocks and well grown saplings. Through the thick bushes and undergrowth here the boys eyes detected what seemed to be the track of some animal that might have, hard pressed, broken or torn a way through the bushes. On Dan's right hand was the spot I am describing; on his left a similar but more scattered collection of rocks and shrubs, and trees, and before him, at a little distance wound up the same hill on which "St. Herrick's" lay, the cemetery road.
"I did not notice that yesterday," the boy said, pointing to the broken bushes, "and there are footsteps here in the soft."
"These are the footsteps of a man," George Clarke decided, as he stooped to examine them. "There are no signs of a girl's track."
"Nor of a dog's—they have not come this way."
It was Mr. Pollard who spoke, he was following the footmarks back through the undergrowth, but they were soon lost on the harder ground.
"This track has turned suddenly just here," one of the brothers Doran said. "Look, George; it seems as if the man, whoever he was, saw something suddenly up to the left there, and struck for it—let us follow the tracks up hill."
"There are the marks of two men's feet in the soft ground there," Mr. Pollard, returned, "but go on—I am sure we shall not find any traces of the child without finding traces of the dog."
Up a sort of natural path among the undergrowth, they went following what appeared to be hurried footsteps, only visible here and there where the grass was sparse and the shaded soil damp, and then they came against the body and upper branches of a well grown and leafy young box tree that lay across the path.
"This has not been long down," said one of the men, as he went round the crown of it, "and it has covered up the tracks; let's see where it has come from."
The stem had been half cut through with a knife, and the bushy top bent forcibly down until it lay broken on the ground, yet still but partially severed from the parent wood. It was the easiest thing in the world for one man's hands to lift the light young tree and lay bare the spot it had concealed.
And what lay on that spot? What was it that the men gathered round and bent over with whispered words and horrified faces? What was it that made little Daniel weak and faint, and grasp at a hush for support? Ah, it was a trampled spot, where the impress of a dog's big paws were plainly visible, as well as the shape of a little girl's boot, and in the middle of it was a pool of blood, with the night-damp in drops on its coagulated surface.
They looked at the terrible thing, and then in each other's faces, until Leonard passed his arm around poor little Daniel, and tried to whisper comfort to him.
"Try to be a man, my poor lad; it may not be so bad as you fear."
"It can't be worse; my dream is true; we shall find her among the sand and ferns," he gasped, as he opened the hand he held clutched to his breast.
"What is it?" all asked, and Daniel answered them, "It is a bit of Resignation's dress; it was hanging on this briar."
A bit of pale blue cambric, torn jaggedly from the skirt of the lost child, and damp from the heavy dews of the past night.
"There must be more traces; let us look carefully until we find them."
And every spot was examined vainly until on the leaves of a low bush, farther up the hill, spots of blood were detected. Then, again, there was a break in the thick undergrowth, as if some person had pushed his mad way through every obstacle, leaving a broad trail of trampled leaves and branches, until a broad patch of grass, surmounted by a heap of rocks, was reached.
Here there was no trace of foot or gore on the short velvety verdure. The now warm sun shone upon the grey stones that were golden and green in patches, where the sturdy moss flourished on their sides. Under the granites, where the attrition and decay of years upon years had worn their sides, mica sparkled sand lay white and bright, and in the nooks among the sand many tufts of ferns grew and flourished. Daniel, the boy, pointed to the graceful fronds as he murmured some words about his dream, but there was no trace of the lost one on the level around the rocks.
Up among the clefts, where the ferns grew in damp, sheltered nooks, the poor boy climbed to where, on the summit three or four low honeysuckle trees grew together, emulous of the sun, and there, prone on the rocks, with his face on the sand and his senses oblivious of his great sorrow, they found him when he was missed and followed.
"He must have found her," Mr. Pollard said, "and yet there is nothing here."
"Alas! there is," replied Leonard, as he bent his face near the unconscious Daniel; "and it is the sight that has stricken the boy."
One and another stooped to see the sad sight that had met the young Irishman's gaze, as with a shudder of horror, he raised himself, and one and another rose, as he had risen, with white faces and terrible eyes. Indeed, it was a sight to shook the most hardened, and there were none but pitiful hearts to feel it at that moment.
"Draw the boy back and let him remain as he is for a bit; this is no thing for him to see." Mr. Pollard said this as he got up from the grass.
"Who has done it?" cried George Clark. "It is a foul and awful deed; who has done it?"
"Whoever did deserves to die like a dog," one of the brothers Doran said; "and I would think it a just and lawful thing to kill him with my own right hand."
"What are we to do? I think it ought not to be touched until the police are here."
"You think right. You know that Ellis has been called away, but Dempster, the other constable, is available; he was to be in the Gully at 10 o'clock."
"It is not for from that now," returned Mr. Pollard, as he consulted his watch. "Some of you go down to meet him. I will wait here with the boy until you return."
"And I," added Leonard; "Daniel is recovering. Daniel, my boy, you are better."
"Was it another dream? Oh, no, no; it is true. I saw her, I saw her among the sand and ferns."
"He must not see it again," Leonard said, pityingly. "I will take him down to the tent, where he can have some restorative. Come, Daniel, you must come away. Lean on me, and try to remember your poor mother; she would grieve to see you like this."
Mr. Pollard stood looking after the young gentleman as he tenderly guided the stricken boy until the bushes intervened, and then he turned again to scan the spot where Resignation had been hidden.
I have said already that the rocks were piled up there, and that low honeysuckle trees grew almost on the summit. Under one of those trees there was a deep fissure where the decay of years, aided by the rain and wind of heaven, had made a deep root-hole for the straggling growth, and above this fissure some shrubs had reared their thick boughs where two rocks leaned partially against each other. One had only to part these boughs to see, lying on the sandy floor below, the dead, mangled body of the lost child, gentle Resignation St. Herrick.
She lay as she had evidently been thrown down, in a helpless, limp-looking heap, with the ferns crushed under her, and the pale dress dabbled with blood. Further examination showed in the slender white throat a haggled gash, and the blue marks of rude hands on her poor arms. Her golden pale hair too had been severed in several places, and by the same cruel knife, doubtless, that had deprived her of life, for there was blood on the locks that were left scattered around her, as though vainly trying to hide from the light the cruel deed that had been done.
"It was not a man, but a devil, who did this," murmured Mr. Pollard aloud, "and Doran is right, it would be a just deed to rid the world of such a monster."
CHARLIE ELLIS, the young trooper, rode out of Marranga at a sharp pace, and with an unpleasant look on his good-looking face. He was half angry with himself for having spoken to Leonard Prosser as he did about Tady Connor, and wholly angry with Leonard for having taken him so sharply up in his servant's behalf. I have told you that young Ellis was a general favourite, but I do not want you to think of him as by any means a perfect or amiable character, for he was a good policeman, and I defy any one to make a good policeman out of a thoroughly amiable man. This being quite understood, I may acknowledge now what Charlie acknowledged to himself aloud as he rode on his rapid way that morning.
"I hate people to be so d—d obstinate in their own opinions! To hear Prosser fire up you might fancy that an Irishman never committed a crime under the sun. Now, I've no particular down on that Tady, though I know he's a fool, and suspect he's a rogue, but I'd give a month's pay to see him in a scrape, just to change Prosser's tune!"
No one could call that amiable, could they? And yet Charlie Ellis was not by any means a bad fellow, bat the best of policemen don't like to have their unenviable profession thrown in their teeth, you see. Fortunately, at this moment Charlie saw the man he was on the look out for waiting at the appointed place, and he had something else to occupy his mind as he joined Ike Lyman.
"Well, did you see Mrs. Brady, Ike?"
"I did; they are coming on—she and the daughter—as soon as the trap can be got ready. I thought you would be here long ago."
"I had to meet the search-party, and tell them I could not go with them."
"Did you tell them what you were going for?"
"How the devil could I? I don't know myself. I told Leonard and Pollard that Con Brady was dying and that you had come for me."
There was a few moments' silence as the two men rode on side by side, the handsome, slight, yet well-built young trooper in his immaculate cords and shining boots, and the loose, athletic figure with the bronzed, bearded face and the careless attire, and then Ike spoke again.
"What do they seem to think of that girl? do they think they will find her? Have they any idea that there may have been foul play?"
"Foul play! My God no! What has put that in your head?"
"I know the girl is murdered, that is all," was the cool reply, as the American stooped over his saddle to arrange the bridle.
"You know she is murdered!" Charlie could only repeat the words and stare with horror in his eyes at the determined massive-jawed face of Ike Lyman.
"Yes, what else do you think would bring me here? Charity, eh? Not if I know it. It was by accident that I overheard the man's light-headed talk, but when I had heard it me and my mates talked it over, and there was only one thing to be done."
"What's that?" Charlie asked in a low voice, for he had not yet recovered himself from the shock of Ike's assertion.
"Justice!" said Ike, fiercely, "justice on the murderer! I have come to you to give you a chance to see fair, but whether you do or not justice will be done all the same."
"I don't understand you, Lyman. Speak plainer, what are you driving at?"
"I thought I put it into as plain words as a man could put it. I like plain words and plain deeds too. What more do you want, Mister Constable, a girl has been murdered, and I am taking you to the man that did it."
"Conn Brady! Do you think that Con Brady murdered the St. Herrick child! it is not possible, for Conn was on the claim five minutes before she was missed."
"I don't care when he was on the claim, or when he was off it, he saw her dead. Me and Abe heard him tell of it over and over again in his delirium last night, and if ever a man was in hell before he was dead Conn Brady was. Not possible? Wait till you hear it for yourself and then say."
"I thought he was sensible when you left?" Charlie said.
"Yes, he was, and the doctor said he was booked, but do you think that Ike Lyman's boys'll stand by and see a devil die in his bed? No, by thunder!" Charlie Ellis said no more, for he had a wholesome awe of every member of the American party of Gall's Flat. He was, when he considered it, quite satisfied in his own mind that Lyman was greatly mistaken in supposing that Conn. Brady had killed the lost child even if she should' prove to have been murdered; but though he remained silent Ike did not.
"This lost girl is the daughter of that Colonel St. Herrick that was smothered in his own claim at Marranga, isn't she?" he asked.
"Yes, she is."
"And this Conn. Brady worked in the claim at the time."
"Did he? I didn't know. You were not here all those years ago Lyman?"
"No, I was not here. Did you ever take an interest in trying to trace that murderer, Dan Lyons."
"It was years before my time, but our department did everything that could be done in vain; Dan Lyons was never heard of since."
"Your department!"—the words were said with such a cold, hard scorn. "Your department is the most inefficient that ever a country was cursed with! Even Dan Lyons is so disgusted with it that he has to come back to Marranga to make sure that there is a grave there with a murdered man in it, and room' in which to put a murdered daughter beside him."
Charlie Ellis actually glared at Lyman with a sort of awed fear.
"You must be mad to fancy such things," he cried; "you don't—you surely don't think that Conn Brady is—"
"Dan Lyons, just so," Ike said coolly, as the little township of Bendarrack came in view, and the roadside hotel at which Conn Brady lay dying. Around the door of this hotel, and dose to it stood a most suggestive group of tall, stern looking, determined men. They were dressed in loose shirts of dark serge, and their pantaloons were firmly buckled around their waists by broad leather belts. High-crowned felt hats of various shades completed each man's attire, and there were nine of them who might have been cousins, so decidedly had the rough Californian life left its general traces on each dark bearded face. One of these men advanced to meet the new arrivals, and Ike questioned him as to the condition of the injured man.
