The Gully of Bluemansdyke by A. Conan Doyle
A TRUE COLONIAL STORY.
Broadhurst's store was closed, but the little
back room looked very comfortable that night.
The fire cast a ruddy glow on ceiling and walls,
reflecting itself cheerily on the polished flasks
and shot-guns which adorned them. Yet a gloom
rested on the two men who sat at either side of
the hearth, which neither the fire nor the black
bottle upon the table could alleviate.
"Twelve o'clock," said old Tom, the storeman
glancing up at the wooden timepiece which had
come out with him in '42. "It's a queer thing,
George, they haven't come."
"It's a dirty night," said his companion, reaching
out his arm for a plug of tobacco. "The
Wawirra's in flood, maybe; or maybe their horses
is broke down; or they've put it off, perhaps.
Great Lord, how it thunders! Pass us over a
He spoke in a tone which was meant to appear
easy, but with a painful thrill in it which was not
lost upon his mate. He glanced uneasily at him
from under his grizzled eyebrows.
"You think it's all right, George?" he said,
after a pause.
"Think what's all right?"
"Why, that the lads are safe."
"Safe! Of course they're safe. What the devil
is to harm them?"
"Oh, nothing; nothing, to be sure," said old
Tom. "You see, George, since the old woman
died, Maurice has been all to me; and it makes
me kinder anxious. It's a week since they started
from the mine, and you'd ha' thought they'd be
here now. But it's nothing unusual, I s'pose;
nothing at all. Just my darned folly."
"What's to harm them?" repeated George
Hutton again, arguing to convince himself rather
than his comrade. "It's a straight road from the
diggin's to Rathurst, and then through the hills
past Bluemansdyke, and over the Wawirra by the
ford, and so down to Trafalgar by the bush track.
There's nothin' deadly in all that, is there? My
son Allan's as dear to me as Maurice can be to
you, mate," he continued; "but they know the
ford well, and there's no other bad place. They'll
be here to-morrow night, certain."
"Please God they may!" said Broadhurst; and
the two men lapsed into silence for some time,
moodily staring into the glow of the fire, and
pulling at their short clays.
It was indeed, as Hutton had said, a dirty
night. The wind was howling down through the
gorges of the western mountains, and whirling and
eddying among the streets of Trafalgar; whistling
through the chinks in the rough wood cabins,
and tearing away the frail shingles which formed
the roofs. The streets were deserted, save for one
or two stragglers from the drinking shanties, who
wrapped their cloaks around them and staggered
home through the wind and rain towards their
The silence was broken by Broadhurst, who was
evidently still ill at ease.
"Say, George," he said, "what's become of
"Went to the diggin's."
"Ay; but he sent word he was coming back."
"But he never came."
"An' what's become of Jos Humphrey?" he
resumed, after a pause.
"He went diggin', too."
"Well, did he come back?"
"Drop it, Broadhurst; drop it, I say," said
Hutton, springing to his feet and pacing up and
down the narrow room. "You're trying to make
a coward of me! You know the men must have
gone up country prospectin' or farmin', maybe.
What is it to us where they went? You don't
think I have a register of every man in the
colony, as Inspector Burton has of the lags."
"Sit down, George, and listen," said old Tom.
"There's something queer about that road; something
I don't understand, and don't like. Maybe
you remember how Maloney, the one-eyed scoundrel,
made his money in the early mining days.
He'd a half-way drinking shanty on the main
road up on a kind of bluff, where the Lena
comes down from the hills. You've heard, George,
how they found a sort of wooden slide from his
little back room down to the river; an' how it
came out that man after man had had his drink
doctored, and been shot down that into eternity,
like a bale of goods. No one will ever know
how many were done away with there. They
were all supposed to be farmin' and prospectin',
and the like, till their bodies were picked out of
the rapids. It's no use mincing matters, George;
we'll have the troopers along to the diggin's if
those lads don't turn up by to-morrow night."
"As you like, Tom," said Hutton.
"By the way, talking of Maloney—it's a strange
thing," said Broadhurst, "that Jack Haldane
swears he saw a man as like Maloney with ten
years added to him as could be. It was in the
bush on Monday morning. Chance, I suppose;
but you'd hardly think there could be two pair
of shoulders in the world carrying such villainous
mugs on the top of them."
"Jack Haldane's a fool," growled Hutton, throwing
open the door and peering anxiously out into
the darkness, while the wind played with his long
grizzled beard, and sent a train of glowing sparks
from his pipe down the street.
"A terrible night!" he said, as he turned back
towards the fire.
Yes, a wild, tempestuous night; a night for birds
of darkness and for beasts of prey. A strange
night for seven men to lie out in the gully at
Bluemansdyke, with revolvers in their hands, and
the devil in their hearts.
The sun was rising after the storm. A thick,
heavy steam reeked up from the saturated ground,
and hung like a pall over the flourishing little
town of Trafalgar. A bluish mist lay in wreaths
over the wide track of bushland around, out of
which the western mountains loomed like great
islands in a sea of vapour.
Something was wrong in the town. The most
casual glance would have detected that. There
was a shouting and a hurrying of feet. Doors
were slammed and rude windows thrown open.
