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Title: Treasures Three Author: Fred M. White * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1200451h.html Language: English Date first posted: January 2012 Date most recently updated: January 2012 This eBook was 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 License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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TOM MACEY glanced across the room at his wife from under his thick eyebrows as if he were ashamed of something. He was not usually given to the things that men regret, and just at that moment his thoughts were none the less bitter because he really had done nothing to be ashamed of. And now he was actually hesitating at the very time when he ought not to have given the matter a single thought. He would have condemned this hesitation in any other man, and yet, and yet, and yet—
First of all, there was the child to be thought of. She was the only one—a little girl of some four years of age, and the apple of Tom Macey's eye. She ought to have been strong and healthy enough, seeing that both Macey and his wife were made of the stern stuff which has laid the foundation of the British Empire. They were willing and ready enough to share privations together, and they had done so more than once before now. But somehow the child was different. Most of the youngsters thrive in the keen, dry air there beneath the snows of the Colorado Rockies, but somehow or another it was not the same with little Vera. And the only doctor for a hundred miles around had told Macey that if his daughter was not taken away to a milder climate she would die.
It was easy enough to say this, but how was the matter to be brought about? Macey had been mining away up there in One Tree Gulch for the last two years with the most execrable luck. He had all the sanguine temperament which goes to the gold prospector. He was holding on desperately with a feeling that his turn would come at last. The man was not without imagination; he was more impressed by local traditions and Indian legends than he would have cared to admit. He had studied these until he knew them by heart. There were stories to the effect that here and there, on rare occasions in the past, diamonds had been found in some of the canyons away under the spurs of those everlasting hills. Certainly Macey had found here and there a deposit of blue earth which suggested the presence of the most rare of all precious stones. And then his luck had changed, and he found them.
And they were only three, but they were diamonds right enough; Macey knew that, for back in the years of his youth he had spent some time in the Transvaal, and he knew a diamond when he saw it. He found no more; he had not expected any farther dazzling luck like this; but he was well satisfied, for here, if he sold his stones to the best advantage, was a matter of twenty thousand pounds. It was not a large fortune, but, at any rate, it was big enough to ensure luxury and comfort in the future—big enough to enable Macey and his wife to get away farther South and save the life of the child. All these things Macey had talked over with Nell in the evenings. Their plans were fairly forward now. And then the doctor had stepped in with a peremptory command that the child was not to be moved until the weather got warmer.
Macey heard the news in his tranquil, emotionless way, but it hurt him all the same. He knew perfectly well what the doctor meant. It was going to be a close call with the little one. If they could tide over the next two or three weeks the balmy breath of spring would be here and the terrible danger might be averted. The doctor might come along at any time now and utter his final verdict.
But this was not the only trouble. Goodness knows how, but the rumour got abroad that Tom Macey had found some diamonds and that they were hidden in his hut. The arm of the law in those parts was fitful and feeble enough, and more than once during the past two days Macey had had a warning as to the danger of keeping those valuables in a log hut amongst the snows miles away from the nearest habitation. There were three lawless scamps hanging about the neighbourhood, and up to a certain point Macey had said nothing of this to his wife. But returning home that night in the dusk a revolver bullet had pierced a hole in Macey's fur cap, and he knew now that the time had come when he must either run or fight.
In the ordinary way he would not have hesitated for a moment. There was nothing of the coward about him, but he was a married man, and he knew well enough when discretion was the better part of valour. Here he was tied by the leg by a cruel fate; here he was waiting for the doctor's last words, and his life in danger all the time. He might have compromised matters; he might have allowed himself to be robbed; but the mere thought of that sent the blood boiling through his veins and brought his teeth together.
He sat there thinking the matter out. He had told his wife. It was almost impossible to keep anything from her, and, despite all Macey's assumption of cheerfulness, Nell had seen at once that something was radically wrong.
"And now you know all about it, little girl," Macey said. "It is very hard. I can't understand how those chaps got to know."
"You haven't told me who they are," Mrs. Macey said.