"Sinking, but in his senses," was the sharp reply; "we must let him see his mother I guess Ike."
"I am afraid so, but they won't be long Abe."
"Doctor says he can't last till night," Abe added, as he turned reluctantly toward Charlie and eyed him scornfully; "what did you bring this chap along for?"
"To see fair play. Come come Abe, let's do anything straight and square, and in order."
"Did he cut the girl's throat straight and square and in order, curse him? I guess he did! If I had my way he should not see five minutes' grace to beg his God for mercy."
"What talk is this?" Charlie inquired, as he dismounted and looked from one face to another of these determined men, "to hear it one would think there was no law in the land."
"No one thinks that here mate," Abe Lyman returned, with a steady look into the trooper's eyes. "On the contrary, there's more law than was ever here before. Did you ever hear of Lynch law, Mister policeman?"
"Lynch law! Do you think that I'll stand by and see you commit murder in cold blood? There are Englishmen here that will aid me to keep the law?"
"Where?" was the sarcastic retort. "Show them to us."
Charlie Ellis looked around him desperately, and all he saw outside the American party was the landlord and two other men trying to draw back their white faces in evident terror at the door of the bar. "Ah! you see how it is my young friend! You are at present the only representative of British law on these diggings, and we, I guess, ate twelve good and determined men."
"But there is no justice in this!" cried Ellis in despair. "This man may be an innocent man, as innocent as you, more innocent if you have hung men in. California at your own wild pleasure without trial by Judge or Jury! You have taken it into your head that this dying man is Dan Lyons; he no more answers to the description of Dan Lyons than I do!"
"Prove that," one deep voice said. "I can easily prove it. I
have hoped to see and lay my hand on Dan Lyons ever since I came
to Marranga, and I have carried this cutting from the old
Police Gazette in which his description was published
always about with me." Charlie opened his pocket-book and took a
slip of paper from it with trembling hands, and as the men
gathered around him with clouded faces and frowning brows, he
read as follows:—
"Daniel Lyons wanted for the murder of Colonel St. Herrick at Marranga on the 16th October, 18—. Tall, stout built, almost black hair, heavy black eyebrows, sharp pointed large teeth, one molar absent from lower jaw, small tattoo mark of anchor on underpart of left forearm. Age about thirty."
"Conn Brady is fair and short, and he is not more than thirty-two or three, while Dan Lyons, must be over forty now—remember it is twelve years ago since that murder was done."
"We will go and see," Abe said, after a pause. "What do you say, mates?"
"I say that whoever the man inside is he the murderer of an innocent child, and he shall die for it, even though I had to strangle him with these hands."
They were great strong brown hands that the speaker threw out before him, and Charlie Ellis shuddered, for he felt that he was powerless to save Conn. Brady from these terrible men, and their wild justice.
"You, Ike and you, Abe, go in and see about this tattooing," was the decision; "we will wait outside."
"Stop!" exclaimed Charlie, "you will not surely doom a man to death without a certainty of his crime? You have convicted this man from the ravings of his own mouth during the delirium of a fever from his terrible injuries."
"We will do nothing without certainty, but we are already certain. Go on, Ike." The two brothers strode to the front and behind the house, Ellis following in a stupefied frame of mind, and feeling perfectly his own helplessness in the hands of these men. Ike led the way to the door of a room at the back of the hotel, opened it quietly, and went in.
It was a strange death-bed that Charlie saw as he passed the doorway, a weak man with white bandages round his ghastly face, lying so helpless looking on the bed, and two rough-looking men, with serge shirts, sitting silent beside him, like the guards they really were.
Conn's eyes turned when the door opened, and he recognised Ellis as soon as he saw his face.
"Oh, thank God for the sight of some one I know!" he said, as he put out a weak hand to take Charlie's. "You are Constable Ellis."
"Yes, Brady. How do you find yourself? Are you better?"
"I am free from pain now; I was mad all night."
"Conn," said Charlie, as he drew a chair to the side of the bed and sat down; "you have been saying queer things in the night, and it is time for you to explain if you can. Do you know that these men believe you to be Dan Lyons, the murderer of Colonel St. Herrick twelve years ago."
"And of Colonel St. Herrick's girl yesterday," added a deep voice from one of the men who stood around the small room in circle.
"My Lord, do they think that! Me? me! when the very horror of it has killed me!"
"I know you cannot be Dan," said Charlie firmly, "it is not possible; but your words of last night have aroused the gravest suspicions that you know something of Dan Lyons and the child Resignation who is lost. If you do, it is only right that the truth should come to light. You are very ill indeed, and believe me it will relieve us to tell the truth before it is too late."
"I know I am dying, and I am glad of it. Until I met blood lace to face yesterday—until I saw it on my brother's hands, hot and awful, I never felt the horror of it! Oh, Heavens, I shall never forget it—never!"
"Drink this," said Ike Lyman, as he raised Conn gently in his strong arms, and put some wine to his lips. "Drink and spit out the truth, for I'm beginning to think we've wronged you. Now do you feel stronger? Can you tell as that the murder of an innocent girl is not on your soul, so help your God, in your dying moments?"
"I have, shielded a murderer to my sorrow," Conn said, solemnly; "but God knows, I have no blood on my hands."
"Do you know Dan Lyons?"
Brady looked piteously around him from one stern face to another, but it was on Charlie Ellis that his eyes rested.
"I have confessed it all, and received absolution," he whispered; "Dan Lyons is my brother."
"Is? you know where he is then?" asked Ike, quickly. Conn turned his face away, as a spasm of pain passed over it.
"He is my brother," he said, faintly, "and oh, for the love of God don't ask me to tell it again! The father knows—I have told him all, and he will tell you, but I cannot go over it again!"
Even as he gasped out the words, he grew unconscious, and the men drew back from the bed.
"We have wronged this man," said Ike Sternly, "let us see this priest, and if the poor fellow's words are true we must let him die in peace. Here is the doctor now—let us go and interview this priest of Yawbenack."
IT was considerably past mid-day when Charlie Ellis, followed like a shadow by Ike Lyman, rode toward the little township of Yawbenack on their way to see Father O'Farrel, the priest whose chapel and duties lay between Bungarrack and Yawbenack. The distance was short, and they rode almost in silence, each man being occupied in thoughts he did not care to give utterance to. What the thoughts of Ike, the American, may have been, it is not pertinent to my story to tell, but Charlie Ellis had a weight on his conscience that we have something to do with. He was thinking of Tady Connor, and how he had wronged him by his unfounded suspicions, when he saw approaching them on foot the little Irishman himself.
Charlie Ellis drew bridle at once on recognising Tady, and if he had known how best to put in words at the moment it is most likely he would have told Tady of his hard thoughts, and of his sorrow for them; but Tady looked so utterly wretched, and Charlie felt Ike Lyman's eyes too keenly upon him to admit of his natural impulse being indulged.
"You have been at Father O'Farrel's, Tady," he only said at first.
"Yes, Mr Ellis, how did you know?"
"Leonard told me before I left Marranga this morning. You have heard the bad news, Connor?"
"Oh, it's all bad news together Sir, and I wish to the living Lord I was out of it."
The outburst seemed to come from Tady's lips almost in spite of him as he lifted his hand and threw it out from him in despair.
"He couldn't have heard about the girl," said Ike, looking keenly at Tady as he spoke, "for your mates went no farther than Bendarrack."
"Do you know that they have found the poor child's body Tady?" asked Charlie.
"I did not know, but Father O'Farrel told me about Conn. Brady. Oh let me go on my way, for I am a distracted and sorrowful man this day!" and the poor fellow passed them with an unsteady but rapid step, as though he dreaded being detained.
"Who do you call that character?" asked Ike, as he turned for a moment to follow Tady Connor with his eyes.
"It is one of the mates in the new Nugget claim. His name is Connor, and he is a foster-brother of the young chap Prosser I was telling you about."
"He seems top be taking this Brady's affair rather hard, eh!"
"I don't know why. Yes, it's a puzzle to me, but I'm certain now that Connor is a sensible decent man.".
"You say now; did you doubt his honesty before then?"
"Do you think you are the only man who takes an honest man for a criminal, Ike Lyman?" Charlie asked sharply, as he turned to resume his way.
"No, I don't. I guess you can make mistakes yourself at a pinch, mate."
"Yes, but my mistakes don't hang men without judge or jury," was the reply. Ike smiled grimly, but there was no time for reply, Father O'Farrel's gate having been reached.
The good priest was sitting in his plainly furnished sitting- room, when his servant announced his visitors, and upon his mild, benignant countenance was an expression of thoughtful sorrow. On the table before him several closely written papers were spread, but he drew them together and pushed them aside, as the American and Charlie Ellis were ushered into the room.
"You will guess our business friend," Ike Lyman said, as he leaned his large hand on the back of a chair and bent over the priest.
"Yon have come from Brady?"
"Yes, he told was of his confession, and in the name of the law I am here to receive it," Ellis said. "We know that Dan Lyons is his brother, and that the murderer is yet in Marranga or its neighbourhood, but Brady wished us to come and let him die in peace."'
"Unhappy man! Oh what a story of sin and crime! what a memory to carry through a life of misery to a bed of unrepentant death!"
"Are you talking about Conn. Brady?" asked American Ike quickly.
"No, no, I was thinking of his brother, the miserable man Dan Lyons."
"He is a brother of Brady's then?"
"Without doubt. Will you take seats, I should like to tell you what dying man and myself crime that has, I solemnly believe, almost driven Conn. Brady mad. I have put it in some sort of shape here as a kind of confession to which he has placed his name, and I have placed mine also as witness. The case seemed urgent, and there was no Justice of the Peace available."
"You did quite right," Charlie Ellis said as he drew toward him the papers Father O'Farrel had pushed across the table. "I think so far we could not be sure that Brady would have retained consciousness until you arrived. How was he when you left Bendarrack?"
"Nearly gone. His mother and sister had arrived, and almost the last words he spoke was to urge them to go back before his unhappy brother should be arrested."
"Unhappy mother!" the priest said. "As far as I can learn she has been the sinful cause of the suffering she must now witness and endure herself. If this last dread story of the child's murder is true, God help that wretched son of hers!"
"It is too true," said Ellis. "The constable stationed at Marranga with me has just ridden over to tell me that the body has been found."
The priest bent his head in silent prayer for a few moments, and then seeing the ill-concealed impatience of American Ike he hastened to tell his story.
"When Brady first confided to me the story of the child's murder, and that the murderer was his brother and a priest, being an Irishman and a Catholic myself I understood readily the horror of the poor man to be obliged to lay such a crime at Dan Lyon's door. I need not go over the story of the undying revenge that was the cause of Colonel St. Herrick's murder, but I have reason to believe that Dan Lyon's hatred of the whole family has been lately intensified by Mrs. St. Herrick's refusal to forgive Lyons who, Father James declared, was expiating his crime in penance and penitence in a continental monastery."
"You were not, of coarse, aware that the man calling himself Father James Brady was Dan Lyons?" American Ike asked.
