Infomotions, Inc.The Gold Hunters' Adventures Or, Life in Australia / Thomes, William H.



Author: Thomes, William H.
Title: The Gold Hunters' Adventures Or, Life in Australia
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): fred; murden; bushrangers; ballarat; melbourne; inspector; smith
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Title: The Gold Hunter's Adventures
       Or, Life in Australia


Author: William H. Thomes

Illustrator: Champney



Release Date: June 13, 2005  [eBook #16050]

Language: English

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THE GOLD HUNTER'S ADVENTURES

Or, Life in Australia

by

WILLIAM H. THOMES
A Returned Australian

Illustrated by Champney

BOSTON:
LEE AND SHEPARD, PUBLISHERS.
NEW YORK:
CHARLES T. DILLINGHAM.







[Illustration]




CONTENTS.


  INTRODUCTION

  CHAPTER I.
  FIRST THOUGHTS OF GOING TO AUSTRALIA.--DEPARTURE FROM CALIFORNIA.--LIFE
  ON BOARD SHIP.--ARRIVAL AT WILLIAMS
  TOWN.--DESCRIPTION OF MELBOURNE.--A CONVICT'S HUT.

  CHAPTER II.
  A MORNING IN AUSTRALIA.--JOURNEY TO THE MINES OF BALLARAT.--THE
  CONVICT'S STORY.--BLACK DARNLEY, THE BUSHRANGER.

  CHAPTER III.
  TRAVELLING IN AUSTRALIA.--AN ADVENTURE WITH SNAKES.--CARRYING
  THE MAILS.

  CHAPTER IV.
  EATING BROILED KANGAROO MEAT.--AUSTRALIAN SPEAKS AND
  AMERICAN RIFLES.

  CHAPTER V.
  THE SOLITARY STOCKMAN.--SHOOTING A KANGAROO.

  CHAPTER VI.
  ADVENTURE WITH A DOG.--THE MURDER IN THE RAVINE.--STORY
  OF AN OUTRAGED WOMAN.

  CHAPTER VII.
  BLACK DARNLEY'S VILLANY.--THE CONVICT STOCKMAN.

  CHAPTER VIII.
  AN EXPEDITION.--A FIGHT WITH BUSHRANGERS.--DEATH OF BLACK
  DARNLEY.

  CHAPTER IX.
  THE STOCKMAN'S DAUGHTER.--MOUNTED POLICE OF MELBOURNE.

  CHAPTER X.
  DESPERATE DEEDS OF TWO CONVICTS.--LIEUT. MURDEN'S STORY.

  CHAPTER XI.
  SAGACITY OF A DOG.--A NIGHT'S ADVENTURES.

  CHAPTER XII.
  DISCOVERY OF A MASONIC RING.--FUNERAL PYRE OF BLACK DARNLEY.

  CHAPTER XIII.
  THE STOCKMAN AND HIS PARROT.--DARING PLOT OF A ROBBER CHIEFTAIN.

  CHAPTER XIV.
  DISCOVERY OF STOLEN TREASURES IN THE STOCKMANS'S CELLAR.

  CHAPTER XV.
  DYING CONFESSION OF JIM GULPIN, THE ROBBER.

  CHAPTER XVI.
  A FORCED MARCH TOWARDS MELBOURNE.

  CHAPTER XVII.
  TRIUMPHAL ENTRY INTO MELBOURNE.

  CHAPTER XVIII.
  LARGE FIRE IN MELBOURNE.--ENGLISH MACHINES AT FAULT.

  CHAPTER XIX.
  PARDON OF SMITH AND THE OLD STOCKMAN.--GRAND DINNER AT
  THE GOVERNOR'S.

  CHAPTER XX.
  DUEL BETWEEN FRED AND AN ENGLISH LIEUTENANT.

  CHAPTER XXI.
  PREPARATIONS FOR THE SEARCH FOR GULPIN'S BURIED TREASURES.

  CHAPTER XXII.
  DEPARTURE FROM MELBOURNE.--FIGHT WITH THE NATIVES.

  CHAPTER XXIII.
  ARRIVAL AT THE OLD STOCKMAN'S HUT.--MYSTERIOUS INTERRUPTIONS DURING THE
  HUNT.

  CHAPTER XXIV.
  ROBBERY OF THE CART.--CAPTURE OF STEEL SPRING.

  CHAPTER XXV.
  STEEL SPRING'S HISTORY.

  CHAPTER XXVI.
  FINDING OF THE TREASURE.

  CHAPTER XXVII.
  CAPTURE OF ALL HANDS, BY THE BUSHRANGERS.

  CHAPTER XXVIII.
  OPPORTUNE ARRIVAL OF LIEUTENANT MURDEN AND HIS FORCE.--ROUT OF THE
  BUSHRANGERS.

  CHAPTER XXIX.
  REVENGE OF THE BUSHRANGERS.--FIRING OF THE FOREST.

  CHAPTER XXX.
  PERILOUS SITUATION DURING THE FIRE.--STEEL SPRING TURNS
  UP.

  CHAPTER XXXI.
  CAPTURE OF THE BUSHRANGERS, AND DEATH OF NOSEY.

  CHAPTER XXXII.
  RETURN TO THE STOCKMAN'S HUT.--SMITH IN LOVE.

  CHAPTER XXXIII.
  RECOVERY OF THE GOLD.--ARRIVAL AT BALLARAT.

  CHAPTER XXXIV.
  THE BULLY OF BALLARAT.--FRED FIGHTS A DUEL.

  CHAPTER XXXV.
  BALLARAT CUSTOMS, AFTER A DUEL.

  CHAPTER XXXVI.
  ARRIVAL AT BALLARAT.--MR. BROWN'S STORY.

  CHAPTER XXXVII.
  FINDING OF A 110 LB. NUGGET.--CAVING IN OF A MINE.

  CHAPTER XXXVIII.
  INCIDENTS IN LIFE AT BALLARAT.

  CHAPTER XXXIX.
  ATTEMPT OF THE HOUSEBREAKER.--ATTACK BY THE SNAKE.

  CHAPTER XL.
  DEATH OF THE BURGLAR BY THE SNAKE.

  CHAPTER XLI.
  VISIT TO SNAKES' PARADISE.

  CHAPTER XLII.
  FLIGHT FROM THE SNAKES.--ATTACKED BY THE BUSHRANGERS.

  CHAPTER XLIII.
  TRIUMPHANT ENTRY INTO BALLARAT, WITH THE BUSHRANGERS.

  CHAPTER XLIV.
  THRASHING A BULLY.

  CHAPTER XLV.
  A YOUNG GIRL'S ADVENTURES IN SEARCH OF HER LOVER.

  CHAPTER XLVI.
  A MARRIAGE, AND AN ELOPEMENT.

  CHAPTER XLVII.
  COLLECTING TAXES OF THE MINERS.

  CHAPTER XLVIII.
  MURDEN AND STEEL SPRING ARRIVE FROM MELBOURNE.

  CHAPTER XLIX.
  CATCHING A TARL AS WELL AS A CASSIOWARY.

  CHAPTER L.
  ARRIVAL OF SMITH.--ATTEMPT TO BURN THE STORE.

  CHAPTER LI.
  ATTEMPT TO BURN THE STORE.

  CHAPTER LII.
  THE ATTEMPT TO MURDER MR. CRITCHET.

  CHAPTER LIII.
  OPPORTUNE ARRIVAL OF MR. BROWN.--THEY SEND FOR STEEL SPRING.

  CHAPTER LIV.
  THE WAY THE COLONISTS OBTAIN WIVES IN AUSTRALIA.

  CHAPTER LV.
  ADVENTURES AT DAN BRIAN'S DRINKING-HOUSE.

  CHAPTER LVI.
  ADVENTURES CONTINUED.

  CHAPTER LVII.
  MORE OF THE SAME SORT.

  CHAPTER LVIII.
  CONVALESCENCE OF MR. CRITCHET, AND OUR DISCHARGE FROM THE
  CRIMINAL DOCKET.

  CHAPTER LIX.
  OUR TEAMSTER BARNEY, AND HIS WIFE.

  CHAPTER LX.
  MIKE FINDS THE LARGE "NUGGET."

  CHAPTER LXI.
  THE RESULT OF GROWING RICH TOO RAPIDLY.

  CHAPTER LXII.
  THE FLOUR SPECULATION.--MR. CRITCHET'S STORY.

  CHAPTER LXIII.
  THE SAME, CONTINUED.

  CHAPTER LXIV.
  MR. BROWN'S DISCHARGE FROM THE POLICE FORCE.--BILL SWINTON'S
  CONFESSION.

  CHAPTER LXV.
  THE EXPEDITION AFTER BILL SWINTON'S BURIED TREASURES.

  CHAPTER LXVI.
  JOURNEY AFTER THE BURIED TREASURE.

  CHAPTER LXVII.
  THE HUNT FOR THE BURIED TREASURE.

  CHAPTER LXVIII.
  THE ISLAND GHOST.--NARROW ESCAPE OF MR. BROWN.

  CHAPTER LXIX.
  CAPTURE OF THE GHOST.

  CHAPTER LXX.
  THE GHOST AND THE BUSHRANGERS.

  CHAPTER LXXI.
  SAM TYRELL AND THE GHOST.

  CHAPTER LXXII.
  FINDING THE BURIED TREASURE.

  CHAPTER LXXIII.
  THE ESCAPE FROM THE FIRE.

  CHAPTER LXXIV.
  ARRIVAL AT MR. WRIGHT'S STATION.

  CHAPTER LXXV.
  SUPPER.--RETURN OF MR. WRIGHT'S SCOUTS.

  CHAPTER LXXVI.
  MIKE TUMBLES INTO THE RIVER.--ARRIVAL OF THE BUSHRANGERS.

  CHAPTER LXXVII.
  CAPTURE OF THE BUSHRANGERS.

  CHAPTER LXXVIII.
  PUNISHING THE BULLY.

  CHAPTER LXXIX.
  MR. WRIGHT'S FARM.--DEATH OF KELLY.

  CHAPTER LXXX.
  JOURNEY BACK TO BALLARAT.

  CHAPTER LXXXI.
  STEEL SPRING IN THE FIELD.--ATTEMPT OF THE COMMISSIONER TO
  CONFISCATE OUR HORSES.

  CHAPTER LXXXII.
  SAME CONTINUED.--DEATH OF ROSS.

  CHAPTER LXXXIII.
  ARREST OF FRED.--TRIP TO MELBOURNE, AND ITS RESULTS.




INTRODUCTION.


Since my return from Australia, I have been solicited by a number of
friends to give them a history of my adventures in that land of gold,
where kangaroos are supposed to be as plenty as natives, and jump ten
times as far, and where natives are imagined to be continually lying in
ambush for the purpose of making a hearty meal upon the bodies of those
unfortunate travellers who venture far into the interior of the
country--where bushrangers are continually hanging about camp fires,
ready to cut the weasands of those who close their eyes for a
moment--and lastly, where every other man that you meet is expected to
be a convict, transported from the mother country for such petty crimes
as forgery, house-breaking, and manslaughter in the second degree.

My friends have all desired to hear me relate these particulars, and
have honored me with a large attendance at my rooms, and sat late at
night, and drank my wine and water, and smoked my cigars, with a relish
that did me great credit, as it showed that I am something of a
connoisseur in the choice of such luxuries. And then they laughed so
loudly at my jokes, no matter how poor they were, that, for a few days
after my arrival home, I really thought the air of Australia had
improved and sharpened my wit.

I should, no doubt, have continued feasting those who listened so
patiently to my yarns, had not a sudden idea entered my head, one night,
when the company were the most boisterous. I was in the act of raising a
glass of wine to my mouth, when it occurred to me that before I left
this country for Australia, via California, scarcely one of those
present had assembled on the dock to bid me farewell.

I placed the untasted wine upon the table again, lighted a cigar, and
was soon buried in smoke and reflection. I thought of the time when I
had not money enough to pay my passage to the Golden State--of the
exertions I had made to raise the amount necessary, and the many
refusals that I had met with at the hands of those who now professed to
be my friends.

I blew aside the smoke that enveloped my head, and fixed my eyes upon
one red-faced cousin, who owned bank shares, and bought stocks when low,
and sold them when a rise had taken place. He had laughed at me for my
impertinence in supposing that he could loan me money, and now he was
seated at my table, chuckling at my jokes, and swearing, while he helped
himself to liquor, that I was the best fellow alive, and that there was
nothing but what he would do for me.

Could it be possible that the possession of fifty or sixty thousand
dollars had wrought such a change? I was forced to believe it, and I
grew sad at the thought, and no more jokes escaped my lips that night;
but the company remained as late as usual, and declared by a unanimous
vote that they would meet again at the same place the next evening, and
hear further particulars.

Before sunset the next day I had changed my apartments, and taken
private lodgings with a friend who had visited me but once since my
return, and had then refused to accept of the hospitalities that I was
disposed to offer him. He had lent me money without security--he had
declined taking interest for the same--he had welcomed me on my arrival
as warmly as I expected--he did not ask me how much dust I had brought
back and he never said a word about his wish to be repaid the few
hundred dollars that he had advanced me when I left home to seek my
fortune. When I did offer him the money, and thrust a diamond ring upon
his finger as a token of my esteem, he blushed like a young school girl,
and declared that he didn't deserve it.

At his house, then, I took up my abode; and while his family treat me
with respect, they possess none of the fawning which characterizes my
other friends. As the latter have frequently expressed their sorrow for
my sudden removal, and their anxiety to know what events befell me in
the mines of Australia, I have come to the conclusion that I would put
them in print; and now those who used to drink my liquor and feast at my
table will learn how I acquired my fortune, and then, if so disposed,
they can follow in my footsteps and gain a competence for themselves.

This much I have told the reader in confidence, and with the hope that
it will not be repeated, as my red-faced cousin, who every day is to be
seen on 'Change, might be seriously angry if he was suspected of
mercenary motives. With this introduction I will commence my narrative.




LIFE IN AUSTRALIA;

OR,

A GOLD HUNTER'S ADVENTURES.




CHAPTER I.

FIRST THOUGHTS OF GOING TO AUSTRALIA.--DEPARTURE FROM CALIFORNIA.--LIFE
ON BOARD SHIP.--ARRIVAL AT WILLIAMS TOWN.--DESCRIPTION OF MELBOURNE.--A
CONVICT'S HUT.


It was as hot an afternoon on the banks of the American Fork as ever
poor mortals could be subjected to and still retain sufficient vitality
to draw their breath. Under a small tent, stretched upon their backs,
with shirt collars unbuttoned, boots off, and a most languid expression
upon their faces, were two men--both of them of good size, with a fair
display of muscle, broad-chested, hands hard and blackened with toil,
yet not badly formed; for had they been but covered with neat fitting
gloves, and at an opera, ladies might have thought they were small.

These two men, one of whom was reading a newspaper, while the other was
trying to take a _siesta_, were Frederick Button, and his faithful
companion, the writer of these adventures, whom we will distinguish by
the name of Jack, as it is both familiar and common, and has the merit
of being short.

As I was reading the paper, the contents of which interested me, I paid
but little attention to my friend, until I suddenly laid it down, and
said,--

"Fred, let's go to Australia."

"Go to the d----l," he replied, turning on his side, his back towards
me, and uttering a long w-h-e-w, as though he had found it difficult to
catch his breath, it was so hot.

"We should find it hotter in the regions of his Satanic Majesty than
here; but that is something that concerns you alone, as no doubt you are
fully aware."

Fred uttered a grunt--he was too warm to laugh, and I again returned to
the charge.

"Gold mines have been discovered in Australia, and ships are up at San
Francisco for Melbourne. A party of twenty left there last week, and
more are to follow."

There was no reply, and I continued:--

"It is stated in this paper that a man took out a lump of gold weighing
one hundred and twenty pounds, and that he had been but ten days in the
mines when he found it."

"What?" cried Fred, suddenly sitting up, and wiping the perspiration
from his brow.

I repeated the statement.

"It's a d----d lie," cried Fred.

"Then let's go and prove it so."

"How's the climate in that part of the world--hot or cold?"

"About the same as here."

Fred meditated for a few minutes, lighted his pipe, and smoked on in
silence; and as there was nothing better to do. I joined him.

"We are not making a fortune here in California, and if we don't do any
thing in Australia, we shall see the country, and that will be worth
something," I said.

"Then let's go," cried Fred, refilling his pipe; and that very evening
we commenced selling our stock of superfluous articles to our numerous
neighbors, saving nothing but tent, revolvers, rifles, and a few other
articles that would stand us in need when we reached Australia.

A week from the day that we made up our mind to try what luck there was
in store for us in Australia, we were on board of a clipper ship, and
with some two dozen other steerage passengers (for Fred and myself were
determined to be economical) we were passing through the Golden Gate on
our way to a strange land, where we did not possess a friend or
acquaintance that we knew of.

"Well," said Fred, as he stood on deck at the close of the day, and saw
the mountains of California recede from view, "it's precious little fun
I've seen in that country; and if our new home is not more exciting, I
shall be like the Irishman who pined away because he couldn't get up a
fight."

"Don't give yourself any uneasiness on that score," replied the mate,
who chanced to overhear the remark. "I'll warrant that you'll see as
many musses as you'll care to mix in."

"Then, Australia, thou art my home," cried Fred, with a theatrical wave
of his hand, as though bidding adieu to the Golden State forever.

Fred was one of the most peaceable men in the world, and never commenced
a quarrel; but when once engaged in a conflict, he was like a lion, and
would as soon think of yielding as the royal beast.

For nearly fifty days did we roll on the Pacific, amusing ourselves by
playing at "all fours," speculating on the chances of our arrival, and
making small wagers on the day that we should drop anchor; and after we
had all lost and won about an equal amount, we were one morning
overjoyed by the sight of land. Standing boldly in towards a low coast,
with no signs of a harbor, it was not until we were within half a mile
of the shore that we discovered a narrow entrance that opened into
Hobson's Bay; when we dropped anchor opposite to a town consisting of a
dozen or twenty houses, and over one of them floated the flag of
England.

"Well, Mr. Mate," asked Fred, as the men went aloft to furl sails, "do
you call that densely-populated city Melbourne?"

"That!" replied the mate, with a look of contempt at the scattered
houses. "That be d----d. That's Williams Town. Melbourne is a fine city,
seven miles from here, and where all the luxuries of life can be
obtained; but tobacco is the dearest one--so be careful of your weed."

As the officers of the custom house were even then coming on board, we
thanked him for the hint, and put ours out of their reach.

Williams Town is situated at the mouth of the River Zarra, on Hobson's
Bay, and at one time actually threatened to become a place of
considerable importance; but the water for domestic use was too bad to
be tolerated, and most of those who had settled there were glad to
retrace their steps to Melbourne, where a better sort of article exists.

"How are the mines? Do they still hold out?" I inquired of one of the
crew of the custom house boat, who was leaning against the rail in a
languid manner, as though he had been overworked for the past six
months.

"Yes, I s'pose so," he answered; and he spoke as though each word cost
him an immense amount of labor.

"Then, Fred, we are in luck," I cried, turning to my partner who stood
near at hand.

"Intend going to the mines?" the man asked, with a sudden show of
interest.

"Such is our intention," I replied.

"'Mericans, I suppose," he inquired.

"Yes."

"Then don't go if you want to keep the number of your mess," the boatman
said.

"Why not?" Fred ventured to inquire.

"'Cos they kill Yankees at the mines. Jim," he continued, turning to a
comrade, "how many 'Mericans were killed week afore last at Ballarat?"

"O, I don't know," replied the individual referred to. "A dozen or
twenty, I believe. Might have been more or less. I'm not 'ticular within
a man or two."

"Thank you for your information," cried Fred. "And now one question
more. Can you tell me how many Englishmen were killed by those same
Americans, before they died?"

This question appeared to astonish the men; for they looked at each
other, and then examined Fred with scrutinizing glances.

"I guess he'll do," they said, at length; and finding that we were not
to be frightened, they turned their attention to passengers more
credulous, and actually made some of them believe what they said was
true.

The next morning we hired a boat to take our luggage to the wharf, where
the steamers, which ply between Sydney, Geelong, and Melbourne, stop.
Our traps did not amount to much, as we had no money to spare for
freighting, and when we first stepped upon the soil of Australia, our
worldly possessions consisted of four shirts, do. pants, two pairs of
boots, blankets, tents, &c., the whole weighing just one hundred and
fifty pounds--not a large amount, but sufficient for two men, whose
wants were easily supplied.

There were a dozen rough, loaferish looking men, whiling away their time
upon the wharf; but as they confined themselves to simply asking a few
questions as to what part of the world we came from, and received
satisfactory answers, they soon lost all interest in us, and began to
speculate what time the steamer would arrive.

She did not reach the dock until noon; and as we had seen enough of
Williams Town, we readily embarked, and in an hour's time were at
Melbourne, gazing with interest at every thing that met our view.

The city was full of life and business: heaps of goods were exposed
ready for transportation to the mines, and large, lumbering carts of
English build were crawling slowly through the streets, drawn by five
and six yoke of oxen, while the drivers, armed with whips, the lashes of
which were of immense length, though the stock or handle was barely two
and a-half feet long, whirled them over the frightened animals' heads,
and whenever they struck the poor brutes, a small, circular piece of
skin was taken out, leaving the quivering flesh exposed to the sun, and
a prey for the numerous insects that hovered in the air.

We carried our stuff on shore, and then considered what was necessary to
get to the mines; and while we rested upon our bundles, and ate a
portion of the salt junk and biscuit that the cook of the ship had
insisted upon our taking with us, we took a calm survey of
Melbourne--its advantages and disadvantages. The city occupies two sides
of a valley, called East Hill and West Hill, and is well laid out.

The streets are broad, unpaved, and formed so that during the heavy
rains the water will centre into the gutters, which are flagged with a
substantial kind of stone to prevent the sidewalks from washing away
during the rainy season, when the gutters resemble small mountain
torrents, and enough head is obtained to carry half a dozen sawmills.

At the place where we landed there is barely sufficient room for the
steamer to turn round for the bay, or arm, of the River Zarra is small,
and the water shoal. Every available place near the landing was crowded,
however, with crafts of all descriptions, from the light-draughted
schooner to huge launches, with loads of goods which they had received
from ships lying in Hobson's Bay. Altogether, the scene reminded one
very much of San Francisco; and so our spirits rose as we contemplated
the bustle going on.

"Well, my men, are you in want of work?" asked a well-dressed elderly
gentleman, who had arrived in a carriage driven by a coachman in livery,
and a footman, dressed in the same garb. He appeared to own every thing
that he looked at; for we had seen half a dozen men take his orders, and
then proceed to obey them with alacrity.

"We thought we'd try the mines first," I replied, in answer to his
question.

"Hard work--hard work," he said, with a smile. "Americans, I see--smart
men in that country. Hope you'll do well here. Afraid not if you go to
the mines. Want men to help get these goods under shelter. Like to
employ you;" and off he bustled.

"A pretty good sort of man, I guess," remarked Fred.

"I say, stranger," I asked, turning to a person with a cartman's frock
on, who was seated on a box smoking a pipe, "can you tell me who that
gentleman is?"

"I didn't see any gentleman," he answered, without even taking his pipe
from his mouth.

"Why, I mean the one who just spoke to us--the man with the white vest
and gold buttons."

"Him--he's a ticket-of-leave man, and has more money than half of the
merchants in Melbourne," replied the cartman.

"What, that man a convict?" I asked, with surprise.

"Just so--transported for fourteen years for house-breaking. Behaved
himself, and so got liberty to enter into business; and now he is at the
top of the heap. In two years his time will be out, and then he can stay
or go where he pleases."

After this piece of news the convict became an object of curiosity to
us, and we watched him until he entered his carriage and drove off, his
coachman treating him with as much respect as he would the governor
general.

"I say," asked Fred of our new acquaintance, "do all convicts get rich?
Because if they do I want to become one as soon as possible."

"Not all," replied the man; "but some blunder into luck, and others are
shrewd and look after the chances. I don't suppose I shall ever be rich,
although I am doing pretty well."

"And are you a--"

I didn't like to say convict, and so I hesitated.

"O, yes; I was sentenced to ten years' transportation for writing
another man's name instead of my own on a piece of paper."

"That is forgery."

The convict smiled, as much as to say, you have hit it, and continued to
smoke his pipe with infinite satisfaction.

"I should like to know if the company we are likely to meet in the mines
are of the same class?" muttered Fred.

"Most of them," replied the man, who appeared to be a man of education;
"and you'll find them more honest than those never sentenced, because
they know that their freedom depends upon their reputation."

We sat staring at our informant for some time; but after a while he
knocked the ashes from his pipe, and arose as though going.

"If you want your traps taken to the mines at a reasonable rate, I'll do
it for you, as I start to-morrow with a load of goods for Ballarat," he
said, after a moment's hesitation.

"Is that mine productive?" we asked.

"It's as rich as any of them. You may sink a shaft and strike a vein,
and you may get nothing. It's all a lottery."

We consulted together for a few minutes, and concluded to try our
fortunes at Ballarat, and so signified to our acquaintance.

"Then shoulder your traps, and I'll show you my shanty. You can sleep
there to-night, and, let me tell you, it's a favor that I wouldn't grant
to half of my countrymen."

As we considered pride out of place in that country, we readily accepted
his offer, and in a few minutes were walking through the streets of
Melbourne with a convicted felon.

We found his hut to be built of rough boards, with but one room; and the
furniture consisted of a stove, wooden benches, a pine table, and a
curiosity in the shape of a bedstead.

That night we learned more of the customs of the Australians from our
host, who gave the name of Smith as the one which he was to be called
by, than we should have found out by a six months' residence.

Over a bottle of whiskey, which was made in Yankeeland, we spent our
first night in Australia.

"Come," said Smith, about ten o'clock, "it's time we were asleep, for we
start early in the morning, and before to-morrow night you'll not feel
as fresh as you do at present."

As he spoke he removed the whiskey, and in half an hour deep snoring was
the only sound of life in the convict's hut.




CHAPTER II.

A MORNING IN AUSTRALIA.--JOURNEY TO THE MINES OF BALLARAT.--THE
CONVICT'S STORY.--BLACK DARNLEY, THE BUSHRANGER.


"Hallo!" cried a gruff voice, accompanied by a gentle shake, which was
sufficient to arouse Fred and myself from a deep sleep, that was
probably caused by the whiskey.

The time had passed so swiftly that it did not seem an hour since we had
first stretched ourselves upon our blankets on the floor.

We rubbed our eyes and sat up, looking around the Australian's hut,
almost fancying that we were still dreaming. A spluttering tallow candle
was dimly burning, stuck in the neck of a porter bottle, and a fire was
lighted in the old broken stove, on which was hissing a spider filled
with small bits of beef and pieces of potatoes. A sauce pan was doing
duty for a coffee-pot, and the fragrant berry was agreeable to the
nostrils of hungry men. Our host, the convict Smith, after he had
aroused us, seated himself upon a three-legged stool, and was busily
employed stirring up the savory mess, and trying to make a wheezy pipe
draw; and as the tobacco which he was smoking was damp, and the meat was
liable to burn, his time was fully occupied.

"Come, rouse up." Smith said, when he saw that we were awake; and while
he spoke, he was trying to coax a coal into the pipe, but it obstinately
refused to go.

"We'll be off in an hour's time; so I'm getting a little bit of
breakfast ready before we start. Get up, and help me set the table."

We rolled up our blankets, and in a few minutes had drawn the rough
table to the middle of the room, and placed thereupon our tin plates and
quart pots.

As breakfast was not quite ready, I strolled out of doors, and found
that the first streaks of daylight were just visible, and the stars
looked white and silverish. There were no clouds to obscure the sight,
and for a short time I stood watching the gradual changes that were
taking place as the sun edged its way towards the horizon. First long
streaks of a bright golden color were extended like huge arms, and then
they changed to a subdued pink tint that defied the art of a painter to
transfer to canvas. Glorious are the views to be obtained in Australia
at sunrise, and if those of Italy excel them, it must indeed be a land
for poets and painters.

A heavy dew had fallen during the night, and refreshed the aromatic
plants that sprouted beneath my feet; and as they were crushed by my
heavy tread, they yielded up their life with a perfumed breath that
filled the air with fragrance, and made me regret that I had no other
means of locomotion beside my feet.

The heavy rumbling of carts over the dry streets was heard, and an
occasional crack of the dreadful whip and the fierce shout of the driver
proved that there were others stirring as early as ourselves.

"Breakfast is ready," shouted Fred from the door of the hut; and I
retraced my steps to the home of the convict, whom I found still sucking
his pipe and pouring out the coffee.

Our meal was soon over, for the delicacy of civilized life was not
particularly observed, and our long seclusion from the society of
females had rendered us little better than savages, as far as manners
were concerned.

"Now, then, pack up your traps, and he ready for a start. I'll be along
here with my team in half an hour, as my freight is already loaded."

"Rut we shall need provisions for the route," I said.

"Of course you will; but as I have to take some for myself, I'll get a
quantity for you also, and charge just what I pay. At Ballarat you'll
find enough to eat, and men to trust you if short of money."

Smith left to get his cattle, and while absent we washed the tin pans
and got all ready for a start. Our rifles were reloaded, and revolvers
examined, and after we had indulged in the luxury of a smoke, we heard
the voice of the convict shouting in no gentle tones to his oxen, as
they stopped in front of the hut.

"All ready?" asked Smith, coiling up his long whip, at the sight of
which the cattle fairly trembled, and pricked up their ears as though
ready for a stampede.

"All ready," we answered, bringing out our traps and lashing them on the
team.

The coffee pot and skillet were not forgotten, as we calculated if we
met any game they would both be of service. A keg of water, a bottle of
whiskey, a bag of ship bread, a large piece of pork, a few potatoes,
coffee, a bag of flour, and a bag of sugar, were the articles needed for
our long journey to the mines of Ballarat.

Smith locked the door of his hut, hung the key about his neck attached
to a thick cord, and then, uncoiling his dreadful whip, he sounded the
signal for an advance.

The cattle strained at their yokes, and the huge, clumsy, English-built
team creaked over the road, and groaned as though offering strong
remonstrance against the journey.

There were five yoke of oxen attached to the cart, and as they were in
fair condition and had not been worked for a few days, they took the
load along the level road at a brisk walk; and it was not until we had
got beyond the city's limits and left Melbourne in the distance, that
the animals fell into their accustomed steady walk.

"I suppose that there is but little use in our carrying our rifles in
our hands?" I asked of Smith, as he walked by the side of the cattle.

"I have been waiting for you to ask the question ever since we left
Melbourne," Smith replied; "I thought I wouldn't say any thing until you
got tired of carrying them. There is but little fear of our meeting with
bushrangers so near the city; and as for game, we may see some, but not
within rifle range. Put your guns in the cart, and don't touch them
until we camp to-night."

We gladly followed his advice, for the sun had risen, and began
scorching us with its rays, although, when we started, the air was quite
cool, and a jacket was not uncomfortable.

"How far is Geelong from Melbourne?" I asked, after we had relieved
ourselves of the rifles.

"Between fifty and sixty miles."

"Do we pass near the town?"

"No, we branch off near Mount Macedonskirt, the range of mountains by
that name, and which you can see in the distance; cross a barren tract
of country, where no water but sink-holes is to be found for forty
miles; strike the mines of Victoria; and then we are near the gold
fields of Ballarat."

"Where I hope we shall make a fortune and return to Melbourne in less
than six months," Fred cried.

"Amen," ejaculated Smith; but he smiled as he thought what a slight
chance there was of our prayers being answered.

We met some half a dozen teams on their way back to Melbourne from the
mines, and we surveyed the drivers as we would rare animals, for they
were covered with a thick coating of white dust that had filled their
hair and whiskers, and looked as though a bushel of corn meal had been
scattered over their heads.

Each cart contained two or more invalids, who appeared, by their
dejected air, to have taken farewell of the world, and didn't think it
worth while attempting to live any longer; and when a question was asked
them, it was with great reluctance that they returned an answer, and if
they did speak, it was in tones so faint that with difficulty they could
be understood.

Three times did the convict stop his cart to supply some little luxury
to the invalids; and while he declined payment for his refreshments, it
did not prevent him from requesting the sick men to say, when they
reached Melbourne, that they had been befriended by himself. We were
struck by this peculiarity, and as soon as the team's moved on, we
resolved to inquire the reason.

"Why are you so particular that those men should mention your name for
the charities that you perform?" asked Fred.

Smith smiled, but it was of the melancholy sort of mirth, and did not
come from his heart. He hesitated, as though considering whether he
should make a full expression or reserve his confidence. At length he
said,--

"I told you that I was sentenced to transportation for ten years. Five
of them have passed, and I am at liberty to trade on my own account, yet
liable at any moment to be remanded back to my old station, and work
worse than a slave on the docks, or at any menial employment. I have so
far managed very well. I have saved money, and own shares in the Royal
Bank of Melbourne, besides two good houses that are paying me a large
percentage. The property is mine, and government cannot touch a penny of
it; yet I would willingly give all that I possess to be at liberty to
call myself a free man, and to know that I am no longer watched by those
in power. When I received my sentence I determined upon the course I
would adopt. I never murmured at my work, no matter how disagreeable it
was--I was respectful and obedient, and after a year's hardship I was
favorably reported at head quarters, and was then allowed to live with a
man who kept cattle, and had made a fortune as a drover. I served him
faithfully for two years, and upon his report I was allowed a ticket of
leave, and commenced business for myself. I am comparatively a free man;
but if any unfavorable report should be heard concerning me, farewell to
my present liberty. For five long years I should be used like a brute,
and before my term expired I should be in a felon's grave; for a man
must possess a constitution of iron to endure the tasks that are
inflicted upon a convict remanded back to the tender mercies of
overseers whose hearts are harder than the ball and chain which many of
their prisoners wear."

"And you really think that the relief you afford to those returned
miners will be heard of, and that it will mitigate your sentence?"

"Certainly. The poor fellows will go to the hospital, and while there I
shall be held in grateful remembrance. The physician will hear of my
name, and one of these days I hope to receive a full pardon. But whether
I do or not, I shall be conscious that I have done my duty, and in some
measure atoned for the crime that I committed."

Smith cracked his long whip to let the oxen know that he was not asleep,
and the cattle, rousing from their snail pace at the sound of the
scourge, accelerated their steps, and strained at their yokes as though
they would tear them from their necks.

We remained silent while getting over a mile of the dusty road; but, as
the oxen fell into their slow pace again, we renewed the conversation.

"You think that the system of letting convicts have leave tickets is a
good one, then?" we asked.

"In some cases I think that it works well; but all men are not alike,
and while some play the hypocrite and profess good conduct, others are
never allowed their liberty because they brood over their past life so
much that they never smile. They are marked as sullen and discontented,
and are worked until their spirits are broken, and they no longer hope
for freedom. The energy and enterprise of liberated felons have
increased the trade of Australia until she is no longer a burden to the
mother country, and I hope, before I die, to see this island conducted
as an independent government. It would be better for England, and I need
not tell you how much better it would be for us."

"Are the bushrangers, that we hear so much about, really dangerous
fellows to meet?" we asked.

"They are the very scum of the great cities of England--desperate men
who are usually sentenced for life, and therefore have no hope of mercy;
and many of them desire none. As soon as they can effect an escape they
do so, and fleeing to the wilds of the island, either join a band of
ruffians like themselves, or else, fearful of trusting to men that are
as treacherous as wolves, will roam without companions for many days,
living upon sheep, which are easily obtained from herds without the
knowledge of the shepherds, and very often with their consent, to be at
last betrayed and shot by the very man who was trusted most. There are
hundreds of them upon the very route that we must take, and every day
there are murders and robberies committed, and all the vigilance of the
guard, who escort gold dust from the mines to Melbourne, is necessary to
insure its protection.

"Teams like our own, however, are most attended to, and if we should
wake up in the night, and by the light of the camp fire see half a dozen
ferocious-looking fellows standing over us, it would be better to let
them take what they want, and go their way in peace, than to trust to an
appeal to arms or oppose them. Once rouse them to anger, and our lives
would not be worth a sixpence; for they think no more of shedding the
blood of a man than they would that of a sheep."

"I think it would be better to give them a trial than be robbed,
especially when we possess weapons like these," cried Fred, touching his
revolver, which he carried in a belt around his waist.

Smith looked at my companion for a moment in silence, as though trying
to satisfy himself whether Fred was in earnest, or only talking because
danger was remote.

"I've carried many men to the mines," he said at length, "and been
robbed some half a dozen times; but I always found that while my
passengers were firm for resistance at the beginning of the journey, yet
at night a different opinion was formed, and the boldest has consented
to give up a shirt or pair of boots without a murmur."

Fred laughed good naturedly, and spoke jestingly in reply.

"That was because you never freighted Americans. Englishmen may consent
to have their boots pulled off, but Yankees would be apt to
remonstrate."

"I hope that we shall have no occasion to test your courage," said
Smith; "but if we meet Black Darnley, I shall not blame you for keeping
quiet."

"And who is Black Darnley?" we asked.

"An escaped convict, who has been at large for three years; and, in
spite of the two hundred pounds reward, no one has ventured to attempt
his capture. He swears that he will never be taken alive, and he will
keep his word. He has no fear of two or even three ordinary men, for he
possesses the strength of a Hercules and the desperation of a wounded
tiger. Of all the bushrangers on the island, he is the worst; and yet he
always treats me well, and lets me pass without levying toll, for he and
I are old acquaintances, and often have a social chat together about
times gone by."

"Tell us where you first met him," we said, crowding nearer the convict
to hear his story.

"Wait until we halt for a rest and feed the cattle. Half a mile from
here is a small stream of water, and under the shade of some trees near
at hand, we'll boil our coffee, and then I'll tell you about my first
meeting with Black Darnley."

As it was about noon, and we had travelled near twelve miles, the
proposed halt was any thing but disagreeable. Besides, the sun was
nearly overhead, burning and scorching us with its intense rays, and
causing the oxen to protrude their tongues and drag their weary feet
along as though they hardly possessed life enough to reach the water
spoken of.

A sharp crack of Smith's whip and the cattle started into life again;
and as he continued to flourish the dreaded lash over their heads, they
kept up their speed until we reached the stream, which slowly trickled
through dry plains, with scorched grass and withered shrubs; but, near
the banks of the river, which during the rainy season became a mighty
torrent, green trees and rank grass afforded an agreeable shade from the
burning sun.

The cattle were unyoked, and allowed to wander where they pleased, Smith
being confident of finding them near the water when he got ready to
start.

"Black Darnley, as he is called, owing to his swarthy complexion," began
Smith, after a fire was made, and water for the coffee started to
boiling, "was transported in the same ship as myself; but our conduct
during the passage to Australia was widely different, he was rebellious,
and I docile. He was half the time wearing irons, and when free from
fetters endeavoring to create a mutiny. I never meditated any such
project, and threatened one time to disclose his plans if he did not
give them up.

"He swore vengeance against me, and after that I always avoided him. Six
different times during the passage he was severely flogged, and when
that was found to have no effect, he was starved into a respectful
demeanor; but as soon as he had recruited his exhausted strength, he
would again commence his old career of insolence, and once more be
punished. He is a strong man, and stands nearly six feet six, with
shoulders broad and arms covered with muscle, while not a pound of
surplus flesh is on his body. Before he committed the crime for which he
was transported, he was a prize-fighter; but having lost a battle, he
turned his attention to house-breaking, as an agreeable diversion from
his former course of life. He was betrayed by a comrade, and sentenced
for fourteen years. He will never live to see his sentence expire; for,
cunning as he is, his day of capture will not long be delayed.

"Upon our arrival at Sydney, he was branded with a black mark against
his name, and the most laborious work was his daily task, besides the
privilege of dragging a chain and ball after him. He managed to secrete
a knife about his person one day, and when the guard the next morning
ordered him to perform some heavy work, he struck the man to the heart
with his weapon, broke his chain, and fled.

"A horse standing near the dock where he was employed, he mounted, and
escaping the shower of balls that flew after him, and defying all
opposition, he reached the wilds of Australia.

"It was a bold strike for liberty, and only one time in a thousand could
it be achieved.

"Before he effected his escape I had been taken into the service of a
man who owned large herds of sheep, and on one of his immense tracts of
land was I stationed to look after a flock of nearly ten thousand. I in
fact became a stockman, and lived a solitary life, with no one to speak
to unless it was to those who brought me a few necessary articles once a
month, and then departed to supply other stations.

"I was not discontented with my lot, and yet at times I longed to see a
human face and hear a voice speak in my native tongue. I used to receive
visits occasionally from the miserable natives, who hang around a sheep
station; but as I never encouraged their intrusions, and watched their
doings with a sharp eye, they generally avoided me. Twice they tried to
murder me, but I was wary and escaped.

"The hut in which I lived was built of logs, plastered on the outside
with clay to keep out the rain, and contained one room, with a
fireplace, a bed made of sheep skins, a table and two stools. The door
was a stout one, made expressly to resist a siege in case the natives
grew vicious, and was secured on the inside by a large bar.

"I have been thus particular in my description of my habitation, because
one night, when the rain was pouring down in torrents, and the wind beat
against the hut as though it would take it from its foundation, I was
startled by hearing a loud knock at the door.

"I had been sitting before the fire for a long time, trying to picture
out my future life, for my past was already too well known, when the
summons disturbed me. I started to my feet, and sought the door, where
my dog was already snuffing and uttering angry growls, as though
suspicious that the person on the outside was not exactly such a guest
as his master would wish for in that lonely habitation. While I was
uncertain what to do, another knock, louder than the first, startled the
dog into a howl; but I hushed his noise, and taking down my gun, that
hung over my bed, I asked what was wanted.

"'In the name of God give me shelter,' cried a voice that I thought I
recognized, although I could not call to mind where I had heard it.

"'Who are you?' I asked.

"'A stranger who has been to various stations for the purpose of buying
cattle, and has lost his way. Give me shelter for the night, and God
will reward you.'

"The latter part of the solicitation sounded as though uttered in a
hypocritical tone, and I was undecided whether to comply with the
request, or send him to the next station, about ten miles distant. A
fresh gust of wind influenced me; I slipped off the bar and opened the
door; but next moment I would have given all the sheep under my charge
to have had my guest where he was five minutes previous, with the oak
bar across the door; for by the flickering fire that blazed upon the
hearth I saw that my visitor was Black Darnley.

"He was greatly altered since I had seen him last. His clothes hung in
tatters about his body, while his large feet were shoeless and bleeding
profusely: but the fire of his black eyes was unquenched, and the bony
form, still upright in spite of the hard labor to which he had been
subjected, gave assurance, to my dismay, that he still possessed his
giant strength.

"The instant he entered the hut he closely scrutinized my face, and then
cast hurried glances around the room to see if I were alone. Satisfied
that I was, he strode to the fire, and seated himself near its cheerful
blaze.

"'I have seen your face somewhere,' he said, looking at me keenly.

"'I should think you would remember it,' I replied, 'for we were both
passengers in the same ship.'

"He started up with a fearful oath, and would have rushed upon me; but I
brought my gun to my shoulder, and kept him at bay.

"'I remember you now,' he said, and seemed inclined to dash at me in
spite of the weapon which I held in my hand. 'You are the one that
threatened to betray me when I wished to take the ship. I swore to have
your life for your cowardice; but I retract the oath, and now let us be
friends. Give me shelter, and something to eat, and to-morrow I will
leave you for a distant station.'

"'You are deceiving me,' I said, still retaining my hold of the gun, and
looking at him suspiciously.

"'No, by ----, I'm not,' Darnley cried, with a look of sincerity: 'here,
let me prove it. Ten days ago I murdered one of the guards, and fought
my way to this part of the country in hopes of joining a gang of
bushrangers. Since that time I have been pursued and hunted like a wild
beast; but they haven't captured Black Darnley yet.'

"He laughed triumphantly as he spoke, and thought of the long chase that
he had given the police of Sydney.

"'You are a strong man, much stronger than myself, and if I am upon an
equal footing with you, could crush me as easily as an eggshell.'

"I still retained my hold of the gun, but I no longer covered his huge
body with its barrel.

"'Look at me!' he said, baring his arms, which were shrunken, and
holding them up for my inspection. 'For three days I've not tasted food,
or closed my eyes in sleep. I've run and skulked from tree to tree
during that time, and heard the tramping of horses as the policemen
strove to follow my trail. I am weak, exhausted, and a child could
overcome me now.'

"'But after your strength is recruited, you may act the part of a
serpent, and sting the one that warmed you into life,' I answered, half
resolved to trust him.

"'I don't blame you for your suspicions,' he cried, moodily, seating
himself by the fire again, and holding his hands towards the blaze to
dry his ragged shirt. 'I am defenceless, and you hold a loaded gun.
Discharge its contents into my body, and then go and obtain a full
pardon from government for the murder of Black Darnley.'

"He bowed his head and sat scowling at the fire, as though he cared not
what became of him, and was rather anxious, than otherwise, that I
should end his career of crime.

"'I'll trust you,' I said, replacing my gun over the bed and taking a
seat beside him, and I did so with perfect confidence.

"'Your clothes are wet and ragged,' I remarked, after a few moments'
silence, during which he did not remove his eyes from the fire.

"'A starving man cares but little about his dress,' he answered,
glancing over his ragged suit, and stooping to wipe the gravel from his
bloody feet.

"'You shall have all that you want to eat,' I answered; and I hastily
put a kettle of water upon the fire to make him a cup of tea, and then
laid upon the table nearly the whole carcass of a lamb which I had
roasted that day. He still sat by the fire and gazed at the flames as
though he read his past life amid the coals that glowed upon the
hearth, and was trying to read the future. I went to my small stock of
clothing and took out a flannel shirt and pair of trousers, much the
worse for wear, but still warm and dry.

"'Strip off your wet garments," I said, 'and accept of these.'

"He started, and looked me full in the face, as though reading my
thoughts.

"'I have wronged you,' he cried, while doing as I directed. 'I thought
when I proposed to take the ship, that you were a coward, because you
refused to join me. You are a braver man than myself.'

"'It was because I knew that certain death not only awaited you and I,
but half of those who were not aware of the plot. The innocent and
guilty would have been massacred without mercy by our taskmasters.'

"'But we could have slain half a dozen of them before dying ourselves,'
he exclaimed, with a touch of his old fierceness, and a wave of his long
arms, as though, even then, weak as he was, he would like to strangle
his oppressors. I made no reply, but assisted him to dress; and after he
had squeezed his body into my clothes, which were two sizes too small
for him, the water on the fire boiled, and I made a strong cup of tea,
and then bade him eat to repletion. He needed no second invitation, but
fell to work like a wild animal, and craunched bones and flesh between
his strong teeth in such a ravenous manner that I had expectations of
his choking himself; and I don't know that I should have been sorry if
he had. The lamb rapidly disappeared, but not until every bone was
picked, and half-eaten, did he evince that he was satisfied, and again
drew towards the fire, into which he continued to gaze until he began to
nod with weariness.

"'You are sleepy,' I said. 'Occupy my bed to-night, and I'll sit by the
fire.'

"'The floor will do for me. Give me a sheep-skin and let me stretch
myself before the fire.'

"Finding that he was resolved not to deprive me of the bed, I spread
half a dozen skins upon the hearth, and giving him a pipe well filled
with tobacco, retired to my couch, and lay watching his huge form by the
faint flicker of the fire, which had begun to grow dim.

"In a few minutes Darnley's head, which he had supported upon his hand,
sank upon his pillow; 'the pipe dropped from his mouth, and by his heavy
breathing I knew that he slept. Wicked thoughts then crowded upon my
mind. Within my reach was a gun, well charged with slugs, and there,
lying upon the hearth, was an escaped convict, whose life was forfeited
by the laws of Australia, and pardon and official patronage granted to
any man that shed his blood. Nay, more, I had the moans of purchasing my
freedom by exhibiting proofs that I had taken his life, and I thought of
the many years that must elapse before my term would expire.

"I reached towards the gun, and considered that I should but do my duty
in slaying him as he lay; but other thoughts succeeded, and I now thank
God that my hands are not stained with the blood of a man who trusted to
my goodness of heart. I fell asleep during my meditations, and when I
awoke, Darnley was still sleeping in front of the cold fireplace.

"I moved about the room as gently as possible, and tried to avoid
awakening him; but while I was endeavoring to kindle a fire, he suddenly
started up, his countenance inflamed with passion, and his deep-set eyes
glaring like those of a tiger.

"'I'll never be taken alive,' he shouted, throwing his huge form upon
mine, and crushing me to the ground with his weight, while his hand
sought my throat which was compressed in his grasp until my eyes started
nearly from their sockets.

