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Title: Gentleman Jack, Bushranger Author: Don Delaney (pen name of John Sandes) * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1306531h.html Language: English Date first posted: November 2013 Date most recently updated: November 2013 Produced by: Maurie Mulcahy Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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Cover Illustration by Percy Lindsay
CHAPTER II.—HIGHWAY ROBBERY.
CHAPTER III.—THE COMMISSARY'S NIECE.
CHAPTER IV.—THE RAID ON BINDA.
CHAPTER V.—STEALING A STEEPLECHASER.
CHAPTER VI.—A FOUL MURDER.
CHAPTER VII.—AN AUDACIOUS DEFIANCE.
CHAPTER VIII.—THE SPIES.
CHAPTER IX.—IN DOUGHBOY HOLLOW.
CHAPTER X.—A CHASE AND A CAPTURE.
CHAPTER XI.—THE FIGHT IN THE lock-up.
CHAPTER XII.—SINKING IN THE MORASS.
CHAPTER XIII.—THE DISCLOSURE.
CHAPTER XIV.—"IT WAS A LOVER AND HIS LASS."
CHAPTER XV.—RETRIBUTION AND REWARD.
"Gentlemen of the jury," said his honor, in deliberate and impressive tones, "you have heard the evidence in this case and you have now to ask yourself whether there can be any reasonable doubt that the prisoner in the dock is guilty of a most cold blooded and brutal murder. It is my duty to tell you that, if you feel a reasonable doubt as men of ordinary intelligence, you should acquit the accused, but I am also bound to say to you that I have never heard a case more skilfully, more clearly, and, I may add, more convincingly put than this case has been put by Mr. Maynard as counsel representing the Crown."
An exclamation of indignant scorn escaped from the man in the dock, and a twelve-year-old boy sitting at the back of the court, beside a weeping woman, gazed with round-eyed wonder at the judge. The child dimly understood that things were going badly for his father.
"In the interests of justice," continued his honor inflexibly, "Mr. Maynard has followed up every clue and pieced together every scrap of evidence against the accused into a logical proof, which, as it seems to me, cannot be lightly disregarded by men who have sworn to do their duty without fear or favor. He has shown you that the bullet with which the unfortunate victim, Cornelius Considine, was shot, exactly fitted the revolver found in the possession of the prisoner. He has described to you how the body was found in the bush, having been dragged there from the main road, and hidden in a dense patch of scrub, and he has placed before you the black-tracker who examined the locality in conjunction with the police and who has sworn that the footprints found near the body were identical with those made by the prisoner's boots. Furthermore, gentlemen, he has shown that the murdered man had a large sum of money in his possession on the night of the murder and that no money at all was found on the body, while on the very next day the prisoner paid off a considerable debt to a creditor, who had been pressing him severely."
The prisoner in the dock gave a groan. The net of circumstantial evidence had been drawn tightly round him. The small boy at the back of the court glared with fury at the Crown law officer, who, as he dimly understood, had built up the case against the prisoner.
"Counsel for the defence has placed before you the prisoner's version of the facts," continued his honor, referring to his notes, "and has endeavored to prove an alibi. It is for you to say, gentlemen, whether you are satisfied with the evidence adduced to show that the prisoner was not within 20 miles of the scene of the murder on the fatal night. Mr. Maynard, with infinite perseverance, has co-ordinated a mass of detail which tends to show that the prisoner was in that immediate locality on the night in question, that he shot his victim through the head from behind, and then, having robbed the body, dragged it into the bush and hid it in the patch of scrub where it was found by the search party. I may express the view that this case at the outset offered some considerable difficulties. Counsel representing the Crown has, however, presented the case against the prisoner with such a masterly marshalling of convincing evidence that it is for you to say by your verdict whether he has not labored, in the interests of justice, so successfully as to sheet home the guilt of the prisoner beyond all possibility of doubt. Gentlemen, you will now retire and consider your verdict."
The prisoner in the dock sat down on the bench behind the iron spikes and buried his face in his hands. A constable touched him on the shoulder and pointed silently to the steps leading from the dock straight to the cells. The prisoner turned one wistful glance towards the boy who sat with the weeping woman at the back of the court, and then he disappeared down the steps.
The court adjourned. The judge, in his red robe and full-bottomed wig, withdrew from the bench through a small door at the back of his raised enclosure, and Mr. Maynard, having gathered up his papers, went off laughing and chatting with his legal confreres to luncheon at the hotel.
"Bet you an even sovereign that he is convicted, Williams," said Maynard across the luncheon table, to the barrister who had conducted the defence.
"I don't bet where a man's life is at stake," said Mr. Williams bluntly, "and I'm damned if I'll sit at the same table with you, Maynard, after that." He pushed his chair back and leaving his plate untouched quitted the room.
When the court re-assembled, the judge, after a whispered colloquy with the sheriff, announced that the jury had not yet agreed upon their verdict. He would remain in his room in readiness to hear it as soon as the jury had finished their deliberations.
The prisoner again disappeared from the dock and the assemblage settled down with a subdued buzz of comment to wait for the return of the jury.
The small boy and the woman at the back of the court sat in rigid silence, each clasping a hand of the other. The woman kept her eyes fixed on the empty dock, waiting for the reappearance of the prisoner. The small boy's gaze was directed to the door through which the jury had passed into the jury room.
Two, three, four hours passed—hours punctuated by the muffled sound of voices raised high in argument in the jury room. At last there came a knocking on the wall. It was a signal from the jury indicating that they had arrived at an agreement.
At once the judge was summoned from his room and the prisoner from his cell. The jury filed into their box and answered to their names. Then the fateful question was put.
"Gentlemen of the jury, are you all agreed upon your verdict?"
The foreman in a steady voice replied—"We are."
"Gentlemen of the jury, how say you concerning the prisoner at the bar. Is he guilty or not guilty?"
"Guilty," said the foreman with solemn emphasis.
"It's a lie," called the prisoner from the dock in ringing tones, "a damnable lie as I stand here before God. I never shot the man. I never saw him in my life."
"Silence in the court," shouted the crier.
The loud sobbing of a woman whom a small boy was trying to comfort at the back of the court, attracted the attention of two burly constables, who took her by the arms and led her with rough kindness outside and placed her in a chair in a bare, unfurnished room reserved for witnesses. The small boy escaped their attention. When his mother had gone, he sat on in his place with his eyes rivetted on the judge.
"Prisoner at the bar," said the judge, "you have been found guilty, by a jury of your fellow countrymen, of a cold-blooded and brutal murder. The evidence presented by learned counsel for the Crown could not be disregarded by any honest jury laboring in the interests of pure justice. The learned counsel has presented a case that, in the judgment of the jury, is conclusive against you; and with their verdict I am bound to say that I feel disposed to concur. You have had the advantage of a most able defence, and, in my opinion, everything that could possibly be done to minimise the damaging evidence fitted together with infinite pains by the prosecution has been done. It is not my intention to say anything now to add to the painfulness of your reflections. I am here simply to administer the law, and the law directs me to pass upon you the sentence prescribed for the awful crime of which you have been found guilty. Have you anything to say why the sentence of death should not now be passed upon you?"
"Listen!" The voice of the prisoner in the dock rang out with compelling force. "Your honor and gentlemen of the jury, you must hear me, for the blood of an innocent man will be on your heads. I cannot blame you for this awful mistake that you have committed, because you have been led into it by the devilish and hideous cunning of that man Maynard, whose sole object has been not to bring out the truth, but to secure a conviction at all costs. To promote his own interests and secure advancement from the Government, he has not scrupled to distort facts, to concoct evidence, and to overawe truthful witnesses in order to get me convicted on this charge. I repeat to you that I am innocent of the death of this man Considine, and that to my knowledge I never saw him in my life. But the Crown prosecutor, unable to find the real murderer, has hounded me down for his own private ends. He intends to buy his own preferment with the blood of an innocent man. I see him there with his pale face and his mocking smile, but I tell you now, your honor, and you, gentlemen of the jury, that God is not mocked. My curse shall fall on that man's head when I am lying in a dishonored grave. That learned counsel knows full well that I am innocent. Knowing it, his advancement shall turn to his own ruin. Degraded and despised, he shall die at last by a violent and shameful death. God will take vengeance upon the cold-blooded liar who has woven the hangman's rope for my neck with his cunning falsehoods. God will choose his own instrument in his own good time. Yes, Francis Maynard, for the life that you take to-day your own life shall be required of you. I have no more to say."
An awed hush fell upon the court as the judge, without further comments, passed sentence of death in the customary impressive formula.
Nobody noticed the small boy who had listened with staring eyes and close-pressed lips to the impassioned words of the convicted prisoner, and then to the dread sentence of the law. "God will choose his own instrument in his own good time," he kept repeating to himself.
Just before the prisoner was removed the small boy made his way to the dock. "What do you want here, sonny?" said a constable.
"I want to speak to my father," said the small boy.
So they lifted him up above the row of iron spikes and his father kissed him on the mouth. Father and son whispered together. It was a last farewell.
"Father, I will never forget," said the small boy. And then they took the prisoner away, down those steps inside the dock and through the underground passage to the prison van.
Francis Maynard slept badly that night. He had a horrible nightmare. Three times he dreamed that a dead man had gripped him by the throat with bony fingers and was slowly choking him.
The words rang out sharp and clear as pistol shots and the driver of Cobb & Co.'s coach on the Southern road pulled up his horses with a jerk when he found himself looking into the barrel of a levelled pistol held by a heavily-bearded man, who sat his big bay horse in the moonlight with graceful ease.
Scared faces appeared at the windows of the coach and the horseman's voice rang out again.
"Keep your seats all of you," he roared. "The first one who stirs gets a bullet. Swing your horses round Jim and drive slowly off the road and up that track into the bush. There's a small clearing a quarter of a mile up the track; pull up there and remember that I've got you covered all the time."
The lumbering coach swung slowly round and the streaming horses were headed straight into the bush. The track was narrow and deeply rutted, also it was thickly strewn with logs and boulders, so that Jim, the driver, had some difficulty in piloting the clumsy vehicle. The broad expanse of undulating country was silvered with moonlight, but when the coach left the main road it was engulfed in the heavy timber, and the coach-lamps merely served to make the darkness visible.
So with much grinding, creaking and bumping the heavy vehicle advanced further and further from the main road and into the dark solitudes of the bush where that resolute horseman could work his will secure from interruption.
"That'll do, Jim. Pull up. Fetch out the mail bags and drop them on the ground. If you try any tricks on me you're a dead man."
The driver pulled out the mail bags and dropped them.
"Now, down you come. Stand with your back to that iron-bark, and don't move a step or you'll never move another."
Jim, the driver, complied in surly silence. He knew that he was "up against it."
The horseman rode up to the side of the coach and bending from his saddle turned the handle and wrenched the door open. "Stop lively," he shouted, "for I'm a busy man and I've no time to waste. Let's have a look at you."
There were subdued mutterings and protests inside the coach and then a stout elderly man with a very white face alighted and immediately began to fumble nervously in the pocket of his overcoat.
"Hands up!" roared the horseman, "and see that you keep them up. A mistake like that has cost many a man his life. Stand there!"
Mr. John Goss, a well-to-do storekeeper, who was travelling home after a business trip to Sydney, presented a tragically ludicrous appearance as he stood there under a bangalow palm, at midnight, with his podgy hands raised aloft to heaven in the attitude of Ajax defying the lightning. But he had too much regard for his skin to change his attitude.
"Next, please," shouted the horseman.
A sallow-faced Frenchman with a black pointed beard almost fell out of the coach. Jules Ducroz was a well-known gold-buyer and a man of some note. He was on intimate terms with Sir Francis Maynard, the superintendent of police.
"Ah, monsieur," said the horseman politely. "Charme de vous voir. Ayez la bonte de rester la."
The Frenchman scowled at his captor, but, took up his position beside Mr. John Goss, wondering who the cultured marauder could be who addressed him so easily in his own language.
"Hurry up, inside there," shouted the horseman. "Delays are dangerous, you know." He tapped the barrel of his pistol expressively. Mr. Herbert Henderson, travelling inspector of the Royal Bank, descended from the coach and surveyed the horseman with a cold stare.
"No good getting into a temper about it, Mr. Henderson," said the horseman affably. "I'm only going to transfer your gold reserve after all. Toe in line please."
Mr. Henderson did as he was told with a shrug of the shoulders and took his place beside the Frenchman. The fellow knew him, that was clear. Probably he also knew about those notes. Well, it couldn't be helped.
"Anybody else in there?" called the horseman, still holding his pistol levelled. It was a curiously impressive scene, with the four sweating horses standing quietly in their harness, Jim, the driver, with his back against the iron bark tree, the mail bags on the ground, and the three passengers side by side under the bangalow palm. Mr. John Goss, the storekeeper, being suspected of carrying some lethal weapon in his overcoat pocket, still had his hands up, but the other two men stood at attention with their arms by their sides.
"Now then, hurry up you inside the coach there, and let's have a look at you. My patience is nearly exhausted."
The bearded horseman sat on his horse, with his eyes fixed on the door of the coach, and the barrel of his revolver pointing straight into the interior. He half expected that the last passenger might prove to be a trooper.
And then he got the surprise of his life, for, out of the coach and into the circle of light thrown by the near side coach lamp stepped a tall fair girl, with flashing eyes and the manner of a princess.
Although surprised, the horseman was not disconcerted. "Kindly take your place beside the gentlemen, miss; I beg your pardon, but I'm afraid I have not had the pleasure of being introduced to you before. May I ask your name?"
"Hope Thellusson," replied the girl in a steady voice, looking the bearded horseman straight between the eyes. "What do you want of me."
"Your watch, purse, rings, and any other trinkets of value that you have about you," said the horseman briefly. The lamplight played upon his heavy red beard and showed something like a smile in his blue eyes. "Please stand beside Mr. Henderson, Miss Thellusson, I will attend to you directly."
The girl took her place beside the bank manager with a glance of ineffable scorn at the three male passengers and the burly driver, who had tamely allowed themselves to be captured by this solitary red-bearded horseman. Oh, that she had been a man! Surely she would have found a way of dealing with him instead of basely submitting to his will. Miss Thellusson's bosom heaved with emotion and a tear of rage rather than of grief rolled down her cheek.
"Sorry to inconvenience you, Mr.—Mr.——"
"Goss," said the storekeeper resignedly, "John Goss, of Goulburn."
"Thank you, Mr. Goss, you may put your hands down. What money have you in your pockets, Mr. Goss?"
Mr Goss put his hand into his capacious breeches pocket and pulled out a couple of sovereigns and a handful of silver which he held out to the horseman.
"No good at all, my dear sir," said the red-bearded man slipping off his horse, but still keeping the big pistol pointed in the direction of his row of victims. He hung his bridle over the branches of a tree and advanced on foot towards the luckless passengers.
"I'm surprised that you should offer me such a miserable sum, Mr. Goss; really it's not worthy of a man of your position. Let's see what else you have got."
With incredible swiftness the red-bearded man explored all the pockets of Mr. John Goss, but could extract nothing except a silver watch and a bunch of keys.
"Well, Mr. Gross," said the marauder ironically, as he transferred the two sovereigns to his own pocket and handed back the small change, "it seems to me that you go about half an ounce to the ton. Scarcely worth crushing, in fact. Take your change. You want it more than I do possibly. And, anyhow, I never take silver from anybody. Hullo, what's this?"
He pulled out a cheque-book from the inside breast pocket of the storekeeper and glanced at the forms. "Bank of Australia, Goulburn branch," he muttered. "Good enough, too. Ah, Mr. Goss, you are a good business man I see. Always bank your credit balance on the butt of the cheque. This butt shows that your balance at present is £142 10/. Is that right?"
"I suppose so," muttered the unfortunate storekeeper.
"Well, Mr. Goss, I really cannot accept two sovereigns as a sufficient offering from such a substantial business-man as yourself, so I must trouble you to write me a cheque for, let us say, one hundred pounds, payable to bearer, at once. I always carry pen and ink for these little emergencies."
The red-bearded man took a small flat ink-bottle from his pocket and a quill pen, which he carefully unwrapped from a piece of newspaper. Then placing the pen in Mr. Goss's hand and the pistol barrel to Mr. Goss's head, he curtly bade him write.
Mr. Goss sat down on a convenient log and wrote out the required cheque, which he signed with a bold flourish and a loud groan.
"Now, Mr. Goss," resumed the bushranger, "if this cheque is returned with the endorsement 'signature unlike' or for any other reason, I shall do myself the the honor of waiting upon you at your place of business and blowing your brains out."
He placed his pistol on the log for a moment while he folded up the cheque, and it was as he did so that the thing happened.
M. Jules Ducroz, the well-known gold buyer, had over two hundred ounces of gold in a chamois-leather bag in his valise, and he had a well-founded conviction that the red-bearded man, for all his ironical raillery, was perfectly aware of that fact. The Frenchman was an adept at the exercise called "la savate," which may be roughly translated as "boxing with the feet." He had been meditating over his unpleasant position and had formed a tentative plan.
In the same instant that the red-bearded man put down his pistol on the log in order to fold up the cheque extracted from the storekeeper, the Frenchman struck his blow for freedom. He struck it with his feet, turning sharply round and letting fly with an upward and backward kick at the red-bearded man's jaw.
But M. Ducroz was not quick enough by a fraction of a second. He was a bit out of practice and he was also carrying a bit too much fat. The consequence was that the bushranger saw the kick coming, and ducked like lightning. With the same movement he snatched his pistol from the log and brought the butt down with a crash on the Frenchman's skull. M. Ducroz sank down in the ferns temporarily stunned and incapable of taking any further interest in the proceedings.
Mr. Henderson, the bank inspector, and Jim the driver, both started forward, but stopped when confronted by the red-bearded man, who seemed to have grown several inches taller, and whose eyes were blazing with anger.
"Take warning by that," said the bushranger, pointing to the motionless form that lay among the ferns with a thin stream of blood trickling down the white forehead. "The next man who tries any funny business with me will be shot dead."
He made Mr. Henderson unlock his valise and take out a large bundle of notes—£5,000 worth—that the inspector was taking back to his head office to be destroyed, arrangements having been made to cancel them. The red-bearded man took possession of the notes. He also opened the Frenchman's valise, and took from it the chamois leather bag, bursting with nuggets. He relieved Mr. Henderson of all his money and his gold watch and chain and diamond pin. Then he handed him back the silver coin. Finally he turned his attention to Miss Thellusson.
"I'll trouble you for your jewellery, miss," said the red-bearded man.
Quietly the girl took off her rings, a gold bracelet, and a small diamond brooch and handed them to the spoiler. A diamond encrusted watch with a thin gold chain followed the other trinkets. She placed them all in the open hand of the red-bearded man without a word.
He looked her straight in the eyes then. "You can take back anything you choose of these things," said the red-bearded man, "because I like your spirit."
"I will accept no favors from you," said the girl, with a glance of imperturbable disdain.
The Frenchman in the ferns gave a low moan, but it was the only sound that broke the tense silence for a few seconds.
"By the Lord, madame, you'll accept one favor from me at any rate," said the red-bearded man, with a new note of mastery in his voice. And he stepped up to the girl, placed his arm around her waist and kissed her on the lips.
"Your cur," said the girl and struck him with the open hand across the mouth with all her force.
The red-bearded man's face went white for a moment and then he laughed lightly. "You shall have all your trinkets back for that," he said. "All except one, that is to say, I must keep something for a souvenir of that blow. By the Lord, Miss Thellusson you're the bravest woman I ever met."
He selected from the little heap of trinkets a lady's signet ring set with a bloodstone, which bore for device a lion's head with the terse legend "Fear Not." Then he placed all the remaining articles of jewellery on the log near which the girl was still standing, silent and contemptuous.
Taking three halters from the coach, the red-bearded man methodically tied up Mr. John Goss, Mr. Herbert Henderson, and Jim the driver. He also gagged them so scientifically that it was impossible for any of them to utter a word. The Frenchman was only stunned and would soon be all right, but it was not necessary to bind him.
Going to the coach, he unfastened the traces and took out the horses. A few cuts of the whip sent them scampering down the narrow track by which the coach had come up from the main road. "It'll take Jim an hour or two to round them up as soon as he gets free," muttered the red-bearded man to himself.
Then he coolly abstracted the big silver watch from the pocket of the trussed-up storekeeper and presented it to the girl.
"Miss Thellusson," he said very politely, "may I ask you to be my timekeeper. In my profession a man's finer feelings are apt to get blunted, yet after all I have treated you with some consideration. In return I put you on your honor not to release these men until the lapse of two hours after I have gone. It is now exactly two o'clock in the morning. At four o'clock you may cut the cords with the sheath knife which the Frenchman carries in his belt, but which he was not game to draw."
"And what if I refuse to wait for two hours before releasing these men?" said the girl haughtily.
"If you release them any earlier," said the red-bearded man thoughtfully, "and if they succeed in getting into Goulburn before daybreak and notifying the police, it is quite possible that I may be caught."
"Is that all?" asked the girl.
"And hanged," said the red-bearded man, with a smile in his blue eyes. "Good-bye."