"No. I knew that he had spent some years at St. Gyr, and went there as James Brady. I know now that he was driven by a remorse to seek in a monastery, seclusion that was denied him in the world; but he did not find it, and it would seem as if in the place of one devil seven had entered into the wretched man."
"Let us have Conn. Brady's yarn, Father," urged Ike.
"Brady says that he is only the half-brother of James, his mother having married again after Lyons' death. Dan was always his mother's favourite, and she never forgave Colonel St. Herrick for giving the evidence that consigned him to a penal servitude of some years for a crime committed on the St. Herricks' estate, in Ireland, and he told me—"
"About the murder, sir; about the murder of this girl?" he interrupted impatiently.
"I am coming to it, sir. It seems that at the claim—your claim, the Nugget—yesterday, Father James was taken so strangely ill that his brother, the now dying man, was obliged to partially support him on his way toward St. Herrick's, the cottage in which they have been residing; you have heard of that, Mr. Ellis?"
"I saw it; I was on the ground. The priest was taken like a madman at the sight of some red water his brother had thrown up from the shaft, and which James Brady screamed out was blood."
"Conn. went with his brother then, and at a spot he described to me they met suddenly the child Resignation, accompanied by her great dog Guardian. With the awful fury of a possessed devil, Dan Lyons, as we know him now to be, flew at the girl and seized her by the throat. He was instantly attacked by the dog, but stunned the animal by a blow on the head given with a stick that happened to lie near him. It all happened so instantly that when Conn was able to fly from the spot the child was lying on the ground with her throat cut, and the brute murderer stamping upon the dead body with his feet."
"He might have put out his hand to save the child," Ike said, with a glare in his deep-set eyes and a clench of his strong fingers.
"He blamed himself when it was too late. He says that he was paralysed with horror, and then the wretch was his own brother, and he fled to avoid giving evidence against him; but, you see, the Lord would not have it, and he was struck down to tell the story on his death-bed, ere he could die in peace."
"There is a question I want to ask you, Father O'Farrell," said Charlie Ellis, as he was folding up the papers, after some further conversation, "but as it is entirely a personal matter with me do not hesitate to refuse me amply if you should think I have no right to one."
"If it is one that my duty will permit me to reply to, you may count on me, my son, and if I cannot answer you I hope I can say so without offence so you."
"I would like to know if this poor child's murder had anything to do with Tady Connor's visit to you this morning?" Ellis said.
"Connor came to me to confide in me under the seal of confession, and to ask my advice as to what it was his duty to do under very painful circumstances, as they seemed to him. What advice I might have given him had not Conn Brady not told me his story, I need not now say. Tady Conner is most unhappy that duty will in all probability oblige him to of your witnesses against Dan Lyons."
"I was right then!" cried Charlie. "Tady knew that James Brady was Dan Lyons."
"He knew nothing until last night. I understand poor Connor has been paying some attention to the sister of these unhappy men, and went to St. Herrick's last night with a hope of obtaining an interview with his girl. He failed in that object, but by chance he saw and heard the murderer in, as he thought, the secrecy of his own chamber, when a fit of madness was upon him, and Tady knew him then and knew what he had done."
"About the child."
"Yes, he was waving along bloody tress of the girl's hair about him, and taunting the imaginary spectre of her murdered lather with it."
"And that man went home to sleep and shut his tongue between his teeth?" hissed Ike between his.
"He went home to spend the night on his knees and to wait for daylight in a horror unspeakable. The man is an Irishman and a Catholic, and it was something dreadful to him that he should be obliged to lay such a crime to the charge of a man who had taken the vows of priesthood upon him, and who was in his eyes a man to be honoured and reverenced above all men."
"And that's Irishmen, is it?" questioned Ike.
"Catholic Irishmen," the priest quietly returned.
"Well, I'm glad that I'm not an Irishman or a Catholic, that's all, father. Are you ready to go, constable?"
"Quite ready. Good-bye, Father O'Farrel."
"Good-bye, my son. Shall I see you over at Bendarrack? I am going over to Brady again."
"No, I have no business there now. My business lies at Marranga now."
"A sad one, a sad one. God help you in it my son."
The two men went out, remounted and rode back by the road they had come without a word passing between them until they reached the diverging track to Marranga, and there Lyman drew aside and turned his dark face full upon the young trooper.
"As your business lies now at Marranga, and you have the blessing of the church on it, eh? Well, our ways lie apart here."
"Yon-are going back to Bendarrack?"
"I am. Our party is breaking up you know—some of us say goodbye tonight."
"The Flat party breaking up? I didn't know. Are you going? You may be wanted as a witness to Brady's information, Ike.
"Aye? no I'm not going without at least seeing Dan Lyons. You think he is safe by this time?"
"My companion Loader rode back to arrest him before we left Bendarrack."
"And do you think Dan Lyons, the double murderer, will wait quietly until a policeman taps him on the shoulder and shows him the door of the lockup? He won't my young friend, but Ike Lyman will go over to Marranga and look this Dan Lyons up for you. So long."
THE sad group that went down from Murder Gully into the quiet little township of Marranga that day is remembered in the neighbourhood to this day. A temporary stretcher had been improvised, and the mangled body of gentle Resignation laid upon it in silence. After it had been raised from the cave-like hollow in which it was discovered, and with the shrouded form resting near the men's feet, there was a consultation as to where it should be laid to await the inquest.
"As a J.P., and in the absence of Ellis, I think I may venture to say that I should not like my friend's child to be at a hotel under the circumstances. I think we may take her to her home."
"The sight would kill her mother," one man remarked sadly.
"I am afraid she is past knowing, but there is a bedroom opening to the verandah in which the body might be laid and locked up —what do you say Constable Loader?"
"I see no objection sir. I am not in charge here as you know, but I'm sure Ellis would give your wishes due weight under the circumstances."
"Then we will take her to the cottage."
And down among the greenness of the gully side, over the dead looking murder claim, and down by the creek bridge the fair child had so often crossed with her flowers and her dog and her friend Daniel on her way to her father's grave, the sad procession went, with, scarcely an uttered word between them, save when some log or rut impeded their way, or with a curse the just fate of the cruel murderer would burst from an angry one of the party.
Leonard and Mr. Pollard walked together in the rear, and poor little Daniel staggered on almost blindly behind, then listened to, yet scarcely hearing the words that were said. More than once Leonard had tried to draw him to his own side, but the boy would only shudder and draw back again with his pale face bowed on his breast. He had not been so silent all the time since his recovery, for more than once he had repeated the name of Dan Lyons as that of the murderer. The men had questioned him and listened wonderingly, but could get nothing more from the lad's lips than his assertion that Dan Lyons had killed Resignation.
"There is no one in all the world but Dan Lyons wicked enough to kill our Resignation," he persisted, and then was silent again.
"Isn't it a strange conviction for the child to have?" asked Leonard; "he can never have seen Dan Lyons, can he?"
"Never, he was but a baby when the Colonel was murdered," Mr. Pollard returned thoughtfully.
"You know his mother pretty well, don't you Mr. Pollard?"
"Ellen Griffiths? Yes; why do you ask?"
"I have been thinking of the strange tie that was between these children. You were telling me that the boy had been devoted by his mother to the service and care of Resignation; there seems to me some mystery about it."
"There is, but it is no secret to me. I cannot explain entirely, but I may tell you that when the Gully was first opened Ellen's mother, the old woman who is now called the witch of Mount Roban, kept a shanty and sold drink in the Gully, and Ellen lived with her. When Mrs. St. Herrick gave way under the horror of her awful loss, Ellen nursed her with the devotion of a sister, and has been her right hand ever since—so far it was only natural that the children should be much together—indeed, Daniel has shared Mrs. St. Herrick's faithful instructions with her own child. Leonard, if you knew—if I could tell you all you would pity that poor boy."
"I pity him already; if I wasn't for his mother I would gladly take home to Ireland with me."
"And I'd give a good deal to see him go!" the lawyer said quickly.
They passed the Bridge, and paused shortly after within a little distance of the garden gate of the cottage, where lay the poor mother unconscious as yet of her dreadful sorrow. Every eye in the township had watched the sad procession, and among the rest Dr. Syme was awaiting them, and advanced to examine when the stretcher was deposited gently on the grass.
He lifted the covering from the poor stained face.
"Poor little one!" he said; "It is well that your mother is past feeling this sight."
"It will be safe to take the body in the house?" Mr. Pollard asked.
"Mrs. St. Herrick is unconscious and delirious, and if ever she rallies it will be only to die."
The gate was opened and the stretcher borne in among the pale, sweet flowers of the dead child's garden. No one save his poor mother, who stood awaiting them on the verandah, noticed little Dan gathering quickly a cluster of white lilies, and grasping them with a convulsive clutch, while his lips quivered whitely. Just then, however, a low mournful howl floated among the vines and roses, and the boy flew to bury his face on his poor mother's breast.
"I told you, mother, I told you!" he cried in a choking whisper. "Resignation is dead and Dan Lyons has murdered her!"
Ellen put the boy from her with gentle firmness and turned to help the men with their awful burden. Ah, if anyone could have heard the wild cries of that poor woman's heart! if they could have known what a torture of anguish she was enduring! She smoothed the bed on which the crushed body of the child was laid, and looked on while the men laid her upon it. She ventured to smooth the blood-stained tresses of pale hair that were scattered over the stiff shoulders, though the policeman said the body must not be touched until the jury had seen it, and then she went out and watched the man as he locked the door before she turned away like an image of stone, passing her son as though she saw him not.
Daniel stole softly to the side of Loader, the constable, just as he had turned the key in the lock, and laid his left hand on the man's arm. His right hand still clutched his bunch of lilies and his lips trembled so that as he tried to frame the words he wished to speak, his voice was inaudible.
"What is it, Daniel?" Loader asked kindly.
"Will you let me lay these in her hand? Resignation will, maybe, know that it is so cold and lonely in there and they will comfort her."
"My boy what good would they do? and it is a sore sight for you," the man argued.
"They will do no harm—Resignation loved her flowers so—do let me in just for once." The Constable no longer resisted, but quietly opened the door again, leading the way to the side of the body, over which the white counterpane had been spread. As he turned down the upper portion and exposed the fair hair and the white-stained cheek, the boy shuddered, but as the child's face was partially turned from him he escaped the sad glazed blue eyes that were set in death as if appealing to heaven for judgment upon her cruel murderer. The slender death white fingers were clenched, but Daniel laid his lilies near them just when their sweet fragrance might have gratified and delighted had Resignation been alive, and then with tears rolling down his own face the poor lad turned to the door and went out wordless.
He felt as if he was alone in the world that had lost all its beauty for him, and when his tears had ceased while he sat beside Guardian's kennel with his arms around the dog's shaggy neck, his fierce hate of that dread monster Dan Lyons seemed to grow harder and harder into a fierce longing for revenge. He forgot his mother and the dying mother of his dead companion, and firm in his belief that the crime of murder lay at Dan Lyon's door, he devoted hours to futile plans of finding him, and putting the police on his track. This was the boy's one ambition—to be the means of hanging Dan Lyons, and he told it to the grateful dog as the animal's soft tongue was passed lovingly over the boy's bowed head.
He felt neither hanger or thirst, and it was pretty Fanny Clark who at last coaxed him into the cottage to take the food prepared for him.
