Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 5/Of a man who fell among thieves
OF A MAN WHO FELL AMONG THIEVES.
In a voyage I made to the Sandwich Islands, chiefly for the purpose of conveying to King Kammehammeha a supply of champagne and bottled beer, an application was made by an Englishman there for a passage in my vessel to Sydney. I was not at all disposed to comply with the request, for I could only do so at considerable personal inconvenience; but it was urged so strongly by the applicant that I at last consented, partly because we were under some obligations to him, but chiefly because of the truth of his representations that if I refused, the individual on whose behalf he made the application might have to remain there many months before another vessel would touch at the island which was not bound for California, to which State he had excellent reasons for not returning.
The captain of a vessel has something else to do for some hours after leaving port without paying attention to passengers, or even thinking of them, and it was not until the third day after we had put to sea that I remembered I had a passenger on board. The sea being remarkably smooth, I was rather surprised at not seeing him on deck all that day, and still more when three or four days more passed over without his making his appearance. I enquired of the steward if he was ill, and found that he never complained, that he took whatever food was brought to him in his cabin, but ate very little of it, and never uttered a wish for anything in particular. As he had a perfect right to remain in his cabin if he so pleased I never attempted to interfere with him, though I was really afraid that he might make himself ill while on board, a most painful occurrence for the captain of a vessel which has no surgeon. Several times I directed the steward, when he took his meals into his cabin, to make the remark that it was very fine on deck, but he took no notice, and I never once set eyes on him from the day I sailed from the Sandwich Islands until he came on deck to go ashore at Sydney, and then I was too busy hardly to look at him.
After landing the cargo I had on board, my partner and I came to the conclusion that as there were a good many persons in the town waiting for a vessel bound for England in which they might take a passage, that it would be a profitable way of employing the Tasmania to clear her out, and make a voyage to the mother country with passengers, returning with freight.
There were fewer ships sailed from Sydney to England at that time than there are now, so that we had no trouble in disposing of the berths, our chief difficulty in the matter being how to crowd the greatest number of berths into the least possible space. After we had been three or four days at sea, and things had begun to shake into their places, I had time to notice such of the passengers as made their appearance on deck, and among them I recognised the man I had brought from the Sandwich Islands. He was of remarkable height, had white hair, one side of his face quite covered with rag, and a thick woollen comforter round his neck, which I never saw him without during the whole voyage. He had not now a cabin to himself, and it was perhaps his desire to obtain solitude which induced him to adopt the opposite course of proceeding to that he had followed in his passage to Sydney. Instead of keeping below he was on deck every morning directly after daylight, and, except at meal times, he never left it until long after the lights were put out at night. As he came on deck he used to take a camp-stool, plant it close to the stern of the vessel, and never stir from there except when the bell rang for meals. If anybody addressed an observation to him, he as far as I saw took not the least notice of it, nor could the servants often get a reply from him if they had occasion to ask him a question. I never saw a man, unless it were a fakir in Calcutta once, so entirely absorbed in his thoughts as this man was. For a long time an object of speculation to the idle passengers, and continually stared at by them, he yet sat there without appearing to hear or see anything, and I have seen great tears rolling down his uncovered cheek, which he made no attempt to hide or wipe away. There was nobody on board who did not sympathise with him, and the general opinion was that he must have undergone some terrible misfortunes.
I believe not a few of them would have made a considerable pecuniary sacrifice to have learnt what these were, but they never did.
My ship was by no means a clipper, but a few days more or less in a long voyage is not a matter of much consequence. The longest voyage must, however, end, so that at last we arrived in the Downs. But here the wind, which up to this time though light had been favourable, fell off, and when it rose again, had shifted to a quarter which compelled us to anchor. This was very vexing to the passengers, who now that they were so near to the land were almost frantic with impatience to get ashore, and a Deal boat happening to come alongside to know if we had any letters to send ashore, as many as could be accomodated in her left the ship, and among them the silent passenger, whom I have never seen since.
What with one cause of delay and another, it was three months after this before I had all the cargo on board, and worked out of the St. Katherine’s Dock on my return voyage to Sydney, which port I reached in due time.
As my partner and I were dining together at his house on the day I landed, a servant brought in a parcel from the countinghouse, and laid it on the sofa; at the same time my partner took a letter from his pocket, and handed it to me; it ran as follows:
Dear Sir,—The parcel sent herewith contains papers belonging to the passenger whom you took on board at this place, and are probably valued very highly by him. I do not know his address in Sydney, but you probably may. Will you have the kindness to hand them to him, and oblige
Yours faithfully,J. Elton.