He mounted the big bay horse and cantered down the bush track, leaving Hope Thellusson, with the storekeeper's silver watch in her hand, staring at three men securely roped and a fourth man groaning in the ferns with a nasty scalp wound, and the little heap of her own jewellery glinting in the moonlight.
She looked down the bush track after the red-bearded man, but saw nothing. Yet far away, she heard the faint cadence of his horse's feet, and listened till the sounds died away altogether. It came into her mind that it would be a pity if they hanged the red-bearded man.
It was exactly four o'clock by the storekeepers watch when Hope Thellusson roused herself from her reverie and saw the Frenchman sitting up in the ferns and surveying her with a dazed expression.
Then she got the sheath knife from him and cut the bonds of the shamefaced three.
Jim, the driver, found his horses after a long delay, and it was half-past ten o'clock when the coach at last drove into Goulburn.
Mr. John Goss lost no time in getting to the bank. He ascertained from the manager that half an hour earlier a red-bearded man riding a big bay horse had called at the bank and cashed a cheque for £100, drawn by Mr. Goss in favor of bearer. The cheque was quite in order, and of course was paid without demur. The man took it in gold. He also asked for gold for ten £10 notes and the paying teller was able to oblige him.
Mr. Goss felt horribly dizzy and sat down in the manager's office to rest himself. As soon as he recovered he explained the circumstances to the astonished banking official, and in five minutes' time Chief Constable Gordon, summoned by special messenger, was closeted with the pair.
"The biggest robbery that has ever taken place in this district," was the terse verdict of the chief constable, when he had heard all the facts. "Gentleman Jack again."
Sir Francis Maynard, the Superintendent of Police, or, as he was generally called, the "Commissary," was in anything but a good temper as he sat at breakfast in his comfortable official residence on the outskirts of Goulburn.
In the first place he had "made a night of it" on the previous evening, with a select party of friends is his own rank of life. He had drunk more champagne than was good for him, and he was rather hazy as to the exact amount of his losses at baccarat.
In the second place, he was decidedly uneasy at the prospect of an extended visit from his niece, the 18 year old daughter of the Honorable Mrs. Thellusson, of Oldborough Castle, Dorset. As a widower of many years standing, he was not at all sure how he would get on with a girl to run his domestic establishment, even if she was a kind of connection by marriage. And then again he was sure that she was flightly and unmethodical. Why, she had actually written to him from Sydney saying that she intended to pay him a surprise visit, and that he need not expect her until he saw her.
In the third place there were those confounded bushrangers.
Sir Francis had a personal grievance against the bushrangers. Their depredations destroyed his leisure and his peace of mind. Instead of being able to cultivate the society of one or two charming women whom he had discovered, and to spend convivial little evenings at the houses of the "best people," this is to say the richest people in the neighborhood, he was obliged to be in the saddle every day planning the captures that so rarely came off and angrily complaining about the curt demands made by the Government down in Sydney that he should "suppress bushranging."
Suppress bushranging, indeed. He only wished he could.
With his mind running on such thoughts as these, he was making a languid attempt to eat his ham and eggs when a knock came at the door, and in response to his irritable "Come in," Constable Roche appeared in the doorway.
The constable saluted. His impassive face showed no signs of emotion or agitation. He simply reported that the mail coach from Sydney had just arrived about eight hours behind time, and the driver, James Feeney, reported that he had been stuck up by a bushranger two miles the other side of Macdonald's place. The losses were unusually heavy. Mr. John Goss, storekeeper, had been robbed of £102, and Mr. Herbert Henderson, inspector of the Royal Bank, had lost £5, which was his own money, and notes to the value of £5,000, the property of the bank. Monsieur Jules Ducroz had lost rough gold to the value of £1,000.
Sir Francis gave a long whistle. "I suppose Mr. Henderson has the numbers of the notes, Roche?" he said.
"Yes, Sir Francis. But ten of the ten pound notes were cashed this morning at the Bank of Australia as soon as it opened and also the cheque for £100 drawn by Mr. Goss."
"Did Feeney identify the bushranger?"
"No, Sir Francis, but he thinks it was Gentleman Jack."
"Wait a moment, Roche, until I get Lieutenant Molyneux here. We shall have to go into this very thoroughly."
Sir Francis tapped a gong and from an adjoining room his chief assistant, Lieutenant Arthur Molyneux, made his appearance. Lieutenant Molyneux wore his dashing uniform with an air of distinction, he was a good-looking young fellow of seven and twenty, immaculately dressed, clean shaven except for a small brown moustache; and very alert in his manner.
"I want you to take a few notes of Roche's report, Molyneux," said Sir Francis. "The Sydney mail has been stuck up again, and it's serious this time. About £6,000 lost."
Lieutenant Molyneux looked decidedly interested. "By Jove, sir, that's a big haul," he said with a laugh. "Have you any idea who it is this time. Dan Wall's gang again I suppose."
"Can't say as yet. Now, Roche, just tell us as near as you can exactly how Feeney describes the bushranger."
"I have Feeney himself outside," said the constable. "Perhaps you would like to question him yourself, sir."
"A very good idea, Roche. Fetch him in."
So Jim, the driver, shuffled into the room and shamefacedly told his story. In his opinion it would have been useless to resist, because the bushranger undoubtedly had his mates handy. He was a big man about same height as Lieutenant Molyneux and he had a heavy red beard. Jim reckoned that he must have been a man of about forty. He seemed wonderfully well informed about the passengers and he addressed him, the driver, by his Christian name. He (Jim) had never seen him before to the best of his knowledge, and he certainly did not want to see him again. The Frenchman, Monsieur Ducroz, had quite recovered from his crack on the head, but was terribly upset by the loss of his chamois leather bag full of gold and nuggets.
"Didn't you make any attempt to protect the lives and property of those under your charge?" asked Lieutenant Molyneux severely.
Jim only scratched his head. "Why should I get my brains blown out tryin' to save other folk's money?" he grumbled. "I didn't 'ave nothin' to lose 'cept my life, and that's worth as much to me as any other man's life is to him. Now, it's my belief that if it 'adn't been for the lady——"
"Lady, what lady!" exclaimed Sir Francis, pushing back his chair excitedly, "that's the first time that you've mentioned anything about a lady. What is her name?"
"She's down on my passenger list as Miss Hope Thellusson, that's all as I knows about her," replied the driver sulkily.
Sir Francis Maynard jumped from his chair as if he was shot. "Good God, man," he said, "she's my niece, who has come out from England to stay with me."
Lieutenant Molyneux gave a start of surprise and dropped his notebook in which he was taking down a "precis" of the driver's evidence. He had not heard a word from his chief on the subject of this feminine invasion of the official residence of the commissary. However, he quickly recovered his equanimity and proceeded to cross-examine Jim with much keenness and ability.
"Surely you saw the horse that the fellow was riding, Feeney? These bushrangers always ride the very best and I suppose you must know pretty well every decent horse in the district."
"That's just it, lieutenant," said Feeney with a puzzled air. "I thought I knew the 'orse directly I clapped eyes on 'im, but I soon found I was mistaken. He was the dead spit of Mr. Campbell's Ringleader, that won the Publican's Purse at Wagga on Christmas Day in everything 'cept the color. In make and shape he was the same 'orse, but this chap's 'orse had a big blaze on his face and two white stockings behind, while Ringleader is all chesnut, without a white hair on him anywhere."
"Ringleader has not been stolen from Mr. Campbell's place has he, Roche?" asked Sir Francis sharply.
"Not as I knows of, sir," replied the constable. "Leastways it hasn't been reported to us. Oh! by the way, I just remember that I saw him in Mr. Campbell's paddock as I came along just now. I was thinking that it was a bit risky to have him there with Dan Wall and Hulbert Gunn and the rest of them always ready to lift a good one."
"Yes, yes, that'll do, Roche; what you think is not of any particular value just at present. Ask the chief constable to come and see me at his earliest convenience. Now you can——"
Who on earth was that?
The commissary's butler answered the hall door and the swish of skirts could be plainly heard in the passage. There was a low-toned colloquy outside, and then the butler opened the door of the commissioner's breakfast room and announced with becoming gravity, "Miss Hope Thellusson."
Constable Roche and Jim, the driver, slipped out of the room as unostentatiously as possible, and Miss Thellusson, looking decidedly pale and tired, came forward with rather a weary little smile, and held out her hand to the commissioner.
"How do you do, Uncle Francis," she said, proffering her cheek for the perfunctory peck which the amazed commissary bestowed upon it. "I'm sure you're very much surprised to see me. And oh, I've had such terrible adventures in this wonderful country already."
"We have just been hearing about them, my dear child," said Sir Francis. "I am so thankful to think it was no worse. By the way, let me present to you my right hand man, Lieutenant Molyneux, the terror of all the evildoers in the district. I am in hopes that he will be able to lay hands on your bushranger within a very few days, and possibly within a very few hours. And when we do get hold of him I hope we shall be able to hang him as high as Haman. Eh, Molyneux?"
"Quite so, Sir Francis," said the lieutenant cheerily. "It's the only way to deal with those fellows. If they won't respect the rights of property they have no right to exist at all. That's sound doctrine, I take it."
Sir Francis smiled rather grimly. "You're just about right, Molyneux," he said. "And now, my dear child," he added to Miss Thellusson, "Mrs. Higgs, my estimable housekeeper, will show you your room, and I've no doubt you'll be glad of a rest after all your excitement during the night. We lunch at one o'clock."
He opened the door and politely bowed the pretty Miss Thellusson out. Then he began to pace anxiously up and down the room while the butler removed the breakfast things.
"Gordon ought to be here soon now," he ejaculated, pulling out his watch and consulting it anxiously. "The less time we lose the more chance we have in a case like this."
"Certainly, Sir Francis," replied Molyneux. "I can be in the saddle in ten minutes if you wish it." He looked out of the window, which commanded a view of the garden and the road beyond the neat white paling fence. "Ah, here comes Gordon at last."
Chief Constable Gordon was a burly official with grizzled hair and keen, steel-grey eyes. He saluted and stood at attention as he entered the room.
"Have you heard of any new recruits in Wall's gang, Gordon?" asked the commissary, lighting a cigar and sitting back comfortably in his easy chair. "Anybody, for instance, who is middle aged and wears a thick red beard?"
"No, Sir Francis. And I hardly think that the man we have to look for is associated with Wall and his lot. Seems to me that he plays a lone hand."
"Reasons?" said Sir Francis curtly.
"Well, in the first place, Wall's gang, as you know, is the tail end of Frank Jardine's gang, and those in it have always been young fellows. Never known a middle-aged man to be associated with them yet. When Jardine ran away to Queensland with another man's wife and Rourke was shot up Bathurst way, and O'Malley was killed by Mr. Macdonald, whose station he was holding up, the gang was reduced to three. Those three were, Wall, Hulbert and Gunn. As far as I know those three men are still working the Southern-road and they have taken in no new recruits. They have certainly not enlisted a middle-aged, red-bearded man. That individual is the biggest mystery I've struck yet."
"But there is no mystery that cannot be solved by brains and energy," remarked the commissary, blowing a cloud of smoke from his expensive Havana, "and I want you to help me solve this one, Gordon, in double quick-time."
"Very good, sir."
"The Minister down in Sydney is getting extremely nasty on the subject of the bushrangers," continued the commissary testily. "He seems to think that all that I have to do is to put a little salt on their tails."
"We can give them pepper at any rate," put in Lieutenant Molyneux, with a ringing laugh, "that is to say if only we can get near enough. But, so far, we have not succeeded in obtaining the slightest hint as to the identity of this red-bearded marauder. I tried to get a description from Feeney of the bushranger's horse, but he was very vague. He seemed to think that the animal was extremely like Mr. Campbell's crack racer, old Ringleader, except for a white blaze on the forehead, and two white stockings on the hind feet. But of course it could not be Ringleader. Roche says he saw the horse in the paddock this morning."
Chief Constable Gordon knitted his brow. "That's the queerest thing about the whole affair," he said. "I went into Mr. Campbell's paddock this morning and had a good look at the horse. He is covered all over with caked sweat and is completely done up. Somebody must have been riding him last night and riding him far and fast too."
"By George, you don't say so," exclaimed Sir Francis, thoroughly roused.
"But there's something else," continued the chief constable, with a gleam in his steel grey eyes. "I passed my left hand down the horse's forehead, and my right hand down his hind legs. Look here." He held out the palms of both hands for inspection. Streaks of white paint adhered to the fingers.
"Whew!" ejaculated Lieutenant Molyneux, "the red-bearded man must have faked the white blaze and the white stockings so as to disguise the horse."
"Exactly," said Chief Constable Gordon. "But the point that chiefly puzzles me is this. I have known many bushrangers who have stolen racehorses out of paddocks, and a good many who have faked the animals so that they became practically unrecognisable, but I have never, till now, heard of a bushranger who stole a crack racer at night and put him back in the owner's paddock next morning. The man that did that is no ordinary bushranger."
"Have you found out anything else, Gordon," asked Sir Francis, with a touch of unwilling admiration for the shrewdness of his subordinate.
"I have," replied the chief constable, with just a trace of pardonable pride. "I have ascertained from Monsieur Ducroz that the red-bearded man addressed him in perfect French. None of Wall's gang can speak French as far as I am aware. It seems to me that we are in for a tough job. Our man is no ordinary dull-brained criminal; he is well-educated and resourceful as well as courageous. He is likely to give us a long chase before we catch him. He is evidently the same man who stuck up the two gold buyers last week. 'Gentleman Jack' my men call him."
"I quite agree with you, Gordon," said Lieutenant Molyneux, with an enigmatical smile. "I congratulate you on your shrewdness and also on your hopefulness."
The conference closed and Molyneux, taking with him the chief constable and two troopers, rode away to inspect the scene of the sticking up and to collect any threads of evidence that might be found there.
Hope Thellusson experienced a feeling of vague disappointment when she emerged for lunch, much refreshed by the morning's rest, and found that she was to have a tete-a-tete with her uncle. She had begun to take quite an interest in Lieutenant Molyneux already.
"Well, oo is there 'ere red-bearded chap anyhow?" observed Dan Wall to his mates, Hulbert and Gunn, as they waited for the billy to boil in Doughboy Hollow a favorite retreat in the ranges, about 20 miles from the main Southern-road.
"Dunno at all," said Hulbert, scratching his head. "I've only seen 'im once—and that was in the dark."
An unpleasant cackle from Gunn showed that the witticism was appreciated. "Pity you didn't put a bullet through 'im," said Gunn, whose instincts were frankly murderous.
"I shouldn't wonder if it will have to come to that yet," said Wall, the acknowledged leader of the trio. "Wot's the good of us waitin' to bail up the coach at Billabong Creek when this red-bearded feller slips in in front of us, and goes through all the passengers three miles the other side of Macdonald's place. We ain't a'goin' to stand that, are we?"
"I should think not," said Gunn, fingering his revolver. "If Gentleman Jack is too proud to come in with us and show his hand, I reckon we ain't a'goin' to let 'im work against us. I hate these mysterious fellers wot nobody knows nothing about. An' besides, there ain't enough business doin' on this road for more than one firm. Gentleman Jack had better clear out and try the Northern-road for a while, or he'll be very apt to meet with a fatal accident."
Hulbert grunted assent and the three men drank their tea and ate their meal in silence. Like all the bushrangers of that time, they were very abstemious and seldom touched liquor. Three magnificent horses, all well-known turf performers that had been stolen, were grazing, hobbled, on a rich flat of succulent grass that was one of the chief attractions of Doughboy Hollow.
"Come on, boys, what do you say if we go along to Binda an' pay a visit to Scott's store this evening. I want some new togs an' the tea an' flour is runnin' a bit short."
"Wot about ole Maynard and that wise beggar of a Mollynooks?" grunted Gunn.
"Oh, they're all right," said Wall, "the bush telegraphs are workin' well. Cranky Billy met me at the creek this morning. He says that Molyneux and Gordon are out after Gentleman Jack, searching the bush away down by Macdonald's place, an' old Maynard is taking a holiday. Got some kind of a gal staying with him now. Niece from England, Billy thinks. Hope she'll keep him at home for a bit."
The three men lit their pipes and went after their horses. They were all young fellows. Wall, the leader, was only 24, and he was the oldest of the gang. Still they were the terror of all the well-to-do people in the district, and many were the bitter complaints that went down to the Government in Sydney concerning their depredations. There had even been a debate in Parliament and a resolution had been carried declaring that "the alarming insecurity of the country was a disgrace to the Government." But the bushrangers despised Parliamentary resolutions and scoffed at the puny efforts of Sir Francis Maynard and Lieutenant Molyneux to catch them.
As they rode at an easy pace across the ranges, making for Binda, Dan Wall outlined his plan. They would lie low just outside the little township until about 9 o'clock and would then stick up Scott's store. They had plenty of friends in the township and after looting the store they would go and have a bit of fun at the Harp of Erin Hotel and a dance with the girls.
This suggestion was received with acclamation.
John Scott, the proprietor of the Binda Store, was an ex-policeman. Having saved a little money, he retired from the force on his marriage and went into store-keeping. Being a level-headed fellow, he was doing very well at Binda.
He and his wife were in bed at half-past nine that night when there was a loud knocking at the door of the store, and Scott, in his night-shirt, went down to see what was the matter.
"Who's there?" said Scott angrily.
"The police!" returned a gruff voice outside.
Scott opened the door and three men, each holding a revolver, rushed in.
"That's all right, Scott," said Wall. "Just be sensible and you won't get hurt."
Gunn was placed on guard over Scott, while the other two men emptied the till and ransacked the store. They had a pack horse outside and they methodically loaded the animal with clothing—shirts, coats, trousers and boots—and with a supply of food, including a large bag of flour, a cheese, and a side of bacon. The whole of Scott's stock of plug tobacco was added to the load. They also came across the storekeeper's revolver and confiscated it in case of accidents.
Under the imperative orders of Dan Wall, who emphasised his instructions with his levelled revolver, the storekeeper was compelled to dress himself and to make his wife, too, get up out of bed and dress herself.
"We're going along to the Harp of Erin Hotel for a bit of a dance," explained Wall, "and as we have to keep you under under observation, you and your wife will have to come too."
The bushrangers' three saddle horses and the loaded pack-horse were tied up at the back of Scott's store, and Wall, Hulbert and Gunn, with their two prisoners on parole, walked across the paddock to the Harp of Erin, where a number of men were drinking at the bar.
Leaving Gunn to mount guard over Scott and his wife, Dan Wall and Hulbert walked into the bar with revolvers in each hand, and ordered all in the place to throw up their hands. The bushrangers quickly transferred all the money in the hotel to their own pockets with many facetious remarks at the expense of their victims. Then they ordered the landlord to clear the large dining room for a dance and a lively entertainment was speedily in full swing.
Everybody in the township put in an appearance as soon as the exciting news had gone round that Dan Wall's gang were up at the Harp of Erin and that ladies were specially invited. The bushrangers did the thing in great style, and were particularly scrupulous in paying for all the refreshments, drinks and cigars, out of the cash that they had annexed on their arrival.
A concertina player, who was seated on a chair placed on a table at the end of the dining-room, discoursed melody, and the assembled guests of the bushrangers abandoned themselves to the enjoyment of the dance with the utmost enthusiasm. Tim Burke, the landlord, surveyed the scene with benignant approbation, due to the fact that he was being paid for every glass of liquor that the hilarious guests consumed. Mr. Burke was making money faster than he had ever made it before. He began to have a respect for the bushrangers that was almost admiration.
Among the ladies of Binda who graced the scene with their presence, none were move admired than Miss Kate O'Farrell and Miss Elizabeth Trunkey, two girls of 19 and 18 respectively, who were completely monopolised by Dan Wall and Hulbert. Gunn, who was a young man of gloomy disposition, was no dancer, so he sat on a chair in the doorway with his revolver in his hand to see that no person left the hotel until the party was over.
Kate O'Farrell, a dashing brunette, with black hair and dark-blue eyes, at once captured Dan Wall's affections, and Elizabeth Trunkey's blonde beauty made an equal impression on Hulbert. The two girls were great friends and their debut at the bushrangers' ball was talked of in Binda for many a day. At polkas, jigs, and country dances they were unsurpassable, and to see Kate O'Farrell teaching Wall his steps in a corner of the room before bringing him out into the middle was a sight that vastly entertained Mr. Timothy Burke, the landlord. As for the concertina-player, that important person took himself very seriously and ground out "Come, Lassies and Lads," the "The Wind that Shakes the Barley," with an energy that was more contagious with every fresh glass of beer that he imbibed.
But there was one person who looked upon the gay scene with glum disapproval and that was John Scott, the ex-policeman, who had seen his store looted, his till emptied, and the pick of his stock loaded upon the bushrangers' packhorse. He was in no mood for merry-making and he sat beside his wife in a corner of the room, sourly refusing to drink the bushrangers' liquor or to dance to their music.
He noted, moreover, that though Wall, Hulbert, and Gunn pressed their hospitality on all present, they drank nothing themselves except one bottle of beer which Wall carefully opened himself and shared with his two companions. The bushrangers were not only abstemious for business purposes, but they also stood in constant dread of being poisoned.