"Haven't I? I think you can guess. There's Dick Blake and Ned Carson and Long Jim. If you searched the whole of the American Continent you couldn't find three greater scoundrels than these. And, you see, they have got nothing to be afraid of. There's no law here. Why, those three scoundrels might raid this hut any time, and murder the lot of us. And they would, too, if they weren't just a little bit afraid of my revolver. It isn't for myself that I mind; it's you and the kiddie. Of course, I might go down to Dolvertown and lodge the stones there. I could get there in a couple of days; but, then, suppose the doctor comes when I am away; suppose he wants something in a hurry. You can't do it. I tell you when I think of it my blood fairly boils. If we could only get away and sell those stones we should have plenty of money in future. We could take the child with us away down South, where she could grow well and strong again. You see what a dilemma I am in now. If I go now, and there is no man about when the doctor comes, little Vera may die. If I stay here we may be murdered in our beds by those three ruffians. It is maddening to think that health and prosperity are so near and yet so far away. I have thought and thought till my head aches. And, so far as I can see, there is only one thing to do, and that is to grin and bear it."
"If you were to hide the stones," Nell suggested.
"My dear girl, what is the good of that? It wouldn't prevent those skunks from shooting me on sight, or you either, for the matter of that."
Macey sank into sullen silence. As his wife watched him anxiously a brilliant idea came to her.
"Tom," she cried, "why shouldn't I go? What is to prevent me from slipping away and getting as far as Dolvertown? I know the road well enough; it is only a matter of some twenty miles, and I could walk it between now and to-morrow evening. You know how strong and hearty I am; you know that nothing hurts me, and there is not enough snow to constitute danger. Give me the stones. Let me hide them. I suppose those three ruffians are watching the house all the time, and if they see you here in the morning they will naturally conclude that I am in the hut too. Now, don't say 'No,' Tom. Why, I have gone farther than this before now to help a neighbour in trouble, and you haven't been in the least anxious about me. Do let me go."
Macey shook his head resolutely. He would not hear a word of such a mad project. Besides, it seemed such a cowardly thing to send his wife away upon an errand which he could not or dare not undertake himself. He would have run the risk of a journey to Dolvertown and back, but when he thought of the child lying there restless and uneasy with the fever upon her, his heart turned to water within him and all his manliness vanished, leaving him trembling and nervous. And yet he could not find it in his mind to purchase life and peace of mind by the sacrifice of those stones for which he had toiled so hard and long.
"I don't like it," he said. "Besides—"
"There is no other way," Nell went on, breathlessly. "Think what it all means to us. If I am successful in my errand—and there is no reason why I should not be—we shall be rich, we shall be able to take Vera away, we shall be able to turn our backs on this hateful life for ever. And if we stay here we shall lose everything. What would it matter to me, what would anything matter, if the child were to die? And by this time to-morrow everything will be safe. You will be able to go about and say that you have banked your diamonds, and those three rascals will be powerless for further harm. Oh, you must let me go."
Once more Macey shook his head, but he was weakening now, as Nell could see from the look in his eyes.
"I don't like it," he repeated, dubiously.
He crossed the room and opened the door and looked out into the night. The air was soft and balmy; the cruel, cold breath of it had vanished before the oncoming of the spring. The earth smelt warm and damp. There was a subtle fragrance in the gently swaying pines. It looked as if no more snow was likely to fall. It looked as if the journey to Dolvertown would be safe enough, if only those three lurking demons were in bed and asleep. Beyond a doubt, if they had seen Nell Macey leave the hut, they would follow her, guessing easily enough what her errand was.
But there was no sign outside, nothing but the breath of the wind whispering to the pines that spring was at hand; nothing but the smell of the good red earth still crisp and firm under its thin powder of snow. And Nell was a good walker, too; she could hold her own in a long day's hunting and fishing; she would make light of a tramp as far as Dolvertown.
"You are going to let me go?" she whispered.
"God forgive me if anything happens to you," Macey said, under his breath. "I suppose it is all for the best. You ought to reach the new camp at Byson River by eleven o'clock to-morrow morning, and when you get there try and find Patrick Walsh. I know he is down there somewhere, and you can trust him, too. I met him once some three years ago, and I was in a position to do him a bit of a favour. If you do get into any sort of trouble there is no one man on the American Continent who can help you as Patrick Walsh can. But you know what he is like."