"In his half-awakened madness I should have been strangled, had it not
been for my dog, that flew at his leg, and inflicted a savage bite that
caused Darnley to relinquish his hold and turn upon the brute; but by
the time that he had staggered to his feet, he awakened to his
situation, and became calm and penitent, and asked my pardon a dozen
times for his mistake. I forgave him, but resolved to keep at a
respectful distance the next time he slept.

"I gave him a hearty breakfast, and when he got ready to leave placed a
pair of sheep-skin shoes upon his feet; but all my arguments did not
induce him to accept of the garments that belonged to me, as he feared
that in case he was taken they would be traced and involve me in
trouble. It was considerate in him certainly, but from that day to this
he has baffled all attempts at capture; but how much longer he will be
permitted to go at large is only known to God."

"And did he ever pay you another visit at the hut?" I asked, as Smith
paused.

"Quite frequently; but he always came alone, and would not allow one of
the gang whom he gathered about him to molest my flocks. I saw him on my
last trip to the mines, and he tried to bribe me to purchase him a pair
of revolvers; but I refused, and he left me without a word of reproach."

It was nearly four o'clock when Smith finished his account of the
bushranger; and as the heat was not so oppressive as at noon, we decided
to travel eight or ten miles farther that evening, before we camped for
the night.

The oxen were found, driven towards the cart, and yoked; and, with many
a sharp crack of the stockman's whip, we crossed the stream, and once
more pursued our way towards Ballarat.




CHAPTER III.

TRAVELLING IN AUSTRALIA.--AN ADVENTURE WITH SNAKES.--CARRYING THE MAILS.


During the rainy season in Australia, the roads leading to the mines are
almost impassable, as the soil is light and the water easily penetrates
to a great depth. Teams, with half a dozen yoke of cattle, can scarcely
draw a heavy cart, as the brutes sink to their knees in mud at every
step, and the wheels of the vehicle are buried to the axletree most of
the time. Five or ten miles per day is as great a distance as animals
can travel; and even at that rate it is quite common for the oxen to
give out, and be left by the roadside, a prey for dogs and other wild
animals.

The natives of the island,--for the race bears no resemblance to that
class of people to whom we are wont to ascribe an elastic step, a noble
bearing, and undaunted courage--have been known to follow a team for
twenty-four hours, expressly for the purpose of picking the bones of an
ox which they imagined would soon give out; and when the poor brute is
left to die, they crowd upon him like vultures, and hack off huge strips
of quivering fresh before his breath has departed.

In the summer season, when no rain falls to lay the dust or irrigate the
earth, the streams, which, during the winter, are like mountain
torrents, and sweep every thing opposed to them towards the ocean,
become puny little rivulets, and as the summer advances, disappear
altogether from sight, and nothing but deep gulches mark the spot where
but a few months before a large body of water flowed.

Then the roads become hard and dry, and the light earth, pulverized by
the numerous wheels which are continually passing over it, is taken up
by the hot winds and whirled along the vast, plains, obscuring the sight
as effectually as though there was a deep eclipse. The eyes and nostrils
of the traveller become irritated by the fine particles, and the dust is
sifted into his ears and mouth. The latter gets coated with dust, and
all moisture is denied the palate. Vainly the tongue is rolled from side
to side to check the burning thirst, until at last the member gets so
swollen that it becomes incapable of motion, and then, unless relief is
soon afforded, death ensues. Water, slimy, stagnant water, is drank with
as much eagerness as a glass of iced Cochituate in summer.

The various sink holes with which the prairies abound are drained of
their contents, and if the traveller is unacquainted with a miner's
life, he does not wait until the liquid is strained and boiled, and thus
relieved of many of its bad properties, but swallows a large quantity of
the nauseous filth, and for many days after repents of his folly. He
that drinks at a sink hole, and suffers long and repeated attacks of
fever and ague, or dysentery, in consequence, learns to avoid it in
future.

As Fred and myself were old miners, and had tramped over a large portion
of California, and knew the dangers of such indulgence, we were not
likely to be caught; although we had a good guide with us in the person
of the convict, who really appeared to take an interest in our welfare,
and gave us much friendly advice.

The sun did not set for three hours after we started, on the afternoon
that we crossed the gulch; and while we found the heat growing less
oppressive, we certainly did not feel much refreshed by its
disappearance, as our legs, unaccustomed for many days to long walks,
began to grow stiff, while blisters formed upon our feet and galled us
extremely.

We would have given a small sum to have been enabled to halt for the
night; but pride prevented us from asking Smith to do so. We were
fearful that he would laugh at us, and we had our reputation as
Americans at heart too much to let him think that we were failing even
on the first day from Melbourne. But as mile after mile of ground was
got over, we could keep silent no longer.

"How much farther do you intend going before camping for the night?" I
asked of the convict in a careless sort of way, although I could hardly
prevent limping.

"Feel tired?" he inquired, with a grin.

"O, no," I answered, with an indifferent air.

"Well, as you are not tired, and night is the best time to travel,
suppose we keep on until daylight?"

"I'll be ---- if I do," broke in Fred. "I've got a great blister now, on
my great toe, bigger than a silver dollar, and my boot seems inclined to
raise others. I'll tell you what it is, Smith, for the last two months
we've been on shipboard, and not walked five miles during that time, and
if you think we can compete with you as a pedestrian, you are mistaken."

Fred jerked out his words as though each step he took cost him an
immense amount of pain, and I've no doubt it did. The convict laughed
silently, and relieved his feelings by cracking his long whip, bringing
the end of the lash to bear with great precision upon the flanks of the
leading yoke of cattle, which testified their appreciation of his
attention by kicking at the heads of those following; and as such
playful amusement was calculated to inspire vitality in the animals,
they started off with renewed speed, and Fred and myself, with many
groans, limped after.

"I can't stand this," cried my companion, after a few minutes' brisk
walk. "My feet are raw, and getting worse every moment. I'll try an
experiment."

He sat down in the middle of the road, and while the team rolled on,
jerked off his boots and stockings, and declared, as we hastened to
overtake Smith, that he felt he could walk all night, and that hereafter
he would go barefooted.

"Well," cried Smith, as we reached the team, "how do you feel now?"

"Fresh as a daisy," returned Fred, clapping his boots together as though
they were a pair of cymbals.

"What have you got in your hands?" asked Smith; for, it being already
dark, it was hard to distinguish objects at a short distance.

"My boots," cried Fred, triumphantly.

"Are you barefooted?" asked the convict in surprise.

"Yes."

"Then if you value your life, put on your boots again, and keep them on
as long as you are in the mines. You are liable at any moment to step
upon a poisonous snake; and if bitten, no power on earth can save you.
The natives pretend to cure bites, but I have some doubts on the
subject."

Smith spoke seriously, and as there might be much truth in what he said,
Fred willingly complied, although he groaned with pain as he drew on his
boots, and once more hobbled along beside the team.

"About three months ago, I was freighting a party up to the mines," said
Smith, "and a youngster became foot-sore. He took off his boots,
although I told him there was danger of treading upon snakes in the
dark. He laughed at me; but before his mirth had ceased, he uttered a
yell, and sprang wildly towards the team, which I had suffered to get a
little in advance.

"When he started, I suspected the cause, and groping carefully about in
the dust with my whip, soon discovered a small snake, not larger in
circumference than my lash, but which I readily recognized as one of the
most poisonous in the country. The natives call them _capi-ni-els_, or
what signifies little devils. As the impudent scamp was hissing and
darting out his tongue at me, I gave him a blow on the head, ground him
into powder with the heel of my boot, and then passed on to overtake the
team.

"It had got some distance from me; but before I reached it, my young
passenger could no longer walk, and by the time I had checked the oxen,
he had swollen to twice his usual size, and was lying panting by the
side of the road, incapable of moving or speaking. I got a large
quantity of brandy down his throat; but it had no effect, and in twenty
minutes' time he was a dead man. We buried him where he fell, and I'll
show you his grave when we reach it."

"I for one shall take good care to keep my boots on," I replied, after
the convict had finished his story.

"Why do they frequent a road in preference to other parts?" asked Fred,
who seemed to have almost forgotten his lameness, while listening to
Smith's yarn.

"Because the light dust over which we are passing retains the heat of
the sun longer than the soil by the road. Snakes are fond of dragging
their forms over it, as it is soft, and keeps them warm during the
night. I have known teams to be stopped, and obliged to seek a route on
the prairie, simply because a large number of snakes were not disposed
to yield the right of way.

"The first load that I ever carried to the mines, and when I was anxious
to make as much money as possible in a very short space of time, I was
stopped in this same way. I was jogging along one night, all alone, and
urging my oxen to their utmost speed, when all at once the leaders shied
out from the road, and then stopped. I cracked my whip, and roared at
them frantically, but it was of no use.

"Forward they would not budge, and at last they fairly turned, and were
making very good time towards Melbourne; but I soon stopped that game,
and once more got them headed the way I wanted them to go. When they
arrived at the spot at which they had balked a few minutes before, they
went through with the same antics, and then I thought it best to see
what was the matter. Walking forward, I was saluted with a hissing
sound, that greatly resembled the noise which an enraged gander emits
when a stranger trespasses upon his brood.

"I paused for a moment, and tried to discover, through the darkness,
what occasioned the noise, but could not, although I thought I saw
something moving not far from me. I retreated, quieted my cattle, took
my lantern and gun, and walked back to the spot. By the light of the
candle I saw about half a bushel of snakes, coiled up in a heap, and all
alive with rage at being disturbed. I hardly knew what to do. There they
were, and gave no indications of leaving the road; and I no longer
wondered at the reluctance of the oxen in refusing to pass over them.
Had they done so, it is very probable I should have lost every one of
the animals, for they could not have escaped being bitten; and then they
would have died in a few hours, and I should have suffered a great
pecuniary loss.

"I had a quantity of fine shot in my wagon-box, which I used for small
birds. I drew the charge I had in the gun, and instead of a bullet, put
in about a handful of the shot, and then setting my lantern as near the
mass of snakes as I dared venture, I retreated a few paces, and taking
deliberate aim, fired at them.

"The charge made dreadful havoc, and dozens of them were killed and cast
out of the heap by those unharmed; but instead of causing them to escape
to the prairie, they only seemed more determined to dispute the right of
way, and hissed and ran out their thin, forked tongues as though defying
me to do my worst. Their eyes sparkled like precious stones, and by the
light of the lantern I could see them change, as they moved their
position to face me, and assume a hundred different hues. It was a
terrible and fascinating sight, and for a few minutes I stood and
watched them twist and writhe themselves into a thousand different
shapes. Seeing that I should have to make a regular business at
slaughtering them, I went to work after a while, and poured volley after
volley into the mass, until not more than half a dozen escaped alive.

"Even after they were dead I could not get my cattle along the road
until I had first taken a shovel and thrown the bodies a considerable
distance from the spot. I never saw such a large collection of serpents
before, and I have often wondered why they were gathered in such a
mass."

"Have you ever arrived at any conclusion?" I asked.

"I have thought that they expected an attack from some enemy of the
serpent tribe, and so formed themselves into that shape for resistance."

While Smith was speaking, we heard a team behind us that appeared to be
tearing along at a rapid rate; and even before we could discover its
outlines, we distinguished the cracking of a whip as though the driver
was anxious to see how many times he could snap it in a minute.

"I hear you," muttered Smith, driving his oxen to one side of the road,
and stopping them. "There is no occasion for you to make so much noise
to let people know that you are coming."

Even while Smith was grumbling, a light-bodied cart, with lamps on each
side, drawn by a span of horses, and driven by a man who wore a sort of
uniform, whizzed past us, and by the side of the team rode two soldiers,
dressed in the livery of England. They were out of sight in a moment,
but they threw a jest at us as they passed, and before Smith could
reply, the soldiers were lost to view.

"A hard time you have of it," cried Smith, as he started his team again.

"Who are they?" we asked.

"That is a government team, and carries the mail between Melbourne and
Ballarat. Day and night they are upon the move, and only stop long
enough to change horses and escort. To-morrow at this time the miners
will be in possession of their letters and papers, and I need not tell
you how anxiously news is looked for from home."

"But are we to keep on day and night until we reach Ballarat?" asked
Fred.

"No," replied Smith, touching up his cattle. "Do you see yonder light
far ahead?" he cried, pointing with his whip.

"Yes."

"Well, at that light we'll prepare a cup of coffee, and sleep until
morning. Cheer up; it's only a mile distant, and there is where you will
get your first view of the natives of Australia."




CHAPTER IV.

EATING BROILED KANGAROO MEAT.--AUSTRALIAN SPEARS AND AMERICAN RIFLES.


The natives of Australia are remarkable for the slight quantity of
clothing which they wear, and the thinness of their limbs. Their dress
consists of a dirty piece of cloth, or skin of kangaroo, tied about
their waists, leaving the upper and lower parts of their bodies naked.
Their color is a dingy black, although what exact shade they would
represent were they washed quite clean is a matter of conjecture. A more
filthy race of beings I never saw; and if we adopt the hypothetical
theory of eminent medical gentlemen, that when the pores of the skin are
closed, and perspiration ceases to flow, the patient dies, then the
natives in Australia should, according to that reasoning, have all been
under ground years ago; for I am confident that during my residence on
the island, I never saw one guilty of ablution, or manifest the
slightest anxiety to mingle a little water with their dirt.

With grease upon their faces, filling their long black hair, shining
upon their hands, and smeared upon their bodies, they are as disgusting
a race as can be found upon the globe; and after a brief survey of their
huts and habits, men of a cleanly nature never desire to see them more.
Their limbs bear about as great a proportion to their bodies as the stem
of a pipe to the bowl; and to see them walking, is apt to suggest an
idea that their legs were never intended to carry their frames. The
latter part of their bodies presents a protuberance, even in the
youngsters, caused by their inordinate gluttonous nature, which prompts
them, when fortunate enough to have killed game, to gorge themselves to
repletion, as though they never expected to eat again, and were
determined to fill their stomachs even if they burst.

We soon saw a party of natives of this description seated around a fire,
black with dirt, and gorged with the flesh of a kangaroo. The stockman,
Smith, was busy with his team, and had declined our assistance, as he
saw that we were tired and nearly exhausted with travel. Telling us to
go to the fire and see how we liked the looks of the natives, we
followed his advice, and walked towards them. There were ten or twelve
of them huddled together in a circle, squatted upon their haunches, each
with a piece of raw flesh lying upon the ground, while other junks were
broiling on the coals, to be transferred from thence to the fingers of
those claiming them.

They manifested no surprise or curiosity when Fred and myself halted
within a few feet of them, and regarded their feeding operations with
considerable disgust. Their minds appeared to be too much occupied to
pay the least attention to outward objects, and as they poked their
burning food among the ashes, and licked their fingers, and grunted with
satisfaction, they certainly did not seem better than so many swine. At
least they were not half so clean.

"Well, of all the eating I ever saw, this is the worst," cried Fred,
after a few moments' contemplation.

"Even the Indians of California would be ashamed to look so dirty," I
remarked.

"Hullo," cried Smith, advancing with the sauce pan filled with water,
which he had obtained somewhere in the vicinity, although we could not
in the dark see any evidence of a stream. "Hullo," he cried; "what is
the matter? Why don't you sit down and join the gentlemen? Well, old
Bulger, how are you getting along?" addressing a native that looked
older than the others, and consequently more dirty.

The brute grunted, and paid no farther attention to the address; but
Smith was not to be bluffed that way.

"Let me have a chance at your fire," he said, holding the sauce pan
towards him; but the native gave no attention except to his burning
meat, which he turned over in the ashes with a stick, and apparently had
a great desire to eat raw.

"I know of a way to start him," muttered Smith. "Stand by and watch the
fun," he continued, addressing Fred and myself.

He canted the sauce pan a little one side, and allowed the water to run
over the rim, and strike upon the native's naked shoulder. The fellow
uttered a howl as though seared with a hot iron, and scrabbling away
from the fire, left the convict free access.

"There is nothing like water to start them," cried Smith, laughing, as
he put his dish upon the coals, while those who still kept their places
watched his motions with their little glittering eyes, as though fearful
they should also be subjected to a bath.

The native whom the convict called "Bulger" lingered around the fire for
a short time, as though he had not entirely relinquished all hope of
again joining the circle; but when he found that Smith showed no
indication of yielding his place, he grunted his displeasure, got one of
his companions to rake from the ashes his lump of flesh, and placing the
burning mass upon leaves, walked towards some rude huts which were built
of branches of trees and leaves of the _giro_.

"Good night, Bulgy," shouted Smith, as this latter toddled off; but the
native paid no attention, and soon disappeared within the pile of
leaves.

"You have met these poor devils before--haven't you?" I inquired of the
convict.

"For the last three months they have been camped on this spot, and as
water is convenient here, I generally manage to reach them in the course
of the night. Besides, I make them useful in case my cattle stray away;
and for a piece of tobacco not larger than my thumb they are willing to
run all day."

"Bah," grunted half a dozen voices in chorus, apparently roused to
animation by some word that Smith had spoken.

They extended their small hands, not larger than the paws of an
orang-outang, and greatly resembling them in formation and looks.

"What do they want?" Fred asked.

"They heard me mention tobacco, and now they are begging for some. They
love the needful as well as I do;" and Smith proceeded to fill his pipe,
and then coolly replaced the tobacco in his pocket, much to the
disappointment of the natives, who had followed his motions with anxious
eyes.

"Give them a piece," I said, quick to trace disappointment in their
expressionless faces.

"Not I," returned Smith. "If I want them to-morrow to run after my
cattle, I shall have to give them more, for they would not recollect
that I had supplied them to-night without compensation."

"Then I'll stand treat," cried Fred, handing a small piece of the
needful to the nearest native, who grunted, but whether as an expression
of thanks, or disappointment that it was not larger, is unknown.

The glittering eyes of the gorged natives were instantly fastened upon
the fortunate possessor of the tobacco, greatly to the injury of their
broiling meat. But the native upon whom the present was bestowed showed
no signs of making a dividend. He carefully concealed the tobacco in a
small pouch at his girdle, and after sitting a few minutes in silence,
staggered to his feet, and waddled off.

"'It is get all you can and keep what you get,' with them," said Smith,
as he watched the native enter his hut.

The water in the sauce pan at this moment gave indications of boiling,
and as we all felt hungry, we determined to have supper before
stretching our forms under the shelter of the cart. Our stock of coffee
was produced, the pork and bread unpacked, and while the convict busied
himself frying slices of the former, we soaked cakes of the latter in a
pan of water, and sliced a few potatoes to add a relish to our meal.

At length our supper was cooked; when seated within the light of the
blazing fire, we prepared to enjoy ourselves and perhaps emulate the
natives in their feasts.

"How do you like your coffee?" asked Smith, as I raised my tin pot to my
mouth.

Before I could reply, my attention was directed to a blaze that suddenly
enveloped one of the huts, and which threatened to extend to the others.
As the materials of which it was built were light and dry, but few
minutes' time would be necessary to consume it; so I started up,
intending to assist in extinguishing the flames.

"Let it burn," exclaimed Smith, leisurely sipping his coffee, and
watching the progress of the fire; and even the natives kept their
places, and appeared unmoved at the sight.

"There may be somebody in the hut," cried Fred, rising.

"Then let them get out the best way they can," answered Smith. "If these
dirty scamps can't assist a comrade, I don't see why we should bother
our heads."

We waited to hear no more, but rushed towards the flames; and our steps
were quickened by hearing what we thought was the cry of a child.

We seized the dry branches, of which the hut was built, and tore them
from their fastenings, scattering the leaves that formed the roof, and,
regardless of the heat, continued to work; the flames were too powerful
for us, and we were obliged to beat a retreat.

We were about to return to our supper, when we heard a shrill cry issue
from the hut--not aloud, prolonged sound, such as a man would utter when
in agony, but a sharp, short yell, like the wail of an infant.

"Smith," I shouted, turning to the convict, who was still eating his
supper, "there is a child burning to death."

"The deuce!" he cried, springing to his feet, and rushing quickly in the
direction of the fire. "Let us save the young 'un at any rate."

Upon the ground in front of the hut were half a dozen long,
sharp-pointed spears, belonging to the natives, and almost their only
weapons for defence or attack. We seized those, and charging on the fire
as though it was an enemy, we poked away branch after branch, until we
had made an entrance sufficiently large to admit one of us, when Smith,
reckless of the heat, rushed forward and entered the hut.

We waited anxiously for his reappearance, and when he did emerge from
the smoke and flames, instead of carrying a child in his arms, he was
dragging the inanimate form of the native whom Fred had made happy with
a present of tobacco a short time before.

The native was apparently insensible; but as Smith dragged him along the
ground, and let his body drop when beyond reach of the fire, he uttered
a groan, as though half disposed to remonstrate against being saved.

"Well, of all the lazy scamps that I ever saw, he is the worst," cried
Smith, wiping his brow with his hand, and looking towards us for a
confirmation of his words.

"At least you have the gratification of knowing that you have saved his
life," cried Fred, almost inclined to laugh at the rueful look of the
convict.

"His life?" repeated Smith; "why, if I had let him roast he would have
been much more gratified than he will be when he awakes. He is going
through with a fit of digestion now, and is as torpid as a toad in
winter. Ah, you brute, eat until you can't move another time, will you?"

The convict hit the native a kick with his foot, and then went to finish
his supper, grumbling as he did so at being disturbed.

The natives, who had retained their positions around the fire in spite
of the burning hut, and danger of their comrade, uttered a low grunt
when they saw Smith drag the brute from the flames; but whether that
expression was intended for satisfaction or regret, I was too little
acquainted with the customs of the tribe to tell. They took no further
notice of either their torpid companion or our party, until suddenly an
idea appeared to enter the head of one, smarter looking than his
fellows. He got with difficulty upon his feet, leaving his burning meat
upon the coals, and waddling towards the insensible native, knelt beside
him.

"Look!" cried Fred, suspending the operation of eating supper to call
attention to the fact. "Look, and never say that the natives are
destitute of feeling again."

Fred intended to be particularly severe upon Smith; but that worthy
merely glanced in the direction indicated, and, after a brief shrug of
his shoulders, took himself to his meal with renewed energy.

"You are convinced, I suppose?" Fred asked.

"Convinced that the lazy scamp recollects where the tobacco was put, and
is determined to rob the over-fed brute of his treasure."

We found that the convict was right, for the native, after fumbling at
the insensible man's girdle for a moment, reappeared at the fire, and
something like a grin of triumph lighted up his greasy features, as he
exposed to the admiring gaze the piece of tobacco which Fred had given
away.

Tired with our day's journey, and feeling sleepy after our meal, we soon
returned to the shelter of the cart for a night's rest; but before we
went, we were careful enough to pack up all of our cooking apparatus,
and also to place our rifles close at hand, although Smith told us that
the precaution was useless, as the natives never waged warfare upon full
stomachs.

It was long past daylight, when the hearty voice of the convict roused
us from a deep sleep, where dreams of home and comforts of civilization
were much pleasanter things to contemplate, than the half-naked bodies
of ten natives, who were lying upon the ground, circling the cold ashes,
where the night before a fire blazed. They lay like black snakes gorged
with carrion--lifeless and torpid, and nothing but repeated doses of
water upon their naked backs would rouse them.

"Go and take a bath," cried Smith, as we sat upright and rubbed our
eyes, and yawned sleepily.

He pointed to a small stream of water, ten or fifteen rods distant, and
as we thought it would be likely to relax our muscles, and relieve us of
a portion of the soreness which we felt, we took his advice, and upon
returning from our aquatic excursion, found coffee boiling, and salt
pork hissing in the spider, and potatoes roasting in the ashes.

After a hearty breakfast, we were ready to think about starting; but the
cattle had strayed to a considerable distance, and the convict
determined not to run after them, when he had aids so near at hand, who
could be induced for a trifle to undertake the job.

"Hullo!" he shouted, giving the nearest native a nudge with his foot;
but the fellow only grunted, and went off to sleep again.

Smith in a rage seized a pail of water that was near at hand, and dashed
part of its contents over the head and shoulders of the sleeping native,
who, not being accustomed to shower baths, started up with a cold
shiver, and hurriedly wiped the water from his face.

"Run and collect the cattle," cried Smith, who appeared to have
forgotten that not a word of English was understood by the native.

But a series of telegraphic signals was carried on by the convict, that
at last gave the barbarian to know what was wanted, and the sight of
half a hand of tobacco sharpened his faculties wonderfully.

He picked up his spear that was lying near at hand, and with the end
pricked into life half a dozen of his torpid companions; and although
blood flowed where the sharp-pointed wood touched, yet they bestirred
themselves very slowly, and did not appear to think that their brother
had used them any ways cruelly.

A short series of guttural grunts--for no other term will apply to
express the sound of their language--was carried on for a moment, and
then off started three of the natives to find the cattle of the convict,
which were, perhaps, half a dozen miles down the stream, attracted by
the sweetness of the grass which grew on the river's banks.

"As we shall have to wait some time, let's have a little amusement,"
cried Smith, who appeared to take the straying of his cattle in the most
philosophical manner.

"Agreed!" we cried. "What shall it be?"

"I'll make the natives show us a specimen of their skill with the
spear," the convict said, in the true style of Englishmen, who generally
think that all creation was created expressly for their service.

"Are they expert?" I asked.

"You shall see;" and forthwith Smith commenced another series of
telegraphing, and an admirable imitation of throwing the spear was not
forgotten, although, to tell the truth, even the natives did not disdain
to grin slightly at the clumsy gestures of the stockman.

They comprehended him, however, and pinning a small piece of paper upon
a huge tree, whose trunk had served many times as a fireplace for
parties of emigrants, like ourselves, bound to the mines, and by that
means had nearly destroyed the vitality of the noble cedar, the native
who had received the shower bath motioned to one of the youngsters of
the tribe to try his hand at the target.

He selected his spear, and retired from the tree about two rods; and
then, for the first time, did he appear to rouse himself, and wear the
air of a human being. His eyes, which were dull a few minutes before,
now lighted up, and imparted an animation to his face that I had not
believed possible; there was an activity and grace in his position, as
he faced the target, that proved there were some traits in their
character which would have made them formidable enemies.

The youngster balanced his body, throwing his right leg back as a brace,
and advancing his left foot, holding his spear upon an angle with his
eye, and drawing it back and forth, as though testing the strength of
his little, skinny arm, until he had apparently got the right balance,
when, with a quick motion, he hurled it at the mark; and as the spear
sped through the air, it produced a humming sound, like the noise of a
stone when thrown from a sling by the vigorous arm of a strong man.

So quick was the motion, and rapid the movement of the spear, that the
eye could not follow its flight; but we could hear the dull sound that
it produced within two inches of the mark, which was not larger than a
man's two hands.

"Well done," shouted Fred and myself in a breath; but the natives
manifested no applause, and even Smith shook his head and muttered,--

"He can do better than that; but the youngster is nervous and hardly
awake. Come, old boy," turning to the older native, "try your hand at
the business, and let's see what you can do."

After the usual telegraphing, he was made to understand what was
wanted; and taking a spear a trifle heavier than the one before used,
retreated nearly ten paces farther from the mark, and without apparently
using the same precautions for accuracy, let it fly.

It struck the piece of paper nearly in the centre, and penetrated the
tree four or five inches, quivered for a moment, but before it had
ceased, the native had snatched up another spear and hurled it after the
first. The second struck within an inch of its companion, and the united
strength of Fred and myself was necessary to draw them from the tree.

"Now let them see what Americans can do with rifles," cried the convict,
as he saw that the natives were rather jubilant over the feat of their
companion.

Neither Fred nor myself were what was called crack shots, either with
revolver or rifle; but we were fair, and had no need to feel ashamed of
our shooting. Determined to let the natives witness a specimen of our
skill, we pinned a piece of white rag, not larger than the palm of my
hand, upon the tree, discharged our rifles and carefully reloaded them
to be sure that they were not foul, and then retreated until we could
just see the rag.

The natives watched our proceedings in silence, but with considerable
curiosity, squatting upon the ground, and looking first at the target
and then at ourselves with an expression which seemed to say, "if you
hit that rag you are smarter than we think you are."

Indeed, so important did they consider the occasion, that they dragged
from the huts half a dozen women, and as many naked children, to witness
the exhibition.

I was to fire first; and as I drew a bead upon the mark, I carefully
calculated the distance, and with such accuracy that the bullet cut the
end of the mark, and carried a portion of the rag far into the body of
the tree.

"Hurrah for the rifles," shouted Smith, waving his hat, after he had
pointed out to the natives what had been done.

The crowd which had clustered around the tree stepped back as Fred took
his station. He was not so long sighting as myself, but his bullet
struck about an inch above my own, and nearly in the centre of the mark.

"Better and better," cried Smith, in tones of surprise; and when we
joined him, we saw by his actions that we had risen in his estimation,
while the natives, still squatting on their haunches, looked as though
we were gods, or beings of a superior order.

"Here come the oxen," cried Smith, after a few words of congratulation.
"We must get over thirty miles of ground before twelve o'clock
to-night."

"We are willing," we said.

"And the lameness and blisters?" he asked.

"The lameness is nearly gone, and the blisters are broken."

"Good; help me yoke the cattle, and before to-night you will taste, for
the first time, broiled kangaroo; and I'll tell you beforehand it's no
mean dish. Ge-long, ye brutes," and with hard cracks of the whip the
cart rumbled on, and we left the natives still squatting upon the
ground, and looking after us, as though wondering why we would travel
when it was so pleasant to sit still.




CHAPTER V.

THE SOLITARY STOCKMAN.--SHOOTING A KANGAROO.


About ten o'clock on the morning that we took our leave of the natives,
after witnessing their extraordinary skill at spear-hurling, the sun
shone out with a brilliancy and power that caused the cattle to protrude
their tongues, and lift their feet as though they wore shod with
fifty-sixes.

At twelve o'clock, when it seemed impossible for the oxen to go much
further without drink, our eyes were gladdened by the sight of green
trees and shrubs, which grew as if marked by a straight line, far off on
the prairie. The convict pointed to the well known signs of water, with
an encouraging smile, if, indeed, a smile could be seen when a man's
face is plastered over an inch thick with dust; but at any rate we were
willing to consider it as an expression of joy; although, perhaps, some
people might have thought our countenances resembled those of fiends
rather than human beings, for no flesh was visible, and the eyes looked
any thing but inviting, inflamed as they were by heat and dust.

"There is water close at hand?" I gasped, as the convict pointed to the
dark green line.

"Yes; and plenty of it," he replied, snapping his long whip, and
encouraging his tired animals with a hoarse shout.

The brutes appeared to sniff water even in the hot air, for they bent
their sturdy necks to the yoke with renewed energy, and plodded along at
a rate that required all of our exertions to keep beside the team.

In an hour's time we were standing upon the banks of a stream that had
forced its way through the level prairie, and which, during the rainy
season was unfordable; but now, when the hot sun had drank up most of
its water, a child could have passed over and not wet its knees.

It required the united exertions of all three of us to prevent the oxen
from rushing down the banks of the rivulet, and quenching their thirst
before the formality of unyoking had been gone through with. The
stock-whip was often raised, and its long lash exercised with terrible
severity, and every time it touched the flanks of the brutes, a small
piece of skin not larger than a sixpence was clipped from their
quivering flanks, leaving the flesh exposed to the mercy of the numerous
insects which hovered in the air and darted upon the defenceless spots
with the greediness of starvation.

"It's a shame," cried Fred, indignantly, "to torture poor animals that
way."

"Would you have them plunge down the banks of the stream, over-turn the
cart, spoil my cargo of goods, and perhaps lose two or three animals by
strangulation?" demanded the convict, with the first symptoms of
irritation that we had witnessed during our journey.

"No, I would not certainly desire to witness any thing of the kind; but
I still think that it is a harsh way of treating animals," cried Fred
dogmatically.

"I used to think so, and perhaps am of the same opinion still; but I
have too much confided to my charge to suffer loss for the want of a few
applications of the whip. After you have been in the country a few
years, you will not feel so tenderly for the sufferings of others."

"God grant that I may never be insensible to others' woes," cried Fred,
with a genuine burst of feeling.

"Spoken like a man," exclaimed the convict, enthusiastically. "Here," he
continued, extending his hand, "is a palm soiled by the commission of
crime; but I have lived long enough to repent of the errors of which I
have been guilty, and at times think of a mother's prayers when I was a
boy. Your words have recalled the days when I used to sit upon her knee
and listen to her words, and promise that when I grew old I'd imitate
the virtues of my father, and be a comfort to her in her declining
years. If my hand," he said, looking at it, "is soiled, my heart is
not, and I offer it to you as a pledge of friendship."

"And if your hand were stained I would accept it," returned Fred,
shaking his palm warmly. "I look upon you in the light of a friend, and
the folly of other days weighs not the weight of a feather towards
warping my judgment in considering your good and bad qualities."

The two men shook hands, and looked into each other's eyes as though
they had just found out one another's worth; and when the convict had
squeezed Fred's palm, he bestowed the same favor upon myself.

"Come," cried the convict, who appeared to be inspired with new life,
"let us get a bit of dinner, and then I will take you to the old cattle
station, where I once lived a solitary life, and where I harbored Black
Darnley."

"Is it far from here?" I asked, casting an anxious glance towards the
shadow of a tree, and thinking how pleasantly I could pass away a
portion of the afternoon by sleeping.

"Scarce a quarter of a mile, and I'll warrant that you will feel amply
repaid, tempting as the shadow of yonder tree looks," Smith said, having
guessed my weakness for repose.

"Then I will go," I replied.

"I will show you after we pass the bend of the stream," the convict
continued while on his hands and knees trying to ignite a fire with
prairie chips, "a flock of sheep that are counted by thousands. They
stretch over the land for miles in extent; even the owner does not know
how many he possesses, and has never visited his stockman, but trusts
all to an agent. Of course the latter has full authority to act as he
pleases, and sometimes, by some mysterious process, the agent gets
richer than the owner, and often buys his property, although where the
money comes from, I leave you to guess."

"Then an agent's station is better than an owner's," laughed Fred.

"It would not be if all men were honest," replied the convict, with a
gloomy brow; and from that time until the coffee was boiled, he did not
speak another word, but appeared to be meditating profoundly upon some
difficult problem.

The cattle had quenched their thirst, and were lying beneath the shadows
of tall trees, lazily cropping the rank grasses within their reach. Fred
and myself had bathed and felt refreshed, and as soon as dinner was
over, we announced to the convict our readiness to accompany him upon
his visit to the stockman's house, where he had spent so many days of
solitude.

"Take your rifles," Smith said, when he saw that we were about to depart
without them.

We looked at him inquiringly.

"We are now in regions where escaped convicts range freely; and ten
miles from here, by following the windings of this stream, is a forest
of gigantic trees and dark recesses, where the police of Melbourne dare
not venture. In that dreary retreat bushrangers find homes--stealing
forth as they do during the night, to feast upon slaughtered sheep, and
rob travellers; they lead an anxious life, as they never know who is
about to betray them, and give them up to the merciless rigor of the
authorities of the city, or else shoot them down as thoughtlessly as you
would a kangaroo, in case one should cross your path."

"I would like to know if we are to carry our rifles for the purpose, of
guarding against bushrangers or to kill kangaroos?" I asked.

"Perhaps for both intentions," replied Smith, glancing up and down the
stream, as though he was not certain that one animal or the other might
not be in sight. "We might meet a bushranger, and if we were without
arms he could do his will, and we should be powerless. As for kangaroos,
I've killed many on the very spot where we now stand; so let me warn you
to keep your eyes open, for they are like lightning in their movements,
and it requires a quick eye and steady hand to cover them with a rifle
when once they commence their leaps."

"A dollar to a shilling that I hit one the first fire, if not more than
thirty rods distant," cried Fred, glancing along his rifle as though one
was already in sight.

"I accept the wager," replied the convict, with a laugh at some thought
that appeared to strike him at the moment; but without enlightening us
he strode along the bank of the stream, leading the way towards the bend
of the brook, which was a few rods distant, and concealed a portion of
the prairie from view.

As we turned the elbow, or bend of the stream, a small hut met our view,
situated near the banks of the brook; while, covering the vast plain
were herds of sheep and lambs, so numerous that they seemed like grains
of sand upon the shore, and I should as soon have thought of counting
the latter, as the former.

The animals raised their heads and looked at us with alarm as we came in
sight, and then, appearing to think that we were there for no good
purpose, they started off into a run, tumbling over each other in their
flight, until they had placed a proper distance between us, when they
once more crowded into one dense mass, and then again scrutinized us
suspiciously.

"I will show you that I have not forgotten my old trade," Smith said,
after we had expressed our wonder at the number of animals before us.

He placed his hand to his mouth as he spoke, and uttered a shrill
whistle, which could have been heard for a mile or two. Twice did he
repeat the signal, and as he finished, the animals came slowly towards
us, as though confident that one who could produce sounds like those was
incapable of injuring them.

"Ah!" laughed the convict, "how many times have I called my flock in
that manner! and although years have passed since I was a stockman, I
have not yet forgotten the trick of the trade."

"Your signals appear to have awakened some one," Fred said, pointing to
a man who emerged from the hut, gun in hand, and who seemed undecided
whether to treat us as friends or foes.

"I will tell you a few circumstances connected with that man's history,"
the convict said, as we walked towards him. "Ten years since he was on
trial for the murder of his wife. The evidence was not very clear, so
the jury brought in a verdict of manslaughter, thinking that they might
as well convict on that ground as to let him escape. He was sentenced to
transportation for life; but after he had been in the colony three
years, new facts were brought to light which made his innocence
apparent. His counsel petitioned government for a release; but the
ministers turned a deaf ear to all entreaties, and said that as a jury
had presumed upon his guilt, they would not think of requesting her
majesty to grant a pardon; and the only thing they would attempt, would
be to send orders to treat the poor fellow as leniently as possible. In
consequence, he was allowed a parole, and entered the service of the man
who owns the vast flock of sheep which you see before you. He has grown
morose since he has led a solitary life, and if he answers questions at
all, it is in monosyllables. But do not treat him as if you knew for
what he was transported."

The latter part of Smith's remarks were spoken hurriedly, and in a low
tone, for we were close to the unfortunate man when they were uttered,
and he feared to be overheard.

I looked at the stockman with singular interest as we approached him. He
was, apparently, about fifty years of age, thin and slightly inclined to
stoop. His face was strongly marked and peculiar, and at one time he
must have passed for an exceedingly good-looking man.

His hair, which was quite white, gave him a venerable appearance; while
a long, flowing beard of jet black, combed, and carefully trimmed,
reminded me of a distinguished minister that I had once listened to, and
whose sermon made an impression upon my mind that has never been
effaced.

The stockman retained his defensive attitude, until he recognized the
features of Smith, when his gun was rested against the side of the hut,
and he once more dropped his head upon his breast, and with folded arms
awaited our coming.

"Well!" cried Smith, with assured cheerfulness; "how do you get along
nowadays?"

The stockman raised his head, and looked at the questioner as though
referring him to his face, with its wrinkles and lines of care, for an
answer. A moment after, his head was bowed upon his breast again, and he
appeared unconscious that we were present.

"Have you seen Darnley's band lately?" Smith inquired.

"Yes," replied the stockman, still retaining his position.

"Has he visited you within the past few days?" queried Smith.

"Yes," replied the man.

"Ah, his supply of provisions was short," cried Smith, as his eyes
sought the flocks as though wondering how many sheep satisfied the
bushranger and his gang.

The stockman returned no answer, so we passed him and entered his hut.
There were two bedsteads made of hides, a table, two rough chairs, that
looked as though introduced during the days of Sir Francis Drake, a few
pans hanging against the wall, an old chest with a broken lid and no
lock, and these were all the articles of luxury or convenience that
graced the cabin of the stockman.

Smith pointed out the spot where Darnley had slept on the night of his
visit; and after we had gratified our curiosity, we left the room, and
bidding the stockman good-by, started on our return to the team.

The poor man did not reply to our salutation, and after we left the
house a number of rods behind, we turned and saw that he was still
buried in profound reflection, and that his head was, as usual, resting
on his breast.

"Poor fellow!" I muttered; "his unjust sentence has broken his heart."

"He feels the wrong keenly," Smith said. "He has but one wish on earth
now; and that is, to see his daughter before he dies."

"He then has children living?" Fred asked.

"Only one, and she was a mere child when he left home. After his
misfortunes the girl was placed with a respectable family in
Lincolnshire. He has often heard from her--she married a hard-working
man, and now has one or two children. The stockman has saved every
shilling of his earnings for the last few years, for the purpose of
paying their passage to this country, where he thinks the husband can
prosper, and where he will have the privilege of seeing his
grandchildren grow up around him. Ten months since a hundred pounds were
sent for the object he had in view, but during the whole of that time no
word has arrived that the money reached its destination."

"A hard case, and one deserving of our warmest sympathy," cried Fred,
once more stopping to look at the solitary man, who still stood with
folded arms and bowed head, meditating upon his wrongs.

"A kangaroo! a kangaroo!" cried the convict, suddenly, pointing with his
hand towards a tall, slim animal, that was standing under a tree, as if
to shelter itself from the sun.

We looked at the kangaroo with considerable interest. It was nearly six
feet high, when standing upon its hind legs, of a dark red color, with
small spots of white upon its breast, while two short arms, or flippers,
were dangling from its fore-shoulders, which were narrow and lean, as
though, clipper-like, it was intended for speed.

The animal watched our movements narrowly; but as the distance was too
great for a rifle shot, we slowly edged towards it with the expectation
of getting within range.

Cautiously we crept along the prairie, sometimes partly concealed by
tall, rank grass and sweet-scented shrubs, until we were forty rods from
the tree under which the kangaroo was sporting.

"Hist!" said Smith, holding up his hand, to command our attention. "The
poor brute is a female, and has her young 'uns sporting around her."

A closer scrutiny revealed the presence of two kangaroos, who were
playing about their mother, unconscious of all danger. They were of a
much lighter color than the old one, and the fur upon their bellies was
nearly pure white. For some time we watched them, and then, desirous of
obtaining fresh meat for supper, Fred and myself crawled a little
nearer.

"Remember our wager," the convict cried, as we moved along on our hands
and knees.

Fred nodded in reply, but after we had got a few rods from Smith, the
latter suddenly started to his feet and uttered a loud yell.

So rapidly that our eyes could hardly follow their movements, did the
young animals run towards their parent and disappear from view; but we
had no time to wonder at that, for the mother, after a hasty glance
around, and comprehending the danger in which she stood, suddenly sprang
from beneath the shelter of the tree, and with the most extraordinary
bounds, some of which would measure over thirty feet in a straight line,
and nearly ten feet high, was passing us like a streak of lightning,
when Fred raised his rifle and fired.

The kangaroo continued her bounds without relaxing her speed; when,
thinking that I might be more successful, I also fired.

I heard the convict laugh heartily at our failures; but before his
merriment ceased, another gun was discharged, and with a mighty bound
the poor brute sprang into the air, alighted on the ground, and, rolling
over and over as though even in her death struggle she sought to escape,
yielded up her life.

We looked towards the stockman to see if he had discharged his gun. He
was leaning on his old musket, and a bright blue smoke was curling over
his head. For a moment he seemed to be warmed into life by the
excitement of the sport, but before the kangaroo had breathed her last,
his head sank upon his breast again, and he appeared no longer to take
an interest in the affairs of life.

We hastened to the animal, and wondered at her immense muscular power.
Her legs appeared like springs of steel, while a powerful tail, long and
bony, was also used to help the animal make those tremendous bounds,
which have become proverbial in Australia, and have excited the
attention of the most eminent naturalists.

"But where have the young 'uns disappeared?" I asked, after we had
sufficiently admired the animal.

"You would hardly think that they are still about her person," Smith
said.

We laughed incredulously, but Smith maintained his gravity and persisted
in his statement.

"It is an easy matter to settle," said Fred. "Just prove to us the truth
of your statement, and we shall be as knowing as yourself."

The convict bent over the body and inserted his hand in a small opening
in the belly of the animal that resembled the mouth of a pouch, but
which had escaped our attention. He drew forth, as the result of his
investigation, a little, struggling kangaroo, that tried to induce Smith
to relinquish his grasp by snapping at his hand with its toothless
mouth.

While we were admiring the softness of its skin, the second one was
dragged to light; but it uttered shrill cries of terror, and endeavored
to effect its escape from the rough hands that held it.

"It is as bad as murder, killing the poor brute," cried Fred,
indignantly, he having recovered from the mortification of missing the
animal.

"And there are no judges upon earth to sentence its murderer," cried a
solemn voice.

We looked and found that the stockman had left the shadow of his hut,
and was occupied the same way as ourselves, gazing at the carcass of the
kangaroo.

"Man is merciless, and God punishes us all in his own good time," the
stockman continued, as he listened to the grief of the motherless
animals.

"Then why did you take her life?" demanded Fred.

"A man that is wronged seeks to shift his burden so that the load which
weighs him down may grow lighter."

The old man, without another expression of sorrow, turned away and
walked towards his hut again; while Smith, who was used to such scenes,
and therefore had hardened his heart, deliberately commenced skinning
the dead brute, and allowed the young ones to escape wherever they chose
to run.

That night we supped upon the meat of the kangaroo; and while feasting
there was little thought of the sorrow which we experienced at its
death.




CHAPTER VI.

ADVENTURE WITH A DOG.--THE MURDER IN THE RAVINE.--STORY OF AN OUTRAGED
WOMAN.


The flickering light of a fire, around which was seated three men with
sunburnt faces and long beard, hardly illuminated the bank of the river
sufficiently to distinguish objects ten yards distant. The men were
Smith the convict, Fred, and myself. Each of our mouths were graced with
dingy pipes, and while we puffed away diligently, our eyes were fixed
upon the cheerful blaze, silently watching the ever-changing embers, and
meditating upon the events of the day. The wind had gone to sleep with
the sun, and the heated air had given place to a coolness that felt
doubly refreshing after the scorching which we had undergone on the
prairie that forenoon.

The air was still perfumed with the smoke of broiled kangaroo meat,
attracting large numbers of a fox-like species of animals, that rarely
ventured from the surrounding darkness, into the light of our camp-fire,
but skulked in the vicinity, and waited for the time when sleep would
overpower us, and allow them free pillage of our larder. Occasionally an
impatient one would utter a short bark, as though expressive of his
disgust at our watchfulness, and after he had thus given vent to his
feelings, slink away into darkness again; but their fiery, eager eyes,
could be distinguished as they prowled around and jostled each other
while taking counsel.

It was near ten o'clock. We had lapsed into silence, and each one was
busy with his own thoughts, perhaps laying plans for the future. From
the time that our pipes were lighted not a word had been exchanged, and
I was just about knocking the ashes from mine, and proposing a
retirement to our blankets beneath the nearest tree, when the prolonged
howling of a dog attracted my attention.

I looked towards Smith for an explanation, but found that he was as much
puzzled as myself, and was holding his pipe in one hand, while his head
was bent in the direction of the sound, as though waiting for a
repetition before he ventured to express an opinion.

Again did the mournful sound ring across the prairie, and this time it
seemed nearer than when first heard. I thought I knew the bay, and could
have sworn that the animal was a staghound, and a full-blooded brute at
that. I had seen none of the breed since I had arrived in Australia, and
I thought it singular to find one at such a distance from Melbourne.

"What is that hound baying for at this time of night?" I asked of the
convict, who still remained speechless.

"Are you sure that it is a hound?" Smith inquired.

"Quite positive. There he goes again. The brute has treed some animal,
and is informing his master of its whereabouts," I replied, listening to
see in what direction the sound proceeded from.

"You are wrong there," cried Fred. "The dog is evidently coming this
way, and perhaps has started a kangaroo. If it comes within sight I'll
try it, even if I miss as I did this afternoon."

Fred laid his hand upon his rifle which was lying by his side, and tried
to peer into the darkness, but a moment's experiment convinced him of
the folly of his thought, and he laid the gun down again.

"I've never heard a sound like that since I left old England," the
convict said, as the baying continued, and grew nearer at each
repetition.

We all three felt an anxiety that we tried to conceal from each other.
The loneliness of our location, and the uncertainty of meeting with
friends in that part of the country, the frequent robberies that had of
late been committed, and the daring of the bushrangers, were all ample
cause for vigilance on our part; and perhaps we suspected that the dog
was used by some gang to discover the presence of travellers, and
expedite the work of pillage.

Nearer and nearer did the hound approach, and we had just time to snatch
our rifles from the ground, and start to our feet, when the animal
sprang into our narrow circle, and with subdued bays seemed to claim our
notice.