Capt. Walter Browne, Sydney.
Of course I was unable to comply with the request, and put the parcel away safely, intending to take it with me, and return it to Mr. Elton the next voyage I made to the islands, but this intention was frustrated by that gentleman leaving there for the United States before I arrived; there was nothing else, therefore, to be done with it, but to keep it, on the chance that the owner might write for it to be sent to England. I kept it a long, long time, but no letter came respecting it, till at last, one day, when at sea, and it happened to meet my eye, it suddenly occurred to me that I should be justified, then that it was my duty to open it, with the view of ascertaining if the contents would not give me some clue to finding the name and, perhaps, the address of the owner. Further consideration made it so evident that this was the right and proper course to adopt, that I opened it. I did not find what I looked for, but I found a roll of closely-written foolscap,—written, I presume, by the Englishman whom I have called Rawlinson, the same who was my passenger from the Sandwich Islands to Sydney, and subsequently to England;—other papers, written by different hands, and a few pieces of quartz containing gold. From the, length of time that has elapsed since, the owner is probably dead, and there can be no harm in my putting the contents of these papers into the form of a brief narrative.
Among the earliest arrivals at San Francisco, after the discovery of the existence of gold in California, was an Englishman named Rawlinson, and his two sons, Arthur and Geoffrey. All three were of great height and strength, and many a man who saw them walking along the streets together would have been glad to have joined them in their gold-seeking operations. At this time the city had a large number of miners in it who had been successful at the diggings, and the sight of these men squandering their money in the most wasteful manner, and indulging in the wildest debauchery so inflamed the minds of people with the desire to become rich with equal rapidity, that it was only by paying enormous wages that a servant could be kept even for a month or two, at the end of which time, having sufficient money to purchase the requisite tools, he would start off in search of gold. The Rawlinsons were anxious to get a man whom they could trust, to go up with them for the purpose of preparing their food and taking care of their tent; but they soon saw that this was impracticable, and, like others in similar circumstances, they gave up the idea, and determined to do the best they could for themselves. They bought two mules to carry their baggage, as being likely to be of more service to them than a vehicle, and, in company with a number of others, they set out for the “placers.” Although they had no objection to travel with others, any more than others had to travel with them, up to a certain point, yet on reaching this point they most of them separated, each party taking its own course, anxious, if they made a discovery, to have the entire benefit to themselves. With the help of a tolerable map and a compass, the Englishmen managed to direct their course pretty well in the direction in which they had decided on going, the region which they were bent on reaching having been selected from their belief that it was the place referred to by an old traveller as abounding in gold, which he said, “lay about there in lumps like stones in other parts of the world.”
Travelling among the mountains of the Sierra Nevada was very difficult, and their progress was very slow, but this last they thought of little moment, because it gave them an opportunity of examining the nature of the rock and the earthy deposits as they went. Journeying on and on, day after day, they came to a narrow valley or gorge in the mountains, about a hundred yards in width, and with a little stream of water winding through it, most beautifully transparent. Contrary to what might have been expected in such a region, the banks of the stream were covered with rich vegetation, which must have been fed by the moisture condensed on the sides of the mountains i trickling down during the night and early morning. The mules had by this time become so worn and bruised by excessive hard work and falls, that but for this unexpected Goshen they must soon have died; the family decided, therefore, on spending as many days here as they might find necessary to bring the animals into good condition, and to explore the valley until they had satisfied themselves whether it was auriferous or not. There being nothing to kindle a fire, they suffered greatly from the cold the first night, much more than when they had slept in more exposed places, which they supposed to be owing to the cold vapour in the atmosphere; but by moving a few hundred yards higher up the valley they found a pine wood, which enabled them to sleep in comfort, and also gave them protection from the attacks of wild beasts, in the event of there being any in the wood. That there were animals of some kind they knew, from indications scattered thickly round; but this was cheering rather than otherwise, for the flour and meat they had started with was nearly exhausted. The first thing they did after discovering the wood, was to fell one of the pines, strip off the larger branches, and after pointing the ends, drive them into the ground in a circle, so as to form a shelter for the mules and themselves at night against the attacks of bears. As for any other kind of molestation, they never thought of it; the solitude they had experienced since they had entered the mountains had prepared them for any amount of isolation, and