The longer that John Scott looked on at the revels and at the frank enjoyment of Wall and Hulbert in the companionship of Kate O'Farrell and Elizabeth Trunkey the more embittered he became against the bushrangers. He remembered, too, that there was a standing reward of £50 for the capture of each of the three men who were there before his eyes enjoying themselves in the middle of an assemblage which included a number of men whom the bushrangers had just robbed.
John Scott formed a plan. Leaving his chair, he sauntered across the room to the table on which the bottles and glasses were set out, and while pouring himself out a drink found an opportunity to whisper a few words to Isaac Watson, the blacksmith, who was one of the men that had been relieved of their cash in the bar earlier in the evening. Isaac Watson shook his head dubiously.
Scott next approached Harry Batt, the best axeman in the district and a noted fighter and murmured a sentence or two into his ear. But Batt had drunk several glasses of rum and water and was disinclined to consider any serious proposition. "Not me," he remarked loudly, "you go an' do yer dirty work yerself."
The storekeeper hastily edged away and engaged in a quiet conversation with Billy Irwin the saddler, and Peter McKinnon, a cocky farmer, both of whom had been compelled to hand over their cash to the gang before the festivities began. They listened doubtfully and apparently without cordiality to his proposals.
It was while he was deep in whispered explanations with Peter McKinnon that Kate O'Farrell noticed him and directed Dan Wall's attention to him. "I wouldn't trust that there Scott, Dan, if I was you," said the girl eagerly. "He was a trap once, an' he's a trap still at heart. I b'lieve he's working on the cross this present minute."
Dan observed the storekeeper out of the corner of his eye and noticed that all the men whom he talked to were men who had been relieved of their cash earlier in the evening. The late comers had wisely left their valuables at home when they came to the party.
"He's workin' up a plan to grab you, Dan," whispered the girl to her partner as they danced together. "You'd best keep an eye on him."
As soon as the concertina player stopped and the dancers were able to rest for a moment, Dan Wall, at the instigation of his partner, went up to Harry Batt and quietly asked him what Scott had been saying to him. Batt was full of rum and good feeling by this time. "Blashted feller wanted me ter take charge of Gunn," he muttered thickly, "while he grabbed you himself, and somebody else was to look after Hulbert. Not me, I said."
Scott saw the colloquy going on between Wall and Harry Batt, and guessed that the axeman had blown the gaff on him. He realised that his position was a critical one and that he was in the power of desperate men.
With a sweep of his arm he overturned the big hanging oil lamp that was the only illuminant and plunged the big dining-room in darkness. Then, making a rapid run, he jumped clean through the closed window and sprinted for the bushrangers' horses.
Wall and Hulbert and Gunn were after him in an instant, firing as they ran. They realised that if Scott got away with their horses they would be trapped for a certainty and would be captured and handed over to the police by the men that they had lately robbed. Consequently they bent every effort towards cutting off Scott from their horses and in a minute or two they saw that they were successful.
Keeping up a continuous fire at the flying storekeeper, they compelled him to take cover behind a tree and then, as he darted into the thick bush where it would have been a troublesome job to find him in the darkness, they desisted from the chase. They emptied their revolvers at random in the direction of the fugitive and then they secured their horses and mounted them.
The assemblage at the Harp of Erin had melted away like magic as soon as the shooting began, but as the bushrangers swung themselves into their saddles Kate O'Farrell and Elizabeth Trunkey came running towards them to say good-bye.
"You ain't goin' away without givin' that dirty' trap, John Scott, one for himself, are you, Dan?" panted Kate O'Farrell with her black hair flying and her blue eyes flashing. "Me an' Bet will stick by you, anyhow."
"He's got clear away," said Dan gruffly, "an' we can't stay to chase him. He's safe for the present. What can we do to him?"
"You can burn his dirty store down, surely," said the girl vindictively, "an' Bet and I will help you, since John Scott has spoiled our evening."
"Jolly good idea," said Hulbert. "Come along, boys."
So the three men and the two girls collected great armfuls of dry brushwood, and piled them on the verandah of the weather-board store. Every moment was precious, for they could not tell how soon the alarm might be given to the police and a mounted detachment sent to trap them. When the brushwood was stacked up alongside the wooden front of the store, Kate O'Farrell herself struck a match and set it alight.
There was a crackling in the brushwood. Then a red tongue of flame leaped up in the darkness and in a few moments a roaring sheet of fire enveloped the doomed building.
John Scott, crouching down in his hiding-place in the thick timber saw the glare from his burning house, and wrung his hands in impotent rage. His wife saw it too from the verandah of the Harp of Erin Hotel, and wept tears of bitter anguish. She and her husband would be penniless now, and all through those merciless brutes who had swooped down on them to seize and destroy like so many wild beasts.
But Kate O'Farrell, with her hand on Dan Wall's bridle, looked up into his face appealingly. "I can't stay here, Dan," she said, "after putting the match to this blaze, and I don't want to stay here when you are far away. If I stay the police will come and gaol me, and then I should kill myself. Let me go with you, Dan, and share your life. I am hardy and strong, and I can ride any horse that ever was foaled. Take me with you and you won't regret it."
Who could resist such an appeal? Certainly not Dan Wall. Bending down he swung the girl up behind him and old Troubadour, the magnificent thoroughbred that he was riding, carried two riders instead of one all the way back to Doughboy Hollow.
Wall's gang had got a new recruit at last.
There was something like consternation at Sir Francis Maynard's bungalow when the news of the Binda raid was reported by John Scott, who rode far and fast over the ranges to lodge his complaint and demand that an effort should be made to recover his property.
The commissary was at his wit's end. Lieutenant Molyneux and Chief Constable Gordon had returned from their expedition without having discovered the red-bearded man who was known as "Gentleman Jack," and whose hiding-place was a complete mystery. And now here was this audacious outrage by Wall's gang, which had no connection whatever with the red-bearded man.
Sir Francis Maynard delegated the pursuit of Wall and his gang to the chief constable, and sat at his office table all the morning with Lieutenant Molyneux, deep in papers and reports.
"What I can't understand about this Gentleman Jack's operations, Molyneux," said the commissary, "is where on earth he gets his information. Wall and Hulbert and Gunn are just common horse thieves, with an appetite for loot of any kind that is to be picked up, but this red-bearded man seems to me to be very different. How did he know that Henderson was carrying that bundle of notes and that Ducroz, the gold buyer, had such a heavy parcel of gold with him. You and I knew it, because the bank had notified us in the one case, and because Ducroz himself had told me personally, when he was going down to Sydney, that he would have a parcel with him on his return. You remember that I mentioned the matter to you."
Lieutenant Molyneux nodded.
"I could have sworn that you and I were the only two men in the district who knew that those notes and that gold were on board that particular coach. Yet it seems clear that this fellow whom they call Gentleman Jack knew it too. His sticking up the mail coach on that particular night could hardly have been a mere fluke. Nine times out of ten there wouldn't have been a fiver to be got out of it."
"It certainly does seem extraordinary," said Lieutenant Molyneux, puckering his brow. "Wonderful how these fellows get hold of their information."
"Well, I'll tell you what I propose to do about it, Molyneux. The minister is in a great rage about the sticking up near Macdonald's, and I don't know what he'll say when he gets the report about this Binda affair. He keeps demanding that 'active measures should be taken to suppress these lawless outbreaks.' So I propose to get you to devote your entire attention to the pursuit of this mysterious, red-bearded man, while Gordon and his men go after Wall's gang. I leave all the details to you. But get him, that's all. Get him."
The commissary lit a cigar to soothe his worried nerves and proceeded to deal with his morning's mail, while Lieutenant Molyneux sat at the adjoining table awaiting any further instructions that might arise from the correspondence.
"Ah! Here's a letter from McPherson, the manager of the Bank of Australasia in Sydney, saying that they are sending up a box containing 3,000 sovereigns to their Goulburn branch with a special officer in charge of it. It will come up by the coach on the 25th. He wants to know whether I will send a couple of mounted men as an escort. What do you think?"
"I'm afraid we can't spare them just now, sir," replied Molyneux thoughtfully. "Gordon will want every man that he's got if he is to hunt down Wall's gang, and, as it is, I am left alone to deal with Gentleman Jack by myself."
"That's true, Molyneux," said Sir Francis ruefully. "Just drop a line to McPherson notifying him by direction of the commissary that it is impossible to send an escort, but reminding him that nobody will know that his gold is on the coach. We shall probably not have a coach robbery again for another six months, and we really cannot supply troopers to watch every person who travels on business."
"Very good, sir," replied the lieutenant, who carried out his instructions at once with the promptitude of a well-trained private secretary.
As he sat at his own table, screened from his chief by the triple row of pigeon-holes at the back of it, the young lieutenant's face underwent a curious change. He had been gay and cheery, though purposely deferential in his manner before. Now, unseen by the commissary, his lips tightened into a straight line, his mouth became granite, and deep furrows made their appearance on his forehead. Lieutenant Molyneux was the embodiment of grim, unfaltering, implacable resolution.
When he had finished writing the letter to the bank manager he took up a pencil and began idly tracing words upon his blotting pad. Suddenly realising that he had written the name "Hope Thellusson" three times on the pad, he carefully over-scored it with thick lines and fell to ruminating.
"I say, Molyneux."
"Yes, Sir Francis."
"I feel pretty rotten this morning. Too much champagne last night, I suppose. I think I'll have a soda straight."
"Better have a good stiff reviver, sir. It'll do you much more good."
"Well, I had half made up my mind not to have one before lunch, Molyneux, but if you really recommend that old dark brandy, perhaps I may as well try it."
"You couldn't do better, Sir Francis," said Molyneux with audacity. "I'll get it for you myself."
He jumped up from his chair, unlocked a cupboard in the corner of the room and brought out a spirit decanter, two glasses, and a bottle of soda water. He poured out a stiff nobbler for his chief and filled it up with soda. Then he poured himself out half a glass of plain soda, and held his hand over the glass so that Sir Francis could not see the deception.
The commissary tossed off the brandy and his hand ceased shaking. "Ah, that's capital," he said. "A first-rate prescription of yours, Molyneux."
The lieutenant placed the decanter on the table alongside the commissary's water bottle and then asked to be excused. He wanted to ride up to the station and confer with the chief constable.
Sir Francis nodded and the smart young fellow left the room.
When he returned, just before lunch time, the decanter was nearly empty, and Sir Francis was flushed in the face and unsteady on his legs. Lieutenant Molyneux smiled grimly to himself. He was very attentive to Miss Thellusson during lunch and chatted away most agreeably to her, relating several good stories and hitting off the characteristics of several of the local celebrities with a merry wit. The commissary's pretty niece was quite charmed with the dashing young officer, who, for his part, devoted himself to her with evident admiration. She was really a fascinating girl and Sir Francis was extremely fond of her and proud of her already.
In the evening, after dinner, the lieutenant, who had a pleasant tenor voice, sang several ballads, while Miss Thellusson played the accompaniments on the pianoforte. He also sang a duet or two with the girl. Their voices harmonised famously.
After the music Miss Thellusson devoted herself to a piece of fancy work, while the lieutenant and his chief sat down to a game of ecarte.
When Molyneux rose from the table he had the commissary's I.O.U. for £10 in his pocket. Sir Francis had been obliged to screw himself up with old dark brandy several times during the evening, and when he staggered off to bed he felt, as he phrased it himself, "decidedly rotten."
But lieutenant Molyneux, feeling "as fit as nails," looked into the blue eyes of the commissary's lovely niece and held her hand at least ten seconds longer than was necessary when he wished her good-night. If anybody had been present when he turned into bed in his modest quarters, at the lower end of the garden, where he had a couple of tin-roofed weather-board rooms all to himself, the invisible visitor would have heard the lieutenant utter a very remarkable observation.
As he got into his cot his face wore a sardonic, Mephistophelian smile and he murmured softly:—
"The curse is working."
About the same time that Lieutenant Molyneux was getting into his comfortable bed at Goulburn four persons were sitting round a camp fire in the mountains, near Araluen, 60 miles away. It was a cold, starlit night on the high tableland, and three of the four persons were smoking; the fourth looked quite a boy.
Even her intimate friend Elizabeth Trunkey, the blonde belle of Binda, would have found some difficulty in recognising Kate O'Farrell in the new rig-out that she had selected from the garments carried away on the packhorse from John Scott's store.
She wore a blue Crimean shirt, open at the neck, a pair of light moleskin trousers fitting closely to the leg, a short jacket of dark tweed, a slouched hat of brown felt, and serviceable lace-up boots. A black riding "poncho" was fastened over her shoulders, and her equipment was completed by a pair of long-necked steel spurs.
"I tell you I'm not going to ride that old crock any longer, Dan, so you'll just have to help me to get another. It's all very well for you boys to be ridin' fine horses like Troubadour, Flashlight and Forest King, but I can't keep with you on that cross-bred brute you've given me. You've got to find me another—or run the risk of being taken by some of Maynard's men."
Gunn growled out a curse. "What the h—ll did I say all along," he muttered, "we didn't want no blamed women in this camp. If Maynard's men gets hold of her they'll make her squeak all she knows, and it'll be our turn next."
"Shut yer jaw, Gunn," said Dan Wall curtly, "or I'll make yer. We don't want none of yer help, an' we don't want none of yer yabber neither. I'm lookin' after Kate, an' I don't need assistance from you or anybody else." He glared angrily at both Gunn and Hulbert. The latter had been inclined to support Gunn, but Dan Wall's energetic attack cured him. The two malcontents relapsed into sulky silence.
"Kate is quite right," resumed Dan. "She must have another horse and I know where there is one to be got. You two grumblers can stay here if you like, or else make your way back to Doughboy Hollow and we'll meet you there tomorrow. I'm going to get a good horse to-night."
"Where is he," said Gunn incredulously.
"Up at McIntyre's station, the other side of the township, not five miles from here," replied Dan. "Kate will come with me. It'll do her good. Make a man of her." He laughed boisterously.
So Gunn and Hulbert settled down for alternate spells of watching and sleeping while their hobbled horses grazed close by, and Kate and Dan mounted and rode away. As they showed up for a moment on the crest of a ridge, Hulbert nudged Gunn in the ribs. "My oath, ain't 'e dead shook on 'er," he grunted. "She's ridin' Troubadour to-night, an' Dan's on the hairy-legged crock."
To the mind of the bushranger there could be no clearer proof of the insanity of love than that exchange.
As Kate and Dan picked their way at a walking pace through the rugged mountainous country, Dan outlined his plan of campaign. Mr. Charles McIntyre, of Glenhuntly Station, was the owner of the great steeplechaser Alchemist, a horse that had won every jumping race within a hundred miles of Goulburn, and was being kept for the autumn meeting in Sydney. Dan had already prospected the station. The horse was placed every night in the stable at the end of the paddock and was locked in, but the door was a flimsy one, and Dan reckoned that he would find no difficulty in breaking it open with a lump of rock.
"Why not stick your revolver in the key hole and blow the lock off the door," suggested Kate.
"I thought of that," said Dan, "but I'm afraid of hittin' the horse. He's a beauty and worth lookin' after."
"An what am I to do?"
"You'll stay by the slip panel and hold these two horses while I fetch out the steeplechaser. McIntyre went down to Sydney last week, an' I don't think he's back yet. It ought to be a real soft thing for us to-night."
They rode along in silence for some minutes and then, emerging from the heavy timber found themselves in a partly-cleared paddock, at the far end of which was a low building inside a white paling fence.
"Back into the bush, Kate," whispered Dan, "we'll just skirt round through the timber and come out at the back of the homestead. That's where the stable is."
As they approached the back of the homestead, and could make out the wooden stable about 50 yards from the house, with a substantial wood-pile standing mid-way between the two buildings, Kate O'Farrell experienced a curious feeling of exhilaration. The nearness of danger, instead of daunting her, made every pulse in her body dance and tingle. Her senses of sight and hearing became preternaturally acute. Her brain was clear. She was ready for any emergency.
The man and the woman rode at a walking pace towards the slip panel. They were within a few yards when the deep bay of a dog startled them, and in a moment half a dozen dogs were barking loudly, excitedly and continuously.
"Devil take those dogs," growled Dan. "I'd forgotten all about them. We'll have to fight for it after all."
The night was much darker, owing to gathering clouds, than it was when they left Hulbert and Gunn an hour earlier. As Dan slipped from his horse and motioned to Kate to remain mounted, he saw the light of a candle suddenly appear in an upper window.
"Must be only Mrs. McIntyre," he muttered, "surely McIntyre can't have got back yet from Sydney. Anyhow, here goes." He pulled the bridle off the hairy-legged horse that he had been riding and hung it over his arm. Then he picked up a heavy lump of rock and attacked the lock of the stable door furiously.
Ping! A bullet from the house went through the door within a foot of his head. Dan dropped on the ground on his stomach and whistled to Kate, who dismounted, hung her bridle over the post of the fence and ran up under cover of the side of the stable.
"Take the bridle, Kate. Put it on the horse that you'll find in the stable and get him out. I'll draw the fire from the house whoever it is that's in there. When you've got him outside the fence, mount old Troubadour and leave the new one to me. Then we'll make a dash for it."
Ping! Another bullet struck the stable door and Dan Wall gritted his teeth. "By the Lord, it looks as if McIntyre is back after all," he said. "Now for it, Kate!"
Dan wriggled along the ground on his stomach towards the woodpile and took cover.
"Ha! ha! you blackguards," called a voice from the house, "you just leave my horse alone or I'll put a bullet through you."
Dan could see the candle alight in the room. He guessed that the lower half of the window was open. He stuck his felt hat on a sapling and cautiously projected it over the top of the woodpile. There was a flash and a bang, and Dan drew back his hat with a bullet hole through it. Then he fired three shots in rapid succession at the window. The candle went out and there was silence.
"Foxing I'll bet," muttered Dan, as he reloaded his revolver. "Want's me to think that he's badly hit. Well, I'm not taking more risks than necessary."
Bang! bang! bang! The bushranger fired three more shots through the window pane and drew a perfect fusillade from another window in reply. The bullets crashed into the woodpile, sending splinters flying in all directions.
The night had become so dark that Dan could hardly see the stable door. He reckoned that it must be quite invisible from the house. As he filled the chamber of his revolver with fresh cartridges a long whistle came from the slip panel.
"Good girl, she's got the horse out," said Dan to himself, and he forthwith began to wriggle along the ground on his stomach towards the gate.
It was a slow and tedious process. Not a sound came from the house for several minutes. Then a window opened on to the verandah, and screwing round his neck, the creeping bushranger saw a tall figure clad in a long overcoat emerge, cautiously carrying a lantern.
Dan divined the position at once. It was McIntyre. He judged that his long fusillade into the woodpile had hit, and perhaps killed, his antagonist. He was coming out with the lantern to investigate. Dan had no desire to kill the squatter, but it was necessary to drive him back.
The bushranger slewed his body round and took careful aim at the lantern. There was a sharp report which mingled with the rattle of broken glass, but the squatter, instead of retreating, made a rush for the woodpile, having seen that his late occupant had vacated it.
It was too dark for either of the combatants to do more than guess at the movements of the other, and Dan resolved to make a dart for the slip panel. He sprinted for the gate and found Kate riding Troubadour and leading the new horse, upon which she had put Dan's bridle.
Dan jumped upon the new horse, which was barebacked. "Come along, Kate, let's get out of this," he called, and away the pair of them dashed before McIntyre realised what had happened.
The squatter ran to the stable, slipped a bridle on the bushranger's horse that Kate had discarded, and started in hot pursuit.
He had plenty of pluck and he carried a six-chambered revolver. If he could get within range of the horse thieves he would shoot to kill. He had quite made up his mind about that.
Then began an extraordinary midnight chase in which the squatter, riding the bushranger's horse, was the pursuer, while Dan, riding the stolen steeplechaser, was one of the pursued, the other being Kate O'Farrell, on Troubadour.
All who are familiar with the Braidwood and Araluen country, in the southern part of New South Wales, know that it is one of the wildest parts of the State. A man needs to be a clever bushman to find his way in that mountainous region, and the dwellers in the district scoffed at the bare idea that any stranger could keep with them on horseback in a ride down those stony precipices.
Dan was riding the steeplechaser without a saddle, but both Alchemist and Troubadour were native-bred in the ranges and the bushranger anticipated no difficulty in getting away from his pursuer.
Side by side the man and the girl pelted along through the darkness, well served by Dan's close knowledge of the ranges. Making a wide circuit round the little township of Araluen they turned north again, hoping to shake off the pursuer in the heavily-timbered ranges that lay between Araluen and the camping-place, where they had left Hulbert and Gunn. Dan's idea was to pick up Hulbert and Gunn, and then, if necessary, push on all together for the retreat in Doughboy Hollow.
As they pulled up to breathe their horses at the top of a stiff rise Kate listened intently for a few seconds. She heard the steady beat of galloping hoofs behind them, scarcely a quarter of a mile away.
"The d——d fool," muttered Dan curtly, as he fingered his revolver.
"That cross-bred brute must be a better stayer than I thought he was," said Kate, "but if he catches us to-night he'll be worth going after again."
They pushed on again at a smart canter over a bit of open ground, but Dan wanted to save the horses as much as possible. It was sixty miles to Doughboy Hollow, and it was quite on the cards that they might have to make a run for it to their hiding-place.