"Give him a wide berth," shouted the convict, swinging his sharp axe
over his head as though in readiness to bring it down upon the skull of
the dog if he showed signs of hostility. "Keep clear of the brute," he
continued, "for he may be mad."

The hound, a noble animal, with long, wiry limbs, and heavy jaws, around
which drops of foam were hanging, instead of shrinking from the uplifted
arm of the convict, seemed to measure the danger in which he stood at a
glance, and before we could interfere, or the heavy axe descend, sprang
full at the throat of Smith, and such was the impetuosity and suddenness
of the attack that the convict was borne to the ground, and for a moment
was at the mercy of the dog.

Fred and myself raised our rifles simultaneously, but before we brought
them to bear, the animal had quit his grip and began craunching some
bones which were lying near the fire, tearing the meat which adhered to
them in the most ravenous manner, and exhibiting all the signs of
starvation.

"Don't fire," shouted Smith, struggling to his feet. "Don't fire; you
see the poor brute is nearly starved."

We still held our rifles ready, however, and were half inclined to use
them; but, as we looked at the dog, and saw how greedily he was
devouring his food, we concluded to wait and see what he would do after
he had satisfied his appetite.

"The dog is rather quick and spiteful," cried Smith, rubbing his throat
and adjusting his shirt collar, which had been somewhat disarranged. "It
served me right for threatening him, when it's evident that he has
sought us peaceably."

The convict, instead of harboring malice, cut large pieces of flesh from
the body of the kangaroo and fed him. He greedily devoured all that was
offered, and wagged his long, rat-like tail in satisfaction. When,
however, he had nearly demolished one fore-quarter of our prize, he
walked a short distance from the fire and renewed his howling,
commencing on a low key, and gradually ascending, until the yells could
have been heard for miles.

"What is the matter with the brute?" asked Smith, turning to Fred and
myself, who were too perplexed to answer the inquiry; and, before we
could speak again, the hound walked slowly back to the fire, looked
piteously into our faces, and, strolling out into the darkness,
commenced baying as loud as ever.

Three several times did the intelligent animal seek to induce us to
follow him, without our comprehending his meaning; but when it was
evident that such was his desire, grave questions arose as to the
expediency of our doing so. We thought that possibly it was a trick to
induce us to leave our baggage so that the owners of the dog would have
an unrestricted opportunity to plunder the cart. Such things had
happened before, and why not again?

We glanced suspiciously at the hound as he stood near the fire, looking
at our faces and appearing to understand every word that was said on the
subject; indeed, when Smith stated, during the conversation, that he
would not on any account leave his wagon, the brute uttered a howl as
though he despaired of success, and turned all of his attention to Fred
and myself.

"Let us follow him," cried my friend, grasping his rifle as though he
feared nothing with that in his hand.

The dog, as soon as Fred had uttered the words, crouched at his feet and
licked his shoes, while a low bark testified to his joy.

I looked towards Smith for advice and guidance in the matter. He was
musing on the subject, but when he saw that we only waited for his
decision, he shouldered his axe, and nodded his head.

"Let us follow the brute," he cried. "We may be the means of saving
life, and, perhaps, much suffering. Lead the way, good dog, and take us
to your master."

The hound sprang from his crouching position at Fred's feet, and
started on a dog-trot along the road that led towards Melbourne. In a
few minutes, despite our exertions to keep pace with him, he was out of
sight; but we followed along the course which he had started, and after
a short time he returned to our sides, wagging his tail, and apparently
urging us to increase our speed.

A dozen times did he disappear in like manner, yet never for any length
of period; and after we had walked nearly three miles, the animal
abandoned the beaten track and continued across the prairie.

"I don't want to go a great ways in this direction," muttered the
convict, glancing around, and trying to pierce the darkness.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because, a few miles farther and we shall be near the forest which I
spoke to you about. It is infested with men better seen at a distance or
not at all."

In spite of Smith's fears, however, we tramped on quarter of an hour
longer, and then, by the uneasy movements of the dog, concluded that we
were not far from our destination.

Suddenly the animal sprang forward with a bay of warning, and
disappeared as if by magic. The next moment we were upon the steep bank
of a gulch, nearly thirty feet deep; and had not the actions of the dog
rendered us careful, we should have plunged headlong upon its rocky bed.

For a moment, we remained motionless, hardly daring to move, for fear
that one false step would lead us to our ruin; but, after listening for
a while, we heard the dog as he reached the bottom of the ravine, and
then we determined to follow at all hazards.

With careful steps we worked our way down the steep bank, and after half
an hour's toil found ourselves at the bottom. The hound was waiting for
us, and testified his impatience by a deep bay. The instant, however,
that we joined him, he became silent, and trotted on as before.

Suddenly a groan, but a few feet from us, caused us to halt, and hastily
look around. But a short distance from us were the indistinct outlines
of a cart, and near the vehicle was the hound, busily occupied in
lapping something that was lying upon the ground.

Another groan, and we moved towards the individual that seemed in such
deep distress. By the bright starlight, but which hardly penetrated the
gulch, we saw the form of a woman extended upon the rough rocks, while
near her lay the body of a man motionless.

"Here is work for us," cried Smith, all his genuine feeling returning;
and he threw his heavy axe aside, and in a twinkling had the woman's
head upon his knee, and was pouring down her throat a potion from a
black bottle which he carried in his pocket.

"Look to the man," he cried, assuming the leadership at once; and in
obedience to orders I knelt beside him, and placed my hand upon his
heart. He was cold, and his heart was motionless. As I withdrew my hand,
I felt that my fingers were moist and sticky. I tried to discover what
adhered to them, but the darkness was too great.

"Give me the matches, Smith," I said, quickly. "We will strike a light,
and investigate this affair."

A large quantity of drift wood was lying on the bed of the gulch, and
well dried by the hot summer's sun. I cut a few shavings, and a bright
fire was soon under headway, and cast its ruddy glare upon the group
collected around the cart, which was broken in half a dozen different
places, and had, apparently, been thrown from the banks above.

As soon as sufficient fuel was added, we turned our attention to the
woman whose head Smith was holding. Her eyes were closed, and her teeth
clinched like those of a person in a fit. There was not a vestige of any
color in her face, while her garments appeared as though they had
experienced rough usage, and were torn in a dozen different places. In
spite of the strong decoction which Smith had poured down her throat,
she did not revive, or appear to comprehend what was said to her; and
after rubbing her hands for a while, and finding that it did no good, I
devoted a few moments to an examination of the body of the man.

I now comprehended the meaning of the sticky substance which adhered to
my hand, for upon his breast were two large, ragged wounds, either of
which was sufficient to let out the life of a man, and from each had
oozed his blood until it had congealed in large lumps, and was held,
bag-like, by his thick flannel shirt.

"There has been murder committed here," I cried, holding up my hands,
stained with the vital fluid of the dead man.

"There has been more than murder," replied Fred, in a low tone. "There
has been violence offered to a woman."

"Impossible," I cried, with a shudder at the thought.

"Look and convince yourself, then," Fred said, seizing a burning brand
and holding it so that the light was thrown upon the face and body of
the insensible woman.

Upon her neck was a large, discolored spot, and a near examination
revealed the impression of finger-nails, as though she had been seized
with no gentle hand, and choked, until forced to yield compliance to
unholy wishes and desires.

Upon both sides of a neck that retained traces of beauty, although
bearing the impression of the sun's burning rays, were the dark marks to
be seen; and the hand that had left its impression was none of the
smallest, nor its grip the weakest, as we could readily see.

The hound had crouched close to us, and watched with wary eyes our
movements. Often did he rise and lick the face of the insensible woman,
and after uttering a howl of grief, retire to his resting place, to
mourn in secret for his loss.

"Force more of the liquor down her throat," cried Fred, who was rubbing
a hand that appeared accustomed to toil, for its palm was hard and
broad.

Smith once more brought his bottle into requisition, and forcing apart
the teeth, emptied a portion of its contents into her mouth. Whether the
chafing began to have its effect, or the liquor was uncommonly strong,
is a matter of doubt; but at any rate she strangled as though she would
never recover her breath, and ended by opening a pair of very frightened
blue eyes.

She raised her head from Smith's knee, glanced hurriedly and with
frightened looks first at Fred and then at myself, and before we were
aware of her intentions, sprang to her feet, and with loud shrieks
sought to escape. Before she had taken half a dozen steps, however,
Smith's stout arms were thrown around her, and he was calling to her in
gentle words to listen to reason, and to look upon him as a friend--that
he would protect her, and help avenge her injuries.

Part of his words were lost during the momentary struggle which occurred
between them; but when her strength failed, and she sank exhausted and
panting into his arms, for the first time she appeared to comprehend
that we were not bushrangers, but human beings and friends.

"Compose yourself," cried Smith, as gently as though he held an infant
in his arms. "See, even your dog is satisfied that we mean no harm; he
led us to this place, or you would have perished before morning. Tell us
what has happened, and how we can assist you."

"Where is my husband?" she asked, after a moment's silence, during which
her wild eyes wandered from face to face, as though seeking to verify
the truth of his words.

We returned no answer, and she repeated the question, though in a louder
tone, and appeared to doubt us because we kept silent.

"My husband! where is my husband?" she shrieked; and as she turned her
restless eyes towards the cart, she suddenly appeared to comprehend
every thing.

"He is dead--he is dead," she cried, starting to her feet, in spite of
the gentle restraint which Smith sought to impose upon her.

She saw the body of the man who had been murdered, and with a loud cry
she fell upon it, laid her head upon its cold bosom, and sobbed as
though her heart would break. We did not interrupt her grief, but the
faithful dog lay down beside her, and added his subdued howls to her
tears; and when she mourned the loudest, he would lick her hands and
face, and seek to comfort her with his love.

We heaped up fuel on the fire, and waited patiently for the time when
the woman would exhaust her grief, and give us some account of the
proceedings by which she and hers had suffered.

While Smith and Fred remained near the fire, they examined the cart to
see if it contained any thing that would be useful to the unfortunate
woman in her present hour of grief. There were a few culinary utensils,
besides a thin mattress and blankets--all thrown in promiscuously, as
though the load had been ransacked and rifled of every thing that was
valuable, and the remainder not considered worth taking away.

The night wore on, and light would soon herald the approach of day. It
was necessary that we should return to our camp, and look after our
effects; for who could tell how long they would he safe unless guarded
by a display of rifles? Besides, the cattle needed looking after, and
collecting, or they would be likely to stray back towards Melbourne and
get mixed with the wild animals which belonged to some of the numerous
stockmen on the road. Or the bushrangers might take a fancy for a change
of diet, and prefer beef to mutton; and in this case they would not be
likely to ask the permission of the owner of the animals, unless he was
stronger-handed than the robbers.

I saw Smith glance uneasily along the ravine, and edge towards the woman
as though he wished to cheer her in her affliction, and yet explain
about the large amount of property which he had left unprotected. As
her sobs had somewhat subsided, worn out by the violence of her
emotions, she appeared more calm; he made the attempt, and kneeling
beside her spoke,--

"We are strangers," he said, taking her sunburnt hand between his rough
palms, and looking at her as tenderly as though she had been his sister;
"we are strangers, but there is not a man present but will shed his
blood in your defence; and while we have strength there is no fear of
your suffering. Have confidence in us, and explain how this dreadful
affair happened."

He waited patiently for an answer, but some few minutes passed before
she could repress her sobs, which commenced anew at the sound of his
voice. At length she raised her head, brushed back the heavy masses of
hair which partly screened her face, and with an uncertain voice
replied,--

"I thank you for your offers of assistance, and accept them; for what
can I do alone in this desert without friends? My troubles are so
unexpected that if I do not appear grateful, attribute it to a want of
realization of the dreadful scenes through which I have passed since
yesterday. My husband--"

She threw herself upon his corpse again, and for a while her grief
recommenced with all its former violence. Smith soothed and comforted
her, and gradually was enabled to draw all the facts connected with the
murder from her unwilling lips.

"It is ten days since we arrived at Melbourne," she went on to say; "my
husband thought that we had better leave our two children at the city
with some friends, who were passengers in the same ship with ourselves,
until he had settled upon what occupation he should pursue. He had a
strong desire to try his luck at the mines, and as we had a little money
left after reaching this country, he invested it in buying a cart and
horse, and a few articles which were needed on the route. I was very
reluctant to part with my children, but I now perceive that it was for
the best; for it is probable that the little dears would have shared the
fate of their father, had they travelled with us. The chief object of
our visit to this country, however, was not so much a desire for wealth,
as the thought of meeting a parent whom I have been separated from since
I was a child."

She paused for a moment, and buried her face in her hands, as though
reluctant to proceed. Smith and I exchanged glances of surprise, while
the woman continued her rambling story.

"I am almost ashamed to say that my father was transported to Australia
for life; but he was innocent of the charge against him, and it has
since been made manifest; but government refuse to give him his liberty,
and he is still a convict."

"What was the charge upon which he was convicted?" asked Smith, with
breathless anxiety.

The woman hung her head and remained silent; and Smith was obliged to
repeat his question before he obtained an answer. His pertinacity seemed
cruel, but he had an object in view.

"He was charged with the death of my mother," she answered, her voice
stifled with tears.

"And your name before you were married was--"

"Mary Ogleton."

"It is the same," muttered Smith; but instead of revealing the good news
to her, he waited to hear the balance of her history since leaving
Melbourne. A few soothing words, and she continued,--

"Ten months since we had letters from my father, strongly urging us to
come to him, as he thought my husband would make a better living here
than in England. We were the more inclined to follow his advice, as the
letters contained drafts for money to help us pay our passage, which we
otherwise should not have been enabled to have done."

"Tell us about your journey since leaving the city," cried Smith, "for
we already know your history before that period."

She looked surprised, and continued,--

"Father wrote us that he was tending a flock of sheep on the road
leading to Ballarat, and that he could not leave his station even for a
day; but we were to write him if we intended coming, and he would have a
friend on the lookout for us. We answered his letter, saying that we
should embark on board of the first ship that sailed for Australia; but
when we reached port we found none to welcome us; and it was only after
diligent inquiries that we learned where he was located. Yesterday,
about noon, we thought that we must be near his home; and on inquiring
of a man that we met, he said that he knew him well, and would conduct
us to his hut. By his advice, we left the road which we had travelled
for four days, and struck across the prairie. I did not like the
appearance of our guide, and expressed my fears to my husband; but he
laughed at me, and placed implicit confidence in all that the stranger
said."

"What sort of looking man was your guide?" asked Smith.

"A dark-featured man, with long black beard, tall, and strongly framed.
Upon his forehead was a large scar, that looked as though recently
inflicted. I noticed him particularly, because I mistrusted him the
instant he offered to act as our guide."

"It was Black Darnley," cried Smith, in reply to my interrogation; "the
villain--he shall yet suffer for his treachery."

"That was the name by which his companions addressed him," cried the
woman, who overheard Smith's remark.

The convict encouraged her to continue her narrative, and motioned Fred
and myself to remain silent.

"He led us to the bank of this ravine, and said that we must here
abandon our team, and walk a few miles to father's hut. My husband
refused to follow his advice in that respect, and while Darnley was
urging him to do so, our dog, which had faithfully remained with us
since we left England, started in pursuit of a strange animal that
bounded along the prairie faster than the hound could run. We all became
interested in the chase, and when we lost sight of dog and animal, I
looked up and found five rough men close beside me. I started with
surprise; but before my husband could say a word, or use the gun which
he carried, Darnley discharged a pistol full at his breast, and he fell
dead. I remember nothing more, or, if I do, I pray to God that I may
soon forget it, or else join my husband in heaven. Were I childless, I
would dash my head against these rough stones, and so end my days."

As she finished her story, she bowed her head upon her husband's cold
bosom, and her tears flowed fast and freely, while her frame shook as
though she was laboring under an attack of ague.

"Listen to me," said Smith, at length, laying his hand upon her arm to
attract her attention: "we have a long journey before us, and time is
precious; but we will lose a day for the purpose of restoring you to
your father. Trust me, I know him, and if you think you can walk a few
miles, a few hours from now will see you in his arms."

"I am strong now," she said, rising, as though the news had given her
new life.

"Then lean on me, and I will assist you up this bank. Courage--remember
you live for your children and parent now."

As Smith offered his strong arm, she accepted it; but a sudden thought
took possession of her mind, and she quitted his side and once more
threw herself upon the body of her husband.

"I cannot leave him," she shrieked, clasping her arms around his neck,
and pressing her head upon his bosom. "He has been my only friend for
years; he did not despise me when he knew that my parent was a convict;
he has loved me, and is the father of my children. Let me remain with
him, and die upon his breast."

"This is madness," Fred cried, impatiently.

"Hush," said Smith. "Consider what the poor thing has suffered, and
treat her gently as a sister."

The stout convict, whose heart had been strongly touched by her story
and deep love, raised her in his arms, soothed her, spoke words of
comfort to her, and promised if she would but leave the spot, that the
body of her husband should soon follow her, and be buried in a
Christian-like manner.

She listened like one who did not comprehend his meaning, and all the
time that he was talking, her eyes were fixed upon the pale face of her
husband, as though she expected each moment to hear his voice, and see
him start to his feet, and open his arms for her protection.

With gentle force we urged her away from the distressing sight, and
when, after long labor, we had gained the bank of the ravine, we found
that the poor woman was nearly unconscious, and hardly capable of
moving.

"Where now?" I asked of Smith, as we carried her along.

"To the hut of Ogleton," he cried; "and then, if I mistake not, we shall
have work before us."

"What kind of work?" asked Fred, who was carrying the rifles, and the
sharp axe of the convict.

"The work of revenge," cried Smith, solemnly.

"I am ready for it," exclaimed Fred, brandishing his rifle; "God only
grant us all strength to perform it."

And as we staggered along the prairie with our burden, the dark clouds
in the east broke away, and revealed the glowing tints of the rising
sun; and a hundred bright-plumed birds darted through the air, awakening
the solitude of that vast plain with their shrill calls, and each cry
seemed to say, "Revenge! revenge!"




CHAPTER VII.

BLACK DARNLEY'S VILLANY.--THE CONVICT STOCKMAN.


A brighter sun never shone upon the barren plains and fertile valleys of
Australia, than that which appeared above the horizon on the morning
after the murder and deed of violence committed by Black Darnley and his
gang of bushrangers. Our party had not closed their eyes in sleep during
the night, yet not one of us felt the least fatigue or desire to rest,
until the woman, who was under our protection, had been placed beneath
the shelter of her father's roof, humble as it was, and removed from all
society and scenes of civilization.

As we supported the unhappy woman towards the habitation of the convict,
and spoke words of encouragement which fell upon listless ears, we
thought of a parent's love, and how strong it must exist in the heart of
that old man, who had grown morose under his wrongs, yet still clung to
the recollection of his child, and fancied her a girl, instead of a
full-grown woman, and the mother of a family.

We had no doubt that her reception by her father would be warm; but we
dreaded to know how he would deport himself upon the news of the harsh
treatment which she had received being explained to him. He was
represented to us by Smith as a man of quick passions--bold and
fearless, or he would never have accepted the situation to which he was
attached--surrounded, as he was, with dangerous neighbors--convicts, who
cared no more about shedding the blood of a man than they did for the
lamb which they slaughtered when hungry--wild beasts, who prowled around
the fields at night, and skulked near during the day, and who, if urged
by starvation, would attack the shepherds, provided they interposed
between them and their prey.

This was the kind of man that was to be told that his daughter had
suffered at the hands of men whom he had spoken with weekly for months,
and who respected him only because they knew him to be no coward, and a
convict like themselves.

Our walk across the prairie was slow and laborious. We were compelled to
govern our pace with that of the woman, and as she was half-dead with
grief, and insensible to our words of encouragement, we concluded to let
her cry without hindrance on our part, and only hoped that our wagon
might escape pillage during our long absence.

It was about nine o'clock when we reached the place where we were camped
the night before. The wagon remained where we had left it; but it needed
no tongue to tell that it had been visited, while we were away, and that
a portion of the load was removed. Boxes of goods were overturned, and
tops wrenched off, bales were cut open, and their contents scattered
upon the ground; and, upon a near examination, we found that the
impudent robbers had used our dishes to feast from, and that there were
still smoking brands upon the fire where they had boiled their coffee,
as though they knew we should be absent all night, and had plenty of
time to enjoy themselves before our return.

For a few minutes, after Smith had seen the havoc which the bushrangers
had made with his cargo, he seemed to need as much comforting as the
unfortunate female under his charge. But he was a man, and had seen too
much of the world's trials to get discouraged, so he proceeded to gather
up his goods in the most philosophical manner, although an occasional
oath did escape him as he missed some article of value which he knew
could not be replaced except in Melbourne.

While Smith was occupied with his cargo Fred and myself proceeded to
cook breakfast, a meal which we stood very much in need of, considering
the labors of the night; but before we did so, our female friend was
placed upon blankets and screened from the hot sun. She refused all
offers of nourishment, and would not drink even a cup of strong tea
which we proffered her. Coffee, we unfortunately had none, as the
bushrangers had taken a fancy to the few pounds which were on the cart,
and carried it with them, rejecting with seeming contempt the green
leaves of China, of which there was a large box undisturbed.

Even the flesh of the kangaroo which we had hung upon the limb of a tree
was saved; but our store of salt pork was gone, also the few vegetables,
worth almost their weight in gold at the mines, which had been treasured
until we should arrive at our destination.

Fred uttered a curse when he found that there was not a single potato
left; but, after he had vented his displeasure, he applied his energies
to the matter before him with all his usual determination.

Fred's clothing and my own, contained in one small canvas bag, was gone,
and we stood in all that we owned. That did not distress us, however,
for we were not likely to go into society where a change of dress was
expected, but we did growl when we found that the scamps had carried off
all our powder, excepting what our flasks contained.

"Whose work is this?" asked Fred, who was broiling a piece of kangaroo
on a stick, and in a very artistic manner, for the purpose of tempting
the poor woman's appetite.

Smith, to whom the question was addressed, straightened his stout form,
and held up a number of flannel shirts, which he was taking to the mines
on a venture. They had been cut with knives in the most wanton manner,
and hardly a square inch had escaped.

"There is evidence enough of the perpetrator," replied Smith, pointing
to the holes.

"Well, who is he?" cried Fred, sprinkling a little salt upon the burning
flesh.

"There is but one gang of bushrangers in these parts who inflict wanton
injury upon the goods of carriers. That gang is Darnley's!"

"And yet you pardoned him once when he was in your power," I said.

"True; and had I been here my cargo would have escaped molestation. He
little thought that he was injuring me. I will do him the justice of
saying that."

"He and his gang should be swept from the face of the earth," cried
Fred, who, having cooked and seasoned the meat to his satisfaction, now
approached the woman, who was lying upon a blanket, apparently
unconscious of what was going on around her.

He had but uttered the words when she started to her feet, grasped his
arm with a vehemence utterly at variance with her previous docility, and
exclaimed,--

"You are right, Kill the monster! Kill him, for he is unfit to live.
Kill him, for he has wronged an unprotected woman, and committed
outrages that will condemn him to eternal punishment in the next world."

She released her grasp of Fred and fell to the ground, where she sat
rocking her body to and fro, uttering moans of anguish. But she no
longer shed tears, and her eyes looked wild and threatening, as though
her troubles had affected her reason.

"Who talks of killing?" cried a deep voice. "That is God's prerogative,
not man's nor vain woman's."

We started, and turning saw that the convict stockman had approached us
unawares, and was leaning on his long gun, keenly scanning the features
of the unfortunate woman.

"There are some crimes which God designs man to punish," answered Smith,
desisting from his occupation of gathering up his traps. "I think that
the scoundrels who robbed my team deserve hanging, and I don't want to
wait until they are dead to know that they are receiving punishment in
the next world."

"The world to come is one of darkness to us mortals, and who can pierce
its blackness. But God has promised light, and behold the angel of the
Lord will reveal all things, for so sayeth the Book of all books."

"I don't know what you mean," replied Smith, who had listened
attentively to the wild, rambling speech of the convict without
comprehending its import; "but this I do know, that I would mash the
heads of the bushrangers who robbed my cart, if they were within the
reach of my axe."

"Trust in God for vengeance, for to him does it belong," exclaimed the
convict, drawing a dirty looking and well-thumbed Testament from his
pocket, and turning over leaf after leaf as though seeking for a
particular chapter.

"We must get him to put up his book, or he'll read from now till
sundown," cried Smith, with visible alarm at the idea of being compelled
to listen.

"Here is an unfortunate woman that needs your assistance," said Smith,
laying a hand upon the old man's arm, and calling his attention to his
child.

"Does she need spiritual assistance, or only food for the body? Her
looks are like those of a person who has been suffering."

"She has suffered much within twenty-four hours, and her only friend now
is that dog that keeps so close to her."

"Let her be comforted," the convict cried, approaching her; "if her
sorrow is ever so deep, it can be healed."

He closed his book as he spoke and approached his child, who sat with
downcast eyes, and apparently unconscious of his presence.

"Daughter," he began; but at the sound of his voice so near, she raised
her eyes hastily, and on her face could be seen the emotions and
struggles to recollect where she had before heard his tones. She
pressed her hand to her forehead as though forcing memory to reveal its
secret, but suddenly the truth was revealed to her.

"Father," she cried, starting to her feet, and throwing her arms around
that white-headed man's neck, venerable before his time. "Father! O God,
is it you?"

She laid her aching head upon his bosom, and, with her arms around his
neck, shed tears as freely as she did the day that she was separated
from him, as she thought, forever.

The convict staggered back, and would have fallen, had not Fred's strong
arm supported him. He glanced from face to face as though trying to read
the meaning of the surprise, and then he turned his looks upon his
daughter.

"Mary," he cried, after pushing the hair from her forehead, "can it,
indeed, be my child--has the little girl whom I left in England grown to
be a woman!"

He held her close in his embrace as though he feared that something
would happen to prevent his seeing her again. He kissed the tears from
her cheeks, and begged her to be calm, and to tell him about her voyage,
and lastly to speak about her husband and children.

Her sobs were her only response. He grew impatient at her refusal to
answer his interrogations, and then suspicions of foul play entered his
imagination.

"There has been some wrong done you," he cried, appealing to his
daughter.

She answered with tears and moans.

"Speak, and tell me who has dared to injure you," he cried vehemently.
"Was it your husband?"

His brow grew threatening and black, as he put the question.

There was no reply, but his daughter clung to his neck with a more
convulsive grasp, as though she feared to lose her parent also.

He glanced from Smith to Fred, and from the latter to myself, as though
debating whether we were the guilty party.

"Tell me," he cried, lifting her head from his shoulder, and seeking to
get a glimpse of her face, "who has wronged you?"

There was no response. He placed her gently upon the blankets, and then
with a face that was livid with rage, grasped his musket which had
fallen to the ground.

"Which of you has dared to do this?" he asked, and the ominous click of
the lock of the gun proved that he was in earnest, and that all of his
worst passions were aroused.

No one answered. I looked towards Smith, expecting to hear him explain
every thing; but, to my surprise, he was silent; evidently too much
astonished at the unexpected turn which the affair had assumed, to
speak.

My look was misconstrued by the indignant convict, for before I could
speak, the long gun was levelled at the breast of Smith, and in another
moment all his hopes and fears would have been at an end, had not his
child started up and rushed towards him.

"Not him!" she shouted, wildly. "O God, not him!"

He dropped the muzzle of his gun, but his fierce eyes still glared from
Fred to me.

"Which of these two?"

He indicated us with a motion of the hand that held the gun, and looked
in his child's face for confirmation.

"Neither, father--so help me Heaven, neither. Without the aid of these
friends I should have perished."

He dropped the muzzle of the gun, and each of us felt thankful as he did
so, for we had witnessed the accuracy of his aim the day before, and
while the muzzle of the musket was pointed towards us, one of our lives
was not worth insuring.

"You are tired and distressed," the convict said, addressing his
daughter with a degree of tenderness that I thought wonderful after his
late outbreak.

"My head," she murmured, "feels as though it would burst; while my heart
is broken already."

"Rest a while, until I confer with your new-found friends, and then you
shall accompany me to my home. It is a hut, but it is all I have to
shelter you."

It was singular to witness how soon the recluse had once more become an
active man of the world, and for a while forgotten his Bible and
religious fanaticism.

"Tell me all that has happened," the convict said, motioning for us
three to follow him a short distance from his daughter, so that our
conversation could not be overheard by her.

Smith related the strange visit of the hound, and his leading us to the
scene of the murder--our finding his child in an insensible
condition--the story of her wrongs, and our surprise at finding that she
was in search of him. He listened with clinched teeth, and only
interrupted the narrative with groans of rage and anguish. When he knew
all, we waited to see what course he would pursue.

To our surprise, he did not speak, but turned away as though about to
seek his home.

"Stay one moment," cried Smith, laying his hand upon his shoulder.

"Well," cried the convict, impatiently.

"What do you propose to do?" we asked.

"Are you Americans, and ask that question?" he demanded.

"You think of seeking Black Darnley?" Smith continued.

"I do."

"Alone?"

"Alone."

"You shall not," cried Smith, with sudden energy. "You are no match for
him and his gang."

"My daughter's injury must be avenged. I go alone to consummate it."

"Stay until to-morrow, and we will accompany you," Fred and myself cried
with one accord.

The convict hesitated for a moment, then suddenly extended his hands,
and while he wrung ours, promised a compliance. The next instant he had
lifted his daughter in his arms, and was walking with the burden towards
his hut.

We saw no more of him until towards night, and then he was in front of
the hut cleaning his long, heavy musket.




CHAPTER VIII.

AN EXPEDITION.--A FIGHT WITH BUSHRANGERS.--DEATH OF BLACK DARNLEY.


"I don't like the expedition," said Smith, pettishly, as he saw Fred and
myself examining our powder-flasks and counting bullets.

"Then stay here and await our return," cried Fred, bluntly, looking up
from his work.

Smith moved uneasily, muttered something in an under tone, felt the edge
of his constant companion, a heavy axe, and then replied,--

"If you two harum-scarum youngsters are determined to get your throats
cut, I don't see but that I shall have to be near at hand. But I tell
you it is bad business, and none but crazy men would think of
penetrating that dark forest in search of bushrangers."

"You wouldn't let that old man go alone, would you?" we asked.

"No; but then--"

He stopped a moment, as though to collect his thoughts, and pettishly
exclaimed,--

"D---- it, you are going in search of the worst gang on the island.
Black Darnley is equal to all three of us in a personal encounter."

"But suppose we kept him at bay, and tried the effect of rifle shot?" I
asked, holding up a short, heavy, instrument, carrying about twenty-five
to a pound.

"The rifle looks like a true one, and I know that you boys can shoot,
but suppose that you didn't get the chance?"

"Then we must trust to luck," answered Fred, coolly.

"I'm no great hand at bush-fighting," replied Smith; "but we have joined
our fortunes for a trip to the mines, and I'm not the man to desert you
at the time of need."

"Then you'll go?" we asked.

"Yes; if I get killed it matters not much."

In half an hour we were ready; each man carried a small knapsack,
containing a few cakes of bread and the remains of the kangaroo, while
Smith provided himself with a small bottle, the contents of which he
kept a profound secret.

Not knowing whether we should ever be fortunate enough to return and
claim the few articles of property that belonged to us, Fred and myself
paused for a moment to bid them farewell.

Standing in the doorway of the stockman's hut, we saw the form of his
injured daughter watching us on our tramp. She remained motionless'
until we turned to continue our march, and then she waved a blood-red
handkerchief as though bidding us remember her injuries and avenge them.

Right before us, at a distance of five miles, was a dark line of trees,
extending for many leagues along the horizon. In the depths of that
forest few white men had ever penetrated. Once, a dozen of the police of
Melbourne attempted to break up a gang of bushrangers who sheltered
themselves upon the edge of this wild region. On the alarm being given,
the villains discharged a volley at the officers and then fled. Five of
the police were killed or wounded, but the remainder, nothing daunted,
started in pursuit. They got separated amidst the thickets, and but one
man returned alive to Melbourne. The remainder either got lost and
starved to death, or else were killed by the bushrangers. After that,
government was content to offer large rewards for the apprehension of
the escaped convicts, but the police did not care to venture a second
time into their dread abode.

I have mentioned these circumstances to show that the undertaking upon
which we had embarked was one of no ordinary kind; that there was much
peril and little honor to be gained in an encounter with half a dozen
desperate men, who knew that their lives depended upon the stout
resistance which they should offer, and of course would fight to the
death.

If we did look sharply to the loading of our rifles, and felt the long
bowie knives that we carried at our waist to find whether the blades
worked easily in their sheaths, it was because we expected to use them,
and knew that our only hope to return alive was by a prompt employment
of the deadly weapons when an encounter took place.

It was near nine o'clock when we halted upon the outskirts of the dark
forest. Hardly a ray of the hot sun penetrated the woods; all was gloomy
and silent. Occasionally a parrot upon the borders of the forest uttered
a shrill scream, and then spreading its gaudy wings sought shelter upon
the bough of a tall tree, from whence it could watch our movements
without danger.

The hound, which we had taken with us, ran with his nose close to the
ground, sometimes moving within a few feet of the trees, and then
starting off, scouring the prairie in his search, but always returning,
until he suddenly stopped before what seemed a dense thicket. During all
the time that he had been upon the scent not a cry had escaped him;
indeed, he seemed to realize that silence was our only safety, and acted
accordingly.

"The dog has found the trail of the bushrangers," the convict said,
suddenly halting, and waiting for the rest of us to join him.

"The dog is keen on the scent, and acts as though trained to track
runaways," cried Smith, resting his heavy axe upon the ground, and
rubbing his shoulder where the skin was nearly worn off by friction.

The animal bounded towards us, wagged his tail, looked into our faces
with his knowing eyes, and then trotted slowly back to the thicket
before which he had halted in the first place.

"Don't let us stand here all day under this broiling sun," cried Fred,
impatiently. "If we are to search for bushrangers, let's begin and get
through with the job as soon as possible."

"There is no haste," cried the aged convict, in a tone of reproach. "Our
success depends upon the degree of caution that we employ. Our object is
to surprise the party we are in pursuit of, and not let them surprise
us."

"O, I understand," replied Fred, indifferently; "something of the Indian
style of warfare, hey? Well, we are somewhat used to that, and can
follow a trail as well as any amateur hunters in the country."

The convict made no reply, but examined the priming of his gun,
tightened the sash which he wore around his waist, and then, briefly
surveying the little party, as though calculating on the relative
strength of each man, he moved forward.

We gained the thicket, where the dog was awaiting us. No entrance
through the dense undergrowth met our view; and had we not known that
the dog came from a breed of hounds that never deceive, we should have
deemed it impossible for human beings to have entered the forest in that
direction.

For some time we examined the premises to find an opening; but none
appearing, Smith swung his axe over his head and let its sharp edge
strike the bushes, intending to cut a passage. As if by magic the boughs
gave way, and we discovered an opening which bore the appearance of
having been frequently used.

A brief examination convinced us of the fact. The branches of young
trees and the tops of the bushes were so interlaced that no one would
have suspected that an entrance into the forest was possible in that
quarter. It proved to us that we were near the encampment of
bushrangers, but whether the party we were in pursuit of, was more than
we could tell.

We motioned to the hound to lead the way, and the noble animal, after a
brief examination of the ground, trotted slowly forward.

Our steps were taken with caution, for we wished to come upon the
outlaws unexpectedly.

For ten minutes we continued our silent march, the dog leading the way
with unwavering instinct, avoiding the thickets and dense growth of
trees,--hardly noticing the small wild animals of the hare species that
ran before his very nose,--until he suddenly stopped and looked into our
faces, as much as to say, "Now, pray be cautious."

"Hist!" cried the convict, who led the way, holding up his finger. "I
smell smoke."

"And I can see it," replied Fred, pointing to an opening in the trees
nearly a quarter of a mile distant.

We all strained our eyes in the direction that Fred indicated, and I no
longer doubted that we were in the vicinity of an encampment, although
neither Smith nor the convict was ready to testify that they saw signs
of fire.

"I call my eyes as clear and keen as most any one's," Smith said; "but
if you can see smoke it's more than I can do."

"My eyes are not so good as they were twenty years back, and I trust
more to the scent than the sight. Now I can smell smoke, but see none,"
the aged convict said, inhaling his breath as though trying to
distinguish from what direction it came.

"You Englishmen have never lived in one of our American forests, or you
would be better acquainted with the appearance of smoke when it came
from a fire that has long been neglected and is about dying out. I will
wager a pound of good rifle powder that in yonder clearing we shall find
a camp of bushrangers, and that the smoke which we see comes from the
fire they made when they returned from their nocturnal excursion last
night."

"You may be right," the convict said, in a musing tone. "If we are," he
continued, "in close proximity to those we seek, what do you advise?"

"I would advise a seperation of forces--let Jack and myself approach the
encampment in one direction, while you and Smith can steal towards it
from another. There are many reasons why we should act in this manner,
and you do not need my advice to be convinced of its force."

"May the God of battles aid us," muttered the convict, _sotto voce_, as
though fearful we should catch his words and fears. "I see," he
continued, "the force of your reasoning. When you are ready for the
attack, discharge your rifles, and mind and not waste a single shot."

The convict stalked on as he ceased speaking, following the lead of the
dog. We were about to start in a different direction, but still verging
towards the smoke, when we were detained by a few words from Smith.

"Remember, boys," he hurriedly whispered, "that if any thing occurs, you
are to take charge of my property and remit the sale of it to my mother.
She is somewhere, in London, I believe. Take care of yourselves, and
remember that it was not I that proposed this confounded excursion."

He squeezed our hands as he spoke, and the next minute we lost sight of
his burly form as he followed in the wake of the convict.

Still keeping the smoke in view, Fred and myself struck off in another
direction. We carefully picked our way through the forest, hardly making
noise enough to alarm the numerous birds that were perched upon the
trees, in the deep shade, to avoid the heat of the sun. Not a dry stick
was trodden upon to send forth its crackling sound--not a bough was
brushed past rudely for fear its waving top should give an alarm.
Silently we stole along, and were, as we thought, near the camp. We
crept upon our hands and knees until we came in sight of an open space,
and then upon the first glance we knew that we were close to a gang of
bushrangers.

In the middle of the clearing was a low hut, covered with the hides of
bullocks, which were nailed on shingle fashion, for the purpose of
excluding rain. The logs did not fit very snugly together on the sides
of the cabin, and grass was crowded into the chinks, although in some
places it had been pushed out as for the purpose of enabling those
within to take a survey of the different approaches to the hut. A fire
was smoking before the door, looking as though it had been kindled many
hours before and allowed to die out for want of fuel.

The only other sign of life was a grass hammock, which swung from the
branch of a tree, not more than four feet from the ground, and which
appeared to contain some person who was sleeping. For ten minutes after
we reached our allotted station we waited for Smith and the convict to
gain a position and give the signal for an attack.

[Illustration: Throwing down the weapon with an oath, the ruffian drew a
long knife; but before he had an opportunity to use it, the heavy axe
descended upon his unprotected head, and crashing through skull and
brains, it clove him to the chin. Page 66.]

There were no signs of them, and we began to fear that they had strayed
from the right path, when a small kangaroo dog walked lazily from the
cabin and stood near the door, as though debating whether he should
return and finish his nap or exercise in the open air. He was not long
in making up his mind, for his keen scent detected something in the
atmosphere that was not right; and where we were lying we could see his
sharp eyes glance suspiciously around, and saw the stiff hair upon his
back rise as though getting ready to meet the danger that was near at
hand.

There was suddenly a bay--a loud, angry bark, and then the hound which
had belonged to the murdered man bounded into the enclosure and fastened
his strong teeth into the neck of the dog, the latter hardly offering
battle so sudden was the onslaught.

There was a yelp of pain as the hound shook the smaller animal in his
strong jaws, and that cry raised an alarm that brought half a dozen men,
with long red and black beards, and repulsive faces, to the door of the
hut.

We saw their look of surprise as their eyes alighted upon the fighting
dogs--we saw them glance hastily around, and raise their guns, which
they carried in their hands, as though to get ready for a sudden attack;
and while we were in a state of uncertainty, and almost ready to
commence the fight, a tall, powerful-built man, with heavy beard and
long hair, rolled from the hammock in which he had been swinging, and
rushed towards the yelping brutes.

"Whose dog is that?" he shouted, "and why do you stand there like a pack
of fools, allowing them to make noise enough to wake the whole forest?
We shall have the beaks upon us if this continues;" and as he spoke, he
raised the branch of a tree which was lying near the fire, and lifting
it as easily as a common man would a walking stick, he struck at the
hound, who still held the kangaroo dog by the throat, and growled at his
slightest movement as though he feared that one of the parties concerned
in his master's murder would escape.

I held my breath while the huge club was suspended in the air, wielded,
I knew full well, by the strong arms of Black Darnley. Twice I raised my
rifle to my shoulder; and thought to interpose against what I considered
certain death to the brute, but a fear that Smith and the convict were
not at their stations prevented me.

I almost shouted a warning to the dog as the club descended, but my
fears were vain; for the animal sprang aside, and the stick fell heavily
upon the sharp-nosed dog of the bushrangers. He gave one yell, and was
crushed into a shapeless mass.

The ruffian uttered an oath of rage; but before he could renew the
attack the hound flew full at him, and fastened his long fangs into
Darnley's throat. The latter staggered back, surprised at the sudden
attack, but only for an instant. His stout hands were quickly raised,
and then his grasp encompassed the dog's throat so tightly that his eyes
nearly started from their sockets, and he was glad to unclinch his
teeth, and gasp for breath.

Full at arm's length did Darnley hold the animal, and we could see a
grim smile steal over his face as he thought of the pain he was
inflicting. The gang started forward to assist the ruffian, but with an
oath he bade them keep back and let him alone. I feared the dog's life
was short, and determined to save it, but I was anticipated.

I heard the sharp crack of Fred's rifle close by my side, and following
the direction of his aim, I saw Darnley loosen his hold of the dog,
stagger back, press one hand upon his side as though he felt a sudden
pain; but still he kept his feet, and waved to his gang encouragement,
while his voice exclaimed,--

"The beaks are upon us, d----n 'em; show no quarter or mercy; fight till
you die, or you'll all be hanged."

He staggered towards the hut as he spoke, but in trying to keep his
balance, removed his hand from his side. A torrent of blood gushed
forth, and dyed the ground a scarlet hue; he strove to keep upon his
feet, but his strength was ebbing fast, and with a reel and lurch, like
some strong ship before foundering, he fell to the ground, never to rise
again.

His gang had rushed into the hut upon the first discharge, leaving their
leader alone, unsupported; but as he fell, they issued forth, each armed
with muskets and long pistols, and a profusion of knives.

"Fire," whispered Fred, as he hastily loaded his rifle.

I disliked the idea of shedding blood, and hesitated; but before Fred
had driven his rifle ball home there was a discharge opposite to us, and
another bushranger fell bleeding to the ground.

They raised a startling yell for vengeance, and rushed towards the spot
where the smoke was ascending from the discharged musket. Before they
had reached half way across the clearing, Fred and myself poured in our
deadly fire, and two more of the escaped convicts fell mortally wounded.

They were then seized with a panic, and separating, each one seemed
determined to seek safety in flight; but before they gained the shelter
of the woods our revolvers were brought into requisition, and one more
ravisher was made to bite the dust.

"May the God of Israel give us strength to kill them," shouted the
convict, bursting through the thick bushes with his long gun in hand,
and his white hair streaming over his shoulders.

"No mercy to the scoundrels," cried Smith, waving his heavy axe over his
head, and advancing at a run in pursuit.

That cry came near being his last; for one of the bushrangers, seeing
that he had no gun, suddenly turned in his flight, and raising his
musket, presented it full at the broad breast of Smith. The latter did
not falter or dodge, but rushed towards the robber with uplifted axe,
uttering, as he advanced, a wild cry that startled me, it was so loud
and shrill, and sounded like the last yell of a dying man in agony.

I feared to see the villain discharge his musket, for I knew that Smith
was so near that he could not well be missed. I would have shot the
fellow myself, but my rifle was empty; still thinking to save him, I ran
hastily towards the parties; but before I had advanced ten steps I saw
the bushranger's musket flash in the pan, but no report followed. His
gun had missed fire.

Throwing down the weapon with an oath, the ruffian drew a long knife;
but before he had an opportunity to use it the heavy axe descended upon
his unprotected head, and crashing through skull and brains, it clove
him to the chine.

With no groan or word he fell; and when I reached the side of Smith
there was not another bushranger left to battle with. We were masters of
the field, and not one of us had received a wound.

"Let us praise God for this victory," cried the aged convict, removing
his apology for a hat, and casting his eyes heavenward.

"Humph," grunted Smith; "we'd better make preparations for quitting
these woods, instead of praying, according to my fancy."

"To Him alone belongs the praise for this day's work--for this mighty
triumph," cried the old man, whose religious feelings were all awakened
by the carnage.

"I don't dispute that the Lord lent his aid, but to my mind, if it
hadn't been for these two Americans, he'd deserted us in the hour of
need. Two good rifle shots are a great help towards obtaining a
victory," exclaimed Smith, wiping his axe of the crimson gore which
still adhered to it, and glancing around the clearing, as though he
expected there might be more bushrangers starting up to offer battle at
any moment.

"The Almighty is powerful, and can crush at his pleasure."

"We all know that," cried Smith, impatiently, "but to my mind it's
better to examine yonder hut, and then make our way back to the team as
fast as possible, for there's no knowing how soon we may have a new gang
to contend with."

His advice appeared so reasonable that we instantly prepared to follow
it; but first we stopped by the side of Black Darnley, and examined to
see whether he was dead. The rifle ball had made sure work, having
passed through his left side in the direction of his heart, and made its
exit below the ribs opposite. On the dark face of the dead man was a
look of defiance, as though even in his death-struggle he had tried to
gain his feet, and to face his enemies with his latest breath.

I removed the pistols which he wore in his belt, and as no one presented
a better claim for them than Fred and myself, I divided with him; and
during our long sojourn in Australia, he kept one, and I the other. He
still clings to his, while I have deposited mine in the office of the
American Union, as a sort of memento of times long past.

A visit to the hut was next paid, and there, heaped up in a corner, we
not only found the goods which were stolen from Smith's cart, but
numerous other articles; and while we were sorting them, I kicked aside
some dirt, and saw a flat stone. Curiosity prompted me to move it, and
underneath was a hoard of gold dust, gold coins, silver dollars, and
English shillings and half crowns, the whole amounting to about two
thousand pounds.

Without stopping to divide it, we gathered it up with the most
convenient articles for carrying away, and then setting fire to the hut,
left it blazing, knowing full well that those of the gang who escaped
would return before long with reenforcements, and that our lives were
not worth much if we were taken by surprise.

We gained the open prairie, and without stopping to rest, continued our
march, until we reached the hut of the convict stockman. The daughter of
the latter came out to us, and as she laid her hand upon her father's
arm, she whispered,--

"Is he dead?"

He nodded his head, and then I saw a gleam of satisfaction cross her
face, as she thought of her injuries, and the prompt manner in which
they had been avenged.




CHAPTER IX.

THE STOCKMAN'S DAUGHTER.--MOUNTED POLICE OF MELBOURNE.


The day after our return from the excursion in pursuit of bushrangers,
the cattle were yoked together, and had been attached to the cart for an
hour, before the convict issued from his hut.

Twice had Smith cracked his long whip, each time crushing large green
flies that had alighted on the flank of the nearest ox, and yet the lash
so lightly fell that not a hair of the animal was ruffled, or a particle
of pain inflicted. I never understood the science of using a whip until
I learned it upon the plains of Australia, and saw stockmen, with one
wave of their weapon, cut chips of hide and quivering flesh from the
panting sides of frightened or contrary cattle.

As the convict advanced to meet us, Smith rose from his seat with an
expression of gratitude at the prospect of soon being enabled to move.

"Well," said Smith, speaking first, "you see we are ready to start, yet
we could not go without bidding you good-by."

"I have much to thank you for," he said, his eyes cast to the ground as
though fearful of looking up and exposing the weakness which oozed from
them, and wet his long gray beard. "My child thanks you all for the
promptness with which you have revenged her wrongs; and to these two
Americans she says, that her prayers shall ever ascend for your safe
return to your country, and that happiness may await you when you have
rejoined the friends of your childhood."

"Can we bid her farewell, at parting?" asked Fred.

