Read CHAPTER XXXII of The Tale of Timber Town , free online book, by Alfred Grace, on ReadCentral.com.

The Quietude of Timber Town Is Disturbed.

The crowd which had gathered in front of the verandah of the Post Office of Timber Town was made up, as is not uncommon with crowds, of all sorts and conditions of men. There were diggers dressed in the rough clothes suitable to their calling and broad-brimmed felt hats; tradesmen, fat with soft living, and dressed each according to his taste; farmers, in ready-made store-clothes and straw hats; women, neatly, if plainly, dressed as suited the early hour of the day; a few gaily-dressed girls, and a multitude of boys.

Nailed to the wooden wall of the building was a poster, printed with big head-lines, upon which the interest of all present was centred.

NOTICE.

FIVE HUNDRED POUNDS REWARD!!!

WHEREAS persons of the names of ISAAC ZAHN, PETER
HEAFY, WILLIAM JOHNSON, and JAMES KETTLE
have mysteriously disappeared; AND WHEREAS it is supposed
that they have been murdered on the road between
Bush Robin Creek and Timber Town; AND WHEREAS,
further, they had in their custody at the time a considerable
quantity of gold, the property of the Kangaroo Bank;

THIS IS TO NOTIFY that should those persons, or any of
them, have been murdered, a reward of FIVE HUNDRED
POUNDS (L500) will be given to any person who shall give
information that will lead to the conviction of the murderers;
AND A LIKE REWARD will be given to any person who
shall give such information as shall lead to the restoration
of the stolen gold to its lawful owners.

(Signed) WILLIAM TOMKIN TOMKINSON,
Manager,
Kangaroo Bank,
Timber Town.

“Isaac Zahn? He was the gold-buying clerk. I knew ‘im well. An’ if you ask me, I think I know who put ’im away.”

“You’re right, John. D’you call to mind that long-legged toff at The Lucky Digger?”

“I do. ‘E caught Zahn a lick under the jaw, an’ kicked ’im into the street. I seen ’im do it.”

“That’s the bloke.”

“Hi! Higgins. Here, old man. D’you want five hundred pounds?”

“I ain’t partic’lar, George I don’t know the man’s name.”

“But you saw that bit of a scrap in The Lucky Digger, between one of these parties as is murdered and the toff from the Old Country.”

“I was in the bar.”

“Well, there was very bad blood between them you see that? And I heard the toff tell Zahn that the next time ’e saw ’im he’d about stiffen ’im. I heard it, or words to that effect. Now, I want you to bear witness that what I say is true.”

“Yes, yes, I remember the time. You mean Mr. Scarlett, the man who discovered the field.”

“There’s wheels within wheels, my boy. They were rivals for the same girl. She jilted young Zahn when this new man took up the running. Bad blood, very bad blood, indeed.”

“But is he dead? Has there been a murder at all? Collusion, sir, collusion. Suppose the escort quietly appropriated the gold and effaced themselves, they’d be rich men for life, sir.”

“You’re right, Mr. Ferrars. Until the bodies are found, sir, there is no reason to believe there has been murder.”

At this moment the local bellman appeared on the scene, and stopped conversation with the din of his bell. Subsequently, after the manner of his kind, and in a thin nasal voice, he proclaimed as follows: “Five hundred pound reward Five hundred pound reward. It being believed that a foul murder has been committed on the persons of Isaac Zahn, Peter Heafy, William Johnson, James Kettle citizens of Timber Town a search-party will be formed under the leadership of Mr. Charles Caxton volunteers will be enrolled at the Town Hall a large reward being offered for the apprehension of the murderers Five hundred pound Five hundred pound!”

He then tucked his bell under his arm and walked off, just as unconcernedly as if he were advertising an auction-sale.

By this time a crowd of two or three hundred people had assembled. A chair was brought from The Lucky Digger, and upon this a stout man clambered to address the people. But what with his vehemence and gesticulations, and what with the smallness of his platform, he stepped to the ground several times in the course of his speech; therefore a lorry, a four-wheeled vehicle not unlike a tea-tray upon four wheels, was brought, and while the orator held forth effusively from his new rostrum, the patient horse stood between the shafts, with drooping head.