"We'll strike for the ridge now," said Dan, "and then get away down the side of the quarry. That ought to stop him."
The quarry was a terribly steep declivity studded with huge boulders and loose stones. To ride down it in daylight would be something of a feat, but to make the descent at night, and on a horse without a saddle, demanded nerve of no ordinary kind.
When the man and the girl reached the top of the precipice they looked round, and as the thin crescent of the moon peeped out from behind a dark cloud, to their astonishment they saw McIntyre pounding along within a couple of hundred yards of them. His horse was covered with lather and obviously distressed, but the rider was sending him along remorselessly with whip and spur.
McIntyre knew the country as well as Dan did. He thought he had the fugitives cornered. He galloped on, revolver in hand, determined to get back his steeplechaser even if he had to stake his own life on the issue of a fight.
"Come along, Kate, there's nothing else for it," shouted Dan, and together they spurred their horses at the precipitous and boulder-strewn slope which was well-named 'the quarry,' for the sides were as steep as the side of a house.
Neither of the horses thought of shirking it. Catching something of the dare-devil spirit of their riders, they dashed over the edge of the declivity, and went forward and downward in a series of extraordinary bounds. Every instant it seemed as though each horse must turn a complete somersault and crush the adventurous rider to death, but still they kept their legs with extraordinary cleverness.
Half way down the long declivity, the angle of descent became nearly a sheer drop. Dan and Kate pulled their horses almost on their haunches and the animals cleverly gathered their legs under them and literally slid the rest of the way. A shower of stones dislodged from the side of the cliff by their hoofs, thundered down into the valley and chased the sliding horses right to the bottom.
Once on the level again Dan and Kate shook up their mounts and soon reached the sheltered nook where Hulbert and Gunn were awaiting them.
"I reckon we've blocked him all right," remarked Dan complacently, as he slipped off the steeplechaser and examined him carefully. Kate also dismounted and felt old Troubadour's legs of steel. Both horses had come through the ordeal with hardly a mark.
"Well, boys," said Dan cheerily, "we've no cause to be ashamed of our new mate. I reckon that neither of you could have done the job any better than the girl, and the only thing we want now is another saddle."
"Ye won't have long to wait for it, I'm thinking," said Gunn, peering through the timber. "I can hear him coming now."
And sure enough they heard the indomitable McIntyre still on the track. He had managed to get the bushrangers' horse down the side of the quarry, and the listeners could hear the thud of the hoofs in the gully below them.
McIntyre had missed them. No longer able to hear the fugitives in front of him, he was making a cast up the gully and every moment was increasing the distance between the pursuer and the pursued, who were lurking in their nook, surrounded by a screen of giant gums.
"Good job he's going up the gully," muttered Dan. "I reckon that's the last we'll see of him."
But Gunn, the blood-thirsty, sprang to his feet with an oath. "Y' aren't goin' to let 'im get away with his story, Dan. If he reaches Goulburn the traps will be after us in a hurry, an' this night's work means 15 years in Berrima for some of us if we're caught."
Dan Wall was the nominal leader of the gang, but found it increasingly difficult to control his murderously-minded follower. "Ye can shoot the horse if ye like, Gunn, an' that'll stop the man from gettin' away with his tale. McIntyre will make for his home on foot and you can bring back the saddle."
So Gunn took his carbine and jumped on his horse with a muttered oath. He went crashing through the timber up the gully, and a mile from the camp fire he spotted McIntyre on foot leading his horse which was completely used up and dead lame.
No one will ever know exactly what happened in that remote solitude.
Hulbert and Dan and Kate were sitting on the ground by their camp fire, when a single shot rang out in the silence of the night.
Ten minutes afterwards Gunn rode back to the camp with a wild stare in his bloodshot eyes. "That there interferin' beggar won't trouble us no more," he muttered darkly, "an' he won't tell no tales at Goulburn neither. Here's the saddle."
He threw the saddle at Kate's feet and looked at Dan defiantly.
"You didn't kill the man in cold blood, Gunn, surely?" ejaculated Dan Wall, starting to his feet in dismay.
"Wot's the good of bein' so cursed sanctimonious about it?" jeered Gunn. "He's dead, I tell yer, an' can't do us no more 'arm now. An' a good riddance too, says I. I never could abear them cursed squatters anyhow."
Dan and Hulbert drew back with sudden loathing for the murderer. Robbery was their trade, and if it came to a fair fight they would shoot to kill, but to murder a man in cold blood was quite another matter.
"We'd best get away from here right now," said Dan abruptly, "an' put as much country as we can between ourselves an' the dead man before morning. None of us ain't never yet killed a man in cold blood till now, an' as soon as the traps get wind of this night's business we'll be hunted night an' day. What did ye do with the body, Gunn?"
"Dragged it inter the scrub an' shoved it inter an 'oller log," grunted the bushranger. "Twarn't no good tryin' to 'ide it. The man's wife knows that he came out arter us, an' when he don't turn up again at the station she'll 'ave the black trackers out. They'll find 'im fast enough no matter where I tried to 'ide 'im."
During this muttered colloquy, Kate O'Farrell's horror-stricken eyes were fastened on the murderer.
"Wot are ye starin' at me like that for," shouted the bushranger furiously. "It's all your damned fault, too, if it comes to that. If you'd only stopped at 'ome at Binda this ere wouldn't 'ave 'appened."
"That's enough, Gunn," said Dan sharply. "The thing is done now an' can't be helped. What we've got to do is to get away to Doughboy Hollow an' lie low for a bit. It's been a bad night's work for all us—but worst for you!"
Gunn burst out into horrible profanity that sent an icy chill through Kate O'Farrell's veins. This murder, on the very first night of her bushranging, had given her a terrible shock. She had never bargained for such an experience.
It did not take long for Dan to put the spare saddle on the steeplechaser. Kate absolutely refused to ride in it. She could not bring herself to touch the leather that the murdered man had so lately sat in, so Dan Wall, who had no compunctions on the subject, used it himself, and rode the new horse, leaving old Troubadour for Kate.
Hulbert and Gunn quickly caught and unhobbled their horses and the whole four, much subdued by the tragedy that had turned a mere horse-stealing episode into a most blood-thirsty murder, started off for their long ride across some of the wildest and most mountainous country in New South Wales, to their well-provisioned hiding-place in Doughboy Hollow.
It was two days later, in the afternoon, that Jimmy, the black tracker, running ahead of two mounted men, led them to the top of the quarry. "Two pfeller go down here," he said, with an air of absolute certainty. "Bimeby come dis pfeller. Go down plenty plenty quick."
The search party slid down the steep side of the quarry and Jimmy took up the trial again. "One, two, t'ree, four pfeller sit down alonga fire," he murmured. "Bimeby one pfeller ride up gully. Him chase dis pfeller shase him! Bimeby dis pfeller walk plenty slow, horse gone sick. Dis pfeller sit down by big rock. Him fall here. Mine, bin tinkit him shot now." Jimmy run forward like a hound on the trail, seeing every detail of the tragedy in the crushed bush grass, through which the body had been dragged.
"Get 'im now plenty soon," called the black tracker, and true to his promise, he bent down and dragged the bruised and discolored corpse from the hollow log in which it was hidden.
Constable Roche dismounted and examined the body. "Shot in the back by Heaven," he ejaculated. "Oh the dirty blackguards. They never gave the poor man a chance."
Then he packed the body carefully on his own horse and the little expedition set out for the march back to Glenhuntly Station, where the weeping widow of the murdered man was sitting alone in the shot-riddled homestead.
When the news of the robbery of the steeplechaser from Glenhuntly Station and the murder of McIntyre was reported to the police headquarters in Goulburn something like consternation came over Chief Constable Gordon and Sir Francis Maynard became almost panic-stricken.
A verdict of wilful murder by some person or persons unknown was returned by the coroner after due enquiry, and Sir Francis was so much upset that he attempted to drown his worries with old dark brandy, and only succeeded in developing a shakiness that was painful to witness.
"Look here, Molyneux," he said, a few mornings after the inquest, "to tell you the plain truth, my position here as commissary of police is seriously endangered by this bad outbreak of bushranging. The Minister down in Sydney has written me a very sharp reprimand and has hinted pretty plainly that unless matters improve in the district he will have to remove me and send another man up to restore security to the residents and the travelling public. Gordon and his men have been scouring the Araluen country for days and have discovered absolutely nothing. The murderer of Mr. McIntyre has disappeared without leaving the slightest indication either of his identity or of his whereabouts."
"But surely you cannot be blamed for that, sir," said Molyneux.
"The Government are so unreasonable," grumbled the commissary, lighting a cigar to soothe his shattered nerves. "They seem to think that it's all my fault, Molyneux. I have a feeling that if a few more undiscovered crimes occur in the district I shall be superseded, and I can't bear to think of it. You know my salary is only £800 a year and I am carrying a heavy load of debt. If I lose my position my creditors will come down on me at once and I shall be in a terribly tight corner. Of course I am trusting to you not to hint a word of this to my niece. I am really very fond of her, Molyneux (here the commissary became almost maudlin, and tears stood in his swollen, bloodshot eyes), and I am desperately concerned about her welfare."
"Naturally, sir, naturally."
"She ought to marry very well. There are men of position and property who would be only too delighted to be accepted by her, and I feel that she is not getting a fair chance in this deplorably unsettled country. At the same time I must keep my position at all costs, and I am relying on you, Molyneux, to help me."
The lieutenant gave a peculiar smile. "You may feel perfectly assured on that point, sir," he said.
"The main points, therefore, at present, are that the murderer of Mr. McIntyre should be apprehended promptly and that the district should not be disgraced by any further bushranging crimes. Unless I succeed in catching that murderer and in preventing the occurrence of any more cases of sticking-up on the roads, I greatly fear that I shall fall completely out of favor with the Minister and I really dare not think of what would, in that case, become of me—and of my niece."
Sir Francis Maynard was so thirsty after his long explanation and so nervous concerning the dreadful prospect which he had conjured up for his future, that he drank nearly half a small tumbler of brandy—qualified by half a wine glassful of water.
The lieutenant repeated his confident reassurances, and—after taking the brandy bottle out of the cupboard and placing it at the elbow of his chief, who was sitting at his table—retired to his own quarters, where he rubbed his hands joyously together, and looked as though he would have liked to dance a fandango if only he were assured that nobody could see him.
"It works all right. It works, by G—d," he exclaimed, with an extraordinary intensity of feeling.
The next few days were anxious ones for Sir Francis Maynard and busy ones for Molyneux, who took charge of all the arrangements for searching for the bushrangers suspected of committing the Araluen robbery and murder. Of course, Wall and his gang were believed to be in it, but there was no evidence against them, and the men themselves had absolutely disappeared.
The first step taken by Lieutenant Molyneux was to empty Goulburn completely of constables, both foot and mounted. They were all despatched to Araluen to follow out any clues that might be discoverable, and to scour the country under the guidance of Jimmy and several other black trackers.
"Oh, how hard you have to work, Lieutenant Molyneux," said Hope Thellusson to him one morning, soon after he had taken charge of all the arrangements. "Please understand that I am very grateful to you for my uncle's sake. I know, perhaps more than you are aware, about his anxieties in connection with his official duties."
Molyneux smiled his inscrutable smile once more and looked into Hope Thellusson's blue eyes with bold admiration.
"Couldn't you like me a little on your own account as well as on your uncle's," he enquired quizzically.
Hope Thellusson dropped her eyes for an instant and a faint flush crept into her cheeks. "I like you very much indeed, Lieutenant Molyneux," she answered, with simple frankness, "but I am sometimes a little afraid of you. You occasionally give me the strange impression that you have two distinct personalities, and that they frequently conflict in you. Your Bright Angel is shadowed so often by a Dark Angel that is most mysterious."
Molyneux laughed loudly. "What an awful ogre you must think me, Miss Thellusson. I protest that I am quite harmless."
But in the seclusion of his own room he muttered, "that girl has intuitions, as well as fascinations. I must beware of her."
Though the troopers scoured the bush between Braidwood and Araluen for days, their search was quite unproductive. And while they were still searching another blow fell.
On the evening of the 27th, Lieutenant Molyneux, after singing some duets with Miss Thellusson, played ecarte with Sir Francis as usual. He left the table having won a modest "pony" from his chief, and the commissary's I.O.U. for £25 reposed in his pocket-book along with quite a number of similar documents.
At half-past 11 o'clock Sir Francis retired to bed in a very nervous and irritable condition and Miss Thellusson also said good-night to the lieutenant. She looked at him earnestly for several seconds as she shook hands before leaving the room. "I have a feeling here," she said, laying her hand upon her heart, "that your Dark Angel is in the ascendant to-night. Am I right, I wonder?"
"My dear Miss Thellusson, you really must not be so superstitious," laughed the lieutenant gaily. "I declare to you on my honor, that I am quite unconscious of the existence of that Dark Angel that you see over my shoulder so frequently." But the speaker gave an involuntary shudder as he made the statement. It flashed across his mind that he had told a particularly disgraceful lie.
At 2 o'clock on the morning of the 28th the mail coach from Sydney, with a full load of passengers, was stuck up two miles from the Woolpack Inn and ten miles from Goulburn. A couple of strong iron wires had been drawn tight across the road immediately after rounding the bend bear McAlister's boundary fence. The wires were made fast to the fence posts on both sides of the road. The coach, which was driven by James Wilson, was swinging along at a fast canter, so as to climb the gentle rise at that point, when both leaders ran into the wires, tripped, and fell down.
At the same moment a red-bearded man on a bay horse with four white feet, rode up to the driver, presented a pistol at his head and commanded him to dismount from the box. The passengers were curtly ordered to get out and hand over all portable property. A young man named Joseph Henry Porter, a special messenger in the employ of the Bank of Australia, pointed a revolver at the bushranger, but received a severe blow on the head with what appeared to be a loaded whip, before he could pull the trigger and fell to the ground senseless. The bushranger, having tied up the four male and two female passengers, and also the driver with rope obtained from the coach, collected a considerable quantity of coin and jewellery from the passengers. He also dragged out a box of specie—£3,000—consigned to the Goulburn branch of the Bank of Australia, placed the coin in a large leather handbag obtained from a passenger named Rudolph Kirchwasser, and departed, after first taking the precaution to drive the four coach horses in front of him as far as Munday's paddock, where they were found some hours afterwards by the driver, who had gone in search of them. The coach arrived at Goulburn at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning instead of at 3 a.m., its scheduled time.
This was the substance of the bald report which was taken down in writing by Lieutenant Molyneux from the lips of James Wilson, the driver of the coach. His statement was corroborated in all material particulars by the male passengers, Messrs. George Herbert Blenkinsop, grazier; Alfred Hartoff Sundercombe, flour miller; and Israel Silberstein, financial agent. The two lady passengers were suffering so severely from shock that it was impossible to get any coherent statement from them.
Wilson, the driver of the coach, gave a very careful description of the bushranger. He appeared to be a man of medium height, with thick red hair and a very heavy red beard and moustache, which covered all the lower portion of his face. He spoke in a peculiarly thick voice, and seemed to have something in his mouth, possibly a small piece of wood or cork with the object of disguising his intonation. He wore a large pair of blue spectacles, and was dressed in moleskin trousers and a coat of dark-colored tweed. The magnificent bay horse that he rode possessed great substance and quality. Wilson believed that he had seen the horse before, but he could not remember where.
When all this was carefully read over by Lieutenant Molyneux to the commissary in order that he might be fully seized of all the facts, Sir Francis Maynard groaned aloud. "Why, the description of the man is absolutely useless," he snapped out testily, at length. "Practically the only point in it is that the fellow had a red beard which may or may not have been his own."
And then the commissary proceeded to storm and rage at the passengers who had been robbed, and at the driver who had failed to do his duty. "A nice lot of d——d fools and cowards you must be," he roared, "to come here and admit that you four able-bodied men allowed one solitary bushranger to bail you up and empty your pockets. That beggarly little bank clerk seems to have been the only one amongst you with an ounce of pluck, and he hadn't enough brains to get his shot in before being knocked on the head like a bull-calf How the h—ll can I keep order in the district unless the public do something to help themselves. Pah! I tell you I am thoroughly disgusted with you and ashamed of you."
But Mr. Blenkinsop, the grazier, Mr. Sundercombe, the miller, and Mr. Silberstein, the financial agent, were not men to take such an unreasonably tirade lying down. Speaking all at the same time, they protested against being abused in such language by a Government official, and they intimated their intention of lodging a formal complaint with the Ministerial head of the police department in Sydney.
They left the commissary's office almost apoplectic with fury, and Sir Francis turned to his lieutenant with chagrin and remorse written large on every feature.
"Confound it all, Molyneux," he said. "I'm afraid I lost my temper with those cursed idiots, but my nerves are all to pieces. For heaven's sake give me a good stiff tot of brandy."
The lieutenant did as he was bid, and Sir Francis, having tossed off the liquor, sat in his chair, and stared blankly at his blotting-pad.
The murderer of Mr. McIntyre had not been arrested, and another and most insolently audacious sticking-up of the mail coach had taken place almost under his nose.
He began to look forward with dread to the arrival of the next communication from the Ministerial head of the police department.
But Lieutenant Molyneux wore a very satisfied expression in the privacy of his own quarters. He went down on his knees and peered at one of the boards under his bed. He tapped it with his hand and cocked his ear to listen. It certainly rang with a hollow sound.
Sir Francis Maynard took to the brandy bottle seriously after he had read the communication which arrived in a large blue envelope from Sydney soon after the robbery of the mail coach and the loss of the box of sovereigns consigned to the Bank of Australia.
The Minister wrote in terms of extreme displeasure. It appeared that the bank authorities threatened to sue the Government for the amount of their loss, on the ground that they had applied for a police escort for the gold and had been refused it by Sir Francis Maynard. It was the opinion of the Cabinet that the commissary had been guilty of a grave error of judgment in the matter and that he had provided insufficient police protection for the travelling public. If he wanted extra constables he had only to ask for them. The Cabinet were of of opinion that the Goulburn police district was not managed with proper care and efficiency. In conclusion, the Minister hinted plainly that only one more chance would be given to the commissary responsible for the maintenance of public order. The discovery of the murderer of McIntyre and the recovery of the stolen sovereigns would alone excuse his defaults. The Minister expressed the hope that Sir Francis would repair his neglect by promptly performing his duty in respect of those two matters. He intimated that the Cabinet expected some definite result within 14 days, otherwise it would be his painful duty, &c., &c.
Sir Francis Maynard hardly read the concluding sentences. He had such a dry feeling in the back of his throat that it was necessary for him to take a drink immediately. He took it. Then he took two more and touched the gong for Lieutenant Molyneux.
When the lieutenant arrived the commissary explained to him, with many tedious repetitions, how absolutely necessary it was that the murderer of Mr. McIntyre should be brought to book and also the red-bearded man who had robbed the mail coach.
"Unless you can catch these two scoundrels, or at least one of them," said the commissary, with haggard face and twitching lips, "I'm a ruined man. Everything seems to be going wrong lately. It really seems as though there were a curse on me." He paused abruptly and clenched his hand. It appeared as though some unpleasant recollection of far off days had suddenly struck him.
Lieutenant Molyneux was as cheery and confident as ever. He had no doubt at all that both the scoundrels would be laid by the heels very soon, and he promised to prosecute the search for the red-bearded man personally. "When I lay my hand upon him," he said, with a grim smile, as he slapped his thigh with his open hand, "he'll never get out of my sight again."
But strangely enough, when John Scott the ex-constable and late storekeeper at Binda, called to see Lieutenant Molyneux and reported that he had discovered a clue to the hiding-place of Wall's gang in the ranges, the lieutenant was anything but encouraging. "Better leave it to me, Scott," he remarked curtly. "You'll only be running into unnecessary danger if you mix yourself up with the affair. The police and the black trackers are the proper people to deal with bushrangers."
John Scott went away puzzled and disheartened, but as he was passing the police station he saw a placard posted up announcing that the Government offered a reward of £200 for information leading to the capture of the person or persons who were concerned in the robbery of the steeplechaser Alchemist, from Glenhuntly Station and the subsequent murder of the owner, Mr. Charles McIntyre.
A ray of enlightenment came to him. "I suppose Molyneux wants the reward for himself," observed the ex-constable sagely, "but I reckon I'll get in before him."
When he got back to Binda he had a long interview with an individual known in the district as Cranky Billy. By alternate threatening and coaxing and by means of a gift of a plug of tobacco, and the promise of a real kelpie sheep dog at Christmas, John Scott ascertained from Cranky Billy that Kate O'Farrell, who had disappeared from the township, was not in service down in Sydney as had been given out by her father and mother, but had gone away with Dan Wall and his gang and was living the life of an outlaw.
Cranky Bill indicated that he even knew where the members of the gang were at present located, but fear closed his mouth and he firmly refused to tell.
John Scott angled dexterously for further information, but it was no good. A mere plug of tobacco was not sufficient to make Cranky Billy open his mouth.
The ex-constable was thirsty for revenge upon the gang who had burnt his store and ruined his livelihood. He resolved to bait his hook with a more attractive offer. He proceeded to explain to Cranky Billy that the Government announced a reward of £200 for the capture of the bushrangers, and he verbally offered that shifty-eyed individual half the amount if he would guide him to the bushrangers' hiding-place.