Nell nodded eagerly. Everybody on the Continent, from the Rockies right down to the Pacific Slope, had heard of Patrick Walsh. He was by way of being an adventurer, a miner, a prospector, anything where danger lay and trouble was to be found first hand. There were spots on the map of America, now prosperous towns, which Walsh had actually founded. With all his courage and resource, with all his infinite talents, he had remained a poor man, a typical instance of the rolling stone that gathers no moss.
But his reputation was clean enough. He was a terror to evildoers; there was not a bully or bravado in half-a-dozen States who would have dared to stand up to Pat Walsh single-handed. More than one unspeakable outcast and cold-blooded murderer had been tracked down by Walsh for the pure joy of the thing. He had broken up gangs with the aid of nothing but his own revolver, and with it all he was a quiet, civil-spoken little man, looking the very last person in the world to hold a reputation such as his. If Nell Macey could find a friend like this, then she was safe indeed.
The stars were shining overhead in great glittering clusters behind the belt of pines as she set out upon her journey. Here and there she could dimly make out the snow lying in white battalions above the murmuring belts of trees. Here and there was a stirring in the undergrowth, and something like fear filled her heart when she thought of her child and her husband. But she went on steadily forward through the dim blackness of the night, until at length the east began to grow faintly purple, then pink, then burning saffron, as the sun climbed over the shoulders of the great snow-clad peaks and cast long shadows across the plain.
It was nearly nine o'clock before Nell came, footsore and weary, to a little mining camp by the Byson River. A handful of little huts were dotted on the hillside. Some adventurous trader had set up a saloon; here was the inevitable 'store' from which the necessities of life could be derived. It was getting warmer now—so warm, indeed, that one or two of the miners were sitting outside the house breakfasting in the open. The pine-laden air reeked with the smell of frying bacon. They were not a nice-looking lot of men, not at all the class that Nell had been accustomed to, for they were beyond the borders of civilization here, and the sort of individuals who came and went for the most part bore names which would have conveyed nothing to their parents before them. It was not the sort of camp where it was safe to inquire too closely into the antecedents of one's next-door neighbour. The few men gathered there eyed Nell with languid and slightly insolent curiosity. She would have moved on, but she was not more than half-way on her journey yet, and she knew the necessity of rest and food before she proceeded farther.
It was no nice thing to have to push her way into the store to procure bread and biscuits and tinned meat, but it had to be done, and then she sat down by the wayside to eat. One or two of the miners gathered round her, staring at her in a long, cool deliberation, which brought the blood flaming to her cheeks. One, more hardy than the rest, ventured to address her in words which brought the blood to her temples again and caused the angry tears to rise to her eyes. She was looking round for something in the semblance of manhood who might drive these hideous wretches away and give her the seclusion which she so much desired. Then out of the saloon opposite came a slight, fair man, dressed in a somewhat superior manner to the rest, who took off his hat politely and asked in quite a small voice if he could be of any assistance. A chorus of raucous laughter greeted this unwonted courtesy. In spite of her anger and alarm Nell smiled. It was much as if some boy had chosen to defy all the weight and force of authority.
"You are vastly kind," Nell said. "I am on my way to Dolvertown. I suppose those men mean nothing offensive, but if you could persuade them to go away I should be obliged to you."
By way of reply the fair little man took a seat by her side. What he might have said Nell had no opportunity of judging, for at that moment there came the sound of hoofs beating on the hard road, and three horsemen came at a trot into the camp. At the sight of the foremost Nell's face turned ashy grey. She gave a little cry of dismay which was not lost upon her companion.
"You are frightened," he murmured, softly.
"Oh, yes," Nell said, hoarsely. "Those men are following me. I hoped that I had escaped them; I hoped that they had not guessed why I am on my way to Dolvertown. You see, I have valuables in my possession—diamonds."
The words slipped from Nell's lips unconsciously. It was madness, perhaps, to trust this stranger, but for the life of her she could not help it. And what avail would he be against the grinning trio who had already dismounted from their horses and stood regarding her with an evil smirk upon three of the most infamous countenances that the Continent of America might produce?
