― 38 ―

Chapter IV. Treasure Trove.

ONE o'clock Sunday morning, and four resolute men are assembled in the dining-room discussing steaks underdone and strong tea, for they are different from the Professor, who lies in a hoggish state of stupor beneath them. They have much to do to-night that will make or mar them, and they require no wines nor spirits to brace their courage up to the sticking point for daring robbery, or cold-blooded murder. They are colonial born and the grandsons of convicts, inured to the sport of hunting from their earliest years, and astute as savages on the war-path; besides, they would rather gain their livelihood in this way, with its deadly risks, than live by any other means. They cannot help themselves, they are wild beasts, with a coating of craft and cunning, bred from convict fathers and mothers, and gifted with only the one ambition, to excel in this business.

There is not one of them who has not been state-school trained, and educated as highly as the standards can make them. They can all spell fairly, and can write with a flowing hand. They don't make any mistakes in grammar, they know their geography and some have even advanced in Euclid, but they are one and all hunters and sons

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of sportsmen. They like the excitements of the chase, and they will have it, even at the risk of their necks. Their present sports are a pawn-broker's shop and a colonial bank that has not yet failed.

Jack Milton is the only one amongst them who has no convict antecedents. He had become a master criminal, as Cromwell became a soldier, through the force of circumstances, but now he dominated them. They wanted fresh blood and a leader, for although they were wicked enough and false enough, yet the creative and inventive genius seemed to be destroyed. New South Wales seems always to want a leader, yet never to find one who does not swindle the country. There are no patriots amongst them. They cannot hit upon patriots, simply for the reason that patriots come plainly and simply costumed and without ostentation, whereas they want a flourish of trumpets, as the ancient Jews did when they looked towards a Messiah. Perhaps also it is the warmth or some other degenerating quality in the atmosphere that may be the cause of this deplorable decadence, but although the children of the second and third generation are wonderfully sharp, false, and crafty, they have not the quality to grasp greatness of soul, nor that grandeur of simplicity which stamps the hero. They can appreciate the smartness of a swindler after they are swindled, and indeed they seem to admire this sharpness, but they cannot comprehend an honest man.

Jack Milton was a big fellow amongst them, he

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could plan and execute grand coups, and he had, what they could not exactly comprehend, a staunch interest in his friends, therefore they appreciated his talents to plot out schemes, and get them out of the scrapes, and they instinctively bent to the principle which they could not understand, his good faith. Each man of that small gang would have sold Jack Milton if it had been made worth his while, yet each man knew that he could trust Jack Milton to a pennyweight. It takes a lot of personality to persuade state-school trained savages to trust in anyone.

The women were there, the smart handmaids whom Jack had chosen. They were the keenest criminals in Sydney, who had managed to escape, for six full days, the supervision of the colonial detectives. The page boy was a young imp who had served him on former occasions, and who could be trusted as a setter. The cook and housemaid had discarded their petticoats and now appeared daring young, callous cornstalks, and sun-freckled demons who would pause at nothing.

“Girls,” observed Jack when supper was finished, “you know your duty while we work. Cecil, my son, every three minutes, when you see the policeman approach, give us the hint, he passes and looks into the open pawnshop every three minutes, six minutes will do our business there if all goes well. The bank is guarded by a watchman, a housekeeper and a confidential clerk; a dog was also there an hour ago, but Barney has silenced him. I'll undertake to silence the watchman, the

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housekeeper and the clerk. Do you require any more grub or liquor?”

“No, boss, we have had enough. We are ready.”

“Come along then, get to your posts, Cecil and you girls: three quarters of an hour are all I need to do the whole business in, the biggest in my life.”

“What about the Professor?” enquired Barney, looking down on that prostrate hero.

“Oh, he is all safe, I dosed his last glass of Burgundy,” replied Jack. “Come on, boys, and brace yourselves up for work. The pawnshop first.”

They all put crape masks over their features, by way of precaution, not that they expected to be seen, yet still it was best to be on the safe side.

Silently they followed one another downstairs and into the commodious cellars of the establishment, the Professor still sleeping the sleep of unconscious infancy, while the girls and the page boy crept outside. It was with some pride that Barney showed them the excavations he had made on the one side, from the cellar to the bank, and on the other from the cellar to the pawnshop. They had the game clear before them if they could escape the watchful gaze of the police on the one side and the inmates on the other.

Jack and Barney were the mechanical engineers of the concern; they had bored the hole, and in a few seconds made the trap door to admit them to the premises of the pawnbroker, then they were all through and in the full glare of the gas light, and the open windows to whoever passed, for the pawnbroker had no shutters.

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Jack and Barney waited a second and then they rushed forward, pulling down and piling up boxes and packages between them and the windows. In two minutes exactly, the barricades were raised in a natural fashion, and they could lie panting behind, while the policeman made his usual survey.

The next portion of the work was easy as far as detection went, although requiring immense presence of mind and personal strength.

Three great safes were standing by the walls filled with valuables and money; but Jack Milton had his plans arranged beforehand, therefore, getting all the clothing and soft pledges he could from the shelves, he pitched them on the floor and then, with their crow-bars and levers they overturned the safes, and rolling them one after the other, shot them down into their excavated shaft, where they could break them open and examine them at their leisure. It took the four burglars nine minutes to remove these iron safes, that would have taken expert workmen a couple of hours, such is the effect of sport or excitement on the spirits and muscles of men. The other business was simple after this exploit, to dart to the till and rifle it between the visits of the police and to take what else was of value, leaving the show-cases untouched in the windows. In fifteen minutes from the time they had entered the pawnbroker's premises, the deed was completed and the pledges were their property.