"Do you know where your mother is Daniel?" Miss Clark asked him during the meal.
"No, isn't she with Mrs St. Herricks?"
"No dear, I haven't seen her for an hour or more—perhaps she has gone up to your grandmother's."
"Daniel, have you heard the news Constable Loader brought?"
"I have heard nothing—I have been with Guardian ever since—ever since—"
"Yes I know dear. Well, it is terrible news, but you must know it sooner or later. You said it was Dan Lyons who killed our darling Resignation?"
"Yes, I am sure of it."
"You were right, bat who do you think Dan Lyons is?"
"How can I tell? If I knew do you think I would sit here? No, I would drag him to the police if I could."
"Constable Loader, with several volunteers to help, has gone to arrest him. It has turned out that Father James is no other than the murderer Dan Lyons."
"Father James!" The boy cried out so loud as he started to his feet that Fanny put her hand on his lips to remind him of the sick lady's sleep, but the boy neither felt the soft touch or heard the warning words. He was thinking of the day in the cemetery when the dark faced priest had followed Resignation to look at her father's grave, and trying to recall every strange word that had passed from his lips.
Miss Clark had gone to the sick chamber when Daniel overcame his awful wonder sufficiently to act on a determination to go to St. Herrick's and see Dan Lyons with the iron on his wrists for the bloody, never-to-be-forgiven deeds he had done.
It was about four o'clock in the afternoon when the boy once more crossed the creek bridge and met his mother as she came up the bank with an empty bucket in her hand. The woman was pale as death, yet panting as if her labouring lungs almost refused their office. When she saw her son she glared at him as at something of which she doubted the reality, and then she dropped the bucket and clang to the handrail of the bridge for support.
"Where have you been, mother?" the boy asked. "Miss Clarke has been looking for you this hour. And, oh, have you heard? The priest is Dan Lyons and they are gone to hang him."
"To hang him!"
"Of course they will hang him after he is caught. Oh, I'm so glad. It won't bring our Resignation back, but, oh, it would comfort me to see that wretch hanged a dozen times. I must go, I want to see the villain's face and spit in it."
From the fierce rage in the lad's face, from the vindictive glare in his eyes, and the white teeth bare between the drawn lips, Ellen Griffiths shrank back appalled.
"Daniel, oh Daniel, what has come over you," she gasped, as she caught the boy's arm and held it fast. "You, who weald not see a kitten drowned, to talk like that."
"What has come over me, mother? What has come over us all? Do you expect me to pity the devil that killed both Designation and her father? Take care, or if any one sees you, as I see you now, they will say you want to hide this Dan Lyons from the rope. Let me go, mother, for I tell you it will comfort me to seethe villain suffer."
"Daniel!" she gasped again, "Daniel!"
"Don't call me that name. If it wasn't that Resignation called me by that name I would be christened over again. Daniel indeed! it is a name to be ashamed of, for I suppose that the devil was called Daniel when he was young."
She couldn't speak, as her limp hand dropped from the boy's arm, and she turned her white face away from him.
Some idea struck the lad all at once, and he looked eagerly in his mother's averted face as he "Did you know this man, mother? Did you know him long ago, when he murdered the Colonel?"
She waved her hand in deprecation of reply, and, lifting the bucket, went away as quickly as she could to the cottage.
The boy followed her with his eyes for a moment, but he soon remembered the haste he was in, and sped on his way to St Herrick's, where the constable and volunteers had gone before him.
From that lonely stone-house of St. Herrick's the sunlight might have departed for ever, so silent were its surroundings, so full of shadow the dark shrubbery around it. Standing at the gate, hesitating to enter, the boy at last heard subdued voices, and, lifting the latch, opened the gate as softly as he could and went in. Then he saw that the front door was open, and that Constable Loader, with one or two other men, was standing in front of the cottage, and that there was keen disappointment in every face.
Daniel crept close to Loader, and looked inquiringly up at him. There was no need for words; questioning anxiety was in every feature of the lad.
"No, my boy, we have not got him," Loader replied to his eyes, as it were; "the villain must have got wind of it somehow, and bolted."
"Who knew about it, Loader?" one of the men asked.
"Until you brought the news from Bendarrack, no one knew that this man was Dan Lyons. Who did you tell?"
"No one but Mr. Pollard. He was at the cottage, and as I was bound to go there and see that all was right with the body, of course I told him."
"Some one has come and told him, I'll swear," another remarked, "for I saw the villain in his priest's black—curse him!—inside this fence, not half an hour before you came back from Bendarrack, and George here declares that he saw a woman walk down the middle of the street as we came up to the back gate."
"Miss Fanny Clark was by when I told Mr. Pollard," Loader said, doubtfully.
"It wasn't Fanny," George asserted. "It was a far older woman, and she had a black dress on."
She had a black dress on! Who had a black dress on? The woman who had been up here with a warning for the murderer to fly? Why, his mother, had a black dress on when he met her just now at the Creek bridge, looking so strange and seeming so frightened when he said what be and everyone thought of the man that must be hanged! Looking from one to the other as they spoke; these were the boy Daniel's thoughts, and they made his pale face flush red and his eyes flash as he seized the policeman's arm.
"Are you sure he isn't in the house? Have you searched all round; he might be up the chimney, you know, or down the cellar, know there is a cellar, for I've been down in it!"
"We have been everywhere, my lad," the man replied, making all allowance for the poor boy's eagerness to avenge his playmate's foul murder, and patting him on the head as he recalled the lilies Daniel had placed on the dead child's breast. "We have not left a comer unsearched, and Dan Lyons is hot here."
"I will find him wherever he is!" cried Daniel, "I will watch day and night until I can find where he is hiding, and if I was big enough I would kill him myself."
He looked willing enough at any rate, poor child, as his small hands clenched, and a terrible fire seemed to burn in his really fine grey eyes.
"We will set a watch here, Daniel," the man said to him, "and there shall not be a rood of ground unsearched around Marranga, but you can help as well, and perhaps better than the best man among us. We are going now to search the claims and the gully—the villain may be hiding down one of the shafts; but, Daniel, if you hear anything of him, ran to us with the news."
"If we could find out who that woman that warned him was," George said.
"I will find her out!" cried Daniel, and with the words he went back the way he had come, and left the men to pursue their search for the murderer as they thought best.
"Went down the hill by the bushes they said," he repeated to himself, as he looked to the right hand of the track, where the grassy slope was thickly studded with thick young trees. "It must have been around by these bushes," and Daniel turned toward them and looked the green vista they made back to the house of St. Herrick's.
As if the boy had been led there to solve his doubts and guide him to that he was decreed to do, the very first object on which his eyes rested, as they returned to him from following that green vista, was a bit of black rag hanging on a prickly bush at his feet. He disentangled it eagerly, and scanned it. A bit of black worsted material, worn, and rusty, and thin, torn it might be from the skirt of a woman's dress. Was it his mother's dress? He would see. If it was, then he would watch his mother to find Dan Lyons.
As he put the scrap of stuff in his pocket there was a dark frown on his young face, for strange thoughts were obtruding themselves on poor little Daniel. What had his mother to do with Dan Lyons? Could it be possible that she, who for all his life had been servant and friend to Mrs. St. Herricks, would know and shield the murderer of her child? Some idea of love little Daniel doubtless had, and he would have wondered if his mother could love this man, not knowing how vile he was, only that the boy was of opinion, from the few instances that had come under his notice, that women never loved again after their husbands had died. And Daniel's father was dead, of course. Long before he could remember, and not at Marranga, but his father was dead, and well so, as Nan Griffiths sometimes sneered with a side glance at little Daniel. He had asked few questions about his parentage, for they had been always discouraged, and only in confidence poor Resignation and he used to speculate on Daniel's unknown father when they sat in the cemetery by the grave of Colonel St. Herrick.
"I am afraid he was not a good man," Resignation had once said to him, "for Ellen doesn't like to speak of hint, but as he is dead we must say nothing bad of him, dear Daniel."
And so thinking these sad thoughts for one so young, the lad went home to the cottage, and round by the back to the kitchen, where he thought he would find his mother.
Ellen was there stooping over the fire in the preparation of some food. She had on a black dress, and there was a bit torn out of it at the back near the hem. Daniel took out his piece from the pocket he had placed it in, and saw it was identical with the space in the torn skirt. There was no need of further proof. The boy went out silently, knowing that it was his own mother that had warned Dan Lyons to fly; and Ellen Griffiths, unconscious, as well of her lad's presence as of the fact that her secret was discovered, lifted her saucepan from the fire, and re-entered the cottage.
LET us go back to record what had happened on that terrible day at St. Herricks, and what ground there was for poor Daniel's suspicions against his mother. From the shadows of the thick shrubbery around the stone house, the man we have known as Father James had watched almost step by step the search for the missing child. Inside the house his miserable mother sat idly looking into the ashes of a dead fire, recalling the horrible words of her guilty son on the previous day, and the awful touch of the bloodstained necklace he had thrown to her, and which she had burned in the very ashes she was now gazing on.
She had sat there all night, in spite of Nora's prayers and angry words, listening to the fearful sounds that came from her son's room, into which she dared not penetrate, and praying for the morning light that when it came was but a fresh horror to her. In every sound she fancied the feet or voices of those would drag her unhappy son to an awful death. At every movement of his she would turn her pleading eyes upon his face, but she dared not urge him to fly.
When he went down to the creek where he had seen and spoken to Ellen Griffiths, the wretched mother watched him every step, and only drew a relieved breath when he hastened home to hang around the shrubbery and peer between its branches.
Who can dare to attempt describing the remorse of that woman, who was after all a mother, now when the fruits of her crime and sin had nearly overtaken her? Aye, her sin, her very own! She felt it now when it was too late. She had urged her son on his way of vengeance against the St. Herricks without a fear or a shudder until the tress of fair child's hair had stained her cheek with cold blood, and-then all at once the horror of bloodshed was face to face with her, and she knew that she had made her son a murderer, and that he must die for his sins! Oh, thrice wretched woman, who could measure such an agony of remorse as thine?
"Mother!" shrieked Nora, as she shook the woman fiercely to try and rouse her from this trance of suffering, "Conn is dying, Conn has sent for us. Don't you hear? Conn is dying, I say, and he wants you."
"Conn has gone, thank God," was the stupid reply.
"Mother, I say, the man and the cart are waiting. For the love of heaven come out of this awful place—let us go to my brother and leave it for ever."
"Is he hung already?" she whispered to the horrified girl, who was happily ignorant of the dread truth. "If he is you can take me anywhere—it don't matter where I go."
The girl managed at last to prepare her for the drive, and looked for her brother to accompany them, but he was no longer in the shrubbery, and so without seeing him, and unconscious of his approaching doom, Nora Brady and her mother left for ever the house of St. Herrick's.
And the man that was left to face his fate alone, what of him? He came in when his mother and sister had gone, but he never missed them. He applied himself to his bottle until he was reckless of result, and then he lay down upon his bed, and slept a sleep that was akin to death. If no more awful fate had overtaken him, this wretched being would one day have lain down just so, and have slept never to awaken again—it is generally so that King Alcohol finishes his victims.
He had not even fastened the door when he lay down, and when Ellen Griffiths, panting from the speed with which she had run to warn Dan Lyons of his doom, reached the threshold, she crossed it without fear, for she had no thought of anything, save that if she could not warn him he must die.