A trooper of police came clattering down with
his carbine unslung. It was past the time for
Joe Buchan's saw-mill to commence work, but
the great wheel was motionless, for the hands had
There was a surging, pushing crowd in the
main street before old Tom Broadhurst's house,
and a mighty clattering of tongues. "What was
it?" demanded the new-comers, panting and
breathless. "Broadhurst has shot his mate."
"He has cut his own throat." "He has struck
gold in the clay floor of his kitchen." "No; it
was his son Maurice who had come home rich."
"Who had not come back at all." "Whose horse
had come back without him." At last the truth
had come out; and there was the old sorrel horse
in question whinnying and rubbing his neck
against the familiar door of the stable, as if
entreating entrance; while two haggard, grey-haired
men held him by either bridle, and gazed
blankly at his reeking sides.
"God help me," said old Tom Broadhurst; "it is
as I feared!"
"Cheer up, mate," said Hutton, drawing his rough
straw hat down over his brow. "There's hope yet."
A sympathetic and encouraging murmur ran
through the crowd.
"Horse ran away, likely."
"Or been stolen."
"Or he's swum the Wawirra an' been washed
off," suggested one Job's comforter.
"He ain't got no marks of bruising," said
another, more hopeful.
"Rider fallen off drunk, maybe," said a bluff old
sheep-farmer. "I kin remember," he continued,
"coming into town 'bout this hour myself, with my
head in my holster, an' thinking I was a six-chambered
revolver—mighty drunk I was."
"Maurice had a good seat; he'd never be washed
"The horse has a weal on its off fore-quarter,"
remarked another, more observant than the rest.
"A blow from a whip, maybe."
"It would be a darned hard one."
"Where's Chicago Bill?" said someone; "he'll
Thus invoked, a strange, gaunt figure stepped
out in front of the crowd. He was an extremely
tall and powerful man, with the red shirt and high
boots of a miner. The shirt was thrown open,
showing the sinewy throat and massive chest. His
face was seamed and scarred with many a conflict,
both with Nature and his brother man; yet
beneath his ruffianly exterior there lay something
of the quiet dignity of the gentleman. This man
was a veteran gold-hunter; a real old Californian
'forty-niner, who had left the fields in disgust when
private enterprise began to dwindle before the
formation of huge incorporated companies with
their ponderous machinery. But the red clay with
the little shining points had become to him as the
very breath of his nostrils, and he had come half-way
round the world to seek it once again.
"Here's Chicago Bill," he said; "what is it?"
Bill was naturally regarded as an oracle, in
virtue of his prowess and varied experience.
Every eye was turned on him as Braxton, the
young Irish trooper of constabulary, said, "What
do you make of the horse, Bill?"
The Yankee was in no hurry to commit himself.
He surveyed the animal for some time with his
shrewd little grey eye. He bent and examined
the girths; then he felt the mane carefully. He
stooped once more and examined the hoofs and
then the quarters. His eye rested on the blue
wheal already mentioned. This seemed to put him
on a scent, for he gave a long, low whistle, and
proceeded at once to examine the hair on either
side of the saddle. He saw something conclusive
apparently, for, with a sidelong glance under his
shaggy eyebrows at the two old men beside him,
he turned and fell back among the crowd.
"Well, what d'ye think?" cried a dozen voices.
"A job for you," said Bill, looking up at the
young Irish trooper.
"Why, what is it? What's become of young
"He's done what better men has done afore.
He has sunk a shaft for gold and panned out a
"Speak out, man! what have you seen?" cried
a husky voice.
"I've seen the graze of a bushranger's bullet on
the horse's quarter, an' I've seen a drop of the
rider's blood on the edge of the saddle—Here,
hold the old man up, boys; don't let him drop.
Give him a swig of brandy an' lead him inside.
Say," he continued, in a whisper, gripping the
trooper by the wrist, "mind, I'm in it. You an' I
play this hand together. I'm dead on sich varmin.
We'll do as they do in Nevada, strike while the
iron is hot. Get any men you can together. I
s'pose you're game to come yourself?"
"Yes, I'll come," said young Braxton, with a
The American looked at him approvingly. He
had learned in his wanderings that an Irishman
who grows quieter when deeply stirred is a very
dangerous specimen of the genus homo.
"Good lad!" he muttered; and the two went
down the street together towards the station-house,
followed by half-a-dozen of the more resolute of
One word before we proceed with our story, or
our chronicle rather, as every word of it is based
upon fact. The colonial trooper of fifteen or twenty
years ago was a very different man from his
representative of to-day. Not that I would imply
any slur upon the courage of the latter; but for
reckless dare-devilry and knight-errantry the old
constabulary has never been equalled. The reason
is a simple one. Men of gentle blood, younger
sons and wild rakes who had outrun the constable,
were sent off to Australia with some wild idea of
making their fortunes. On arriving they found
Melbourne by no means the El Dorado they
expected; they were unfit for any employment,
their money was soon dissipated, and they unerringly
gravitated into the mounted police. Thus a
sort of colonial "Maison Rouge" became formed,
where the lowest private had as much pride of
birth and education as his officers. They were
men who might have swayed the fate of empires,
yet who squandered away their lives in many a
lone wild fight with native and bushranger, where
nothing but a mouldering blue-ragged skeleton was
left to tell the tale.
