THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
BUGCELLEB ANK’S TENT. A TALE OF UNFOUNDED ACCUSATION. As may be imagined, I passed, both physically and mentally, a miserable night, though the bodily inconvenience was trivial compared with the shame which consumed me. I lighted a small fire at the foot of a tree, and after eating the remainder of my biscuit, and drinking a pannikin of cold water, rolled myself in my blankets, and lay down. I had not the heart to buy tea or any other pro- ] visions at the itoyal Liver Store, for I felt that the proprietor would naturally believe the brazen-faced culprit was spend ?ng the proceeds of his villany ; and I determined not to go elsewhere, lest my accuser's should suspect that I meditated flight. I had just covered my head to shield my face from the keen south wind, which was whistling among the trees, when I heard a gentle womanly voice saying, close by mo—- “ Mr. Parker, my husband has bid me bring you a pannikin of nice hot tea. He saw that you had none. ” “Thank you, Mrs. Langford, I don’t want it.” “And he says you had better go and sleep in bis mate’s tent.” “ No, I am resolved to stay here.” “ At least drink the tea to please me,” she urged. “Perhaps you will drink it if I tell you, that though the others think you are guilty, I believe you are innocent.” “ Why do you think so, Mrs. Langford 1” I said uncovering my face, and raising myself on my elbow. “ I cannot tell; but you have not the face or the manner of a thief. lam sure you arc innocent, and, I pray God you may he proved so. There, I will set the tea by your side ; drink it, it will keep you warm. Goodnight.” “ Good night,” I murmured, and felt comforted. There -was one person who thought me innocent. For a long time I could not go’to sleep, and as I lay awake I wondered whether anybody was keeping watch. The howling of the wind among the trees made so much noise that my ears were unable to detect any stealthy movement of human feet ; but I afterwards learnt that morose Fry—without any feelings of personal animosity, but simply as a matter of duty —had posted himself in a mimosa bush in my immediate vicinity, and kept his finger on the trigger, of his revolver, lest I should make a sudden spring from my hard coach, and attempt to fly under cover of the darkness. At length I sank into an uneasy sleep, from which I was awakened about dawn by a sensation of extreme chilliness. I looked around ; the wind had lulled, and a steady soaking rain was coming down. I got up, shook myself, and as my fire had been quenched by the wet, walked over to the public fire in front of the Itoyal Liver. This fire had so thoroughly pentrated into the heart of the big log which formed its basis, that nothing short of a tremendous thunderstorm could put it out. I piled a heap of chips on the red embers, and presently produced a cheerful blaze, which afforded some warmth to my chilled limbs. By degrees the scattered inhabitants of the gully rose from their beds, and began leisurely to make preparations for breakfast, the day being too wet to admit of any “ sinking” operations. Amongst others, Mr. Fry made his appearance, looking more sour than ever, which was, no doubt, in some measure due to his self-imposed sentinel duty. Shortly afterwards the whole company, whom I designate as the Court of Inquiry, assembled in Brocklebank’s store. An animated discussion appeared to be taking place, and presently I heard Langford’s voice—- “ Well, we must not let the poor fellow starve. Fry, just go and ask him to come inside. ” “ I wouldn’t, if I was you,” answered Fry. “Nonsense, man; we’re not barbarians. ” So Mr. Fry put out bis head, and said, very gruffly—■ “ You’re to came inside.” 1 would have refused, but the steady chilling rain, and my famishing condition, for I had not eaten a good meal since the previous morning, overcame my fortitude and I obeyed the summons. “Guilty or not guilty, Mr. Parker, observed Langford, “ you must have som breakfast. ” So I sat down on a packing-case apar from the others, and silently ate the fooi which was proffered me. As soon as I had finished, Langfon said—“We have decided, Mr. Parker, b have this case investigated by the police Will you be kind enough to accompany u to the Camp “ Certainly,” I answered. “My wife and Adamson,” continue( Langford, addressing Brocklebank, ‘ ‘ wil take charge of the store while we an away.” “ And ye must leave us the tin box Mr. Brocklebank,” observed Adamson, i shrewd-faced old