THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
BROCKLEBANK’S TENT. A TAT.-R OF UNFOUNDED ACCUSATION. But these prudent observations scarcely satisfied my youthful ardour. 1 had travelled sixteen thousand miles to dig gold, and I wanted to begin at once. 1 confessed my longings to my new friend, Langford. “ Well,” he remarked, “ if you’re,very anxious to begin, you can go ‘ surfacing ’ by yourself. Gold is found in minute quantities in almost every part of the soil of these gullies I have seen a man washing the common road dust, and as he went on all day at it I fancy it paid him. You won’t want many implements. A pick, a shovel, and a tin dish, will sot you up as a ‘ surfacer. ’ ” "j These words impressed me amazingly. How delightful it would be, with nothing but a tin dish, to wash out in the course of the morning gold enough for a week’s board! I reckoned thus: “Between breakfast and dinner I can surely wash out twelve dishes full of dirt; well, if each of those dishes only contains twelve grains of gold, the merest specks possible, I shall have six penny-weights of gold, worth eighteen shillings or a pound. ” Such were my sanguine expectations. Before going to bed that night, Brocklebank, according to a custom which he told me he invariably observed, went carefully over all the little packets of gold-dust which he had bought, either during that day or on former occasions. “ Twenty-seven packets,” I heard him say aloud. He then placed them, box and all, in the little receptacle under the floor of the tent, unchained Boxer, the bull-mas-tiff, who had been tied up during the day, examined the capping of his revoher, placed it beneath his bed within arm’s length, and retired to rest. Perhaps I had slept too soundly the night before, perhaps I was excited by the thoughts of the glittering gold which I hoped to wash out on the morrow—at any rate, for some reason or other, I was unable to get to sleep. At last, tired Nature asserted her dominion, and I dozed off imperceptibly. I cannot say how long I had been asleep, when I awoke suddenly with a convulsive start, opened my eyes, and gazed confusedly around me. But was I really awake, or was this merely an attack of nightmare ? What I saw was sufficiently disquieting. Brocklebank had been the last to get into bed, and he had extinguished the candle. But when I awoke—or fancied I had awoke, for on the following morning I attributed all my terrors to the heaviness of an unleavened cake which I had eaten for supper—when I awoke, my eyes were dazzled by a bright light, and I presently perceived that there were no less than three candles burning, two on the counter where we were accus tomed to weigh out groceries, and one on the floor. I was still more surprised to observe that Brocklebank was out of bed, partially dressed, and that he was stooping over the cavity where his treasures were deposited. His back was towards me, bo that I could not discern his face, or make out what he was doing; but after a few minutes, he rose to his feet and confronted me. I was horrified. The handsome face, which a few hours previously had worn such a calm, business-like expression, was now distorted by passion ; the eyes which had sparkled with a kindly shrewdness, now glared wildly, yet in such a vacant, objectless manner, that they appeared totally unconcious that I was staring into them with all my might. A few moments later, after he had carefully replaced the flag which concealed his gold-chamber from ordinary view, Brocklebank put his hand beneath his bed, and drew out his revolver. The sight of the weapon seemed to enrage him; he ground his teeth together, and began to pace rapidly round and round the tent. As far as I could judge, it was the dead hour of night, and sounds, all except the distant hayings of a dog, had up to this moment been hushed. But the noise of Brocklebank’s rapid footsteps aroused the watchfull bullmastiff outside, and he began to growl. The sound of the dog’s voice, subdued as it was, seemed to fill the proprietor of the store with alarm. His flushed countenance grew pale ; he hastened round and round the tent with singular rapidity, and as he performed this strange march, he pointed his revolver successfully towards the four quarters of the compass, muttering, “ North, east, south, and west. My enemies are on all sides.” I felt very much alarmed while this extraordinary scene was being enacted ; but I also felt entirely helpless, as if some superhuman power had chained my limbs to the bed on which I lay. I gradually formed a conviction that 1 was only dreaming, and that the alarming figure before me, with its distorted countenance, its muttered threats, and its banished weapon, was only a creature of the imagination, and that the real Brocklebank was fast asleep in his bed. This conviction must, I suppose, have soothed me considerable, for the imaginary Brocklebank had scarcely uttered the words which I had just recorded, when I was overcome by an irresistible drowiness, and remembered nothing further. Brocklebank looked so calm, and quiet, and business-like the next morning, that I feared to tell him my dream, lest he should laugh at me ; so after a hasty breakfast I went over to Langford’s tent, for he had promised to show me how to make a damper. I was agreeably surprised to find that my instructor was not to be Langford himself, for he had gone off to work, but his wife. She was a comely, lady-like young woman, with her face and arms just a little bronzed by exposure to the sun, but very neat and clean in her person. We got on very pleasantly together, and as soon as her practical lecture was concluded, being bent on immediately exercising the avocation of a gold-digger, I started off to the Camp—where all the principal stores were situated, about two miles distant—and there purchased a pick, a shovel, a tin dish, and sundry other useful paraphernalia appertaining to the craft of wold-mining Choosing a sequestered spot —for I felt a little ashamed of working all by myself—l set to work clearing away the surface soil, breaking it up as small as possible, and then_ carefully washing it, by means of my tin dish, in a pool close at hand. I worked with extreme ardour during the whole of the remainder of the day till the sun was almost setting, insomuch I forgot all about dinner, and satisfied myself with a piece of biscuit which I had in my pocket. I then returned to Iron Bark Gully with the glittering treasures which my industry had secured carefully? wrapped in a piece of newspaper. There was a good deal of it, but it appeared to weigh very light, “ Perhaps, however,” I remarked to my innocent self, “ Australain gold is lighter than other gold.” I afterwards discovered that my fancied treasure consisted of nothing more precious than minute particles of mica, a glittering substance very abundant on the diggings. X reached the Boyal Liver Store just as the sun, at the moment of setting, shone out from beneath a huge bank of purple clouds, and illuminated all the dingy green tree-tops with a glorious ruddy radiance. I never see this peculiar sunset now, beautiful as it is, without a sense of uneasiness : it recals such a bitter moment in my life. A group of half-a-dozen persons were assembled round the smouldering log-fire in front of the store, apparently in grave and earnest consultation, I at once recognised Brocklebank, Langford, and my sulky road companion. Fry.