It was a glorious sunset. The whole western
sky was a blaze of flame, throwing a purple tint
upon the mountains, and gilding the sombre edges
of the great forest which spreads between Trafalgar
and the river Wawirra. It stretched out, a primeval,
unbroken wilderness, save at the one point where
a rough track had been formed by the miners and
their numerous camp-followers. This wound amid
the great trunks in a zigzag direction, occasionally
making a long detour to avoid some marshy hollow
or especially dense clump of vegetation. Often
it could be hardly discerned from the ground
around save by the scattered hoof-marks and an
About fifteen miles from Trafalgar there stands
a little knoll, well sheltered and overlooking the
road. On this knoll a man was lying as the sun
went down that Friday evening. He appeared to
shun observation, for he had chosen that part in
which the foliage was thickest; yet he seemed
decidedly at his ease, as he lolled upon his back
with his pipe between his teeth, and a broad hat
down over his face. It was a face that it was well
to cover in the presence of so peaceful a scene—a
face pitted with the scars of an immaterial smallpox.
The forehead was broad and low; one eye
had apparently been gouged out, leaving a ghastly
cavity; the other was deep-set, cunning, and
vindictive. The mouth was hard and cruel; a
rough beard covered the chin. It was the cut of
face which, seen in a lonely street, would instinctively
make one shift the grasp of one's stick from
the knob end to the ferrule—the face of a bold and
Some unpleasing thought seemed to occur to
him, for he rose with a curse and knocked the
ashes out of his pipe. "A darned fine thing," he
muttered, "that I should have to lie out like
this! It was Barrett's fault the job wasn't a
clean one, an' now he picks me out to get the
swamp-fever. If he'd shot the horse as I did
the man, we wouldn't need a watch on this
side of the Wawirra. He always was a poor
white-livered cuss. Well," he continued, picking
up a gun which lay in the grass behind
him, "there's no use my waiting longer; they
wouldn't start during the night. Maybe the
horse never got home, maybe they gave them
up as drowned; anyhow it's another man's turn
to-morrow, so I'll just give them five minutes
and then make tracks." He sat down on the
stump of a tree as he spoke and hummed the
verse of a song. A sudden thought seemed to
strike him, for he plunged his hand into his
pocket, and after some searching extracted a
pack of playing cards wrapped in a piece of
dirty brown paper. He gazed earnestly at their
greasy faces for some time. Then he took a
pin from his sleeve and pricked a small hole in
the corner of each ace and knave. He chuckled
as he shuffled them up, and replaced them in
his pocket. "I'll have my share of the swag,"
he growled. "They're sharp, but they'll not
spot that when the liquor is in them. By the
Lord, here they are!"
He had sprung to his feet and was bending
to the ground, holding his breath as he listened.
To the unpractised ear all was as still as before—the
hum of a passing insect, the chirp of a bird,
the rustle of the leaves; but the bushranger
rose with the air of a man who has satisfied
himself. "Good-bye to Bluemansdyke," said he;
"I reckon it will be too hot to hold us for a
time. That thundering idiot! he's spoilt as nice
a lay as ever was, an' risked our necks into the
bargain. I'll see their number an' who they are,
though," he continued; and, choosing a point
where a rough thicket formed an effectual screen,
he coiled himself up, and lay like some venomous
snake, occasionally raising his head and peering
between the trunks at the reddish streak which
marked the Trafalgar Road.
There could be no question now as to the
approach of a body of horsemen. By the time
our friend was fairly ensconced in his hiding-place
the sound of voices and the clatter of hoofs was
distinctly audible, and in another moment a troop
of mounted men came sweeping round the curve
of the road. They were eleven all told, armed
to the teeth, and evidently well on the alert.
Two rode in front with rifles unslung, leisurely
scanning every bush which might shelter an
enemy. The main body kept about fifty yards
behind them, while a solitary horseman brought
up the rear. The ranger scanned them narrowly
as they passed. He seemed to recognise most
of them. Some were his natural enemies the
troopers; the majority were miners who had
volunteered to get rid of an evil which affected
their interests so closely. They were a fine
bronzed set of men, with a deliberate air about
them, as if they had come for a purpose and
meant to attain it. As the last rider passed before
his hiding-place the solitary watcher started and
growled a curse in his beard. "I know his
darned face," he said; "it's Bill Hanker, the man
who got the drop on Long Nat Smeaton in
Silver City in '53; what the thunder brought
him here? I must be off by the back track,
though, an' let the boys know." So saying, he
picked up his gun, and with a scowl after the
distant party, he crouched down and passed
rapidly and silently out of sight into the very
thickest part of the bush.
The expedition had started from Trafalgar on
the afternoon of the same day that Maurice
Broadhurst's horse, foam-flecked and frightened,
had galloped up to the old stable-door. Burton,
the inspector of constabulary, an energetic and
able man, as all who knew him can testify, was
in command. He had detached Braxton, the
young Irishman, and Thompson, another trooper,
as a vanguard. He himself rode with the main
body, grey-whiskered and lean, but as straight in
the back as when he and I built a shanty in '39
in what is now Burke Street, Melbourne. With
him were McGillivray, Foley, and Anson of the
Trafalgar force, Hartley the sheep-farmer, Murdoch
and Summerville, who had made their pile
at the mines, and Dan Murphy, who was cleaned
out when the clay of the "Orient" turned to
gravel, and had been yearning for a solid square
fight ever since. Chicago Bill formed the rear-guard,
and the whole party presented an appearance
which, though far from military, was
They camped out that night seventeen miles
from Trafalgar, and next day pushed on as far
as where the Stirling Road runs across. The
third morning brought them to the northern
bank of the Wawirra, which they forded. Here
a council of war was held, for they were
entering what they regarded as enemy's country.
