Below and On Top

Below and On Top

Chapter V

Edward Dyson

NEXT MORNING whilst Dick was having breakfast he was startled to see Mrs. Belman enter the kitchen. She was seeking sympathy and advice. Her boy had been ill all night, and was “queer” this morning, feverish and wild. Mrs. Haddon, a round, motherly little woman, had sympathy to spare for all the troubled in mind and afflicted in body. She advised the use of camomile tea. Camomile grew everywhere about Waddy, and Mrs. Haddon recommended it in varying shapes for all ailments. Dickie left the mothers discussing physics and diseases, and stole away. He was much concerned about his mate, and a guilty conscience advanced distressing accusations all day. There was another thing to trouble him—Agnes Brett’s wedding was to be solemnized on the following Tuesday; and in the meantime Dickie developed a curiosity about marriages and forms of marriage that taxed his mother’s knowledge and patience severely. On Tuesday Dolf was still very ill, but that fact did not restrain Dick from creating a most unseemly sensation at the Kiley-Brett wedding. His act provoked much talk and satisfied the wise-acres of Waddy that all their former suspicions as to the complete sanity of “that boy Haddon” were fully justified.

The chapel was crowded for the occasion. The rosy bride was smiling gaily, and perfectly composed in her abundant orange blossoms and a shiny silk dress, and the groom, in all the unaccustomed glory of a long-tailed coat, new lavender trousers, and gloves, faced her, looking confused and ungainly, and bearing himself like an ill-designed automaton.

Suddenly, at a most impressive point in the service, Dickie moved from his place, and, taking a prominent position in the aisle, cried in a loud, clear voice:

“I forbid this marriage!”

A peculiar hush fell upon the chapel, the minister was silenced, and all eyes turned wonderingly upon the amazing small boy in the aisle. Dick’s recent inquiries and his literary knowledge, gleaned from cheap fiction, satisfied him that to stop a marriage it was only necessary for somebody to stand up in the church and forbid the ceremony, and he stood there, prepared to take all the responsibility.

A little girlish giggling was heard from the back seat, and then a voice of authority called:

“Put that boy out!”

Brother Spence captured Dickie from the rear, and led him away. Outside the good brother was strongly moved to administer paternal chastisement, but, recollecting the character and temper of his captive, delivered only a stern admonition in choice Cornish, and let him go.

The marriage ceremony was finished, and the couple departed for a brief honeymoon; and Dick Haddon spent two moody days, with the poor consolation of knowing that he had done his best for Sim’s ghost. Now the spirit’s only chance of rescue lay in the possibility of there being somebody else in the world who cared for him. Dolf, they told him, was getting stronger, but he was not allowed to visit his mate, and there were hints of a mystery that filled him with suspicion. Could Dolf have proved false? Would he dare to risk the anger of the spirits by telling what he knew?

On the Friday night, shortly after dark, Dick encountered quite a crowd on the common, and his heart sank within him. The people were making for the Peep-o’-Day, and Brother Tresize, who led the way, carried a long line and some candles. Dickie was seized by one of the women.

“Here’s they boy Haddon!” she cried, dragging. her prize along.

Brother Tresize took him by the ear. Mr. Tresize was paid by the company to look after the mine while it was shut down, and he was conscious of having neglected his duty, but now he was full of zeal.

“Wha’s all this here sinfulness ’bout ghosts in the ole mine, you?” he asked.

“You le’ go ’r I’ll kick!” muttered Dick, sullenly.

Brother Tresize shifted his grip to the boy’s collar.

“Hows’ever, you’re found out, boy, an’ I do suppose they p’lice will be lookin’ for ’ee. So come along, you.”

Dick went willingly enough. He wondered what was known, and wondered even more what was going to happen. At the mine other men were standing about—Pearce, and Minahan, and Houten, and Spence, and Tinker Smith. The cover was off, and the rope from one of the capstans was rigged over the pulley-wheel, and hung in the pump shaft.

“He’s down beyant all right,” said Minahan. “Sure, he ain’t shown out since.”

Without further talk, Tresize, Houten, and Minalian equipped themselves with candles and started down the ladders, Tresize carrying the line in a coil about his neck. At the same time others commenced paying out the capstan rope, which travelled slowly down the shaft.

During the long wait that followed the chatter of the women never ceased, and Dickie gathered that Dolf had told the whole truth about their journey into the mine. Mrs. Belman carried the information to Brother Tresize, who set a watch, and to-night a stranger had been seen to come through the bush and make his way down the ladders. These men had gone below to take the mysterious intruder red-handed in whatever iniquity he might he engaged upon, and on top there was much speculation. Some thought the man must be a criminal escaped from justice—a murderer, no less—the artistic verities demanded that; others concluded he was mad. Dickie was questioned, and threatened, and abused, but he shut his lips tight, and said never a word. He stood there as stubborn, unamiable, and aggravating a little imp as the women had knowledge of.

At length there was a call from Minahan, half-way up the ladders:

“Hello, on top! Someone ride like blazes fer a docthor!”

