A Romance of Lake Wakatipu
Sam Perkins en route for New Zealand—"Sticking up" and Robbing the Local Bank—Surprise and Capture—The Legal Document of some Importance—A Distinguished Arrival in Otago.
En route for New Zealand, Sam Perkins had what nautical men call a fair-weather passage.
Before embarking he and the old Jew took counsel together.
"It's just into your fist," said the latter; "nothing could have suited you better. You have worked out every patch on these diggings, and if you're going to have another chance you'll have to open out fresh ground. You have been a lucky man, as luck goes. Between scooping out tailraces and plundering tents, you're a match for any man going, and few men could have done the business you have transacted and stuck to their ears. Now, however, the boys are getting easier riled than they were. They are not getting on to the yellow dirt so readily; that's what's making them get up their backs. So, old man, you just fight shy of them, or as sure 's God made little apples, if they cast eyes on you, they'll wing you. Take my tip and be off. A man of your abilities and lengthened experience can't help making a name for yourself on a new rush. You'll have everything in your favour. No one will know you, or what you are. The peelers especially will not find you out for some time, at least. Nothing like the new rush for a man of your enterprise; so take my advice, shoulder your drum, and be off like a redshank. It's a splendid chance for you. Fifty quid in your belt, and all you've got to do is to keep that blessed tin case safe. It may not be wanted, but, all the same, it may be handy for you to have past you, and then another fifty quid when you give it up."page 69
As an argument, the above would appear to have been conclusive evidence to the little old man with the grizzly beard, inasmuch as that we find him acting upon its suggestions without unnecessary delay.
Sam Perkins, the little old man with the grizzly beard, was what is variously known as a bad egg—a hard case. He was not always old. When he first made acquaintance with Californian society he was a young strapping fellow. The material available for a biographical sketch of his life and adventures is largely culled from police reports, so that it is apparent at the outset old Iak's estimate of Sam's moral character was not overstated. Certain youthful frolics occasioned uneasiness in the minds of his parents at home, and, as these gradually ripened into youthful indiscretions, it was deemed advisable for the reputation of the family that he should be shipped abroad. With good abilities, good educational attainments, and a moderately good sum of ready cash, he reached San Francisco when its goldfields discoveries were still in their bloom. At first he succeeded in keeping his recklessness and extravagances in check; indeed, so far did his good genius prevail that he sought and obtained an honest means of livelihood. He was first employed as a travelling merchant, a class upon whom the goldfields population in early times largely depended for replenishment of their modest wardrobes. This proved a stepping-stone to his permanent settlement on the goldfields, and for a time the evidence he offered of thrift and good conduct was indisputable. The free and easy usages of society in these parts soon, however, asserted their evil influences upon him, and, after a course of recklessness and dissipation, he found himself reduced to beggary. For a time he was completely lost sight of in his old haunts, and even those who had been his boon companions had well-nigh forgotten his existence.
Things had reached this unfortunate pass with Sam when one morning the township in which he had resided was knocked out of its seven senses by the announcement that the local bank had been stuck up and robbed. During the small hours of the morning access had been obtained to the bedroom of the manager, who slept on the bank premises, by a band of men well disguised. Before he was able to realise the position, and lay hold page 70of a revolver ready capped beneath his pillow, the manager was gagged and secured to the bed. The keys of the strong-box were taken possession of by the gang, the box itself rifled, and its bullion contents carried off.
In this miserable plight, more dead than alive, the manager was discovered later on in the morning; and a hunt party was at once organized, who set out forthwith in search of the robbers. The latter, however, having obtained a good start, the search was for some time unavailing. Meantime the hunt party was reinforced by residents from the neighbouring townships, and the more remote districts were duly apprised of the outrage.
Strict account was taken of all parties living in outlying places, and on such as were considered in the least suspicious close watch was kept. For a time, however, nothing transpired to fix the guilt on any one. In prosecuting their inquiries the police ascertained that various draymen en route from the neighbouring river dépôts had been applied to by a man, apparently a digger, for supplies of provisions. On comparing notes, it was found these applications had been made all about the one spot, and, so far as could be judged, by the same person. Following up the scent, it was ascertained a number of men were camped in an adjoining bush, and that, with the exception of the one who applied for the provisions, they all kept themselves in strict seclusion.
Further investigations strengthened the suspicion that this party had to do with the bank-robbery, and that they were only waiting an opportunity for making off with the plunder. Their capture was therefore determined upon. A select party was chosen to assist the police in that hazardous exploit, and the night for making the attempt decided upon, these arrangements being gone about with the utmost secrecy. The attack was made by a couple of mounted troopers, backed up by a party armed to the teeth. Creeping up to the tent at about midnight, the troopers cut it open, so as to completely surprise the inmates. The support party, immediately at hand, covered them with their rifles, the whole thing being so rapid and noiseless that the inmates were at the mercy of their captors before they were well awake. No time was lost in handcuffing the gang, page 71and, thus secured, they were marched off under strong escort to the nearest gaol.
Sam Perkins was recognised as one of the gang, and, being esteemed one of the least dangerous members thereof, an offer on his part to become "King's evidence" and disclose the plant was readily accepted. In that way Sam saved himself, and lagged his companions in crime.
On regaining liberty Sam wandered about the goldfields, getting a living no one knew how. His own account was that he was a digger, but the general opinion was in favour of the account just rendered by old Iak. One of his more recent transactions was in connection with a tail-race, worked on the principle described by the Hebrew as scooping out. Following upon that transaction, it came to Sam's ears that a plan was being matured to deprive him of those appendages, and, as he does not seem to have relished the operation, he took time by the forelock, and made himself scarce. In due time he turned up in the City of San Francisco, where we find him engaged as already stated.
Beyond the fact that it contained a legal document of some importance, which might or might not be required hereafter, Sam knew nothing about the contents of the tin case. When given to him the case was carefully soldered up, and his instructions were to keep it thus until claimed by the parties intrusting it to him. The latter condition Sam was not long in violating. Before reaching New Zealand Sam knew all about the will and its contents. On reading it over for the first time, he remarked to himself, "Josiah Begg! why, that's my old boss. When I first went to California he started me on the road with a trap-load of goods. So that's the game, is it! The man died worth millions. I'll have a dab at it, and no mistake. It'll not be a beggarly fifty, or even a hundred, quid that'll do for me, when there's an odd million to work on. You were perfectly right, my old Hebrew buck Iak, when you said it was right into my fist. I'm to keep you well posted in my movements. All right; you'll hear from me perhaps a trifle oftener than you relish." In that way Sam ruminated with himself, while the good ship in which he was embarked sped on its way to Otago.