nothing would have surprised them more than the sight of a human being. The day they began their exploration, they kept together for mutual protection, and had the good fortune to meet with a bear, which had either never seen a man before, or was over-confident of his powers, for he raised himself on his hind quarters, and never offered to run away. They shot him; and as he was much too heavy to carry, they rolled him into the stream, and thus dragged him easily along to the place where they had camped. Their minds being now at ease on the score of food, they gave themselves up fully to the business which had brought them there, and the following morning each took his hammer and his gun, and commenced an independent search for gold. On this day the father was the only one of the party who was in any degree successful; the sons returned with aching arms, only to say that they had not met with the slightest trace of the metal. The discovery made by the elder Rawlinson was merely a block of granite, which exhibited a few specks of gold, but as these sometimes indicated a large quantity of the metal within, it was not to be passed over without further examination. The granite was of a white colour, with a reddish tinge here and there, and excessively hard, so that they had to work a long time before they were able to satisfy themselves that it was not sufficiently rich to make it worth quarrying. Such disappointments as these are not at all unusual in prospecting, and soon cease to be felt as such. When they had given all the time necessary for examining the rocks within a convenient distance of the place where they had camped, they reloaded their rifles, and ascended the valley a few miles, where they again camped, with the determination that if they remaind unsuccessful, they would search for an outlet from the gorge, and continue their journey to the point they had set out with the intention of visiting.
The morning after they had encamped afresh, Geoffrey drove the two mules out to graze as usual. They had so completely recovered from their fatigue by this time, that their first proceeding was generally to lay down and roll; on this morning one of them jumped into the stream, and after taking a hearty drink, scrambled out on the opposite side; but in getting out a part of the bank gave way, and rolled into the water, his feet shipping back along with it. A second and more violent struggle enabled the animal to get clear, but in this struggle his hoofs cut deep into the loose ground, now deprived of the protection of the turf, and Geoffrey saw glittering signs which caused him to shout to his father and brother to come, he himself plunging into the river, and eagerly thrusting his hands into the loose soil, and letting it run through his fingers. With eager eyes they all three examined the dirt, and were delighted with the appearance it presented. Grains of metal of a pale yellow colour were scattered thickly among it, which they instantly perceived to be gold. Arthur ran and fetched a spade with which he dug deeper into the ground, and the deeper he went, the richer it became. Holes were dug in several other places, which showed that the same degree of richness prevailed for about two hundred yards below, and for three times that distance above, after which it became evidently poorer; beyond these points they did not pursue their examination.
After their joy had had time to moderate itself, and they were capable of thinking, a little consideration led to the conclusion that these particles could only have been washed down the side of the mountains at this spot, and they all three rushed off to examine it. It was no wonder that the sight they saw prevented them from uttering anything but exclamations for several minutes. They were looking at a wall fully one-third of which was gold; not bright dazzling gold, as it appears in jewellers’ shops, but a dull metal of a pale yellow colour, not easily to be distinguished from the rock at a short distance. Moved by an idea which occurred to them simultaneously, they returned to their encampment in profound silence. They all knelt down,the father setting the example, after which he offered a brief thanksgiving to the Supreme Being, and besought His protection to enable them to benefit by their discovery. They were not ordinarily what are called “over-religious” men; but the wonderful discovery they had made had so excited them, that they felt instinctively the necessity for an exercise which by its solemnity should calm their minds.
After this was over, they consulted with respect to the course of proceeding they should adopt for getting the gold down to San Francisco, and it was eventually decided that Rawlinson and his eldest son, Arthur, should go there with as much gold as the mules could carry, and endeavour to organise a plan by means of which it might be transported thither in larger quantities. Geoffrey agreed to remain on the spot, partly with a vague notion of defending their rights, though in reality they had none, and partly to make sure of securing a good quantity of gold, in case any other band of explorers should enter the valley. Before Arthur and his father left, they assisted in digging a hole in which to bury the gold.
To give it the appearance of a hole which had been dug in searching for the metal, and then abandoned, the earth to a certain depth was heaped up beside it, the remainder being thrown into the river which ran alongside. Other holes similar in appearance were dug near it, in order that if any person should suspect a “cache,” and try the test of digging, the chances should be against their pitching upon that which contained the gold.