She entered the kitchen; it was empty, there was not even a cat on the hearth. There was an open door opposite to her, and as she entered, rushing toward it, she saw the man she was in search of. There was no time to gaze at the hollow temples and eyes and the deeply-flushed face, or to compare it with the face of a man she knew years ago that was so different from this, but her voice choked as she shook the sleeper soundly, until he awoke with a start, and sat up facing her.
"What do you want, woman?" he cried out angrily, yet the red died out of his face as he asked the question, for he knew what she wanted, without any reply.
"Oh, Dan, Dan, they know all, and they are coming! Fly, fly, for my sake, if you don't want to see me die here at your feet!" She was at his feet now, kneeling and pleading with him as if the life she wanted to save was her own.
"Who is coming?" he asked, hoarsely, as he got on his feet and stood before her, tall and gaunt, with his rumpled black priest's coat still upon him.
"The police! Oh, go, go, before they arrest you! Everything is known. Conn has told how you killed the child, and there are many who would hang you without judge or jury!"
"Without judge or jury," he repeated, strangely, as he gazed on the floor.
"For God's sake, rouse yourself, Dan! Surely you are not yet awake! Don't you understand that the police are coming here, here, in a few minutes, to arrest you for the murder of the girl, and they know that you are Dan Lyons!"
Now he was aroused—they knew he was Dan Lyons!
"Where can I go!" he cried, "they will find me anywhere!"
"Listen!" she said, touching him to arouse him from his bewilderment of fear.
"You have money, haven't you?"
"Yes, I have money."
"Take it, then, and go up to my mother on Mount Roban. You know the place. Mother will do anything for money. Take it quick and go up to her—she will hide you."
He lifted the head of his mattress, and taking out a bag, hid it about his person. His face was death-white now, and his very lips were trembling. He had awakened, in the weakness and terror of a man who is alive only while under a fierce stimulant, and whose whole being sinks under the craving for the poison that is destroying him. The woman had to push him to the door, to place his hat on his head, and set his face toward Mount Roban.
"Round by the cemetery," she repeated, "and straight up to mother's—once there you are safe. Oh, Dan, I may never see you again; say 'goodbye Ellen,' as you used to do!"
He shook her from him with an oath, and darted into the shelter of the trees. With her tears blinding her and her poor hands clasped, Ellen watched him until he was hidden on his leafy way; and then, as she saw the party she had dreaded coming up toward St. Herrick's in an opposite direction, she flew on her own way homeward, though not quite unseen as she had fancied. And Dan Lyons went on his dread way, along by the trees that nearly encircled the cemetery, and close to the spot where he had shed innocent blood only yesterday. He did not pause at the spot, but darted past it, and up to the rocks under which they had found the child's body. He had some idea of hiding in that cave to which he had dragged the dead girl, but then he remembered that it would be the most unsafe place in Marranga, for many would be sure-to come and see the unholy spot.
Off once again he fled on his way among the thick trees and tangled bushes, safe as far as his flight being watched was concerned.
WHILE The hunted man was making his hidden way toward the hut on Mount Roban, old Nan Griffiths was sitting at her table inside the hut with the dirty pack of cards on which she had read many foolish persons' fate spread out before her. You have often heard of people such as she getting to firmly believe in the truth of the lies they have frequently repeated? It was so with the witch of Mount Roban. The cards were her bible and prayer- book—her God and her devil—They laid under her pillow at night, and when she dreamed evil dreams; as evil men and women will dream, she lit her candle, sat up in her frowsy bed and spread the cards out before her to interpret the dreams. She had them spread out on the table before her now, and she was gazing at them with a frown on her hideous face and muttered words on her lips.
"It is at my door!" she said as she got up and hobbled to the open door, "nothing can change that—it is at my door, whatever it is. Trouble and death and money all at my door, and I don't understand it."
She had heard nothing of the dread events of the last twenty- four hours in the valley beneath her. A hurried message from her daughter about the loss of Resignation and her mother's consequent illness she had had, but that was all, and the hag was lonely as well as indignant at Ellen's neglect of her.
"What is she keeping the boy down there for?" she muttered, as she tried to see if there was any extra movement in the township beneath her; "I'm sure she didn't want Daniel to nurse Mrs. St. Herrick; but they're all selfish and heartless—there's nothing to be depended on in this world but gold. I wish I had a heap of it, and they might go to ——for all I care."
Thus muttering, she turned back again to look at the death and trouble and gold in the cards laid out on the table, when a shadow darkened the doorway, and a man entered the hut and stood before her—a man with torn garments and bleeding hands, and with such terrible glaring eyes that the old hag shrunk back from him with terror.
"Who are you? What do you want here?" she asked, handling her crutch as though with some idea of defending herself with it.
"For God sake give me something to drink if you have it," he panted, as he tottered to a seat and sat down, "that will pay for it, and for haste."
Old Nan lifted the sovereign he had tossed to the table, and put it in her great side pouch, with a grin that made the old ill-favoured face seem diabolical; and then she took a square bottle from a dark corner and placed it with a cup before the stranger.
"There," she said, as she dropped into her own seat opposite the stranger, "drink, and welcome; you can always buy plenty of lush when you have the shiners."
He seized the cup he had filled while she was speaking and tossed the contents down his throat, and then he stared wildly round him, perhaps to find the hiding-place Ellen had promised him.
"Now that you have drank, open your mouth and tell me who you are and what you want?" Nan Griffiths said next, as her cunning eyes wandered over him from head to foot. "You look tattered and torn, yet you have a priest's coat on—how is that?"
"I am flying for my life," he replied, "and I have come to you, Nan Griffiths, to hide me from my pursuers."
"Hide you!" she laughed, "why should I hide you?"
"Because you are greedy of gold, and I can give it to you," he said. "Woman, your daughter sent me here to hide—look in my face, don't you know it?" He took his slouched hat off as he spoke, and the old hag gazed into the awful face seared with the brand of blood into dark, unnatural hollows. As she gazed her lips blanched and her eyes blazed as she uplifted her shrivelled claw-like hands in a shriek.
"It is Dan Lyons!"
"Yes, it is Dan Lyons, and the police are after him; there is blood on-his hands too, and he has laid trouble already at your door, but he has gold and you will earn it."
She felt the insulting words, but she knew they were true, and her hands itched for the gold.
"I can hide you where no one could lay a hand on you without my permission until the end of time—how much will you give me to do it?"
Dan pull out his bag and laid such a pile of sovereigns on the table before her, that Nan's eyes sparkled at the sight.
"They are yours," he said, "if you will hide me until the search is slackened, for I can get more from the bank when the course is clear."
She gathered the coins up with such trembling hands that some of them escaped and fell to the floor. To see the aged, bent form painfully stooping to gather them up, to see the trembling hands and the greedy light in the bleared eyes was to realise all that is meanest and most corrupt in the human soul whose god is gold.
"Yes," she panted, as she painfully and with the aid of her crutch raised herself, "you made the way crooked for me, Dan Lyons. I had a daughter and you took her from me."
"I never took her from you," he sneered, as he drained another cup of poison and began to feel his wicked self. "I was not such a fool."
"It was all the same," she retorted. "She was a sensible and a helpful girl once, but she was a fool from the day she saw your face; and, indeed, only the devil knows what she saw in the face, for it was always as ugly as sin at its best. My daughter has devoted her life since you murdered Colonel St. Herrick to putting her neck and the neck of her son under Colonel St. Herrick's widow's feet, and she has had no thought for me."
"She has thought for you now," he grinned, "since she sent me to you with gold in my hand."
"The thought was for you, and I thank neither her nor you for the money. A man's life is of value to him; at all events he does not want to lose it with the twist of hemp round his throat. What new crime have you done now, Dan Lyons?"
"Never you mind what I've done," he cried fiercely, as he got upon his feet and glared at her. "If you want to know ask someone else. Your business is to put me in a safe place and keep me there as you are paid for doing.
"Oh, you needn't twist your cursed old cunning face into the likeness of a damned mummy's, for I can see that you fulfil your part of the business for-very fear. Do you see that? There is wet blood on it yet and it can drink more. See to it old hag of the hill!"
Nan Griffiths shrank back in honour and Dan Lyons laughed aloud.
"Yon are not used to deal with men old Nan, now you know what you have to expect —take me to this hiding-place of yours—I know it is a safe place or Ellen would not have sent me to it."
Nan hobbled inside and he followed her into her bedroom, and she led him straight to the frowsy resting place where so many bad dreams had been dreamed.
"I can do it myself," she said, "but you are stronger than I—pull the bed out."
Until now he had held the knife he had brandished in her face clenched in his hand, but he hid it in his breast again and did the old woman's bidding. A heap of sacks lay still on the slab floor, and these Nan drew off herself, exposing what might have been the trap-door entrance to the cellar. Dan himself seized the ring and lifted it easily, exposing some rough steps leading downward into -the darkness.
"I'll go down first," she mumbled, "and you follow me close. There is a lamp ready for lighting below."
She went down carefully feeling her way and when she was out of sight Dan descended also. There were but few steps, and than a nearly level way, along which the man crawled in the darkness, guided by the hag's laboured breathing. Soon she stopped, and he heard the striking of a match, and a faint light grew broader, until he saw that he was standing in a sort of natural cave in the side of the hill, a cave with sand on its floor and ferns flourishing palely by its rocky sides. He shuddered as if a deathly wind had stricken him, for it reminded him he had hidden the body of the murdered child.
"Does any one but you know of this place?" he asked, suspiciously, as she held up the lamp for him to see around him.
"What is it for? What do you have such a hiding-place for?"
"Don't you see?" she asked, "we discovered it by accident, and I have sometimes used it to bring fools into blindfold to frighten them with visions—have you forgot that I am a fortune teller, and the witch of Mount Roban, Dan Lyons?"
"I have forgotten nothing," he said sharply, "but there is light here, or those ferns would not grow—mind, woman, how you dare to deceive me."
"I am not deceiving you," and she drew back a screen of old bags as she said so, "there is the pan I burn my herbs and sulphur in, and the skull that frightens gold out of fools' pockets, and as for light yon will see it up there among the slopes of the roof when the sun is not so low. And now I will show you that I mean nothing unfair—follow me still."
She hobbled up a steep incline that was in a corner of the cave, and then turning a corner suddenly there was a dense screen of living verdure before Dan Lyons, "If you doubt me at any time, Dan," she said, "you have only to part them branches, and you are free on the side of Mount Roban. And now I must get back for I fear some one should get into the hut and look for me. I will bring you a bed and food and drink, and no policeman can ever set an eye on you here."
"Stay, Nan! If I want you, how am I to call you?"
"Knock at the trap-door; I shall hear you, if not the first time, surely at the second."
She put the lamp on a ledge of rock, and left the murderer there alone, with the sand under his feet and the ferns by his side, and he lay down to sleep again as criminals so often sleep, with the shadow of their terrible doom surrounding them closely.
IT had been a day of great excitement at Marranga, and over the township the round moon shone on a generally-shared and great disappointment—Dan Lyons had not been arrested. Every man who had turned out to search for the lost child had tried to hunt up the murderer, but the sun had set and the moon risen vainly so far as the arrest of that fated man.