Cranky Billy's pale blue rolling eyes lit up with a sudden gleam of intelligence. A hundred pounds! He had heard of such sums, but had never dreamed it possible that he might himself be the possessor of that fabulous amount. Cranky Billy's personality became the scene of a strange tug of war—a tug of war between fear and greed. It was greed that won.
"Rumbo," said Cranky Billy, and John Scott understood that his offer was accepted, and that Cranky Billy was prepared to carry out his part of the contract.
So John Scott loaded up a swag containing a sufficiency of rough tucker, a couple of blankets and a billy. He also took his revolver and cartridges, and he set out with Cranky Billy to locate the bushrangers' retreat, which Billy professed to have stumbled upon accidentally in the course of his extensive bush wanderings. It was a forty-mile journey back through the ranges from Binda and Billy proposed to take three days over it.
John Scott had no intention of attempting to capture the bushrangers single-handed. All that he purposed to do was to locate their hiding-place. Then he would go straight to Sir Francis Maynard—not to Lieutenant Molyneux—and would offer to guide a strong detachment of troopers to the hidden retreat. Probably some of the bushrangers would get shot in the fight. That didn't matter. In fact John Scott hoped that they would. The reward would be paid whether they were captured dead or alive.
On the first day's journey they had a fairly good mountain track to travel and as they plodded along side by side Cranky Bill had much curious information to impart. Did Scott remember Elizabeth Trunkey at Binda—that fair-haired little piece that was so flash with Hulbert on the night of the bushrangers' ball? Yes. Well, Betty Trunkey had had a "stiff" (letter) from Kate O'Farrell, who was a particular friend of hers. Betty Trunkey often talked to Cranky Billy. She thought he was quite harmless, and too silly ever to remember anything. Betty had told him what was in the letter. It was a dead secret.
Ah! John Scott was great on cross-examination. When he was in the force he was noted for his skill in extracting damaging admissions from the persons whom he arrested. He played Cranky Billy as skilfully as a professional angler plays a trout. He would give Billy plenty of line, and then he would bring him up with a sharp jerk that took all the fight out of him.
Billy considered that it was quite safe to make a fire that evening. They were still 25 miles away from Doughboy Hollow, where Wall and the gang were in hiding.
So they called the place Doughboy Hollow! John Scott made a mental note of the name. As he sat with Billy by the fire while the water was boiling for tea he put the cranky one through a cleverly-devised cross-examination. He ascertained, in the first place, that Kate O'Farrell was, beyond all doubt, hiding in Doughboy Hollow with Wall, Hulbert, and Gunn, and, in the second place, that she had written to Elizabeth Trunkey giving a rough narrative of her experiences since she joined the gang. Cranky Bill had seen the letter. Elizabeth Trunkey, who was secretly bursting with pride at her own importance as the confidante of the redoubtable Dan Wall's feminine accomplice, had shown it to him, secure in the knowledge that he could not read. Moreover she had read bits of it to him.
John Scott, who was not without insight, quite understood. If Betty Trunkey could not have told her momentous secret to somebody she would have exploded. So she unburdened herself to Cranky Billy—relying on his imbecility and lack of memory—and felt better.
But either Cranky Billy's memory was not nearly so bad as it was understood to be by the inhabitants of Binda, or else the news contained in Kate O'Farrell's letter was so important that it was inscribed indelibly upon his usually untrustworthy brain! John Scott proceeded to elicit the information by adroit questioning.
He was soon in possession of Kate O'Farrell's own account of the occurrences which took place on the night when she rode with Dan Wall to Glenhuntly station, and helped the leader of the gang to carry off the steeplechaser. That is to say, he had a fairly accurate knowledge of the course of events up to the moment when Kate and Dan rejoined Hulbert and Gunn at the camp fire. John Scott could see in imagination the unfortunate squatter leading his disabled horse up the gully in the middle of the night, while the girl in man's clothes and the three men with her, waited and listened intently by the camp fire and their hobbled horses grazed in the bush close at hand.
"Which of 'em went after him, Billy?" asked John Scott with an elaborate assumption of carelessness, while he struck a match to light his pipe.
But Cranky Billy was not to be caught so easily. The identity of the actual murderer of Mr. McIntyre was a perilous secret not to be lightly divulged. Billy was fully aware that if Gunn knew of Kate O'Farrell's letter conveying the information to Elizabeth Trunkey, Kate's life would not be worth five minutes' purchase. The wanderer had wit enough to know that Gunn would shoot him like a rabbit if he even suspected him of knowing the truth.
So Cranky Billy, smiling, put the question by and began to talk of other matters, including the new goldfields up at Sofala. He had already made up his mind that when he got his half-share of the Government reward he would go to Sofala and take up a claim himself.
But the ex-policeman was not to be put off so easily. He argued the point out in his own mind like this. Kate was Dan Wall's girl, and though Dan stole the steeplechaser he was certainly not the man who committed the murder. If he had been, then Kate would never have put it in writing, even for the information of her best girl friend, Elizabeth Trunkey. Nothing would have dragged from her a secret, the disclosure or which might send her lover to the gallows. Consequently it must be either Hulbert or Gunn who shot Mr. McIntyre.
"I reckon Hulbert and Gunn are a dangerous pair, Billy," remarked John Scott with apparent irrelevance. "What weapons do they carry, I wonder? I expect Kate told Betty Trunkey."
Cranky Billy remembered quite well what Kate said on that subject. "Both of 'em has got pistols—big six-shooters," he said in a whisper, "but Gunn has got a Winchester rifle now as well."
Ah! So it was Gunn. John Scott remembered that Mr. McIntyre had fired at Dan in the woodpile with a Winchester. Kate had mentioned the fact in her letter. John Scott made up his mind to help Sir Francis Maynard to catch Gunn alive if possible. The brute ought not to be allowed to cheat the hangman. It was clear that Mr. McIntyre had taken the Winchester with him when he rode after the horse thieves. Gunn had stalked him in the gully, shot him when he was not looking and then taken his rifle.
Before the two men rolled themselves in their blankets and went to sleep with their feet towards the fire, John Scott had extracted from Billy the complete story told by Kate O'Farrell in her letter to Betty Trunkey. He was also able to gather that the girl regarded Gunn with an aversion that amounted to horror and loathing.
Next day the travellers made good progress, in spite of the precipitous nature of the country. There were no tracks now, but Cranky Billy directed his course with the unerring sagacity of a wild animal.
In the afternoon of the third day the two men moved as silently as shadows through the tall trees on a lonely mountain side, overlooking a well-grassed hollow that had never been trodden by the foot of man until Frank Jardine found it and passed his knowledge on to Wall. Jardine had no further use for the hollow. He was infatuated with a woman and she with him. She left her husband for her bushranger lover and fled with him to Queensland. So that's how it happened that Dan Wall and Kate O'Farrell, along with Hulbert and Gunn, were camping in Doughboy Hollow, when John Scott and Cranky Billy peered down upon them from behind a boulder.
"I reckon the reward is ours all right Billy," said John Scott in a whisper.
"H'sh!" said Cranky Billy, with his finger on his lips. "If Gunn sees us he'll murder us." Cranky Billy's teeth were chattering.
"Lieutenant Molyneux," said Hope Thellusson on the morning after John Scott's secret departure with Cranky Billy, "I want you to do something for me."
The lieutenant was startled out of his customary composure. "Anything that is in my power shall be done, Miss Thellusson," he answered, reading the trouble in her eyes.
"My uncle is obsessed with the idea," continued the girl, "that unless he arrests the murderer of Mr. McIntyre and the red-bearded man who robbed the mail coach he will be deprived of his position, which means, I need hardly say, absolute ruin."
Lieutenant Molyneux endeavored to look sympathetic, but not very successfully.
"I do not think that it really matters so much about Gentleman Jack," resumed the girl eagerly. "The Government would be satisfied if the other gang was broken up. Personally I cannot help having rather a kindly feeling for that mysterious red-bearded man who gave me back all my jewellery and kept only my dead father's signet ring that I was wearing on my adventurous journey up here from Sydney. I often wonder what he has done with that signet ring. And I cannot feel very bitter about him, because you know it was I who helped him to escape."
"Surely not, Miss Thellusson."
"Oh, yes, indeed I did. I would not untie those wretched men until the full two hours had gone by that the red-bearded man told me to wait. If I had untied them at once he might have been captured."
"I'm afraid you almost committed a felony, Miss Thellusson."
"Well, I have never regretted it," said the girl, "for he really behaved extremely well. He was not like a real bushranger at all. He gave me the impression that he was a man who was acting the part for some purpose of his own in fact."
"Ha, ha! A make-believe bushranger in fact."
"Well something very like it. I can't explain how the impression was conveyed to me. But there it is. I imagine that it is more like feeling it than thinking it." The girl was quite perplexed for a moment.
"A woman's intuitions are often surer than a man's reasoning," said the lieutenant reflectively. "But anyhow, what is it that you want me to do now, Miss Thellusson?"
"I want you to go after the gang that murdered poor Mr. McIntyre," said the girl earnestly. "I want you to go yourself. It is my uncle's duty to bring them to justice, but he cannot go; he is too old and too nervous. Much depends on it for him."
Lieutenant Molyneux was cold and unconvinced.
"And for me." The girl wrung her hands with a gesture of despair.
A peculiar change came over the lieutenant's mind. Up to this point he had been adamant. The idea of assisting Sir Francis Maynard to rehabilitate himself by arresting the bushrangers was one that he had inwardly laughed to scorn. But now a curtain was drawn away and his mind was flooded with a sudden rush of sunlight.
"Oh, Lieutenant Molyneux," said the girl with accents of deep emotion, "your Dark Angel has fled, and I can see your Bright Angel quite clearly."
The lieutenant could hardly trust himself to speak. Was it telepathy, or what?
At last he recovered his self-possession. "I will go and find the gang, Miss Thellusson," he said, "for your sake."
Seated at his office table, Lieutenant Molyneux planned out the campaign. He felt certain, from Scott's manner, that the ex-policeman was on the trail of the bushrangers. He knew, too, from a private source of information—a police spy in plain English—that John Scott had been seen in earnest conference with the man called Cranky Billy, whom he strongly suspected of being partly, at any rate, in the confidence of the gang.
And then, in a flash, the lieutenant divined something very like the truth. John Scott had induced Cranky Billy—probably by the offer of money—to work "the double cross," or, in other words, to give away the gang, who either themselves or through their sympathisers, had given him part of their confidence.
The lieutenant quickly made up his mind. If his diagnosis of the situation was correct, all that he had to do was to follow up John Scott and Cranky Billy. They would lead him—all unconscious that they were being followed—straight to the hiding-place of the bushrangers.
And that is how it came about that while John Scott was cross-examining Billy by the camp fire, two black trackers, named respectively Jimmy and Widgee, were following their trail with perfect ease only five miles behind them. Jimmy was the same intelligent blackfellow who had previously discovered the body of the murdered man in the hollow log, and Widgee was his mate.
Immediately behind the black-trackers rode Lieutenant Molyneux, and four well-mounted and well-armed troopers followed him in single file.
The black-trackers had found some difficulty in following the trail on the stony ground which was met with on the third day's journey, and Lieutenant Molyneux and his troopers were still half an hour behind John Scott and Billy when that adventurous pair peered out from behind their friendly boulder, and saw Dan Wall, Hulbert, and Gunn playing cut-throat euchre in the shadow of a big rock, while Kate O'Farrell, in a blue Crimean shirt and moleskin trousers, walked restlessly back and forwards, keeping a watch which was considered almost formal.
It was very unlikely that the hiding-place would be discovered, but still Dan Wall refused to regard such a contingency as impossible. The death of Mr. McIntyre he reflected, would certainly stimulate the police to renewed activity.
As Kate O'Farrell walked slowly up and down behind the card-players, thinking remorsefully of her father and mother and of the brothers and sisters that she had left behind at Binda, a large stone rolled down the precipitous cliff that rose from the west side of the hollow and fell almost at her feet. It had been dislodged by the careless foot of Cranky Billy.
Looking up with startled gaze for the cause of this phenomenon, Kate caught a momentary glimpse of a foolish face which was hastily withdrawn behind a boulder.
"Dan, Dan! 'Ware the traps!" The girl's voice rang out sharply, and the three card-players sprang to their feet.
Following the line of the girl's pointing finger, Dan Wall saw the boulder—and a man's foot sticking out at the side of it.
"Head 'em off when they run, boys," he yelled to the others, as he dashed at the steep slope.
John Scott fingered his revolver when he saw Dan Wall going straight for him. But he hesitated for a fraction of a second to shoot and the hesitation was fatal. In another instant Wall had hurled himself at his old enemy, the ex-policeman, and John Scott went down with twelve stone of infuriated bushranger on top of him.
Hulbert and Gunn seized Cranky Billy and tied his hands behind his back. Then Gunn gave him a brutal kick, which toppled him headlong and sent him rolling down the cliff-side into the grassy hollow.
Cranky Billy gave no more trouble, but John Scott, who was a powerful man, put up a tremendous battle before he was subdued and securely tied up. He had stunned Wall by a blow on the head with a big stone and might have made his escape if Hulbert had not rushed up and given him a kick in the jaw, which knocked all the fight out of him.
Kate sat down with Dan's head on her knee, while Hulbert and Gunn briefly debated the fate of their two prisoners. The girl did not hear what they said. All her attention was devoted to nursing Dan back to consciousness.
"No, no, Gunn. By G—d, I couldn't do it," muttered Hulbert.
"By G—d, I'll do it myself, then," said Gunn savagely. "It'll be an example to anyone else who thinks of spying on us. It'll give all the rest of the spies such a scare that they won't come within a hundred miles of us."
"Better shoot 'em an' be done with it," suggested Hulbert sullenly.
"Not me," said the vindictive Gunn. "I'll teach 'em to come spyin' round on me, tryin' to get me scragged, so as they can get the blood-money. I fixed McIntyre, and now I'm goin' to fix these two crawlers—same as I'd fix a couple of snakes."
Hulbert withdrew his opposition. He did not greatly care what form of death was decreed for the two spies. Die they must, that was certain, or the lives of himself and Wall would be forfeited, as well as the life of Gunn. Hulbert had no illusions on that score. He knew that, although Gunn was the actual murderer of McIntyre, the law would regard Dan and himself as equally guilty. If Scott and Cranky Bill escaped with their information the game would be up.
"All right Gunn, go ahead," grunted Hulbert. "We're all in it."
Gunn's face was like that of a demon as he looked at the two prisoners who lay on the ground securely tied and gagged. "I'll learn 'em to spy on me," he kept muttering. "I'll learn 'em." He walked to the crude hut that the bushrangers had erected in one corner of the hollow and reappeared presently with a couple of rusty bullock chains.
In the middle of the hollow were the stumps of two gum trees that the bushrangers had ringbarked and felled when they first made the place their retreat. The trees had been cut down to mask the only entrance to Doughboy Hollow that the bushrangers were aware of. Cranky Bill must have known more than they did about the place in order to be able to crawl in.
It made Gunn's blood boil to think of it.
He made his way across to where Billy was lying on the ground and kicked him savagely. "I'll learn you to spy on me, you dog," he said.
Then he passed one end of the bullock chain under the miserable wretch, and, holding both ends over his shoulder, dragged Billy across the grass towards one of the gaunt stumps in the middle.
Standing Billy on his feet with his back to the stump, he rapidly lashed him fast to it with the bullock chain, which crossed and recrossed his body several times from neck to ankles.
Then he struck the tied-up man savagely on the mouth with his brawny fist. "You'll never play the double cross on nobody no more when I've done with you," he hissed with a horrible leer.
Cranky Billy's eyes were starting out of his head with terror, but he couldn't cry out on account of the gag in his mouth. He could only make a dreadful guttural sound—such as a dumb man might make in mortal anguish.
Leaving Billy, the bushranger went across to John Scott, whom he proceeded to deal with in the same way. In spite of being bound and gagged, John Scott managed to kick Gunn hard in the stomach, and the bushranger staggered back for a moment, overcome by the pain. Hulbert had to go to his assistance before John Scott was securely chained to the other stump. The ex-policeman, bound as he was, had fought every inch of the short journey with the frenzy of despair. His face was covered with blood. Gunn had hammered him with the butt of his pistol in revenge for that kick in the stomach.
When Dan Wall at last opened his eyes Kate was overjoyed. "They've got John Scott and Cranky Bill all right," she whispered soothingly. "See, they've tied them up to those two stumps. Goin' to keep them prisoners for a bit, I reckon. An' serve 'em right, too."
Dan closed his eyes again with a sigh and Kate damped his forehead with a piece of linen soaked in water. She did not see what Gunn and Hulbert were busying themselves with.
If Kate O'Farrell had turned her head she would have seen the two bushrangers collecting armfuls of dry brushwood from the fringe of scrub that surrounded the grassy hollow, while their victims watched with staring, horror-stricken eyes.
Gunn and Hulbert piled the brushwood in a wide circle, about 6 ft. distant from the stumps. Death was to come slowly and with bitter agony to the two spies.
Higher and higher rose the pile of dry fuel. But Gunn left a narrow passage through the heaped-up brushwood by which he could approach the prisoners until the last moment before applying the match to the fuel.
He intended to enjoy their agony to the full.
When all was ready Gunn squeezed himself through the narrow opening in the brushwood and knocked the gags out of the mouths of the helpless prisoners. "Now, you dogs," he exclaimed, "I'm just a-goin' to light up a blaze that'll warm ye, an' I want to hear ye howl."
A wild scream from Cranky Billy gave the first indication that his mouth was free of the gag. Kate O'Farrell heard it and looked up in startled surprise. So, too, did Dan, who had quite regained consciousness, though he was still a trifle dazed.
"My God, Kate," said Dan, "Gunn and Hulbert are goin' to burn 'em alive."
Kate stuffed her fingers into her ears to shut out the piercing shrieks for mercy that were emitted by Cranky Billy, as Gunn drew a matchbox from his pocket and struck a light.
"Mine bin tinkit plurry big bushfire plenty soon," remarked Widgee, the black-tracker, pointing to a dense column of smoke that rose into the air about half a mile in from of the party.
Lieutenant Molyneux, who was riding immediately behind the black-trackers, looked intently at the column of smoke "That's no bushfire, Widgee," he said. "Look again."
Jimmy, the other black-tracker, glanced at the column of smoke superciliously. "Fire not movin' along," he remarked. "All time in same plurry place. Mine bin tinkit white pfeller make that fire."
Suddenly a quick succession of agonised yells broke upon the ears of the startled party of police who were with the trackers.
"Come on, boys, follow me," sang out Lieutenant Molyneux, and putting spurs to his horse he dashed through the timber at headlong speed in the direction of the fire.
It took hardly any time for Molyneux and his men to reach the summit of the steep cliff-face that overlooked Doughboy Hollow, and when they arrived there they saw a sight that almost stopped the beating of their hearts.
Looking down from the height, they could see over the top of the piled brushwood that had just begun to blaze.
John Scott and Cranky Billy were writhing and wrenching at the chains that bound them. Billy was shrieking madly but Scott was grimly silent. The fire was still on the outside of the brushwood, but it was spreading fast. In another minute or two it would be well alight and the two victims would be slowly roasted.
Gunn was dancing in front of the fire like a maniac, but Hulbert had turned away, and was walking in the direction of Dan and Kate, who were gazing with horror at the scene.
Molyneux was a man prompt in action. Snatching a carbine from one of the troopers, he took a rapid aim at Gunn and pulled the trigger.
As the report of the carbine rang out the bushranger leapt several feet in the air and then fell forward on his face, shuddering convulsively. Blood gushed from his mouth. Molyneux saw that he was shot through the lungs.
Dashing down the steep declivity, Molyneux called to the troopers to follow him, and the whole of the rescue party raced to the blazing brushwood. A new note in the screams of Cranky Billy warned them to use their best pace. It was clear that he was already under torture.
Snatching up a stout sapling, Molyneux attacked the burning brushwood, scattering it in all directions, and the troopers, rushing in at the same time, tore down with their bare hands the stuff that was not yet alight, and kicked the flaming wood furiously away from the two prisoners who were chained to the stakes.
Cranky Billy's trousers were already alight. One of the troopers beat out the flames with a green bough just as the sufferer fainted.
In less than a minute the danger was over, but it was a close call. In a few seconds more both men would have perished in the flames.
The troopers unbound the prisoners and led them away. John Scott and Billy lay on the cool green grass, hardly able to realise that they were actually safe from the clutches of the savage brute who had sought to burn them alive. And then they looked at Gunn. He was writhing on the ground and was plainly in a bad way.
The work of saving the two prisoners occupied the rescue party for several minutes, and Molyneux and the four troopers, together with the black trackers had just as much as they could do to snatch the victims from the fiery death to which the maddened bushranger had doomed them.
When the smoke cleared away the lieutenant and the four constables emerged blackened and scorched, to find that the rest of the gang had escaped from the other end of the hollow.