Scotsman. “Mistres: Langfcrd and I purpose to give it : searching examination.” “ Oughtn’t we take it to the Camp V asked Brocklbank, who had the box ii hand. “Idon’t think it’s necessary,” replied Langford ; ‘ 1 the police had better returr here, and examine it on the spot.” “ Yery well,” said Brocklebank, “ Here’s a strange thing,” he suddenly exclaimed, as he turned over the separate packages. “ Another parcel of gold ii missing.” “ Then Mr. Parker can’t be the thief,’ exclaimed Mrs. Langford joyfully. Sin had just entered the tent. “You know, John, that he was watched all night, and that he never stirred.” “He wasn’t watched all night,” growled Fry. “How’s that, Fry?” asked Langford. “I thought you undertook ” “To watch him ?” interrupted Fry. “So I did ; but I foil asleep in that mimosa bush for an hour and a half by my watch. He’d plenty of time,” he added, with a sour glance at me, to help himself if he pleased.” The extreme improbability that a thief would steal Brocklebank’s parcels of gold one by one occurred to my mind, and must have occurred to every reflecting person present. But as I had determined to say as little aspossiblo, I kept silence. Shortly afterwards we started for our destination. No attempt was made to keep me in formal custody, and to the eye of a chance passer-by we were simply a partjf of biuo-shirted, cabbage-tree-batted diggers walking along briskly together ; but I noticed that both Brocklebank and Fry bad their revolvers in readiness, and that they never suffered their eyes to stray from my person. We had reached the camp, and Langford had begun to narrate to the police superintendent there a circumstantial account of the supposed robbery, and was pointing out the painful suspicion which attached to myself, when the clatter of a horse’s hoofs was heard, and a moment later we saw Mrs. Langford, with her hair streaming in the wind from under her bonnet, and a heightened color in her cheeks, cantering towards the policebarracks. She was evidently a practised horsewoman, for she was seated calmly and securely feminine fashion on a masculine saddle, with one foot in the stirrup, and the other resting gracefully on her Breed’s shoulder. “John, my dear,” she exclaimed breathlessly, as she stopped her horse and
alighted without assistance, “Adamson wanted to ride old Jack, but I wouldn’t let him. I determined to bring the good news myself. Mr. Parker is innocant. The parcels of gold are all right.” “ All right 1” cried Brocklebank. “How can that be I” “ Why somebody—yourself, I suppose, Mr. Brocklebank —had folded two packets into one parcel. This has been done in two instances ; so that what we took for two packets, according to the label outside, were really four.” “ I am confident I never did so,” answered Brocklebank almost angrily. I need not describe the joyous leap which my heart gave as I listened to this most welcome intelligence. It is enough to say that everybody present crowded round me and shook me by the hand. When I say everybody, I do not mean Mr. Fry. lam not sure that he was not rather disappointed ; certainly he looked sourer than ever, but he had the civility to blurt out—- “ You are well out of it, Parker.” As we returned to Iron Bark gully, the rain ceased, and the sun shone out gloriously, as if to celebrate my restoration to innocence ; and a couple of hours later, Langford and his mates having temporarily admitted me to membership in their digging party, I was busily engaged in shovelling “-wash-dirt” into the “hopper” of their cradle. And now for the conclusion of my tale, which may appear somewhat surprising, but which I assure the reader is strictly true, as are all the main facts, of this narrative. I have altered the names of persons, but otherwise my story is a story of real facts, and some of these who were working on Iron Bark Gully in 1852 may possibly read this article, and be able to attest the truth of its statements. I had -worked very pleasantlj and amicably for some days in Langford’s party, sharing Adamson’s tent at night, when one evening Brocklebank took me aside, and told me he wished to say a few w r ords to me privately. I had seen very little of him since the supposed robbery ; I had ' fancied he rather avoided me, and not only me but all his former acquaintances. He no longer came out, as before, to gossip at the community-fire which burnt before his establishment, but as soon as business was concluded he shut ' himself up in his store, • and remained invisible till morning.