This pompous person was succeeded by a tall, upright man, with the bearing of a Viking and the voice of a clarion. His speech was short and to the point. If he had to go alone, he would search for the missing men; but he asked for help. “I am a surveyor,” he said. “I knew none of these men who are lost or murdered, but I appeal to those of you who are diggers to come forward and help. I appeal to the townsfolk who knew young Zahn to rally round me in searching for their friend. I appeal for funds, since the work cannot be done without expense; and at the conclusion of this meeting I shall enrol volunteers in the Town Hall.”

He stood down, and Mr. Crewe rose to address the crowd, which had now assumed such proportions that it stretched from pavement to pavement of the broad street. All the shops were closed, and people were flocking from far and wide to the centre of the town.

“Men of Timber Town,” said Mr. Crewe, “I’m not so young as I was, or I would be the first to go in search of these missing men. My days as a bushman are over, I fear; but I shall have much pleasure in giving L20 to the expenses of the search-party. All I ask is that there be no more talking, but prompt action. These men may be tied to trees in the bush; they may be starving to death while we talk here. Therefore let us unite in helping the searchers to get away without delay.”

A movement was now made towards the Town Hall, and while the volunteers of the search-party were being enrolled two committees of citizens were being formed in the Town Clerk’s office the one to finance, and the other to equip, the expedition.

While these things were going forward, there stood apart from the crowd four men, who conversed in low voices.

“It’s about time, mates, we got a bend on.”

“Dolly, you make me tired. I ask you, was there ever such a chance. All the traps in the town will be searching for these unfortunate missin’ men. We’ll have things all our own way, an’ you ask us to ‘git.’”

“’Strewth, Garstang, you’re a glutton. S’far’s I’m concerned, I’ve got as much as I can carry. I don’t want no more.”

The four comrades in crime had completely changed their appearance. They were dressed in new, ready-made suits, and wore brand-new hats, besides which they had shaved their faces in such a manner as to make them hardly recognisable.

Dolphin, who, besides parting with his luxuriant whiskers and moustache, had shaved off his eyebrows, remarked, with the air of a man in deep thought, “But there’s no steamer leaving port for two days I forgot that. It seems we’ll have to stay that long, at any rate.”

“And I can’t bear bein’ idle it distresses me,” said Sweet William.

“This’ll be the last place where they’ll look for us,” remarked Carnac. “You take it from me, they’ll search the diggings first.”

“When they’ve found the unfortunate men, they’ll be rampin’ mad to catch the perpetrators.” This from Dolphin.

A rough, bluff, good-natured digger pushed his way into the middle of the group. “Come on, mates,” he said; “put your names down for a fiver each. It’s got to be done.” And seizing Garstang and Sweet William, he pulled them towards the Town Hall.

“G’arn! Let go!” snarled Garstang.

“Whatyer givin’ us?” exclaimed William, as she shook himself free. “The bloke’s fair ratty.”

“Here! Hi!” Dolphin called to the enthusiastic stranger. “What’s all this about missing men? What’s all the fuss about? as like as not the men are gone prospecting in the bush.”

“A gold-buyer with 5000 oz. of gold doesn’t go prospecting,” replied the digger. “Come and read the notice, man.”

The four murderers lounged towards the Post Office, and coolly read the Bank Manager’s placard.

“They’ve got lost, that’s about the size of it,” said Garstang.

“Why all this bobbery should be made over a few missin’ men, beats me,” sneered Dolphin.

“Whenever there’s a ‘rush’ in Australia, there’s dozens of men git lost,” said Sweet William, “but nobody takes any notice it’s the ordinary thing.”

“But there’s gold to the value of L20,000 gone too,” said the enthusiastic stranger. “Wouldn’t you take notice of that?”

“It’ll turn up,” said Carnac. “They must have lost their way in the thunderstorm. But you may bet they’re well supplied with tucker. Hang it all, they might come into town any minute, and what fools we’d look then.”

“P’r’aps their pack-horse got frightened at the lightning and fell over a precipice. It might, easy.” This was William’s brilliant suggestion.

“An’ the men are humpin’ the gold into town theirselves,” said Garstang. “There ain’t any occasion to worry, that I can see. None at all, none at all. Come an’ have a drink, mate. I’ll shout for the crowd.”

The five men strolled towards The Lucky Digger, through the door of which they passed into a crowded bar, where, amid excited, loud-voiced diggers who were expressing their views concerning the gold-escort’s disappearance, the four murderers were the only quiet and collected individuals.