The two elder Rawlinsons having started on their return journey, Geoffrey was left to his own resources. For four days he worked hard at the cradle, although there was not the least occasion for it, since the proportion of gold in the dirt was so large that every cradleful of stuff yielded several pounds weight of the metal, and it could only be the work of a few hours when his father and brother returned, to wash as much as would load all the mules they could bring with them. He knew this, nevertheless such is the innate greed for gold in the human heart, that he could not sit still, and be content with this knowledge, he felt that he must pass it through his hands before he could take possession, and that he must transfer it from the place where the operations of nature had deposited it, to the depository which he had himself assisted in making. By the afternoon of the fourth day he had filled the hole with gold, and covered it with the turf which had been cut from the surface; putting the grass downwards, and throwing in a quantity of the dirt upon this, which he wetted with water from the stream, the sun’s rays speedily hardening it almost to the consistency of a brick.
Having finished this matter he resolved that he would, the following day, give himself some relaxation, which was, besides, necessary, as he began to feel the want of animal food, the dried flesh of the bear which had been allotted to him being not only unpalatable but almost as indigestible as leather. The pine-wood extended with occasional gaps from the original encampment up to the new one, and as far beyond as he could see, and the number of birds which frequented it was large enough to render it easy to shoot as many as he might require for his maintenance, so that he had nothing to fear on the score of want of food. He did not shoot more than he thought would be sufficient for the day’s consumption, after which he returned, and gave himself up to the luxury of a day’s idleness, feasting his eyes on the wealth spread out before him, and his mind with the contemplation of what he would do when he got back to England.
Having once given the reins to his imagination, he found it difficult to sleep; moreover he was not tired out by labour as on other days, and he had to pay the penalty which the possession of riches is sure to inflict, at any rate, on their first acquisition. He fancied he heard movements round the fence, and the idea of bears suggested itself immediately; and when he had listened a long time without hearing anything, and had convinced himself that there was no such animal near, other fears forced themselves upon him. In short, it was getting daylight before his rifle dropped from his hand, and he was sound asleep. After this happened, he had more reason to be alarmed if he had but known it, for when he woke he found three Indians sitting inside the little encampment and looking at him attentively. Two of them were young, but the third was an elderly man, who might have been the grandfather of the girl who was sitting at his feet. If they looked attentively at Geoffrey he did the same by them, for, from what he had heard of the natives generally, he imagined they would attempt to murder him. It was fortunate, for his peace of mind, that they had come upon him in the way they had; for when he found they did not attack him, he remembered how easy it would have been for them to have killed him as he lay sleeping, and as they had not molested him he concluded they would not do so, and hastened to offer them tobacco, which they seemed quite capable of appreciating. They could only communicate with each other by signs, and their success in this way was not very encouraging, but they could show him where to find a bear, which he shot, and, after a little while, the girl would run about with him everywhere, and was a very amusing companion. After staying a few days two of the Indians went away, but the eldest remained, and his child with him, until Geoffrey’s father and brother returned.
Let us return now to the two Rawlinsons who had started for San Francisco. Though they had not to contend, like Geoffrey, against the almost insupportable weariness of absolute solitude, they had anxieties of another kind. The way was rough and fatiguing, and they never knew when they might be attacked and murdered, either by Indians or by some of the ruffianly whites who were suspected of pursuing this method of acquiring the means of supporting a life of debauchery. This made them anxious to get to the end of their journey as soon as possible, and, on the other hand, it was essential to be careful of the mules, and not hurry them, lest one should die or fall from exhaustion, and so delay them perhaps for days. However, they met with no accident, and in course of time reached San Francisco, and disposed of their gold, selling a portion, and consigning the rest to a house in London, with whom they had made an arrangement before leaving England.