The bush track, though wild, was occasionally
traversed both by shepherds and sportsmen. It
would hardly be the home of a gang of desperate
bushrangers. But beyond the Wawirra the great
rugged range of the Tápu mountains towered up
to the clouds, and across a wild spur of these
the mining track passed up to Bluemansdyke.
It was here they decided at the council that the
scene of the late drama lay. The question now
was what means were to be taken to attack the
murderers; for that murder had been done no
All were of one mind as to what the main
line of action should be. To go for them
straight, shoot as many as possible on sight,
and hang the balance in Trafalgar: that was
plain sailing. But how to get at them was the
subject of much debate. The troopers were for
pushing on at once, and trusting to Fortune to
put the rangers in their way. The miners proposed
rather to gain some neighbouring peak,
from which a good view of the country could be
obtained, and some idea gained of their whereabouts.
Chicago Bill took rather a gloomy view
of things. "Nary one will we see," said he;
"they've dusted out of the district 'fore this.
They'd know the horse would go home, and
likely as not they've had a watch on the road
to warn them. I guess, boys, we'd best move
on an' do our best." There was some discussion,
but Chicago's opinion carried the day, and the
expedition pushed on in a body.
After passing the second upland station the
scenery becomes more and more grand and rugged.
Great peaks two and three thousand feet high rose
sheer up at each side of the narrow track. The
heavy wind and rain of the storm had brought
down much débris, and the road was almost impassable
in places. They were frequently compelled
to dismount and to lead the horses. "We
haven't far now, boys," said the inspector cheerily,
as they struggled on; and he pointed to a great
dark cleft which yawned in front of them between
two almost perpendicular cliffs. "They are there,"
he said, "or nowhere." A little higher the road
became better and their progress was more rapid.
A halt was called, guns were unslung, and their
pistols loosened in their belts, for the great gully of
Bluemansdyke—the wildest part of the whole Tápu
range—was gaping before them. But not a thing
was to be seen; all was as still as the grave. The
horses were picketed in a quiet little ravine, and
the whole party crept on on foot. The Southern
sun glared down hot and clear on the yellow
bracken and banks of fern which lined the narrow
winding track. Still not a sign of life. Then
came a clear low whistle from the two advanced
troopers, announcing that something had been
discovered, and the main body hurried up. It was
a spot for deeds of blood. On one side of the
road there lowered a black gnarled precipice, on
the other was the sullen mouth of the rugged gully.
The road took a sharp turn at this spot. Just at
the angle several large boulders were scattered,
lining and overlooking the track. It was at this
angle that a little bed of mud and trampled red
clay betokened a recent struggle. There could be
no question that they were at the scene of the
murder of the two young miners. The outline of
a horse could still be seen in the soft ground, and
the prints of its hoofs as it kicked out in its death-agony
were plainly marked. Behind one of the
rocks were the tracks of several feet, and some
pistol wadding was found in a tuft of ferns. The
whole tragedy lay unclosed before them. Two
men, careless in the pride of their youth and their
strength, had swept round that fatal curve. Then
a crash, a groan, a brutal laugh, the galloping of a
frightened horse, and all was over.
What was to be done now? The rocks around
were explored, but nothing fresh discovered. Some
six days had elapsed, and the birds were apparently
flown. The party separated and hunted about
among the boulders. Then the American, who
could follow a trail like a bloodhound, found tracks
leading towards a rugged pile of rocks on the
north side of the gully. In a crevice here the
remains of three horses were found. Close to
them the rim of an old straw hat projected through
the loose loam. Hartley, the sheep-farmer, sprang
over to pick it up; he started back in the act of
stooping, and said in an awe-struck whisper to his
friend Murphy, "There's a head under it, Dan!"
A few strokes of a spade disclosed a face familiar
to most of the group—that of a poor travelling photographer
well known in the colony by the sobriquet
of "Stooping Johnny," who had disappeared some
time before. It was now in an advanced stage of
putrefaction. Close to him another body was
discovered, and another beside that. In all, thirteen
victims of these English Thugs were lying under
the shadow of the great north wall of the Bluemansdyke
gully. It was there, standing in silent
awe round the remains of these poor fellows, hurried
into eternity and buried like dogs, that the search-party
registered a vow to sacrifice all interests and
comforts for the space of one month to the single
consideration of revenge. The inspector uncovered
his grizzled head as he solemnly swore it, and his
comrades followed his example. The bodies
were then, with a brief prayer, consigned to a
deeper grave, a rough cairn was erected over them,
and the eleven men set forth upon their mission of
Three weeks had passed—three weeks and two
days. The sun was sinking over the great waste
of bushland, unexplored and unknown, which
stretches away from the eastern slope of the Tápu
mountains. Save some eccentric sportsman or
bold prospector, no colonist had ever ventured into
that desolate land; yet on this autumn evening
two men were standing in a little glade in the very
heart of it. They were engaged tying up their
horses, and apparently making preparations for
camping out for the night. Though haggard,
unkempt, and worn, one still might recognise two
of our former acquaintances—the young Irish
trooper and the American Chicago Bill.