At the cottage, out in the garden, somewhere standing, and seated on the edge of the verandah, were several of the parties you have become interested in, I hope, during the relation of this story. Mr. Pollard was there, and Leonard Prosser with him. Little Daniel was standing leaning against the wall of the house at a little distance, and in a spot from which he could watch his mother's movements to and fro between kitchen and sick chamber. Tady was talking to the boy and looking in Daniel's face with a sad pity, and the boy had confided to the honest Irishman more of his thoughts and feelings on the late events than he would have told to even his mother.
To his mother, do I say? Dan would not have trusted her with one idea now; he had lost all confidence in her, and lost it for ever. It is a sad state of affairs between a mother and child when the latter gets old enough to reason and suspect the actions of the author of his being, but it had come to that with Ellen Griffiths and her son Daniel. The boy was getting on for thirteen years old, and he had not reached that age without having heard many sneers striking at Ellen, passing his disreputable old grandmother's lips. How that he knew his mother had actually visited that vile murderer and secured his escape, Daniel began to recall these sneers and hints, and to shrink within himself at what their meaning may have been. Dan did not tell Tady Connor anything of his suspicions against his mother, but he said enough to make the Irishman so sorry for the lad as to be anxious to sever him entirely from Marranga.
Even now and then as they were speaking the boy would look toward the door of the room where his dead companion lay. Constable Loader stood there silent and grim looking, for his disappointment was keen, and he had yet to impart his want of success to Charlie Ellis, who he knew would not give him good words for it. It wasn't his fault, certainly—he had done all a man could do; but in all probability the impossible would be expected from him. Loader had said a word or two of this to little Daniel, and the boy was determined that if he could trace Dan Lyons through his mother, he would tell Loader first of it, for Loader had been kind to him, and it seemed just to him, who had the trouble of search all day, that he should be in the success, if success there was, and Dan was thinking of this even while Tady was telling him how he and Mr. Leonard were going away, as soon as the claim was worked out, and what a lovely land Ireland was.
"Dan," said a woman's voice near the boy, and he started as he turned quickly to her, for he knew it was his mother. "Come here, I want to speak to you, my son." Ellen Griffith was standing in the shadow of the verandah as she spoke, and she a dark shawl folded around her.
"Dan," she said, "if any one asks you for me, tell them I've gone up to do a message for Miss Fanny."
"To the farm, mother? Why it's miles away."
"I'm only going up to grandmother's, Dan, only I don't want any one to know I'm on Mount Roban. I don't think any one will miss me; but if they do, say I'm gone on a message. I won't be long, and Nurse Brown is with Mrs. St. Herrick."
She was gone, and the boy stood where she had left him. Gone to grandmother's I and then it flashed across the boy's memory like a gleam of lightning, that there were hiding places on Mount Roban.
Old Nan did not know that her cave was no mystery to little Daniel; but I should like to know what place to climb, or what rock or tree or cave could ever remain a mystery long to Australian Bush boyhood.
One day, two years ago, Daniel had tracked a wombat into that cave, and explored the corners where the bones and the skull and rubbish were, and he had once frightened the hag herself half out of her senses with a deep groan, just as she was pretending to call up the devil with her pretended sorcery. Dan Lyons was hidden on Mount Roban! That was the idea that flashed upon him so vividly. He stood still for a minute to think, and then he went to the side of the glum-looking constable, and whispered to him —"Mr. Loader, don't tell any one just now; but I think I know where Dan Lyons is."
"What!" almost yelled the constable in his surprise.
"Hush! I'm not sure, you know, but I want you to come and see. Can you without telling anyone?"
"What makes you think this, Daniel? You must tell me more than that; I can't be going off on another wild goose chase just when we are expecting Ellis back."
"I am sorry you can't go, for I'm sure he's there!" the boy said decidedly. "I can't tell you how I know, but I do know, and I will ask Tady Connor to go with me."
"Stop a minute, Dan," the policeman returned, as he laid his hand on the boy's arm, "let me ask you a question or two. If the villain is where you think could one man arrest him?"
"Dan Lyons is only one man and we, you and I, would be two," the boy contemptuously replied. "I am only twelve years old, but If I met Dan Lyons alone I am sure that God would help me to kill him."
"Me boy," Tady said softly, "do you think the little girl that's lyin' cowld inside would like to hear you saying that you would make a murderer of yerself."
"No, she wouldn't, and I didn't mean that, but I'd die myself to see Dan Lyons punished for killing her."
"I will go with you, in the name of God, wherever you go, Daniel, and if these fingers of mine can help to twist a knot round the villain's throat they'll be strong, I know."
It was Loader who spoke, and Tady Connor looked wonderingly at him.
"Where does the boy want you to go?" Tady asked.
"To take Lyons; he thinks he knows where he is. Come on then, my boy, we will have a look at this cave of yours."
"Daniel!" cried Tady, in a hoarse, low voice, "don't go! don't go, as dragging a man to the gallows is no work for a tender- hearted boy like you."
"I'm not tender-hearted. I hate Dan Lyons. Didn't she?" and he pointed toward the room where Resignation lay so still, "she used to call me her friend, and I would go op Mount Roban the darkest winter night that ever fell to see the handcuffs on her murderer's wrists. If you do not come I will go myself."
"There is a fate in it," muttered the Irishman. "We can't let the child go himself; let us both go with him at all events."
IT might have been nearly eleven o'clock when little Daniel, leading his companions by a circuitous way, so as to avoid any chance of meeting his mother, climbed up the wooded sides of Mount Roban. The moon was on their backs as they climbed, and when they crossed a patch of grass on which no trees grew, their shadows fell short and strangely distorted on the hill before them.
"Do yon see that rock a little to the left?" the boy asked, as they paused on one of these grassy spots, over which hung the great branches of a yellow box, "the cave is just behind it, and if you look among the trees farther on you will see the light in granny's window. Now you can wait here until I come back and tell you if he is there."
"If he sees you, my poor boy, there mightn't be time for you to cry out," Tady said anxiously. "Let as all go together."
"No, we would make too much noise. There is no fear for me, I wont let him see me until you are there."
"The boy is right, let him go," was Loader's decision. "These young native born chaps are like native cats in the bush—there is no fear of him coming to harm."
Daniel knew every rod of the way he had yet to go, most of his young life having been spent about Nan Griffith's hut. He had treed possums on hundreds of old trees up Mount Roban, knew the warm haunts of the snakes by the sunny rocks, and had friends with many a pretty lizard as it crawled from warm, mossy nooks on the fallen logs. And not always alone—even as his heart beat wildly with his eager excitement and hope of being the one to bring Dan Lyons to his doom, the boy's eyes filled as he remembered Resignation as his dear lost companion in many an expedition in search of wild flowers on the skirts of old Mount Roban.
Light of foot, the boy quickly reached a rock, from which he had but to stop and crawl through the bushes that screened the opening from the cave which Nan Griffiths had pointed out to the hunted man. He paused there, and drew back, for he heard some sounds that were not of the leaves or the breeze, of the cheeping birds, or the gentle possum. There was a sharp rustle of branches that were parted by two fierce hands, and the boy was face to face with Dan Lyons, only a thin screen of leaves between them. In the pale moonlight the man's awful face gleamed with an unearthly whiteness, yet the shadows under the overhanging eyebrows seemed dark as an even starless midnight. The thin lips were closed tightly, and there was something so terrible in the eyes that looked out and down the mountain to the valley beneath that little Daniel shuddered and shrank from it.
Dan Lyons had no hat on. The marks of the tonsure were still visible on his head, but long thin looks straggled on his temples, and were blown across his sunken cheek by the damp night breezes. He looked up to the stars and the moon, down to the township, across to the cemetery, and to Murder Gully, and he mattered a curse as his eyes rested on the last.
"He has kept his word so far, damn him!" he groaned out between his clenched teeth, "and now it is not the brat's face I see but his!" With these words he let the branches rustle into their places and disappeared, leaving the boy to crawl back as he had come to tell his companions of his success.
"I could almost have touched him," he said, with such triumph, "but it will be far safer to get him in the cave, and I can show the way!"
"Tell as something about the inside of that cave," the cautious policeman said, and Daniel did his best to describe the inclined path inside, and the sudden turn behind the screen of bushes.
"What are our plans?" Loader asked, turning to Tady Connor. "Can I count on you, Connor?"
"You can so," the little Irishman replied, "but don't let the lad in it at all."
"I'll be in it, in spite of you," was Daniel's firm declaration; "you can't go without me, and I'll hold the wretch while Mr. Loader puts the irons on his wrists."
"There's a fate in it!" Tady groaned, repeating himself, "so go on, and I will be at your heels."
WHEN the murderer re-entered the cave, after looking through the screen of bushes down on the fair sweet world beneath him, he dosed himself with poison again, and flung his gaunt form upon the rough bed Nan had supplied him with. The bed, such as it was, lay on the floor of the cave—if the wretched man stretched out a hand on either side of him it lay upon the cool sand; with either he could have gathered the pale green ferns that flung their delicate fronds almost to his pale face. But he did not feel the sand, or pluck the ferns—he slept and dreamed.
The murderer's last dream! Oh, merciful heavens, that such, a thing can be! That a being on whose soul lies the curse of him that sheddeth blood should dream of happy faces, and the innocent laughter of children! That he should feel the breath of the sweet sea on his face, and the touch of loving lips on his cheek! That he should feel caressing woman's arms around him, and the perfume of the roses on her bosom in nostrils, and awake—oh! pity of it—awake, to feel the felon's irons on his wrists!
Dan Lyons dreamed that he was a boy again on the green mountains of his Irish home. He heard the whisper of the waters of the river near which he was born, and the rustle of the sedges upon its banks. It seemed to him that he heard his mother call him by the name "Dan!" and that somehow or other the notes of a lark away up in the blue sky were mingled with and drowned his mother's voice. Anon he was in a great ship on a wide sea, and he saw the white crests of the blue waves breaking and rolling down the waters like sheets of white fire under the silvery, moon. There was music and dancing and kind words; there were girls' bright eyes and girls' sweet smiles. It seemed to the miserable man that he was sailing on a never-ending sea of happiness, and that there was no such thing as sorrow in the wide world around him. And then he tossed his arms in his sleep and grated his set teeth, as he mumbled awful, broken words.
Great gnarled trees seemed to be stretching their crooked limbs all round him, leaving no hope for his escape. Trees without a single leaf on them, and so pallid and dead that they seemed like serpents, slowly and hopelessly entwining him. He struck at them with his hands and cursed them with his lips, and he awoke shrieking out to find faces bending over him that were not the faces of his dream, and when he struggled to rise he found he could no longer touch the sand, for there was steel on his wrists! Even then the poor boy Daniel flung himself on the man, and held or tried to hold down his struggling limbs.
"Tie him! tie him down or he will get away! Tie him! tie him!" Daniel's face was scarlet with a great passion; the fury of an awful excitement burned in his eyes, and as Tady dragged him from the helpless man he shrieked all the louder, "Tie him down! Tie the murderer down!"
Tie the murderer down!
That awful cry was heard by two women up above in Nan Griffiths' hut. One of the women was Daniel's mother, and as she recognised her son's voice, and knew that Dan Lyons was taken, she fell forward on her face at her mother's feet.