"I know," the slim stranger murmured. "You are Tom Macey's wife. Do you know, you are the pluckiest woman I have ever come across. So you are going to Dolvertown with those stones, are you? I guess a courageous action like yours is worth better luck than this. If I were alone I should know what to do. As it is—well, I'll try my best. Now, then!"
The last two words were flung contemptuously in the direction of the three horsemen. They came with a rasping sound from the stranger's lips. They were hard and clear and defiant, and so full of a certain concrete courage that Nell, despite her alarm, turned to her companion with a glance of astonishment.
The foremost horseman came forward; his long, muscular form seemed to tower above the two sitting on the pine-logs there. There was not much to choose between those associates, but Nell knew from common report that, if one was worse than the others, it was the same Long Jim who was now addressing the man by her side.
"Stranger," he said, with a sneering drawl, "I guess you'll find this atmosphere isn't conducive to the health of a little man like you. Now you just run away back to mamma and tell her that Long Jim sent you. Otherwise—"
A burst of ribald laughter came from the other two. The slight, fair man sitting by Nell's side never so much as changed a line of his countenance.
"I've heard of you," he said. "Perhaps you will be so good as to introduce me to the other gentlemen. I was told I should find some choice rascality in this neighbourhood, and it seems to me that I am not going to be disappointed."
"You do me proud," Long Jim grinned. "This gentleman is Dick Blake, and the nobleman masquerading with the black eye is Ned Carson. Perhaps you might have heard of us; most people have."
"Your fame has travelled," the little man said, imperturbably. His eyes had narrowed down now to long slits that seemed to emit flashes as if flint and steel were struck together. "And now, perhaps, it would be just as well if I let you know who I happen to be. But perhaps you are not curious?"
"It was always a weakness of mine," Long Jim said.
"It shall be gratified. My name, sirs, is Patrick Walsh. It is just possible that you have heard of me!"
Long Jim displayed the balance of a set of teeth in a snarling grin, like a dog worrying a wasp; the other two turned away as if the affair was nothing of theirs. It was plain that the three ruffians were taken aback by this unexpected announcement. It was not much on the face of the earth that this class of bravo feared, but the name of Patrick Walsh was one of them. For here was a man who was known right away from the Rockies down to the Pacific Slope. Wherever men congregated, especially men of the lawless type, there the name of Patrick Walsh was whispered in accents of admiration. There were countless stories told about him of his courage and fearlessness, of his utter indifference to death. Never once had anybody got the best of him, never once had he hesitated when he wanted to mark a point or avenge an insult. With it all, it was decidedly in Walsh's favour that his record was clean. If he won, as frequently he did, large sums at the gambling-table, his methods had never been questioned. That he had questioned the methods of others more than one so-called sportsman had found to his cost. Indeed, a book might have been written about Patrick Walsh, telling of his exploits and performances. There was not a man in that part of the country who did not remember the fate of Jake Monson.
He had been the terror of a whole handful of States—a man hated, and loathed, and feared—who had wound up his career with a crime beyond all words. And yet no hand had been stretched out for him. By sheer force of terrorism he would compel honest men to sit and drink with him, until the word went out from Patrick Walsh that the wolf must die. Walsh sent this message in a courteous letter, and for six months Colorado watched the duel with breathless interest. It watched Monson grow from the magnificent semblance of exuberant humanity to a trembling, broken wretch whose nerves were worn to fiddle-strings. And all this time Monson never saw the man who was upon his track. He lost an eye, an ear, the fingers of his right hand, whilst his antagonist remained absolutely invisible. And then, finally, after a heavy drinking bout up there amongst the hills, Monson turned his revolver upon himself and put a bullet through his own heart.
This, then, was the man that Long Jim and his companions had to contend with. He sat there quiet and almost listless, with his hands in his pockets. Nobody knew better than himself how tight a place he was in. These were no cowards that he had to oppose him, but reckless, desperate men, ready for anything. Still they hesitated. If they had turned their revolvers upon him simultaneously there would have been an end of Patrick Walsh, but the first man that produced a weapon was as good as dead, so that neither of them cared to make the first advance. They drew a little on one side and sat down to eat their breakfast. What was going to happen Walsh had already guessed. These ruffians would wait till he and Nell Macey had entered the long, wooded passes leading to Dolvertown, and there the trouble would begin in earnest. There was no doubt why Long Jim and the rest were here. They had followed Mrs. Macey for the diamonds. They would have owned it freely enough had they been asked, for they were three to one, and the Nemesis of the law in those parts was no more than a mockery and a shadow.
