Chapter XXI

Rather to you I send a joyous greeting,
With voice and hands uprais'd, and sparkling eyes,
The happy herald of our coming meeting.


By the light of a candle stuck in the neck of a bottle, Leigh Osman wrote letters. He had remitted his earnings to Captain Dell in liquidation of his debt to him, and he hoped shortly to be able to complete that payment; he was writing now to Rachel an account of her brother: it was a difficult letter to pen; not that the news was bad—quite the contrary, for he hoped he detected the growth of those latent gems of goodness and settled purpose that had hitherto been hardly suspected to exist; but the letter was a violation of the emotions that prompted the warm, loving address, the sympathy with each beat of the heart, which his communication would awaken; but, in his iron will, he bound down love, and substituted friendship and conventionality. He was alone, for his partners

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were spending the evening at the Commissioner's tent, and Ben Owen had not his master's disrelish for the pleasures of life presented by travelling circuses and rope-dancers. While Leigh hesitated how to conclude his letter so as neither to betray himself, nor wound by unnecessary formality, the canvas roof above him was violently shaken by some one stumbling over the cords, and Ben rushed in.

“Mr. Leigh!” he cried, “I've just had the greatest luck. I overheard some fellows planning to rob the tent; they know where the gold is—they watched us plant it; they will be here in a minute.”

To arouse their neighbours was the first idea, but the surrounding diggers had recently removed, for there had been a “rush” to another part of the creek, and they stood alone. Leigh thrust his letters into his pocket, and, pushing aside the trunk which served as a table, began to dig rapidly, assisted by the excited Ben. A small metal box was soon disclosed, and lifted from its concealment.

“It must go to the Commissioner's tent.”

“Empty it, Master—do empty it!”

“Why so?”

“To give the rascals a disappointment.”

There was no time for debate. Ben brought a strong canvas bag; the gold was removed into it, the box filled with stones and earth, locked, and buried, and the trunk dragged over it. The tread of several feet sounded a few yards distant; the man caught up the bag, and crept into the darkness without. Leigh followed, but hardly rose to his feet before he was thrown down, and a revolver pointed at his heart; passiveness was his only safety: there were several marauders, and he heard them go at once to the spot where the box was buried, disinter it, and come out; two others assisted his guard to bind his arms and feet, and then they retired. The fearful invasion occupied few minutes, and then he was again alone, but unable to assist himself or rise, and his limbs painfully cut by the cords. He had been calm and quiet, evincing no fear; yet the full horrors of his position were present to him, and a grateful acknowledgment to Heaven escaped his lips, with a deep sigh of relief. The young warm heart clings tenaciously to life.

A light shower of rain was falling, and Osman, in the comfortless prone attitude in which he lay, was chilled and suffering;

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far away he could see the glimmering of lights, and distant reports of a pistol or gun sometimes startled the echoes; he would have shouted right lustily, but feared to recal his assailants, and deemed silence the wisest. An hour, which felt like six, passed, and then the galloping of horses urged furiously up the steep awoke mingled hope and apprehension. Heedless of pits and banks, the horsemen advanced; the voice of Gilbert uttering his name met with a warm response; a few moments more, and his friends were severing the cords, and lifting him to his feet.

“Are you wounded?” was the alarmed interrogatory, for he staggered.

“No, only giddy—where is Ben?”

“All right, Master Leigh! We served the villains a trick they wont forget very soon; we gave 'um the cure de grass; it beats everything.”

“In what way did you administer the coup de grace?

“Why, Mr. Bain, I was a-telling you the trick we served them,” and, well satisfied with the aptitude and extent of his learning, he danced in exultation. The gentlemen's gratification was of a more sober cast. Osman's recent danger and escape prompted the desire to relinquish digging, but a mature debate rather decided them on remaining; and, depositing their gold in the safe care of the Commissioner, they were doing very well;—not making fortunes, but realising enough to at some future day put them in a position to enter advantageously upon some more desirable means of living. Thus were they determining, when the news of Captain Dell's death reached them.

But one course was open to Gilbert; that was, to hasten to his relatives, and, as far as possible, supply the place of the protector they had lost. During those days Leigh thought and acted, Gilbert was buried in despair; the conviction that he had at least hastened the old man's decease, drove him to distraction.

“You will not return to the field, St. Just?”

“No, Bain; never.”

“Nor you, Mr. Osman?”

“I shall not. You know I should have left some time since, but did not wish to leave while Gilbert stayed. Mr. Ralph, with whom I became acquainted in my search for Calder,

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informed me that he was wishing to open up a connection with some Dutch houses in the north, and wanted to find a suitable person to represent their interests there; and he offered me a place in his counting-house preparatory to conducting this branch establishment. I did not refuse, nor yet accept his offer, and believe he has not filled the post since he wrote to me.”

“But that would take you from the country?”

“It would; but if I live I may hope to return, no longer hampered as I now am.”

“That is, after some dozen years—mercenary, sallow, and with a liver complaint.”

“Not so bad, I would hope: four or five years will be the boundary of my expatriation.”

“You think so now, but when people are in a position to make money, they know not how to leave it.”

“Then I might remain here.”

“Gilbert, my boy, I am going with you,” suddenly added Bain. “What say you to dissolving partnership, Ducie?”

“I suppose I must consent, for I am not disposed to go.”

“I'll go in for a share.”

“Very good, Ben; agreed.

“So let it be: the sooner we leave the better,” returned Bain, and forthwith adjusted their mutual affairs.

A few days more, and the three left the gold-fields; they paused on the high land once more to view the strange animated scene. The ephemeral town was erected on either bank of a stream, and occupied a broad valley, above which rose hills, now robbed of their wooded covering. A last long look was taken in silence, and then, turning their backs upon the diggings, they started forwards with determined steps add hearts. What had been sinful and weak they determined to leave behind, and the future to which that morning gave birth—let it be to God's service.