CHAPTER VI Two nights after the wheel of fortune gave an unlooked-for turn.…
Two nights after the wheel of fortune gave an unlooked-for turn. Donald's wife was so proud of the nugget that she could not keep the news to herself, and, next morning, although Donald had carefully told her to keep it quiet, confided his good-luck to another miner's wife, who lived a few hundred yards off. This worthy woman told another, and in twenty-four hours the fame of Donald's nugget was spread from end to end of the valley. This would not have mattered in most places, but mining districts are peopled by criminals and adventurers of all kinds, and among these were some lawless characters whose chief business was to get gold in some other way than by working for it. Two of these men, brothers, who lived with their families at the lower end of the valley, determined that they should possess themselves of Donald's nugget. Covering their faces with black masks, and armed with revolvers, they set off about midnight for the miner's cabin. The family were fast asleep, and the robbers noiselessly pushed up the window and entered the room where Donald slept. Pointing a loaded revolver at his head, one of the men roughly awoke him, and told him if he moved or cried out he would blow out his brains and murder every one in the house. Donald was too familiar with stories of camp crime to resist an attack so sudden, and, though a loaded revolver was under his own pillow, he saw his disadvantage, and, for the sake of his wife and children, controlled himself with a great effort.
Pointing a Loaded Revolver at His Head
I want that little bit of metal of yours,' said the robber. Donald lay perfectly quiet. Do you hear?' exclaimed the man, I want that gold.'
Then you won't get it,' said Donald quietly.
I believe he has sent it to the bank,' whispered the other man. Kill him if he has.'
Look here!' thundered the first, do you mean to say that nugget is gone?'
Donald made no reply. If he said it was gone, the robbers would simply have sneaked home, for Donald was known in these parts as a man who never told a lie. Once more the robber asked him, but Donald remained silent. This was enough. If it had really been gone Donald would certainly have said so. So, while the first man stood with a revolver at his ear, the second proceeded to search the house. Drawers, boxes, and cupboards were opened and ransacked in quick succession; every corner of the two rooms was examined; the very dishes on the shelf were turned upside down, and the sugar-basin smashed to pieces with a blow, in case it should have been hidden there.
Let me try,' said the man with the revolver; you watch the old bear, and see if I can't find it.'
Once more the house was ransacked from top to bottom, and the robber was about to abandon the search, when a sudden thought occurred to him. On the mantel-piece ticked a wooden American clock, about two feet high. The man opened the door in the case, and fumbled about with his finger. Next moment he had drawn out the nugget. He bent over the fire to get a better look at it, and then proceeded to weigh it in the palm of his hand, to see how much it was worth. The other robber, unable to restrain his curiosity, moved likewise toward the fire, when the first checked him with an angry cry, and sent him back to his victim's side to continue his guard. Another moment, and Donald would have had his revolver out, and the nugget would have been saved. But there was another spectator of this scene on whom the thieves had scarcely reckoned. In his usual berth, crouched at the side of the fireplace, sat Gum. The robber was weighing the gold in his hand, turning it round and round, and gloating over it, when the glitter from the precious metal attracted the monkey's eye. It seemed to feel some sense of property in this gold, for, quick as lightning, one hairy paw brushed the robber's hand, and the next moment the nugget was gone. With a great oath the robber turned on Gum, and dealt it a blow on the head which knocked it senseless to the other side of the room. But before that blow fell two things happened. With one hand held out to protect itself against this sudden onslaught, the monkey made a grab at its assailant's face and tore off the black mask, so that Donald instantly recognised the man, in the glow of the firelight; with the other hand, which held the gold, the monkey swiftly transferred the nugget to its mouth.
The robber's eye followed this last movement, however, and he picked up Gum roughly, and proceeded to wrench open its jaws. He felt all round his mouth, but the nugget was not there. He held the senseless body up by the tail and shook it, but no gold appeared. He took his head between his knees, and sounded all over its throat, but the nugget was not to be found. As a matter of fact it was not there. The blow which had fallen upon the monkey's head had knocked it down its throat. Gum had swallowed the nugget!
What was to be done now? If the robber had had a knife in his pocket, Gum would have been a dead monkey in two seconds. But while he was unsuccessfully feeling for his knife, Gum suddenly came to, and with one violent wriggle shook itself free, and sprang on the highest shelf. The robber gave chase Then followed the most comical hunt you ever saw. The robber's face being now exposed (he had no idea that Donald had already recognised him), he was afraid to turn round, and he had to keep up the hunt without once facing in the direction where Donald lay, with the result that he was fairly baffled, and, after a quarter of an hour's hard work, gave up the chase. All that remained now was to blind Donald. Roughly approaching the bed, the robber drew the blankets over Donald's face, and told him he would shoot him if he dared to stir. As an extra precaution, the miner's revolver was taken out of reach, and then, both men started, with a piece of rope, to secure the monkey. Clever as Gum was, he was scarcely a match for two men, who, as noted horse-thieves, were experts with the lasso, and in a short time the monkey was ignominiously driven from his perch on a rafter, tied up in Donald's pillow-case, and swung over the shoulder of one of the men. Then the robbers wished Donald a grim good-night, and marched off with their purse.' As they were going out of the door Donald called after them, Good-night, ye blackguards, and mark my words, if ye lay a hand on that monkey ye'll regret it as long as ye live!'
This made the men a little frightened; for although they did not like to confess it to one another, there was something about Gum that was not canny.' Anyhow, whether it was fear of the monkey, or of their own consciences, instead of killing Gum as soon as they left the house they carried it all the way home with them, discussing which of them was to kill it, and how it was to be done.