"If you wish it, yes," answered the convict: "but I have prayed with her
all night, and have besought the Lord to strengthen her heart under this
load of affliction. She is calm now, and when you speak do not allude to
her bereavement, or recall yesterday's bloody tragedy."

As he ceased speaking, he returned to the hut, and emerged leading the
widow. Her looks were much changed since we had seen her the day before.
Weeping and fasting, and sleepless nights, and above all, the thoughts
of her husband's sudden death, had so preyed upon her spirits that she
seemed like another person.

"Here are the two Americans, child, who wish to bid you farewell," her
father said, when he saw that she was disposed to pay no attention to
us.

Twice did he speak before she comprehended him; and after she had placed
her hands to her head, as though to recall a recollection of our
features, a faint look of recognition came over her face, and her leaden
eyes were lighted up with some such expression as we had seen the day
before, when she asked if Black Darnley was dead.

"You are sure that he is dead?" she asked in a low whisper, seizing Fred
by the arm, and gazing into his blank-looking face.

"Whom do you mean?" Fred inquired, evading her question.

"You know; Black Darnley,--the wretch who killed my husband, and injured
me. You look like him; but your face is not so black, and your hair is
lighter. But you may have changed it for the purpose of deceiving and
wronging me again. Ah, the more I look at you the firmer am I convinced
that you are the wretch."

She pushed his arm away, and turned with flashing eyes upon her parent,
speaking vehemently,--

"You told me that Darnley was dead, and that my injuries were avenged;
and yet you see him standing before you alive, and insulting me with
infamous propositions. Have I no friend here to protect me?"

"We are all your friends," I replied, in a soothing tone.

"It is false! There is not a man here, or Black Darnley would not live
to see another sun. Men, indeed? Ha, ha! my husband possesses more
spirit than a dozen of you."

She folded her arms, and rocked her body to and fro, shaking her head,
and muttering incoherent sentences, with her eyes fixed upon the ground
intently, as though trying, amid the dirt, to discover the blood of her
destroyer.

Poor Fred, who looked about as much like Black Darnley as the man in the
moon, turned slightly red with mortification; and to this hour, an
allusion to his wonderful likeness to the celebrated bushranger is sure
to bring on a fit of the sulks that will last a day or two.

Fred retired as soon as he found that his presence irritated the unhappy
woman, who, it was very evident, was slightly deranged by her
accumulation of trouble.

"We are all friends here," I said, at length, "and are willing to do
your bidding. See, here is your father; and do you think he would stand
unmoved in the presence of a man who had wronged you. You must surely
recollect my face. Look at me closely."

"Ah, I do remember you now," she cried.

"That's right," I said, encouragingly. "I thought you would know the man
you had leaned upon and talked with on the night--"

Before I had a chance to finish my remarks, with a wild, mad cry, she
sprang forward, and, with a movement like lightning, drew my bowie
knife, which was stuck in a belt around my waist, and had not Smith
intercepted the blow I should not now be writing sketches about my
adventures.

In spite of his interference, however, the knife, sharp as a razor and
ground to a point like a needle, fell upon my unprotected forehead and
opened a gash two inches long, almost penetrating the brain. The hot
blood blinded me for a moment as it gushed from the wound. I staggered
back from the unexpected attack, but before the mad woman had an
opportunity to repeat the blow, my faithful friend was by my side, and
had wrenched the steel from her hand.

"Ha, ha!" she shrieked; "blood!--blood!--his blood flows freely, and I
avenge my own wrongs. Look at him bleed!--'twas my hand that struck him,
and now he'll die like a dog. I triumph--I--I--"

She could say no more, but fell back in convulsions. Smith caught her in
his strong arms, and was about to bear her into the house, when he was
interrupted by what appeared like so many apparitions.

Mounted upon strong, well-trained horses, were a dozen of the mounted
police of Melbourne, who, during our interview with the convict's
daughter, had stolen upon us unperceived, and had formed a circle in
which we were the centre, to prevent an escape had we been so disposed.
So quiet had they ridden, that it seemed as though they had sprung from
the ground at the command of some genii of the lamp.

We did not form a very prepossessing group, and, at first, much less
suspicious people than police officers would have imagined that
something was wrong.

"Hello!" cried the man who appeared to command the squad, riding towards
us; "what have we here--a wounded man and a dead woman. Whose work is
this?"

"We can explain this to those having authority to ask," cried Fred,
carelessly throwing his rifle across his arm; yet it was done in such a
manner that the officer reined his horse back several paces, and
shouted,--

"Ready with your carbines, men!--we have fallen upon a gang of
bushrangers."

I heard the ominous click of the locks of the guns, and cleared the
blood from my eyes to get a view of our assailants.

"We are no bushrangers," shouted Smith, starting forward and fronting
the officer. "You should know my face, lieutenant," he continued, to the
man in command.

"Ah, Smith, is it you?" the lieutenant said, in a sort of patronizing
way, and riding forward. "Put up your guns, men; we are not among
bushrangers, I think." And in obedience to his command, the men slung
the carbines at their backs, and rode forward.

"What is the matter with that fellow?" the officer of police asked,
pointing to me.

"He was just injured by a knife, sir, in the hands of this woman, who
has lost her reason," answered Smith, in the most obsequious manner.

"Lost her reason, hey," said the lieutenant, carelessly. "Then she has
no business here; or rather I should say that no persons of sense would
be here if they could help it."

The mounted troop laughed, as in duty bound, and even Smith suffered his
features to relax in token of appreciation of the officer's
facetiousness.

"Where are you two fellows from?" inquired the lieutenant, turning
towards Fred and myself abruptly.

By this time I had bound up my head with a handkerchief, and wiped some
of the blood from my face. The wound had nearly ceased bleeding, thanks
to some lint which I always carried about me.

"Are you talking to me?" asked Fred, in a careless tone.

"To whom else?--speak!" cried the officer, impatiently.

"Perhaps you would not know where the place is located, even if I told
you its name," replied Fred, with provoking indifference.

"I am the best judge of that," answered the lieutenant, turning red in
the face.

"O, you are?" Fred laughed.

Smith, who had acted in a nervous manner ever since the conversation
commenced, approached and whispered in Fred's ear,--

"Speak civilly to him, or he may take you to Melbourne."

This, instead of having the desired effect on Fred, only rendered him
the more impudent; for he didn't relish being called "fellow," even if
he had on a flannel shirt.

"Will you tell me where you belong?" demanded the officer, angrily.

"O, certainly."

"Well, where?"

"Have you ever heard of such a place as Boston?" Fred asked.

"Yes--it is in England."

"Not the Boston that I mean," Fred exclaimed, drawing up his form to its
full height. "I mean Boston near Bunker Hill."

A sudden change came over the lieutenant's face. The dark frown passed
away, and a smile crossed his sunburnt countenance.

"You are Americans?" he asked, with an air of politeness.

"We claim that land as our home," Fred answered.

"I might have guessed as much, for you both carry an emblem of your
country."

He pointed to our rifles and smiled. We saw that he was disposed to be
rational, and therefore laid aside our reserve.

"There are but few of our people," I said, "but know how to handle these
weapons; and it's rare that they venture into an unknown country without
one for a companion."

"I think so; for I have met a number of Americans in Australia, and yet
every one clings to his rifle. But, while we are talking, the woman is
suffering. Maurice, assist to take her into the hut, and open a vein if
you think it necessary."

The man addressed as Maurice gave his bridle to a companion and
dismounted. The convict and the stranger raised her in their arms, and
removed the unfortunate beneath the rude roof, where at least she could
be screened from the sun.

"Well, Smith, what is there new in these parts?" inquired the
lieutenant, carelessly. "Seen any thing of Black Darnley and his gang,
lately? I understand that you have been seen conversing with him a
number of times recently. Take care--I give you fair warning; if I
report you, your ticket of leave is withdrawn."

"But you wouldn't do that?" cried Smith, his face showing the alarm
which he felt at the threat.

"I don't know but that it will be my duty to do so before long," cried
the officer, shaking his head like a petty tyrant, who wished to inspire
fear.

"I have been two days on the road," he continued, "searching for his
gang. If you can give me any information, Smith, that is of real value,
why, perhaps--"

"But I can give information," cried Smith, who, awed by the great man's
presence, appeared to have forgotten all about the death of Darnley.

"Ah! of the scamp's gang?" the officer asked, with eagerness.

"Where are they?" demanded the lieutenant, leading Smith one side.

"Six of them are dead--and with them, Black Darnley," cried Smith.

"You are trifling with me," said the officer, sternly.

"No--upon my word; but ask the Americans, they will tell you all."

"Is it so?" asked the policeman, turning towards us with an air entirely
changed from that with which he had first addressed us.

We confirmed the report, and gave the particulars.

He listened to us with astonishment; and yet his wonder was not unmixed
with admiration. I saw him try to suppress that feeling, but it would
find vent, John Bull like, and with an oath he exclaimed,--

"By G----! you Americans are a wonderful people. You seek adventures
with as much gusto as a knight-errant of the olden times. If I had a
dozen such as you two under my charge, I'd soon free this neighborhood
of bushrangers."

"There would be but one difficulty," answered Fred, with a laugh.

"And pray what is that?" asked the lieutenant.

"Why, Yankees have a great desire to lead, instead of being led."

He drew us one side, so that his men could not overhear his remarks, and
said,--

"Of course you knew that a large reward was offered for the death of
Darnley and his gang."

We reiterated our ignorance, and the officer looked at us in
astonishment.

"Then let me give you joy--for you have completed one of the best day's
work that you ever began. Give me the proof that Darnley and his gang
are dead, and I will put you in the way of obtaining the reward."

"We did not sell our rifles for gold," replied Fred, "but to assist an
old man to revenge his daughter's injuries. If you can serve Smith and
the old convict, we will willingly forego all thoughts of a reward."

In a few words we stated the case, and put him in possession of the
facts relative to our taking up arms. He listened to us patiently, and
when we had finished, said,--

"If you can give convincing proof that the gang of bushrangers has been
broken up, I can certainly promise you a free, unconditional pardon for
Smith and the stockman. But I must first see the bodies of the dead men,
and have your certificate of the gallantry of the parties named."

"How can we manage that?" we asked.

"By delaying your journey, and accompanying me to the spot."

Fred and myself consulted for a moment and agreed to do so. A day or a
week was nothing to us, if Smith could be made a free man. We called to
him:--

"Smith," said Fred, "do you wish a pardon from government?"

The poor fellow flushed red in the face, and then the blood receded and
left his cheeks pallid as death.

"If you wish a free and unconditional pardon, you must go with us back
to the haunts of Darnley," Fred said.

The tears started to his eyes with delight, and for a moment he was
incapable of motion; but in another second he bounded to the side of the
cattle, and with nervous fingers was unhitching the yokes and turning
the brutes loose upon the wide prairies, to feed upon the rank grasses
which abounded on the sides of the stream.




CHAPTER X.

DESPERATE DEEDS OF TWO CONVICTS.--LIEUT. MURDEN'S STORY.


The sun was pouring down with Australian brilliancy and power, but we
cared but little for the heat, if we could gain the scene of the battle
before a gang of bushrangers reached the spot, and concealed the bodies.
It was, therefore, with considerable uneasiness that we saw the
lieutenant of police coolly dismount from his horse, throw the bridle to
one of his men, with directions to remove the saddles from the animals,
and let them drink their fill at the stream, and afterwards be allowed
to graze on the rank grass.

"How is this?" I asked; "are we not to start immediately? Delays are
dangerous."

"Patience, my friends," returned the officer, leading the way towards
the stockman's hut. "I value your lives too much to think of asking you
to undertake a jaunt of twelve or thirteen miles at noonday, when the
sun is hottest."

"But we are capable of the task," replied Fred, energetically.

"I have no doubt of it, gentlemen; but if you can endure heat and
privation, my men and horses cannot. Why, before we could gain the edge
of yonder wood, half of the men would be sun-struck, and two-thirds of
the animals would expire for the want of water. No, no, trust to me, and
let us take the cool of the evening."

"But we shall reach the woods too late to make an investigation," I
said.

"It is very probable," answered the officer, entering the hut, where the
convict's daughter was lying on a rude bedstead, made of the skin of an
ox.

"But have you no fear of an ambuscade?" exclaimed Fred, who began to
entertain an opinion that the lieutenant was not well posted on the
subject of bush-fighting.

"Not in the least," replied the Englishman, removing his coat and heavy
sword belt, and stretching himself on a box.

"O, then you will keep skirmishers in advance of the main body, I
suppose?" Fred said.

"No," answered the officer, lighting his pipe: and then, observing an
expression of surprise on our faces, he continued,--

"Do you take me for such a greenhorn as to suppose that I would enter a
wood after dark? No, sir; I've studied the habits and cunning of
bushrangers for many years, and seen much service during that time. I
shall start near dark, halt half a mile from the edge of the forest, and
remain there until daylight. Does that suit your ideas of our peculiar
kind of warfare?"

We could offer no objections to the plan proposed; and as we were to
spend the day in idleness, looked around the hut for something to make a
breakfast on. The policeman guessed our thoughts, for he called one of
his men, and gave him an order.

"Get coffee and breakfast ready, Maurice," he said, "and when ready,
serve it here."

The man bowed, saluted his superior, and retired with military
precision.

"An old soldier," said the lieutenant, carelessly; "he has served
through half a dozen campaigns in India."

"And did he never rise above the ranks?" I asked.

"Never obtained a position higher than that of corporal; but that is not
extraordinary in the English army. Promotion with us goes with birth and
influence, not merit and brave deeds. Maurice has distinguished himself
in many a hotly-contested field; yet now, in his old age, he draws a
trifling pension, and is glad to be enrolled in the police force of
Melbourne, where better pay and quick promotion awaits him."

"As you have been in the country for many years, suppose that you give
us a short account of your experience," cried Fred.

"Willingly; but wait until after breakfast. That woman is getting
better--hear her breath, regular and natural. Let her father come in to
tend her, if he wishes."

The latter remark was made to one of his privates, who stood at the
door, and had prevented the entrance of the aged convict. The father
entered with a humble air, and seated himself near his daughter's side.

He appeared too grateful for the privilege of thus remaining in the
presence of his superior to pay any attention to his conversation; and
when breakfast had been disposed of, and our pipes were lighted, each of
us chose a comfortable place to rest at full length on the floor of the
hut, and discuss matters and things in Australia. I found the lieutenant
a rare companion, and a man that had seen much service in the country.

"We have a number of hours to spare before we undertake our expedition,"
said Fred, during a pause in the conversation; "suppose you favor us
with a short history of some of your adventures in this country. You
have seen many years' service as a police agent, and tales of no
ordinary kind must be familiar to you."

"If I should tell you of the murders which the bushrangers sometimes
commit, when they have a thirst for blood, you would think I was
romancing," answered the officer.

We both protested against such an idea, and Lieutenant Murden--that was
his name, and I am glad to see that, since I left Melbourne, he has been
promoted to a captaincy--knocked the ashes from his pipe, carefully
reloaded it, told the sentinel at the door to keep his eyes open, and
not let a gang of robbers approach the hut unperceived, wet his lips
with the contents of a flask, which he carried about his person, lighted
his pipe with a match, and then began.

       *       *       *       *       *

LIEUTENANT MURDEN'S STORY.

"Not long since, the whole police force of the country was thrown into a
state of great excitement and vigilance, owing to the desperate deeds of
two convicts, who seized a schooner on the coast, compelled the crew, on
the pain of instant death, to navigate her to a distant part of the
island, and by keeping their guns pointed at the heads of the
frightened men, and relieving each other at the task, were enabled to
accomplish their ends.

"The convicts were landed, and to repay the sailors for their kindness
and forbearance, they shot the two men that rowed them ashore; and, from
the time that they set foot on land, until the day of their death, their
course was marked with blood.

"They took the life of every human being that stood in their way. The
most unreasonable request, if there was a moment's hesitation, was
rewarded with a bullet; and it seemed as though demons, not men, were
thirsting for the blood which was shed so profusely.

"The news of the murderers' doings was brought post haste to Melbourne,
and I and my troop were ordered to start immediately for the bush, and
secure them, dead or alive. Extraordinary powers were granted me by the
government. I could take horses or cattle, or even press men into my
service, if I thought desirable, for the purpose of capturing the
bushrangers. Hardly a moment of preparation was allowed me, beyond the
choice of twelve men, whom I knew I could rely upon; and even while I
was conversing with the superintendent, another messenger arrived with
the news of fresh butcheries, more bloody and brutal than the last.

"At eight on the evening of the day that I was ordered to take my
departure, my troop was leaving Melbourne on the road leading towards
Ballarat, in which direction I learned the convicts were travelling.

"At two o'clock we halted at a cattle station; and while some of our men
changed saddles from our tired horses to fresh ones, the remainder
cooked a kettle of coffee, and broiled a piece of beef, to stay our
stomachs during our long ride. From the stockman we obtained some
information, as the bushrangers had visited his cattle station two days
before, selected what animals they wished, and then shot the companion
of the man we were conversing with.

"At seven o'clock we again halted at a cattle station, but for ten
minutes we could not find a soul to answer our questions. We searched
the hut and an adjoining piece of woods, in hope of finding somebody who
would give us a little information. As time was precious, however, I was
on the point of borrowing what animals I wanted, when two of my men
brought in a native, half dead with fear. He had been found secreted
under some brush in the woods, and all our persuasions could hardly
convince him that his life was not in danger.

"After an immense amount of questioning, I learned that the two
murderers had visited the cattle station the day before, had shot the
keeper, and would have killed the native had he not fled to the woods
for protection. After the deed, they ransacked the hut thoroughly,
possessed themselves of a quantity of rum which they found, renewed
their supply of ammunition, mounted fresh horses, and were off in the
direction of Ballarat at full gallop, according to the account of the
native.

"It only remained for us to follow as fast as possible. In twelve hours
we had travelled a distance of one hundred miles; and although we felt
the want of rest, yet I knew that time was too precious to waste in
sleep. A hasty breakfast, and we were off; but before we had rode twelve
miles our attention was attracted near the roadside by seeing a flock of
birds hovering in the air and uttering shrill cries. I endeavored to
get my horse to approach the place, but with starting eyes and every
indication of terror, he refused to move.

"I dismounted, and entered the hushes, and found my suspicions
confirmed. Two men were lying dead on the ground, both with bullet holes
through their heads. I made a short examination, and satisfied myself
that the murders were committed the day before, and that the bodies were
dragged amongst the bushes, after being robbed of every thing valuable
about their persons.

"Time was too precious to give Christian burial to the dead men, even if
we had had the proper tools to open the earth. With a sigh, we left the
birds their prey, and once more continued our journey through the
wildest part of the sterile country between Melbourne and Ballarat.

"On, on, we went, urging our panting, tired beasts without mercy; and
just as we thought we should have to halt, to allow the animals a
resting spell, we reached the large cattle station of Witon Martells.
Here we found every thing in confusion; and although usually half a
dozen men were employed at the station, only two came out to greet us,
and they wore frightened visages.

"We soon heard their story. The murderers had rode up to the hut about
six o'clock the evening before, and wished to exchange horses. The
stockmen refused; and hardly were the words from their mouths before one
of the convicts drew a revolver, and fired upon those standing in front
of him; and while he was thus amusing himself, his companion sat on his
horse, and laughed to see those not instantly killed endeavor to get
away! Three men fell under the fire, and hardly knew what caused their
death, it was so sudden. One man, mortally wounded, was just dying as we
rode up; and the two that came to greet us had saved their lives by
taking to their heels, and entering the bush.

"They had watched the convicts pick from the herd of horses the most
able and strongest nags, and then, after eating what they could find
ready cooked in the hut, started for Ballarat, where, no doubt, amongst
the crowd of miners, they thought they would escape detection.

"Throughout the long night we spurred onward, and when daylight
appeared, tired and sore with our journey, we stopped at another station
to change horses. The murderers had left their mark at that place also,
and in front of the door was the stockman shot through the heart, and
stone dead.

"The men selected a number of animals, and after our never-failing
stimulant, a cup of coffee, and a piece of broiled meat, we were in the
saddle again, and galloping towards the next station, where I knew it
would be impossible for the convicts to obtain fresh horses, as sheep
only were kept there.

"At twelve o'clock we reached the station, and drew up at the door.
There was no sign of life about the premises, and with sad misgivings, I
dismounted, and entered the hut; but I started back in horror, for on
the floor were a dozen men, motionless and lifeless, as I at first
thought; but a closer examination convinced me that they were bound hand
and foot, and their mouths gagged.

"It may seem to you incredible, but it is nevertheless true, and only
proves what resolute men can accomplish when opposed to weakness.
Twelve men were surprised and bound, and made to lie flat on their backs
at the word of command, and so well did they obey the instructions of
the murderers, that the latter, very probably, were too much pleased
with their compliance to waste powder on them.

"I did not upbraid them with their cowardice, for I know what human
nature is, and perhaps, had I been of the party, I might have submitted
to the same degradation.

"There was one thing that I learned from the released prisoners that
pleased me. The convicts had left their horses at the station, and
expressed a determination to return in a few hours' time for them. Where
the villains had gone they did not know, or in what direction they
departed. A native, however, who was employed at the station, searched
for their footsteps, and was not long in finding them.

"The trail led to the woods, and the men stationed at the hut expressed
an opinion that the convicts were in search of a gang of bushrangers,
that had been secreted in the vicinity for many months, but had recently
disbanded, and gone to the mines.

"I expected that the murderers would return to the hut for their horses,
when they found that the men they wished to join were no longer
organized as a gang; so bidding the men conceal the horses, and retire
within the walls of the stock-house, I waited hour after hour for them
to come in sight.

"About four o'clock, my wish was gratified. Two stout, black-whiskered,
desperate looking men, with rifles in their hands, and revolvers in
their belts, came in sight, and advanced towards the hut, conversing in
earnest tones, and apparently unsuspicious of the change that had taken
place during their absence.

"I can only account for their boldness in returning, by the supposition
that they had been so long accustomed to see men tremble when they
raised their deadly weapons, that they were regardless whether the
prisoners had released themselves or not.

"In fact, when the two convicts were advancing, I looked around on the
numerous stockmen, and was surprised to see that they trembled and
turned pale; and yet they were surrounded by twelve policemen, as brave
as Melbourne could produce.

"When the convicts were within a dozen paces of the door, they suddenly
stopped, surprised by the number of prints of horses' feet which they
discovered in the soft earth. They glanced suspiciously at the hut, and
cocked their rifles, and debated the question as to whether they should
advance or retire.

"The latter course was decided on, and as they turned to go, I ordered
half a dozen of our light carbines to be discharged at their retreating
forms.

"The effect was like magic, for, although both were wounded, yet instead
of endeavoring to make their escape, they turned towards the hut, and
charged towards it with a cheer and a yell, as though determined to have
blood for their injuries.

"Almost before the remainder of my men could bring their guns to a cock,
the villains were upon us, discharging their revolvers to the right and
left, and creating such a scene of confusion as I never witnessed
before. The stockmen endeavored to make their escape from the windows,
and those who could not squeeze through, tried to shelter themselves
behind my men, and some of the cowards even seized the police around
their waists, and held them as shields to ward off the shots which were
flying thick in that little square room, densely crowded with human
beings.

"I saw two of my men fall, owing to the struggle which the station men
made to escape, and then fearful that we should all be defeated and
murdered, I seized a carbine that one of my people had dropped, and with
a blow, I struck one of the murderers senseless to the ground.

"The remaining one fought like a demon. After discharging the contents
of two revolvers which he carried about his person, he drew his bowie
knife and rushed into our midst, cutting to the right and left; and so
impetuous was his onset that we fell back a few feet, which the villain
seeing, turned and attempted to escape. Before he had taken two stops
towards the door, my men recovered from their surprise, and rushed upon
him. He fought like a devil, and his knife was red with the heart's
blood of one of my bravest men, before he was lying powerless, with
irons on his hands and ankles, at our feet.

"The villain that I had struck senseless, now began to show signs of
animation; but before he had recovered, he was loaded down with irons,
and a watch placed over both, with orders to blow their brains out if
they made the least attempt to escape.

"You would hardly expect that men, conquered as they were, and
momentarily expecting death at our hands, would have the hardihood to
boast of their deeds, and plan other crimes in case of their escape. Yet
those convicts dared to tell me to my face that we should never live to
reach Melbourne, and death was far from their thoughts.

"I had a great mind to end their days on the spot; but doubtful of my
authority in the premises, and fearing their deaths would be the subject
of a judicial examination, prevented me. My men, half of them wounded,
and three dead, were frantic for the villains' blood, and it was with
difficulty that I could restrain them.

"I attended to the injuries of the men as well as I was able, and then
making the stockmen provide as good a supper as they could get, we
satisfied our appetites; but even while doing so, sleep overpowered us,
so tired were we with our long journey.

"I determined to halt for that night, at the station, and let the men
get recruited. One of the stockmen and one of my men were placed on
guard over the prisoners, and relieved every two hours during the night,
with express orders to shoot them if they moved hand or foot in the way
of attempting to escape, was the means of keeping the murderers quiet,
and enabling my men to attain that rest which they stood so much in need
of.

"Not to tire you too much with minute particulars, we next day buried
our killed and started for Melbourne, where we arrived safe with our
prisoners, and a few days afterwards they were hung in the jail-yard."

"Maurice," said the lieutenant to the sentinel at the door, who had been
listening to the recital, "do you wish to meet with two more such
villains?"

"God forbid, your honor," answered Maurice, crossing himself; for he was
a devout Catholic. "I have hardly recovered the use of my arm where the
devils struck me with a knife."

By the time the lieutenant had concluded, and we had drank a strong cup
of tea, the sun was just setting behind the dark forest, which we had
penetrated the day before, and word was passed from mouth to mouth to
bring up the horses and get ready for a start.




CHAPTER XI.

SAGACITY OF A DOG.--A NIGHT'S ADVENTURES.


"Gentlemen," asked Lieutenant Murden, as the policeman brought the
horses to the door, "I hope you know how to ride."

"We have done a little in that line," answered Fred.

"Then I shall allow three of my men to remain behind, to lend the
stockman and his daughter such assistance as they may want, while Smith
and yourselves will take their animals. Now, then, mount."

We slung our rifles over our shoulders by the means of leather straps,
and in a few minutes were cantering across the prairie at an easy gait,
and in the direction of the bushrangers' late retreat.

It was near nine o'clock when we reached the edge of the forest, and
drew up near the spot where we had entered the day before by the secret
path.

The stillness of the woods was oppressive; for not a tree waved its
bough, nor did a breath of air sigh over the plain. The night owl alone
sent forth its discordant shriek, as though troubled with ominous
forebodings regarding its future fate, and was protesting against them.

"This silence is more dreadful than the howling of wolves," cried Fred,
at length, as he sat in his saddle, and regarded the dark forest before
him.

"Those trees, if they could speak, would tell of tales of blood and
cruelty, equal to that which I related yesterday," said Murden, after a
short pause.

"And do you think that there are other gangs of bushrangers concealed in
those dark recesses?" I asked.

"There must be near half a dozen different ones, for it's the most
extensive forest in Australia; and ten thousand soldiers, with every,
equipment necessary, would be obliged to retire from its shades, baffled
and defeated, before a few hundred men who knew the ground thoroughly."

"Well, let us get beyond the range of a bullet," cried the lieutenant,
after a moment's pause; and as we presented a fair mark for any robber
who might be in ambush, we were not slow to turn our horses' heads and
trot a short distance from such dangerous concealment.

We were about to dismount, and post our sentinels, when I heard a deep
bay in the direction of the stockman's hut, which recalled to my mind
the many scenes through which Fred and myself had passed since the same
sound had first broken upon our ears.

"Do you hear any thing?" I asked, of my companion, pausing to listen.

"No," he replied; "why do you inquire?"

"Did you, Smith, hear no sound that is familiar to your ear?"

"No, sir," he replied, pressing forward, "I did not hear any sound but
the shrieking of yonder owl."

"Our friend is getting nervous," cried Murden, with a laugh.

"There," I cried, suddenly, as a deep bay, many miles distant, came
floating over the prairie, "you must have heard that howl. The hound is
on our trail, and his following us at this time of night means
something."

"You are right," said Fred, quietly; "I could distinguish that dog's bay
amid a hundred. Let us return, lieutenant, and find out what has
happened at the hut."

Murden laughed at our folly, as he termed it, and could not he induced
to understand that the animal was endowed with rare instinct; and even
when we related how he had sought us out on the night that Black Darnley
had murdered his master, he tried to argue that it was purely
accidental; but even while we debated, the bays of the hound grew louder
and nearer as the scent became fresher, and while we were listening
attentively, as the animal searched along the edge of the woods for a
trail, I thought I heard the report of firearms, but at such a distance,
that I did not venture to call attention to my surmise.

In a few minutes the dog was with us, bounding towards Fred and myself,
as we sat on our horses, and seeking to attract, our attention by a
number of artifices. With a low whine, he would look in the direction of
the hut, where his mistress was supposed to be, and then trot off a
short distance, when, finding that we paid no attention to his
movements, he would return and whine as though his heart was breaking by
our coldness, in refusing to notice his appeals.

"I can't stand this any longer," cried Fred, suddenly. "Lieutenant, if
you will not lead your troop back to the stock-hut, Jack and myself will
go alone. I am satisfied that there is something wrong going on there,
and that the dog has been sent by the old convict to recall us."

"What can have happened to them since we left? There were no indications
of bushrangers in that quarter, and to return would be waste of time,"
returned the commanding officer.

"Then we will go alone. We should like Smith as a companion if you have
no objections; but as the horses are under your charge, we will leave
them, and walk to the hut. If matters are right there, we can join you
by daylight in the morning."

As Fred spoke, he dismounted, and I was about to imitate his example,
when Murden altered his mind.

"Do you think," he said, with all the warmth of an honest John Bull,
"that I will permit you two Don Quixotes to leave me, and cross this
wide prairie on foot, at this time of night. No, sirs. If you are
determined to go, thinking there is fighting, why, I am bound to
accompany you, and get my share. A quick trot, men, and keep in a
compact body."

The men, without a murmur at the sudden order, struck their spurs into
their horses' sides, and followed us at a gallop, the dog leading the
way in the direction of the stock-hut, and no longer uttering loud bays.

An hour quickly passes when there is something to occupy the mind, and
at the end of that time we were not more than half a mile from the house
which we had left at sundown.

"You see," said the lieutenant, "your surmises were groundless. We have
had our journey for nothing, and for once the dog has proved a false
prophet."

I began to fear that I had rendered myself liable to ridicule, and was
thinking how I should recede, when the sharp report of a gun was heard,
in the direction which we were travelling.

"The d----!" cried Murden, suddenly; "I know the sound of my carbines as
well as I know when pay-day comes. That gun was discharged by one of my
fellows, and there is trouble, or he would have been asleep before
this."

Three or four flashes of light were seen, and then the report of an
irregular volley was heard, as though some force outside of the hut was
firing at it from spite.

"The affair is explained," the lieutenant said; "a gang of bushrangers
have attacked the hut, and my men are defending it bravely. Forward,
men, to the rescue."

"One second," cried Fred, laying his hand on Murden's arm. "Let us
reason for a moment, because there is no pressing haste; those in the
hut can keep twenty men at bay until daylight, and I think if we use a
little stratagem, we can secure a few of the gang, and run but little
risk."

"Speak quick," cried the impatient officer, who longed to be where he
could smell the burning powder, and as another discharge of muskets was
heard, he almost broke away from the cool, indifferent Fred.

"There are two suggestions which I have to offer," Fred said. "In the
first place, the party that is attacking the station think that the
force under your charge is gone for the night."

"Well, what then?" cried Murden.

"Or else the party, not knowing that your command is near here, rallied
to avenge the death of Black Darnley and his comrades. Now, if we charge
up to the very door of the station, we shall most probably get a volley,
not only from the bushrangers, who will hear the sound of the horses'
feet, but as likely as not receive a shot from our friends."

"At any rate, we can capture two or three of the villains," cried the
officer.

"I doubt it," answered Fred. "Knowing that they will have to raise the
siege, two or three saddles will be emptied, and when we seek to return
their fire, we shan't find an enemy to contend against. They will
scatter in various directions if their force is small; and if large,
why; a bushranger is a dangerous foe, and fights with a halter around
his neck. Let us oppose craft to craft, and surprise the scamps, as they
have surprised us."

"But how?" asked Murden.

"You have never lived in a country where waging war against Indians is
regarded as mere pastime, or you would have comprehended my meaning.
Let us dismount from our horses where we are, and let my friend and
myself steal forward, and mingle with the bushrangers; or if that is
impracticable, find out their numbers, and whether they have made any
impression on the hut--where the main body is stationed, and whether
they suspect the presence of your force. An hour will be ample time to
go and return. What say you to the proposition?"

"I like it," answered the lieutenant, after a moment's musing; "but I
object to one thing."

"Name it"

"The idea of your going forward and exposing your lives in a service
that does not concern you. You remain with my men, and I alone will
venture into the midst of these villains."

"And let the Australian government lose a valued officer? No, sir, stay
with your men, and let Fred and myself do the scouting duty," I said.

"But you're not going without me," Smith exclaimed, abruptly; "I made a
bargain with you, gentlemen, to take you to the mines, and I'm not going
to lose sight of you for a moment."

"You shall go with us, Smith," we answered; and I could feel the warm
pressure of the honest fellow's hand at being allowed the privilege of
still adhering to our fortunes, although the duty which we were about to
enter upon was one fraught with no common danger.

"I don't see but that I shall be obliged to give my consent, after all,"
Murden said; "if you are rash enough to thrust your heads into the
lion's mouth, why, take my best wishes for your success, and start at
once. Ah, there speaks one of my carbines again. The garrison is on the
alert."

As we started on our expedition, the hound, which had been lying near
without a sign of impatience, bounded to his feet and led the way. We
debated for a moment as to the expediency of allowing him to accompany
us; but while discussing the question, he returned, and, as though
guessing that he was the subject of our talk, looked into our faces and
uttered a low whine.

"Let him go with us," I pleaded; "I'll warrant that he'll prove
discreet."

The animal planted his fore paws upon my shoulder, and sought to lick my
face, in gratitude. It might have been accidental, but to me it looked
as though there was something besides animal instinct in the act.

There was a unanimous vote in favor of the dog, and we once more started
on our way.

Gun after gun was discharged, both by besiegers and besieged; but as the
night was dark, and it was very evident that those in the hut did not
understand the Indian mode of warfare, of firing at the flash of their
enemies' pieces, it was pretty certain that not much harm was done to
the bushrangers.

"Come," said Fred, in a whisper, after we had watched the conflict for a
short time, "let us forward and count the number of our opponents, and
perhaps make a prisoner. Smith," he continued, addressing our stout
friend, "I need not tell you to be cautious, and make no reply if you
chance to encounter one of the scamps, and he speaks. The tones of your
voice would betray us if the party is small. Now let us move forward
and take up our positions near yonder clump of bushes by the bank of the
stream."

Fred led the way, and by his side walked the dog, with head erect, and
eyes glaring like balls of fire; but not a single yelp issued from his
capacious throat, as we strode towards the bushes and concealed
ourselves.

We had not remained long at our station before two men passed us,
talking earnestly together; and we learned enough to know that the
presence of the police was not suspected by the bushrangers, and that
the party attacking the hut was one got up for the purpose of avenging
the death of Black Darnley and his gang.

Smith's cart, filled with merchandise when we started, had been rifled
of every thing which it contained of value, and I could hear the poor
fellow groan as he thought of his loss.

"I tell you, Jim," cried one of the gang, "we are only wasting time
here; let's pack up what we've got, and be off. Bill says that he saw a
police force on the road day before yesterday, and our wasting so much
powder may bring 'em to this spot."

"And let the death of Darnley go unrevenged?" exclaimed the ruffian
addressed; "I'm blastedly ashamed of you, to hear a man talk that way!
You knows as well as I does that these fellers has got all the money
that Darnley's gang has made for six months past, and now there's a
chance of making a spec you want to be off."

"But I don't like the idea of getting nabbed by the police. I'm well
known, and curse 'em, there'd be a jolly time in Melbourne if they could
put the hemp around my neck."

"Your neck's no more precious than mine," replied the second bushranger;
"I for one don't quit this place till I've cut the throat of every man
in the hut. I'll learn 'em to attack our people. They shall be made
examples of."

"Well, Jim," replied the milder ruffian, "if you have set your heart on
fighting 'em, why, I'll stand by. But let's make short work of it, and
storm the hut without delay."

"And lose half of our gang, hey?" answered the bushranger. "There's good
marksmen in the hut, as the death of Sam just now should convince you.
We can't afford to throw away men, as we've none too many to do the
work."

"Then how are we going to get at 'em?"

"I'll tell you the plan I've hit on, and I think we needn't lose more
than one man in putting it into execution. Remove every thing from that
cart, and let half a dozen men keep up a brisk fire in front of the hut,
while I with the rest, will take the team to the back of the shanty. We
can push it close under the roof and shelter ourselves from the fire of
those within, if they discover the trick, which I don't think they will.
By starting a board or two, without much noise, we can command every
part of the room, and pour in half a dozen volleys without being
injured."

"That is a deused good idea, and I'll go and tell the boys. They've got
hold of that keg of rum, and I suppose I shall have hard work to choke
'em off; but they must leave it for a while, and attend to business."

The two bushrangers, who appeared to be the leaders of the gang,
separated, one stealing towards the object of his attack, and the other
hastening in the direction of the ford which crossed the
stream--possibly where the men were carousing.

"My poor goods," whined Smith, "the cursed brutes have stolen them all.
I wish that keg of rum had a pound of arsenic in it; there would be some
consolation in knowing that the devils were destroying themselves."

"Hush!" cried Fred, for that instant the growl of the dog gave token
that some one was approaching. With one hand on the animal's leather
collar to restrain him, and another on his massive jaws, we waited his
approach.

The bushranger walked with hasty step towards us, and then suddenly
stopping, he spoke aloud,--

"Jim," he said, evidently thinking that he should find his companion
still there, "the men won't leave their rum; come and speak to the
devils."

He turned in every direction to get sight of his companion, and as he
was facing the hut, I felt a warm pressure from Fred's disengaged hand,
and understood him without a word being spoken.

We noiselessly arose, and relinquished our hold of the dog; but strange
to say the animal appeared to understand our movements, and did not
spring forward as we feared he would. He looked into our faces, wagged
his tail, and remained silent.

"Jim!" cried the bushranger, in a louder tone of voice than he had used
before, "Jim, the boys--"

He had no time to utter more. Fred placed his strong hands around the
fellow's throat, and compressed his grasp until I fancied I heard bones
crack; at the same moment I dropped upon my knees, and seizing both his
legs we had him at our mercy. He kicked violently, and struggled
manfully, but in spite of all we bore him to the bushes, when Smith,
beginning to understand our attack, uttered a chuckle of delight, and
threw his whole weight upon the prostrate bushranger, and began to bind
his arms with cords which he always carried about him in case of need.

Even the hound was not idle, for standing over the astonished ruffian,
with his powerful jaws in close proximity to his face, he showed such a
set of strong teeth that the bushranger manifested many symptoms of
terror, and endeavored to move from such a dangerous neighborhood of
ivory.

The feet and hands of the robber were soon bound by the active Smith,
and then holding a knife at his throat, with an understanding that it
should be plunged into him if he gave an alarm, Fred relinquished his
grasp, and asked a few questions.

"How many are in your gang to-night?" Fred inquired.

The villain looked from one face to the other, as though he was almost
resolved to evade the question; but receiving no encouragement from the
scowling countenances which he encountered, replied,--

"There's twelve of us."

"Who's your leader?" he demanded.

"Jim Gulpin."

"As big a scamp as ever went unhanged!" ejaculated Smith; "I have heard
of his tricks, before."

"What is your object, in attacking the stock-hut?"

"To recover the gold which was stolen from Darnley, and also to revenge
his loss."

"And you expect to succeed?" demanded Fred, ironically.

The bushranger made no reply, and as we had got all the information that
we expected, and had other work in view, we gagged him, and had just
secured the wretch, when a low growl from the hound attracted our
attention.

"If this is the leader," whispered Smith, "you had better let me have a
clip at him first, as he is a man of great strength, and a regular
dare-devil!"

"You may pin his arms, while Jack looks out for his feet," replied Fred.

"I understand," answered Smith, and we fell back into the darkest shade
of the bushes, as Jim came in sight.

He walked with a hasty step towards the spot where his companions were
drinking, and we knew that they must be getting drunk quite fast, for
more than once had we heard their voices mingled with oaths and
execrations.

We stole after him, following on tiptoe to prevent our steps from being
audible, and at a given signal, threw ourselves upon his burly form.

Although taken by surprise, he readily shook us off and gained his
liberty. Once did he free one of his arms from Smith's embrace, and
brought it down upon that unfortunate man's head with a clang that
sounded as though he had fractured his skull; the stout-hearted
Englishman only clung the closer.

Once the bushranger, by his desperate struggles, freed his neck from
Fred's vice-like compression; but instead of using his voice in calling
for help, as a more cowardly man would have done, he uttered fierce
invectives and expressions of defiance.

We bore him to the earth and closed his mouth, and threatened with
steel, but he still defied us; and not until his limbs were securely
bound, and a piece of Smith's flannel shirt was thrust into his mouth,
and the hound standing over him, expressing, by his deep growls, the
most intense desire to taste the robber's flesh, did he become calm and
submit to his fate with resignation.

"Curse you," muttered Smith, "what have you done with my goods?"

"Never mind the goods now, Smith," said Fred. "We shall find them all, I
think, when we capture the gang. Do you take care of the prisoners, and
above all things, keep them quiet. Jack and myself will take a near
survey of the rest of the robbers, and then return."

"I'll keep them quiet--never fear," replied Smith, and he glanced
towards his long knife in an unmistakable manner.

We followed the edge of the stream along for a few rods--each step
bringing us nearer the voices which we had heard while lying in ambush;
and although the bushrangers were sensible enough not to build a fire to
reveal their location, yet the clamor which they raised while drinking
from Smith's cherished keg of rum, was sufficient to lead a party to
their seclusion without fear of being discovered.

We skulked behind a clump of bushes, and for a few minutes listened to
the conversation. Oaths, robbery, and murder were themes as common on
their lips as prayers from a minister desirous of getting an increase of
salary.

"We have heard enough of this, Fred," I said. "Let us return, bring up
Murden and his party, and take the villains alive."

"Agreed," cried my companion; and retracing our steps, we were once more
by the side of Smith, who sat, in company with the hound, watching his
two prisoners with great diligence.

"Your keg of rum is a blessing, Smith," I said. "The bushrangers are
taking to it finely, and in an hour's time they will be unconsciously
drunk."

"We are now going to join Murden and his policemen, and bring them up
for the purpose of capturing the remainder of the gang."

"Good--I'll wait here with these two, and give a good account of them
when you return. Let me keep the dog," he said, as the hound rose to
follow us.

I spoke a few words to the animal, and he quietly returned to the chief
bushranger, and laid down by his side with a brilliant show of teeth.

There had not been a shot fired from the hut for more than half an hour.
The inmates were evidently puzzled at the silence of those on the
outside, and as the gang were too busy getting drunk to attend to
business, it was not probable that another attempt would be made before
our return.

Ten minutes' brisk travelling brought us in sight of Murden's force.
They were on the alert, for we were challenged as we drew near, but were
received joyfully by the officer and his men. They suspected, from the
sudden ceasing of the guns, that we had been surprised; and it was with
the utmost astonishment that they listened to an account of the capture
of the two men.

"We will lose no time," cried the lieutenant "Mount, men, and proceed."

As we trotted towards the hut, Fred suggested to give those on the
inside an intimation of our presence, and as they would be likely to
recognize the voice of their officer sooner than any body else, Murden
rode to the door, dismounted, and rapping, spoke to his men in tones
they well knew.

The bars were removed cautiously, but when convinced that their officer
was speaking, the men were overjoyed. They rushed out to be
congratulated by their comrades, and tell the short story of their
siege. But there was no time to lose, if we desired to capture the
bushrangers; so, leaving the horses in charge of one man, we joined
Smith, and finding that his prisoners were safe, left them in charge of
the dog, and then walked rapidly in the direction of the gang, still
swilling from the rum keg.

They did not suspect our presence, although we heard a number of calls
for their chief, and a few drunken surmises as to the reason of his long
absence; and in the midst of their discussion, the loud voice of Murden
rang out,--

"Surrender, villains, you are surrounded!"

We could hear them start to their feet, and search for their guns, and
then whisper together; and then a deep-toned voice exclaimed,--

"Who asks us to surrender?"

"The police of Melbourne!" cried Murden.

"Curse the police of Melbourne! Come, my hearties, let's give it to the
fools!"

An irregular discharge of half a dozen muskets followed his words, and a
man at my side was struck down, and wounded terribly. He was shot
through the heart, and died instantly.

Their firing revealed their position, and we saw that they were
determined to rush to close quarters, and try the odds, drunk as they
were. Murden no longer hesitated.

"Give them a volley, my men," he cried; and the police, enraged at the
loss of a comrade, poured in a murderous discharge from their carbines.

Yells and imprecations followed, and loud above the groans we could hear
one or two shouting that they would surrender, and begging the police
not to fire again. Murden granted their prayer, and when daylight made
its appearance, the dead bodies of four bushrangers, and three mortally
wounded, were lying by that quiet stream, the waters of which received
their blood, and bore it to the ocean.




CHAPTER XII.

DISCOVERY OF A MASONIC RING.--FUNERAL PYRE OF BLACK DARNLEY.


Knowing the treacherous character of the bushrangers, Murden would not
allow one of his men to venture to the assistance of the wounded
robbers. He formed a circle around them, and with carbines on the cock,
his force waited until daylight before relieving their wants.

In vain Fred and myself offered to venture among the wounded, and take
to them water. Murden would not listen to the proposal for a moment; not
that he was naturally hard-hearted, but he knew the men whom he had to
deal with better' than ourselves; and he imagined that we should get a
few inches of cold steel for our charity.

As daylight appeared, one by one of the gang that had escaped uninjured,
were called out, manacled, and confined to a tree, to prevent all
possibility of flight. There were many fierce oaths uttered by the
wretches, as they felt the bracelets slipped over their wrists by
Murden; and two of the hardened villains boasted of the murders which
they had committed, and laid plans for a continuance of their crimes
when they escaped, as they expected to do.

It was with difficulty that the policemen could be restrained; and once
when Murden was absent for a few moments, and had left the charge of
the prisoners to Fred and myself, one of the men, carried away by sudden
rage at the taunts which the bushrangers hurled at him, raised his
carbine, and if Fred had not struck up the barrel just as he did, the
sheriff of Melbourne would have been spared the necessity of finding
hemp for one robber. As it was, the ball whistled harmlessly over his
head.

"You are mad!" cried Fred; "would you murder the wretches in cold
blood?"

"Ay!" shouted the indignant policeman; "they have committed many
murders, and it is time their career was ended."

"I grant that," returned Fred; "but these men are now in the hands of
the law, and are entitled to a fair trial. You are paid for protecting
them, as well as apprehending. Do not let your conscience ever accuse
you of murdering a prisoner."

"You are right, sir," returned the policeman, with evident respect; "I
was foolish to be so moved, and beg you to forgive me."

"I have nothing to forgive," replied Fred, amused at the man's
earnestness; "but if you wish to do a really good action, lend Jack and
myself aid to bind up the wounds of these poor, grumbling wretches."

"That I will," cried the policeman, laying down his carbine, and
following us to the bank of the river, where the sufferers were still
lying, groaning with pain.

Just as we began washing the blood from their wounds, Murden joined us.
He looked astonished to think that we took so much interest in the men,
and after a moment's hesitancy, said,--

"I have been trying to arrange with Smith to return to Melbourne with
his team, and carry these wounded men and my prisoners. He refuses to
consent until he has obtained your acquiescence in the measure. I have
told him that his goods, which are scattered around here, are nearly
ruined by rough handling, and that he will have to sell them at a
sacrifice at the mines. While he is gone, they can be stored at the hut,
and sold most any time to travellers at an advance, while, if taken
where the market is glutted, he is sure to lose on them."

We were so much surprised at the communication, that we looked at the
lieutenant in astonishment, and for a few minutes did not answer.

"Come, come," said Murden, with a smile, "don't look as though you had
lost all your friends. Say you will go with us. Two weeks' time is all
we ask, and then you can go to the mines in any other part of the island
you please."