Nell looked at her companion with tears in her eyes. She had expected something more formidable than this. It seemed almost impossible that the little man with the white face and sensitive mouth should be the famous Patrick Walsh, but in some strange way she pinned her faith to him. She felt perfectly certain that despite the danger he would pull her through.
"I'll do my best," Walsh said, curtly.
"Oh, I am sure you will," Nell replied. "But how do you know what I was thinking about?"
"It wants no great foresight," Walsh murmured. "You are wondering how I am going to save your treasures and my own life at the same time. But I shall do it. Now, can you trust me—I mean, can you trust me implicitly?"
"I am certain of it," Nell said, impulsively.
"Very well, then. In that case I want you to do exactly as you are told. Now, you know what those carrion are here for; you know why they followed you. Despite their assumed indifference they are watching us as a cat watches a mouse. I want you to hand me those diamonds over openly and without any attempt at disguise I will see that you are not robbed. And then I want you to go right home again and tell your husband all that has happened."
"But," Nell protested, "it does not seem—"
Walsh turned his face in her direction. The features had grown hard and firm and merciless; the eyes were long slits of flame.
"You've got to do what I tell you," Walsh said. "Didn't I give you my word, and did any man ever know me to break it? Now hand those stones over. Give them to me so that there can be no mistake about those fellows seeing what you are doing. If this adventure comes off all right I will laugh those three ruffians off the Continent of America. Now, come."
In a dazed kind of way Nell handed over the jewels. Walsh took them out of their little envelope and examined each carefully between his finger and thumb. From under his brows he could see how anxiously the three men on the ridge were regarding him. Then he turned over on his side as if to light his pipe, but in reality he was doing something with the stones. Nell could hear a clicking kind of sound and the rustling of paper, but she did not venture to move because Walsh, curtly enough, bade her to sit exactly as she was and take no notice of what he was doing. At the end of a minute or two she heard a chuckle by her side, and when Walsh sat up again there was a grim smile of amusement on his thin lips.
"Now we are ready for the play to begin," he said. "And don't you be afraid. But, then, you are not that sort of woman. Go straight back home and tell your husband exactly what has happened. Tell him that if I am alive in a week's time he shall hear from me, and if I am dead he shall hear from me, too. No, you need not thank me. This is just one of the moments in one's life that is worth living. I wouldn't have missed a chance like this for ten thousand dollars."
There was nothing for it but for Nell to obey. She was ashamed of herself in a way, and yet, at the same time, she was carried away by the amazing force of this man's will. He rose to his feet. He offered Nell his arm with a gesture of almost exaggerated courtesy; he stalked gravely by the three men sitting there; he walked up the slope to the top of the bluffs whence they could see the long, sinuous road winding away towards One Tree Gulch, like a white parting in a head of black hair. And here Walsh held out a hand to his companion. He took Nell's fingers and held them to his lips. He swept off his big-brimmed soft hat, as one of the cavaliers in the old days might have done.
"There's your way," he said. "Now take it without hesitation. I will stay here till you are out of sight. Those three gentlemen down below can see me, and so long as I am in sight they will make no effort to follow. If I had a horse I should feel equal to the lot of them, but, then, on the other hand, the adventure would lose its piquancy. And now, good-bye."