So crowded was the city with people who poured in incessantly, and so vast the number of those who left it every day, that the Englishmen never imagined that anybody paid any attention to their proceedings. They made little excursions from the city, and picked up a mule here, and another there, at prices which could hardly be termed exorbitant at any time, and still less at a period when animals sold in the open market were fetching unheard-of prices, and the competition was such that more than one man lost his life from having been able to outbid another who had an equal desire to get possession of the animal, but not equal means. Though they had accomplished all this with as little delay as possible, it yet took several days to do, and in that time Arthur had frequent opportunities of observing the kind of life which miners led in the city. Those who had just come in with a good supply of gold-dust, commenced by indemnifying themselves for their long, and forced abstinence by the most gluttonous indulgence in eating and drinking. When the palate could no longer find enjoyment in these things, excitement was sought for at the gaming-table, and if the good fortune of the miner followed him, there was hardly any extravagance of which he would not be guilty in his desire to get rid of the money which had, so to speak, forced itself upon him. To many of them the possession of too much money was an actual burden from which they were rather glad to be relieved, since they had no person to whom they could trust it, and their faith in banks was of the weakest. Some who had more foresight, or acting on what they believed to be prudent advice, invested their gold-dust in the purchase of one or more diamonds. There were several diamond-merchants in the city, but the man who was reputed to hold by far the greater number was one who called himself Lazarus Levi. This may or may not have been an assumed name, but there was very little resemblance to a Jew in his appearance. He seemed to have many friends among men who appeared the richest in the city, and these frequently recommended miners who had been more than usually fortunate to invest their money in the purchase of a diamond, as being not only profitable as an investment, but as a simple and easy method of carrying property from place to place. Arthur was strongly advised by one of these to adopt this course, which had, in fact, many recommendations in its favour, but his father’s arrangements had already been made, and they had now no gold to dispose of. What his adviser probably was, and what Lazarus Levi certainly was, will be developed further on.
What with getting saddle bags made of sufficient strength to sustain a heavy weight, though with rather a weak and flimsy external appearance, and the purchase of mules and other necessaries, including revolvers and a supply of gunpowder, it was the eleventh day from their arrival at San Francisco when they set out on their return to where Geoffrey was waiting for them. The train consisted of ten mules, laden with flour and other provisions, as though it was a trading speculation which the Englishmen were about to make among the miners. This was thought prudent to prevent suspicion of their real object, though they adopted it rather as a precaution than from a conviction that it was necessary, for, as I have already remarked, they did not imagine that anybody took any notice of their movements; there was, too, a good deal more bulk than solidity in their packages.
I must now turn to another packet of papers, to give some necessary information respecting a powerful gang of wretches which at that time existed in San Francisco.
Most of the inhabitants of this city, and, probably, many persons in Europe, will remember a rather large white house which stood about a mile and a-half distant from the city. The body was built of stone, but the wings were mostly of wood, and its general appearance in the situation in which it stood was very attractive. This villa was the residence of a Mr. Norris, reputed one of the richest merchants of California. Beside being the owner of considerable house property in the city, he was the owner of several vessels, and was not more remarked for his riches than for his liberality in spending them. His house was open to his friends, and those who happened to pass there frequently, or who went there on business (which was not often, as he attended regularly at his office every day) noticed that he must have a large number of them, who seemed to make his house their home. It takes a man who has lived in a country in a condition little short of anarchy to realise how many crimes may be committed without attracting public attention. Individuals may he murdered, but unless they happen to have friends, or to be well-known characters, nobody troubles himself about the matter. The bodies are thrown into a hole, and except the persons who perform the last ceremony which civilisation demands, there are few who are even cognisant of what is going on around them. There is, however, an exception to this rule, as for example, when a series of murders are committed, attended with peculiar circumstances. Therefore, notwithstanding the greater part of the population of San Francisco was continually changing, and most of them were strangers to each other, people began to talk of the frequency with which dead bodies were discovered in a nude state. They were almost invariably stabbed to death, and no one could mention an instance in which this was not the mode of assassination employed, though it was sometimes accompanied with a fractured skull, showing that the victim had been probably struck down before the death-wound was inflicted. Sometimes the clothes were found near the body, torn or cut to pieces; but this was only in secluded places; generally they had disappeared altogether. Speculation became busy as to the reason why the perpetrators of these crimes should take the trouble to undress their victims; the most commonly received opinion was, that it was done to prevent identification of the body; but even those who accepted this theory felt there was something incomprehensible in this excessive precaution. Had they been aware that in every case the dead body was that of one who in his lifetime had been a customer of Lazarus Levi, the diamond merchant, they would not have been long in finding another explanation.