"After them, men," yelled Molyneux. "They can't get away from us now." His quick eye had taken in every detail of the scene. He saw that three of the bushrangers had escaped, but in the hurry they had been able to catch only two of their horses. One of the horses must, therefore, be carrying double. It was a heavy handicap in a race for life.
Leaving the rescued prisoners lying on the ground and placing the two blackfellows in charge of the wounded bushranger, Molyneux leaped on his horse and led the four troopers in a headlong hunt. It was a thrilling hunt—far more thrilling than any chase after wolf or tiger.
The game was afoot—two men and a woman—and they were to be hunted, if need be, to the death.
Hulbert, on Forest King, was the first man out of Doughboy Hollow. At the earliest glimpse of Molyneux and the troopers he had rushed for his horse, and he was in the saddle and away before Dan Wall and Kate O'Farrell quite realised what was happening.
Troubadour was a nervous horse and hard to catch when frightened. He would not let Kate get near him and as there was no time to lose she grabbed Alchemist, the steeplechaser, instead, and quickly unhobbled him. She led him by the bridle up to Dan and helped Dan to mount.
Once in the saddle the leader of the gang was himself again. A dense curtain of smoke from the burning brushwood shut off the police party, but every second was priceless.
"Come along, my girl," said Dan. "Those dogs shall never take you while I'm alive. Up behind me and we'll lose the lot of them."
"No, no, Dan. The horse can't carry double. You must save your own life. Leave me here. I'm not afraid of anything they can do to me, if only you get clear away."
Dan looked at her with open-eyed admiration. "My oath, Kate, you're a game 'un," he said. But he would not listen to her self-sacrificing suggestion. "Come along," he blurted out and grasped her by the wrist. "Now, jump." Kate jumped and at the same instant Dan lifted her. She landed astride on the steeplechaser close up behind Dan and without another word they were off.
They could hear Hulbert crashing through the brushwood in front of them. "He'll never stop till he gets over the Victorian border," said Dan grimly, "and he'll be shot on sight there. We'll make a break back south for the Araluen country. They'll never think of looking for us there, an' I've some good friends in the district."
Kate murmured that she was sure whatever Dan did would be best. She felt strangely happy in spite of the terrible danger. She rode with her arms lightly clasped round her lover's waist and the strength and courage of the man sustained her.
Gradually the sound of Hulbert's frantic flight in front of them died away as they turned south. But what was that? A faint and far off thud of galloping hoofs behind them. Dan's practised ear quickly picked up the rhythm. "Three or four of em, Kate," he said, "four I think. Well, now, we shall see what Alchemist is made of. By George, look out. Sit tight, my girl!"
A twenty-foot watercourse stretched right across their line, but the steeplechaser had seen it before Dan. He gathered himself together and flew it without shortening his stride. Kate hardly felt the light shock as he landed.
"My word, he's a beauty," muttered Dan. "They'll be clever if they catch us to-day."
But still the sharp ring of shod hoofs behind them kept up with ominous clearness. Dan almost thought that he could hear it more distinctly than before. And so did Kate.
"They must be riding pretty fair horses," said Dan. "We've come a matter of five miles from the hollow already."
Kate's heart began to sink. She knew well why the steeplechaser could not get away from his pursuers. With Dan and herself on his back he was carrying something like 21 stone, and, good horse though he was, it was a terrible impost.
"Our horse has all the worst of the weights, Dan, and he's grass fed besides. The police horses are all stable-fed."
"Never mind about that," said Dan cheerily. "Once in the Araluen ranges they'll never see which way we've gone."
The steeplechaser galloped steadily on, throwing mile after mile behind him with the long low stride of the high-couraged racehorse, but still, whenever Dan eased him at a stiff pinch in the rangy country, both riders could hear the hard metallic clink of the unwavering pursuers. Alchemist was covered with foam from crest to crupper. He begun to throw his head about uneasily.
They had travelled about ten miles, mostly at a gallop, when Kate sent a glance over her shoulder and saw, only a few hundred yards behind them, Molyneux on his big bay horse, coming along at a terrible pace with the four troopers strung out in the rear each separated from the next one by a long gap.
A shout of "surrender!" came from the persistent pursuer.
"No damn fear," said Dan between his teeth and he shook up the steeplechaser for a fresh effort.
Ping! Molyneux had fired from the saddle. The bullet from his carbine hummed past them, and Alchemist gave a frightened plunge.
"Dan, dear Dan," said Kate almost in a whisper.
"What is it, sweetheart?"
"They must never get you, Dan. It would kill me if they did."
"They're not goin' to get us. Don't you be afraid, my girl. We'll soon shake them off once we get into the mountains."
"Our horse has got too much weight to carry, Dan."
"He's all right, dear. The weight's nothin' to him. He can handle it, never fear."
"Dan dear, promise me that you won't stop, whatever happens."
"Of course we won't stop, Kate. Whatever made you think of such a thing. We'll be safe to-night in a big limestone cave that I've lived in often for weeks at a time. It's five miles the other side of Araluen, and not a soul in New South Wales knows of it except me."
Kate looked over her shoulder again. Molyneux was steadily gaining on them, although the steeplechaser was plainly doing his best under the crushing burden.
"Remember you must go on, Dan, no matter what happens. You will get to the cave all right. And now—good-bye."
With swift and agile grace the girl vaulted from the galloping horse to the ground, running along beside him for a few steps to save herself from falling.
The steeplechaser, relieved of the weight, shot forward with fresh energy, but Dan, astounded by the sudden action of the girl, sat back in the saddle and pulled the horse almost upon his haunches.
"No, no, Dan, go on, go on," shouted Kate, waving her hand.
But the bushranger had no intention of leaving his plucky partner, who had thrown herself to the wolves in order to save him. Facing the prospect of almost certain capture, he was pulling in the horse with the idea of rescuing Kate again, and making one more effort to get away in company with her, when Molyneux, who had seen the whole incident, took a hand in the game.
Fearing that Dan was about to slip through his fingers after all, he raised his carbine, which he had reloaded and took a quick snapshot at the bushranger.
The bullet struck Dan just below the elbow and broke his bridle arm. At the same moment the steeplechaser frightened by the report, dashed forward, quite out of the rider's control, and Dan was carried off in spite of himself—to safety.
Kate was overjoyed to see that the lieutenant's horse was thoroughly blown. His effort to overhaul the steeplechaser had completely used him up, and, but for having to carry double weight, it was plain that Alchemist would have run clean away from him.
"Throw up your arms," shouted the lieutenant, spurring towards Kate with levelled revolver and Kate, in her blue Crimean shirt and moleskin trousers, promptly obeyed him.
Molyneux sprang to the ground and levelled his weapon at the girl's head.
"All right, lieutenant," said Kate, quietly. "I surrender."
Molyneux looked at her with stupefaction. The blue Crimean shirt could not hide the ripened bosom, nor could the remainder of her attire conceal the flowing curves of her figure.
"By heaven, it's a woman," he cried, and then, being a man with a sense of humor, he burst out laughing.
"Well, by girl, I don't know at present who you are from Adam, or I suppose I ought to say from Eve, though you certainly don't resemble the lady much. But, whoever you are, I'm afraid you'll have to come along with me."
Kate stamped her foot angrily. "Ye can keep yer jokes for them as likes 'em, Lieutenant Molyneux," she said with blazing eyes. "And, anyhow, it was me that saved Dan Wall from ye, remember that."
Lieutenant Molyneux did remember it, and with very mixed emotions. He was frankly not sorry that the leader of the gang had escaped. His Dark Angel was once more in the ascendant and he rejoiced in the escape of any important wrongdoers, whose capture would have relieved Sir Francis Maynard of many anxieties. He did not want the commissary to be relieved of any anxieties, though he would do anything—in reason—to please the commissary's lovely niece. As for Gunn—well, that was a different matter. The lieutenant was delighted that the blood-thirsty brute had met with his deserts. He had every hope that the gaol doctor in Goulburn would be able to patch up Gunn temporarily, and save him for the hanging which he so richly deserved.
Lieutenant Molyneux mentally ran over the situation that confronted him. Of course he could not get out of arresting the girl. He would have to take her back and lodge her in the Goulburn lock-up. She would, no doubt, be placed on trial with Gunn, and her evidence would be important in fixing the identity of the murderer of Mr. McIntyre. And then a sudden idea struck him. "By the Lord, I'll do it," he muttered to himself. "It'll be the end of everything for the commissary."
The girl was still staring defiantly at Molyneux when the four troopers rode up and jumped off their exhausted horses. It was no use trying to continue the pursuit of Hulbert and Wall. That would be work for another day. In the meantime, Molyneux realised that he had to get back to Doughboy Hollow with his prisoner and make a complete examination of the hiding place. It would depend on the condition of the wounded bushranger whether the detachment waited at the hollow or pushed on at once for Goulburn.
After a rest of an hour to spell the horses, Molyneux decided to make a start. A trooper's horse was requisitioned for Kate, who was made to ride with a mounted man on each side of her, each man holding a rein buckled to her horse's bit. Molyneux had had enough of hunting for one afternoon. In consequence of her accession to the party, one of the troopers' horses had to carry two men, and, as the speed of the cavalcade was the speed of its slowest unit, it was nearly ten o'clock at night before Molyneux and the detachment reached Doughboy Hollow with their prisoner.
Gunn was in a bad state and in urgent need of surgical attention, so Molyneux decided to push on at once with two troopers walking and carrying the wounded man in a rough litter. John Scott and Cranky Billy also marched on foot. After traversing five miles in this way, they reached a cross-road and a settler's cart was requisitioned in which the bushranger and the girl were placed.
All night long the party pushed on and reached Goulburn late in the forenoon next day. Molyneux handed Gunn over to the governor of the gaol and took a receipt for him, but he consigned Kate O'Farrell to the care of the constable in charge of the local lock-up. Her participation in the exploits of the bushrangers was still a matter for investigation.
Kate was completely worn out by the fatigue, excitement, and violent emotions of the last two days, and she sank down on the pallet bed in her cell utterly exhausted. Constable Flanagan, who was in charge of the lock-up, made her as comfortable as possible, and was busy entering up his charge sheet when Molyneux entered the cell for a final word with his plucky captive.
Glancing round to see that there were no eavesdroppers about, the lieutenant whispered a couple of sentences in the girl's ear.
She started back and scrutinised him with incredulous amazement.
Molyneux nodded his head reassuringly. "It's perfectly true, on my word of honor as a gentleman," he said, with a laugh. And then he whispered again. "At 11 o'clock to-night. Remember. The path will be clear."
She could hardly realise the significance of his visit before he was gone.
When Molyneux got back to the official residence of the Commissary of Police he received a warm welcome from his chief, and an even warmer one, if that were possible, from Miss Thellusson.
Sir Francis Maynard was rubbing his hands together with delight. "This is what I have been looking forward to for months, Molyneux," he said. "Broken up the gang and got two of them safe under lock and key. Egad! We must open a bottle of champagne in honor of the occasion."
The contents of the bottle quickly disappeared—Sir Francis consumed most of it—while the commissary and his niece listened spellbound to the lieutenant's graphic narrative of the black tracker's work in following Scott and Cranky Billy to Doughboy Hollow, and the arrival of the police party just in time to save the two spies from the fiery fate decreed for them by the bushrangers. Then he told them of the long stern chase after Hulbert, Wall, and Kate O'Farrell, and how Kate sacrificed herself to save her lover by jumping off the heavily-burdened steeplechaser and giving Dan the chance of outstripping his pursuers.
"What a brave girl!" exclaimed Miss Thellusson with enthusiasm. "I really can't help admiring her, even if she is an accomplice of criminals."
"My dear," said Sir Francis, wagging a shaky forefinger at his niece, "do remember who you are. That young woman is very probably an accessory to a shocking murder."
"I can't believe that she had anything to do with it," said Miss Thellusson with conviction. And then a bright thought struck her. "Uncle," said the girl, "suppose we go over to the lock-up with Lieutenant Molyneux and see the young woman."
Sir Francis pondered over the suggestion for a moment. It was very comfortable in the expensively-furnished bungalow, with its low easy chairs and shaded lamps. And the old dark brandy was very alluring. Certainly the lock-up was only a hundred yards away, but it was a cheerless hole, and Flanagan, though well-meaning, was not an entertaining conversationalist. On the other hand, it might be as well to see this Kate O'Farrell and question her as to her relations with the bushrangers. She might be able to give very material evidence in regard to the murder of Mr. McIntyre. And the sooner that somebody—he did not really care who—was "fitted" for the murder the sooner would his own position as commissary be secured from Ministerial interference that made him cold to think about.
Finally the commissary decided to pay an official visit to the lock-up and to question the prisoner in her cell. Hope Thellusson and Lieutenant Molyneux accompanied Sir Francis, and, as the three of them walked up the dimly-lighted street of the township, Hope laid her hand on the lieutenant's sleeve and thanked him in a low voice for having so brilliantly carried out the work which was necessary to save her uncle from the consequences of his own remissness.
Molyneux felt horribly uncomfortable. The influence of the beautiful girl whose hand rested upon his sleeve was having a distinct effect upon his implacable resolution. If he loved the niece—as he now admitted to himself that he did—still he hated the uncle, and was bound, as he believed, by more than ordinarily solemn pledges, to work out his ruin, degradation, and shameful death. The situation was compounded, as it seemed to him, of irreconcilable contradictions. Would he have to relinquish either his love or his revenge? That was the problem in a nutshell. For the present the two passions were kept in equilibrium, but it could not long continue so.
And then with the suddenness of a lightning flash a firm resolution formed itself irresistibly in the lieutenant's brain. He would so go on as he had begun. He would constitute himself the unswerving instrument of eternal justice. He would not desert a trust that he believed had been committed to him by one who was now beyond the grave.
He quickened his stride and drew up alongside Sir Francis. At the same moment Miss Thellusson withdrew her hand from his sleeve. "Oh, Lieutenant Molyneux," she whispered with something like a gasp, "I have just seen your Dark Angel moving close by your shoulder."
Molyneux expressed his amazement by a startled stare. Was it possible, that this girl could read his thoughts automatically? And was it possible that those sinister thoughts took on the appearance of a dark and sinister figure, visible to some strange sub-conscious faculty of his companion?
He was still pondering over this problem when they reached the outer gate of the lock-up. In answer to their knocking Constable Flanagan admitted them with a deferential salute to the commissary and his subordinate, and another to Miss Hope Thellusson.
Constable Flanagan had sandy whiskers and a twinkling eye. "Shure, I have her inside there beyant, yer Anner, and 'tis as quiet as a child she is, wid all the house to herself. I give her the only dacent cell in the place, yer Anner, and I'd be rale glad if you'd put in a word with the guv'ment for a new lock-up, yer Anner, bekase I cudn't kape even a pair of white mice in the ould place be reason of the way it's all fallin' to pieces."
"Yes, yes, that'll do, Flanagan. You'd talk the leg off an iron pot."
"Shure, I'm askin' yer Anner's pardon for interfearin' wid the tinker; but I have to report, sor, that this lock-up wouldn't hold a ration of guv'ment cheese if it wanted to get out, let alone a bushranger, an' 'tis terrified I am that they'll walk off wid it altogether some night wid meself inside uv it. Faix, the next time you do be seein' th' Minister down in Sydney, yer Anner, I'd be obleeged if ye'd just ax him for a new stone lock-up, seein' as how this one is wore out entirely. The Minister 'll give ye anything ye ax for, yer Anner, him bein' so friendly to ye alwas."
"For goodness' sake stop talking, Flanagan, and open the door of that cell."
The loquacious constable stopped talking as suddenly as he had begun, and, taking his bunch of keys off a nail on the wall, preceded Sir Francis to the cell, which he unlocked, and remained in attendance, while the commissary questioned the prisoner.
Constable Flanagan, standing at the door, held a candle, stuck in a bottle, to illuminate the thick darkness of the cell, which was ventilated by a small, heavily-barred window that communicated with the outer air.
Kate O'Farrell rubbed her eyes, blinking at the light, as she sat up on her pallet-bed and glanced at Sir Francis Maynard suspiciously. She divined at once from his impressive uniform, with its silver lace, that he was "the big bug of the traps."
Sir Francis questioned her with practised ease and in spite of her evasions and prevarications he was soon in possession of everything that she knew. She described the bushrangers' ball at Binda with much zest, slurred over the episode of the burning of John Scott's store, and then, under the pressure of the expert cross-examiner, described her own part in the history of the eventful night when the steeplechaser was lifted from Glenhuntly station and the unfortunate owner was shot down in the gully.
"Did you actually see Gunn fire the shot?" rapped out the commissary suddenly. It was purely a conjecture on his part.
"No; but I saw him take the rifle away and I heard him fire it," said the girl eagerly. She hated Gunn when he first objected to her joining the gang. She regarded him with loathing and horror ever since the hideous scene in Doughboy Gully.
"What did he say when he returned to the camp fire?" asked the commissary.
"He said that he'd finished the b—— dog at last," said the girl with appalling frankness. "He's a fair brute, is that same Gunn. I was glad when the lieutenant shot him, an' I hope the brute will live to be scragged." There was intense vindictiveness in every word. Sir Francis congratulated himself on the capture of this admirable witness. He would tender her on behalf of the Crown and her testimony would be quite sufficient to hang Gunn for the murder.
"That'll do, Kate. You can go to sleep, now. I'll have you brought before the bench and formally remanded in the morning."
The commissary left the cell well pleased with the turn that events had taken. The capture of that young woman practically meant that his position was assured.
When Flanagan returned to his office in the front part of the lock-up he placed his bunch of keys on the bench and turned to explain to Sir Francis the numerous structural defects of the lock-up and the necessity that existed for a new one. The commissary listened resignedly as Flanagan recited a long list of drawbacks, ranging from white ants in the foundations to holes in the roof.
During this conversation Molyneux was toying absent-mindedly with the constable's keys while he added a few picturesque details to his previous account of the desperate ride after Dan and Kate, for the edification of Miss Thellusson.
"That'll be all right, yer Anner," remarked Flanagan at length, as he hung the keys up on the nail. "I'll kape me oi on the gurl troo the night, and I'll make her a coup o' tay about twilve o'clock. Shure, she'll be as snug as a bug in a rug, an' in the mornin' her tongue 'll wag like a duck's tail in a rain sthorm."
The keys were back on the nail, but the bunch was lighter by one. Unfortunately for himself, Constable Flanagan did not notice its absence.
It was half-past 10 o'clock when the commissary and his niece, accompanied by the lieutenant, got back to the bungalow.
"Going to give me a game of ecarte to-night, Molyneux?" said Sir Francis. "I really must get back some of my I.O.U.s from you soon."
"Don't worry yourself about them, sir," said Molyneux cheerfully. "I'm really too desperately tired for cards to night. I haven't been to bed for two nights, you know. I think, if you and Miss Thellusson will excuse me, I'll just go straight down to my quarters and have a real good sleep."
The commissary could raise no objection, and Miss Thellusson, in wishing the lieutenant good-night, added a kindly hope that he would sleep well.
But as he turned to leave the room she started violently. Was it imagination or a weird faculty of second sight? She could not tell. But she distinctly saw the Dark Angel moving along in its usual position—just behind the lieutenant's shoulder. As he walked through the door and disappeared the dark shadow vanished with him.
The post-office clock was striking eleven, and Kate O'Farrell was walking up and down her cell in an agony of anticipation, when something hard rolled against the bars across the ventilating aperture and fell upon the stone floor.
She picked up the object. It was a large key, wrapped in a piece of white paper. On the paper was written in a big round hand:—"In five minutes from now open your door with this key and walk out. Flanagan will not interfere. Old Ringleader is saddled and tied up behind the lock-up, waiting for you. Take him and go after Dan. You know where to find him."
There was just enough moonlight in the cell for Kate to read the paper. She stared at it as if hypnotised. Then she strained her ears to listen. She heard a gentle knocking on the outer door of the lock-up.
Constable Flanagan, sole custodian of the lock-up, sat in his office reading a week-old paper. He expected Chief Constable Gordon some time during the night. Gordon made tours of inspection at irregular intervals. One never could tell when he would arrive. The loquacious Flanagan looked forward to having a nice long talk with the chief constable. He had plenty of news to tell him. It was the first time that the Goulburn lock-up had ever contained a girl bushranger.
Ha! That was the chief constable's knock. Flanagan climbed down off his high stool without any indecent haste and went to the door.
"Who's there?" he asked, purely as a matter of form.
"Chief Constable Gordon, on inspection rounds," was the gruff and equally formal reply.
Flanagan shot the heavy bolts back in their sockets, turned the ponderous key, pulled the door open, and found himself looking straight into the muzzle of a big revolver.
A red-haired, red-bearded man was behind the revolver. "Utter a single word and I kill you," said the red-bearded man through his teeth to Constable Flanagan.
Flanagan was no coward. He grabbed for the revolver with his left hand, missed it, and rushed in to close with his assailant. The red-bearded man was clearly averse to shooting—if it could be helped. He raised the revolver and brought it down with a crash on the sandy head of the constable as he butted in like a wild bull.
The blow would have stunned most men; it merely irritated Flanagan. He shook his head and butted in again.
This time the red-bearded man, still gripping the heavy revolver in his right hand, swung in a terrific uppercut which caught the policeman under the chin and momentarily rattled him. It would have killed an average man.
