“You’ve seen nothing?” he said.
“Divil a see,” replied the trooper. “It’s sartin to me he ain’t within fifty moiles av us this blessed minute.”
“It doesn’t seem likely he’d hang round here, does it?”
“The man ud be twin idyits what ud do it, knowin’ we’d be sartin sure to nab him, Misther Hardy.”
Harry was not disposed to smile, indeed he scarcely heeded Casey’s words; he thought he detected a faint sound of weeping within the house, and his heart was filled with a passionate longing to stand by his dear love in defiance of everything. Casey, looking down upon him, noted the convulsive movements of his clenched hands, and said with a laugh:
“Sure, ’twould be sorrer an’ torinint fer that same Shine if you laid thim hands on him now, me boy.”
Harry started to his feet and commenced to fondle the trooper’s horse, fearing to follow the train of thought that had possessed him lest he should betray himself. Shortly after Sergeant Monk returned.
“No go,” he said. “Anything turned up here, Casey?”
“Niver a shmell av anythin’, sor,” answered the trooper.
“Well, we can raise this siege, Hardy. That boy was mistaken, sure enough.”
“If he wasn’t having a game with us,” answered Harry.
“Urn, yes; that’s likely enough among these young heathens of Waddy. But Downy will be here again in the morning; we’ll see what he makes of it.”
Harry followed the police as they rode away, and returned slowly to his home. His anxiety for Chris’s sake, and his profound sympathy for her, did not serve to quell the wild elation dancing in his veins, the triumphal spirit awakened by the knowledge of her love and fired by her kisses.
Chris, sitting alone in the house, her face buried in her hands, felt, too, something of this exultation; but she nerved herself to look into the future, and saw it grim and starless. She saw herself the daughter of the convicted thief, the thief who had only narrowly escaped having to stand his trial for murdering her lover; the thief who had shifted the burden of his guilt on to the shoulders of an innocent man, the brother of her love. Could she ever consent to be Harry’s wife after that? she asked herself with sudden terror. Then she shut out the thought, and her heart sang: “He loves me! He loves me! “and there was joy in that no danger could destroy.
Detective Downy was in Waddy again on the following morning, his trip to Yarraman having been taken with the idea of interviewing Joe Rogers in prison and endeavouring to worm out of him some intelligence that might assist in the discovery of Ephraim Shine. But Rogers either knew nothing or could not be persuaded to tell what he knew, so the effort was fruitless.
After hearing the story of the previous night, Downy sent for Billy Peterson and questioned him closely; but the boy insisted that he had told the truth, and was quite positive it was the searcher’s voice he heard. The detective was puzzled.
“You made a close hunt about the house?” he said to Sergeant Monk.
“In every nook and corner.”
“Yet there must be something in this boy’s yarn. Shine is certainly in hiding somewhere near here. If he had made a run for it he must have been seen, and we should have heard of him before this. There might be a dozen holes in those quarries into which a man could creep. We must go over them. Don’t leave a foot’s space unsearched.”
The troopers spent several hours in the quarries, moving every stone that might hide the entrance to a small cave, and leaving no room for a suspicion that Shine could be lying in concealment there. For a Dick, who, in consideration of the seriousness of recent events with which he had been directly concerned, enjoying a week’s holiday, superintended the hunt from the banks; but he wearied of the work at length, and crossed the paddocks to join the men busy in the new shaft. Harry Hardy, McKnight, Peterson, and Doon were sinking to cut the dyke discovered by the Mount of Gold Quartz-mining Company. The mine had been christened the Native Youth; Dick, as the holder of a third interest, felt himself to be a person of some consequence about the claim, and discussed its prospects with the elder miners like a person of vast experience and considerable expert knowledge, using technical phrases liberally, and not forgetting to drop a word of advice here and there. It might have been thought presumptuous in the small boy, but was nothing of the kind in the prospector and discoverer of the lode.
The big shareholder did not disdain even to assist in the work, and it was a proud and happy youth, clay-smirched and wearing “bo-yangs” below his knees like a full-blown working miner, who marched through the bush with the other owners of the Native Youth at crib-time. Being their own bosses the men of the new mine went home to dinner, and dined at their leisure like the aristocrats they expected to be.