"IT was as neat a job as ever I saw done!" Constable Loader exclaimed; "and now Dan Lyons will you go quietly with us, or must we drag you down the hill like a bundle of firewood?"
"Let me empty that bottle," was the hoarse reply, "and then you can take me to hell if you like."
THE night waned slowly on, and Mr. Pollard, Leonard and Dr. Syme hovered yet around the front of the cottage waiting for the long delayed arrival of Charlie Ellis. They had missed both Loader and Tady Connor, and did not know what to make of it, and the doctor had just been in to see the sick woman, and was telling, the friends about her state.
"She lies in a most peculiar state," he explained, "and as I cannot honestly say I understand the case. I have sent to Bowden's for Dr. Crowther. Half the time she sleeps and then only she seems conscious, dreaming doubtless of what she talks of, sometimes loudly and sometimes in a painful matter. Her husband's death, her daughter's name with terms of endearment, instructions to Ellen Griffith about household affairs, all proceed from her lips when asleep, but through all and above all is the name of Dan Lyons and her unforgiving hate of him."
"And when she is awake?" Mr. Pollard asked.
"When she is awake she lies as one dead, save that her eyes wander round as in a restless search for something, she knows not what poor thing."
"Here is Ellis on foot," said Leonard, "and he is coming quickly. Bless my heart, how tired and upset you look, Charlie."
"I am both," the young trooper replied; "but I have no time to tell you much until I see Loader; where is he?"
"We don't know, he has been gone from this a couple of hours or more, and Tady Connor, it would seem, with him."
"No clue yet of the man?"
"Dan Lyons? No; Loader and several of our fellows have been in every possible direction all day—the man has disappeared as suddenly as if he had gone down in the earth."
"The shafts? Have they been searched?"
"Over and over again. St. Herrick's was deserted when Loader went straight to it after coming back from Bendarrack. No, Dan Lyons is not captured yet."
"Thank God!" ejaculated the young trooper, as he took off his hat to wipe the dust and perspiration from his face.
"That the murderer is not taken! We are all surprised to hear you say that," Mr. Pollard said, "and you must have strong reasons indeed, for I know that one great object with you, since you were stationed at Marranga, was to find some trace of poor Colonel St. Herrick's murderer, and bring him to justice."
"At this time yesterday, no greater prize in my profession, if I may call it so, could have been offered me than the capture of Dan Lyons—now I pray to God that he may not fall into my hands!"
"Good Heavens, Ellis, explain yourself!"
"I will. I was returning today from Yawbenack, where I had been to see Father O'Farrel about Conn. Brady's statement, and had almost reached Marranga, when I was overtaken by the priest himself, who had ridden after me in consequence of some information he had gained that was of the greatest consequence to me. I need not tell you word for word what he said, the whole of the matter being comprised in the fact that Ike Lyman's American party have sworn to lynch Dan Lyons, even if they had to drag him out of Marranga lock-up to do it!"
Pausing a moment to permit of a host of smothered exclamations from his listeners. Charlie went on again:
"You know such a thing would be ruin to me, and it would leave less blame on my shoulders if Ike Lyman had to take Dan Lyons himself before he falls into our hands at all, for take him he will, living or dead. Ike was never known to go back on his word for good or evil. I did all I could. I turned back and rode to Bowden's for the man who is stationed there."
"And brought him with you?"
"Yes, he is at my station now; but what would our three be against Ike Lyman and his Americans?"
"You know that many of us would stand by you Charlie," Leonard said, as he laid his hand affectionately on the young trooper's shoulder. "You would be willing to do so I know my dear fellow, but all of us would be as feathers in the way of these twelve determined men. I saw them once on the war path, and I don't want to see them again, though they only burned down a shanty at Ryder's—a shanty that deserved it too, for it had become the haunt of all sorts of immorality and rowdyism."
"This looks very like our lost party coming down the road," observed Mr Pollard, "and they're running—something is wrong Charlie."
There was no time to say more ere Loader, Tady, and little Daniel were upon them. The constable was pale with excitement, and so tired with his exertions that he could hardly gain breath to speak to Charlie. It was the boy who cried in triumph: "Dan Lyons is arrested."
"Speak it out Loader," Charlie Ellis urged, "though I guess what it is."
"We took Dan Lyons up on Mount Roban, and I had no sooner lodged him in the lockup, that Ike Lyman's vigilance party, surrounded the station."
"Didn't I tell you?" Ellis asked of Leonard with the calmness of despair. "Go on Loader."
"Smith from Bowden's was there—he told me why you had gone for him, and Ike Lyman sent me for you, Ellis. He wants to talk to you for a minute he says."
"They have taken possession of the station?" questioned Mr Pollard.
"Yes, and are armed up to the teeth. A finer looking body of chaps you never set eyes on, and they'll lynch Dan Lyons as sure as I see that moon."
"We must do our best to save him" young Ellis said, "who is with me in this?"
"All of us, of course. I am a magistrate—I have a right to reason with these men against wrongdoing."
"Do you call lynching Dan Lyons wrongdoing!" cried young Daniel. "A murderer, a murderer like him!"
"Daniel, my boy, don't let your young voice be heard in such a serious matter as this," Mr Pollard said to the lad. "It is time for you to be in bed."
"If I had been in bed Dan Lyons would not have been in the lock-up," the boy, sulkily returned. "It was me that showed Loader where he was hiding, and I helped to take him!" Daniel answered with pride.
"Is that a fact?" Constable Loader was asked.
"An undoubted one, sir—we should never have dreamed of searching for the man where the boy guided us."
Mr. Pollard looked sadly at the puzzled lad, but the importance and necessity of immediate action about Ike Lyman's bold step put poor Daniel's affair in the back-ground—only Tady murmured for the third time that day. "There's a fate in it. God help the boy, there's a fate in it."
"I, at least, have no choice," Charlie said, as he turned toward the police station. "It is my duty to try and save this villain from any punishment that is not meted out to him by the law of which I am a sworn servant, and I will do it if it is at the risk of my life."
"They will surely not proceed to extremities in the face of a Justice of the Peace," Mr. Pollard said. "Go on, Ellis, we are with you."
They went on in silence, a band of six men, with the boy creeping after them, unnoticed for the moment save by Tady, who dropped back to Daniel's side and vainly whispered an advice to return.
"They can't prevent me," Daniel said doggedly, "and I'll see Dan Lyons hung in spite of them. Mr. Pollard thinks it dreadful that a boy like me should be glad to see a man die. Does he forget that Dan Lyon killed Resignation's father and then Resignation herself? I should like to see him torn in pieces by wild horses."
"My poor boy, my poor boy," the sympathetic Irishman whispered, and with his arm over Daniel's shoulder Tady followed the little band before them.
When they reached the station the moon, now high on the left hand of the road, shone down on a peculiar scene, considering the time of night and the place. Twelve horses were tied to the fence and either side of the police gate, six at one side and six at another. Lithe men, tall and dark looking, and with a thin crape stretched across their faces, stood grimly awaiting the arrival of the policemen, while distinctly thrown out in dark relief against the white walls of the lock-up were four other men on guard, and dressed as were the others, simply in dark belted pants, grey shirts, and dark felt hats. As Charlie Ellis advanced in front of this party his quick eyes glanced from Ike Lyman's uncovered face to the revolvers in every belt around him.
"You have done a very neat job, Ike Lyman," Charlie said, "taken possession of the police camp and a prisoner of the Crown, to say nothing of turning a policeman out of the camp in the middle of the night."
"We have not turned the poor fellow out," Ike replied with a grim smile, "we only sent for you, for, on the contrary, we are very anxious to have all the constables in the station to- night."
"Where is Smith, from Bowden's?" Charlie asked.
"The policeman you went for, Ellis? Oh, he is on guard over the prisoner in the lockup."
A low laugh rippled from one man to the other of the grim band.
"My friends, this is no laughing matter," reproved Mr. Pollard, as he stepped toward Ike Lyman: "you are committing a grave breach of the law. My name is Pollard; I am a magistrate, and I would urge you to go home peacefully, and leave this unhappy man to be dealt with by the British laws he has defied and outraged."
"You know our object here, then, Mr. Pollard?"
"I have heard, with horror, that you have threatened to what is called 'lynch' the wretched being who has been arrested for murder, and is now in that lock-up," Mr. Pollard replied.
"You have heard the truth; such is our intention. Now, sir, will you tell me if you believe this Dan Lyons to be an innocent man?"
"God help him, no! There can be no doubt of his guilt. He has not denied it to Loader here."
"No; has boasted of it. He buried Colonel St. Herrick alive twelve years ago out of revenge for a just act of the Colonel's, years previous to that. Now he has come back again in the guise of a priest, and has killed Colonel St. Herrick's innocent child in the most cold-blooded, cruel manner. Don't you think Dan Lyons deserves death?"
"Yes, but not by your hands."
"You think he deserves it at the hands of the law? Well, sir. I am glad you agree with as; we are going to put lynch law in force an Marranga, and Judge Lynch has sentenced Dan Lyons to die within the hour."
"Try to realize that it will be Lyman Law if you do this deed," cried Mr. Pollard. "You are the leader of this lawless party, Ike Lyman, and the blood of this man will be at your door."
"If it did I should know it to be a mark on the right side of the Big Ledger for me; but you are mistaken, sir, we are one and all in this. I am only Ike Lyman of the American Vigilance Committee, and there are twelve of us, all told. Is this true, mates?"
"There are twelve of us!" was the reply from every throat, echoed by the men on guard at the lock-up; and it was echoed also by the desperate being inside, who heard every word that was spoken, and knew that his doom was sealed.
"You hear," questioned Ike again, "there are twelve of us, good men and true, who are willing to share all the sin of taking a villain's life, believing it to be a praiseworthy and just deed."
"But there is no necessity for you to have this wretches' blood on your hands," pleaded the pitying J.P.; "he is now in the hands of the law, and his doom is as certain as if you take life."
"Your law is a queer institution, my good friend. Let me see just what would be likely to happen in this fellow's case. There will be an inquest on that innocent creature who lies under the same roof with her dying mother, and Dan Lyons would be committed for trial. From lock-up to court house, from court-house to gaol—remand, postponement, loss of months. In all these there would be a hundred opportunities of escape by bribery, by sympathy, even by death—we will trust none of it, our decision is made."
"Will you let me beg for time and mercy for this wretched, guilty man?" asked Leonard.
"I wonder if you could find words, Mr. Prosser, for I know you have a sister at home about the age of this cruelly murdered girl."
"For the love of God don't murder Dan Lyons this way," cried poor Tady.
"You speak feelingly my good man; do you beg his life because he wears a priest's coat? Tady Connor, I know all about your feeling for him. You knew of this villain's blood guiltiness before any one did, and you would have hid it and let him go free. Stand back, my man, the night is going, and our work is before us to do."
"Not while I stand here to do my duty!" cried Ellis; "There are only two of us, for it is not our friend's duty to die in defence of our prisoner. It is mine, however, and you will pass over my body to remove Dan Lyons from our custody."
"And so, my good man, but it will, please God, be a living body," Ike coolly responded, as he wrenched Charlie's ready revolver from his hand. How it happened the witnesses would have been puzzled to for in a moment, as it were, Constables Ellis and Loader were being marched off to their own lock-up under the guard of a detachment of Ike's men.