The revolver fell from the red-bearded man's hand upon the floor, but the owner of the weapon could not stoop to recover it. He had to stand on the defensive now.
Flanagan, though dazed by that terrible uppercut—the steel guard of the trigger had laid his chin open to the bone—was able to draw the heavy pair of handcuffs that he wore under his tunic. He aimed a terrific blow with the handcuffs at the red-bearded man's head, a blow that if it had got home would have settled the conflict at once. But the red-bearded man ducked, and as Flanagan spun round by his own momentum, seized him by the waist, and, humping his powerful shoulders, gave the constable the fall known as "the flying mare." Flanagan weighed at least sixteen stone and he fell with a terrific crash, his head striking the iron bars of the fireplace. That was the end of it, as far as he was concerned.
As he lay there unconscious while the red-bearded man hastily picked up his revolver and put it in his pocket a white face peered in through the door.
It was Kate O'Farrell, holding a key in her hand. The red-bearded man took the key from her and replaced it on the bunch that hung from its nail on the wall. He motioned to the girl to go. She cast one long grateful glance at him and vanished like a shadow.
A minute later the red-bearded man heard the sharp rattle of galloping hoofs. It faded away at last, he thought, towards the south. Then he went across to the fireplace and examined Flanagan, who stirred uneasily and groaned. The man was not badly hurt. With a skull as thick as his he could defy all ordinary blows. He would probably come round quite soon if left to himself.
The red-bearded man slipped quietly out of the lock-up and closed the outer door. He could not lock it because the key was on the inside.
When Chief Constable Gordon arrived at the lock-up at three o'clock in the morning on his usual round of inspection he knocked for several minutes, but received no answer. "That confounded fellow has gone to sleep again," he muttered, banging on the door with the heavy steel handle of his hunting crop.
But still there was no answer. The Chief Constable impatiently tried the handle of the door. To his amazement he found that the door was unlocked. He turned the handle and walked in. As soon as he got into the passage he saw the unmistakable evidences of a desperate struggle. The office table and the office stool were overthrown. The floor was littered with all the multifarious' documents that the officer in charge of the lock-up had to keep regularly posted up. Was that ink all over the floor or blood? Chief Constable Gordon was not quite sure until he caught sight of Flanagan sitting on the floor in a corner and holding his head in both hands, as if he were afraid that it might fall off if left to itself.
Flanagan was bleeding from half a dozen scalp wounds and he had a fearful gash under the chin. Slowly he collected all that remained of his wits and described what he could remember of the red-bearded man's visit. He could not even yet understand the object of the raid.
It was Gordon who made the painful discovery that the girl-bushranger had flown. The door of the cell was locked and the key was in its place on Flanagan's bunch, which hung on its accustomed nail; but the girl had vanished. How she had managed to escape was not clear in every detail, but it was sufficiently apparent that the red-bearded man, whoever he was, had arranged for her departure. The red-bearded man was not Dan Wall. Of that fact Gordon was certain. Nor was he Hulbert. And the third man, Gunn, was in the gaol hospital with a bullet through his lung.
At that minute Mr. Gordon would have cheerfully given a month's salary for accurate information as to the identity of the red-bearded man; but when he applied to Flanagan for information that worthy only shook his head mournfully.
"I niver seen him before," said Flanagan, gazing vacantly round upon his wrecked office; "but I think it's the man they do be callin' 'Gentleman Jack.'"
Who the deuce was knocking at the front door of the bungalow at six o'clock in the morning? Sir Francis woke up suddenly and listened. He was very angry at being disturbed so early.
The knocking continued, and as Mrs. Higgs, the housekeeper, was not up yet, and the cook and housemaid were still sleeping, Sir Francis reluctantly got out of bed, put on his dressing-gown and slippers, and went to open the door himself.
"Good Lord, Gordon, what's the matter?"
"I am very sorry, indeed, Sir Francis, to tell you that the lock-up was attacked by bushrangers—how many I don't yet know—in the middle of the night, and the young woman who was held in custody there was rescued. Flanagan has been badly knocked about, and will need to be relieved of duty. I am sending Roche up this morning to take his place."
The commissary was thunderstruck. "I was there myself at half-past ten o'clock last night and questioned the young woman, Kate O'Farrell," he gasped. "I got a full statement out of her. The evidence that she can give would be sufficient to hang Gunn for the murder of Mr. McIntyre, and now she has been spirited away. Oh, this is terrible. I have always relied upon you to see to the security of the lock-up, Gordon."
"I have reported several times to you, Sir Francis, that the place was unsafe, and that an additional constable should be stationed there to assist the lock-up keeper. If my recommendations had been adopted this could not have happened."
Sir Francis Maynard groaned aloud. He recognised that his own slackness had contributed to the catastrophe. He could not shelter himself from responsibility behind his subordinates.
"Just wait a minute and I'll call Molyneux," said the commissary. "He's wonderfully smart at his work. We may be able to recapture the girl yet. Meanwhile not a word to the newspapers, Gordon. It is of the most vital importance to keep this business secret."
He hurried off to the lieutenant's quarters at the end of the garden, and Molyneux sat up in bed rubbing his eyes, while he listened to the excited narrative of his chief about the doings of a red-bearded man who had stuck-up the lock-up single-handed, hammered the constable into insensibility, and carried away Kate O'Farrell. The commissary explained that he was relying on her evidence to convict Gunn of the murder, and to re-establish his own reputation for the efficient policing of the district. "It's a positive disaster for me," said Sir Francis, wringing his hands in despair. "The mere fact of the lock-up, within a hundred yards of my own home, being broken into by bushrangers, who half killed the officer in charge and liberated the prisoner in custody there, is the most damaging thing that could have happened to me."
"Cheer up, Sir Francis," said Molyneux, with his imperturbable optimism, "it may not be as bad as you think. Have you any idea who the bushrangers were?"
"Not the remotest, Molyneux. I should be inclined, however, to suspect that Dan Wall was at the bottom of it. I gathered from the young woman's statements last night that Wall was her lover, and that she was greatly attached to him. It seems probable that the scoundrel, after escaping from you, doubled back to Goulburn, and led this outrageous attack upon the lock-up with the object of liberating the girl with whom he was consorting."
"It sounds quite likely, Sir Francis. Your long experience has probably led you to suggest the right theory, but we can soon test it by going across to the lock-up and questioning Flanagan."
The lieutenant was rapidly pulling on his boots and breeches as he talked. Sir Francis hastily dressed himself in uniform, and together they sallied out, accompanied by Chief Constable Gordon, to the lock-up.
It was Molyneux who questioned Flanagan. The Commissary was too nervous and pre-occupied to do himself justice.
"Now, Flanagan," said Molyneux severely, "you had every opportunity of observing the scoundrel who attacked you. Are you quite certain that it wasn't Dan Wall, who, as you know now, is Kate O'Farrell's lover."
"Faix I'm not so sure of annything this mornin', sor, as I wuz lasht night," replied the constable frankly, "but Dan Wall has the dark eye an' the black beard to his chin, for well I knew him afore he wint out. But the mahn that come here an' murdhered me entirely wuz a felly wid a blue eye, like yer own, liftenant, an' rid hair an' a rid beard that 'ud make a cow go mad to see ut."
"It's very strange that you allowed yourself to be mastered by such a fellow—and in your own lock-up, too," interjected Sir Francis savagely. "Why didn't you hit him on the head with your handcuffs?"
"Shure, I shtruck at him wid me handcuffs, yer 'Anner," said the constable lugubriously, "but he wasn't there at all, an' the next thing I knew I didn't know annything. An' whin the headache I had just woke me up, I found meself thryin' to tell Mr. Gordon what shtruck me, whin he came an' tuold me the gurl was gone along wid the mahn wid the rid beard, and the divil alone knows how she got out, nor where she wint too, nor him ayther. An that's all I know about ut, yer Anner."
Sir Francis shrugged his shoulders impatiently. "Somebody must have brought a horse for the girl to get away on," he said testily. "Surely that point can be cleared up."
"Old Ringleader is missing from Campbell's paddock this morning," said Chief Constable Gordon. "It's a strange coincidence that the horse was taken out the night that the mail coach was stuck up—also by a red-bearded man. Looks as though the man that robbed the coach and the man that attacked Flanagan are one and the same individual."
"Yes, that's all very well, but who is he and where is he? Until you can tell me that, Gordon, we're no further ahead than before."
Sir Francis was losing his temper.
The chief constable looked meditatively at Molyneux. "It seems to me that this red-bearded man, Gentleman Jack, as they call him, is no ordinary bushranger. The two mail coach robberies that he has brought off, and now this audacious and successful attack on the lock-up, show him to be a man of courage, brains, and education."
"Such a man as yourself, in fact, Gordon," said the lieutenant with a merry laugh.
"Or you, Lieutenant Molyneux," said the chief constable, looking at the Commissary's assistant through his narrowed eyelids.
There was nothing for it except to continue the search for Dan Wall, Kate O'Farrell, and Hulbert. As Sir Francis walked down the main street of Goulburn he gave Mr. Gordon the necessary instructions as to sending out a party of troopers to thoroughly examine all the country from Doughboy Hollow to Araluen.
"But, above all, Gordon, no publicity about this matter. The public know nothing about the fight in Doughboy Hollow, the chase and capture of Kate O'Farrell, and the sticking up of the lock-up. There is no reason why the information should be made generally known, and its publication might possibly do me serious harm, besides injuring our chance to capture the rest of the gang."
Mr. Gordon nodded his head. He was, by instinct, a secretive man. There was no necessity to warn him. Lieutenant Molyneux also warmly applauded the decision of his chief, who felt quite reassured by his subordinate's cheery manner as they parted at the gate. Gordon to see about dispatching a fresh lot of troopers after Wall and Hulbert, Molyneux to visit the wounded bushranger, Gunn, in the gaol hospital, and ascertain when he would be well enough to be placed on his trial, and Sir Francis Maynard to console himself with several stiff nips of brandy for the failure of his plans, just at the moment when the prospects of success looked brightest.
Molyneux was clanking down the main street of Goulburn with his spurs ringing on the pavement at every step, when he happened to catch sight of young Figgins, who did reporting and canvassing for the "Goulburn Intelligencer," which came out twice a week and had a considerable circulation in the district.
"Anything to-day, lieutenant?" said Figgins, always eager for news.
The lieutenant winked solemnly. "You won't give me away if I put you on to something really good, will you, Figgins?" he said quietly.
Figgins exhausted his capacity for protestation in assuring the lieutenant that the source of information would be kept a profound secret.
"What would you say if I told you that we had a big fight with Wall's gang a couple of days ago, and that Gunn is in the gaol hospital now with a little present from me in the shape of a bullet-hole through his lung?"
Figgins' eyes opened to their widest extent. "Not really?" he gasped.
"Absolute fact," replied Molyneux. "But there's more behind. The lock-up was broken open last night, apparently by one of the gang, and a girl whom we had taken prisoner was rescued and has got away. In fact, they have all got away except Gunn."
Figgins could hardly restrain himself from dancing on the sidewalk. "But this is the biggest thing we've had for years," he rapped out excitedly. "Where can I see you privately and get the full strength of it?"
"I can't tell you any more," said Molyneux. "In fact, I've told you too much already. But if you go to Flanagan at the lock-up you may get a good story out of him about his experiences last night. Not a word about having seen me, remember. And don't bring me into your story more than you can help."
Figgins rushed off all agog with excitement. The surgeon at the gaol hospital was a good friend to him, and might be induced to let him interview the wounded bushranger. Moreover, Figgins had done Flanagan many good turns at various times, and the keeper of the lock-up would be able to fill in many details of the great "scoop" that as yet could only be guessed at.
The reporter worked at top speed all day and all night until the "Intelligencer" had to be got ready to go to press. The editor grasped the significance of the item and set aside two columns for it. Figgins hated Sir Francis Maynard, who had once ordered him out of his office for being too pertinacious an enquirer, and he let his pen go with the greatest freedom in describing the awful condition of police disorganisation in the Goulburn district.
When the Commissary picked up the local paper next morning he was petrified to see a crude, extravagantly-colored account of the discovery of Doughboy Hollow, the wounding of Gunn, the hunt for Wall and Hulbert, the capture of the girl, Kate O'Farrell, and then the midnight attack on the lock-up and the rescue of the girl from custody.
Figgins had thrown himself wholeheartedly into his work. He had invented what he did not know, he had dredged the dictionary for adjectives, and he had put together a wildly exaggerated account of every single incident. But still the main outlines were approximately correct, and the Commissary could see that the reporter had been assiduous in collecting information.
Sir Francis read through the lurid farrago of startling sensationalism with bitter rage. Who could have given the newspaper the information upon which that pestilent report was written? But when he came to the "Intelligencer's" leading article (also written by Figgins), his indignation almost suffocated him. "With deep regret," he read, "we have to confess that the police administration in this district is in an absolutely rotten condition that calls for immediate attention. When the town lock-up, situated almost opposite the residence of the Superintendent of Police, can be raided with impunity, the unfortunate officer in charge beaten almost to death, and a female prisoner removed from lawful custody by her associates in crime, it is high time for the citizens to raise a protest which shall be heard in the right quarter. Audacious robberies of mail coaches, horse-stealing, and even murder, are crimes that are carried on unpunished and undetected under the administration of the present holder of the office of Commissary. In the interests of public order and security a more energetic administrator is urgently desirable."
Sir Francis was trembling so violently with fury, and also with fear, that he drank nearly half a tumblerful of brandy before he could steady his nerves. "Ruined," he muttered, "ruined."
He was still sitting in his office staring vacantly at the "Intelligencer" when there was a knock at the door and Molyneux entered.
"Awfully sorry to bother you, sir," said the lieutenant, "but would it be convenient for you to redeem your I.O.U.'s to-day? I see that I have your acknowledgments for £152 10/ altogether, running back over a period of three months. I have to meet some heavy bills myself or I wouldn't ask you for the money."
"I'm sorry, Molyneux," stammered the Commissary, "but I'll have to ask you to wait just for a few days, say a week from to-day. My account at the bank is rather low at present, but I can promise to take up the I.O.U.'s in seven days if you could wait until then."
"I suppose I'll have to wait, Sir Francis," said the lieutenant ruefully, "but I'm in a bit of a hole myself. Lost a pot of money backing Silverwing for the Wagga Cup, and I have to scrape up every penny that is owing to me to meet my liabilities. However, I know that you are always as good as your word. Can I make certain of having the money this day week?"
"Certainly, my boy, certainly."
Molyneux left the room, and Sir Francis Maynard, superintendent of police and Commissary for the Goulburn district, bowed his head and buried his face in his hands. He started up again when a knock came at the door. It was his constable orderly with a letter that had just arrived by post.
The letter was from the local bank manager, who courteously notified the Commissary that his account was overdrawn by £60, and asked him to be good enough to place the account in credit at his earliest convenience.
Molyneux saw a good deal of Hope Thellusson during the next day or two, and the more he saw of her the more he was attracted by the irresistible charm of her personality. It seemed inconceivable that she should be a blood relation of such a man as Sir Francis Maynard. He spoke to her and told her so one afternoon when they were out riding together.
Hope Thellusson was able to explain to him that his feelings in the matter were amply justified. She was not really a niece of Sir Francis or even a blood relation of his at all. Her mother, one of the Leighs, of Longford, had married Mr. Thellusson, a widower of forty, whose first wife had been a Mrs. Peignton, a widow with an only brother to whom she was attached. That brother was now Sir Francis Maynard. Thellusson had always treated his brother-in-law as though he were his own brother, and the fiction was kept up by the second Mrs. Thellusson, who was Hope's mother. This brother-in-law, Francis Maynard, went to Australia when the gold diggings broke out in the fifties, and after failing, like so many others, to find payable gold, settled down to practice his profession, having been called to the bar in England. He had always been fond of little Hope as a baby, and when she grew up he asked her mother to let her go out and pay him an extended visit, with the results that Molyneux already knew. Hope admitted that her soi-distant uncle, who bore not the slightest relationship to her in reality, had been a great disappointment to her. He had plenty of ability, but not an atom of principle. He was thoroughly unscrupulous. He had many very undesirable acquaintances of both sexes. He gambled heavily, though he could not afford it, and latterly he had been drinking a great deal more than was good for him.
All this, and more to the same effect, poor Hope Thellusson confided to Lieutenant Molyneux, looking up into his eyes with sweet wistfulness. She was heartily disgusted with her pretender uncle, and had written to her mother for money to pay her passage back to England.
For some minutes after this they rode along together side by side in silence. Molyneux was thinking hard.
At last, when they arrived back at the bungalow, the lieutenant turned to his companion and spoke with the air of a man who had braced himself to perform a difficult and perhaps dangerous task.
"Miss Thellusson," he said, "during all the time that you have been here you have never once honored my poor quarters with a visit. Will you come and see them now?"
The girl assented, not without wonderment, and accompanied Molyneux to the small, tin-roofed building at the end of the garden. The heavy iron-studded door was carefully locked, but Molyneux drew a key from his pocket and opened it.
"Nobody ever comes in here when I am out," he explained. "I tolerate no prying."
He showed the girl into a small, plainly furnished room with a writing-table, book shelves, and a couple of easy chairs. Opening off it was a small bedroom, the boarded floor of which was covered with oilcloth.
"No, Miss Thellusson," said the lieutenant in serious tones, "I am going to show you what no other living person has ever seen yet. I am going to reveal to you a side of my life that I have kept absolutely secret from everybody. Nobody has the faintest suspicion of it—except, perhaps, Chief Constable Gordon, who sometimes seems to guess dimly that I might supply him with the key of the problem that he is always investigating."
Hope looked up wonderingly. Yet she seemed to have known always that he had two sides to his nature. She had seen both the bright and dark angels.
"I must tell you a little story first, Miss Thellusson, if it won't bore you."
Hope looked at him with those unfaltering eyes of hers. "Nothing that you say ever bores me, Lieutenant Molyneux," she said.
So Molyneux sat on the table in his little writing-room and Hope Thellusson sat in the easy chair, and he told her a strange and moving story that alternately thrilled and horrified her.
He told her of a small boy listening at the back of a court to the withering speech of a Crown Prosecutor, who was intent on knotting the hangman's rope round the neck of the man in the dock. And that man was the boy's father, who was charged with the crime of murder. He told her of the devilish craft with which the learned counsel twisted the evidence, suppressed the true explanation of every puzzling incident, perverted harmless words into admissions of guilt, and reduced timid witnesses to silence when they tried to say what they knew to be facts. And then he told her how the jury convicted the prisoner on the skilfully-manipulated circumstantial evidence that was placed before them, and how even the judge, conscientious and honorable as he was, became hoodwinked by the subtle ingenuity of the learned counsel.
The narrator, sitting on the table, spoke with flashing eyes, and his voice was charged with deep feeling. He described how the judge passed the awful sentence of death upon the prisoner, and how the prisoner stood up in the dock, and, after calling God to testify to his innocence, launched a dying man's curse at the heartless and blood-thirsty liar who sought to gain worldly advancement for himself by hounding a fellow-creature to the gallows for a crime of which he knew him to be guiltless.
"Oh, terrible, terrible," murmured Hope Thellusson, with tears of pity in her eyes. She was intensely moved.
"The small boy sitting breathless at the back of the court heard the prisoner's words," continued Molyneux, "and something whispered to his heart, 'You yourself are the instrument through which the curse must be fulfilled.' From that moment a new influence overshadowed his life. He lived only to bring about the fulfilment of the condemned man's prediction."
"And was the innocent man—hanged?" asked Hope, in an awe-struck voice.
"No," replied Molyneux slowly. "A largely-signed petition was presented to the government demanding that the execution should not take place. The matter was taken up by Parliament. It was declared that the verdict of the jury was not justified by the evidence. Finally, the Government yielded to an overwhelming outburst of public opinion, and commuted the capital sentence to one of imprisonment for life. After five years of imprisonment the unhappy convict died in gaol—declaring his innocence to the last."
"Oh, that poor, wronged man," said Hope Thellusson, wiping away the tears that flowed down her cheeks. "What must his thoughts have been?"
"The barrister who had acted as Crown Prosecutor," resumed Molyneux, "received the advancement that he coveted. He filled one highly-paid post after another, and was generally regarded as a man of unusual ability. The first blow fell when a prisoner, who was serving a long sentence for a brutal crime, confessed to the gaol chaplain, on his death-bed, that he committed the murder for which that other man had been convicted. The authorities, to their credit, made no attempt to hush-up the confession. It made a sensation at the time—just a nine days' wonder—but it was soon forgotten by all except the son of the wrongfully convicted man. That son managed, in spite of incredible difficulties, to get himself educated—even very well educated. He consecrated all his intelligence, all his native ability, and acquired knowledge to the sacred duty of bringing retribution to the official who had hounded his innocent father to death."
"Who was the boy?" asked Miss Thellusson in a whisper. She was conscious that she knew the answer to her question already.
"Miss Thellusson," said Molyneux, "I was the boy who registered that resolution, and I am the man who has now well-nigh finished carrying it out. Is it necessary to say that the prosecutor, whose deliberate, cold-blooded, devilish selfishness sent my innocent father to his death behind the walls of a prison, was Sir Francis Maynard, now the Commissary of Police for the Goulburn district?"
