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Chapter Fifteen.
 Ah-wow saved from an Untimely Fate—Lynch Law Enforced—Ned Sinton resolves to renounce Gold-Digging for a Time, and Tom Collins seconds him.  
Ah-wow sat on the stump of an oak-tree, looking, to use a familiar, though incorrect expression, very blue indeed. And no wonder, for Ah-wow was going to be hanged. Perhaps, courteous reader, you think we are joking, but we assure you we are not. Ah-wow had just been found guilty, or pronounced guilty—which, at the diggings, meant the same thing—of stealing two thousand dollars’ worth of gold-dust, and was about to expiate his crime on the branch of a tree.
There could be no doubt of his guilt; so said the enlightened jury who tried him; so said the half-tipsy judge who condemned him; and so said the amiable populace which had assembled to witness his execution. It cannot be denied that appearances went very much against Ah-wow—so much so, that Maxton, and even Captain Bunting, entertained suspicions as to his innocence, though they pleaded hard for his pardon. The gold had been discovered hid near the Chinaman’s tent, and the bag containing it was recognised and sworn to by at least a dozen of the diggers as that belonging to the man from whom the gold had been stolen. The only point that puzzled the jury was the strong assertions of Captain Bunting, Maxton, and Collins, that, to their certain belief, the poor Celestial had dug beside them each day, and slept beside them each night for three weeks past, at a distance of three miles from the spot where the robbery took place. But the jury were determined to hang somebody, so they shut their ears to all and sundry, save and except to those who cried out, “String the riptile up—sarves him right!”
Ko-sing also sat on the tree-stump, endeavouring to comfort Ah-wow by stroking his pig-tail and howling occasionally in an undertone. It seemed indeed that the poor man’s career was drawing to a close, for two men advanced, and, seizing his pinioned arms, led him under the fatal limb; but a short respite occurred in consequence of a commotion in the outskirts of the crowd, where two men were seen forcing a passage towards the centre. Ned Sinton and Larry O’Neil had been away in the mountains prospecting at the time when Ah-wow was captured and led to the settlement, near the first residence of our adventurers, to stand his trial. The others accompanied the condemned man, in order, if possible, to save him, leaving Jones behind to guard their property, and acquaint Ned with the state of affairs on his return. Our hero knew too well the rapid course of Lynch law to hesitate. He started at once with Larry down the stream, to save, if possible, the life of his servant, for whom he felt a curious sort of patronising affection, and who he was sure must be innocent. He arrived just in time.
“Howld on, boys,” cried Larry, flourishing his felt hat as they pushed through the crowd.
“Stay, friends,” cried Ned, gaining the centre of the circle at last; “don’t act hastily. This man is my servant.”
“That don’t make him an honest man, I guess,” said a cynical bystander.
“Perhaps not,” retorted Ned; “but it binds me in honour to clear him, if I can.”
“Hear, hear,” said several voices; “get up on the stump an’ fire away, stranger.”
Ned obeyed.
“Gentlemen,” he began, “I can swear, in the first place, that the Chinaman has not been a quarter of a mile from my tent for three weeks past, so that he could not have stolen the gold—”
“How then came it beside his tent?” inquired a voice.
“I’ll tell you, if you will listen. This morning early I started on a prospecting ramble up the stream, and not long after I set out I caught a glance of that villain Black Jim, who, you know, has been supposed for some time back to have been lurking in the neighbourhood. He ran off the moment he caught sight of me, and although I followed him at full speed for a considerable distance, he succeeded in escaping. However, I noticed the print of his footsteps in a muddy place over which he passed, and observed that his right boot had no heel. On returning home this afternoon, and hearing what had happened, I went to the spot where the bag of gold had been discovered, and there, sure enough, I found footprints, one of which shewed that the wearer’s right boot had no heel. Now, gentlemen, it don’t need much speaking to make so clear a matter clearer, I leave you to judge whether this robbery has been committed by the Chinaman or not.”
Ned’s speech was received with various cries; some of which shewed that the diggers were not satisfied with his explanation, and Ah-wow’s fate still trembled in the balance, when the owner of the bag of gold stepped forward and admitted that he had observed similar foot-marks in the neighbourhood of his tent just after the robbery was committed, and said that he believed the Chinaman was innocent. This set the matter at rest. Ah-wow was cast loose and congratulated by several of the bystanders on his escape, but there seemed a pretty general feeling amongst many of the others that they had been unjustly deprived of their prey, and there is no saying what might have happened had not another culprit appeared on the scene to divert their attention.
The man who was led forward had all the marks of a thorough desperado about him. From his language it was impossible to judge what country had the honour of giving him birth, but it was suspected that his last residence had been Botany Bay. Had this man’s innocence been ever so clearly proved he could not have escaped from such judges in their then disappointed state of mind; but his guilt was unquestionable. He had been caught in the act of stealing from a monté table. The sum was not very large, however, so it was thought a little too severe to hang him; but he was condemned to have his head shaved, his ears cut off, and to receive a hundred lashes.
The sentence was executed promptly, notwithstanding the earnest remonstrances of a few of the better-disposed among the crowd: and Ned, seeing that he could do nothing to mitigate the punishment of the poor wretch, left the spot with his comrades and the ............
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