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A Romance of Lake Wakatipu

Chapter XX

page 81

Chapter XX.

Sam makes a Footing—Sam makes a Fall—The Blue Mountain Rush—Trial by Lynch-law—Rescued by the Police.

In that way Sam effected his first footing on the Otago goldfields. It was, however, as we have already seen, the second step at which Sam invariably stumbled. He could always make for himself a standing in society, but he never could succeed in maintaining it. He was not unlike a great many more unfortunates—his first footing was, as a rule, pretty secure, but at the second step he invariably managed to trip.

Having auctioned the cats to advantage, the chances are, if he had been content to remain in the auction line, he would in time have risen to be a highly-valued knight of the hammer.197 That, however, was not Sam's forte, He set out on a prospecting tour, which to a man of his calibre meant a marauding expedition. In the course of his rambles he met with a storekeeper named Mackintosh—a man quite as unscrupulous, although not quite as enterprising, as himself. Mackintosh had made a bad speculation. He established himself in business on what was supposed to be a good field, but which had turned out a rank duffer.198 It was afterwards known as the Blue Mountain rush.

When Sam turned up the storekeeper was at his wits' end. He had put in a large stock of goods. No sooner had he done so than the place was deserted. He must either get quit of his goods, or else he would have to do something desperate. What to do he knew not.

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Nothing daunted, Sam undertook, for a consideration, to bring the rush back again to his door.

"There are just now about ten thousand men on Gabriel's," he said, "and, if you say the word, I'll bring them here quick steps."

The word was said, and Sam proceeded to work accordingly. On the first whisper Sam set agoing in Gabriel's Gully of a big find got on the Blue Mountain ridges a panic ensued. The denizens of the Gully almost to a man struck tent and took the road for the new find. Some of the more knowing ones took the precaution of securing Sam, for the ostensible purpose of guiding them to the place, although they afterwards alleged that, having their doubts of his bona fides, the real object was to keep hold of him for after-consequences. That was not exactly what Sam bargained for, and, on various pretexts, he attempted to get away, assuring them they would have no trouble in reaching the place without him. Getting more and more suspicious, they stuck to him all the closer, and, not finding the ground they were led to expect, a council of war was held.

Becoming thoroughly alarmed, Sam thought he might be able to deal with two or three on better terms than he could deal with the whole mob. He therefore proposed that they should send a few of their number forward with him, and he would then point out the place. That was agreed to, and six of the more resolute were delegated to accompany him. Before starting, each of the six was supplied with a revolver, which was loaded in Sam's presence, so that he might clearly understand what was meant if he attempted getting away from them.

Getting in amongst the mountains, he led his escort about for the next two days, professing he was unable to hit upon the spur on which he had been prospecting.

Concluding they had been effectually duped, Sam was placed under arrest, and dragged back to the main body to decide what was further to be done. The latter was camped on the plains, and, not having made adequate provision for their maintenance for such a length of time, many were suffering the pangs of hunger. That, added to the general disappointment, induced the strongest possible resentment against Sam, and the demand was made for his immediate execution.

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Seeing the serious turn things had taken, the more prudent exerted themselves on Sam's behalf. All the mitigation they could effect was an arrangement that the execution should be delayed until the formalities of a trial by Lynch-law had been gone through. A jury was accordingly empanelled,199 and other accessories to the trial provided. One of the more moderate of the party undertook to assist Sam in his defence, and it was admitted by all present a hard struggle was made to save the poor wretch's life. The evidence of guilt, without extenuating circumstances, was, however, overwhelming, and the death-sentence was therefore confirmed.

Happily for Sam it was too dark to carry out the execution there and then, otherwise it was quite impossible to see how he could have escaped. He was ordered to be held over for execution until daybreak, and then to be hanged up to the nearest tree.

How Sam felt during the remainder of this eventful night cannot be ascertained, but it must have been to him a night of awful suspense. He was bound securely, and watched by two men, who stood over him with loaded revolvers. He lay flat on the ground, sometimes with his face down, and at other times on his back. With the exception of these movements, he lay altogether motionless.

With the first dawn of day the camp was astir, and Sam was ordered to get up.

Looking around, it was ascertained they would have to travel some distance before getting a tree suitable for the purpose.

There being now very little provisions amongst the crowd, only a few had anything at all to eat. Still, a pannikin200 of hot tea was handed to Sam, with a few mouthfuls of bread, which he devoured in silence.

The dismal procession, with Sam in the centre, was now formed. His hands were tied behind his back, and two men with firearms marched one at each side of him. Stern determination was depicted on almost every countenance, so that Sam's doom appeared inevitable. The march was directed towards a patch of bush on the edge of the Popotunoa Gorge,201 through which the track to Dunedin, Tokomairiro,202 and Tuapeka led.

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The journey occupied upwards of an hour, a rapid stream having to he forded en route.

Arriving at the bush, the first tree come to, with a few superfluous branches lopped off, was pronounced sufficient for the purpose. The rope was adjusted round Sam's neck, and thrown over a branch. Sam was then asked if he had anything to say. If he heard the remark he took no notice of it, never once having uttered a syllable since the death-sentence was pronounced. About fifty men stood ready at the other end of the rope, and, on the word being given, Sam was hoisted up off his feet. When a few inches off the ground the rope gave way, and he fell down with a heavy thud.

The mishap caused his executioners to draw the rope down again, and institute a more careful inspection of the strength of its splicings. To guard against further accident, it was decided to test the strength of the rope by dead-weight. A swag-bag was filled with stones to the required weight and suspended at the end of the rope. The experiment was satisfactory, and the more serious part of the business was on the eve of being repeated when, sword in hand, a contingent of the mounted police was descried203 wheeling off the gorge track, and making straight in the direction of the crowd. Meantime the rope was again got round Sam's neck, and frantic efforts made to hurry on his suspension, so as to finish the work before the police could interfere. The latter, however, were too smart; they dashed into the midst of the crowd, who, seeing the game was now up, readily dispersed to make way for them. Seeing how matters stood, the police severed the rope with a sword-cut, and, taking hold of Sam, thrust him for further safety into their midst. Sam now for the first time raised his eyes, and, addressing one of the number, who, although mounted on horseback, wore a civilian's dress, said, "Oh, my God! you have got here at last. I thought it was all up with me." The person addressed was the storekeeper, the partner in his crime. To do him justice, on seeing the mess Sam was landed in, he lost no time in using his best endeavours to save him, with the result just stated.

Sam never again ventured back to Gabriel's Gully. When liberated by the police he moved away in the opposite direction, and the next heard of him was that he turned up in page 85Invercargill.* There he renewed the black-mailing pursuit of his San Francisco patrons, and, when the slightest disposition was manifested to kick against his extortions, he threatened to hand the will over to the police, with such information as would not only place it in the hands of the rightful owners, but would insure the conviction for conspiracy of all the parties concerned. Threats of that kind, coming upon them at the very moment of their success in the law-courts, were not to he borne. It was felt something would have to be done, and that immediately, to silence Sam, and put an end to his threats and his extortions for ever.

197 An auctioneer.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

198 An utterly unproductive mine.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

199 Enlisted.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

200 A small metal drinking cup.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

201 A narrow valley to the west of Clutha River.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

202 A town to the south of Dunedin now known as Milton.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

203 Caught sight of.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

* See Appendix, Note 27.