When he took me aside that evening, I was struck by the altered expression of
his countenance. His face was flushed, and there was an unsteady light in his eyes. I should have supposed that he had been drinking, but that I knew him to be a strict teetotaller, and that there was not a drop of intoxicating fluid in any of our tents, for in 1852 all spirit-selling on the diggings was carried on clandestinely, and was therefore shunned by such steady respectable folks as most of our neighbors were. “My dear friend,” said Brocklebank, taking me by the hand, “ I have never been able to forgive myself the misery you underwent. The thought has haunted me day and night—” “Don’t say anything more about it now,” I entreated. “You begged my pardon the other day until I was quite ashamed. It was, I dare say, a wholesome lesson for me. I shall have more pity for other supposed criminals in future.” “ Not,” pursued Brocklebank musingly, as if in soliloquy, “that I am personally responsible for your sufferings. The crime lies at other men’s doors.” I did not comprehend this last observation, but he proceeded to say—- “ And now I am going to beg a favor — a favor which I scarcely venture to ask of you after what you have undergane. I want you to sacrifice a night’s rest and keep watch in my tent to-night. I have received information,” he added, sinking his voice to an impressive whisper, “that to-night my store is to be attacked and plundered. I have plenty of arms. Will you come, Parker 1” “ 1 shall be delighted,” I said, warming at the prospect of an adventure in which I was more likely to play the part of thieftaker than thief. ‘ ‘ But wouldn’t it be well to tell Adamson, Langford, and the others, so as to have a strong party here to meet the scoundrels 1” “No, no,” he said mysteriously, grasping me by the wrist, “on no account. Don’t say a word to them. I will tell you why, to-night.” 1 could not, however, keep the duty
’ which I had undertaken to fulfil altogther , a secret, for I was obliged to tell Langford and Adamson that I was going to 3 sleep in Brocklebank’s tent. “ Mercy on the lad !” cried the old J Scotchman. “Why I should hae thocht 1 ye’d had enough of Brocklebank’s tent by this time. What does he want wi’ ye ?” 1 “He wants me for company. He’s rather nervous,” I replied evasively. } “ There’s something queer about Brock- ■ lebank,” observed Langford. “ He’s 3 grown very silent and very strange during the last few days. I hope he isn’t going to stop payment. There are twenty ounces of our hard-earned gold in his *■ hands.” * “ Nae fear o’ that,” answered Adamson. 1 With these few words he lighted his 1 pipe, and whistling,to his dog, stalked 3 forth, gun in hand, to look after a chance 1 opossum. , “ Well, Parker,” said Langford, I suppose you’d better go, but for goodness’ 1 sake don’t get into another mess.” “ I think there’s no fear of that,” I replied laughingly. “I don’t like Brocklebank quite as well as I did,” observed my mate—- ‘ ‘ there’s a curious suspicious look in his eyes, and he sometimes scowls at me as if 1 I had committed a crime.” 1 With these words our conversation terminated, and soon after I went into the Royal Liver Store for the night. Brocklebank was sitting on a flourbarrel, reading a book by the light of a candle. The flushed and excited look which had characterised his face earlier in the day had disappeared : his manner was calm, deliberate, and business-like. After what he had told me during our late interview, I was not surprised to see a capped and loaded revolver lying by his side, although I had been given to understand by Langford and others that our part of the diggings was almost as free from crimes of violence as an English country village. However, he made no allusion to the weapon at his side, and for a considerable time we sat conversing on various topics unconnected with the business for which I had visited his tent. By degrees the sounds produced by European civilization became fainter ; the last digger discharged the contents of his gun or pistol previous to reloading it, and even the dogs began to grow sleepy, and Australian Nature reasserted her reign in the melancholy moping cry of the morepoke, or Southern ewl, and the ceaseless chatter of the bull-frogs in an adjacent swamp. Then Brocklebank, quietly closing his book, and laying his hand upon his revolvei’, addressed me thus : [to be coktinued.l
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