"But you forget," I said, "that we are not rich, and can but ill afford
this inactive life. We came to Australia to make a living, and so far,
with the exception of the booty which we captured from Black Darnley's
gang, we have not made a dollar. Even our prize money will have to be
given up to the government, to be returned to its rightful owners, and
besides--"

"There, there, that will do, most honest Americans," said Murden, with a
smile. "Now listen to me for a moment. You made a good thing by seizing
on what treasure Darnley had. The government will be too rejoiced at his
death to care whether he had money at the time he was killed, or not.
Keep what you have got--say not a word about it to any one, for if you
do, you will be the laughing-stock of all Australia. The originality of
the act would surprise our good people, and you would be looked upon as
fit subjects for an insane asylum."

Fred and myself looked at each other, and I read in my companion's face
that he considered the advice, in our present circumstances, as being
sound and rational.

"We have resolved to keep the money," we said; "but as for retracing our
steps to Melbourne, we hardly think that it will pay. We have already
been two weeks in the country, and have not dug the first ounce of
gold."

"And you may be six months here, and yet be unable to do so. Let me
reckon, and see how badly you have done. In the first place, there are
one thousand pounds reward offered for Darnley, dead or alive. Prove to
me that he is dead, and the money is your own. For every bushranger
killed or captured, one hundred pounds are offered, and I need not tell
you that we have twelve here which I can verify--four dead, two wounded,
and six prisoners. That is not a bad night's work, I should think."

"But we think it wrong to accept of money for shedding human blood,"
Fred said.

"But you don't think it wrong to delay your journey half a dozen days
for the purpose of hunting men who would have cut your throats for a
sixpence. Throw aside all such ideas of propriety, and remember that you
are in a country where the struggle for gold engrosses all other
passions; men will look upon you as fools, to reject that which you are
entitled to. Go with me to Melbourne. Help escort these villains to the
city, for remember my force is weakened now, and I promise that you
shall receive more pay for the service than you can make at the mines."

"It is to help me to freedom," cried Smith, who had approached us
unperceived, during our conversation, and had listened to it
attentively.

"For you we will do any thing, old friend," we said, extending our hands
to the honest convict, who grasped them eagerly, and shed tears of joy
at the fair prospect which he possessed of once more being called a free
man.

After making up our minds in regard to the course which we intended to
pursue, we entered into the spirit of the undertaking with our whole
hearts. We prepared lint and bandages, and bound up the wounds of the
bushrangers, and placed them beneath the roof of the hut which they had
endeavored to storm the night before. After we had accomplished this
painful duty, we selected a place for the burial of those killed.

Beneath the branches of a cedar tree we scooped out the earth with a
broken shovel, and then were about to place the bodies of the
bushrangers in the grave, when the glistening of a ring on the middle
finger of the right hand of one of the dead men attracted my attention.
I stooped down and removed the ring, and attentively examined it.

To my surprise, I found that it bore the emblems of the masonic
fraternity--a square and compass upon a broad disk, while on each side
were small flakes of gold in their native state, placed layer upon
layer, like the scales of a fish. The ring I judged to weigh near an
ounce, and was a massive hoop of gold, and made by some artist of rare
talent.

I knew that the ruffian could not be a mason, and I was lost in
conjecture, for a few moments, as to the probable fate of the owner.
There was no doubt that the robber had taken a fancy to it, and to
obtain possession, had undoubtedly committed murder. While it was passed
from hand to hand, Smith suddenly exclaimed,--

"I knew the owner of this ring. It was I that freighted him and his
goods to the mines. He was an American, and had had the ring
manufactured in California expressly to order. I am certain that I am
correct, for when we passed this very stream, the owner requested me to
wear it while he bathed."

"But his name?" I asked.

"I only heard him called Edward by his companions; but I know that he
was an American, and he said he belonged in New York, or New England
city, I don't know which."

I could but smile at Smith's geography, although the scene before me was
not well calculated to provoke mirth. I sighed over the unhappy fate of
Edward, and handed the jewel to Murden, when he returned it, saying,--

"Keep it, my friend, and may you at some future day be enabled to trace
the family of the owner, and tell them of the sad fate which their
relative probably met."

[With this object in view, I have left the ring with the publishers of
the American Union, thinking that probably these sketches might attract
the attention of some person cognizant of the manufacture of the jewel,
and the rightful ownership. The publishers in Boston will be happy to
answer all questions concerning the property, and considering the scenes
which the ring has gone through, it may indeed be regarded as a
curiosity. I shall always retain the ring, and when I gaze at the
emblems which are engraved upon it, my thoughts will wander back to the
sad scenes which I witnessed while in Australia, and the violent death
of the wearer.]

"In with the bodies," cried Murden, "we have much to do before sunset."

As soon as the grave was filled in, the troop regained their former
jocularity, and they began dividing among themselves the property which
they had found upon the persons of the bushrangers.

The amount was not large, not more than a hundred pounds, yet Murden
received his share without a blush, appearing to think that he was doing
no more than his duty. Even the dead policeman was remembered, and as he
had left a widow in Melbourne, his portion was deposited with the
lieutenant, to be paid to her. As Fred and myself were offered our
portion, we declined, and begged that it might be given to the lady in
question, which action on our part raised us in the estimation of the
men immensely.

"Dare you venture across the prairie this forenoon?" asked Murden; "I
would not ask you, were it not necessary to use all despatch to reach
Melbourne as soon as possible; but to benefit you and your friends, the
convicts, I must get a sight of Darnley and his gang."

"If that is your object," we replied, "we are prepared to accompany you
as soon as you are ready. Let us get a cup of coffee and a piece of
broiled lamb, and then start."

"But my prisoners?" suggested the lieutenant.

"Leave them in charge of a portion of your men until we return," I
replied.

"That is easily said; but while I am gone, my men, who are but human,
will probably make free with that keg of rum, which I have thus far kept
from their reach; and if they are without restraint, would be just as
likely to let the prisoners escape, or shoot them, or get to quarrelling
among themselves, as any thing else."

"Where is the keg?" asked Fred.

The officer poked aside some bushes where he had placed it, and revealed
its hiding place.

"I'll soon quiet your anxiety," Fred said, and as he spoke he pulled out
the spigot, and the Jamaica rum mingled with the earth.

"A harsh proceeding, but the best under the circumstances," cried the
lieutenant, with a mournful look, as he heard the rum gush forth as
though saying "good, good;" "I love a drop of good liquor, but men, when
drinking, have no discretion."

Murden turned away with a sigh, as though the strong fumes which
assailed his nostrils were suggestive of lost hopes, and for the
remainder of the day, he was melancholy.

On reentering the stockman's hut, we found him seated beside his
daughter's rude couch, tenderly bathing her head with fresh river water.
She was conscious now, but still very weak and feeble, and spoke in
whispers. She held out her hand to us when we entered, and smiled, as
though thanking us for the care which we had taken to revenge her
injuries.

Her pulse we found to be more regular, and if she received no fresh
shock, we thought there was a prospect of her being entirely well in a
few days, and so we told her.

At our request Murden stationed one of his men at the door with strict
orders to admit no one who would be likely to disturb her, and after we
had partaken of our rude repast, we got ready for our hot ride over the
plain to the forest.

Before we started, however, we paid a visit to the bushrangers, still
chained to trees, and incapable of assisting each other. We were greeted
with derisive shouts and fierce taunts, which did not disturb our
equanimity in the least; and when the robbers discovered such to be the
case, they again stretched themselves upon the ground, as well as their
irons would permit, and relapsed into sullenness.

Murden left eight of his men to take charge of the prisoners, with
strict orders for two of them to keep guard without rest or sleep. We
were about to mount our horses, when a brawny ruffian we had made
prisoner the night before shouted,--

"Aren't you going to give us something to eat, or are we to be starved
like dogs? You are all cowards, and dare not give us fair play, and an
open fight, but I didn't suppose that you were so frightened as to
refuse to let us have a mouthful."

"Dress a sheep for them, and let them eat their fill," ordered Murden;
"but mind that they escape not, on your lives."

We rode off, followed by the shouts and maledictions of the gang, and
even when we were one hundred rods distant I could hear the ruffians
call after us, bidding us return and learn bravery from them.

"You now know why I feared to leave the prisoners in charge of my men
when a keg of rum was near at hand. The bushrangers, knowing that
hanging is certain, would try and provoke a sudden and easier death. I
do not fear the temper of the men when free from liquor."

Smith, Fred and myself, besides two policemen, composed the party, and
regardless of the heat, which poured down as though it would melt our
brains, we urged our panting horses over the plain, and hardly drew rein
until we reached the edge of the forest, where we halted for
consultation.

It was a bold experiment to venture with a small force to the retreat of
the once formidable outlaw, for there was no telling whether or no a
portion of his gang were living at his haunt. The officer looked up to
us for advice, and we consulted the hound, which had accompanied us, and
now stood by our sides panting and lolling out his great tongue, and
wondering, I suppose, why we did not stop at the river.

"Let us dismount, and shade the animals as well as possible," I advised,
"and then trust to the sagacity of the dog to detect an ambush. My life
on his shrewdness."

The advice was acted on, when leaving one man to take charge of the
animals, we examined our guns and pistols, and made sure that they were
in order; and then, with a few words of encouragement to the hound,
which he appeared to understand, we moved along the path we had
travelled when on our first visit.

With guns on the cock, and examining every thicket of bushes to see if
it concealed an enemy, we made but slow progress. Yet trusting more to
the dog than to ourselves, we at length came in sight of the scene of
our former exploits. All was quiet and still in the vicinity. Not a twig
moved, unless displaced by a gaudy-colored parrot, too lazy, under the
withering influence of the heat, to even chatter.

The hound had bounded into the enclosure, and rushed towards a pile of
branches which had been placed in the clearing since we were there.
Regardless of every thing else he tore away at the wood with his teeth,
and uttered fierce growls, as though he had found an enemy beneath that
pile, and was determined to get at him.

We sent a man to examine the neighborhood, and then went to our
four-legged friend's assistance. With angry growls the dog helped us to
throw aside the branches, but long before reaching the last one, we
suspected the contents of the pile. A horrible stench had for some time
warned us that we were in the vicinity of carrion.

The last branch was removed, and lying in all their ghastly ugliness
were Black Darnley and his crew. Darnley had greatly altered since his
death; but there was no mistaking that massive mouth, filled with strong
teeth, firmly set together, as though striving even with his last breath
to overcome the King of Terrors.

"Are you satisfied?" we asked of Murden, turning away from the sickening
sight with a shudder.

"I am," he replied. "Black Darnley has committed his last crime in this
world; and the man who has caused the police of Australia to turn pale
with fear is now but a home for worms."

"Let us rid the earth of his remains," cried Fred, "and not let them
fester here to breed pollution in the air."

"Well said," replied we all; and after every one had satisfied his
curiosity, we gathered up dry branches and leaves and heaped them upon
the pile, and then set it on fire, and as the flames roared and
crackled, and licked the green corpses, we took our leave of that black
forest, the home of bushrangers, natives, and poisonous reptiles.

As we turned to have a last glance at the fire, we saw the hound
stalking solemnly around that putrid pile, and watching as though not
satisfied until every particle of his enemy had mingled with his mother
earth.




CHAPTER XIII.

THE STOCKMAN AND HIS PARROT.--DARING PLOT OF A ROBBER CHIEFTAIN.


Tired with a hot, dusty ride across the prairie, we felt more like
resting after the sleepless night and busy scenes through which we had
passed, than commencing our journey at sundown, and so we intimated to
Murden; but he was deaf to our hints, and gave his orders for getting
ready regardless of them.

A hasty supper of roast lamb and hot coffee was awaiting us when we
returned from the water, and while we were eating, a number of the
policemen were despatched along the banks of the river to drive in
Smith's cattle, while others stored his goods, which they had collected
during our absence, in the hut, and returned to the stockman a correct
schedule of the same.

About sundown, the oxen were yoked together and attached to the cart.
The horses were saddled, and awaited their riders, and the only thing
that detained us was the transfer of the bushrangers from the trees to
the cart in which they were to be transported to Melbourne. The wounded
men were too seriously hurt to endure the journey, and, indeed, it was
doubtful whether the poor wretches would survive many days, removed, as
they were, hundreds of miles from a physician's reach, and with no fit
nourishment to sustain them.

Murden, when we remonstrated against the wounded men being disturbed,
and given an opinion of the fatality of the act, received the news with
the utmost sang froid, and expressed no particular desire that the men
should live, under any circumstances; and finding that he could do
nothing with them, and that they would never survive the journey to
grace his triumphant entry into Melbourne, he wisely turned them over to
the care of the aged convict and his daughter, both of whom promised to
take care of them to the best of their ability, and in case they
recovered, to hold them close prisoners until the lieutenant sent an
order for their delivery.

One by one the prisoners were transferred from the trees to the cart.
Desperate was their resistance, and loud were the curses which were
heaped upon our heads. Manacled as they were, with heavy handcuffs
around their wrists, in some instances four men were required to lift
one of the villains to his place in the team, and it was no easy task at
that.

The police worked with patience, and never once lost their temper,
although I expected every moment that they would resort to extreme
measures. To keep the robbers quiet, and prevent their committing any
violence on those who rode in the team, a stout, spare chain was passed
from the forward end of the cart to the back part, and fastened
underneath. To this the feet of the men were secured, so that it was
impossible for them to move, or commit any sudden act of violence. The
method was severe, but the only safe plan, and Murden was too old a hand
at rogue-taking to adopt half-way measures.

At eight o'clock we were ready for our journey. Three of the police were
to ride on the cart as a means of precaution, and Fred and myself were
promoted to horses. Smith resumed his old position by the side of his
cattle, and after an affectionate leave-taking with the old convict and
his child, we started; but, to our surprise, the hound trotted along by
my side, and all words or gestures were useless in forcing him to return
to his mistress.

Knowing that she valued the animal, I rode back with him, and requested
her to call him into the hut and close the door, but to my astonishment,
she declined; and when I urged that I could not induce the animal to
return unless I accompanied him, she requested me, in a quiet manner, to
accept of him as a gift, and the only conditions that she imposed were,
that I should treat him kindly during his life.

I joyfully accepted her offer, and once more saying good-by, I rejoined
the troop, and with Rover, as I called the dog after I owned him, by my
side, bounding towards me to receive a friendly pat on the head, as
though he rejoiced in the change that had been made, I journeyed on, in
company with Murden and Fred.

All night long did we urge the oxen to their quickest paces, so that we
could reach a stock-hut by sunrise, where we could obtain food and rest,
both of which we needed. A dozen times did I fall asleep in the saddle,
only to awaken when I found that I was likely to pitch headlong to the
ground, and when, by the sudden efforts which I made to recover myself,
I got thoroughly awakened, I saw that my companions were equally as
sleepy.

Had a strong force of bushrangers but attacked us that night, not a man
would have been left to tell the story; for so thoroughly used up were
the force, that I doubt if even the report of a gun could have roused
them from their lethargy.

About daylight we left the main road, and took a course nearly parallel,
over a plain where not a sign of a wagon wheel was visible. After we had
lost sight of the road, we began to meet cattle grazing upon the
prairie, and by their wildness, we imagined that visitors were a rare
sight to them.

At length, two Australian natives were discovered, nearly naked, and
armed with their favorite weapons, spears and boomerangs, squatting
under a tree, and watching our cavalcade with great interest.

Murden spoke to them in their native language, of which he understood a
little, and inquired the distance to a stock-hut; and with an almost
imperceptible motion of their heads, they intimated the direction which
we were to pursue, and then relapsed into their former state of
stoicism.

"Some of our heaviest cattle-raisers are trying an experiment," said
Murden, as we rode. "Thinking that these poor devils are fit for
something, they are employing them to look after cattle on these immense
plains. The plan has worked admirably so far, for they appear especially
adapted for this kind of work, as it suits their idea of freedom and
idleness."

"And what pay do they get?" I asked.

"Their pay is trifling, but they are assured of good, healthy food, and
clothing if they will wear it, which in some cases they reject with
disdain. Our countrymen have never treated the natives as human beings,
and hence they have never looked upon us with any love; fear alone keeps
them in subjection. A new theory is to be attempted, and with what
success remains to be seen."

When we came in sight of the hut, we started our horses, and left the
cart and men to follow at their leisure. The place was not very
inviting, and did not reflect much credit on the stockman who had charge
of the station.

The hut was built of rough boards, patched in a dozen different places
with bullocks' hides, to keep out the rain in the winter, and the hot
sun in the summer. A small shed was placed at one end of the house,
under which all the cooking was done during wet weather.

Two upright sticks, with necks, on which a cross bar was placed, formed
the fireplace, and that was all that was required by men who live on
meat day after day, and year after year, until, as one stockman informed
me, he "felt horns growing on the sides of his head."

Basking in the sun, which was high in the heavens, was a parrot,
confined in a rough board cage, evidently whittled out with a jackknife,
during the leisure hours of its master. The bird was shrieking out a few
words of unmistakable English, and appeared to utter them with the
greatest glee, as though charmed by having a number of new listeners to
whom it could show off its perfections.

"D---- it, where do you come from?" the bird yelled; and then changing
his tune, he shouted, "take that dog away--take him away! take him
away--cuss him!"

We could but feel amused at such proficiency in the English language,
and were admiring the display of his rare talent, when the proprietor of
the bird came to the door, evidently awakened from a nap by his protege.
He first told the parrot to "shut up," and then turned his languid
attention on his visitors, whom he did not appear pleased to see, or
indeed displeased. In fact, he seemed too lazy to exhibit much emotion
any way; and the only energy he displayed was when he used his long,
dirty finger nails on his head, the hair from which hung down on his
shoulders in tangled masses, and afforded refuge to thousands of
animals, that would have been homeless, had he had those locks clipped
close to his skull.

The stockman was barefooted, and his feet looked tougher than any sole
leather ever brought to market. Dirt, a hot sun, and an entire absence
of water as a cleansing agent, had rendered them of an indescribable
color, and us he afterwards boasted, he was "not afeerd of any varmin
biting them 'ere, 'cos they was toughened."

An old flannel shirt, and a pair of canvas trousers, completed the
costume of a man who said he preferred to live on a cattle station, and
receive about ten dollars per month, than to trust to luck, and work
hard at the mines.

"Hullo, Bimbo," shouted the lieutenant, as the stockman came in sight,
and leaned languidly against the door, as though too lazy to support his
own weight.

The fellow muttered something which we did not hear, and Murden shouted
again,--

"Did we disturb you from a refreshing nap, Bimbo, or have you grown
lazier than ever? Come, stir yourself, and start a fire; we want
breakfast. In a few minutes there will be a dozen more here, and they
will eat you out of house and home, unless you are smart. Bushrangers
always have good appetites."

It might have been fancy, but I thought I saw the indolent Bimbo
suddenly start at the word "bushrangers," and his apparently
heavy-looking eyes were lighted up with an energetic look that I little
expected from a man such as his outward appearance denoted. Whether my
surmises were correct or not, the man resumed his old habit in a moment,
and if possible looked more fatigued than ever.

"I don't see what you want, coming here at this hour in the morning,"
Bimbo said, with a yawn. "I was just dreaming that I could live without
work, when you roused me. What is up that takes you from Melbourne?"

The question was asked in the most indifferent tone that a person can
imagine; but I thought I detected an eagerness to know the mission upon
which Murden had been engaged that but ill compared with the man's
general indifference and lazy deportment.

"We have been after bushrangers, Bimbo," answered the lieutenant,
dismounting from his horse and approaching the stockman, who still
retained his reclining position against the side of the door.

"And did you meet any?" asked the stockman, indifferently, stealing a
look at the face of the officer as though anxious to obtain his answer
before he uttered it.

"Meet any?" replied Murden, "why, of course we did. You will not be
troubled with robbers in this part of the country for some time to come,
I'll warrant you."

I saw a black frown gather on the stockman's brow, but it was dispelled
as soon as formed, although I could not help feeling that the news
troubled the man exceedingly.

"Come, stir yourself," cried the lieutenant, when he saw that the
stockman did not appear disposed to move, and as he spoke, he laid his
hand lightly upon the fellow's shoulder, and pulled him from his
position in the doorway.

"Come, awaken, old fellow, and let us have the best quarter of beef you
possess, for we are all hungry, and I'll warrant that Jim Gulpin and his
gang--"

"So help me, God, lieutenant," cried Bimbo, hurriedly, "I don't know him
or his men, and I don't see what right--"

"Why, what is the matter with the man?" laughed Murden. "I didn't say
that you knew him. I meant that he and his gang, or what remained of
them, are my prisoners, and in less than a week their necks will be
stretched a few inches longer. There's news for you, Bimbo."

"Gulpin and his band prisoners," I heard the fellow say, in an
undertone, as though he could scarcely comprehend the news, and then an
expression stole over his face, that for a moment was frightful to
contemplate.

"Ah, here they come at last," Murden said, pointing to the cart, which
was slowly creeping along, and had been screened from view by the house.

"You don't mean to say you and your men took the bushrangers without,
any 'sistance from others, do you?" Bimbo asked.

"Why, these two Americans lent their valuable aid," replied the officer,
pointing to Fred and myself.

"P'raps it would have been as well if they staid in their own country
and looked after robbers, instead of coming to Australia," replied the
dirty scamp, with an aside glance at us that spoke murder as plainly as
if he had a knife at our throats.

"Cease your grumbling," shouted Murden, angrily, "or I'll lay my bridle
over your shoulders until they ache. Why, you miserable dog, have you
not complained to me a dozen times that you feared your life was in
danger from these same prowling gangs, and that they stole your cattle
in spite of all you could do? Another word, and I'll give you cause for
muttering. Away with you. Start a fire, and then I'll set one of my men
to cook breakfast. You are too dirty to be intrusted with food."

Bimbo must have exercised a strong control over his emotions, for in
spite of the dirt and grease with which his face was smeared, I saw it
flush angrily; but no other sign of passion was displayed. He thrust his
hands into his pockets, and with a slouching gait, as though too
indolent to move without strong inducement, sauntered towards the shed
and began kindling a fire.

"A grumbling cur," muttered Murden, looking after him; "I have half a
mind to tie him up and scar his back, and see if it will not make him a
little more energetic." But with all of the bluster of the officer, I
saw that he did not suspect the man's honesty, and I was glad that he
did not.

By the time Smith had joined us with his cart and prisoners, Bimbo had
started a fire, and produced a hind quarter of a young bullock, killed
the day before, and which had been rubbed over with fine salt to protect
it from the millions of insects which infest the air of Australia. The
fellow made an offer to cut the meat for us, but a look at his hands was
sufficient to deter us from accepting the proposition.

Maurice, the lieutenant's never-failing resort when a meal was to be
prepared, was set at work to get breakfast for the officer, Fred, and
myself, while one of the men was detailed to perform the same duty for
his companions. Another man was stationed as guard over the bushrangers,
and the balance were ordered to look to their animals, which attention
consisted in watering them at a spring near the hut, and then turning
them loose with their fore legs tied together to prevent their straying
to any great distance. One animal, however, was kept ready saddled in
case of an emergency, and not permitted to roam beyond the extent of a
long rope, like the reattas of Spain or Mexico.

Although I must confess that I was intensely hungry, and tired and
sleepy with my long journey on horseback all night, yet I felt too
uneasy in my mind to spend much time eating greasy beefsteaks and
drinking strong coffee. I had watched Bimbo from the time the cart had
reached the hut to the period when the prisoners were to be allowed to
eat their morning meal; and I had noticed the nervous manner in which
the fellow had acted in spite of his assumed indifference.


Twice had he sauntered towards the cart in which the bushrangers were
still confined, and each time had the sentry ordered him back, as no
communication was allowed with the prisoners; but I saw the grim face of
Jim Gulpin raised as he heard the voice of Bimbo, and an almost
imperceptible sign passed between them.

More than ever convinced that there was an understanding with the
parties, I watched for other tokens, but in vain; and it was not until
one of the policemen ordered the stockman to carry the bushrangers' food
to them that I determined to be present and keep an eye upon his
actions.

The handcuffs were removed from the prisoners' wrists to enable them to
eat, but the irons were not taken from their feet, for Murden had no
idea of trusting them with their liberty even for a moment.

"Here's your grub," shouted Bimbo, who was allowed to pass the sentry
this time, as he had a wooden pail in his hand, none too clean, in which
the food of the prisoners was placed. "Here it is," he continued, as he
set it down in their midst, "and a darn'd sight too good for you it is
too, and mighty thankful you had oughter be that you fell into a
gentleman's hands, and one that knows how to treat you. If I had the
right I'd starve you all, blast your picters."

The ruffians replied with oaths and jeers, but they were too energetic
to be sincere, and I suspected they were intended expressly for my ear,
as I stood not far from them listening to every word that was uttered.

Had the bushrangers not said so much, I should have suspected less, and
while I pretended to be admiring the parrot, I still watched the doings
in the cart.

I saw the stockman glance around to see if his actions were observed,
and that stealthy look was like a cat's watching for its prey--I saw
that the sentry was examining the lock of his carbine, and paying no
attention to Bimbo's movements, while the rest of the men were engaged
in smoking and lounging near--and then for a moment the heads of Jim
Gulpin and the stockman were close together, as though whispering
confidentially. It was only for an instant, however. With renewed oaths
and abuse Bimbo hurried the robbers in their meal, until Murden
interfered, and ordered that they be allowed to eat in peace.

"The idea of letting such scamps as these eat," cried Bimbo, with a kick
of his bare, horny foot against one of the bushranger's ribs. "I'd sarve
'em if I had my way."

Bimbo was replied to with interest by the robbers, and to stop the noise
the lieutenant sent the fellow to the hut to get it ready for the
reception of the latter, as it was thought to be a good place to keep
them during our halt, which we expected to extend to sundown, owing to
the intense heat of the day.

The robbers were removed to the hut, and their manacles taken from their
feet, but the handcuffs still confined their hands, and as they were
chained two by two they were powerless. A sentry was posted, and the
men, glad to obtain a few hours' sleep, stowed themselves under the
shed, and wherever they could screen their faces from the sun.

Fred and myself, taking our saddles for pillows, repaired to the back
part of the hut, the coolest place we could find, and in a few minutes
both of us were sleeping soundly. I had not slept long, however, before
I was awakened by a peculiar noise, that sounded like the grating of a
saw. Instead of starting up to investigate, I pretended to sleep, and
partly opening one eye, saw to my surprise that Bimbo was on his knees
near my feet, and working with cautious energy upon a board which he was
endeavoring to remove. The instrument he was operating with was an old
knife, with notches on the blade, made to resemble a saw.

I continued my position, and by my regular breathing convinced the
fellow that I was sleeping soundly. A dozen times did he pause and
listen, and scrutinize my face, and then I read the man's true character
in his wicked eyes, for they gleamed like those of a serpent, and I saw
murder in every look.

I resolved to continue counterfeiting, and await the result. Half a
dozen times did Bimbo suspend work, and steal to the front part of the
hut to discover if his operations were suspected, and each time he
returned, and after a glance at Fred and myself, commenced work with
renewed energy.

At length a hole large enough to run his hand in was obtained, and then
I heard low whispers pass between Bimbo and the robber chief.

"You must get us out of this scrape," said Jim, authoritatively.

"But how can I at present? Better wait till night, and then I know half
a dozen coves what will strike for you. We can easily get ahead and wait
for you near the Three Forks."

"It wont do," said Gulpin, impatiently. "Go and pick the pocket of the
man that has got the key of our irons, and then we can kill every devil
connected with the troop."

"Hush," replied Bimbo, after a hurried glance at my face. "Them two
blasted Yankees are sleeping close here, and I think both of 'em has
spotted me. I'd like to cut their throats bloody well."

"I have no doubt of it," I thought, "but I'll save you the trouble."

"Go and get the key," repeated Gulpin, with an oath, "and then pass in
all the guns and knives that you can get hold of. When I give a signal,
knock down the sentry at the door, and mind that you hit him hard enough
to prevent his squalling--you understand?"

"Yes, yes; but if I do all that, what share'll I get in the swag in the
cellar? I've kept it for a long time now, and you know it."

"You shall have Darnley's share, if you do as I tell you," replied
Gulpin.

"What'll Darnley say to that?"

"He won't say much, 'cos he's stiffened out--dead as the devil."

This piece of information so elated the stockman that he did not stop to
make further inquiries, but disappeared around the corner of the house,
and when I raised my head to consult with Fred in regard to the matter,
I found that he was as wide awake as myself, and was apparently debating
what course he should pursue.

"Have you heard all?" I whispered.

Fred nodded his head, and laid his hand upon his lips. Then, by a
gesture which I understood, he counselled that we should remain quiet
for a short time, and see how matters worked.

Following this advice, however, did not prevent us from examining our
revolvers and rifles, and also bringing the handles of our bowie knives
to a better position. When Bimbo returned, with a cat-like tread, I
could see by his carrying a carbine that he had been successful; and
when I saw him thrust it into the hole, and then give up the key of the
irons, I had a great mind to shoot him on the spot.

"Here," cried Bimbo, "is the key of the ruffles. Remain quiet for half
an hour, and by that time I'll be ready for you. Remember your
word--Darnley's share."

"All right!" exclaimed the robber, grasping with his manacled hand the
precious key to his irons, and as soon as he had possession of it, Bimbo
glided away to complete his plot.

"We must be acting," said Fred, springing to his feet; and as he spoke
we sauntered to the front of the hut, and saw that the stockman was just
raising a carbine, which he had taken from a sleeping policeman.

Bimbo looked astonished when he caught sight of us, and I saw by the
flashing of his eyes that he was almost determined to begin the battle
immediately, and trust to the robbers for the result.

If such was his intention, however, he had no time to carry it into
effect, for with a sudden spring Fred landed in front of him, and with a
blow of his fist knocked the dirty fellow down, and before he could rise
a revolver was pointed at his head, and instant death threatened, if he
moved.

The noise awakened Murden and his men; and just as they began inquiring
the reason of our violence, there was a loud shout heard within the hut,
the door was rudely thrown open, and at the head of the robbers,
brandishing his carbine, was Gulpin.

The police fell back a few paces in astonishment; but a rallying cheer
from Murden reassured them, and in spite of the known desperate
characters of the bushrangers, they charged on them.

Gulpin did not stop to discharge the weapon which he held, but swinging
it over his head he brought it down upon the skull of the foremost man,
with a crash, shivering the gun into a hundred pieces, and knocking the
fellow senseless.

Gulpin did not wait to repeat the blow, but eluding the many hands
thrust out to seize him, he sprang one side, and leaving his gang to
continue the unequal combat, ran swiftly across the prairie, as though
determined to escape at all hazards, even if his gang were captured.

"The villain will escape!" shouted Murden, more anxious to secure the
person of Gulpin than his men.

The lieutenant rushed to the shed to mount the horse usually kept in
readiness, but Bimbo had turned him loose upon the plain.

With a bitter oath the officer grasped one of his men's carbines and
discharged its contents after the runaway. The ball flew wide of its
mark, and we could hear a taunting laugh from the fugitive, at his aim.

"Show me a specimen of your American skill," cried Murden, after a hasty
glance at his men, and finding that every robber was secured excepting
the chief; "cripple that devil for me, and I am your debtor for life."

Gulpin was about forty rods from us, when the lieutenant spoke, and was
running almost as rapidly as a kangaroo dog. In a few minutes he would
have been beyond our reach, and recommenced his career of crime.

Under these circumstances, Fred felt that he owed a duty to the world.
Hastily bringing his rifle to his shoulder, he glanced along its deadly
tube and fired. For a few seconds we could not perceive that the shot
had affected the bushranger, and I was about to try my skill, when the
villain staggered and fell heavily to the earth.

His leg was broken near the knee, and the bone was terribly shattered by
the rifle ball.




CHAPTER XIV.

DISCOVERY OF STOLEN TREASURES IN THE STOCKMAN'S CELLAR.


Lying upon the ground were the bushrangers, bruised, bloody, and dirty,
groaning with disappointment and pain, and one or two of the most
violent ones cursing so loudly that the air smelt sulphurous. Across the
bodies of the fallen wretches were the policemen, with huge beads of
perspiration standing on their brows, and faces red with the sudden and
unusual exertion which they had endured to conquer the desperate
robbers.

The poor fellow whom the leader of the robbers had injured by breaking a
carbine over his head, was lying on the ground, bleeding profusely from
a long gash in his skull. He was assisted into the hut, and left for a
few minutes, until more pressing demands had been attended to; and after
the prisoners were once again ironed, and chained to the cart, some one
asked what had become of Bimbo; as that individual had not been seen
since the commencement of the attack.

"I'll warrant the lazy rascal has gone to sleep somewhere, and not
awakened during the disturbance," Murden said, not suspecting the trick
which the stockman had played him.

"And what has become of my dog?" I asked, surprised to think that he had
also disappeared.

Fearful that he had got tired of my society, and left for his mistress,
I whistled shrilly, and was happy to hear a response, in the shape of a
deep bay, back of the hut. We hurried where we could get a view of him,
and, to my surprise and delight, I saw that he was standing over the
prostrate body of the miserable, treacherous Bimbo, and showing a set of
ivories at every movement of the wretch, which would have delighted a
gentleman versed in dentistry, or an admirer of white teeth.

The Lieutenant, Fred, and myself, proceeded to the spot, and as we
approached, Bimbo attempted to rise, but the vigilant animal, with an
angry growl, grasped him by the neck, and the dirty fellow was content
to lie quiet, although he used his voice well, and broke forth with
lamentations at the hound's rough treatment.

"Is this the kind of usage a cove meets for giving you something to eat,
and looking after yer hanimals. Take the cuss off, can't ye, and not let
him stand over me this way?"

"Call off the dog," whispered Murden; "I am afraid that the animal will
choke him to death, and then, lazy as he is, he still would be a loss,
for he gives me information at times concerning the movements of
bushrangers, which I can obtain nowhere else."

"Did he ever give you tidings that led to the arrest of thieves?" I
asked.

"No. I think not," replied the officer, after a moment's reflection;
"but that, you know, is no fault of Bimbo's. By his advice, I have twice
been near capturing parties of marauders. Something, however, has
happened to prevent me--either I would get the intelligence too late, or
the robbers had just changed their haunts."

"I see," replied Fred, with a grin; "the lazy, ignorant Bimbo has
blinded the eyes of one of the smartest lieutenants of police in
Australia, and by pretending to furnish information, has gained his
confidence, simply to place him on the wrong track."

"What mean you?" asked Murden, astonished.

"I mean that this scamp"--and by this time we were beside the fellow,
whose face bore every mark of the most abject terror--"has been in
league with the bushrangers for years; that he just entered into a
contract with Jim Gulpin, to set his gang free, and that he picked the
pocket of Maurice to get the key of the robber's irons, and that our
deaths were deliberately planned, and would have been carried into
effect, had we not chanced to overhear the bargain."

"So help me God, lieutenant, it's a lie!" shouted Bimbo, struggling to
his feet, a proceeding which the hound did not exactly like, and he
looked into my face as much as to ask whether it was all right, and
manifested hostility even when I called him away.

"You knows very well, lieutenant, that I've been the best spy on this
route for years, and that I always tells you all that happens, and now
to think that these strangers should come here, and try and take my
character away, it's too bad, it is," and the dirty scamp dug his filthy
fingers into his eyes, and tried to force a tear, but the effort was a
failure.

"How about the stolen articles in the cellar of the hut, a portion of
which you were to receive for setting the gang free?" asked Fred.

"There's none there," whined the fellow, "so help me God, there's none
there, and there's no use in searching."

"Well, examine the hut at all events," replied Fred; and bidding Bimbo
walk to the house, we followed close at his heels, and threatened him
with the fangs of the dog when he hesitated.

By the time we had reached the station hut, the policemen were just
depositing Gulpin near the door, having brought him in a blanket from
the spot where he fell. The wretch was suffering great pain, and huge
beads of perspiration were streaming down his forehead from its effects.
The men had stripped off the leg of his trousers, and revealed bones
protruding near the knee. But little blood flowed from the wound where
the ball had penetrated, and I considered it, with my imperfect
knowledge of surgery, as looking decidedly bad for saving the robber
chief's life.

I stooped down, and sought to examine the limb, but with horrid
imprecations, the bushranger ordered me off, and swore that no one but a
regular physician should attend him.

As we were over a hundred miles from Melbourne, and there was not a
doctor, probably, between us and that city, I gave the man up for lost,
and so I told the lieutenant, who merely shrugged his shoulders, and
declared that there would be one the less to hang, and that it was
always bad travelling with wounded men in company.

"Let that man be kept within musket shot," said Murden, pointing to the
guilty Bimbo, who was still snivelling, and endeavoring to excite our
sympathies.

"And what shall we do with this poor wretch?" Fred asked, gazing with
pity at the prostrate form of the robber chief, who, an hour before, was
a model of health and strength.

"What can we do?" asked the officer, with a puzzled expression.

"I am no surgeon," replied Fred, "but I will, if the poor wretch is
willing, attempt to amputate the limb, and it may be the means of saving
his life."

"Save it for a halter, hey?" asked Gulpin, opening his eyes; and for a
moment they were lighted up with a fierce fire, that showed the bitter
hatred which the man entertained against his captors.

"That is not for me to judge," replied Fred; "I offer to save your life,
if possible, and you must depend upon the courts of Melbourne whether it
is continued."

The outlaw shook his head, and after wetting his parched lips with water
exclaimed,--

"I would rather die as I am; no surgeon's knife shall hack my flesh
while living, and I'm too far from the big town to think they will
string my bones on wires after death. I shall live; and if the
bushrangers in these parts get the alarm, I may defy you yet! See, I
grow stronger, and my leg no longer troubles me with a racking pain."

In his desperation, the outlaw struggled to sit upright, and smiled a
ghastly smile, at his supposed triumph over death.

"Foolish man," I replied, "the cessation of your pains is a sure
harbinger of death. Already has mortification set in, and the best
surgeon in the world cannot save you."

"Is it so?" he asked, hoarsely, after a sharp glance at my face to see
if he could not read trickery, and an attempt, to deceive him.

"Upon my word as a man, you are dying," I replied.

"Well, death and me has met many times, and why should we fear each
other? Let him come; he will not find me unprepared."

"But your peace with God?" I asked, earnestly.

"Look you, young man," the outlaw said, "for ten years I've led a life
of crime; I've committed murders, and robbed all who crossed my path,
and laughed at the agony of those I have rendered penniless. Do you
think that God is willing to pardon sins on such short notice?"

"There is hope for all," I replied.

"You may think so, but I don't believe in that kind of mummery. Go away
from me, and let me die in peace."

"But, consider," I urged.

He waved his hand impatiently, as though the conversation wearied him,
and he wished to terminate it without farther discussion. I joined
Murden, who was standing a short distance from the dying man, calmly
smoking his pipe, and apparently indifferent to the remarks which his
prisoner made.

"Has he been grumbling?" asked Murden.

"No, he appears to be rejoiced to think that he will cheat the courts of
Melbourne of a victim, and declares that if a man is accused of being a
bushranger, his death is scaled, whether innocent or guilty."

"There is much truth in what he says," replied the officer, after a
moment's thought; "the judges act upon the principle that it is better
ten innocent persons should die, than one robber escape. They do not
prove a man guilty, but require him to prove that he is innocent; hence
the burden of proof rests upon the defendant, and he has no means of
establishing, unless possessed of unbounded wealth, the fallacy of such
reasoning."

"And the people of Australia call that law?" I asked, indignantly.

"That is law, and very good law, too," replied Murden; "you can hardly
wonder at such a state of things, when you take into consideration the
lawlessness of the bands swarming over these vast plains, and attacking
every party weaker than themselves."

Murden walked towards the hut as though he declined to converse any
further on the subject; but just then his eyes fell on Bimbo, who was
seated under the shed, within sight of the sentry, and the idea occurred
to make search on the premises for the goods which we had overheard him
talk about.

"Ho, Bimbo," he said, "show us where the stolen property is kept, and
perhaps I may interfere to save your life."

"So help me, God, lieutenant, I don't know what you mean. I never stole
a single thing in my life."

"Then how came you to be sent to Australia for ten years?" asked the
officer, with a sneer.

"Because I was unjustly suspected, as I am now. A man swore that I broke
into a store when he knew I was nowhere near the building."

"It won't do, Bimbo," replied the officer, sending the fellow back to
his place. "Remember, I have offered you a fair chance to act as a
government witness, but you decline."

I thought the follow had half a mind to confess, but he apparently
considered the offer, and resolved to brave it out.

"Bring me a couple of hatchets," Murden said to his men; and when they
were brought he led the way to the hut, and began splitting the boards
of the floor and removing them; but no signs of a cellar were
discovered, and I began to think that the conversation must have
reference to some other stock-house, when one of the men uttered an
exclamation of surprise, and tearing up a board that was pinned against
the wall, we saw a large hole, which, instead of being directly under
the floor, extended beyond the sides of the hut, and formed a sort of
magazine that could only be discovered by removing, as we had done, all
the planks and timbers.

"Jump down, one of you," said Murden, addressing his men.

An exclamation of surprise was uttered by the man that descended.

"Here's a large room," he shouted, "and nearly full of different
articles."

"Go and slip a pair of irons on Bimbo," Murden said, turning to Maurice,
"and chain him to the cart with the rest of the thieves."

A moment after we could hear the prayers of the fellow as he was led to
the cart, and his entreaties to speak with the lieutenant just for a
moment.

"He is too late," was all the remark that the officer vouchsafed upon
being informed of Bimbo's desire.

We entered the secret cellar, and then had the articles which were found
there passed up for an examination. Clothes, powder, and lead, liquors,
boxes of pickles, preserved meats, China ginger, and other sweetmeats,
and in fact it is hard to remember all the names of the different
articles stored in that underground cell. The collection looked as
though it had been plundered from various teams on their way to the
mines, and such we afterwards found to be the case; as Bimbo confessed
that he had acted in the capacity of storekeeper for three or four
years, and even before the mines were discovered he was in league with
bushrangers, and always gave them information when he knew a party of
policemen were on their trail.

There was another piece of information which Bimbo gave us, more
pleasing than any thing which he had said. By his directions, one of the
men was set at work digging in the cellar, and after throwing up a few
shovelfuls of earth, a canvas bag was reached, which proved to be
remarkably heavy. The men crowded around, wild with excitement, when
Murden loosened the string tied around its mouth, and we all gave a
shout when particles of gold dust were discovered, and a louder cheer
when the lieutenant emptied into a basin about forty pounds of gold of
the first quality.

"This is a prize worth something," Murden said, overjoyed at his good
fortune.

"The government will make its expenses on this trip," I remarked, as I
calculated the worth of the gold.

"Do you suppose that government will ever see the color of this dust?"
asked Murden, with a laugh.

I replied that I expected he would render an account of it to his
superior officer.

"And let my superior officer retain the whole of that which we have
worked hard for. I know a trick worth two of that. Stand by and let me
divide it according to grade, men."

A pair of scales was produced in a twinkling from one of the saddle
holsters of the men, and with great dignity the lieutenant weighed out
the full amount, and then made a calculation.

"I am going to let these two gentlemen share equally with me. They
deserve more, but according to the rules of the service, volunteers must
rate with lieutenants."

Fred and I looked at each other in surprise, hardly believing our
senses, while the men declared with one accord that it was but right we
should receive our share, and that we were an honor to the police force.

"There's twenty-two hundred dollars to be divided among the men, and
about two thousand dollars for us three," said Murden, after finishing
his calculations.

"And do you expect us to take the money?" Fred asked.

"I certainly do," replied the lieutenant, with the most refreshing
coolness.

"But suppose an inquiry should be made by those in authority at
Melbourne, regarding the finding of this money? What answer should we
return?"

"You can say that you should like to find more on the same terms, and
refer inquirers to me for further particulars."

"But shall you say nothing about the discovery when you reach the city?"
we asked.

"To be sure I shall. I intend to mention in my report that I found a
large quantity of stolen goods, and present a schedule of the same."

"And the gold?" I asked.

"The gold! why, I have lived too long in Australia to think of giving up
my lawful prize-money, and if I did I should be dismissed from the
police force as not worthy of a command. Follow my example and pocket
all that you can get, and say nothing to any one, or you will be laughed
at for your weakness."

The argument of the officer was not convincing as far as the honesty of
the transaction was concerned; but when I saw the men empty their share
of the dust into pouches which they wore around their necks, I confess
the desire to do likewise was overpowering, and Fred and myself received
our thirds of the gold, valued at two thousand dollars, without farther
argument, or, indeed, caring particularly whether we were doing right or
wrong.




CHAPTER XV.

DYING CONFESSION OF JIM GULPIN, THE ROBBER.


"If you please, sir, Jim Gulpin is dying, I think, and wishes to speak
to you," said one of the policemen, with a military salute.

I found Jim breathing with extreme difficulty, and already the moisture
of death was on his brow. His eyes were set, and presented the peculiar
appearance characteristic of a sudden demise.

A cloud of insects was hovering around the poor fellow's head, and many
of them had alighted upon his face, and were sucking his blood as
eagerly as though they knew they must improve their time. Gulpin was too
weak, or else unconscious of their stings, to make an effort to drive
them from their feast; and as for the police, they were too busy in
dividing the gold found in the secret cellar to pay any attention to the
dying robber.

I sent one of the men for a pail of fresh water from the spring near the
house, and the only place where water could be had within a circle of
twenty miles, and then with a wet towel I bathed the dying man's face,
and wet his parched lips. He appeared revived, and grateful for the
attention which I bestowed upon him, and murmured some words, the
meaning of which I did not comprehend. I thought his mind wandered, and
remained seated by his side, fanning his heated face, and listening to
his respiration, which appeared to become more difficult at every
breath.

All at once the robber chief roused himself from his lethargic state,
and carefully scanned my face with his lack-lustre eyes. I met his gaze
without flinching, and perhaps the bushranger read pity in my looks, for
he merely uttered a sigh, and I heard him moan.

"Pardon me," he hoarsely whispered, extending his hand, "I have been
harshly used during my life, and what I am the laws of England have made
me. Once I was honest, and free from sin as a child, but an unjust
accusation and an unjust conviction made me a bandit. The laws warred
against, me, and I turned on them and have vented my spite against not
only those who framed the laws, but every body who lived under them."

He paused for a moment, and I again moistened his mouth with the wine
and water. It revived him, and he continued, although in a subdued
tone,--

"I will tell you why I feel this bitter hatred for my enemies, and then
you can judge whether I am entirely in the wrong. Raise my head
slightly, for I feel that I am sinking fast."

I propped his back against some spare blankets, and heard the
bushranger's story. I thought he told me the truth at the time, and a
few subsequent inquiries convinced me that such was the fact.

"I was born in the west of England," Gulpin began, "and although you may
doubt my story when I tell you that my family is rich and honored, and
the only blot upon the name was when I was accused of crime, yet such
is the fact. I am the youngest of three sons. My brothers are in the
army, and hold commissions, and are no doubt, by this time, if alive,
high in rank and power. My wish was to enter the army also, but my
father thought he could not afford to purchase me a commission, and he
had exhausted his favor with the ministry in providing for his eldest
sons. Accordingly I was sent to a banking house in London, with which my
father had correspondence, and was admitted as a clerk.

"I knew that the business was unsuited for one of my restless
disposition, and I should have left and sought my fortune in other parts
of the world without a parent's sanction, had I not been bound to my
place with chains stronger than iron, and with all my firmness I could
not break them."

The robber paused for a moment, and while I wiped the moisture from his
brow I thought a tear fell upon the cloth. He soon recovered his voice,
however, and continued:--

"Owing to the position in which my father moved in society, I was
treated by my employers, the eminent bankers, B---- & Brothers, with
considerable favor; and was often invited to the house of the senior
member of the firm. Mr. B---- was a widower, but had an only child who
presided over his palace, situated away from the noise and confusion of
London, at the West End.

"Miss Julia B---- was just one year younger than myself; and both of us
being motherless was in a measure the reason why we so soon became on
intimate terms. I know not how it happened, but I had not seen the lady
more than twice before I felt that if I could not possess her, I did not
care to live. Her father, who was subject to attacks of the gout, which
frequently confined him to the house for weeks, often desired my
presence to receive his instructions, and I never left his apartment
without trying to see the object of my passion.

"You smile," the robber continued, as he caught my glance at his bearded
face, blackened skin, and hard hands. "I was not always as I am now, and
once would hardly let the sun touch my cheek, for fear it should mar its
whiteness; Many years have passed since then."