This was the last effort of the avenging party.
They had traversed the mountain gorges, they had
explored every gully and ravine, and now they had
split into several small bands, and, having named
a trysting-place, they were scouring the country in
the hope of hitting upon some trace of the murderers.
Foley and Anson had remained among
the hills, Murdoch and Dan Murphy were exploring
towards Rathurst, Summerville and the inspector
had ascended along the Wawirra, while the
others in three parties were wandering through the
Both the trooper and the miner seemed dejected
and weary. The one had set out with visions of
glory, and hopes of a short cut to the coveted
stripes which would put him above his fellows;
the other had obeyed a rough wild sense of justice;
and each was alike disappointed. The horses were
picketed, and the men threw themselves heavily
upon the ground. There was no need to light a
fire; a few dampers and some rusty bacon were
their whole provisions. Braxton produced them,
and handed his share to his comrade. They ate
their rough meal without a word. Braxton was
the first to break the silence.
"We're playing our last card," he said.
"And a darned poor one at that," replied his
"Why, mate," he continued, "if we did knock
up agin these all-fired varmin, ye don't suppose
you and I would go for them? I guess I'd up an'
shove for Trafalgar first."
Braxton smiled. Chicago's reckless courage
was too well known in the colony for any words of
his to throw a doubt upon it. Miners still tell how,
during the first great rush in '52, a blustering
ruffian, relying upon some similar remark of the
pioneer's, had tried to establish a reputation by an
unprovoked assault upon him; and the narrators
then glide imperceptibly into an account of Bill's
handsome conduct towards the widow—how he
had given her his week's clean-up to start her in a
drinking shanty. Braxton thought of this as he
smiled at Chicago's remarks, and glanced at the
massive limbs and weather-beaten face.
"We'd best see where we are before it grows
darker," he said; and rising, he stacked his gun
against the trunk of a blue gum-tree, and seizing
some of the creepers which hung down from it,
began rapidly and silently to ascend it.
"His soul's too big for his body," growled the
American, as he watched the dark lithe figure
standing out against the pale-blue evening sky.
"What d'ye see, Jack?" he shouted; for the
trooper had reached the topmost branch by this
time, and was taking a survey of the country.
"Bush, bush; nothing but bush," said the voice
among the leaves. "Wait a bit, though; there's a
kind of hill about three miles off away to the nor'-east.
I see it above the trees right over there.
Not much good to us, though," he continued, after
a pause, "for it seems a barren, stony sort of
Chicago paced about at the bottom of the tree.
"He seems an almighty long time prospectin'
it," he muttered, after ten minutes had elapsed.
"Ah, here he is!" and the trooper came swinging
down and landed panting just in front of him.
"Why, what's come over him? What's the
Something was the matter. That was very
evident. There was a light in Braxton's blue eyes,
and a flush on the pale cheek.
"Bill," he said, putting his hand on his comrade's
shoulder, "it's about time you made tracks for the
"What d'ye mean?" said Chicago.
"Why, I mean that the murderers are within a
league of us, and that I intend going for them.
There, don't be huffed, old man," he added; "of
course I knew you were only joking. But they
are there, Bill; I saw smoke on the top of that hill,
and it wasn't good, honest smoke, mind you; it
was dry-wood smoke, and meant to be hid. I
thought it was mist at first; but no, it was smoke.
I'll swear it. It could only be them: who else
would camp on the summit of a desolate hill?
We've got them, Bill; we have them as sure as
"Or they've got us," growled the American.
"But here, lad, here's my glass; run up and have
a look at them."
"It's too dark now," said Braxton; "we'll camp
out to-night. No fear of them stirring. They're
lying by there until the whole thing blows over,
depend upon it; so we'll make sure of them in the
The miner looked plaintively up at the tree,
and then down at his fourteen stone of solid
"I guess I must take your word for it," he
grumbled; "but you are bushman enough to tell
smoke from mist, and a dry-wood fire from an
open one. We can't do anything to-night till we
feel our way, so I allow we'd best water the horses
an' have a good night's rest."
Braxton seemed to be of the same mind; so
after a few minutes' preparation the two men
wrapped themselves in their cloaks, and lay, two
little dark spots, on the great green carpet of the
With the first grey light of dawn Chicago sat up
and roused his comrade. A heavy mist bung over
the bushland. They could hardly see the loom of
the trees across the little glade. Their clothes
glistened with the little shining beads of moisture.
They brushed each other down, and squatted in
bush fashion over their rough breakfast. The haze
seemed to be lifting a little now; they could see
fifty yards in every direction. The miner paced
up and down in silence, ruminating over a plug of
"Barrett's twist." Braxton sat on a fallen tree
sponging and oiling his revolver. Suddenly a
single beam of sunshine played over the great blue
gum. It widened and spread, and then in a
moment the mist melted away, and the yellow
leaves glowed like flakes of copper in the glare of
the morning sun. Braxton cheerily snapped the
lock of the pistol, loaded it, and replaced it in his
belt. Chicago began to whistle, and stopped in
the middle of his walk.