The secret society, or band, or whatever we please to call them (in their papers before me they style themselves “The Fifteen,” a somewhat dramatic denomination which they most likely borrowed from an old romance, for there is evidence in these very papers that the number was sometimes greater, sometimes less than this) held their meetings in Norris’s house, who was the prime mover and controller of the gang, and seems to have had the conduct of their affairs. for the business of merchant was carried on in a legitimate way, and yielded a very large sum annually, especially as it was conducted on the principle of receiving everything and paying nothing to large creditors who could, without exciting suspicion, be reduced to a condition in which they were rendered incapable of enforcing their rights. There was nothing like a military organisation of the association, no blind obedience to Mr. Norris’s commands, who could only suggest, or advise, the same as either of the others; but his influence for several reasons was very much greater, and chiefly from their having selected him to conduct their affairs. They had a common understanding that each should act honourably by the society, and as they were so numerous, and no man acted alone, with one exception, there was little chance of either of them defrauding his associates. The exception was Levi, who, in selling a diamond, had an opportunity of concealing a portion of the gold he received in exchange, of which opportunity he availed himself as far as he thought it safe to do, and I may as well relate at once with what result to himself.
It was a rule among the members of the band that they should abstain from calling at Norris’s office in the city, but there were three among them beside his principal assistant in his business (who was likewise one of them) who had a secret understanding with each other, and who paid no attention to this rule, though they carefully concealed their disregard of it from their companions. At the time when public attention became roused to the frequency of the commission of murders, under the circumstances already referred to, these met in Norris’s office, and, after a little talk, he told them that he had long suspected Levi of keeping back a part of the gold he received in exchange for their diamonds, and had satisfied himself of this on several occasions very easily. He then proposed that, as Levi had been dishonest to his associates, and, as it would be unsafe to continue the system of recovering their diamonds by dispatching his customers, for fear of leading to a discovery, it was advisable to put an end to the business and to Levi together. The suggestion was agreed to, and Levi was a little startled when he found them dropping in one after the other shortly after he had shut and barred his shop, for they scrupulously avoided calling upon him, as being a risk of leading to suspicion or discovery of their relations unnecessarily. He was soon relieved from puzzling his brain to account for the motives of their calling, by one of them saying:
“So, Levi, you have been making a little nest for your own separate use, it seems?”
“Ah! I thought you were come about something of that kind,” exclaimed Levi.
“The old story—a guilty conscience, &c. How much have you put away?”
“Look here, Abiram, I know very well you didn’t come here to ask me that question. You have made up your minds to do something, and I suspect that it is to murder me and get the diamonds for yourselves under the pretence that I have broken the rules of the society. Now, I don’t mind confessing that I have broken the rules so far as this—instead of spending any of the gold in indulging myself in Fine clothes and amusements, as you all do, I have hoarded it for my own use, because I know we shall all be blown up some day; but, if you think I have not calculated the chances of being found out by Norris, you are very much mistaken. If I were murdered, or be away from this shop for a single day, there is not a man in San Francisco who would not know before the next evening all about the handsome villa and the people who live there. It is an old precaution, but it wouldn’t be easy to invent a safer.”
“Bah! you are thinking of the keeper of the Sacramento hell, that some of our people say is your brother, though your names are not alike. Why, my good fellow! we stepped in there as we came along, and he had the bad luck to get into a row with Wilson here, and got himself shot in the scuffle. One:—two!—”
With the utterance of the word three, four bowie-knives were thrown like so many javelins, and the accomplice in so many murders fell on his face to the ground, driving still deeper into his body the knives of his late associates. They then collected all the gold and jewels they could find, and left the house; but, except themselves and Norris, nobody knew of the circumstances of Levi’s death, nor what had become of the diamonds.
Among other methods of getting gold practised by these thieves was the following. When a very successful miner came down to San Francisco, they tracked him from the city in the direction of the place to which he returned, and as surely as he came near the city the next time, so surely was he stopped and never suffered to enter it. The quantity of gold brought down by the Rawlinsons was so unusually large that one of Norris’s city friends, to whose knowledge it had come in the way of business, mentioned it to him as something extraordinary, especially as he knew they had arrived from England but a short time. This information was not thrown away upon Norris, and two of the gang were sent after them, not to molest them in any way, for the fact that they had left the city with a train of ten mules raised the presumption that they had discovered a mine of gold which it might be better worth their while to take possession of than to murder the Englishmen for the sake of what ten mules could carry.