Prouder still was Dick when he discovered brown haired, dark-eyed little Kitty Grey loitering amongst the trees, regarding him with evident admiration and awe. He felt at that moment that he needed only a black pipe to make his triumph complete, and had a momentary resentment against the absurd prejudice that denied a boy of his years the right to smoke in public. Kitty had scarcely dared to lift her eyes to her hero for some time past: the wonderful stories told of him seemed to exalt him to such an altitude that she could hope for nothing better than to worship meekly at a great distance. She was braver now, she actually approached him and spoke to him, yet timidly enough to have softened a heart of adamant; but Dick, stung by a laughing comment from McKnight, would have passed her by with an exaggerated indifference intended to convey an idea of his sublime superiority to little girls, no matter how large and dark and appealing their eyes might be. Then she actually seized his hand.
“Don’t go, Dickie,” she said, “I want to speak to you. Miss Christina sent me.”
Kitty was a member of Christina Shine’s class at the chapel, and was one of half a dozen to whom Miss Chris represented all that was beautiful and most to be desired in an angel. The mention of Christina’s name served to divest Dick of all pretentiousness.
“What is it, Kitty?” he asked eagerly.
“She wants you. She says you’re her friend, an’ you’ll go to her,” Kitty spoke in a whisper, although the men were now well beyond earshot.
“Yes,” said Dick; “I’ll go now.”
“No, not now,” said Kitty clinging to his sleeve. “She says have your dinner an’ then go. an’ oh, Dickie, she’s been crying, an’ she’s all white, an’—an’—” At this the little messenger began to cry too.
“Is she?” said Dick, sadly. “When my mine turns out rich I’m goin’ to give her a fortune.”
“Oh, are you, Dickie?” said Kitty, beaming through her tears.
“Yes,” answered he gravely; “and then she’ll marry Harry Hardy an’ be happy ever after.”
“My, that will be nice,” murmured Kitty, much comforted.
“You ain’t a bad little girl.” He felt called upon to reward her. “You can walk as far as the fence with me if you like.”
Kitty was properly grateful, and they walked together to the furze-covered fence.
“Please don’t tell anyone you’re going to see her, Miss Christina says,” whispered Kitty, at parting.
“Right y’are,” Dick said, delighted with the mystery. “I say, Kitty, I think p’raps I’ll give you a fortune too.”
“Oh, Dickie, no; not a whole fortune, I’m too little,” cried Kitty, overwhelmed.
“Yes, a whole fortune,” he persisted grandly; “an’ maybe I’ll marry you.”
“Will you, Dickie, will you? Oh, that is kind!”
“Here.” He had turned over the treasures in his pocket and found a scrap of gilt filagree off a gorgeous valentine. “Here’s somethin’.”
Kitty thought the gift very beautiful, and accepted it thankfully for its own sake and the sake of the giver, as an earnest of the fortune to come; and went her way happy but duly impressed with a sense of the responsibilities those riches must impose.
Harry Hardy had loitered behind his mates on the flat, and when the boy caught up to him again he turned to him with nervous anxiety.
“What did that girl want with you, Dick?” he asked. “I heard her mention Miss Shine’s name.”
He noted the set, stubborn look with which he was now familiar fall upon the boy’s face like a mask, and he questioned no more on that point.
“Dick;” he said earnestly, “you’ll help her if you can. She’s all alone, you know; not a soul to stand by her, not a soul. You might get a chance sometimes to make things easier for her. Would you?”
“My word!” said Dick simply.
Harry wrung his hand, and Dick, looking into his face, was puzzled by its expression; he looked, Dick thought, as he did on that Sunday morning when he wished to flog the superintendent before the whole congregation.
“You’re a brick—a perfect brick!” said Harry.
“I’d do anythin’ fer her,” Dick replied.
“Thanks, old man. I’ll never forget it.”
It did not surprise the boy that Harry should thank him for services to be rendered to Miss Chris; he thought he understood the situation perfectly, and it was all very sad and perfectly consistent with his romantic ideas of such matters.
“Look here, Dick,” said Harry, before parting, “I owe you an awful lot, my life, p’raps; but for every little thing you do for her I’ll owe you a thousand times more—a thousand thousand times more.”
Dick’s wise sympathetic eyes looked into his, and the boy nodded gravely.
“You can swear I’ll stick up fer her,” he said.
Dick, whilst feeling quite a profound sorrow for Christina Shine, derived no little satisfaction from the position in which he found himself as the champion of oppressed virtue and the leal friend of a devoted young couple, the course of whose true love was running in devious ways. This was a role he had frequently played in fancy; but it was ever so much more gratifying in serious fact, and he took it up with romantic earnestness, a youthful Don Quixote, heroic in the service of his Dulcinea.