"Now, young un," he said, "here's the glass."
Braxton slung it round his neck, and ascended
the tree as he had done the night before. It was
child's-play to the trooper—a splendid climber, as
I can testify; for I saw him two years later swarming
up the topmost backstay of the Hector frigate
in a gale of wind for a bet of a bottle of wine. He
soon reached the summit, and shuffling along a
naked branch two hundred feet from the ground,
he gained a point where no leaves could obstruct
his view. Here he sat straddle-legged; and, unslinging
the glass, he proceeded to examine the
hill, bush by bush and stone by stone.
An hour passed without his moving. Another
had almost elapsed before he descended. His
face was grave and thoughtful.
"Are they there?" was the eager query.
"Yes; they are there."
"I've only seen five; but there may be more.
Wait till I think it out, Bill."
The miner gazed at him with all the reverence
matter has towards mind. Thinking things out
was not his strong point.
"Blamed if I can help you," he said apologetically.
"It kinder don't come nat'ral to me to be
plottin' and plannin'. Want o' eddication, likely.
My father was allowed to be the hardest-headed
man in the States. Judge Jeffers let on as how the
old man wanted to hand in his checks; so he down
an' put his head on the line when the first engine
as ran from Vermont was comin' up. They fined
him a hundred dollars for upsettin' that 'ere locomotive;
an' the old man got the cussedest headache
as ever was."
Braxton hardly seemed to hear this family anecdote;
he was deep in thought.
"Look here, old man," said he; "sit down by me
on the trunk and listen to what I say. Remember
that you are here as a volunteer, Bill—you've no
call to come; now, I am here in the course of duty.
Your name is known through the settlement; you
were a marked man when I was in the nursery.
Now, Bill, it's a big thing I am going to ask you.
If you and I go in and take these men, it will be
another feather in your cap, and in yours only.
What do men know of Jack Braxton, the private
of police? He'd hardly be mentioned in the
matter. Now, I want to make my name this day.
We'll have to secure these men by a surprise after
dusk, and it will be as easy for one resolute man to
do it as for two; perhaps easier, for there is less
chance of detection. Bill, I want you to stay with
the horses, and let me go alone."
Chicago sprang to his feet with a snarl of indignation,
and paced up and down in front of the
fallen trees. Then he seemed to master himself,
for he sat down again.
"They'd chaw you up, lad," he said, putting his
hand on Braxton's shoulder. "It wouldn't wash."
"Not they," said the trooper. "I'd take your
pistol as well as my own, and I'd need a deal of
"My character would be ruined," said Bill.
"It's beyond the reach of calumny. You can
afford to give me one fair chance."
Bill buried his face in his hands, and thought a
"Well, lad," he said, looking up, "I'll look after
Braxton wrung him by the hand. "There are
few men would have done it, Bill; you are a friend
worth having. Now, we'll spend our day as best
we can, old man, and lie close till evening; for I
won't start till an hour after dusk; so we have
plenty of time on our hands."
The day passed slowly. The trooper lay among
the mosses below the great blue gum in earnest
thought. Once or twice he imagined he heard the
subterranean chuckle and slap of the thigh which
usually denoted amusement on the part of the
miner; but on glancing up at that individual, the
expression of his face was so solemn, not to say
funereal, that it was evidently an illusion. They
partook of their scanty dinner and supper cheerfully
and with hearty appetites. The former
listlessness had given place to briskness and
activity, now that their object was in view. Chicago
blossomed out into many strange experiences
and racy reminiscences of Western life. The
hours passed rapidly and cheerily. The trooper
produced a venerable pack of cards from his holster
and proposed euchre; but their gregariousness,
and the general difficulty of distinguishing the king
of clubs from the ace of hearts, exercised a
depressing influence upon the players. Gradually
the sun went down on the great wilderness. The
shadow fell on the little glade, while the distant hill
was still tipped with gold; then that too became
purplish, a star twinkled over the Tápu range, and
night crept over the scene.
"Good-bye, old man," said Braxton. "I won't
take my carbine; it would only be in the way. I
can't thank you enough for letting me have this
chance. If they wipe me out, Bill, you'll not lose
sight of them, I know; and you'll say I died like a
man. I've got no friends and no message, and
nothing in the world but this pack of cards. Keep
them, Bill; they were a fine pack in '51. If you
see a smoke on the hill in the morning you'll know
all's well, and you'll bring up the horses at once.
If you don't, you'll ride to Fallen Pine, where
we were to meet,—ride day and night, Bill,—tell
Inspector Burton that you know where the rangers
are, that Private Braxton is dead, and that he said
he was to bring up his men, else he'd come back
from the grave and lead them up himself. Do
that, Bill. Good-bye."
A great quiet rested over the heart of that
desolate woodland. The croak of a frog, the
gurgle of a little streamlet half hidden in the long
grass—no other sound. Then a wakeful jay gave
a shrill chatter, another joined, and another; a
bluefinch screamed; a wombat rushed past to gain
its burrow. Something had disturbed them; yet
all was apparently as peaceful as before. Had you
been by the jay's nest, however, and peered downwards,
you would have seen something gliding like
a serpent through the brushwood, and caught a
glimpse, perhaps, of a pale, resolute face, and the
glint of a pocket-compass pointing north-by-east.