The people stared blankly into each other’s faces for a moment, a woman screamed, and then a young man broke away from the crowd, and fled across the common. There was another call:

“Heave up—man on!”

The men rushed the capstan, and the long arms swept round, but it was necessarily slow work, and the rope came creeping up out of the black depths, whilst the crowd, standing about the shaft, watched it in silence, with grey, expectant faces. There was a good moon, but a lantern was set at the mouth of the shaft, shedding its feeble light upon the tardy rope. The demand for a doctor meant something serious, perhaps a tragedy, and stout, voluble, assertive Mrs. Tresize was subdued, crushed into meekness. Maybe brother Tresize was the victim.

“Easy there!” a warning call to the men on the capstan, and then the figure of a man stole up out of the shadows, and the light of the lantern fell upon it, hanging limply from the rope, to which it was securely bound. One side of the face was deathly white, the other showed black in the dim light. About the head was a rough bandage, and from under that and through the thick hair crept a sluggish flow of blood, dyeing the whole cheek.

“Phil Houten!” screamed Mrs. Tresize, and then the buildings and the timbers and tips of the big mine echoed and re-echoed the eerie laughter of a woman. Two others seized Mrs. Tresize, and patted, and petted and cajoled her, but she kept up that wild, irrelevant laughter for several minutes. Meantime they had set the unconscious Houten upon the long grass near the office, and the other women were gathered about him, each eager to assist in the work of washing and bandaging. Woman has the keenest sympathies, and she loves to indulge them.

“Down wid the rope once more!” cried Minahan from the depths, and the great wooden capstan was reversed, and again the men ran it at their best speed. Running a capstan is exhausting work, and finds your weak spot sooner than a whole council of doctors, consequently the best speed was a slow trot; but the crowd had a diversion in Houten, who continued in an unconscious condition, and whose head showed several bad wounds. Evidently the stranger below had made a good fight for it.

Dickie’s mind was in volcanic condition, throwing up many theories, but he clung to his faith in Sim’s ghost, and awaited developments. These people were flying in the face of the supernatural; Houten was there to teach them what they might expect—no one would heed him.

“Ease her!” cried Tinker Smith, and again a face came up out of the darkness of the mine, and Dickie started forward. This time the face was that of the ghost—its eyes fixed on Dick menacingly; and Dick met them bravely, and he shook his head in answer to the accusation he saw there.

Sim’s ghost was also bound and tied to the rope.

“Keep a tight grip av him,” said Minahan, who appeared on the surface a moment later; “he’s a tearin’, howlin’ divil t’ fight.”

Minahan bore corroborative detail in the shape of a cut forehead, a black eye, and a shirt torn to rags; and Tresize, who next appeared, had not escaped without proofs of the prisoner’s prowess in combat.

The ghost was bound hand and foot, and strong hands held him, whilst curious eyes turned upon Tresize.

“Gold stealin’!” said Tresize, with the gratified air of a man who has big news.

This loosened tongues. It was something to have discovered anything worth stealing in the old mine.

“Where?” “How?” “Where ’bouts?” Each man had a question.

“Sthruck a dacent patch this side the incline in Number 2,” said Minahan. “Must have known the place. Opened out off the main droive, an’ he’s bin workin’ there fer weeks. He have a puddlin’ tub an’ a cradle down there, an’ carried water from the shaft. There’s manny a week’s work done. Be me sowl, I believe he have been livin’ there!”

Brother Tresize held up a pickle bottle, in which there was much coarse gold.

“They man have more’n this somewhere for sure.”

“Who is he, anyhow?” and the light was thrown upon the scowling face of the stranger. “What’s yer name, mate?”

The ghost replied with vigorous profanity.

“I know him, I reekerlect!” and Tinker Smith thrust a crooked, accusing finger in the man’s face—

“Bill Masters—useter work here ’bout seven year ago. How are yer, Billy?”

Bill Masters cursed the little fossicker with great spirit, and relapsed into sullen silence. Then the party took up its wounded and its prisoner, and carried them to the township, and Dickie followed after, disgusted. He had forgiven much in this ghost, but a ghost cannot be bound with cords and carried into captivity by mere mortals. Whatever spirits might haunt the drives and shoots of the Peep-o’-Day, it was certain that the ghost he and Dolf had interviewed was a shocking impostor. Dick’s latest romantic illusion fell from him like a garment, and his faith in Sim perished with the rest. Next day he was back with the boys of Waddy again, fresh and hungry for devilment.

But there followed the trial of Bill Masters, at which Dick was a witness, and throughout which everybody had a very great deal to say, excepting only the man most concerned, and he said nothing. It was shown that Masters had worked in the Peep-o’-Day, and it was concluded that he had discovered a patch in the main drive, which followed the gutter. The patch was hardly more than a sudden widening of the gutter carrying the gold. He had clayed this over and left it, probably with the connivance of his mate, and with the idea that some day he might have the opportunity of working it. The shutting down of the mine gave him that opportunity. What Bill Masters left of the patch was rich in coarse gold. What he took out of it was known only to him self; but the miners of Waddy were satisfied it was enough to recompense him for the five years’ hard labour imposed upon him by the solemn judge.

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