For a long time Walsh stood there like a graven statue against the blue sky. Nell turned and waved her hand to him as she disappeared presently amongst the waving pines. Then Walsh strolled back to the camp coolly and casually, past the huts and the stores, and so away down the pass which led dizzily to Dolvertown. He had no friends there to help him; he was a stranger in those parts. Probably if he had mentioned his name people might have refused to believe him. His thin lips were pressed tightly together; his eyes flickered in a smile of slow amusement. No sooner had he turned the corner than he sprang nimbly to the summit of a rock whence he could command a view of the camp. The smile widened when he saw that Long Jim and his companions had already vanished. He stood there listening for the sound of a broken twig or the dull thud of a footstep. He took his soft hat from his head and held it above the bushes. There was the quick snap of a revolver shot and the sombrero fell at his feet. Walsh laughed softly. The game had begun in earnest now. He was ready and eager for the fray. There was nothing to be greatly alarmed at as yet. He knew those ruffians were afraid of him; he knew perfectly well that they would hesitate a long time before they came to close quarters. Of their intentions he had no manner of doubt. Those men meant to rob him and they meant to murder him, too.
So the game went on mile after mile, till the centre of the big belt of pines was reached. The bluff rose sharply here. Beyond it was a ragged slope of undergrowth with a stream of water hurrying along to its foot. Here Walsh halted. He knew that the men were on three sides of him now; he could hear their footsteps rustling in the dead leaves. And he was taking no risks. He knew the class of men he had to deal with. He knew that he was fighting with antagonists whose knowledge of woodcraft was almost equal to his own. Then just for a moment he exposed himself—only for an instant, but it was sufficient to draw the fire of revolvers from three directions. Then Walsh threw up his hands, and from his lips came that horrible bubbling scream which tells eloquently enough of a man who has been shot in some vital part. He lay prone on his face, his left arm outstretched, his right doubled up under him. There was a small ragged hole over his left breast from which the blood appeared to be oozing. He lay there so stark and stiff and horrible that the three men creeping over the dead leaves from different directions whistled and called simultaneously that the trouble was over, and that there was an end of Patrick Walsh, save for his glorious and romantic memory. For those three men were deadly shots. They wanted no flattery so far as their revolver practice was concerned.
Long Jim grinned as he rose to his feet, the others sniggered. For, apparently, Walsh had come to the end of his tether; apparently he had allowed himself to be driven into a corner whence there was no escape. He could not have doubled on his tracks, and no man really in his senses would have dared the leap over the edge of the bluff into those swirling waters below.
"Right through the heart," Long Jim said, hoarsely. "Jehoshaphat, ain't he bleeding! Now, then, boys—"
They came brutally, callously forward. Then, as if by magic, the prostrate figure moved an inch, and three revolver shots rang out in lightning succession. Long Jim staggered back with a bullet in his shoulder, screaming and blaspheming with pain; his two companions went foaming and writhing and holding a pair of trembling hands to the fleshy part of their thighs. It had all taken place in the twinkling of an eye, and before the three ruffians could recover themselves sufficiently to realize what had happened Walsh was rolling swiftly over and over towards the edge of the bluff. With a yell of defiance and an outbreak of derisive laughter, he bent himself backwards like a bow and flashed headlong into the yellow stream which lay thirty feet below.
He came up presently, gasping and panting and chilled to the very marrow by the icy coldness of the water; but his heart was light, and his lips were parted in a smile as he bent down and sped through the undergrowth with his white face turned in the direction of Dolvertown.
"That was a close call," he muttered. "I don't know when I have enjoyed anything so much. And unless you are greatly mistaken in your calculations, Pat Walsh, the next trick is going to be yours."
* * * * *
IT was getting dusk a week later when Walsh put in an appearance at Tom Macey's hut. His welcome was all that he could wish; in fact, Tom Macey, in his clumsy way, professed to be half jealous of the way in which Nell received her visitor.
"Oh, we're all right," he said. "And the kid is much better. I dare say we shall be able to manage till the end of the summer now. Seems ungrateful, don't it, to worry about those diamonds, and the kid's all right again? Guess you had to give them up."
Walsh smiled dryly.
"Well, not quite in the way you think," he said. "I expected to worry through that little trouble, and I did. But I had to take no risks. I wasn't going to go under with those stones in my possession, so I hit upon a little scheme of my own, which I will explain to you presently. You will laugh when you hear it, and you will be all the more amused because the laugh will be on your side. And if you want to see your stones again you will have to come with me this evening. Slip a brace of revolvers in your pocket. There is no great danger, Mrs. Macey. Tom will be home by midnight, and when he comes back you will be able to sit up and talk it over, and decide what you are going to do with your money. I can't tell you any more at present. I don't want to spoil the joke."