It was a long and weary night for Trooper
Braxton. Any moment he might come on an
outpost of the rangers, so every step had to be
taken slowly and with care. But he was an
experienced woodman, and hardly a twig snapped
as he crawled along. A morass barred his progress,
and he was compelled to make a long detour.
Then he found himself in thick brushwood, and
once more had to go out of his way. It was very
dark here in the depth of the forest. There was a
heavy smell, and a dense steam laden with miasma
rose from the ground. In the dim light he saw
strange creeping things around him. A bushmaster
writhed across the path in front of him, a
cold, dank lizard crawled over his hand as he
crouched down; but the trooper thought only of
the human reptiles in front, and made steadily for
his goal. Once he seemed to be pursued by some
animal; he heard a creaking behind him, but it
ceased when he stopped and listened, so he
continued his way.
It was when he reached the base of the hill
which he had seen from the distance that the real
difficulty of his undertaking began. It was almost
conical in shape, and very steep. The sides were
covered with loose stones and an occasional large
boulder. One false step here would send a shower
of these tell-tale fragments clattering down the hill.
The trooper stripped off his high leather boots and
turned up his trousers; then he began cautiously
to climb, cowering down behind every boulder.
There was a little patch of light far away on the
horizon, a very little grey patch, but it caused the
figure of a man who was moving upon the crest of
the hill to loom out dim and large. He was a
sentry apparently, for he carried a gun under his
arm. The top of the hill was formed by a little
plateau about a hundred yards in circumference.
Along the edge of this the man was pacing, occasionally
stopping to peer down into the great dusky
sea beneath him. From this raised edge the
plateau curved down from every side, so as to form
a crater-like depression. In the centre of this
hollow stood a large white tent. Several horses
were picketed around it, and the ground was
littered with bundles of dried grass and harness.
You could see these details now from the edge of
the plateau, for the grey patch in the east had
become white, and was getting longer and wider.
You could see the sentry's face, too, as he paced
round and round. A handsome, weak-minded face,
with more of the fool than the devil impressed on it.
He seemed cheerful, for the birds were beginning to
sing, and their thousand voices rose from the bush
below. He forgot the forged note, I think, and the
dreary voyage, and the wild escape, and the dark
gully away beyond the Tápu range; for his eye
glistened, and he hummed a quaint little Yorkshire
country air. He was back again in the West
Riding village, and the rough boulder in front
shaped itself into the hill behind which Nelly lived
before he broke her heart, and he saw the ivied
church that crowned it. He would have seen
something else had he looked again—something
which was not in his picture: a white passionless
face which glared at him over the boulder, as he
turned upon his heel, still singing, and unconscious
that the bloodhounds of justice were close at his
The trooper's time for action had come. He
had reached the last boulder; nothing lay between
the plateau and himself but a few loose stones.
He could hear the song of the sentry dying away
in the distance; he drew his regulation sword,
and, with his Adams in his left, he rose and sprang
like a tiger over the ridge and down into the
The sentry was startled from his dream of the
past by a clatter and a rattling of stones. He
sprang round and cocked his gun. No wonder
that he gasped, and that a change passed over
his bronzed face. A painter would need a dash
of ultramarine in his flesh-tints to represent it
now. No wonder, I say; for that dark active
figure with the bare feet and the brass buttons
meant disgrace and the gallows to him. He saw
him spring across to the tent; he saw the gleam
of a sword, and heard a crash as the tent-pole
was severed, and the canvas came down with a
run upon the heads of the sleepers. And then
above oaths and shouts he heard a mellow Irish
voice—"I've twelve shots in my hands. I have
ye, every mother's son. Up with your arms! up,
I say, before there is blood upon my soul. One
move, and ye stand before the throne." Braxton
had stooped and parted the doorway of the fallen
tent, and was now standing over six ruffians who
occupied it. They lay as they had wakened, but
with their hands above their heads, for there was
no resisting that quiet voice, backed up by the
two black muzzles. They imagined they were
surrounded and hopelessly outmatched. Not one
of them dreamed that the whole attacking force
stood before them. It was the sentry who first
began to realise the true state of the case. There
was no sound or sign of any reinforcement. He
looked to see that the cap was pressed well down
on the nipple, and crept towards the tent. He
was a good shot, as many a keeper on Braidagarth
and the Yorkshire fells could testify. He raised
his gun to his shoulder. Braxton heard the click,
but dared not remove his eye or his weapon from
his six prisoners. The sentry looked along the
sights. He knew his life depended upon that
shot. There was more of the devil than the fool
in his face now. He paused a moment to make
sure of his aim, and then came a crash and the
thud of a falling body. Braxton was still standing
over the prisoners, but the sentry's gun was
unfired, and he himself was writhing on the
ground with a bullet through his lungs. "Ye
see," said Chicago, as he rose from behind a
rock with his gun still smoking in his hand, "it
seemed a powerful mean thing to leave you,
Jack; so I thought as I'd kinder drop around
promiscus, and wade in if needed, which I was,
as you can't deny. No, ye don't," he added, as
the sentry stretched out his hand to grasp his
fallen gun; "leave the wepin alone, young man;
it ain't in your way as it lies there."