I was quite pleased to see Fry. He seemed like an old friend. “ Hallo, Fry,” I exclaimed jovially, “ how are you ?” In reply to these words Mr. Fry turned upon me one of the sourest faces ever manufactured in Liverpool. He did not vouchsafe a word in answer to my salutation, but said in a low tone, which, however, I was perfectly able Vo hear, “ I told you, Brocklebank, I knew nothing of the fellow.” As these words were uttered, I observed that all the company had their eyes fixed on me, and that their gaze was of a peculiarly searching character, il felt uncomfortable, and being of a sensitive temper-, ment, blushed up to the tip of my ears/' Immediately after this prolonged starea* Brocklebank laid his hand cm LangfbnfflH arm, and whispered something in his e;jBH Langford then stepped forward, and aq--dressed me thus : ‘ ‘ Mr. Parker, I have something very unpleasant to tell you. For the last two night’s you have slept in Brocklebank’s tent —” “ Yes,” I replied in a low tone, fearing that something dreadful was coming. “ I am sorry to tell you that Mr. Brocklebank, on counting his gold to-day, found one packet deficient. There should have been twenty-seven parcels—there were only twenty-six. A packet containing five ounces fifteen pennyweights, and numbered one hundred ane three, was missing.” A painful silence of several moments’ duration followed this statement. I fancied, but perhaps it was only fancy, that I trembled violently and that I became very red and pale in sudden alternations. At first my tongue clove to the roof of my mouth, but presently I contrived to say—- “ You suspect me 1 ” No immediate reply was given to my question, but as I looked round upon the stern faces of ray accusers, I chanced to catch Fry’s eye. He at once said morosely—- “ Yes we do. Who else could we suspect ? I told Brocklebank I knew nothing of you. ” “You are sure the packet is missing Mr. Langford ? ” I asked. “Brocklebank and myself, Mr. Parker,” answered the chemist, “are, I hope, the last men in the world to bring a hasty accusation against any one. The tin box containing the gold has been carefully examined in the presence of all the persons now here, has it not 1 ” “ Ay, ay,” replied a number of voices. “ And,” continued Langford “ there are only twenty-six packets in it.” “ Would you like to search me 1 ” I demanded. “No, sir,” said Langford, after a pause. “If you are innocent, it would be a useless indignity ; if you are guilty, the gold would certainly not be on your person. “ There are plenty of hollow trees in Bendigo,” observed Fry. These words forcibly showed me how difficult it would be to proove my innocence. I had no friends in the colony except my brother-adventurers from London, and even if I could find them, their certificate of respectablity would count for very little. I had a few letters of introduction to persons of some standing in the colony, but I had left them in Melbourne, and they would not have proved my identity, for I might have purloined them from somebody else. I also remembered that, having previously not expended a sixpence since my arrival on Bendigo in Fry’s company, I had that morning bought fifteen shillings’ worth of tools.
I was so overwhelmed with shame and horror, that I sat down on the log and shed tears—a womanish exhibition of grief, of which an hour earlier I should have deemed myself incapable. A whispered consultation now took place between my accusers. I heard the word “Police” mentioned, and Fry said, “Yes, the sooner the better.” Then Langford interposed, “No, not to-night, let us wait to the morning ” He then once more addressed me—- “ Please to understand, Mr. Parker, that we do not charge you with robbery, but we connot help suspecting you. ” “ I don’t go so far as you, Langford,” interposed Brocklebank hastily. “ I don’t even say that I suspect Mr. Parker ; I merely assert that a parcel of gold has disappeared. As a practical proof of my freedom from suspicion, I should like him to remain in my tent to-night. ’ “ Thank you, Mr. Brocklebank,” I answered, ‘ ‘ for all your kindness, but I cannot accept your offer. ” “ He means to bolt,” muttered Fry. “I do not mean to bolt, Mr. Fry,” I exclaimed, experiencing for the first time a sense of indignation which tended to lessen my despondency. ‘‘ I have no tent, so I shall lie in my blankets under a tree, and if you, Mr. Fry, or any other persons, choose to keep guard over me all night I shall not complain. ” “You had better accept my offer, Parker,’ urged Brocklebank corteously, “ There is a storm brewing over yonder,” “I cannot,” I answered. “I don’t mind getting wet. ” The politeness and civility with which all these people treated me—Fry excepted —cut me to the heart. Had they been a set of brutal ruffians, ready to take the law into their own hands, the keen sense of injustice would have deadened my grief ; but these men acted in the most cautious, law-abiding manner ; they even hesitated to charge me with the crime which they suspected I had committed. And how base a crime it was ! I was a friendless stranger, Brocklebank took me in, treated me as if had been his own brother, and I had apparently repaid him by committing a heartless robbery. [to be continued.l
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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 76, 20 March 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 76, 20 March 1880
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