At dinner he favoured his mother with the latest news from the mine and glowing opinions on its prospects; and Mrs. Haddon, more than ever suggestive of roses and apples, beamed across the table upon her wonderful son, perfectly happy in the belief that Frank Hardy would presently be released, that their fortunes were practically made, and that she was the mother of the most astonishing, the cleverest, the bravest, and the handsomest lad that had ever lived. Dick’s claims to beauty were perhaps a little dubious, but it must be admitted that local opinion, as expressed in local gossip a thousand times a day, went far to justify Mrs. Haddon’s judgment on all the above points.
Dick escaped immediately after dinner, and went straight to Shine’s house. Fortunately the troopers, in response to information received, were searching a worked-out alluvial flat about a mile off, and Downy was pursuing a delusive clue as far as Cow Flat, so his visit excited no particular attention.
The appearance Chris presented when she admitted him shocked the boy, and stirred his heart with tenderest pity. Her eyes were deep-set in dark shadows, her cheeks sunken, and there was a peculiar drawn expression about her mouth. She who had always been a miracle of neatness was negligently dressed, and her beautiful hair hung in pathetic disorder. She seated herself and drew Dick to her side.
“Dick,” she said, “I am in great trouble.”
“Yes,” he answered, “I know—I’m sorry.”
“And you are my only friend.”
“No fear, Harry Hardy’d do anythin’ for you.”
“He cannot, Dick; it is impossible. He is generous and noble, but he cannot help me. Dick,” she drew him closer to her side, and held his hand in hers, “tell me why you would not speak about the gold-stealers and that crime below. Was it because of me—because you wanted to spare me?”
“Yes,” he whispered.
“God bless you! God bless you, Dickie!” she said catching him to her heart and kissing his cheek. “I guessed it. I do not know if it was right, but it was brave and true, and I love you for it.”
“Don’t cry,” Dick said consolingly; “it’ll all come out happy—it always does you know.” This was the philosophy of the Waddy Library, and Dick had the most perfect faith in its teachings.
“Thank you, dear. I am going to ask you to do something more for me. I am afraid this is not right either. I know it is not right, but we cannot always do what is right—our hearts won’t let us sometimes. Will you help me?”
“Yes,” he said valiantly, and would have liked nothing better at that moment than to have been called upon to face a fire-breathing dragon on her behalf.
“I want you to go to Yarraman and buy these things for me.”
She gave him money and a list of articles with the help of which she hoped to effect a disguise for her father that would enable him to leave the district. It was a very prosaic service, Dick thought, but he undertook it cheerfully.
“I want you to tell no one what you are going for. Catch the three-o’clock coach near the Bo Peep, and answer no questions.”
“I know a better way’n that,” said the boy, after a thoughtful pause. “Mother wants some things from Yarraman. I’ll get her to let me go fer ’em this afternoon.”
“Yes, yes; that is clever. But you won’t tell.”
“Not a blessed soul.”
“And when you get back it will be late—bring the things to me as secretly as you can. The troopers would be suspicious if they saw you—be careful of them.”
Dick had no doubt of his ability to deceive the whole police force of the province, and undertook the mission without a misgiving, his only regret being that it was making no great demands upon his courage and ingenuity.
“Dickie,” said Chris, kissing him again at parting, “I hope some day, when you are older, it will be a great happiness to you to think you helped a poor heartbroken girl in a time of terrible trouble.”
The boy would have liked to have framed a fine speech in answer to that, but he could only say softly and earnestly:
“I’m fearful glad now, s’elp me!”
Mrs. Haddon was easily deceived, and Dick caught the three-o’clock coach. The Waddy coach took two hours to do the journey to Yarraman and did not start back till after eight, but this was not the first time the boy had made the journey alone, and his mother had no misgivings.
Downy returned to the Drovers’ Arms late in the evening, having discovered that his supposed clue led only to a half-demented sundowner living in a hollow log near Cow Flat, and having nothing whatever in common with the missing man. The search of the troopers had been fruitless, too, and at this crisis the opinion of McKnight as a pioneer of Waddy was solicited. McKnight’s belief was that Shine was hiding away somewhere in the old workings of one of the deep mines—the Silver Stream perhaps—and he recalled the case of a criminal who got into the old stopes of a mine at Bendigo, and subsisted there for two weeks on the cribs of the miners, stolen while the latter were at work. The detective considered this a very probable supposition, and an invasion of the Silver Stream workings was planned for next morning.