"There is no harm intended you," Ike himself declared; "not a hair of your head shall harmed, only we will have our man, and we will see that no blame can possibly attach to you for what we do this night. Bring out the prisoner."
He was marched out between two men, his white face showing ghastly in the moonlight, his wild eyes staring in terrible fear upon the faces of those around him. While the door of the lock-up was open, Charlie Ellis and Loader were pushed inside, and the heavy iron door clanged upon them. "You are better out of it," the Lymans said, "and we will release you the moment it all is over."
Out of the gate Dan Lyons was marched, with the grip of a strong man on each arm. His handcuffs were unlocked with a key taken from one of the constables, and his wrists fastened behind him with cords, but not until the long black coat had been taken from his back, as Ike cried angrily: "Tear it off him! We mustn't let any man's religion be mocked or despised by the touch of the rope!"
And Dan Lyons had said as yet no word. If he could have told he might have said that the terrible words, "There are twelve of us!" were repeating themselves over and over in his brain as he looked hopelessly around him. What could he do face to face with twelve men? And what could the others do? Some words the doctor and Mr. Pollard again urged, but they were taken no heed of, and every man, save those in charge of the prisoner, soon stood ready to mount by his horse's side.
"Bring him here," Ike commanded again; "He rides on my horse tonight, and Ike Lyman will hold his bridle."
As Dan Lyons was passing to his place voiceless, he saw the boy Daniel crouching against the fence, for the reality of the awful scene had at last told upon him, and he felt how terrible a thing it was to die. It was a cruel murderer, no doubt, but it was awful—awful to be dragged out in the night to die, God knew how, at the hands of these silent men whose faces were hidden! Even at that last moment he remembered that even gentle Resignation would have pitied him, though he had killed her, and before he thought more he was at Ike's side, pulling him by the arm, and almost shrieking in his agony of remorse—"You have no right! Let him go, let him go!"
"Too late my lad," sneered Dan Lyons, with a fiendish glare at the boy. "You have done your work well. Stop men, I must speak to this youngster, and some of you know I have the right."
"If you never did one good deed hold your tongue now," cried Mr. Pollard, with uplifted hand; "spare the boy for the sake of that mercy you so sorely need yourself."
"He has spared me," was the bitter reply, as his eyes met Daniel's with a hate that haunted him for years; "he tracked his own mother's footsteps to lay the police on me, and he may now live, curse him, with the knowledge that he hunted his own father to death:"
The poor lad shrank back as though he had received a blow, and would have fallen if Tady's arms had not caught him. His lips grew white, and he trembled as he shrieked out, "It is a lie!" but Dan Lyons withered him yet with those burning eyes as he replied—"It is no lie, you cub; ask Mr. Pollard—he knows; ask your mother—she knows; and may the curse—" he was gagged before another word could pass his lips, and in a moment twelve men rode down the road with the murderer in their midst.
Daniel's whole frame collapsed, and his weight lay in Tady's arms as he whispered faintly—"I hope I am dying. His son! Oh, mother, mother, a murderer's son!"
"Don't believe him, Daniel dear," Tady Connor shouted bravely; "he's no father of yours. Don't I know? Wasn't I here long before you wor born? Ask Mr. Pollard there; and whisper now, sure I didn't like to say it before, but it's your father I am meself, asthore! You won't be ashamed of poor Tady Connor for a father, will you? and we'll go home to Ireland, where you will never hear of that scoundrel Dan Lyons again; and there now, he's better," the honest fellow said, as Daniel turned his face to the fence and burst into tears.
"If you can carry him away in that belief, Tady, you will have done a good action, and saved a young life. To such a boy as that, the knowledge that his father had been hung for such terrible murders would have ruined him."
"Oh, I'll swear him into believin' it, and if I never take a worse oath, the Lord will forgive me for it, I know. Come on home wid me, Daniel, alanna."
And so away into the shadow of the distance the murderer and his guards passed from the sight of the horrified watchers into the shadows of the distance, where could be traced in the moonlight the dark entrance to Murder Gully.
"They are going to hang him on the spot that witnessed his deeds of blood," whispered Mr. Pollard in an awestricken voice.
"And there is justice in it," added the doctor, emphatically.
Yes, they are going to execute the man on the claim in which he had buried one victim alive, and within sight of the spot where he had hidden another. The wretched murderer knew that, as soon as he saw the direction they were taking him in; that if he had not been gagged he could have spoken no word. For the faces of the dead were around him, and the voices of the dead were in his ears.
He saw Colonel St. Herrick as he had seen him last, and he heard his wards as he had heard them then—"If you leave me here to die, as you see my face now, you will see it at this hour every night until you die yourself, and your own death will be worse than mine—aye, a hundred times."
That was what the murdered man had said to him—aye, what he was saying to him now, with his white face within a yard of his own! And they had come true, every word! Colonel St. Herrick had been his companion every night for twelve long years, and now he was there before him to see him die!
"And I'm glad of it!" he shouted, as they stood him on his feet and took the gag from his mouth. "Hang me, and get it over! No hell can be worse than life surrounded by devils!"
"Man, try to realise the awful importance of this moment," Ike Lyman said sternly. "By your own confessions you are guilty of the foulest bloodshed—ask your God for mercy now, while it is not yet too late."
"Mercy to me means Oblivion. I have asked it of Him so long in vain that I will not try now. Do your worst."
"Abe, give us a prayer," Ike said again, and his brother lifted up his voice in a powerful appeal to the great First Cause for mercy on this doomed man. It was a scene to be recalled, and that was recalled by many of the participators for years after. Twelve men with bowed bare heads and a pinioned one standing upright in their midst. The steep sides of the gully mottled with moonlit patches and black shadows. The claims with their piled-up stuff and silent windlasses. The leafless trees on No. 1, and under one seared, gaunt outstretched limb a coil of rope lying on the ground.
A solemn pause after Abe Lyman's prayer had arisen to heaven, and again his brother spoke.
"Dan Lyons, won't you say one prayer for yourself?"
"Not one," returned the monster; "Ask him to pray for me," and he pointed to the imaginary form of Colonel St. Herrick.
"Then I can only say for you, may the Lord have mercy on your soul! Mates we are one in this matter? If there is one doubt that we do a just deed let it be spoken," and the answer was—"There are twelve of us!"
Before the echoes of the words had ceased to ring around among the rocks of Murder Gully the noose was around the doomed man's neck, tightened, and become a power that drew him up among the dead limbs of the horrified trees upon which no leaves had grown for twelve years. In one dreadful moment he saw the blue, deep starry sky above which was the dwelling place of his offended God, the spot where he had laid the bloody form of the murdered child, and the face of Colonel St. Herrick before his eyes to the last!
Oh what a terrible death to face. Among those men who stood gaping in silence at that figure suspended a dark, struggling form between them and the pure sky, was there not more than one who wished that the deed had not been done though there were twelve of them.
THE scene has changed, and the time. It is two years since Dan Lyons had met his doom at Marranga, and from the window before which Leonard Prosser is seated there is outspread broad Carlingford Bay, and the green slopes of the County Down. Leonard's face is little changed—his calm and thoughtful nature is not one that leaves many traces on a handsome face, and Tady Connor's wrinkled, queer visage is from other causes setting defiance to the ravages of time.
On the morning I reintroduce these two of my characters to you Tady is standing on the opposite side of his master's table, and they are talking over sundry affairs of the management of the Prosser estate that are in Connor's charge. Suddenly Leonard changed the subject.
"Daniel's holidays are nearly over are they not Tady?"
"Yes sir, time's up a Monday next. We war thinkin' of axing you for an extension Mr. Leonard; tisn't so long since ye war glad of a holiday yerself," Tady added, with a twinkle in his eyes fixed on his foster brother's countenance.
Leonard smiled. "You have never regretted fathering the lad, Tady?" he asked.
"Regretted! Sure you're not axin' in earnest Mr. Leonard, for well you know I never did. Every time that boy calls me 'Father' me heart jumps up in me mouth, but truth to tell sir I don't think he believes I am that, though he never says so. Any word from Australia since, Mr. Leonard?"
"I had a letter this morning from Mr. Pollard—I was just going to tell you."
"No word of the mother, sir?"
"Tale or tiding of either Nan Griffiths, or her daughter have never been heard of since. Do you think Daniel frets about her?"
"He thinks of her I'm sure, Mr. Leonard, but fretting I don't know. You see that business of her trying to save Dan Lyons he has never got over. But he will get over it, plaze God. I never saw anything like the way me mother has taken to him, and, indeed, he to her. I declare I believe she sometimes fancies he is her rale grandson."
"When are you going to give her a 'rale' one, Dan."
"Never, sir, with the help of God."
"Now that Nora Brady is within a county of you—"
"Mr. Leonard," Tady interrupted, with such an expression of pained reproof on his honest phiz that Leonard hastened to appease him.
"You are right, Tady; I ought to be ashamed of myself, and of course I was only joking. But everyone does not know that the girl is sister to a murderer, and it is to be hoped that some decent man may yet make her a wife.
"I hear that both Conn and the mother have become very devout," Tady said.
"I am glad to hear it. Charlie Ellis and Miss Clarke are married, Tady."
"Are they sir. Oh, by gob, he could well afford it. We did well in them three months' work, though the Lord knows it was like murder to me to come up out of the shaft and see that rope hanging there ever and always—I wonther if any one tuk it down yet?"
"I don't know, Tady; it was a hard climb and no one liked to touch it, Well, Charlie has resigned, at all events, and they, are married. Mr. Pollard says that the gully is deserted once more, and that he feels sad for a week after he visits the cemetery."
"Indeed, and no wonther. Oh! it was the sad sight the day of Mrs. St. Herrick's and Resignation's funeral? There they wor in one grave, you may say all three morthered by that cruel villain."
"And Dan Lyons within a stone's throw of them."
"Outside the fence though, sir; not in consecrated ground, anyway."
"Oh no, of course not, Tady."
"Did you hear exactly where the Bradys are, Mr. Leonard?"
"Near Armagh. It seems that they came home by the first ship after Conn's most unexpected recovery. It was a lesson to him, and I am glad he is a changed man."
"There was room for it, Mr. Leonard."
"There is room for improvement in every one of us, Tady. And now will you go and tell Daniel that I'm on for a morning's fishing if he likes to come with me, and we will talk over that question of the extended holidays."
"Oh, they're as good as granted, Mr. Leonard; Daniel will be so glad to go with you."
"A minute more, Tady. I would not say anything to the boy about the news from Australia; it might unsettle him."
"Of course not, sir."
"And there's one other item of news in Mr. Pollard's letter. It's quite in your line, too, Tady, for you believe in ghosts, I know."
"Dan Lyons has appeared!" exclaimed Tady, making saucers of his round eyes.
"Something like it. Several have declared that they have seen him hanging in the Gully where the Americans left him. It is always on moonlight nights, of course; and the dead man swings round his rope, showing his white face at all parts of the compass. Now, you know, Mr. Pollard doesn't vouch for the truth of this, Tady, nor does he believe in it."
"There's plenty of men as wise as Mr. Pollard, though I've nothin' to say agin' the gintleman that believes in the like," said Tady, as he opened the door for his own exit, "an' why wouldn't they? Doesn't it stand to raison that part of a lost sowl's punishment may be to see his sufferin's an' his sins over again on earth?"