Like bloodhounds plodding along a cold scent the two ruffians slowly followed the Rawlinsons, keeping far behind all day but approaching very close to them at night. The journey was longer and more wearisome than they had expected, but at last they entered the gorge. The train of mules was out of sight, and but for the traces they had left, the spies would not have known whether to turn to the right hand or to the left. The pines enabled them to continue their pursuit without much risk of being seen by persons who had spent days without seeing a human being, and to whom it never occurred to suspect their presence. The late hour to which the Englishmen sat up talking, and the fatigue which two of them had undergone, kept them in their encampment till a late hour the next morning; and before they were stirring the two thieves were on their way back, with their pockets tilled with dirt and their bags with provisions they had stolen from the sleepers.
As may be supposed, the talk of the Englishmen had been less of the past than of their plans for the future. The father, with the caution he had acquired from experience, taking into consideration the fact that their presence there was known to the Indians (concerning whose barbarities the most frightful stories were in circulation), the risks they incurred in travelling to and from San Francisco, and the almost certainty that they would not long be able to conceal their discovery from others, was in favour of loading all their mules, and as many more as they could get from the Indians, with gold, and then trying to make some arrangement with persons at San Francisco by which they might get a fair proportion of the gold without any further personal risk. Arthur and Geoffrey were both in favour of making a second trip to the city before adopting this course, and their father yielded to them.
But for the necessity of giving the mules rest they might have set out in a couple of days, which would have given them ample time to have collected as much gold as, with that in the hole, would have sufficed to load the animals. As to getting any mules from the Indians they found that impossible, either because they could not understand that the beasts would be brought back to them again, or because they did not choose to part with them even for a few days. Having prepared everything for their journey with all the precautions that occurred to them, Arthur and his father again started, Geoffrey having volunteered to remain behind as before. The nearer they approached San Francisco the more nervous and anxious they became. The enormous value of the metal they carried inspired incessant fears, for which there was far greater foundation than they were conscious of, and these at last reached such a pitch, that instead of continuing to follow the path by which they had previously travelled, and which was the most direct, they turned aside and made a circuit, and arrived eventually at San Francisco in safety some time before Norris and his associates had given up watching for them. When these latter found they had been disappointed, they decided on delaying the expedition they had arranged in consequence of the report the two had made who had followed the Rawlinsons until the latter had left the city on their return, so that they might know if they intended returning alone.
As I am desirous to keep this narrative within the smallest possible limits, I will pass over the events of the second visit of the Rawlinsons to San Francisco, though they are not without interest, and will return to them as they are seated together in the valley, discussing their final plans. They had collected as much gold as they could carry away with them on the fourteen mules they possessed—for they had bought four more on their last journey to the city—and had concealed a large quantity besides which they could fetch away at their leisure, if they could not succeed in forming the company they intended. They had just dined, and were lying under the shade of the trees, talking of friends at home in England, and the surprise and pleasure they would feel at seeing them return so rich. The Indian was smoking a cigar, and watching the countenance of each speaker with the intentness of a man totally deaf, who tries earnestly to understand the speaker’s meaning from the motion of his lips and the expression of his face; while his daughter was wading about in the stream a hundred yards off. Suddenly they were all startled by hearing the child scream fearfully, and all got up to see what was the matter, and to their utter astonishment they saw her in the midst of a party of men, and struggling with all her little strength to get free. Geoffrey rushed to rescue her without staying to arm himself, and his father and Arthur ran into their encampment to get their rifles. Geoffrey’s strength and impetuosity was such that he easily pushed his way among them, took the little girl in his arms, and after addressing them in a few energetic words, he turned to leave them, when several of the ruffians drew their revolvers and shot him in the back, killing the child at the same time. Arthur and his father, on seeing the murder of Geoffrey, fired at his murderers, and had just time to throw down their rifles and snatch up a revolver before the rest of the party were upon them. There was a fearful struggle, for the Englishmen were strong, and fought with the fury inspired by the sight of Geoffrey’s blood, and the feeling that they had themselves no other fate to hope for if they were beaten; but it was hopeless against the number opposed to them. Arthur was shot to death, and his father, after receiving several wounds, fell to the ground, and was bruised and trampled upon till he was insensible. The gang of murderers suffered severely, as much very likely from each other’s shots as from those of their victims, and it took the survivors some time to bind up their wounds, before they could begin to collect and load the mules. When all this was done, and they were prepared to start, they took the elder Rawlinson, who had in the meantime recovered his senses, and putting a rope loosely round his neck, they drew him up a little way from the ground, and fastening the end of the rope securely to the branch of the tree, they left him hanging there with his hands tied to his heels to increase the torment of his position; first raking the embers of the fire beneath him, and throwing on some wood. They were apparently so certain that nothing could save him that they did not even wait to see if the wood took fire. Being full of turpentine when it took fire it blazed furiously, but from not being exactly beneath him, or from the current of air running along the valley, the body of the flame did not touch him, and he was still further protected by being clothed in flannel. A tongue of flame, as probably everybody knows, is susceptible of being drawn out of a perpendicular line by the presence of a body near it. It was so in this case; but not quite reaching the head, which was inclined towards the opposite shoulder, it kept darting at intervals round the cord by which he was suspended until it sank lower and lower and gradually burnt itself out. The cord, however, had been kindled, and the fire slowly ate its way nearly through, until it became too weak to sustain the sufferer’s weight, when it gave way and he fell to the ground, the side of his face lying on the red hot embers. He was unable to move an inch, and to add to his sufferings the cord continued to burn like a fusee, and he had to lie there while the fire crept round his neck like a serpent.