There were a couple of horses outside, and in silence the two men rode together up the rocky mountain passes, till they came at length to a little camp under the pines below the snow-line. It was a fresh camp, but already it boasted its saloon, where a score or more of men sat gambling and drinking. Beyond the thick haze of acrid tobacco-smoke Long Jim and his companions sat over a game of monte. They appeared to be none the better for their adventure. Their faces were pallid and lank under their mask of dirt. Long Jim's shoulder appeared to have been strapped up with some rude attempt at bandaging; the other two sat on a chair with a leg resting on another one. The forbidding assemblage looked up as Patrick Walsh entered. He had a revolver in his hand. The big, square frame of Tom Macey loomed behind him, his finger crooked on the trigger of another weapon.
"Now don't any of you move," Walsh commanded, crisply. "My business is with those three skunks in the corner yonder. Hands up, there! Now, Mr. Long Jim, get a move on you. Ah, that's better. Now let's see you smile."
An ominous growl went up from the motley assembly. The hand of more than one man strayed to his hip pocket, but somehow they hesitated as their glances fell upon that white, still face of the man in the doorway.
"I have warned you," he rasped out. "Perhaps you don't know me. My name is Patrick Walsh."
"By Heaven, it is, too!" a voice growled behind the tobacco-smoke. "Boys, this is no affair of ours."
The effect of the words was electrical. A dead, respectful silence fell upon the gamblers as Long Jim and his companions moved forward with their hands above their heads. They dragged themselves miserably into the outer air, no man following, for Walsh had been emphatic on that point, and he was, above all things, a man of his word. He stood there looking grimly on while Macey bound the prisoners together with raw hides, and presently they were fastened to the saddles of the two adventurers, and so the melancholy procession moved slowly down the mountain side. There was no word said, no sound but the regular tread of hoofs until the party arrived at length at something superior in the way of a ranch in one of the valleys lying there below One Tree Gulch. An alert man in spectacles came out and bade them welcome. He seemed to be expecting Walsh, for he bade the whole party to come inside. Here, laid out on the table, were surgical instruments, sharp-looking knives, and other terrors to the uninitiated.
"Friends of mine," Walsh said, curtly. "I am very anxious about their welfare. You see, they all met with a bit of an accident a few days ago. The estimable Long Jim has got a bullet in his shoulder, and Mr. Ned Carson and Dick Blake are suffering from the same inconvenience in the thick part of the thigh. It is a pity you haven't got anything in the way of an anaesthetic, but, Lord, what's a few moments' pain to brave chaps like these?"
"What's the pastime?" Long Jim asked, anxiously.
By way of reply he was jerked unceremoniously on his back and speedily stripped to the skin. He howled and writhed there impotently whilst the man in the spectacles probed scientifically in the wound. A moment later at the end of a pair of forceps he held up a round object triumphantly.
"Got him," he explained, "touch of dressing and you'll be all right in a week, my lad. Now, you others, come along."
Three miserable men sat round the fire presently whilst Walsh held in his hand the three pellets which the doctor had so successfully extracted. He wiped them with a piece of lint and handed them over to Macey.
"There you are," he said, quietly. "There are your diamonds back again. Now, perhaps, you see my little scheme. It was impossible for your wife to get to Dolvertown, and, as there were three of those ruffians to one, I wasn't going to take any risks. I couldn't hide the stones because if I had gone under you would have lost them, and so I extracted the bullets from three of my revolver cartridges and put the diamonds in their place. And for the last week or nine days these three beauties have been walking about with a diamond apiece under their skin and they none the wiser. I told the doctor here all about it. I tracked those chaps to their shanty up in the mountains, and the rest you know."
A stream of oaths broke from Long Jim's lips. His companions to the best of their artistic ability backed him up. Walsh turned upon them with a queer, dry smile.
"That will do," he said. "Now you can go. And the first man I meet within a hundred miles of this place I'll shoot on sight. But there's no reason to worry about you; you'll never stay here after this. Even the boys would laugh at you. Good night, doctor. Now let's get back and tell the story to your wife."
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