Hope Thellusson had felt that it was coming, but the revelation was none the less a shock. True, Sir Francis bore no relationship whatever to her, and was not even a connection in any sense of the word, but he had known her when she was a child, and her father had treated him as more than a friend. And she was thunderstruck by this revelation of the implacable vengeance of Molyneux, although she was still completely in the dark as to the methods by which she had caused the long forgotten curse from the dock to work out its fulfilment.
"How did you injure Sir Francis?" she asked wonderingly.
For answer Molyneux opened the door of the small inner room and turned back the oilcloth which covered the floor. Pushing the bed aside, he lifted a piece of the flooring and disclosed a hollow space of about 2 ft. square. From this secret hiding-place he lifted out a heavy wig of coarse red hair and a long thick beard of the same color.
"These things are my-stock-in-trade," he said quite coolly.
"Then you are——?"
"Gentleman Jack, very much at your service, Miss Thellusson," said the young lieutenant of police, with an almost quizzical glance at the girl's face. "You see, I have given you all my confidence."
Molyneux took the wig and the beard into the writing-room, leaving the girl staring with amazement into the hole in the floor.
After a minute or two of silent contemplation, Hope Thellusson turned and entered the adjoining room. It was with difficulty that she repressed a scream when she saw standing before her a figure that had many a time haunted her dreams. It was the red-bearded bushranger who had stuck up the mail coach near Macdonald's place on the night that she was travelling up to Goulburn to visit Sir Francis Maynard.
The red-bearded bushranger laughed heartily at her consternation.
"Oh!" she said, with a gasp, "I can hardly believe that it is really you, Lieutenant Molyneux, and that you are the desperado who robbed me of my jewellery and then gave it all back to me, because I—I——" But Hope blushed so vividly at the sudden recollection of the reason of the restitution that she grew hopelessly confused and could speak no more.
"I restored your jewellery to you," said the disguised lieutenant, with a twinkle in his eye, "because you gave me a good hand cuff and I liked your spirit."
"And I gave you the cuff," said Hope, who was crimson with the memory of the incident, "because you—you——"
"Because I did this to you, dear," and suiting the action to the word, Gentleman Jack, or Lieutenant Molyneux—for the red-bearded man was both—drew her to him and kissed her fairly on the lips.
"I think I have always loved you, Hope," he said, "ever since the first moment when I saw you step out of Jim Feeney's coach and look at me with those fearless eyes of yours, although, for all you knew, I might have been just about to murder you all."
"And I think I have always loved you, Arthur," she answered shyly, "since you—since you kissed me in the bush on that eventful night, and then actually left me in charge of your prisoners when you rode away."
"Well, dearest," said the lieutenant, "I'm afraid I haven't got a real engagement ring handy just at present; but you must wear this in token of our betrothal till I can get another one." He took something from his waistcoat pocket and slipped it on her finger. It was the signet ring that he had kept as a souvenir—the ring with the lion's head and the motto "Fear Not."
"At any rate it will fit your finger all right," said the lieutenant, with a broad smile, "for it is your own ring."
He had a great deal more to tell her that afternoon before they separated.
In the first place he produced a book of newspaper clippings and asked her to look over them. The book contained reports of all the bushranging exploits performed by the red-bearded man known as "Gentleman Jack," with many comments upon the completeness with which the marauder disappeared leaving no trace of his identity.
"I have ridden all the best horses in this district," explained the lieutenant. "I used to take a horse out of the paddock, or even out of the stable, at night, fake his distinguishing marks with a little white paint, ride him to the scene of the sticking up, and put him back in his own paddock next morning with the paint rubbed off. That's how it was that I left no clue. I never stole horses, as Frank Jardine's gang used to do, and consequently it was impossible to trace me. Why, on one occasion I took the commissary's best horse, old Mussulman, out of the stable, gave him a big white blaze on the face and stuck up a couple of gold buyers only two miles out of the town. That was just before you came. There was an unholy row about it, I can tell you, and the commissary put me on to the job of discovering the perpetrator with many injunctions about diligence."
The lieutenant laughed heartily at the recollection. "I was rather like a dog trying to chase his own tail, don't you think?"
"But surely—Arthur——" (with a sudden blush) "you didn't really steal the money and jewellery on those expeditions of yours did you?"
"Indeed, I did." The lieutenant laughed again, almost uproariously, as he took off his wig and beard and resumed his normal appearance as a cheery and by no means bad-looking young man. "I stole the stuff all right; but I didn't keep it. Look here."
He opened the book of press cuttings and pointed to several rows of short paragraphs. "But first let me explain. I opened an account with one of the leading banks in Sydney under a fictitious name, and paid in all the actual cash that I collected from well-to-do travellers, and I never robbed poor people. Then I made donations by cheque to the principal charitable institutions. That big haul of sovereigns belonging to the Bank of Australia that I got on the night of our first meeting I paid into my own bank in several instalments, but it didn't stay there long. Just cast your eye over these extracts."
Hope Thellusson looked at the book of cuttings and read:—
"The secretary of the Goulburn Benevolent Institution acknowledges with thanks a donation of £150 from Peter Aloysius Black."
"The managers of the Junee Maternity Home beg to acknowledge with sincere thanks receipt of cheque for £100 from P. A. Black, Esq."
"The director of the Wagga District Idiot Asylum has the honor to acknowledge a contribution of £200 from Mr. P. Aloysius Black towards the funds of the Asylum. In recognition of the contribution the Board of Managers have elected Mr. Black a life member of the Asylum."
Lieutenant Molyneux exploded in a frank guffaw as Hope read the last extract aloud. "It's a bit suggestive, isn't it?" he said. "But I'm not such an idiot as they think me, after all."
Then he became serious once more and explained to Hope that he retained nothing whatever of the plunder. He had given away every penny of it to deserving charities and had sent back all cheques and notes to the banks of issue, in order to avoid risk of detection.
His whole object was to bring Sir Francis Maynard into disgrace by discrediting his administration. The volume of undetected crime in the Goulburn district, owing to the lieutenant's efforts, was more than three times as great as in any other police district in New South Wales.
Molyneux frankly admitted that he had been greatly helped by the exploits of Wall, Hulbert, and Gunn. "I only went after them because you seemed so anxious that I should do so," he explained to Hope, "and I would not even have shot and captured Gunn if he had not been treating Scott and Billy with such appalling brutality."
"Then it was you, of course, who broke into the lock-up and liberated Kate O'Farrell," said Miss Thellusson, with wide-eyed wonder, not unmixed with admiration.
"I must plead guilty and throw myself on the mercy of the court, dear," replied Molyneux. "But I don't mind admitting that it proved to be by far the toughest job that I have taken on yet. Flanagan put up a game fight and there was one blow he made at me with the handcuffs that would have cut my career short there and then had it landed. I had to give him a bad fall before he turned it up and I really had all the luck of the bout."
Hope's face wore a look of keen concern. How near she had been to losing this audacious lover of hers in that memorable fight in the lock-up!
"If they ever make me commissary for the district," continued Molyneux meditatively, "I'll recommend Flanagan for promotion and get him a new lock-up."
The reference to the commissary brought the conversation round to Sir Francis again; in fact, he was the pivot upon which every situation turned.
Hope Thellusson laid stress upon the moodiness and obvious anxiety of the commissary. Financially he was in very low water, she knew; and every fresh, undetected outrage by bushrangers seemed to be another nail in his coffin.
Molyneux mentioned that Sir Francis owed him £152 10/ for losses at cards and had asked for a week to pay.
"Arthur, dear, you must tell him that you are not going to press him for the money," said Hope, suddenly. "Bad as he is, you surely, will not drive him to desperation. I cannot forget that he was kind to me when I was a child, and, indeed, that he has always been kind to me since I came to Goulburn. Remember that you have won. You have everything and he has nothing. For my sake, you dear, brave man, let your Dark Angel depart now never to return. You have done enough to punish Sir Francis. I feel that our love will never prosper until this dreadful blood feud is over and done with, and I want you to promise that you will give it up from now onward."
Molyneux bowed his head in that moment of supreme emotion. Love called upon him to abandon the chase that hate had urged him to undertake.
As soon as he raised his head Hope Thellusson saw a new light in his eyes, and realised that he was no longer the avenger of blood, he put his arm about her waist and kissed her tenderly. "Your wish is law with me, now, dearest," he said. "I do not want the man's money and I will leave him to the punishment that fate and his own life have decreed for him."
Hope Thellusson shuddered.
"According to the curse," said Molyneux solemnly, "he is destined to come to ruin and degradation and in the end to die a violent and shameful death. But from this time onward he shall travel the dark road alone, without any guidance from me."
Hope put up her adorable lips and Molyneux sealed his promise with a kiss.
On the following night Hope Thellusson was sitting with her lover in the little writing-room at his quarters behind the bungalow, when a stealthy step was heard outside, and a knock came to the door.
"Who on earth can it be?" said Hope, who was full of vague apprehensions, mainly on the Commissary's account. He had grown very silent and melancholy, and the arrival of the mail every day threw him into a state of nervous trepidation that was only to be banished by brandy.
However, the caller was evidently not the Commissary. Molyneux opened the door and to his amazement in walked Kate O'Farrell, still in Crimean shirt and moleskins, with a heavy black poncho over her shoulders. She started back with surprise when she saw Hope Thellusson.
"Don't be alarmed, Kate," said the lieutenant. "This is Miss Hope Thellusson, who has done me the honor of consenting to marry me. You are quite safe here."
"Well, you're a nailer, Gentleman Jack, blest if you ain't," said Kate with frank admiration. "Living in the Commissary house, an' goin' to marry the Commissary's niece, an' stickin' up gold buyers an' mail coaches whenever yer police duties ain't too pressin'."
Molyneux laughed heartily. "I'm not going to try to explain myself to you, Kate, and I'll admit that appearances are somewhat against me, but are you not a bit scared to come into Goulburn like this. What would you do if Flanagan should grab you again?"
"Wait for you to come and let me out, I suppose," said Kate, with her black eyes flashing. She looked wonderfully handsome in her moleskins, Crimean shirt, poncho and big slouch hat, but a startling contrast to Miss Thellusson, who was dressed in a well-cut black satin dinner dress with a flimsy lace wrap round her throat.
"So you're goin' to get married, Gentleman Jack," she continued, "an' I s'pose you'll 'ave to turn up the night-riding and get respectable. Me an' Dan ain't married yet, an' I reckon the life is to good to last; but, anyhow, there's plenty of fun while it does last. When my time comes I hope I shall die with the open sky above me an' a good horse under me an' a trooper's bullet through my heart. No gaols for me if I can help it. But, anyhow, I didn't come here to talk about myself but to give you a message from Dan."
"You found him, then, in his cave?" enquired Molyneux eagerly.
"I did, though it was a long ride there," said the girl, "an' old Ringleader ain't as good a horse as Alchemist by a big lot. Still I got there at last. Dan opened his eyes wide enough when I told him about you. He's very grateful to you, Gentleman Jack, for gettin' me out of that lock-up. Swears it's the biggest and pluckiest thing that ever he heard tell of."
"That's all right, Kate, don't make me blush."
"So he sent me to give you this," said Kate abruptly, producing a small hard package of something wrapped carefully in a bit of old sack and placing it on the table. "He told me to tell you that there's plenty more where this comes from, an' here's a rough map of the spot so's you'll be able to find it easy." She laid a piece of paper beside the package. "Dan says he ain't got the time for diggin' himself, but he reckons that any square cove will get enough stuff outer that hill to make him rich for life."
Molyneux could not retrain his astonishment at this unexpected turn in his affairs, and Hope looked eagerly over his shoulder while he opened both the package and the paper.
The package contained half-a-dozen fair-sized nuggets and a large handful of good-sized slugs of gold. Also there was a big lump of quartz with the gold so thick in it that lumps as big as peas could be picked out with a penknife.
"I've seen the outcrop where this bit of quartz came from," explained Kate. "It's in a very wild bit of country that takes some getting at. Dan found it when he was exploring for caves that might come in useful. He picked up the nuggets and slugs within a foot of the surface—a regular pocket it was that he struck—an' he reckons there's plenty more where he got this."
"But isn't he goin' to work the claim himself?" asked Molyneux in astonishment.
"Not much," replied the girl with a shrill laugh. "He'd look well going up to the warden's camp to register a claim, wouldn't he? No, no. He told me to say that the claim is yours, and the sooner you peg it out the better, because there's one or two prospectors fossicking about in the ranges already, an' they might light on the place any day. It's in the wildest part of the country back of Araluen. You'll find the exact place marked in the sketch plan."
"By George, Kate, I'll be a rich man out of this."
The girl looked at him wistfully. "Indeed, I hope you will, Gentleman Jack, an' I hope you'll live a long time to enjoy it with your beautiful wife. Well, I must be going. A short life, but a lively one for me. Good-bye, Gentleman Jack. Good-bye, Miss Thellusson. You have a brave man there, an' I hope you'll make him happy."
She shook hands with Molyneux and Hope, and then stole out into the night. They could hear the cadence of her horse's galloping hoofs going off diminuendo in the distance, as she dashed off on the long ride to Dan Wall's cave in the ranges, 60 miles away.
Next day the lieutenant rode out to find the rich outcrop of quartz. By following the rough, but clear, directions pencilled by Dan under the sketch map, Molyneux located the outcrop after an exhaustive search, and broke off a few more fragments of gold-studded quartz to add to his other specimens, for the inspection of the warden.
Even that impassive and experienced official was startled out of his self-possession when he saw the handful of nuggets and slugs, and the massive lumps of gold-encrusted stone that Molyneux showed him.
"By heavens, Molyneux; you're in luck's way," said the warden enthusiastically. "Why, you've struck a regular El Dorado. There's be the biggest rush of the year as soon as this gets about."
And the warden was quite right.
Cranky Billy and John Scott, undeterred by their terrible experience with the bushrangers, took boldly to the bush again and were among the first to peg out claims adjoining the "Golden Hope," as Molyneux had christened his strangely acquired mine.
Hundreds of others followed them and in an incredibly brief time the Golden Hope was the centre of a wonderfully prosperous little goldfield, from which Molyneux drew some rich returns and then sold the claim for a substantial sum to a firm of brokers for flotation.
But the lieutenant had no longer any object in remaining at the bungalow as the Commissary's right hand man. In response to the urgent plea of Hope Thellusson, he had ceased to be the evil genius of Sir Francis. The pain of the odd wrong had been assuaged by Time's healing balm, and Molyneux was ready to let the past be buried in forgetfulness. He reflected that the dead man's curse had worked with baleful effect, for the Commissary was thoroughly discredited in the district and it was common knowledge that he was a beaten man. He was on the verge of bankruptcy. His health was ruined by drink. His nerve was utterly gone, and it was with difficulty that he could perform even the routine duties of his position.
One morning, just before Christmas, Lieutenant Molyneux knocked at the Commissary's door, for his mind was fully made up. He intended to resign his position, and, at the same time, to tell the Commissary who he was.
When he entered the room he found Sir Francis with shaky hands, going through a great pile of official papers. Many of them were scathing minutes from the Minister in Sydney, urging the Superintendent of Police to display more diligence in the pursuit of the law-breakers who had given the district an unenviable notoriety.
Molyneux handed his written resignation to his chief, who looked at it blankly.
"You're not going to leave me, Molyneux?" said the Commissary querulously. He seemed to have aged greatly during the last few weeks. "How on earth shall I be able to get on without you. You are the only man whom I can trust."
The lieutenant gave a bitter and sardonic laugh. "If you knew who I am, and what I have done, you would hardly say that," he cried with flashing eyes, as he brought his fist down on the top of the Commissary's big oak secretaire with a bang.
Sir Francis was startled out of his lethargic melancholy. What the deuce did the fellow mean he wondered.
And then Molyneux told him all. He bade Sir Francis look closely into his face and say whether it did not remind him of somebody whom he had seen long ago, somebody to whom he had done a frightful wrong.
The Commissary peered nervously into the face of his subordinate. "To whom did I ever do a frightful injury?" he asked with querulous annoyance.
"To Arthur Masters, who was my father."
Sir Francis Maynard fell back in his chair and covered his face with his hands, as though to shut out some threatening vision. "You—the son of that man," he stammered. "It is impossible."
"I am, indeed, that man's son," said the lieutenant. "My name is not Arthur Molyneux, but Arthur Masters, and to prove it to you, I will tell you what took place in a certain court house 15 years ago, when you used all your devilish skill and advocacy, and all your art as a professional persuader of juries, to secure the conviction of an innocent man."
"The jury found him guilty," muttered the Commissary, "and the judge concurred in the verdict. It was an unfortunate miscarriage of justice."
"No it was not," cried the lieutenant in tones of thunder. "It was a deliberate perversion of justice, brought about by you, simply in order to serve your own miserable, selfish craving for advancement at any cost—even at the cost of an innocent man's life. Sir Francis Maynard, my father's sentence was commuted to one of imprisonment for life, but he died in prison. You, who sit there cowering in your chair, are my father's murderer."
"No, no, no," muttered the wretched man, who was trembling in every limb.
"It is quite true, and you know it," continued the lieutenant mercilessly. "Do you remember what my father said from the dock? If not, I can repeat it to you. 'My curse shall fall on that man's head when I am lying in a dishonored grave,' he said. 'His advancement shall turn to his own ruin. Degraded and despised, he shall die at last by a violent and shameful death. God will choose his own instrument in His own good time, and for the life that you take to-day, your own life shall be required of you!'"
The Commissary was trembling violently. His bloodshot eyes looked out, with a glassy and unnatural stare.
"Stop!" he whispered. "Stop, in God's name!"
"Do not profane God's name, Sir Francis. It is God who has executed vengeance upon you."
"Through me," said the young man solemnly. "I, as a boy of 12 years old, was in court and heard my father's words. Those words burnt into my brain, and when my mother died of a broken heart, I set myself to become the instrument of which my father spoke. I made a scanty livelihood for myself by hard work. I studied hard in my meagre leisure. I went to a night school and educated myself. At last I saw that you had received a high appointment in the police. I resolved to be near you. I passed examinations. Then I had the good fortune to do a service to a man of influence. I received a cadetship and then a lieutenancy. Finally I was appointed your assistant."
The Commissioner was staring at his assistant in incredulous horror. "My God," he said. "What next!"
"Since then," said the lieutenant, "I worked steadily for your downfall until a fortnight ago, when I ceased in response to the urgent plea of Miss Thellusson, who, though unrelated to you, has pity for you on account of the associations of her early childhood."
"You love her?" whispered the Commissary.
"I do," replied the lieutenant, "and she has promised to be my wife. We are going away very soon. As the owner of the Golden Hope, near Araluen, I am a rich man. My task here is finished. My father's curse is not yet fulfilled, Sir Francis, but I will no longer be the conscious instrument of that fulfilment. I leave you now to your own thoughts, to your remorse and your despair. It may be that God will place your final punishment in other hands than mine. You will never see me again."
With one last stern glance at the cowering figure in the chair, the lieutenant left the room.
As he went into the passage he met the Commissary's orderly carrying in a letter that had just arrived by the mail. It was a large blue envelope bearing the frank-stamp of the Minister, who was officially responsible for the police administration.
The constable took the letter into the room and laid it on the table in front of the Commissary. Then he saluted and withdrew.
The Commissary opened the letter with trembling fingers and read it. It was a peremptory demand for his immediate resignation.
"Ruined!" muttered the Commissary, "absolutely ruined."
Two minutes later a revolver shot rang out through the official residence of the Commissary of Police, and when Molyneux, or rather Masters, ran into the office, he found the Commissary dead in his chair, with a bullet wound in his right temple, and his service revolver on the ground beside him, with smoke still coming from the barrel.
"A violent and shameful death!" said the lieutenant in a low voice. "The curse is indeed fulfilled."
Molyneux and his lovely young wife had much to talk over in the quiet evenings that they spent in their own beautiful homestead.
Gunn, the murderous-minded bushranger, had cheated the hangman by dying in gaol of his wound, in spite of all the surgeon's efforts to save him for the gallows. Hulbert had been shot dead in a desperate fight with civilians and police over the border in Victoria. Dan and Kate O'Farrell had disappeared altogether. It was rumored that they had been seen in North Queensland, and that Dan was keeping a small hotel, which his handsome wife with flashing eyes looked after most assiduously, while Dan employed his time mostly in breaking horses, at which occupation he had no superior in the district.
Chief Constable Gordon often rode over to "Caringa," the beautiful place where Molyneux, to give him the name by which he was still known, lived with his handsome wife.
As the two men sat smoking and yarning on the verandah one gorgeous evening about a year after the lieutenant's resignation, Chief Constable Gordon made a remark which indicated that he was still trying to solve a professional problem.
"I have often tried to guess who the deuce that red-bearded bushranger was who gave us such a lot of trouble," he said, looking at Molyneux out of the corner of his eye.
"I wonder," said Molyneux, with a whimsical glance at Hope, who smiled demurely as she sat in her easy chair, nursing her particularly robust little son. It might have been fancy, but she was strongly of opinion that the baby's hair—what there was of it—was red.
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