The bushranger paused and remained silent for such a length of time that
I feared his spirit was passing away; but after a while he rallied, and
continued:--

"I will not tell how I contrived, by one pretext and another, to get
speech with Julia, and how rejoiced I felt to see that my arrival was
hailed with real satisfaction by the fair girl; nor need I tell how we
had stolen interviews, and exchanged vows, and swore to be true to each
other, until one day we were surprised by Mr. B----, who, pale with rage
and indignation, ordered me from the house, and his daughter to her
room.

"I left his presence without a word, and for two days I did not go near
the banking house; but when I did, I was ordered to the presence of the
man who of all others I dreaded most to see.

"For three years I have roamed the plains of Australia, and dared death
in a hundred different ways, but I never felt so timid as when I was
called before that weak, old man, whom I could have struck senseless
with a blow, and crushed as easily as I and my gang have crushed an
escort with gold dust under their charge.

"I was received with a lowering brow, and an expression that boded me no
good, and I nerved myself for harsh words and reproaches, determined,
let him say what he pleased, I would not lose my temper.

"'I need not refer,' Mr. B---- said, 'to the base ingratitude of which
you have been guilty in seeking to compromise my daughter's honor and
happiness. I do not wish to upbraid you; and to give you an opportunity
of showing that I can forgive an indiscretion, I offer you an honorable
position in our house at St. Domingo; the junior manager has vacated his
situation, and we have concluded to give the berth to you, knowing that
a few months will cure you of the foolish passion which you now profess,
and that a few years' time will place you at the head of the house, and
at your disposal a handsome fortune.'

"'Then there is no hope of my seeing Miss Julia once more?' I faltered.

"'Foolish boy, read that article and see,' the banker said, tossing a
copy of the Times towards me.

"I read, and my brain grew wild while I read. I felt the hot blood
tingling in every vein, and boiling as though it would burst its bounds,
and all the time that the paper was trembling in my hands--they shook as
though I was under a fit of ague--I knew that the banker was
scrutinizing every gesture with his calm, cold eyes, calculating the
effect which it would have upon my love.

"'You do not read,' he said, at length, reaching out his hand to take
the paper.

"He spoke the truth, for, although I had glanced over the Times, I did
not exactly comprehend the meaning, and I was staring at the banker,
with his cold eyes, as though I read in them triumph at my confusion.

"I mechanically handed him the paper, when he adjusted his spectacles
with his usual precision, and in a calm voice read;--

"'We understand that the Hon. Fitzroy Summerset Howard, second son of
the Earl of Paisley, is soon to be united in marriage with the only
child of the rich banker, Mr. B----. A fortune of one hundred thousand
pounds is to be her dowry.'

"'That latter clause is the bait that attracted you, no doubt,' the
banker said, with a sneer; 'but luckily your project is defeated.'

"'I solemnly swear,' I exclaimed, with sudden energy, 'that I love Miss
Julia dearly--better than all the world, and that if you will allow me
two years' time to win her, you may keep your fortune, and bestow it
upon whom you please."

"'Pshaw!' he said, with an expression of contempt; 'I but waste words
with you. In one week my daughter weds, and to benefit you, and rid her
of an annoyance, I have offered you a position at St. Domingo; will you
accept it or not?'

"'And fall a victim to the yellow fever in a month after my arrival,' I
said, with a taunting smile, for I felt the devil rising within me, and
I did not care to suppress it.

"'Perhaps,' was the laconic answer; and the cold eyes gleamed like those
of a basilisk.

"'Then hear me, and know that I too have firmness. Your daughter and
myself have pledged our mutual faith--we have exchanged vows which soar
above your money bags, and as long as I possess my reason, my liberty,
and health, so long will I endeavor to see the lady, and hold her to her
word.'

"I turned to leave the room, but the banker recalled me with a word.

"'Is that your firm resolution?' he asked, with as much unconcern as he
could assume.

"'It is,' I answered.

"'Then I must try other means,' he said; and as he spoke, he touched a
bell.

"A door leading to the outer office was instantly opened, and a clerk
made his appearance.

"'Is the officer still in attendance?' asked Mr. B----.

"'Yes, sir.'

"'Let him enter.'

"I did not suspect any thing unusual, and was about to pass out of the
room, when I found myself in the embrace of a police officer, and before
my surprise was over, a pair of handcuffs was slipped over my wrists,
and I was a prisoner.

"'What is the meaning of this, sir?' I demanded, indignantly.

"'Be quiet,' the man said; 'it's only for a bit of forgery.'

"'Forgery!' I gasped, astonished beyond belief.

"'Take him away, officer,' the banker said; 'he has confessed every
thing to me, and made restitution of a portion of the money, but an
example must be made. Forgery is too common, nowadays, to go
unpunished.'

"The police officer almost carried me from the room, I was so
overpowered by the unexpected, cruel, and unjust accusation; and as I
staggered from the banker's presence, I saw the smile which I had
remarked more than once upon his features during our interview, change
to one of satisfaction, as though he now saw his way clear, regarding
his daughter's marriage."

The outlaw paused for a few minutes, closed his eyes, and breathed hard,
as though trying to suppress his emotion; but in spite of his firmness,
I saw tears trickle flown his haggard cheeks, as though the revival of
his ill usage was too much for even his rugged nature to bear. At
length, he opened his shirt collar, and exposed a gold cross, of rare
workmanship, upon his bosom, and confined around his neck by a gold
chain.

"This cross," he said, raising it to his lips, "was presented to me by
the only woman I ever loved. I need not tell you that her name was
Julia, and that through all the changes which I have passed, I have
retained possession of it. See, I press my lips to it, and solemnly
swear that I never committed forgery in my life, and that I was innocent
of crime until after I was transported. I have but a short time to live,
and do you think I would commit perjury upon the brink of the grave? Do
you believe me?" he asked, earnestly.

"Most sincerely I do," I answered, for I saw that the dying bushranger
was in earnest.

"Then I am satisfied that I can trust you, and will continue my story. I
was taken to prison, and confined in a dungeon, as a forger. I asked the
amount of money which I stood charged with obtaining, and the turnkey
laughed in my face, and told me that I ought to know better than he the
sum of my villany.

"By a liberal expenditure of my scanty funds, I was enabled to send a
letter to my father, informing him of the circumstances of my arrest,
and vowing my innocence. I received a reply, that I had disgraced his
name, and that he never desired to see me again.

"I sank under the blow, and for hours I lay senseless; but at length I
rallied, when a letter was placed in my hands. It was in the handwriting
of Julia, and with eager haste I broke the seal, and scanned its
contents. It was but another species of torture, but more pointed than
the accusation of crime.

"Her letter was worded coldly, and contained expressions which I little
thought she would ever use to me. She believed me guilty of the crime
with which I stood charged, considered that I had taken an unfair
advantage of her father's kindness, and concluded with a hope, that if I
lived to serve out my sentence, I would always remain in exile, and
never distress my family with my presence.

"Twice did I read that short, heartless letter, before I fully
comprehended its meaning; and when I realized that I was discarded,
believed guilty, I sat down, and bowed my head upon my breast, and shed
tears of agony. I cared no longer to live, and almost wished that
forgery was, as formerly, punished with death.

"During my grief, I was summoned to the court, placed in the prisoners'
dock, and heard, for the first time, that. I was charged with forging
Mr. B----'s name to a draft for a thousand pounds, and that I had
confessed the crime, and made restitution of most of the money which I
had obtained, and that on that account I was entitled to mercy, and that
the liberal, patriotic banker would have spared me, if he had thought I
would have sinned no more.

"I was like one in a dream all the time that I was in the court room. I
was asked by the judge, in a severe tone of voice, if I wished counsel,
and mechanically I answered in the affirmative; and after I had
consulted a moment with him, I recollected no more, until I was led from
the room, and told that I was transported, for ten years.

"The next day I was sent to Liverpool, in company with house-breakers,
thieves, and men accused of all crimes, and from thence I was taken on
board of a ship loaded with felons, and bound for Australia. Even after
I was safely chained between the decks of the vessel, I did not escape
the vengeance of the man whose daughter I had dared to love. A newspaper
was thrust into my hand by some person, who directed me to read, and
then disappeared. My worst fears were realized--Julia had become the
wife of the earl's son on the same day that I was condemned.

"I tore the paper into ten thousand pieces, and then vowed, that as I
was with criminals, and classed as such, I would show a felon's spirit.
I no longer was meek and dejected. I became a leader, and planned for
the capture of the ship, and should have succeeded, had not a
treacherous hound betrayed us to punishment.

"But I was not discouraged by my failure, and when I was beaten for my
rebellious spirit, I had satisfaction, for one dark night I drove a
knife to the captain's heart, and laughed to think I remained
undetected.

"You shudder," the robber said, when he saw that I shrank from his side
at this avowal. "I grant that the deed was wicked and cruel; but I had
been trampled upon as a man, betrayed and condemned, and my feelings
underwent such a change that I was no longer human.

"After a long and dreary passage, the ship arrived at Hobson's Bay, and
we were landed. My reputation was too bad to be allowed to serve outside
of the hulks, and accordingly, day after day, I dragged my chain and
ball, attached to my right foot, after me, and performed labor that
caused many of my fellow-prisoners to sink by my side and expire, while
others would fall to the ground, and be lashed by the whips of our
taskmasters into renewed activity.

"One hope alone kept me alive--the expectation of an escape. I planned,
and sought to carry them out, but the vigilance of my keepers frustrated
my intentions, and it was not until the gold mines were discovered that
I found an opportunity. Many of our overseers then left the employ of
government, and flocked to the mines. Of course, more men were engaged,
but they were too green in the service to understand all of the tricks
which prisoners resorted to to blind their eyes.

"One dark night, a convict about my own age, and myself, resolved to
make an attempt at escape. Our chains were filed off, and knives placed
in our hands by men outside of the prison walls; these we had kept
secreted for many weeks, in hope of finding a use for them, and when we
heard the rain' dash against the roof, we resolved that the hour had
arrived for an attempt for freedom.

"Most of the sentries were under shelter, when we crossed the court
yard, with steps like those of a cat, and stood before the astonished
turnkey, who kept watch upon the inner gate. Before he had time to raise
an alarm, we struck, and he fell without a groan. We hastily tore the
clothes from his body, and I dressed myself in them, casting away the
prison suit which I wore, and then with the key of the massive gate, I
unlocked it, and continued on to the outer lodge, where I knew we should
meet with another keeper.

"The latter was busily engaged in writing when we entered, and did not
notice but that we were servants of the prison. He never probably knew
what killed him, for he fell--"

"Good God!" I exclaimed with horror, "did you assassinate him, also?"

"How could we have escaped unless we did? By the keeper's side was a
bell rope, a touch of which would have brought, a dozen soldiers upon
us, and then death would have been certain. We had been prisoners too
long to scruple at murder when our safety was involved.

"My fellow convict removed the man's clothes, even before the breath had
left his body; and while he was dressing himself, I glanced my eye over
the letter which the keeper had been writing. I saw, to my astonishment,
that it was addressed to Mr. B----, the banker, and that an account of
my health, my work, and rebellious disposition, were set forth, and a
hope was manifested that I should break down under the severe
discipline of the hulks, and that if I did not, other employment would
be found in a few weeks, which would surely end my days. A donation of
twenty-five pounds was acknowledged, and thanks were returned for the
same.

"I ground my teeth with rage, and then added a line in the letter, to
let the villain know that I still lived, and hoped to get square with
him before I died.

"Time was too precious, however, to waste it there. Every moment was
worth an hour to us, for we were liable to be interrupted; and if seen
at large the whole city would have been aroused, and capture inevitable.

"The huge key that unlocked the outer gate was hanging on its accustomed
peg, and to take possession of it, and emerge into the street, was but a
moment's work; and then to give our oppressors all the trouble possible,
we locked the gate, and hurled the key into the river, which ran hard
by.

"The night was pitch dark, and, as I said before, the rain poured down
in torrents, for winter had set in with uncommon severity. The streets
were without light, and the gutters were like small rivers; but by the
latter we were enabled to find our way. You are aware that Melbourne is
partly built on a hill, so by following the course of the water, as it
rushed towards the bay, we gained the outskirts of the city, and struck
across the broad fields, and toiled on through the long night, and when
daylight came, no sign of house or inhabitants was to be seen.

"That day we rested for a few hours, and continued our journey towards
night, hardly knowing where we were wandering to, almost famished with
hunger, and dead with fatigue.

"I have not breath to tell you all that we suffered while getting
towards the bushranging haunts; our days of hunger and wretchedness--our
adventures with the natives, and their attempts to kill us--the
desperate risks which we ran of being captured and taken back to
prison--and last of all, our reaching this hut, which is to be the scene
of my death.

"Here is where I first met Bimbo; and as he is already a prisoner, there
can be no harm in my telling you that be provided for our wants, kept us
in his secret cellar over a week, until we were fully recruited, and
able to grasp a musket, and then introduced us to Black Darnley, as
possessing spirit enough to belong to even his gang.

"By him we were accepted; but after I had served in the ranks a short
time, I raised a band of my own, and have pillaged and murdered to my
heart's content."

The robber ceased speaking, and a spasm passed through his frame, that I
thought would result fatally; but a drink of wine restored him, and he
again spoke, but in a voice not above a whisper.

"I have a commission which I wish you to take care of," the bushranger
said, scanning my face to see what effect his words would have upon me;
"can I trust you to take charge of it?"

I promised faithfully to fulfil his wishes, no matter what he required
of me.

"This cross," he said, touching it to his lips, and uttering a sigh as
he did so, that came from the heart, "I promised to send to Julia, only
when death overpowered me. Will you take it to her, and say that the
wearer has gone to another world, where treachery and crime do not
exist, and where I hope to meet her and her father, and then disprove
the unjust accusation that was brought against me?"

I promised to obey his wishes, and a look of gratitude stole over his
dark face.

"My name," he whispered, "is engraved upon the jewel: do not give it to
the world, but know me as Jim Gulpin, the robber. I do not wish to
disgrace my father's name, even if I have been unjustly accused by him."

I also promised compliance with this request, and asked if there was any
other matter which he wished to confide to me.

"You know where the hut of Darnley stood in the black woods which you
visited?" the robber whispered, with a painful effort.

I replied in the affirmative.

"Near the hut I buried all my ill-gotten gains, and there they remain
yet; to you I bequeath them, to do as you see fit. There are thousands
of pounds' worth of gold dust there, besides jewels of value. After
searching the hut, walk in a south--"

The robber's voice failed him; he made painful efforts to recover his
breath, and during the struggle his eyes rolled fearfully in their
sockets, and his hands clutched the earth convulsively. I feared that he
would die without revealing the hiding-place of his hoard, and impressed
with this idea, I dashed a pot of cold water in his face, and poured
more wine down his throat.

"Thanks," he gasped, "I'm--going--farewell--ten paces--in a south--"

There was a gurgle in the bushranger's throat, a convulsive movement of
his limbs, and then all was quiet, and the spirit of the outlaw chief
had taken flight to a better world.




CHAPTER XVI.

A FORCED MARCH TOWARDS MELBOURNE.


I removed the cross from the neck of the dead robber, placed it around
my own, and reported his death to Murden.

"Dead, is he?" repeated the officer, carelessly; "did he make any
confession?"

"He spoke about an unjust sentence," I replied, "that is all of any
importance, excepting a history which he confided to me; it would be
uninteresting to you, however."

"Ah, I dare say," answered Murden, languidly; "but to tell you the
truth, the man always passed for a person of good birth, even at the
hulks; and there was some romance connected with his sentence, but what
it was, I have forgotten. Old Pete, however, the same whom Gulpin
murdered when he made his escape, used to receive money from some source
or other, for keeping them posted concerning his health and habits, but
the old fellow was a sly dog, and never divulged secrets."

"If a portion of his story is correct, why not the whole?" I asked
myself, as I thought of the hidden treasure, buried somewhere in the
vicinity of the last resting place of Darnley.

The more I pondered over the subject, the more firmly I became convinced
that Gulpin meant honestly by me, when he said that thousands of
dollars' worth of gold dust, taken from people returning from the mines,
was deposited in the earth for safe keeping, and perhaps with a hope
that some day it might be removed, when its owner was ready to flee the
country.

Resolving to consult with Fred, as soon as I could do so without
exciting suspicion, I left, the lieutenant and Fred talking together,
while I went in search of a proper place to bury the dead bushranger.

I had been employed but a few minutes, when Smith joined me, and in
spite of my remonstrance, relieved me of the work which I was
performing.

I did not think it necessary to tell him, at that time, of the
confession of Gulpin, although I knew very well that his assistance
would be necessary when we commenced our search for the gold.

In spite of the intense heat, Smith soon had a grave large enough to
admit, the body of the bushranger, and then we returned to the hut, and
got Murden to allow three or four of his men to carry the body to the
spot.

Fred, Smith, and myself followed the procession, and consigned the body
to the earth, without a word being spoken. It was a solemn moment, and
as I heard the dirt fall upon the corpse, my thoughts wandered to the
proud lady, and the stern father through whose instrumentality the lover
and son became a leader of bandits, and died a violent death, while
setting at defiance the laws of his country.

Fred and myself lingered behind, and suffered the rest of the party to
reach the hut in advance of us; and while we sauntered leisurely along,
I confided to him the confession of Gulpin, and asked his opinion
regarding the means to be employed to discover the dust.

"I think the man was honest," Fred said, after a pause, "when he made
the confession; in fact, the gang must have gold dust buried somewhere,
for it is notorious that two escorts have been plundered by bushrangers
within three months. The robbers have not been able to go into town to
squander their money; they buy nothing, because they take every thing by
force, and therefore it is very evident to me that the treasure which
they have stolen must be in the ground; but the question is, to find the
spot."

I repeated the last words the robber had uttered,--

"Ten paces in a south--"

"He may have meant south-east, south-west, or even south; there are a
dozen points of the compass governed by south, and the only way we can
solve the mystery is to visit the spot, and trust to our tact in finding
earth recently disturbed. If there is money within the radius of ten
paces from that hut, we'll find it, unless some one gets there before
us."

"And Smith," I asked, "we shall want his services."

"Of course, and a better man we could not have to accompany us. His team
will not only carry all the tools that we shall need to work with, but
provisions sufficient to last us a month, if we think it will pay to
spend that length of time in the search. We must have Smith as a
companion, by all means."

"Let us promise him a share, if successful, and if we fail, nothing," I
said; "he is too stout a friend to be offended, and his knowledge of the
country can be turned to a profitable account."

"We must hurry Murden," Fred remarked, "and get him to use more
expedition, or we shall not reach the city for a week. Time is precious
to us, until we find the buried treasure."

"But, remember," I whispered, as Murden came out of the hut to meet us,
"do not lisp a word of this to him."

"You appear earnest, gentlemen," said Murden, as he joined us; "pray,
what perplexes your minds now?"

"We were conversing on the subject of making a forced march to
Melbourne," Fred replied, gravely.

"And why need that trouble you?" the officer inquired.

"It does not trouble us much, but we were discussing the probability of
losing our prisoners before reaching the city, in case the various bands
of bushrangers in this part of the country should concentrate their
forces, and make a sudden onslaught. We do not number many fighting men,
for remember that Haskill's skull is cracked, and he can do nothing but
hold it with both hands and groan. The man is threatened with a brain
fever, and should be in a hospital, instead of on the plains."

Murden cast his eye over his men, who were cooking their suppers, it
being near sundown, and was apparently debating in his mind the force of
our words. He knew that we were no cowards, for we had given him proof
of our fighting qualities; and not understanding the secret motive which
actuated us in pressing for a speedy march to Melbourne, began to think
that there might possibly be reason in what we said.

"I hardly think the robbers would dare to attack us," Murden said, at
length; "the scamps know that my bullies can fight when roused."

"But you do not look at things in their true light," Fred said. "Your
present expedition is the first one that has ever been able to cope with
the lawless scoundrels: and you can readily comprehend how the
bushrangers will feel when they know that two of their most formidable
bands have been broken up, and by only a dozen men. In Melbourne, one
dauntless escaped convict is considered more than a match for four
policemen, because the former fights with a halter around his neck, and
unless he conquers, death is certain. Be assured that the gangs in the
vicinity understand the advantage of having a terrible name, and that
before we reach the city they will seek to retrieve it. I should not be
surprised if even now our trail was followed, and runners sent, from one
haunt to another, for the purpose of arousing the devils to fall upon
us, and take vengeance."

"If I thought so," muttered the lieutenant, glancing along the trail
which we had made on the broad plain, as though he already saw squads of
enemies in the distance.

"We cannot, of course, be certain that we are followed, but I think that
it is better to be over-cautious than neglectful. One hundred pounds on
each prisoner delivered to the government, is a sum of money that should
not be thrown rashly away."

"By St. George!" cried the Englishman, with warmth, "that last argument
decides me. I don't fear a battle with bushrangers, but I should dislike
to lose my prize-money. Hurry through your suppers, men, and bring up
the animals. In fifteen minutes we start, and there will be no rest
until we reach Boomerang River."

"Come and share my supper--there's not much of a variety, but what there
is you are welcome to," Murden said, turning to us, after he had given
his order.

"You did well," whispered Fred, as we followed the officer to the hut;
"don't let him grow cold."

"We've said enough for once; let him allude to the subject the next
time, or he will suspect," Fred rejoined, in the same low tone; and
without renewing the conversation, we sat down upon the floor of the
hut, and ate our beefsteak, broiled upon coals, and drank our strong
coffee, with a peculiar relish.

There was no allusion to the dead robber we had just buried, and, in
fact, Murden already appeared to have forgotten that there ever existed
such a person. But if his memory was so defective, mine was not, and I
could hear the last words of the bushranger ringing in my ears, as he
gasped for breath, and exclaimed, "Ten paces in the south--"

The gold cross, too, which I had taken from the dead man's neck, seemed
to sear my bosom, and parch the skin, so heated did I fancy it grew when
my thoughts wandered to the dying man and his buried treasure.

"What are we to do with these goods, which make such a display?" I asked
of Murden, glancing around at the miscellaneous collection which
surrounded us.

"Return all but the wine and provisions to the hole from whence they
came, and let government send after them," answered Murden.

"And the wine?" I asked.

"We'll take it with us, and drink it on our way to the city. We shall,
by that means, prevent some other party from being led into temptation."

Many hands made light work of returning the goods to the secret cell, as
there was not much formality in stowing them, and then the floor boards
were replaced, and we were ready to start on our long journey.

"Are we all ready?" asked our commander.

"All ready, sir," was the answer, and a loud crack of Smith's whip, as
he touched up one of the leading oxen, which appeared too eager to start
before the word was given, made us think of the time when we first left
Melbourne under his guidance.

"Then forward we go!" cried Murden; and we had got some paces from the
hut, when a shrill voice exclaimed,--"O, don't leave me--go to
thunder--who cares for bushrangers? Bimbo--Bimbo--where's Bimbo?" "I
had forgotten the parrot; what shall we do with him?" asked Murden,
ordering a halt.

"Let me stop and look after him until you come back again," cried the
innocent Bimbo, raising his dirty face from the team, and gazing at us
with an air of simplicity charming to behold.

"Silence, you miserable traitor!" shouted the exasperated officer, "or I
shall be tempted to beat you with my whip."

"I don't see what this cove has done, that he should be snatched up and
lugged off this way. P'aps Mr. Sherman, who owns this stock-house, won't
scold when he comes to hear of it. He won't say nothing, and swear to
think that his cattle is all running wild, 'cos nobody takes care of
'um."

"Lend me your whip, Smith," Murden said, as the fellow raised his voice
in a sort of howl, at the thought of being carried away from the hut
which had sheltered and screened his rascalities for so many years.

Smith handed the short-handled instrument of torture to the officer, who
waved it over his head with a scientific flourish, like one accustomed
to its use, and in another instant Bimbo would have had something to cry
for, but the cunning rogue ducked his head just in time to escape
punishment. The long lash passed over his body, and cracked like the
report of a pistol; and while the officer was drawing back his arm for
another attempt, the impudent, dirty face of the rogue was raised, and a
leer of contemptuous pity expressed upon it.

Neither Fred nor myself could prevent laughing at the fellow's coolness,
and our mirth extended to Murden, who began to be aware that he was
making a ridiculous exhibition of his temper, and tossed the stockman's
whip to the owner, exclaiming,--

"I was foolish to allow the fellow to provoke me, and am glad that I did
not touch him with the lash; although if he had not been as quick as
lightning, I'd have taken a good piece of his hide."

"But what are we to do with the parrot? Remember we are losing time," I
said.

"Yes, what's to be done with me--where's Bimbo?" shrieked the bird.

"Put the cage into the cart--he will excite curiosity when we reach
Melbourne, and perhaps bring a round sum."

The order was obeyed, and with shrill screams of delight the bird and
his cage were stowed among the prisoners, and long after dark we could
hear the talkative parrot ask the bushrangers how they felt, and when
they were going to die? Questions of great significance to them at the
time. After a while he dozed off to sleep, but during the night awoke
about once every half hour, and with a shout of,--

"Where's Bimbo--darn Bimbo--lazy Bimbo!" and then would drop off to
sleep again.

At about nine o'clock we reached "Boomerang stream," the same place
where we had witnessed the natives of Australia gorge themselves with
kangaroo meat until stuffed to repletion. The place was alive with oxen
and stockmen, and carts filled with stores on their way to the mines.
Many of the drivers had just arrived, having been on the road from
Melbourne all night, and were turning their cattle loose, intending to
pass the day by the side of the stream, for the purpose of recruiting,
and avoiding the heat of the noonday sun.

We forded the river, the waters of which were not more than twelve
inches deep, and with many flourishes of his immense whip, Smith drew up
his cattle directly under the shade of a friendly tree growing near the
bank.

Before the cattle were turned loose, we were surrounded by anxious
inquirers desirous of asking a dozen questions regarding the safety of
the country, and what the men whom we had ironed had been guilty of.

Murden, who was both cross and hungry by his night's ride, attempted to
satisfy their curiosity by replying; but he might just as well have
attempted to dam a river with a sieve; and the few words which he spoke
were almost lost in the confusion.

"We shall never get any breakfast or rest at this rate," he whispered to
Fred and me, "so lend us a hand to clear the ground, and then I'll keep
them at a distance, or break their necks."

We mounted our horses, and telling the stockmen, miners, adventurers
like ourselves, speculators, and two or three fat old fellows, who were
visiting their cattle-raising districts to see how their stock thrived,
that we feared some of them were in league with bushrangers, and that we
would have no one that did not belong to our force inside of the lines
at present, drove them back until we had cleared a sufficient space for
our convenience, and then the men stretched a rope from two posts, and
inside of that barrier no one dared to venture without permission.

"Hullo, you feller with the blue flannel shirt," cried one of the
rough-looking outsiders, addressing Fred, "did you do any thing towards
grabbing them ere chaps?" alluding to our prisoners.

"Them ere two fellers is hextry policemen, I suppose," cried a newly
arrived cockney, with great staring eyes, watching our movements as
eagerly as though we were wild animals confined for his especial
amusement.

"I wonder if the stealings are good in that department?" asked another.

"Do you hear, Murden?" Fred inquired, with a laugh, and a thought how
appropriate the question was under the circumstances.

"Curse the fellow's impudence," muttered the lieutenant; "but I'll learn
him a lesson that he'll remember for a few days," he continued; and then
turning to Maurice who was unsaddling his horse, he said,--

"Take a man with you and arrest that blackguard. I suspect him to be a
bushranger in disguise."

The policeman abandoned his horse on the instant, grasped his carbine,
spoke a word to a companion, and before the inquisitive genius, who
wished to know whether the stealings in the police force were good, had
a chance to think of his unfortunate remark, he was in custody, and
threatened with instant death if he even made a movement towards
resistance. He was hustled before the commander of the corps, and with
an indignant look and blustering voice, wanted to know for what he was
seized.

"You think that I don't know you," said Murden, in a tone of pretended
sternness, "but you are mistaken. You are Sam Firefly, the leader of a
gang of bushrangers. I knew you the instant that I got sight of your
face."

"So help me God, I'm not--I don't know the gentleman you speak of. I'm
a stranger here--I only arrived in Australia week before last;--for
God's sake let me go, and I won't do any thing but what you wish me to;"
and the fellow wrung his hands, and looked the very picture of woe and
fright.

"I think I'd better order you to be shot, for if I should let you off,
and find that you are Sam after all, I should always regret it," the
lieutenant said, with mock gravity.

"Don't shoot me; please don't--I never hurt anyone in my life. I'm only
in the country to make my fortune, and when I get it I'll leave. I swear
that I will."

"On those conditions, then, I will let you go--but remember, I shall
have an eye on you hereafter."

The fellow expressed his thanks in a confused manner, and darted from
the enclosure, and during the remainder of our stay at the stream we did
not hear an impudent remark concerning our blue flannel shirts or the
perquisites of Australian policemen. The heterogeneous maps were
suddenly struck with Murden's display of authority, backed as it was by
about a dozen men, well armed and ready to do his bidding without a
question or murmur.

Fires were lighted and kettles soon boiling, and the smell of burning
meat, as it crackled on the coals, made not only the hound but the weary
guard look with eager eyes for the call to breakfast.




CHAPTER XVII.

TRIUMPHAL ENTRY INTO MELBOURNE.


In spite of the intense heat and dust which greeted our arrival at
"Boomerang stream," we managed to sleep for a few hours, and then, after
a bath in the river, felt somewhat refreshed, and were anxious to
proceed on our journey. The sun was too high, however, and the plains
too heated to induce Murden to consent, so Fred and myself went on an
excursion through the various camps near us, and after much hard work we
were fortunate enough to get hold of a Boston paper, and then selecting
the most secluded spot that we could find, and the freest from dust, we
read to each other all the items of interest, and then commenced on the
advertisements, which latter we finished just as Michael called us to
supper.

Each party camped on the bank of the stream, had a fire burning, and the
never-failing dish of coffee preparing for their evening meal. Parties
of men were searching for their cattle, and driving them in, preparatory
to a start; and a scene of confusion, it appeared to me, seemed
inevitable; but to my surprise the oxen walked slowly towards the carts
to which they belonged, and submitted to having yokes placed wound their
necks, without that resistance which I had anticipated.

The sun had hardly disappeared before the first cart started on its
long journey for Ballarat. Another and another followed, and in a short
time we were the sole occupants of the camping ground.

In a few minutes after we had wished success to the last party that
crossed the stream our horses were saddled, and once more we resumed our
journey for Melbourne.

Nothing of general interest occupied our attention until we were within
a few miles of the city, when Murden sent one of his men forward to
announce his arrival to the captain of police, and to confide to him the
success which had attended his enterprise.

Maurice, the person sent, must have imparted the news to a dozen
friends, and they, probably, in turn told it to every one they met, for
just as we came in sight of the city, we were surprised to witness a
vast concourse of people on the road.

Some were on foot, and some on horseback, and every description of
vehicle in Melbourne appeared to have been pressed into speedy service,
and loaded down with men and women, anxious to get a glimpse of the
ferocious bushrangers, whose names had long been such a terror to all
having business beyond the limits of the city.

"We are in for it," said Murden, pointing towards the fast approaching
crowd. "Close up on each side of the cart, men, and let no one speak to,
or insult our prisoners!"

Before the crowd reached us, Smith deserted the side of his oxen for a
moment, and laid his hand upon my horse's bridle, saying,--

"You remember where you and Mr. Fred slept the first night you landed in
Melbourne?"

"To be sure I do," I replied; "in your house."

"And remember," he said, "I want you both to take up your quarters there
again. You will promise me this?"

"I think that we had better go to some hotel," I replied, fearing that
we should cause him trouble and expense.

"Don't think of such a thing; you will squander all of your money, and
receive no equivalent for it. Go to my house, and we'll live like
princes at a quarter the expense. Or, if you feel that you are too good
for the company of a felon--"

"Hold there, Smith," I said; "have we ever given you occasion to speak
thus?"

"No; but you will be petted and praised, and I fear that perhaps so much
attention will turn your hearts against me."

"Do not fear that," I rejoined, pressing his hand, which he returned,
until I thought my fingers were in a vice; "we found in you a friend,
and as such we shall continue to regard you until we leave the island."

"Then you will make my house your home?" Smith inquired.

"If you still insist, I answer that we had rather keep together, and be
under your roof, than to be lodged in the proudest hotel in Melbourne."

Smith's broad, red face was actually radiant with happiness, as he fell
back to his place; and as he had no other way of testifying his
happiness, he began cracking his long heavy whip, which started the
cattle into a trot, and shook up the bushrangers and the parrot so
roughly, that the latter yelled out,--

"Hullo! what's the row? Where's Bimbo? Stop, will ye?" questions which
were not answered, for just then our attention was attracted by a body
of mounted men, dressed in the same kind of uniform as our companions,
only their clothes did not look so soiled, and their arms were radiant
with recent polishing.

At their head rode a fine-looking, stout, red-faced man, who weighed
about two hundred pounds, and was a good specimen of a hale, hearty
Englishman.

"Hullo, Murden," he said; "what have you been doing to thus set the city
on fire? Is the news true, that you have had several engagements with
Darnley and Gulpin's gangs, and came out best?"

"Yes, sir," replied the lieutenant, touching his cap with an air of
respect; "I am happy to report that both Darnley and Gulpin are dead,
and that their gangs are either killed or prisoners."

"Why, you have done yourself and the police force great credit, Murden,
and I must talk with the lieutenant-governor about settling a pension on
you. But how is this--do you let your prisoners go at large?" and the
speaker pointed to Fred and myself with his riding whip.

"Your pardon, captain," replied Murden, "but those two gentlemen are
Americans, and volunteers of my force, and without their aid I should
have come back as wise as I went."

"Where did you pick them up?" I heard the police captain ask, in a half
whisper, as he rode beside the lieutenant.

"Hush, sir," we understood Murden to reply; "they are easy to take
offence, and are different from the majority of people who visit
Australia in search of gold."

"Americans, did you say?" the captain repeated; and as he glanced at us
from the corner of his eye, I heard him mutter, "They are not dressed
exactly in dinner costume, but there's a plucky look about the fellows
that I like, after all."

"I'm sure you'll like them, sir, after you've seen something of their
Yankee shrewdness," replied Murden; "if we could only get them to accept
of commissions in the police service, I'd pledge my pay for a year that
we'd free this part of the country of bushrangers in less than six
months."

"But won't they join?" inquired the captain, turning completely round in
his saddle, where he was riding in advance of us, to get a look at our
faces.

"I am afraid not," replied Murden; "they have got their American ideas
of independence, and are as firm set in their notions as our
countrymen."

"I'll have them yet," returned the captain. "I'll have them dressed up
and presented to Latrobe; he is an old courtier, and can wheedle the
devil with his tongue. When we reach the city, see that they are clothed
in decent suits, and are provided for."

Fred, who was riding by my side, overheard the conversation as well as
myself. We looked at each other and smiled, and thought how little the
captain knew of the American character, if he thought, we intended to
depend upon the bounty of himself or the lieutenant for clothing while
we possessed a dollar with which we could purchase for ourselves.

While the officers were conversing, the sergeants had formed their men
in such a manner that the crowd, which began to press eagerly forward,
was completely excluded from the cart, and could only get a sight at the
prisoners through a broken rank, or by peeping between the horses' legs.

Our entire into Melbourne was a perfect triumph; and to this day, I am
uncertain which excited the most curiosity--the chained bushrangers,
confined in the body of the cart, or Fred and myself, with our short
beards and unshaven faces, ragged clothes, and deadly array of rifles,
revolvers, and bowie knives.

The escort of policemen cleared the crowd, who stopped to gaze and ask
questions, and as the former advanced with their heavy horses and drawn
sabres, the latter receded to the right and left, leaving a space for
the procession to pass.

Down through Collins Street we went, every window on the thoroughfare
filled with eager faces anxious to get a sight of the novel procession,
and I don't know how many times Fred and I were pointed at by women, who
appeared to possess as much curiosity to see murderers as the sterner
sex, and called us bushrangers and villains; and once we were hooted at
by an excitable old lady, who did not for a long time discover her
mistake; and Smith afterwards told us in confidence, that he heard her
muttering, that if we were not bushrangers, our countenances belied us
shamefully, and she would not like to trust herself with us, after dark.

"Where do you intend to confine the prisoners, sir?" asked Murden of his
captain.

"At the barracks; as I consider them safer than the jail at the present
time," replied the captain of police.

"Why safer now than at any other time, sir?" inquired the lieutenant.

"Because, I do not know how many of the faces which I see around me may
belong to men who have an interest in the escape of the bushrangers.
Since you have been gone some strange things have come to light, and I
am induced to believe that men living here under our protection, and
trusted with our secrets, have been in league with the robbers of the
plains for months. How have the bushrangers always known when an
expedition was to be started for their extermination, and so faced it,
or kept out of the way, according to the numbers we sent, unless word
was carried by people who had our confidence? Be assured, Murden, that
as patriotic and great as we may think ourselves, there are those in our
midst, and, I believe, high in power, who do not scruple to accept of
bribes, even if the gold which is offered is stained with blood."

I thought, the lieutenant's cheeks blanched a shade paler than their
wont, and I imagined, considering he had a few hundred pounds' worth of
gold dust in his pockets, which formerly belonged to some honest man,
that he would get confused, and confess to the secret hoard which we had
discovered; but to my surprise he did no such thing, and returned an
answer that elicited my unbounded admiration, it was so cool.

"We must ferret out the parties," he said, in reply to his superior,
"and make an example, and that will strike terror to the hearts of those
disposed to accept bribes, hereafter."

"We will talk of this another time," replied the captain; "I feel now so
rejoiced to think that we have secured a number of bushrangers, that I
can hardly talk on any other subject. It was only last night Latrobe
sent for me, and wanted to know why I had done nothing towards rendering
a passage to the mines safe? The old fool! Why don't he send a company
of his idle soldiers to scour the country, if he thinks it is so very
easy to find those devils incarnate--the bushrangers?"

"Perhaps he keeps them in Melbourne because he has fears of his own
safety," replied the lieutenant, laughing.

"Perhaps so; but I'd rather trust to my police force than all the
soldiers in Australia. I suppose your two American friends will share in
the reward which has been offered?"

"I hope so, for right well do they deserve it," replied Murden,
heartily.

The multitude moved to and fro, and struggled to get glimpses of the
bushrangers in the cart, and a number of times the police were obliged
to strike those who pressed too near with the flat of their sabres, as a
slight rebuke for their curiosity; but with all the struggling I heard
no angry words pass, and for so large a crowd, it was the best natured
one I ever saw.

We drew up before a substantial-looking building, with an open square in
front, where a company of soldiers were parading.

A large gate was opened for our admission, and as soon as our party had
entered, it was shut and bolted, and the crowd excluded, although many
crawled upon the walls and sat there patiently, until the bushrangers
were placed under lock and key, in a strong dungeon, where hardly a ray
of light penetrated. A guard was stationed before the door with orders
to allow no one to converse with those inside, and then, for the first
time for many days, I and my friend found ourselves at liberty.

"Come," whispered Smith, "place your arms in the cart and we will go
home. There is nothing further for us to do."

"Hullo," we heard Murden shout, "where are you going to?"

We waited for a moment, until he, in company with the captain, came
within speaking distance, and then we replied,--

"We are going where we can get shelter and something to eat."

"Take them to the station, Murden, and let them stop there for the
night, and see that they have something to eat. To-morrow we will see
what we can do for them."

"We are able to take care of ourselves, sir," replied Fred, haughtily,
"and do not need the charities of a station house. When we do we will
let you know."

I saw the face of the captain turn a deep purple, as we continued our
walk, and I was not surprised to hear him thunder out,--

"Stop, sir; I wish to speak further with you."

"Any communication that you may have to make, we shall be pleased to
listen to, sir," I answered.

For the space of a minute the captain surveyed us from head to foot, as
though hardly knowing whether to be pleased or offended at our dignity;
but at length he exclaimed,--

"Who, in the devil's name, are you?"

"We are happy to say that we are Americans," rejoined Fred,
straightening his muscular form, and looking as proud of the title as a
senator just elected to congress.

"Blast it, that is not what I mean. Are you born gentlemen?" pettishly
exclaimed the captain.

"No one can be born gentle, but every man an be a gentleman if he but
studies the courtesies of life," remarked Fred.

"And have you so studied?" asked the captain, with a smile.

"All Americans study," replied Fred, "though perhaps no two are alike.
We try to be civil and attentive to all, and those qualities will pass
for good breeding all the world over."

"By heavens, you are right," cried the captain, with genuine English
bluffness, "and I should have known better than to have thought you
would have accepted of a bed at the station house. Come with me, and
make my house your home. I assure you both a welcome."

"You will excuse us, but we made an engagement before we entered the
city to stop at Smith's house, and we told him to rely upon our word."

"And do you prefer his company to mine?" asked the captain, with
astonishment.

"We are better acquainted with him," Fred said, evasively.

"But the man has been convicted as a felon and is only at liberty now on
parole."

"He has atoned for his fault, and has shown himself a brave man," I
replied.

"But with one word I can order him to prison again, and make him serve
out his sentence."

"You would not think of doing such an unkind act, I know," rejoined
Fred, with a smile.

"I don't know but I shall have to for no other reason than to get his
company away," said the captain, smiling; "you will pardon me if I
misjudged you both on account of your dress; we have many strangers
landing at our port, and if they disguise themselves in the clothing of
workmen, they must not feel slighted if they are taken for such."

"We are but workmen," I replied, "and to prove it, I will commence now.
You have it in your power to help confer a benefit, and I mean to work
until I get your consent to the scheme."

"Pray, what is it, sir? Any thing in my power I will do willingly."

"We wish the pardon of Smith, and your lieutenant will tell you that he
richly deserves it for the gallantry and mercy which he has shown."

"Your request is one fraught with difficulty, but I will see the
lieutenant-governor, Mr. Latrobe, and lay the subject before him.
Perhaps you would like to speak to the gentleman himself on the matter."

"Perhaps it would be better if we did," replied Fred, with no expression
of astonishment on his face at the proposal.

"Then I will get you an audience to-morrow afternoon, and mind, don't be
afraid to speak to the governor when you see him."

"Have no fear on that point," I replied, with a smile.

"Then good-by until to-morrow; I'll send Murden for you when the
governor is ready."

The captain so far forgot his aristocracy that he actually extended his
hand at parting, and shook our fists with a right good will.

We joined Smith, who was standing a short distance from us, and had
listened to every word that had been uttered with a face of scarlet, but
as we turned away, I heard the captain remark,--

"Those are singular young fellows, and somehow I begin to like them."

"Well, Smith," I said, as he drove his team from the yard, "we are to
have a hearing to-morrow, and perhaps in the evening may be able to
celebrate your liberation."

"It will hardly be of use to me," he replied, bitterly. "Let a man do
ever so well, the charge of once having been a convict will be repeated
in his ears until he is no longer able to hear it. God knows I have
repented of my crime, and only ask an opportunity to commence a new
life; and I heard the very man who should have shielded me, say, 'he's
only a convict,' and wonders that you dare trust your lives with me."

"He don't know you, Smith," replied Fred, consolingly. "Wait until he
hears of your bravery, and knows what you have done, and then you'll see
how quickly he will shake you by the hand, and congratulate you."

"Do you think so?" asked Smith, musing over Fred's words.

"I know it will be so; but be you ever so exalted or humble, Smith,
there's no man on the island we would sooner call friend."

"Then let them call me convict--if I but possess the esteem of two
honest men, who know me thoroughly, hard epithets will fall harmless."

Not another word was spoken during our walk through the streets of the
city to the suburbs, where stood the rough board house of Smith, exactly
as we had left it a month before. A dozen or twenty buildings had been
thrown together in the vicinity during our absence, and were occupied by
respectable looking people, who were engaged in business in Melbourne.

A number of fresh, rosy-faced women, true models of English wives, came
to their doors as we stopped, and apparently wondered who we were.

We unlocked the door, and found every thing undisturbed; and while Smith
drove off his team for the purpose of taking his oxen to pasture, I
started a fire in the old stove, and Fred went after water, and to get
the materials of a good supper together, which, by long fasting, we
keenly felt the need of.

By the time we had eaten our meal it was past sunset, when, recollecting
the business which was laid out for the morrow, we pressed Smith into
service, and started towards Collins Street for the purpose of buying
clothing suitable to wear when ushered into the presence of the
lieutenant-governor, who, we were given to understand, did not relish
flannel shirts and heavy boots, even if they did cover valued colonists.

By good luck we found a man who kept an assortment of really excellent
ready-made clothing, and after chatting with the fellow until he had
reduced his prices one half, we purchased two complete suits.

Pleased with our purchases, we carried them to the house, drank one bowl
of good punch, which Smith made as a sort of night-cap, as he termed it,
and then lighting our pipes, turned in, and after a brief review of the
events of the day, sank into a deep sleep.




CHAPTER XVIII.

LARGE FIRE IN MELBOURNE.--ENGLISH MACHINES AT FAULT.


I know not what the others were dreaming about, but I imagined myself
standing by a pile of brush and branches, on which was placed the dead
bodies of Black Darnley and his gang, and I thought that I had just
applied a match to the dry wood, and that the flames were soaring
heavenward, filling the sky with a luminous, blood-red color, and that
the corpses, as the fire licked their bodies, began shouting, in
derisive tones, for more fuel, when a hand was laid upon my shoulder,
and my dreams vanished in an instant. I sprang to my feet, and even then
but half awake, I reached for my revolver, and tried to recollect where
I was, and how I came there. The room, was as light as day, and through
the single window streamed the glare of such a fire as I had seen in my
dream.

I could hear the roaring of the flames, and a shouting of voices afar
off; and an old cracked bell, upon a church a short distance off, was
laboring hard to start into life the sleepers of the city.

"The city is on fire!" cried Smith, giving me another shake to awaken me
into consciousness; "all Collins Street appears to be in a bright
blaze."

"Wake Fred, and we will go and lend what assistance we can," I replied,
thoroughly aroused.

While Smith proceeded to do so, I stepped to the door, and surveyed the
scene, which was grand in the extreme; and I felt my blood course
through my veins wildly, as old recollections of volunteer service were
brought back, when gentlemen of the utmost respectability petitioned for
admittance to our organization.

That fire was like the blast of a trumpet, and all the old feelings,
which had lain dormant for many years, were revived, and I wished that I
had an engine and a brave company, to rush to the rescue. While I stood
surveying the flames, I was joined by Fred, an old fireman like myself,
but cooler, and not so impulsive.

"Do you see!" I exclaimed; "half of the city appears to be in flames,
and I do not hear the working of an engine. Let us hasten, and render
what assistance is possible."

"Where are your engine houses?" asked Fred, turning to Smith, who
appeared to be remarkably cool and unconcerned.

"That's more than I can tell, and I don't believe that even the captain
of police can find one, try he ever so hard," replied Smith.

"Do you mean that there are no regularly organized companies here, to
take charge of engines?" I asked.

"There are no engines nor companies, to my knowledge," Smith answered,
after a moment's thought.

"Then how do you arrest conflagrations like the present?" I asked.

"Well, we send for the police," he answered, with a laugh.

"Pshaw!" I replied, impatiently, "this is no time for joking. Your city
is burning down, and I do not hear the first effort to extinguish the
flames."

"But I do. Hark! do you not hear that trumpet?"

We all listened, and loud above the roaring of the flames, which were
filling the sky with showers of sparks, and dark, pall-like clouds of
smoke, we heard the shrill tones of a trumpet.

"What is the meaning of that blast?" I asked.

"It means that the soldiers are marching to the scene of the
conflagration," rejoined Smith, promptly.

"Ah, then they are to lend their aid in suppressing the flames?"

"They merely go for the purpose of seeing the building burn," replied
Smith, laconically.

"Explain yourself," I cried, impatiently.

"I will. They are marched to the fire simply for the purpose of being
drawn up in a line, and keeping people, who are disposed to work, away
from the flames."

I looked at Smith's face, to see if he was not joking; but no, he was
perfectly serious, and I began to have doubts about the ability of the
Australians to subdue a conflagration under such difficulties.

"Then nothing is done by the thousands of people standing idly by,
witnessing the destruction of property?" I asked.

"Well, sometimes I've known water-carts to bring water from the river,
and then a few adventurous fellows will offer to throw it on to the
fire. But the carts are not always to be depended upon."

"Let us go and see what we can do, Fred," I exclaimed, after the above
explanation; and although Smith told us we had better remain in the
house, for we should get no thanks or credit for our readiness to
assist, yet we did not heed his advice, and when he saw that we were
determined to go, he grumblingly offered to accompany us.

I locked the hound in the house, much against the animal's will, and
then we started for the scene of the conflagration. On our way, we met
and overtook hundreds of people bound on the same errand as ourselves;
but to our surprise, they manifested no show of excitement, and appeared
to regard the fire as a matter of course.

