The Gully of Bluemansdyke, and Other stories
Артур Конан Дойл

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The Gully of Bluemansdyke, and Other stories
Arthur Doyle

Doyle Arthur Conan

The Gully of Bluemansdyke, and Other stories

THE GULLY OF BLUEMANSDYKE

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 coal, Tom."

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 own cabins.

The silence was broken by Broadhurst, who was evidently still ill at ease.

"Say, George," he said, "what's become of Josiah Mapleton?"

"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 not appeared.

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 off."

"Not he."

"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 know."

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.
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