Chapter XXI: An Unexpected Blow

“And what would knock him silly?” asked Williams. He was an unhealthy, scorbutic-looking youth, and his pallid complexion had assumed a greenish tinge of fear as he listened to the clergyman’s words. He had the makings in him of a mean and dangerous criminal, but not of a violent one—belonging to the jackal tribe rather than to the tiger.

“What would knock him senseless?” Farintosh asked Burt, with a knowing look.

Burt laughed again in his bushy, red beard. “You can leave that to me, mate,” he said.

Williams glanced from one to the other and he became even more cadaverous. “I’m not in it,” he stammered. “It will be a hanging job. You will kill him as like as not.”

“Not in it, ain’t ye?” growled the navvy. “Why, you white-livered hound, you’re too deep in it ever to get out again. D’ye think we’ll let you spoil a lay of this sort as we might never get a chance of again?”

“You can do it without me,” said the Welshman, trembling in every limb.

“And have you turnin’ on us the moment a reward was offered. No, no, chummy, you don’t get out of it that way. If you won’t stand by us, I’ll take care you don’t split.”

“Think of the diamonds,” Farintosh put in.

“Think of your own skin,” said the navvy.

“You could go back to England a rich man if you do it.”

“You’ll never go back at all if you don’t.” Thus worked upon alternately by his hopes and by his fears, Williams showed some signs of yielding. He took a long draught from his glass and filled it up again.

“I ain’t afraid,” he said. “Don’t imagine that I am afraid. You won’t hit him very hard, Mr. Burt?”

“Just enough to curl him up,” the navvy answered. “Lord love ye, it ain’t the first man by many a one that I’ve laid on his back, though I never had the chance before of fingering five and thirty thousand pounds worth of diamonds for my pains.”

“But the hotel-keeper and the servants?”

“That’s all right,” said Farintosh. “You leave it to me. If we go up quietly and openly, and come down quietly and openly, who is to suspect anything? Our horses will be outside, in Woodley Street, and we’ll be out of their reach in no time. Shall we say to-morrow evening for the job?”

“That’s very early,” Williams cried tremulously.

“The sooner the better,” Burt said, with an oath. “And look here, young man,” fixing Williams with his bloodshot eyes, “one sign of drawing back, and by the living jingo I’ll let you have more than I’m keeping for him. You hear me, eh?” He grasped the youth’s white wrist and squeezed it in his iron grip until he writhed with the pain.

“Oh, I’m with you, heart and soul,” he cried. “I’m sure what you and
Mr. Farintosh advise must be for the best.”

“Meet here at eight o’clock to-morrow night then,” said the leader.
“We can get it over by nine, and we will have the night for our escape.
I’ll have the horses ready, and it will be strange if we don’t get such
a start as will puzzle them.”

So, having arranged all the details of their little plan, these three gentlemen departed in different directions—Farintosh to the Central Hotel, to give Ezra his evening report, and the others to the mining-camps, which were the scene of their labours.

The meeting just described took place upon a Tuesday, early in November. On the Saturday Ezra Girdlestone had fully made up his mind to turn his back upon the diggings and begin his homeward journey. He was pining for the pleasures of his old London life, and was weary of the monotonous expanse of the South African veldt. His task was done, too, and it would be well for him to be at a distance before the diggers discovered the manner in which they had been hoaxed. He began to pack his boxes, therefore, and to make every preparation for his departure.

He was busily engaged in this employment upon the Wednesday evening when there was a tap at the door and Farintosh walked in, accompanied by Burt and Williams. Girdlestone glanced up at them, and greeted them briefly. He was not surprised at their visit, for they had come together several times before to report progress or make arrangements. Farintosh bowed as he entered the room, Burt nodded, and Williams rubbed his hands together and looked amiably bilious.

“We looked in, Mr. Girdlestone,” Farintosh began, “to learn if you had any commands for us.”

“I told you before that I had not,” Ezra said curtly. “I am going on
Saturday. I have made a mistake in speculating on those diamonds.
Prices are sinking lower and lower.”

« Previous Page | Next Page »