"I'm a dead man!" groaned the ranger.
"Then lie quiet like a respectable corpse,"
said the miner, "an' don't go a-squirmin' towards
yer gun. That's ornary uneddicated conduct."
"Come here, Bill," cried Braxton, "and bring
the ropes those horses are picketed with. Now,"
he continued, as the American, having abstracted
the sentry's gun, appeared with an armful of
ropes, "you tie these fellows up, and I'll kill any
man who moves."
"A pleasant division of labour, eh, old Blatherskite,"
said Chicago, playfully tapping the one-eyed
villain Maloney on the head. "Come on;
the ugliest first!" So saying, he began upon
him and fastened him securely.
One after another the rangers were tied up; all
except the wounded man, who was too helpless
to need securing. Then Chicago went down and
brought up the horses, while Braxton remained
on guard; and by mid-day the cavalcade was in
full march through the forest en route for Fallen
Pine, the rendezvous of the search-party. The
wounded man was tied on to a horse in front,
the other rangers followed on foot for safety, while
the trooper and Chicago brought up the rear.
There was a sad assemblage at Fallen Pine.
One by one they had dropped in, tanned with
the sun, torn by briers, weakened by the poisonous
miasma of the marshlands, all with the same tale
of privation and failure. Summerville and the
inspector had fallen in with blacks above the
upper ford, and had barely escaped with their
lives. Troopers Foley and Anson were well,
though somewhat gaunt from privation. Hartley
had lost his horse from the bite of a bushmaster.
Murdoch and Murphy had scoured the bush as
far as Rathurst, but without success. All were
dejected and weary. They only waited the
arrival of two of their number to set out on
their return to Trafalgar.
It was mid-day, and the sun was beating down
with a pitiless glare on the little clearing. The
men were lying about on the shady side of the
trunks, some smoking, some with their hats over
their faces and half asleep. The horses were
tethered here and there, looking as listless as
their masters. Only the inspector's old charger
seemed superior to the weather—a shrewd, blasé
old horse, that had seen the world, and was
nearly as deeply versed in woodcraft as his master.
As Chicago said, "Short of climbin' a tree,
there weren't nothin' that horse couldn't do; an'
it would make a darned good try at that if it
was pushed." Old "Sawback" seemed ill at ease
this afternoon. Twice he had pricked up his
ears, and once he had raised his head as if
to neigh, but paused before committing himself.
The inspector looked at him curiously and put
his meerschaum back into its case. Meerschaums
were always a weakness of poor Jim Burton's.
"Demme it, sir," I have heard him say, "a gentleman
is known by his pipe. When he comes
down in the world his pipe has most vitality."
He put the case inside his uniform and went
over to the horse. The ears were still twitching.
"He hears something," said the inspector. "By
Jove, so do I! Here, boys, jump up; there's a
body of men coming!" Every man sprang to
his horse's head. "I hear hoofs, and I hear the
tramp of men on foot. They must be a large
party. They're heading straight for us. Get
under cover, boys, and have your guns loose."
The men wheeled right and left, and in a very
few moments the glade was deserted. Only the
brown barrel of a gun here and there among the
long grass and the ferns showed where they were
crouching. "Steady, boys!" said Burton; "if
they are enemies, don't fire till I give the word.
Then one by one aim low, and let the smoke
clear. Rangers, by Jove!" he added, as a horseman
broke into the clearing some way down,
with his head hanging down over his horse's
neck. "More," he growled, as several men
emerged from the bush at the same point. "By
the living powers, they are taken! I see the
ropes. Hurrah!" And next moment Braxton
and Chicago were mobbed by nine shouting,
dancing men, who pulled them and tugged at
them, and slapped them on the back, and dragged
them about in such a way, that Maloney whispered
with a scowl—
"If we'd had the grit to do as much, we'd
have been free men this day!"
And now our story is nearly done. We have
chronicled a fact which we think is worthy of a
wider circulation than the colonial drinking-bar
and the sheep-farmer's fireside, for Trooper Braxton
and his capture of the Bluemansdyke murderers
have long been household words among
our brothers in the England of the Southern seas.
We need not detail that joyful ride to Trafalgar,
nor the welcome, nor the attempt at lynching;
nor how Maloney, the arch criminal, turned
Queen's evidence, and so writhed away from the
gallows. All that may be read in the colonial
press more graphically than I can tell it. My
friend Jack Braxton is an officer now, as his
father was before him, and still in the Trafalgar
force. Bill I saw last in '61, when he came over
to London in charge of the barque of the Wellingtonia
for the International Exhibition. He is
laying on flesh, I fear, since he took to sheep-farming;
for he was barely brought up by seventeen
stone, and his fighting weight used to be
fourteen; but he looks well and hearty. Maloney
was lynched in Placerville—at least so I heard.
I had a letter last mail from the old inspector;
he has left the police, and has a farm at Rathurst.
I think, stout-hearted as he is, he must
give a little bit of a shudder when he rides down
to Trafalgar for the Thursday market, and comes
round that sharp turn of the road where the
boulders lie, and the furze looks so yellow against
the red clay.