We hurried through the streets until we reached the thoroughfare in
which the conflagration was raging. A long line of soldiers was drawn up
to prevent people from approaching within twenty or thirty rods of the
fire, and within the circle which they formed, were mounted policemen
with drawn sabres.

There appeared to be no effort made to extinguish the fire; the
soldiers, instead of being employed to carry water, or save goods, or in
blowing up buildings to arrest the flames, leaned on their guns, and
looked as though they didn't care if the whole city was consumed, as
long as they got enough to eat and drink. The mounted police did not
seem employed to any better purpose, and the most that I observed them
do was to chase after a poor devil who squeezed through the lines in
some way, and appeared anxious to save his property, or what there was
left of it.

"Thank God!" exclaimed a stout man at my side, "the fire is confined to
the stores of Jews. I think I'll go back to bed again."

That remark made me begin to comprehend the reason of the apathy which
prevailed. The Jews were not entitled to sympathy on account of their
religion. They paid their taxes, and were as much entitled to protection
as Episcopalians, or men of other religious principles; but the stigma
of being a Jew followed them even to Australia, where people were none
too moral, and if they had not sold their Saviour it was because no one
wished to buy, thinking the investment a bad one.

I longed to get to work, and once or twice I asked an officer standing
near me to let us pass, and assist in extinguishing the flames. The
young fop looked at me with the utmost astonishment for a moment, and
then, thinking that I was an escaped lunatic, recommenced sucking the
hilt of his sword with renewed energy, and without returning any answer
to my petition.

"Don't mind him, poor fellow," said Fred, with a laugh at my want of
success in eliciting an answer from the office: "don't you see that he
is hungry, and misses the comfort which his Mother has been in the habit
of yielding."

The sword hilt was withdrawn from the young fellow's mouth in an
instant, and his face flushed as red as his scarlet uniform. He felt the
more annoyed, because half a dozen fellows, just from the mines, all of
whom were standing near, and had heard the conversation, set up a shout
of laughter. Even the soldiers smiled when their officer's back was
turned.

If the young fellow intended to make a reply, he was prevented, for just
then the rolling of a drum attracted his attention, and there was a
murmur through the crowd that the lieutenant-governor was coming to see
what could be done towards suppressing the conflagration.

The soldiers presented arms, as half a dozen plainly-dressed gentlemen
walked towards the end of the line where Fred, Smith, and myself were
stationed. They did not stop until within a few feet of us, and from the
attention which was bestowed upon one man, I had no difficulty in
deciding which was the governor.

"God bless me!" exclaimed the gentleman I supposed to be the governor, a
rather small man, with gray hair, and, I judged, about sixty years of
age; "God bless me!" he repeated, wringing his hands as though washing
them, and gazing upon the fire, "what a dreadful conflagration."

"The fire is making great headway, your excellency," said one of the
gentlemen in the governor's suite.

"God bless me, so it is," replied the governor. "How careless of the
Jews to let their stores get on fire. They give me a great deal of
trouble."

"But shall we not do something towards suppressing the flames?" asked
the first speaker, with an impatient gesture.

"God bless me, what can I do?" cried the governor, peevishly.

"There are two small engines in the city--they might be brought here and
worked to advantage," urged the aide-de-camp, for such I judged him to
be.

"Yes, yes, I know; but, God bless me, they won't _suck_."

I saw the governor's suite vainly endeavoring to suppress their smiles,
and for a moment, such was their mirth, no further conversation ensued.

At length the aid said,--

"That difficulty can be overcome, your excellency, by pressing the water
carts into service, and letting them bring water from the river for the
engines to use. Much property can be saved, also, by dismissing the
soldiers to the barracks with their arms, and then letting them return,
and pass water in buckets. I assure your excellency that the police
force is amply sufficient to keep order without the troops."

"God bless me, I believe that you are right," cried the governor, "but I
don't like to set the soldiers at such work. They spoil their uniforms,
and then the government has to supply them with new clothing, and I am
blamed for it."

"Then let the engines be brought here, and I pledge you my word that I
will find men enough in the crowd to work them without the soldiers'
assistance!" exclaimed the aid, energetically.

"God bless me, if you think they are of any use, bring them here; but I
don't know a person in Melbourne who understands working them."

His excellency's remark appeared to stagger the aide-de-camp, for by the
light of the flames I saw him bite his lips with vexation, and glance
over the crowd, as though wishing that he could find somebody who would
come to his rescue.

Fred and myself could no longer keep silent. We thought, that we saw an
opening for our talent that should not be lost, so giving the nearest
soldier a slight push one side, and narrowly escaping a thrust from a
bayonet in return, we suddenly stood before the astonished group.

"We have come to ask permission to take charge of your engines," Fred
said, before the aide-de-camp could find breath to order us into
custody, and the soldiers appeared disposed to make prisoners of us
before the word was given.

"God bless me, what is the meaning of this?" cried the governor, putting
his eye-glass up, and surveying us from head to foot, as though we were
animals of the _rara avis_ species.

"Stand back, soldiers," cried the aide-de-camp, in a tone of command,
when he saw that the men were disposed to force us amongst the crowd
again, "return to your ranks, and leave me to deal with these men."

"Now, my men, what do you wish?" asked the aid; and we knew by the tones
of his voice that he possessed the spirit of a man, and would know how
to appreciate the services which we were disposed to render.

"We accidentally overheard a remark from the governor, that there was no
one in Melbourne who understood the working of your fire-engines, so we
have come to volunteer our services," Fred said, boldly.

"God bless me, but this is most extraordinary," said the governor,
turning to his suite for confirmation of his words.

"Have either of you ever been accustomed to the working of an engine?"
asked the aid.

"We have both belonged to a volunteer fire department," I said, "and if
the machines are not entirely out of repair, we think that we can work
them to advantage."

"I was not aware that there was a volunteer system in England," said the
aid, whom we now understood was Colonel Hensen. He spoke in a slightly
sarcastic manner, as though he had caught us in a falsehood and was
determined to fathom our motives.

"We were not speaking of England, sir," I said, with some little
asperity.

"Pray, what country do you allude to, then, if I may ask?" the colonel
inquired.

"We meant our country, sir; we are not Englishmen, but Americans."

I saw the frown vanish from the brow of Colonel Hensen, and a look of
good nature passed over his face; but before he had an opportunity to
speak, the governor had his eye-glass up, and exclaimed,--

"God bless me, you don't mean to say that because you are Americans you
can extinguish this fire? Pray, what part of the United States do you
come from, that you possess such assurance?"

"We were both born within the shadow of Bunker Hill, your excellency,
and that famous spot overlooks Boston, a city of some importance in
America."

I heard a good-natured laugh at Fred's speech, although I was fearful
that those present would not relish joking at their ancestors' expense.
But I was mistaken; even the withered features of Mr. Latrobe relaxed
their expression of distrust, and he cried, "God bless me," and wrung
his hands for a minute or two before he spoke.

"If these young men think they can do any good with the engines, why,
God bless me, I don't know but they had better take charge of them," the
governor said, after a brief survey of the fire, and seeing what headway
it was making.

"I will answer for these two young men, your excellency," said a deep
voice, whose tones we recognized; and looking up, I found that our old
acquaintance, the captain of police, had approached us, unseen, and
overheard a part, of the discussion.

"Ha, captain," cried the governor, "you don't mean to say that you know
these two persons? God bless me, how singular."

"Not very extraordinary, sir, when I tell you that these are the
Americans whom I asked your excellency to receive to-day, and whose
petition I hope you will grant," replied the captain.

"God bless me, it isn't possible that these are the two Americans who
have been killing and making prisoners of those bushranging villains?
Why, they have hardly grown to be men!"

The governor seemed to forget the fire, for he surveyed us through his
eye-glass, and whispered to members of his suite, and said that he hoped
"God would bless him;" and I am sure I hope that the Almighty will, for
Mr. Latrobe has asked for it often enough.

Fred and myself were the centre of observation, and perhaps our modesty
was a little touched, for we heard the captain whisper to Colonel
Hensen, something like the following:--

"Murden tells me they are perfect dare-devils, and care no more for a
gang of bushrangers than for a troop of kangaroos. I am going to coax
them to enter the service."

I don't think that by morning there would have been a single Jewish
house or Christian store left in Collins Street if we had not again
reminded the governor that the fire was raging more fiercely than ever,
and that if the flames were to be checked it was high time to commence
work.

"Our American friends are right," said Colonel Hensen, "and if your
excellency is disposed to comply with their request no time is to be
lost."

"God bless me, then let them go to work without delay. I give them full
power to take as many men as they please to work the engines, and if
they succeed in quenching the flames they shall be well rewarded."

"We ask for no reward, sir," I said, "but we do ask for one hundred of
these soldiers. Let them be despatched after the machines without
delay."

The governor hesitated for a moment, and then gave Colonel Hensen
directions to comply with my request.

Two companies deposited their arms in a building near by, and were
detailed for the duty, while an officer was sent to hunt up the water
carts, and get them filled at the river, so that the engines could have
something to work upon.

We set Smith at work hunting up buckets, and then accepted volunteers,
who formed a long line, and passed the pails back and forth with great
rapidity.

A dozen reckless miners, just from the diggings, clambered to the tops
of the houses nearest to the fire, and dashed the water on the roof and
sides, and by this means held the flames in check until other lines were
formed. In half an hour nearly fifteen hundred buckets were at work, and
thrice that number of volunteers were lending their aid.

Fred and myself were every where, encouraging and giving directions; the
police, seconded our efforts, and saw that our orders were carried into
effect, and they did so the more readily because we recognized all of
our old companions of bush-hunting memory, and they quickly imparted our
history to the rest of the force.

By the time our lines were in good working order we heard the rumbling
of the engines, and with hearty cheers the soldiers dashed into the
hollow square, the crowd opening to the right and left to admit them.
With perfect firemen's enthusiasm they ran the machines close to the
flames, unlimbered the huge tongues which obstructed half the street,
and were nearly as large as the engines themselves, and then, with a
recollection of their discipline, touched their fatigue caps, and asked
what was to be the next move.

We looked at our unpromising machines and found that they were of
English make, and capable of throwing a stream about as large as garden
engines. They were covered with dust and dirt, and had not been worked
for a twelvemonth; but nothing discouraged, we washed some of the
thickest of the cobwebs away, examined the screws, filled the dry and
cracked boxes with water, adjusted the hose, and then applied the
brakes. A low, wheezing sound was heard, which resembled the breathing
of a person troubled with asthma, but no water was ejected.

The soldiers laughed, and ridiculed the machines, and the crowd outside
of the square getting wind of our failure, shouted in derision at the
"governor's pets," as they were called.

"I say, old fellows," cried a voice, "I've got a syringe in my trunk at
home that you can use. It will be of more service than those machines."

"Grease 'em," shouted another.

"Play away, No. 2," yelled a loafer.

"Hold on, No. 1," shouted a fourth; and as No. 1 had been compelled to
hold on for the want of water, which leaked from the boxes almost as
fast as put in, the joke told hugely.

"You can do nothing with them," said Colonel Hensen, joining us, and
noticing the condition of the machines. "I think that you had better
send them back to the houses, and depend upon the buckets. The fire has
not gained headway for fifteen minutes."

"We are not easily discouraged, sir," replied Fred, and together we
proceeded to examine the boxes of the engines attentively.

We found a screw, which regulated the flow of water, nearly off, and the
plug in the bottom of the box out. The latter explained the leakage at
once, and by the time we had regulated matters the water carts arrived,
and once more we filled the boxes and started the brakes. After wheezing
and sputtering a moment, a slight stream appeared at the nozzle of the
hose. It was greeted with yells of laughter, not only from those who
were passing water in buckets, but even the soldiers joined in the
cries. The crowd took up the yells, and in a few minutes it seemed as
though Bedlam had broken loose.

Not discouraged by the ridicule heaped upon us and the engines, we kept
the boxes full and the soldiers at work on the brakes. The result was as
we had anticipated. The stream grew larger and larger as the wood and
leather began to swell, and in a few minutes after the brakes were
applied the second time a noble stream was playing on the flames, and
the root's and sides of houses in danger of burning.

Crowds are always fickle, and easily swerved by success or failure. In
this instance we had no reason to complain of want of applause, for
cheer after cheer was raised in honor of our perseverance, and Colonel
Hensen was despatched by the governor to thank us on the spot for our
labor.

Leaving the hose to be directed by an intelligent sergeant of one of the
companies, we next turned our attention to the second engine, and
succeeded in repairing that also; and although at times we were obliged
to await the arrival of the water carts to keep the boxes filled, having
no hose for draughting, we managed to keep up two decently sized
streams, and with the assistance of the buckets, prevented the fire from
spreading to other buildings.

All night long did we work, sometimes up to our knees in mud,
encouraging and directing--running greater risks of being crushed under
falling buildings than I should like to enjoy again--resisting the
appeals of Jews, who offered large amounts of money if we would only
direct the men to save their houses and stores, and getting well abused
when we refused to comply--treating all alike, working for the greatest
good, until daylight appeared and the fire was subdued, and Melbourne
was saved from destruction.

I looked around for the lieutenant-governor. He had wrung his hands
three hours before, and asked "God to bless him," and declared that he
was tired and must retire to bed, and to bed he had gone; and the only
member of his staff on the ground was Colonel Hensen.

"You have worked hard enough, gentlemen," said the officer, shaking our
hands with a friendly grip. "Go to your home, and leave the rest to me
and my men."

"We do not feel near as tired as those gallant fellows," Fred said,
pointing to the soldiers who still manned the brakes of the engines.

"I intend to have them relieved immediately, and allow them all day to
get rested," answered the officer.

"Then we will return home, for our presence is no longer needed here," I
replied.

"Before you go let me thank you in the name of the lieutenant-governor.
Through your instrumentality thousands of pounds' worth of property has
been saved; and our merchants owe you a debt of gratitude which I hope
they will repay before you leave the city."

"We hope thanks will be the only coin offered," cried Fred, quickly,
"for we would not have you think that we have labored through the night
for hire. If we have been instrumental in doing your city a service we
are glad of it, because it may be the means of obtaining a better
reputation for Americans than they have hitherto enjoyed in Australia."

"I shall ever look upon Americans with respect from this time forward,"
the colonel said, warmly. Once more he shook our hands, and then we
called Smith and edged our way through the crowd to the rude house,
where I found the hound had broken half a dozen panes of glass in his
desperate attempts to escape and join me.

Tired and almost exhausted with our night's work, we quickly threw
ourselves upon our hard beds, and slept soundly, nor did we awaken until
the loud baying of the hound aroused us.




CHAPTER XIX.

PARDON OF SMITH AND THE OLD STOCKMAN.--GRAND DINNER AT THE GOVERNOR'S.


"Hullo," I heard somebody shout; "is this the way you receive your
friends? Call off the dog, or he'll eat me for his dinner."

I started up and spoke to the hound, and then saw, to my surprise, that
our visitor was no other than the captain of police.

"Excuse me for disturbing you," he said, taking a seat, and looking
around the room with a quiet smile upon his broad face. "I know that
you have had a hard night's work, and need rest; and I should not have
presumed to awaken you, had I not feared that you would forget the
audience which his excellency has granted on this afternoon."

"At what time, may I ask?" I inquired, trying to look as though I was
awake--in which I did not fully succeed, I am afraid, for the captain
said, kindly,--

"There, there, go to bed again, and let the audience be postponed until
to-morrow. Latrobe will readily understand why you are not present, and
if he does not, I will get Colonel Hensen to explain the reason. By the
way, speaking of the colonel, he has grown to be a sworn friend to both
of you, and as he has the governor's ear in all matters, I think it will
be well to speak to him in a candid manner, and enlist his aid."

We bowed, without speaking at the advice, and the captain continued,--

"Then I will ask the governor to postpone your interview until
to-morrow, if you desire it."

"By no means," exclaimed Fred, the last words thoroughly arousing him.
"We have not had much rest for a number of nights, but we are not so
tired that we cannot keep an appointment. We shall be ready at the time
you state."

"Then in two hours' time I will send Murden for you. By the way," the
captain continued, in a careless tone, "if there is any thing I can help
you to, command me."

We knew that the captain alluded to our clothes, but we merely shook our
heads and declared that we had a full supply. He looked incredulous, but
was too polite to contradict, and was about to depart, when he suddenly
said,--

"By the way, I don't suppose you have seen the morning papers? Here are
the Argus and Herald. You may like to look over them, as they contain an
account of the fire, and mention the gallant conduct of two American
gentlemen who were present."

The captain laid down the papers, and was off without a word of
explanation. We felt that keen curiosity characteristic of Americans
when they know that their names are in print, and hardly had the sound
of the hoofs of the captain's horse died away before we spread open the
sheets, and after hunting over a column of matter which related to
losses, with the names of individuals, we came across the following,
headed,--

"INCIDENTS.--During the fire this morning, two young men, whose names
are unknown, but whom we hope to discover before our next issue, made
their way to his excellency the governor, and volunteered to take the
whole charge of the fire, and put the two hitherto almost useless
engines in working order. After some hesitation on the part of his
excellency, consent was given, and two companies of a regiment allotted
to man the brakes. Under the direction of the young men the machines
were brought into action, and were the means of saving property to a
large amount. We also hear it stated that the same parties organized the
lines of buckets, although we do not vouch for the truth of the
statement."

"P.S.--Since writing the above, we learn that the young men are
Americans, and are the same who appeared in the procession yesterday
afternoon. They have been engaged by the police force for the last three
weeks in hunting bushrangers. We shall give the public the most reliable
information to be obtained concerning them, and shall issue an extra
containing a history of their lives and adventures, illustrated with
correct likenesses."

"I wonder how the editor expects to get a history of our lives, and a
correct likeness?" laughed Fred, laying down the Argus and taking up the
Herald.

The latter paper was more disposed to glorify the governor and his
government than ourselves, and as Mr. Latrobe was not in great favor
with the citizens of Melbourne and the miners at the time, an attempt
was made to create some capital for him. The article read as follows:--

"Our readers will recollect that the lieutenant-governor promised the
miners that the roads between the city and Ballarat should be free of
robbers in less than six months. Hardly three months have passed, and we
find that his excellency has made good his assertion. He has taken the
most active measures to bring to speedy justice the numerous gangs of
bushrangers who have preyed upon travellers and escorts, going to and
returning from the mines. Already have two of the most formidable
robbers in the country fallen, and with them the destruction of their
followers. Black Darnley and Jim Gulpin are both dead. They have paid
the penalty of their crimes, and the community will thank the government
for the active measures which were taken to bring about such a result.
Our police department is now in a better state of efficiency than ever
known before; and it is the determination, we understand, of the
governor to increase its force until he has redeemed his pledge, and
made Australia a law-loving and law-abiding country.

"We understand that the two men whose dress and appearance occasioned so
many remarks while the procession was moving through our streets
yesterday afternoon, are two recruits who are to be added to the police
force with the rank of sergeants. They were both born in the United
States, but their parents are English, and still claim Great Britain as
their homes. We understand that they distinguished themselves gallantly
in the conflict which ensued between the bushrangers and the police, and
for that reason they are to be rewarded by being taken into our
municipal force.

"P.S.--We understand that the men mentioned above were very active at
the fire this morning, and that if any property was saved by their
efforts the governor should have the credit for the same, for to him
belongs the suggestion of allowing the police force to work as firemen,
and also giving his consent, that the military should have charge of the
engines. We hope the citizens of Melbourne will remember these facts,
and know in what light to regard the attacks made upon his excellency by
the Argus, whose editor left England for causes which have not yet
transpired, although we dare say that communications addressed to the
Home office would be promptly answered."

"Well, of all the impudence," laughed Fred. "The puppy should be
whipped--and I've a great mind to go and do it"

"I don't see any thing to be enraged at," I replied, coolly. "Because he
says that we are to enter the police force, does not make it so; and as
for the rest of his remarks, you are too good an American not to think
highly of the man for his ingenious effort to create popularity for his
favorite office-holder."

Fred smiled as he thought of the freedom of the press in our country,
and I heard no more about whipping the unfortunate editor of the Herald.

"Come," cried Smith, who had sat silent during our reading of the
papers, "you must be getting ready for your visit to the governor. He
receives at three, and dines about six."

"I suppose we shall have to stop and dine with him," said Fred, with a
sly wink at me.

"You surely don't think of such a thing?" demanded Smith, with horror
depicted upon his face.

"Why, you don't pretend to say that the governor is any better than us
poor adventurers?" asked Fred.

Smith struggled a moment with his feelings, as though trying to find a
suitable reply in which he should not offend us, and yet not outrage the
exalted idea which he entertained respecting his excellency. At length
love for us overcame his reverence, and he blubbered out.--"Hang it, you
know what I mean--the governor is placed in a high position, but I'd
rather have a shake of your hands than fifty men like him. Don't talk to
me any more, but get ready to visit him; and if he don't ask you to
dinner, all that I can say is, he don't know you as well as I do."

We followed the advice of Smith without a word of remonstrance, and in a
short time our long, ragged beards had fallen before the sharp edges of
our razors, and after a refreshing bath in a tub, the only bathing-pan
we could find in the city, we dressed ourselves in our new clothes, and
once more felt that clean linen was more becoming to gentlemen, in spite
of its democracy, than blue flannel.

For the first time for many months were our limbs encased in
broad-cloth, and our feet denied the privilege of an extended range of
sole leather. Smith surveyed us, and rubbed his hands with delight. We
had evidently made an impression upon him in our new dresses, and to
tell the truth, we felt somewhat vain of it.

Punctual to the hour, we heard some one drive up to the door, and were
in a moment greeted by Murden, although at first he did not recognize
the two demure looking strangers seated in the room as his late
companions.

His grip was none the less hearty, however, and even while he was asking
a half dozen different questions concerning us, he hurried us along into
a vehicle that somewhat resembled a chaise, although much heavier, and
drawn by two horses.

The lieutenant assumed the reins, and away we rattled, the hound
bounding by the side of the carriage, and sometimes making playful snaps
at the horses' heads, causing the animals to swerve from the middle of
the road, much to Murden's disgust and the dog's delight.

"I heard of your doings last night," Murden said, as we rattled towards
the government house, causing people to stare in astonishment at the
recklessness of our pace. "You did nobly, I am told, and those blasted
Jews had ought to come down liberally with their dust, in the shape of a
present."

"We were not working in the expectation of reward," Fred began, when the
lieutenant cut him short.

"I know all about that, but if those cussed Jews are disposed to give
you any thing, don't refuse to accept it, because it would gratify them
too much."

Before we had an opportunity to enter into an argument, the carriage was
driven, with much parade, up to the door of a substantial, freestone
house, before which a number of soldiers were keeping guard, as though
there was danger of the governor being run away with by some
evil-disposed persons unless there was a show of force.

We were shown through a long entry, or corridor, and ushered into a
reception room, plainly furnished, and with only one engraving hanging
from the walls. It was a likeness of the queen, in coronation robes,
opening parliament.

Half a dozen persons were lounging in the room, awaiting an audience;
and as we were the last comers, of course all eyes were directed upon
us, and we could read an expression upon their faces, as much as to say,
"what in the deuse do they want with the governor?"

Murden nodded carelessly to those present, and when one, more
inquisitive than his fellows, took him by the button hole, and, in a
whisper, asked him who we were, I heard him say, in reply,--"Hush! don't
pretend to look at them, or they will shoot you without mercy. They are
Americans, and carry revolvers and bowie knives by the dozen."

The inquirer, rather a small sized man, after that hardly removed his
eyes from us, and when word came from the governor that we were to be
shown into his room, the little fellow looked after us as though he
never expected to see such a sight again, and was determined to improve
his opportunity.

We mounted a flight of stairs, broad and imposing, as became a
governor's palace, and then the servant, who had us in charge, stopped
before an open door, at which was stationed a man in livery. To the
latter was given our names, and in a loud voice the fellow repeated
them; at the same time he stood aside and allowed us to pass into the
presence of his excellency, the lieutenant-governor.

Mr. Latrobe was standing near a window, which overlooked the street, and
was conversing with Colonel Hensen, the captain of police, and a number
of other gentlemen, whose faces we were not acquainted with.

Colonel Hensen advanced to meet us as we entered, and then, in due form,
presented us to the governor.

"God bless me," said his excellency, rubbing his hands as though he had
caught cold the night before, and he wished to quicken the circulation
of his blood, "God bless me, can it be possible?"

He didn't say what it was that surprised him so much, but I gave a
shrewd guess that our change of costume had improved our appearance to
such a degree that we should have been passed in the street by our most
intimate friends unrecognized.

"Don't be backward in making known your wants," whispered the colonel,
while the governor was wringing his hands.

"Both of you, gentlemen, are entitled to my warmest gratitude for the
zeal which you displayed last night," the governor at length said, "and
I embrace the present opportunity to thank you. God bless me, I wish
that all of the emigrants who reach our shores were of the same stamp.
We should be more prosperous and happy."

"We trust, for the honor of America, that all who claim our country as
their home will never give your excellency cause of uneasiness," Fred
said, with a slight how.

"God bless me, I hope not," echoed the governor. "But I have great cares
on my mind, great cares; and sometimes I think that I shall have to
return to old England, and let some younger man occupy my place."

The governor's suite maintained a profound silence, which struck us as
very singular; but then we did not know that a new ruler was on his way
to Australia, and that the home government had got most heartily tired
of the vacillating policy of Mr. Latrobe, and that the several gentlemen
who surrounded him were aware of it, and were all ready to pay court to
the rising star, as soon as he set foot ashore at Melbourne.

Finding that no one replied, the governor slowly chafed his hands, and
said--

"We owe you another debt of gratitude, I believe, for the gallantry
which prompted you to risk your lives, when you joined forces with our
police. You intimated that you had some request to make of me, as a
reward for your conduct. Pray, let me hear what your petition is, and if
it be reasonable, I will grant it."

For the first time did the governor seem to act the part of a ruler. He
threw off, as with a violent effort, all of his shuffling and weakness,
and stood before us a man. Perhaps the little sympathy which he saw
expressed upon the faces of his suite was the cause of his changing.

"If we have been instrumental in freeing your roads of robbers," I said,
calmly and distinctly, "it is not because we thirsted for the blood of
the unfortunate men, but simply from a desire to pass to and from the
mines without molestation. We do not, of course, know in what light the
captain of police has reported our conduct, but there are others more
deserving than ourselves, and to them should be awarded all the credit,
if, indeed, there is any credit in resisting when attacked."

"I think that mention was made concerning two convicts who had displayed
considerable bravery, but it had nearly escaped my mind. Do your remarks
refer to them?" inquired the governor.

"They do, sir," I said, "and in their behalf do we appear before you
to-day, knowing that your excellency will kindly consider all we say,
and grant our petition."

"Go on, sir," said the governor, with a wave of his hand that was full
of grace and dignity.

"The two convicts who were brought to the notice of your excellency
fought with us side by side, and in one engagement, a band of desperate
bushrangers were destroyed before the police made their appearance.
Black Darnley, the leader of the gang, was killed, and knowing that a
large reward was offered for his arrest or death, we thought your
excellency would exercise your usual clemency and grant the men a free
pardon for their past offences."

"You know not what you ask for," said the governor, hastily, and I
thought impatiently; and then in a milder tone he continued: "I am so
hampered by the home government that I rarely interfere in such matters,
and would much rather some other request were preferred."

"But let your excellency consider. These men have been on tickets of
leave for a number of years, and not a word of complaint has been
received against them. I believe that I am justified in referring to the
captain of police for confirmation of my words."

The captain bowed, and smiled at my earnestness, and I continued:

"One of them, by honest industry, has accumulated a large property, but
the dreadful sentence of the court still clings to him, and if an enemy,
actuated by the desire to despoil him of his fortune, should prefer a
complaint, he would be arrested and consigned to the hulks, to die
perhaps of a broken heart. That is not the proper fate of a gallant man,
who has the good of the colony at heart, and is willing to shed his
blood in its defence."

"Ask of me any thing but the pardon of the two persons you mention, and
I shall be most happy to grant it," replied the governor, after a
moment's thought, and a half irresolute glance at Colonel Hensen, as
though asking his opinion before deciding.

"We have no other request to make, may it please your excellency,"
answered Fred, with dignity. "We came to Melbourne expressly to ask for
the men's pardon, and as it is not granted, you will allow us to take
our leave."

We bowed and stepped towards the door. The governor looked astonished at
our independence, and after a moment's whispering with his suite, he
recalled us.

"On one condition will I comply with your request," he said, and I saw
that the old weakness had returned to his face, and that he was no
longer the dignified executive officer.

"We await the proposition," I said.

"Why, the fact is, I have heard such good accounts of both of you, that
I am desirous of retaining your services. You are anxious for the full
pardon of the two convicts. I will comply with your request provided you
enter the police service for five years. The rank of lieutenants will he
bestowed on both of you."

"We are under the necessity of declining your intended kindness,"
replied Fred, ironically, "and as we cannot obtain what we wish without
sacrificing our independence, we again take our leave."

I saw a smile of satisfaction beam on the face of the colonel, and I
knew that our course met his approval.

"God bless me, what do they want?" asked the governor, in an agony of
irresolution, appealing to the colonel.

"They ask for no more than what your excellency should grant," replied
the colonel, bluntly.

"But suppose the convicts should commit fresh crimes after I have
pardoned them?" asked the governor. "What would the home office say?"

"Point to the good which the men have done, and see if it does not
outweigh heavy faults," replied the colonel.

"You are right, and the petition of the young men is granted. Call
to-morrow at the office of the secretary, and obtain the documents; at
the same time let me inform you that if the home office does not concur
in my decision, the pardons are void. I do not anticipate any serious
objections, however, when I state the reasons which have governed my
conduct."

We thanked his excellency in suitable terms, and were about turning
away, when an almost imperceptible movement on the part of Colonel
Hensen claimed our attention. Slight as it was, we understood him, and
determined to strike while the iron was hot.

"We do not wish to give your excellency unnecessary trouble, but if you
would instruct your secretary to furnish the pardons this afternoon, we
know of one man who will receive it as the greatest birthday present
that can be given him."

"God bless me, is that the case?" cried the governor.

We repeated our statement that Smith's birthday would be celebrated in a
becoming manner, if his excellency was disposed to be lenient.

"Then God forbid that I should be the cause of any one's unhappiness.
Mr. Secretary, prepare the documents, and I will sign them immediately."

The governor had hardly ceased before the gentleman referred to had left
the room. While he was absent a number of questions was asked us
concerning our country, and I think a few of our replies surprised not
only Mr. Latrobe, but the staff which surrounded him.

"God bless me! it's marvellous to think of. The Americans are a great
people, there's no denying it, and I think in time will even equal the
parent country."

We did not enter into any argument with those present concerning the
relative strength of the two nations, but just as a question was
addressed to us regarding our navy, the secretary returned and handed
two papers to the governor, who, after a brief glance at their contents,
affixed his signature, and handed the documents to us.

"There, I have gratified you, young gentlemen, and now I request a
return for my kindness," said the governor, smiling.

"Any thing that your excellency may wish," stammered Fred, hardly
knowing what was coming.

"I wish both of you to stop and dine with me to-day, and if you refuse,
never ask me for another pardon."

The governor smiled good-humoredly as we hesitated, and before we knew
how to frame an excuse we were moving towards the dining-room arm-in-arm
with Colonel Hensen and the captain of police.

That dinner will long live in my memory, not only for the good cheer, to
which we had long been strangers, but for the social manner in which we
were treated by the governor and his guests.

Even the hound, who had received a large share of attention, was
permitted to enter the dining-room, and by the manner in which his eyes
glistened I thought he appeared to enjoy himself as well as the rest of
the company.




CHAPTER XX.

DUEL BETWEEN FRED AND AN ENGLISH LIEUTENANT.


Even at this distant day, I think that I have a faint recollection of
walking through the streets of Melbourne at a late hour on the afternoon
that we dined with the governor--and I also think that we were escorted
to our home by Colonel Hensen, and a number of other gentlemen, although
who they were I have not the slightest recollection.

It was a late hour the next morning, when we awoke with aching heads and
parched throats. Our faithful friend, Smith, was stirring, and by the
aroma we knew that a strong dish of coffee had been prepared by his
hands, and that it awaited us as soon as we rose--an act which we had no
inclination to do; but a sight of his sorrowful face as he spread the
table, made me alter my mind.

I slipped on my clothes, and bathed my heated head in cool water just
taken from the river, and felt refreshed by the operation; and by the
time Fred had gone through with the same process, breakfast was
pronounced ready, and down to it we sat with but scant appetites.

"What have you got such a long face on for this morning?" I asked of the
stockman, who hardly raised his eyes while he was drinking his coffee.

"Can you ask?" he replied, looking up, and I saw by the expression of
his face that he had not slept during the night.

"Can I ask?" I repeated, "to be sure I can. We got a little out of the
way last night, but the circumstance is too common to provoke remark in
Australia."

"Ah, it was not that I was thinking about. I was considering how unkind
the governor has treated me, in not granting me freedom after so many
years of good conduct," replied Smith.

"O, is that all?" I cried, with an appearance of indifference. "I
thought you were sick, or had heard some bad news."

I saw the poor fellow's face flush at my apparently unkind speech, and I
saw an expression of surprise in his blue eyes which cut me to the
heart. I sprang from the table, and taking from my coat pocket the two
pardons, laid them before him without a word of remark.

His eyes were, the instant he read his name, blinded with tears. He laid
his head upon the table, and wept long and bitterly without speaking,
and his stout frame shook with the violence of his emotion. We suffered
him to continue without interruption; but when he did look up, he
grasped our hands, and pressed them convulsively, muttering,--

"At length, O, at length, I'm a free man, and no longer subject to a
keeper's nod. I can call my soul and body my own property, and look a
policeman in the face without trembling. Ah, blessed liberty, how much I
have longed for thee!"

He kissed the pardon--he kissed his name, which was written in a bold
hand on the document--and then pressed to his lips the signature of the
governor.

"Do you now feel truly happy?" asked Fred.

"I feel so joyous that there is nothing on earth which I crave," replied
Smith.

"Then we may ask you to lend us your aid before many days, and I hope
that you will not refuse."

"Me refuse? Ask of me the most difficult task and I will do it; for to
you do I owe freedom," cried our friend, enthusiastically.

Fred was about to confide to him the secret of the buried treasure, and
solicit his aid, when we were interrupted by the entrance of a stranger,
dressed in the uniform of an English officer.

"I beg your pardon, sirs," he said, glancing around the hut with a
slightly supercilious air at the want of comfort which was plainly
manifest, "but I think I have entered the wrong house."

"We cannot tell whether you have or not, until we know what your
business is," replied Fred.

"My business has reference to two gentlemen who dined with the governor
yesterday, and were conspicuous at the fire night before last," replied
the officer, who was a young man, and of prepossessing appearance.

"Then it is very probable we are the parties," said Fred, carelessly.
"We dined with the governor yesterday, and we did something towards
extinguishing the fire on Collins Street night before last."

"One other question, gentlemen, and I shall be certain. Are you
Americans?" demanded the officer.

"We claim the United States as our home, and to the best of our belief,
we were born there," I answered, wondering what the fellow was driving
at.

"Then you will excuse me for the disagreeable duty which I have taken
upon myself. Night before last one of you gentlemen addressed words of
an insulting nature to a brother officer. As long as he thought you were
beneath the rank of gentlemen he did not choose to notice them, but the
governor having recognized you as an equal, my friend feels that he can
safely demand satisfaction, or an ample apology for your remark."

"Why," said Fred, with a soft smile, "this looks to me like a
challenge."

"It is one," replied the Englishman.

"And I am expected to retract the words which I uttered, or be shot?"
asked Fred.

"If you are the gentleman who uttered them, I must reply, yes," answered
the officer.

"Well, upon my word. I hardly know what I did say," cried Fred. "Do you
recollect?" he added, appealing to me.

I shook my head, and remained silent. I was thinking of the danger my
friend was in, and wondering how I could get him out of it.

"I think that my friend had the hilt of his sword in his mouth, and your
allusion was to the infantile instinct which prompted him to do so,"
replied the officer, looking red in the face.

"O," laughed Fred, "did the youngster take offence at my words? Tell him
that hereafter I will swear that he was brought up on a bottle.'

"This is no apology, sir," cried the officer, inclined to laugh.

"Isn't it? Well, it's all that I am disposed to give, at present;" and
Fred helped himself to a fresh cup of coffee.

"By the way," I continued, "perhaps you have not been to breakfast. Pray
be seated, and have a dish of coffee."

The officer hesitated for a moment, but thinking, perhaps, that he could
best arrange the affair while sipping coffee, he finally took his seat
upon an old box, while Smith helped him to a cracked cup minus a saucer.

"Then there is no way of arranging this little affair, is there?" asked
the officer, whom we now understood was Lieutenant Merriam.

"O, yes, there are half a dozen ways," replied Fred, coolly. "In the
first place, your friend can withdraw his challenge--"

"Never!" exclaimed the officer, firmly. "We feel too deeply injured."

"And in the next place, I can refuse to accept it," Fred continued,
without noticing the interruption.

"But you will apologize," cried Merriam, eagerly. "Say that you will do
that, and I will take my leave."

"Then I shall do no such thing, for we are not often forced into the
company of her majesty's officers, and we wish to improve the
acquaintance."

The lieutenant looked at Fred as though mentally calculating what kind
of a man he was, but in spite of his dignity and bold face, he smiled,
and held out his cup for more coffee.

"Then I suppose that you will refer me to a friend with whom I can
consult, and settle all preliminary arrangements?" inquired the officer.

"Tell me," asked Fred, for the first time looking serious, "is your
friend really in earnest in this matter?"

"I have to inform you that, he is, sir; and that, as his friend, I have
promised to see him through the affair with honor," our visitor replied.

"Then I will gratify his lighting propensities, as I do not feel
disposed to retract words which, under the circumstances, he should have
considered as harmless. Jack, my boy," Fred said, turning to me, "will
you settle with this gentleman when the affair shall come off, and act
by me the part of a friend?"

I knew the nature of the man too well to try and dissuade him from the
duel--the most that I could do was to stand by him and endeavor to turn
every thing to his advantage. I gave him the promise he required, when
turning to Smith, who had sat at the table a patient listener, during
the whole conversation, Fred said--

"Come, Smith, you and I will visit the scene of the fire, and leave them
together."

"Now to business," the lieutenant said. "You are the challenged party,
and have the right to choose weapons. I have a beautiful pair of pistols
at the barracks, which I wish you would make choice of. You will fall in
love with them at the first sight."

"Very probable," I replied, coolly; "but if pistols are to settle the
quarrel, have a pair of Colt's revolvers which I know will command your
admiration. Here are the two instruments," and, as I spoke, I laid them
on the table.

"A murderous looking weapon, and not suited for the use of gentlemen at
ten paces," Merriam said, handling the revolvers with great respect.

"So I thought," I replied composedly, "and have resolved to have nothing
to do with pistols of any kind. They are an unsatisfactory weapon, and a
man has got to be a good shot to put a ball just where he pleases at ten
paces."

"Ah, then you have concluded to try the sword? A more gentlemanly weapon
it would be hard to find. Let swords decide it, then."

I saw a glow of satisfaction upon the face of the lieutenant, and I knew
that his principal was an adept in the use of the sword as well as
though he had told me in so many words.

"I cannot make choice of the sword," I replied, "because my friend does
not understand its use, and therefore the advantage would be all on your
side."

"Then pray name what weapon you will fight with," Merriam said,
impatiently.

"This is the weapon we will use," I replied, producing, to the
astonishment of the officer, my three foot six inch barrel rifle, which,
during our absence the day before, Smith had cleaned and polished up
thoroughly.

"What is that?" he asked, astonished.

"This," I replied, "is an American rifle, and a very good one it is, I
assure you."

"But we cannot fight with only one, and unless another is produced
precisely like it, some other weapon will have to be resorted to," cried
the officer, with a slight expression of joy.

"I am aware of that," I replied coolly, and to his astonishment I
presented him with a fac-simile of the first.

"These rifles," I remarked, "were both made by the same person, and he
was instructed to manufacture them without a shade of difference in
regard to size or weight. The only method we have of telling them apart
is to consult the stocks, where our names are engraved. Examine them
attentively, and then select whichever you please. One is as good as the
other, and each carries well."

The Englishman stared at the rifles with a countenance blank with
dismay. They were weapons which he was entirely unacquainted with, and
he felt that the safety of his principal demanded a remonstrance against
their use.

"I object to the use of rifles," he said, at length, firmly and
decidedly. "My friend is entirely unacquainted with these kind of
weapons, and it would be madness on his part to go to the field with
such odds against him."

I listened calmly, and with my mind unchanged. I knew that Fred's safety
depended upon my selection, and inwardly vowed that if he had got to
fight, he should settle the difficulty with his own weapons.

"This quarrel," I remarked, "is not of our seeking. A few words were
spoken in jest by my friend, and as soon as spoken were forgotten; and
it is probable that even now we should not remember the man we insulted.
If my friend has got to fight, he shall be placed upon an equality with
his adversary."

"But I do not call this equality," echoed the lieutenant, gazing with
looks of dismay at the rifles.

"Neither do I feel disposed to risk my friend's life with swords, a
weapon which he knows nothing of," I replied.

"Then perhaps we had better settle the matter satisfactorily without
fighting," Mr. Merriam said.

"With all my heart," I cried, with alacrity. "I will meet you half way
in any scheme of pacification."

"Then let your friend say that he is sorry for using the words, and send
a note to that effect to my principal."

"We can't do that," I replied, after a moment's thought. "But I will
tell you what we will do. We will say that during all our travels we
never saw a man who could suck a sword hilt so gracefully as your
friend."

"Pshaw," cried the Englishman with a grim smile, "don't let us trifle
over the matter, it is too serious."

"I know that, and it's the very reason why I wish to settle the quarrel
without bloodshed," I answered.

"Then you decline to apologize?" inquired Merriam, after a short pause,
during which he helped himself to another cup of coffee.

"Only on the grounds which I have stated," I answered.

"And you still insist upon rifles being used?" continued he.

"A just regard which I have for my friend compels me to say that I
cannot conscientiously consent to use any other weapon. At the same time
I protest against being called to the field for a few words spoken in
jest."

The Englishman slowly sipped his coffee and remained deep in thought, as
though there was some matter on his mind in which he wished
enlightenment, yet feared to broach the subject. At length he showed his
hand, and I saw his move.

"The rifle is extensively used in America, I believe," Merriam said,
carelessly.

"In some sections of the country it is a favorite weapon," I replied.

"I have heard much of the rifle shooting in the United States, and have
often longed to witness a specimen of the skill of its marksmen. Has
your friend seen much service with that weapon?"

"He has lived in a city since he was twelve years of age," I replied,
evasively, "and in cities there is not much chance to practise."

"Then he is not a skilful marksman?" cried Merriam, eagerly.

"He is fair," I replied. "In Vermont he would be called only a
third-rate marksman."

"And pray, may I ask what you call a first class marksman?"

"A good rifle shot is a man who can hit a shilling piece five times out
of six, standing at a distance which requires a telescope to see the
money."

"And what is a third-class marksman?" asked the lieutenant, in dismay.

"He can hit the same only twice out of six times," I replied,
composedly.

"The devil!" I heard my visitor mutter, between his teeth; but he was
too much of an Englishman to retreat, and I fancied that he grew more
and more determined when he learned that the odds were against him.

"The only matter that now remains unsettled," the lieutenant said, "is
when the affair is to come off. What time do you think you shall be at
leisure?"

"At any hour that suits your convenience."

"Would to-morrow morning be too soon?" hinted the officer.

"That time is as well as at a later period."

"And the distance? We must not talk about feet, but how many rods our
friends are to be placed apart?" Merriam said.

"I have given the subject a moment's consideration," I replied, "and
think that ten rods will be better for your friend than double that
distance."

"I shall certainly venture to disagree with you on that point," replied
the lieutenant. "I think that twenty rods is full near enough."

"Why, they will hardly be able to distinguish each other so far apart,"
I said; "but you shall have it as you wish."

"Thank you. Then nothing farther remains but to point out a very
beautiful spot where the business can be settled in the most amicable
manner. If you will step to the door I think I can show you the field,
with not a tree or hill that can line either party on ground. Ah, yes,
there it is, away to the right after passing the end of the road, and
beyond the white fence. Do you see it?"

I nodded in the affirmative.

"Well, say five in the morning to be on the ground. Does that suit your
convenience?"

"Perfectly."

"Then good-by. By the way, may I ask you to bring the rifles to the
ground? I am sorry to trouble you, but in the case you know--"

"I understand. Be under no concern; I will see that the guns are in good
condition, and ready for your loading."

"Thank you. Another request I have to make. May I ask that you will not
bring a surgeon on the ground, but trust to the regimental one whom we
shall have present. You are strangers, and by expressing a desire for a
doctor, might communicate an alarm to the police, which would have a
tendency to postpone the meeting."

"I thank you for the suggestion, sir," I answered, "and will do as you
request; although I frankly tell you, that I hope there will be no
occasion for a surgeon to exercise his duties."

"The affair has gone too far to be stopped without blood-letting, I
think," replied Merriam, shaking his head, "although with some men I
should not yet give up all hope of a pacification."

He shook me warmly by the hand as he took his departure, and I was left
alone to meditate on the disagreeable duty which I had assumed for my
best friend. I little thought, at the time I was so calmly making the
arrangements for the duel, that his adversary, Lieutenant Wattles, had
already killed two men, in spite of his youth, and that a more
determined duellist did not exist on the island.

I had just mixed a strong glass of punch, and was about to raise it to
my lips, for the purpose of looking cheerful when Fred returned, when I
heard his voice.

"Ah, that is stealing a march on us, old boy," he shouted, pleasantly.
"Here have we been parading the dusty streets of Melbourne, and my eyes,
ears, and mouth are filled with dirt and cobble stones. However, we saw
nothing of the city, for such clouds of dust filled the air that we had
to hire a boy with a lantern to lead us home. Hand me the bottle, for
I'm famished for want of a drink."

While he was filling his glass, he ran on, talking about half a dozen
subjects, and it was not until Smith asked the result of the interview,
that he would be quiet enough to listen to my communication.

"I have arranged every thing," I said. "We are to use the rifles, and
meet to-morrow morning early."

"And did you make no attempts at a reconciliation?" demanded Smith,
reproachfully.

"Don't answer that question, Jack," Fred said, seriously. "I placed my
life and honor in your hands, and I am satisfied that you dealt with me
as though I were a brother."

I grasped his extended hand, and for a few moments we sat thus, without
exchanging a word, both buried in thought and conjuring up reminiscences
of the past, when a few months before we had left Boston to search for
gold in California, and then, actuated by a spirit of adventure, had
emigrated to Australia, still cherishing the hope of returning home with
riches and with honor.

"I shall write a few letters to-day, Jack," Fred said, at length. "One
of them will be addressed to you, and if any thing should happen you
will find full directions how to dispose of the few things which I own."

"Let me meet the man," blubbered Smith. "I'm of no account, and if
killed, shan't be missed, while both of you have something to live for."

"It cannot be," replied Fred. "I insulted the gentleman, and to me alone
does he look for redress. God knows I do not desire the man's blood, and
still hope that I shall not be forced to spill it."

"At least promise that I may accompany you to the field?" Smith said.

His request was readily complied with; but all day long Smith's face
seemed as though he had lost his only friends.

The day wore away slowly. We dined with Murden, and chatted gayly about
old times, and congratulated him on an addition which had been made to
his pay, owing to the capture of bushrangers which had been effected by
his command. We hardly touched our lips to the wine which he freely
circulated; and at an early hour took our leave, much to his surprise,
and without his suspecting the business which was to occupy our
attention in the morning.

We went to bed early, leaving Smith to wake us at a suitable hour in the
morning, which he promised to do, as he declared he felt too nervous to
sleep. Sure enough, daylight was just stealing along the eastern horizon
when we were called and found a steaming pot of hot coffee upon the
table, which the careful stockman had prepared for us previous to our
leaving for the field.

We drank our coffee in solemn silence, and then started for the
rendezvous, Smith carrying the rifles and ammunition, and uttering
comments at every step at the folly of our proceedings. Just as we
locked the door, the old cracked bell upon the church, near the villa
of our friend, struck the hour of four. Finding that we had plenty of
time, we walked along quite leisurely, meeting only a few people, and
those longshoremen, who were hurrying to their work on the quays, and
fearful of being late.