Jack Milton left Barney and the other two men

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to break open the safes in the cellars while he penetrated the bank.

It was not difficult to enter, for he had undermined the place and silenced the watchdog. He also knew where the confidential clerk and housekeeper slept, and where he was likely to find the watchman.

One of the young men who had acted as a servant went with him, and together they stole upon the watchman, who was fortunately nodding by his table in an ante-room, a chloroform-saturated handkerchief soon settled him, and then they proceeded upstairs.

Fate had gone well with Jack Milton up to now. The housekeeper was easily managed, for she was asleep when they entered her bedroom, so that she never knew what caused her to sink into a deeper and more peaceful slumber, but with the confidential clerk it was otherwise.

A toothache had kept him awake that Sunday morning, so that, as the crape-masked burglars entered the room, he leapt from his bed and confronted them with a loud cry.

Then it was all over for the confidential clerk, for without a pause Jack rushed upon him and pinning him up against the wall, gave him the garrotter-grip, one grasp first on the shoulder and the elbow driven with sudden and savage force against the larynx, silencing his voice and breaking the apple. With a gurgling sound the poor man sank to the ground and all was quiet. Jack Milton was a murderer.

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He looked at his victim for a second with horror in his eyes, then with a heavy groan he dragged his accomplice away and made towards the loot. It would be time enough to think of his crime afterwards, at present his blood was fired up for the sport.

The dying cry of the clerk had not reached the policeman outside, and all the streets were peaceful on this Sabbath morning. Only Jack Milton knew that one life had been sacrificed on this raid, and he kept that secret to himself, so as not to disturb the unholy glee of his confederates over their winnings.

It has been a rich loot, all in all, with the pawnbroker's pledges and the bank hoardings, and he may now retire and exist in love and comfort on his lion's share of the proceeds. He is a wealthy man now, with what he has made to-night and what he had before. But that poor confidential clerk's death has to be avenged.

It does not take long to win a battle, kill a stag, or break into a bank; by three o'clock in the morning the confederates had divided their loot and made all their arrangements to part company. Jack Milton has his share, all in coins, jewels, and ingots, in his dogcart ready to drive off, and the others are satisfied with theirs.

A boat at the wharf waits to take them off to a ship ready to sail, and a couple of cabs, already arranged for, hang about a side street. They are taking a parting cup, and Jack stands amongst them silently, and thinking of that dead clerk, whom

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the others know nothing about yet. The clerk who will hang him, if he is not careful.

“Well, mates, you are satisfied, I hope?” says Jack, quietly.

“Thoroughly, boss. You have carried out the contract like a man. We may now leave old Sydney for a spell, but won't there be a blooming racket on Monday morning?”

“I expect there will be, but you'll be out of it, and I can cover my tracks. Mates, I have been a good pal to you, have I not?”

“The best going!”

“Then do me a favour. Take this drunken sot, the Professor, with you, and land him somewhere, for it won't do to leave him here.”

“You are right, mate, he might split on us,” said Barney. “We'll land him in America, where he is sure to prosper in that business of his.”

“That will do, Barney, take him with you, and here, give him these five hundred quids. We couldn't have done without him, and it's only right we should look after a chum.”

“Particularly if he is dangerous, as this one happens to be; here, boys, hoist the carcase along with the property.”

They raised the intoxicated and drugged Psychometrist and dragged him off to the cabs at the corner along with the loot, while Jack watched them going with an abstracted air.

Half an hour afterwards the Psychometric establishment was minus servants, attendants and Professor, then Jack turned with a heavy sigh, and

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led the pony, with the laden dog-cart, into the street.

He locked up the back-yard gate and no one checked his course as he went along. The policeman at the corner touched his hat to him when he passed by. He thought nothing of the eccentric movements of the white-haired partner of the Fashionable Fortune-teller, for he had become used to his ways; often had that pony taken an early morning exercise during the past week.

As he drove along he looked at the stars and tried to console himself with the reflection that no one could foretell what might happen in a campaign. Warriors go out to battle and kill for their country. and no one thinks of blaming them.

A life had been taken that night accidentally. On Monday morning there would be wild excitement, and a big reward for the murderer, but he would be with his faithful and lovely Rosa then, with all his traces covered and an assured future before him; that surely was worth the candle he had burnt, the risks he had run.

Four o'clock and he was at Mr. Chester's house, the bachelor's establishment which this astute lawyer kept.

Jack Milton knew very well that the housekeeper would have a holiday on this morning, therefore he felt safe as he led his horse and trap inside the back gate, and when he had shut that, he knocked at the kitchen door softly.

A moment, and then the door opened gently and a voice asked:

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“Who is there?”

“Jack, with some baggage.”

“Bring it inside.”

Mr. Chester did not help the housebreaker with his burden, and the packages were lifted from the dog-cart and carried indoors in the dark; then, when the door was closed and fastened, Mr. Chester struck a light and looked at his visitor with a scrutinizing gaze.

“What is this you have brought in these bags?”

“Fifty thousand pounds in gold,” replied Jack Milton quietly. “Put them away for me and invest them.”

“All right, leave them there for the present.”

“Have you told Rosa I'll be home to-night?”

“Yes, she expects you,” replied the lawyer.

“Good, I'll go now.”

“Good morning.”

“Good morning.”

They parted with these words and Jack led his pony and empty dog-cart out of the gate, which the lawyer closed and barred after him. After which he drove away into the country at a furious pace.