I know little of such matters, but it occurs to me as possible that his having to lie there for several hours after the fire had gone out, may, while it increased his sufferings, have assisted his recovery, for he simply states that on being released from his bonds, the Indians tied cloths round his head and neck, first laying ashes on the wound in the latter, his face being already thickly coated with them, and nothing else was done that he mentions.
As no mention is made of the Indian having been concerned in the fight, it is to be presumed that he ran away at the first onset; and it was, perhaps, well that he did, for it may have been owing to his going off to fetch his friends that Rawlinson escaped with his life, and lived to assist at the punishment of the murderers of his children. His recovery was slow, but he did recover, and as soon as he was well able to walk he made signs to the Indians that he wished to go in search of those who had wounded him. They understood him with a readiness which showed what their own feelings would have been in such a case; and giving him his rifle, and dividing the rest of the arms among them, they set out. The father of the murdered girl walked always first, and as though travelling a road with which he was familiar; and subsequent events would seem to prove that he had tracked the ruffians to Norris’s house, for it was to that place he directed his companions. It was a misfortune that Rawlinson could not comprehend their language, nor they his; and he was quite staggered when the Indians led him up a little hill and pointed to Norris’s house, for he could scarcely believe the murderers lived there, and he fancied their intention was to attack the house as a measure of retaliation. There was only one way of setting his mind at ease, and this was by seeing some of the inhabitants, for he had a perfect recollection of the faces of some of his assailants—and those seen in a life or death encounter are never forgotten.
The Indians hid themselves to wait his return, as he supposed, and he walked cautiously towards the house, and hid himself among the shrubs near the entrance. First he recognised one of the murderers, then another, and then others, and the first moment he could get away without risk of being seen, he made his way back to the Indians. In his impatience he made signs to them to begin the attack at once, but they easily made him understand that they would wait until after sunset.
It was a dark night out of doors, but there was no want of light in the dining-room and billiard-room where Norris and his associates were enjoying themselves, never thinking of the Nemesis that was so close at hand. The very precautions they had taken to make the house defensible, viz., by closing every window and opening with iron bars, and having but one way of ingress or egress, the door which opened in the front directly into the billiard-room, made the certainty of their destruction more complete.
The attack of the Indians was so sudden and so overpowering, that the whole band of murderers were struck down without resistance; the very man with the cue in his hand, preparing to make his stroke, had not time to straighten himself, but sank down upon the table as if smitten by apoplexy. From the billiard-room the greater part of them rushed into the dining-room, and continued the butchery: none were spared, not even their fair but abandoned companions. When all were stretched upon the ground, the Indians spread themselves about the house, and took possession of everything which excited their admiration. The pillage was soon finished, and at a cry from one of those who kept the door, the last straggler left the house. Two or three then returned and set fire to it in different places, and the entrance was choked up with faggots, and likewise set on fire. The wings being nearly all wood, and desiccated by the hot sun, blazed like paper, and before the Indians had retreated a quarter of a mile, the whole building appeared one huge flame; and the dead, and the living (if there were any) were reduced to ashes together.
I may add, in conclusion, that the men who so recklessly killed each other on the slightest provocation, thought nothing of shooting or stabbing an Indian without any provocation at all—and these brutal murders were followed by bloody reprisals. This last affair was, however, the crowning point. Vigilance committees were established, and Lynch law was accepted by every decent man in California as their only safeguard against murderers, both white and coloured.
Capt. Walter Browne.