No one paid any attention to us, for the carrying of arms in Melbourne
was common in those days; and so without remark we gained the crossing,
and then continuing on for a short distance, entered an open space, far
enough from the road to escape observation, and there awaited our
adversaries.

We did not have to wait long. A carriage containing three persons
stopped within gunshot of where we stood, and presently we saw Merriam
and his friend, and a short, fat gentleman in an undress uniform,
carrying a small box under his arm, advance towards us.

Lieutenants Wattles and Merriam were smoking, and appeared perfectly
cool and unconcerned regarding the result. We heard the old gentleman,
whom we presumed to be the surgeon, remonstrating at something that did
not appear to please him, and from what we could overhear, we found that
he disapproved of the use of cigars at so early an hour in the morning.

"Ah, the divil, smile, will ye, at what I say, but it's poor Harris, of
the thirty-sixth, who had cause to regret it. A finer officer the queen
never had; and yet he would disarrange his nerves by the use of tobacco
at an early hour in the morning, and what was the consequence? Killed at
ten paces by a fellow who hardly ever saw a pistol before. Its truth I'm
spaking, and ye well know it."

The doctor's companions did not pay much attention to his remarks, for
they continued to smoke perfectly unconcerned, and while they were
advancing slowly towards us we could hear the Irish surgeon lecturing
them for their want of generalship.

"It's a pretty mess ye're in now, and the devil thank ye. The young
fellows are on the ground afore us, and that don't look like fear, and
by the same token, they have got their murderous-looking instruments
with them. Bad luck to it, couldn't ye manage somewhat differently than
to want to fight two Americans, who were born wid rifles in their
hands."

Wattles made a reply, but it was too low and indistinct for us to hear,
and the next moment the party were within speaking distance.

The principals raised their caps and then walked one side, while Merriam
and myself shook hands, and then I was introduced to the surgeon, Doctor
Michael O'Haraty, a genuine specimen of an Irish gentleman.

"We arranged the distance yesterday, and there is nothing to be settled
but who shall give the word," Merriam said.

"Don't let that bother your brains, for I'll do that without, the
asking. Ah, it's many a signal I've given, and sometimes they've bin
fatal ones, too," the doctor said.

I agreed to that, and then calling Smith, I desired Merriam to make
choice of the rifle which he liked best. He was some time selecting, but
at length hit upon mine, thus leaving Fred at liberty to use his own
weapon.

"I use the same size balls that you do," I said, selecting one from some
half a dozen that Smith held in his hand.

I carefully loaded Fred's rifle, and offered to assist Merriam, but he
declined; and even when I told him that he had got a third more powder
than was necessary, he did not heed my advice, and perhaps I was glad
that he did not.

"Now, thin," cried the doctor, "do you take hold of this tape line, my
man, and we'll measure off twenty rods in a jiffey."

Smith, who was appealed to, did as he was directed, and in a short time
we had our men stationed and waiting for a signal which I longed for,
yet dreaded.

Fred looked a shade paler, but he was as firm as a rock; and when I
shook hands with him and handed him his rifle, I could not discover the
least tremor of nerves, or any unusual agitation.

"If I should fall," Fred said, once more shaking me by the hand, "you
will find in the letter which is directed to you, full instructions how
to dispose of my effects. God bless you, Jack; I never loved you half as
well as I do now."

I brushed away a tear, and with a voice choked by emotion asked if there
was any thing which he wished to say before the word was given.

"I did think," he replied, examining his adversary's bearing, "that I
would fire over his head; but I see that he is bent on mischief, and is
determined to kill me, if possible. Under the circumstances I think that
I shall do no great wrong if I touch him slightly."

"Do as you please," I replied, stepping back, and joining the doctor,
who held a white handkerchief in one hand and his snuffbox in the other.

"Let me speak to Mr. Fred before you give the signal?" asked Smith.

"Not a word, my man," returned the doctor, regaling his nose with a
pinch of snuff, and scanning the bearing of the men with evident
delight.

"It's beautiful they look," murmured the doctor, in a low tone, and then
elevating his voice, he continued, "the signal will be 'one, two,
three,' and then, the dropping of this handkerchief. Mind, gentlemen,
and reserve your fire until you see the handkerchief lave my hand. Now,
thin, are ye ready?"

Wattles and Fred braced themselves as though expecting a shock, drew
their caps a little more over their eyes, and signified that they were.

"One!" cried the doctor, in a loud voice.

The duellists brought their rifles to their shoulders, fully cocked.

"Two!" exclaimed the doctor.

The rifles were levelled, and eager eyes glanced along the tubes.

"Three!"

For a second after the word was spoken the doctor held the white
handkerchief aloft; but as it slowly fell towards the ground, there was
but one report, so closely did they fire together.

I had not taken my eyes from Fred, and to my joy I saw that he did not
move. I glanced towards Wattles. He had dropped his rifle and was
rubbing his right arm, which hung down powerless by his side.

"By the mass," cried the doctor, grabbing his box of instruments and
running towards his brother officer, "the Americans have got the best of
this fight, as I knew they would with their d----d rifles. But, by Saint
Patrick, it was illegantly done, and that I'll stick to as long as I
live."




CHAPTER XXI.

PREPARATIONS FOR THE SEARCH FOR GULPIN'S BURIED TREASURES.


I started to congratulate Fred, but, quick as were my movements, I found
that Smith had taken the lead, and was shaking hands with him at a
tremendous rate.

"Are you injured?" I asked, running my eye over his form to see if I
could discover any signs of blood.

"No, thank Heaven, I have escaped; although my adversary's bullet
whizzed close over my head," replied Fred.

"I knew that he was overcharging the rifle when loading it," I cried,
delighted to think that Merriam had done so.

"It was the means, perhaps, of saving my life, for the fellow aimed with
good intentions, and I saw by the expression of his face that he was
bound to hit me if possible."

"Well, since you are safe, I'll run and see how your adversary is
doing," I said, glancing towards the doctor, who, with coat off, was
kneeling on the ground, and wiping away blood with a cloth which he had
taken from his mysterious box.

"Do so," replied Fred, "and if I can be of any assistance, let me know;
I have no enmity against the man, and should really like to shake hands
with him before parting."

I ran to the spot where Wattles was lying on the ground, and found him
looking very pale and weak. Merriam and the doctor had ripped off the
sleeve of his coat, and torn off the arm of his shirt; and while one was
making bandages, the other was cleaning a ragged looking wound, just
above the elbow of the right arm.

"If I can be of any service, doctor, I will assist you," I said, in a
half-hesitating way, for I feared that they might consider it an
intrusion.

"Sarvice, my dear boy?" echoed the doctor, stopping to look up for a
moment from his work. "Of course ye can be of sarvice. Stoop down here
and lind me a helpin' hand by straightening out the arm a bit, so that I
can see if the bones are smashed, or only one broken."

I readily complied with the request, and the doctor continued,--"There's
no raison in the world for ye to be inemies now. Your friend has had a
pop at the lieutenant here, and, I'm sorry to say, he's got the worse of
it, although it's about time, for Wattles has been mighty lucky in these
things, and was hardly ever hit afore."

Here the wounded man opened his eyes, and uttered a suppressed groan;
whether at the recollection of his numerous duels, or because the doctor
wrenched his arm, is more than I can tell.

"Ah, man, don't groan, for it's only a broken arm ye have; but I'll tell
ye privately that it's yer life it would have been, had the American
been disposed to take it, for a divil a fear but he put the bullet jist
where he intended. I saw, the instant he raised the rifle, that it was
only a flesh wound he wished, and that he didn't know whether to pop ye
on the right or left arm. Here, swallow that, and see if it don't put
the life into ye, and make ye open yer eyes and sing psalms."

The doctor emptied a teaspoonful of cordial into the wounded man's
mouth, and its strength must have been very beneficial, for he opened
his eyes, a healthy color came to his face, and he spoke without any
painful effort.

"Ah, a divil a fear is there of ye now, and if I can save the arm, ye'll
be at it again in less than six months," muttered the doctor, as he
applied a balm to the wound, and then covered it with lint.

"There is no fear of that, is there, doctor?" asked Wattles, who was a
youngster not more than twenty-two years of age.

"I'll do all that I can; but rifle bullets are different intirely than
pistol balls. It's many's the good wound I've cured made by the latter,
and well ye knows it, Wattles; but who'd have suspected ye of fighting
with murdering rifles?"

The young officer made no reply, and the doctor, tearing a piece of
linen cloth into strips about two inches wide, continued working and
talking at the same time.

The bandages were all tied on, and Smith had been sent after the driver
of the carriage to tell him to bring his vehicle as near as possible, so
that the wounded man could enter without exerting himself to walk. While
we were waiting, Wattles looked at me, and a grim smile crossed his
face, as he said,--

"Your friend is in luck to-day, sir."

"If you think that he considers it luck because you are wounded, you are
mistaken," I replied.

"He had the advantage in the use of a weapon with which he is
accustomed, and therefore I did not expect a favorable result. Had we
used pistols, he would now be occupying my place."

"Ah, have done with your boasting, lieutenant, and think no more of the
quarrel. Ye challenged the gentleman, and he accepted and chose his
weapons; and it's mighty lucky ye may think yourself to get off with
life, for he could have killed ye as easily as a kangaroo. It's myself
that knows he could have done it," said the surgeon, warmly.

"Is that so?" asked Wattles, turning to me for confirmation.

"He could have killed you, had he been so disposed, even at twice the
distance," I replied.

The lieutenant looked sober and thoughtful for a moment, when, thinking
to make an impression, and get him to drop the quarrel forever, I
continued,--

"My friend did contemplate firing over your head, and would have done so
had not your looks convinced him that you intended mischief."

"By the Lord, I aimed for a vital part, but am glad that I missed my
object. Ask your friend to shake hands with me. From all accounts I'm
convinced that he is a gentleman to cherish and know."

"Ah, Wattles, divil fear ye but yer heart is in the right place, afther
all," cried the doctor, delighted at the proposed reconciliation.

I told Fred the request of his adversary, and without a moment's
hesitation he joined the group, and extended his hand to the wounded
man.

"You have got the best of me, sir," Wattles said, faintly, his pain
beginning to grow excessive.

"I trust that it is a mere gun-shot wound, and that you will soon be
well," replied Fred.

"I don't know--I don't know," moaned the lieutenant. "It seems as though
the doctor would kill me with his cursed probing and punching. Half of
it is unnecessary, I believe."

"Do you hear that?" cried O'Haraty, appealing to us, in astonishment.
"It's like an infant I've treated him, and now ye see how he abuses me."

"Excuse me, doctor," replied the lieutenant, faintly, "but I hardly know
what I am saying, I feel so weak. Get me into the carriage as quick as
possible, and take me to the barracks where I can be quiet."

"We'll do that, Wattles; but it's a great pity that you don't know who
your friends are. Come along with yer carriage, ye blackguard, and don't
stop there looking behind ye, as though ye were a light-house."

The latter portion of the doctor's remarks was addressed to the driver
of the vehicle, who, instead of paying any attention to the words of
O'Haraty, was gazing, with an anxious glance, towards the city.

"What is the spalpeen looking at?" demanded the doctor, angrily. "Come
here with the horses, and waste no more time."

"I see a cloud, as though a party of horse was galloping this way, and
kicking up a dust. I'm suspicious that it's the police, and divil a bit
do I want to be put into limbo for being concerned in the duel," cried
the driver, making preparations to turn his horses.

"Are ye certain that it's the police?" demanded O'Haraty, eagerly.

"Yes, I'm certain; for now I can see over the bushes, and distinguish
their blue coats. Every one for himself, and the devil take the
hindmost. I'm off, sure."

The fellow turned his animals' heads, and started towards the opening,
but a loud threat from O'Haraty caused him to stop for a moment--and
only for a moment.

"Curse ye for a cowardly villain!" yellen the doctor. "If yer don't stop
this instant, I'll drive a piece of cold lead through yer thick skull."

He drew from his breast pocket a rifle pistol as he spoke, and aimed it
at the runaway.

The driver looked over his shoulder, and seemed half inclined to obey,
but the sound of approaching horses stirred him into life. He struck his
animals a smart blow with his whip, and they sprang forward; but as they
did so, the doctor raised his pistol, sighted hastily, and fired.

The fellow's hat fell to the ground, and with a yell of triumph at his
lucky escape, the driver continued on, and in a few minutes would have
been beyond reach; but just at that instant my noble dog--the hound
which I had left under lock and key at Smith's house--bounded towards me
and covered my face with his kisses.

A lucky thought occurred to me; I glanced at Wattles, and saw that he
had fainted from exhaustion and pain, and that it was certain death for
him to be exposed to the hot rays of the sun for any length of time, so
I determined to save him at any hazard.

"Here, Rover," I said, calling to the dog, and pointing to the
retreating carriage, "seize him, good dog--seize him," I shouted.

The animal did not hesitate for an instant. With a mighty bound he
cleared over twenty feet of the distance which separated him from the
object which I had called his attention to, and almost before I could
think, he seized the near horse by the throat, and brought him heavily
to the ground. The driver rose from his seat and plied his whip with
desperate energy, in hopes of beating the dog off, but such was the
agility of Rover that not a blow reached him, and while his attention
was thus occupied, O'Haraty stole forward, grasped the man by the leg,
dragged him to the ground, and commenced to beat him unmercifully,
mingling his blows with such exclamations as--

"Lave us, would ye?" May the divil saze ye, ye mane thief of the world.
Whin I hired ye to tend us and behave like a dacent man, ye up and cuts,
jist because me friend gets a scratch on his arm."

"The police are coming," roared the fellow, rendered desperate by his
beating.

"Let them come, if they will, but ye shan't go," cried the doctor,
sitting astride of his fallen foe and glancing at Fred and I in triumph,
while the perspiration streamed down his face in torrents.

"I saw the police trotting down the road," yelled the fallen man.

"Who calls the police?" cried a deep-toned voice near at hand.

I knew the speaker well, although I confess that it started me to hear
him so unexpectedly, and looking up I saw that Murden sat on his horse,
a few paces off, calmly surveying the strange group before him. At a
short distance were six of his men, also mounted and drawn up in line
awaiting their chief's solution of the difficulty.

"I think that my presence is needed here if you intend to murder that
fellow, doctor," Murden said, good naturedly, addressing O'Haraty, who
kept his position, looking somewhat foolish at being caught.

"The mane scamp," began the doctor, when Murden checked him.

"What, is the cause of the gathering, and why do I find an officer of
her majesty, lying on the ground wounded and insensible?"

"Why, the fact of it is, Mr. Officer," Merriam began, but apparently
afraid of the consequences, he stopped and looked hard towards the
doctor, as though asking him to take up the answer and carry it through
in the best manner possible.

"O, the divils," roared the doctor, rising from his seat, much to the
relief of the driver, who apparently thanked God that he was rid of such
an incumbrance.

"O, the spalpeens," continued O'Haraty, shaking his fist at an imaginary
enemy a long distance off. "O, if there is law to be had in the land
we'll pursue ye wid not only the police force, but the whole army, and
then we'll see if ye are so bold."

"What is the matter, doctor?" asked Murden, who I thought suspected what
had taken place, and was disposed to overlook it, yet not a word of
recognition had he bestowed upon Fred and myself, so we kept in the
background.

"Matter?" yelled the doctor, apparently desperately angry; "why, here's
me friends and myself out for a bit of a walk and to kill a kangaroo or
two, when a party of sneaking bushrangers ups and fires at us, and down
tumbles Wattles, shot in the arm quite nately. It's chase we gave to the
villains, but run they did, and when we came back we found that this
scamp was disposed to escape to Melbourne and lave us to foot it back to
the city."

"Indeed! Pray which way did they go?" asked Murden, not moving a muscle
of his face.

"Over the hill, there. Ride quick, and I think it's prisoners they'll be
in no time," cried the doctor.

"Did you count how many there were?" asked the police officer.

"Count them? How the divil could we, there were so many?" replied
O'Haraty.

"O, then if the bushrangers were in such force, it's surprising they
should run from only six men. I thought better of their courage," and a
sarcastic smile stole over Murden's face as he watched the doctor's
companion.

"Well, well," stammered O'Haraty, "if ye had heard us shout, ye would
have thought we could have frightened the divil himself."

"Well, whether Wattles was wounded by a bushranger or a companion, it
will do him no good to remain here in the hot sun. Place him carefully
into the carriage and drive to the barracks. I'll follow shortly, and
continue my investigation of this mysterious affair."

Murden spoke like one accustomed to be obeyed. The driver of the
carriage, who hardly moved two steps without keeping his eyes on the
dog--the animal appearing to have some strong antipathy against
him--readily lent his aid, and with Smith's assistance the wounded
lieutenant was propped up on a seat, and the doctor stowed his corpulent
person alongside of him.

"Why did you not tell me of this yesterday?" asked Murden, beckoning to
me, and whispering in a low tone.

"Because we were fearful that you would interrupt the proceedings," I
replied.

"I certainly should have done so. Are you aware that Wattles is a most
experienced and successful duellist? That he has been out half a dozen
times, and always came off without so much as a scratch?"

"No, I was not aware that such is the case," I answered.

"He is all that I tell you, and if I had suspected that a duel was to
come off between Fred and the soldier, I should have had both of them
arrested and locked up, and kept them until they were ready to swear
that they would not lift their hands against each other."

"And then Fred and myself would have been imputed as informers, and a
stain would have rested on our reputations, and we should no longer have
been considered fit company for gentlemen." "That does not necessarily
follow," answered Murden. "No one who knows you both can call you aught
but brave men."

"But did we not dine with you after we had received the challenge? We
made no secret of our going--hundreds saw us enter your house, and
hundreds saw us depart. Had we but lisped a word of our intended doings,
it would have been said that we visited you on purpose. Come, look at
the matter in a sensible light, and you will take a different view of
the affair."

Murden shook his head as if he considered it not only a breach of the
law but a breach of friendship to fight a duel without his knowledge;
and he intended to reply, but the doctor poked his jolly looking face
from the window of the carriage, and bade us good-by, and requested the
pleasure of our company to dinner on the next day.

"And do you come too, Murden. I've a few bottles of the rale Irish
whiskey, and better cannot be found in the world, and if ye come I'll
brew a jug of punch that'll make ye think ye are in paradise after
drinking a few tumblers. Good-by, boys, and, Murden, keep a sharp look
out for the bushrangers."

The driver started his horses, and for a few minutes after the carriage
had left the field we could hear the mellow voice of the doctor laughing
at the idea of his quizzing the police lieutenant with his story about
bushrangers.

"Come and breakfast with us," I said, turning to Murden. "We cannot
celebrate the escape of our friend Fred in a more appropriate manner."

"Agreed," he cried; and then turning to his men, he said, "return to the
station and report that Lieutenant Wattles was severely injured this
morning by the accidental discharge of his rifle while hunting
kangaroos. If I am wanted you know where to find me."

"Pray, how came you on the road so early?" I asked Murden.

"Because I got wind that there was trouble between you and Wattles. One
of my men overheard Fred's remark, the other night, and then he saw
Merriam leaving your house, and putting all and all together--the fact
that your party were early on the road, and Wattles being seen in a
carriage--he considered it of sufficient importance to report to me,
which he did an hour too late this morning, while I was dreaming of
bushrangers and prize money."

"But how did you find us, and how came the dog loose?" I inquired.

"That is a secret, but I don't mind telling you. I rode to your house
and tried the door. It was locked, but I heard the hound making an awful
howling within; so I just fitted a key to the lock, and opened the door,
and was nearly knocked down by the dog, who thought his master had
returned. However, Rover, after his disappointment, received me with a
wag of his tail, and then, after snuffing around for a moment, started
in a trot towards the field we have just left. We followed close to his
tail, and then the trot became a gallop--the gallop a run, and to save
our distance we drew our reins, and jogged along, keeping a good lookout
on both sides of the road; but I believe that we should have missed you
had not the report of your pistol given us token of your whereabouts."

Chatting thus in an old familiar manner, we reached "Smith's villa," as
we called it, and prepared for breakfast, a meal we were ready to enjoy,
as our early rising had sharpened our appetites.

"By the way," cried Murden, suddenly, "your portion of the money due for
the capture and death of the bushrangers will be paid whenever you are
disposed to call for it."

"How much does it amount to?" I asked.

"Why, for you three, I think near two thousand pounds. That of course
includes Black Darnley and his gang."

"Most ten thousand dollars!" cried Fred, surprised at the large amount.

"I wish, with all my heart, it was twice the sum. Join me, and in less
than two months we will have a bill against the treasurer which will
cause him to look wild."

"We can't spend our time hunting men," replied Fred, "when there is so
much gold in the earth that we have only to dig to obtain it. As to the
rewards which are offered for captured bushrangers, I must own that I
feel none too willing to accept that which is due to me, without
striving to earn more. It looks to me as though we were only butchers
and dealers in human blood."

"If we were the only ones who ever accepted of rewards for murderers and
thieves, I might be induced to respect your conscientious scruples,"
replied Murden, with a laugh. "But as it has been the custom from time
immemorial for rewards to be offered for shedders of human blood, and
many men whose respectability cannot be questioned have received rewards
for services so rendered, I think that I shall pocket my share, and
consider all three of you very weak and spleeny not to do the same."

Murden swallowed his coffee with a dogmatical air, as though his
arguments were unanswerable, and shortly took his leave, after making us
promise to breakfast with him the next day, and go and draw the money
which was awaiting our orders.

We studied over the subject for some time after Murden had gone, and
hardly knew how to proceed. Smith was consulted, and was willing to
abide by our decision, at the same time he did not scruple to inform us
that his last trip, owing to the treatment his cargo had received from
the bushrangers, was a most disastrous one; but still he had a few
thousand pounds which he could place his hand upon, and should commence
purchasing another load immediately, as every day lost was money out of
pocket. We then considered it a fitting time to speak to the stockman
about the business we were desirous of entering upon. We told him of the
confession of Jim Gulpin, and the determination to which we had come to
search for the buried treasure.

He listened attentively, and then pledged his word to aid us with all of
his ability. He would make no bargain concerning his team and labor, but
agreed to let his promised reward depend upon the success with which we
met. If nothing was found, we would continue on our way to the mines,
and were welcome to his labor and time. If we succeeded we might give
him what we pleased.

We closed with him immediately, and contributed money to buy provisions
and luxuries which we never dreamed of buying on our first passage.
Smith was also directed to purchase a tent for our use, shovels and
pickaxes, and three or four boxes of claret--a perfect luxury in a warm
climate--and a number of articles which we desired for a residence in
the mines.

We also wanted three good saddle horses, but found that our funds would
be greatly reduced by the purchase, and after a short debate we
determined in council that necessity compelled us to accept of the money
paid for the capture of the bushrangers, and after that question was
decided we felt that a great load was removed from our minds, and that
we began to look upon it as a mere matter of business.




CHAPTER XXII.

DEPARTURE FROM MELBOURNE.--FIGHT WITH THE NATIVES.


During the following week we were busy, visiting; dining with one, and
supping with another, yet we were obliged to decline many pressing
invitations, and offered as an excuse, our speedy departure for the
mines.

Through the kindness of Murden, we were enabled to purchase three
excellent horses, saddles, &c., which belonged to the police department.

The animals were just what we wanted, for they were quick in their
actions, and had been taught to stand motionless while firing guns or
pistols from their backs. We were enabled to buy them, owing to a
surplus of horses which the department owned, and had no use for.

Our hardest task was when, on the evening of the seventh day after Fred
had met the officer in mortal combat, Smith yoked his oxen, attached
them to a moderately filled cart, and declared he was ready for a start.

Murden, Wattles, Merriam, Doctor O'Haraty, and a dozen others, whose
acquaintance we had cultivated during our brief residence in Melbourne,
were assembled at "Smith's villa," and came to say farewell.

"You heard the word, gentlemen," said Fred; "our leader says that he is
ready, and we must not detain him. We wish to place twenty-five miles
between us and Melbourne before morning, and to do so requires an early
start. The next time we meet, I hope that our days will not be limited.
In the mean time, if any one present should visit Ballarat, don't fail
to make our tent his home."

"Ballarat be blessed!" growled O'Haraty; "the idea of two dacent,
sinsible people digging for gold, when there's so much can be had
without work."

"I have only my left hand to offer you," said Wattles, presenting it to
Fred, "but my grasp is as friendly and sincere as though both were
free."

"Your arm is improving?" inquired Fred, who had not seen his adversary
before, since the morning of the meeting.

"Thanks to the doctor, and your kindness in not aiming at a more
vulnerable part, I shall soon be well. Do we separate as friends?"

"I say yes, with all my heart," cried Fred, eagerly.

Some one locked the door of "Smith's villa," and handed him the key, and
then once more bidding good-by, the oxen were started, and in company
with Murden, we soon reached the outskirts of the city.

It was past dusk when our friend, the police lieutenant, drew rein, and
decided to return to the city. We allowed Smith to continue on, while we
stopped and chatted for a few moments.

Murden appeared sad at parting, and more than once he declared that he
wished he was to accompany us, for now that we were to leave him, he
should have no one who would enter into his adventures with the same
degree of interest which we had shown.

"There is one question which we wish to ask, Murden," I said, a few
minutes before he left us.

"Name it," he replied.

"How many of the bushrangers whom we captured have been condemned to
death?"

"Why do you ask?" he inquired.

"Because you know that we have not been able to obtain any information
on the subject. A select few were admitted to see them; but they had no
formal trial, that I am aware of."

"You are right, they had no formal trial, and they did not deserve one.
The examination was secret, and even now not more than fifty people in
Melbourne know that the bushrangers are dangling by their necks in the
prison yard.

"All?" I cried, surprised at the secrecy which had been maintained.

"Not a man is now alive. They rightly merited their fate, for their
careers were stained with cruel crimes; and may God forgive them, for
man would not."

Murden wrung our hands, and the next instant he was galloping swiftly
towards Melbourne.

We resumed our journey, feeling somewhat saddened by the intelligence
which we had received; yet we felt that we had only done our duty in
assisting in the arrest of the robbers, and with this conviction, we
tried to banish the thoughts of their death.

We soon overtook Smith, who was mounted like ourselves, and through the
night we jogged along by his side, relieving the loneliness of the
journey with stories and reminiscences of our other expeditions.

It was just about daylight, on the morning of the fifth day from
Melbourne, and we were pressing the oxen to their utmost to reach a
camping ground before sunrise, when Rover, who had been jogging far in
advance of us, stopped suddenly before a thick clump of bushes, which
extended some ways along the roadside, and with an angry howl, remained
regarding some object which was concealed from our sight.

I called the animal, but he refused to move, and I began to suspect that
some kind of beast was concealed among the brush, and that he was too
formidable for the dog to attack alone. With this view, Fred and myself
unslung our rifles and examined the caps, and rode slowly forward. We
were not more than ten rods from the hound when we saw a spear whiz past
him, and enter the bushes on the other side of the road. We then knew
what was concealed; but whether the purpose was hostile or friendly, we
did not have an opportunity to ask, for we had barely time to call the
dog from such a dangerous locality, when another spear passed near our
heads.

"Turn back!" shouted Smith, who was jogging on with the cattle, a few
rods distant, and saw the whole transaction. "Turn back," he continued,
"or you are dead men."

We wheeled our horses and galloped from a place where nothing but spear
heads were to be seen, for we did not like the idea of fighting people
who ran no risk.

When we joined Smith, we found that he had turned his oxen, and was
driving them at full speed towards an open plain half a mile distant.

"Are you going back to Melbourne?" asked Fred.

"I am going to gain yonder plain as fast as possible," the stockman
cried, casting an uneasy glance over his shoulder, as though fearful of
pursuit.

"For what reason?" we asked.

"Because I've no idea of risking my life by running an ambush, where, no
doubt, twenty or thirty natives are stationed, determined to kill the
first one who passes."

"I thought they were harmless," I replied.

"So they are, when they choose to be; but it's very probable that miners
have been committing outrages upon their women, and now they are
determined to revenge their injuries upon us. Keep your eyes upon the
bushes, and don't mind me if you see signs of their following. Escape to
the open plain, and trust to me to join you. Once there, we can hold
fifty of them at bay."

"Do you think we are so cowardly as to desert a comrade?" demanded Fred.
"Let them attack us if they will, but we will stick to you and the team
as long as life remains."

"I expected the answer," cried Smith, applying his long whip to the
sides of the reeking cattle, and starting them into a run. "But if you
will not save yourselves, at least take care of the oxen and let me
cover the retreat."

"Do you think they will dare to follow us?" I asked.

"Here is your answer," cried the stockman; and as he spoke a slim poled
spear whistled within an inch of my head, and passed out of sight, far
to the other side of the road.

"And here goes my reply," exclaimed Fred, who held his rifle in his hand
ready for use.

He raised it, and hardly took time to sight a naked, black body, which
was visible for a moment before he fired.

A yell of bodily pain followed the explosion, and for a moment we could
hear a great commotion among the bushes, and then all was still.

"Help me to urge the cattle forward," shouted Smith. "Now is our time to
escape, while the devils are with the wounded imp."

We were about to comply, when a club, about three feet long, flew over
our heads, touched the ground in advance of the cattle, bounded from the
earth, and came towards us with undiminished velocity.

"Look out for their boomerangs," shouted Smith, and we dodged our heads
in time to save them from a blow that would have unhorsed us.

That was the first time we made the acquaintance of the most skilful
weapon in use by the natives. They throw the boomerang with unerring
precision, and had we not heard of the manner of its working, and been
apprised of the necessity of avoiding its flight, by the warning voice
of Smith, one of us would have made a meal for an Australian native that
morning.

The boomerang is a piece of hard wood about three feet long, slightly
curved in the form of a bow; and when a native wishes to strike an
object, he does not throw his weapon directly at it, but from it, and by
some unexplained principle of retrogradation, the boomerang touches the
ground, and then flies with great force directly at whatever it is
aimed. I have seen the natives exhibit their proficiency a hundred
different times--and the more I saw of the game, the more I became
bewildered at the science displayed.

We did not stop to fight an unseen enemy, but continued our headlong
course, and at length had the pleasure of reaching an open space where
we could wait the approach of those disposed to attack us, although
whether they would venture to make a demonstration on the plain was
uncertain.

Smith, however, was determined to be prepared for the worst. He unyoked
his cattle, but instead of turning them loose, when they soon would have
fallen a prey to the rapacious appetites of the natives, he grouped them
around the cart, and chained them, to prevent their flight in case of an
attack. By this method they served as a shield to us, and did not
interfere with our rifle practice.

We had no sooner got our arrangements completed, than a dozen or twenty
of the filthy-looking wretches--naked, with the exception of a mat
around their hips--appeared at the edge of the bushes, and seemed to
survey our disposition of the order of battle. Two or three of them,
self-elected leaders, apparently wished for an immediate assault; but we
could see that the proposition met with no approval from the mass, and
the motions were made towards the men, as though to wait until night
time.

"We shall have a sleepless night, and must be prepared for the black
devils' mischief," Smith said, surveying the force and comprehending
their meaning.

"Do they often attack teams?" we asked of Smith, who, now that his
cattle were safe, had regained all of his cuteness and colloquial
powers.

"During all my freighting to the mines, this is only the second time the
scamps have manifested hostility. Once I got clear by giving them an ox,
and thought I got off quite cheap at that. But this time they appear to
be serious; and if we get clear with a whole skin, may think ourselves
lucky. Some team ahead of us must have trespassed on their rights in an
outrageous manner to render them as rebellious as they are."

"I have a great mind to try the range of my rifle," Fred said. "I think
that I can send a ball into their midst, and make them scatter to the
bushes, instead of standing there and quarrelling among themselves."

Smith measured the distance with his eye and shook his head.

"It's over a half mile," he said, "and I never yet saw the shooting iron
that could do damage at such a distance."

"Then look at one for the first time;" and as Fred spoke, he sighted a
native, who appeared desirous of making an immediate attack, for he was
gesticulating in the most absurd manner, and shaking his long spear at
us as though trying to get at close quarters, where he could do instant
execution.

The act of Fred was observed, and a yell of defiance greeted his hostile
attitude. Before it had died away, the sharp report of the rifle drowned
their shrill screams, and then the conspicuous native, who had
flourished his spear so threateningly, threw up his arms, and with a
most unearthly yell, fell to the ground.

In an instant not a native, with the exception of the wounded one, was
to be seen, and a stranger would hardly have supposed that the clump of
bushes near us contained a couple of dozen human beings, who were
watching every motion which we made, and speculating as to the best mode
of putting us to death, and sharing the goods and provisions loaded upon
the cart.

"An American rifle forever," shouted Smith, who suspended his work of
getting out a water keg, containing eighteen or twenty gallons, which he
had taken the precaution to fill with water and place upon the cart, so
that his animals and companions need not suffer with thirst during the
long stretch across the prairies.

"A few more such shots as that and the black devils will retire in
disgust, and we shall have the road free," Smith continued, with an
admiring look at his American friend.

"There is no use in wasting our powder by firing at random, and until
the natives show themselves I shall rest, so as to be able to keep my
eyes open to-night."

Under the shadow of the cart Fred spread his blanket, and after
assisting Smith to water the cattle, and taking a good drink myself, I
joined him, and left Rover and the stockman to keep guard.

We slept until dark, and, upon awakening, found that Smith had joined
us, and left the whole responsibility of giving warning, if the natives
approached, to the dog. The latter, however, was worth a dozen men for
such a purpose, and we commended Smith for his sagacity in securing rest
before the time arrived when we knew that demonstration would be made
against our encampment.

We gathered some dried grass and made a fire, sufficient to boil a
teakettle, and then deliberately prepared a dish of coffee, not knowing
but that it would be our last. After we had concluded our supper we
examined our rifles and revolvers, found them in good order, and then
carefully reviewing the animals so that it was impossible for them to
get loose without cutting their fastenings, we took up our positions at
an equal distance apart, and in a circle outside of the cattle.

Rover placed himself by my side, and looked into my face as much as to
say that he understood all that was going on, and hoped that he was to
be trusted with any important business which might come before us.

The night wore slowly away. Sleep we did not, for the insects were so
troublesome that it seemed as though we inhaled them at every breath.
They filled the air and dashed their dry wings in our faces while
flitting over our heads, and their eternal buzzing was like the
murmuring of a distant waterfall.

I judged that it was near two o'clock, and at the period when sleep is
the strongest, that my attention became riveted upon the singular
movements of some animal which appeared to be feeding upon the withered
grass which covered the plain. Sometimes it moved near enough to allow
me to almost discern what it was, and then it would recede and be lost
from sight for a few minutes, to again appear and approach nearer than
at first.

Rover appeared to be as deeply interested in the animal as myself, for
his eyes glowed like balls of fire as he watched the movements of the
strange nondescript, and appeared to wonder why I did not tell him to
investigate the matter instead of sitting there with staring eyes.

Presently a second and then a third animal came in sight, and their
movements were like that of the first. Slowly and in an irregular line
they approached me, halting every two or three seconds as though feeding
upon the grass, which was rank and tasteless, and at length I came to
the conclusion that they were animals peculiar to Australia, and such as
I had not seen before.

"Smith," I said, calling to that worthy man, who, I thought, was nodding
in a mysterious manner.

"Well," he answered, rubbing his eyes and trying to appear as though he
had not thought of sleeping on his post.

"What kind of animals are these within a rod of the camp, feeding so
quietly?"

When I spoke and pointed to them, I was astonished to find that, during
the short time my attention was occupied, half a dozen others were in
sight, but they were no longer feeding--they appeared to be surprised at
the sound of a human voice, and were listening attentively.

"Why, hang it, man, do you mean to say that you don't know a kangaroo
when you see one?" and Smith laughed at my greenness.

"Do you mean to say that those are kangaroos?" I demanded.

"Of course they are; see that fellow sitting on his tail near you. He is
almost as large as a native, and were it not for showing the black
devils our position I would knock him over, and we would have fresh
steaks for breakfast."

"But I supposed that the kangaroo was a very wild animal," Fred said,
joining in the conversation.

"So they are; but in the night time I have known them to mingle with
horses and not leave until daylight. They appear to have a remarkable
attachment for horses; and a man riding over a prairie can approach them
within a few rods without exciting suspicions."

I was listening attentively to Smith, but still I kept an eye on our
visitors, and noticed that they gradually lessened their distance
between us, and were so near that they could not fail to note our
positions.

"Do kangaroos usually carry spears in their paws?" I asked of Smith, in
a whisper.

"What do you mean?" he demanded.

"I mean that instead of animals we have natives to deal with, and in
another moment our throats would have been cut by the sly scamps."

I snatched up my rifle, and hardly waiting to place it at my shoulder,
fired.

The kangaroo, alias a native sewed up in a skin, sprang towards me, but
with a yell of agony fell dead at my feet.

I seized my revolver, but before I could use it Fred's rifle and Smith's
double-barrelled gun answered my lead, and two more natives were
bleeding upon the field.

The smoke slowly drifted past, but no more live kangaroos were to be
seen.

I looked for Rover, but he had disappeared during the firing, and he did
not return for ten minutes, when by his panting I knew that he had
pursued the natives to the bushes, but what other damage he had done the
latter only knew.

"We shall rest in peace for the remainder of the night," Smith said,
"that is, provided any one can get rest with so many blasted bugs
buzzing in the air. The natives will not make a second attack upon us,
you may be assured."

Smith's words were found to be correct, for, when daylight appeared, a
flag of truce was sent to our camp, and an old native demanded
permission to remove the bodies of his fallen friends. We gave a willing
consent on condition that we were allowed to pass on our way without
further molestation; and after accepting our terms, we detained the old
fellow as a hostage until we were safe from their ambush, when we
dismissed him with a number of presents, and he returned to his camp
apparently delighted at his treatment.

We urged our cattle to their utmost exertions, and at sundown we were in
sight of the old convict's hut, and in close proximity to the buried
gold.




CHAPTER XXIII.

ARRIVAL AT THE OLD STOCKMAN'S HUT.--MYSTERIOUS INTERRUPTIONS DURING THE
HUNT.


As we drew near the hut which had withstood so hot an assault from the
gang of Jim Gulpin, we saw that its proprietor was seated before his
door, busily engaged in reading a book, in which he appeared deeply
interested, for he never raised his eyes until Rover, who recognized
him, thrust his cold nose on his hand and demanded a welcome.

The old man looked surprised, dropped his book, and then apparently
comprehended that we must be near, for he glanced eagerly round, and
when his eyes fell upon Smith, he started towards us at a brisk pace,
and in a few minutes the two were shaking hands like friends who had
been separated for months and years.

"But where are your companions? Where are the two generous Americans
who fought so bravely when I revenged my daughter's injuries? demanded
the old man, who did not recognize us, dressed as we were in a
respectable-looking thin suit of clothes, and with our beards shaven
off.

"O," answered Smith, carelessly, "they became infatuated with the
pleasures of Melbourne, and have remained behind."

"And our pardons?" asked the stockman, after a moment's silence, during
which we could see that he was struggling for fortitude and composure.

"Here," exclaimed Fred, "a free and unconditional pardon is granted to
convict No. 2921, subject only to the approval of the Home office, for
distinguishing himself in an encounter with a gang of desperate
bushrangers."

The old man knew his voice, and tears, which he had before suppressed,
now flowed freely. He grasped Fred's hands and pressed them
convulsively, and then fell upon me and nearly smothered me with his
embrace.

"Read it again," he cried, handing the pardon to Fred. "Let me once more
be assured that I am a free man."

Fred complied with his request, and was about to inquire concerning his
daughter, when she made her appearance at the door of the hut, and
appeared to be slightly astonished at seeing her father conversing with
strangers.

"Come here, Becky," he cried, "I have news for you--great news."

Followed by the hound, who had sought her out a few moments before, she
came to meet us; and being a more acute observer than her parent, she
readily recognized us in spite of our change of costume.

"Here, Becky," cried the old man, with childish eagerness, "read that
document that his excellency the governor has sent me. I am a free man,
Becky--a free man, and can travel to any part of the island, and not a
soldier or police officer can harm me, or lay the weight of his hand
upon me, and ask why I leave my flocks without permission. I shall yet
be rich, and instead of tending sheep I will own them, and have
shepherds who will look to me for orders. I'll not be known as the
shepherd convict, but the rich landed proprietor. O, I will show you,
Becky, if it pleases God, how I will work, and you shall be a lady, and
no longer dress in cheap stuff, but wear silks, and be waited upon. I
know a thing or two which you little suspect."

"I am contented as I am, if I can but be near you, father," she
answered, trying to check the old man's sudden energy.

"I know, I know; but we must bide our time, and remain poor for the
present, Becky--only for the present."

"Perhaps our visitors would like supper," the young woman suggested, in
hopes of turning the conversation.

"By all means; they shall have the best that we can give," replied the
stockman, emerging from his deep reverie, and playing the host to
perfection. "Cook them the hind quarter of the lamb I killed to-day, and
add whatever else you may have in the house."

"But we object to that," said Fred. "We did not come here to rob you of
your provisions, and while we have a full supply will not trespass upon
your store. It is you whom we invite to share our supper. Recollect we
are just from Melbourne, and have a rare quality of tea in our cart
which we want you and your daughter to test."

"There surely can be no harm in accepting of your offer," replied the
old man, musingly. "When I am rich, it will of course be a different
thing--then you can partake of my hospitality."

"If we proposed to you to help us to wealth, what answer should you
return?" Fred asked of the convict.

"The answer of a grateful, honest man. Show me that the means to get the
wealth are honest, and I will work without complaining, for months, and
when you are satisfied with your share of worldly goods, I will seek to
get mine," returned the old man, promptly.

"Then we ask your aid for the space of a few days. In yonder forest, a
treasure is buried, and we expect that some work is required to find it.
Will you aid us?"

"With all my heart," replied the stockman, without a moment's
hesitation. "I am under too great an obligation to you, gentlemen, to
refuse assistance in so small a matter. When shall we start?"

"To-morrow morning, at daylight. Time is precious to us until we find
the treasure."

"I hope you will not be disappointed in your search," returned the old
man, apparently restored to his usual clear-headedness with the prospect
of something to do. "A secret like Gulpin's must have been known or
suspected by others beside his band. For a few days past I have seen
strange men wandering around the edge of the wood, although they did not
appear to be regular bushrangers. They may have the same object in view
as yourselves, but without your knowledge of the locality of the gold.

"If they are bushrangers we will fight them, but if honest people in
search of the treasure, we will laugh at them for their pains, and
ridicule them for their trouble," the old man continued. "I see that
Smith and my daughter have managed to get something to eat. Suppose we
have supper first, and discuss the best means of accomplishing your ends
afterwards?"

"By the way, we forget to tell you that your share of money, for the
capture of bushrangers, is awaiting your order," Fred said, during
supper, speaking to the stockman.

"I feel content with the paper which contains my pardon, and think that
I am amply rewarded. I desire nothing more from government."

Finding that the subject was distasteful to the old man, we said no
more, but after the table was cleared away, we lighted our pipes and
planned the business which was to occupy us early the next morning. Our
arrangements were soon completed and agreed upon. We readily came to the
conclusion to unload all of our baggage excepting what we should want
while absent; and instead of taking eight oxen, we concluded to take
only four, as that number could be provided for much easier than all of
them. We also concluded to leave our horses, and let the old man's
daughter keep her eyes on them during the day, and confine them in the
enclosure which was used for herding sheep during the night.

With this idea, we began making our preparations for an early start. Our
shovels and pickaxes were articles which we should want in digging, and
three days' provisions were also placed upon the cart, together with our
bedding and mosquito bars to prevent the insects from eating us alive
during our sleeping hours.

Our rifles were also examined, and at length satisfied that we were
ready for an early start, we bid our host and daughter good night and
retired to our usual sleeping place, under the cart, with Rover at our
feet, ready to give notice of the slightest appearance of danger.

It was still dark when the stockman aroused us, but a pale light in the
eastern heavens showed that day would soon break. Although we were tired
with our long journey, yet we did not stand a second call, and in an
hour's time after being aroused, we had despatched our hastily cooked
breakfast, and were on the road and urging the cattle towards the dark
and sombre appearing woods where the gang of Black Darnley had been
signally defeated.

It was about eight o'clock when we reached the place where we had
entered formerly. Every thing appeared as we had left it. The forest
path seemed to have been untrodden since the day when we had made a
funeral pile of the remains of the bushrangers, yet there was one
peculiarity that struck me as rather odd--the entire absence of parrots,
whose croakings used to attract our attention, and whose plumage, gaudy
and varied, commanded our admiration.

While Smith unyoked the cattle and chained them to a tree, under which a
good supply of grass was to be had, I took my rifle, and calling to
Rover, started towards the bushrangers' camp, or rather where it had
stood before we had given it to the flames.

I had not walked ten rods before I thought I saw the figure of a man
glide from behind a tree and disappear in a thicket of brush. I stopped,
and with rifle on the cock, waited for his re-appearance; but as I heard
nothing from him, I concluded that I would beat up his quarters before
the rest of my party came along.

I examined the thicket, and to my surprise, found that it was composed
of a species of brier, with long, needle-like thorns upon every twig,
and that the idea of a man's passing through it, unless dressed in
armor, was impossible, as he would have been punctured in every pore,
and would have shed blood at every step. I did not like to think that I
had been subjected to an optical delusion, and so I continued on for a
short distance, but could find no trail, although I observed that Rover
snuffled around in an unusual manner, and appeared uneasy.

"Hullo," cried Fred, who had now entered the woods with the rest of the
party, "what are you doing away from the path?"

I returned a trivial answer, and joined them in their walk towards the
clearing; yet I felt as though I had not done my duty, and examined the
mysterious disappearance of the shadow which I saw, with sufficient
attention. A fear of ridicule and a dread of wasting time alone
prevented me from speaking.

"The woods are unusually quiet," the stockman said, as we moved along in
Indian file. "I never visited here without being provoked at the
ceaseless chatter of the parrots, and yet to-day but few are to be heard
and none seen. They have become shy, and an explanation would be
satisfactory to account for the fact."

As no surmise was made by either of the party, the conversation
dropped, and it was not until we were standing over the half charred
bones of the bushrangers, which had been pawed around by the fox-like
animals of the woods, that we again spoke.

The ashes of the burned hut were still visible, so that its location was
defined without trouble, but the great question to be solved was where
the treasure lay buried. To determine this we had purchased an excellent
pocket compass in Melbourne, and upon taking the bearings we found that
the bushrangers were exactly in a south-west direction from where the
hut stood.

"Now," said the old stockman, "repeat the exact words of Gulpin, when
telling you of the buried money."

"Ten paces in a south--," I replied, promptly.

"Nothing more?" he demanded.

"Not a syllable."

"Then let us set the compass and pace off the distance in a south-west
line, and begin digging."

The ten paces were gravely gone through with, and I found that the grass
where they terminated bore no indications of having been disturbed. I
shook my head and expressed a decided opinion that no ground had been
broken there for a year, at the least calculation. Fred was of my
opinion, and began to have serious doubts of the truth of the story of
Gulpin.

I was still hopeful, and glanced over the opening to see if I could
discover signs of the earth having been recently disturbed. While I was
thus occupied, Rover was scratching among the bones which were
plentifully strewed around, and a sudden thought occurred to me. I
consulted the compass, and was glad to find that my surmises were not
contrary to the dying confession of Gulpin.

I paced off ten paces in a south-east direction, and the last step
brought me exactly in the midst of the bones and ashes of the
bushrangers.

I seized a spade and struck it into the ground, and was about to call my
companions' attention to the spot, when a sharp report was heard near at
hand, in the bushes, and a musket ball whizzed within two inches of my
head.

We were all too much accustomed to life in the bush to remain in open
ground when an unseen enemy was disposed to exercise his skill on one of
us, so that in less than half a second's time we were under cover, and
watching with tolerably sharp eyes for the first movement of the man who
had attempted to riddle my carcass with his confounded bullet.

For half an hour we waited, and not a leaf stirred. The dog had ranged
through the forest, and once, by his peculiar howl, we thought some
mishap had befallen him, but beyond a few spots of blood on his nose, he
appeared to be quite unharmed, and seemed anxious to again go in search
of our enemy.

Fearful that his life would be endangered, I kept him near me, and for
another half hour we waited, motionless, in anticipation of an attack,
yet none came.

Presently I heard a slight noise behind me, and turning suddenly, with
my rifle presented, I found that the muzzle was lodged against the head
of the stockman, who had been reconnoitring in the vicinity, and yet so
quietly that I was not aware that he had left the bush under which he
sought shelter.

"I have examined the bushes carefully, and no signs of a bushranger are
to be seen," the old man said, laying the long gun which he was
accustomed to use by his side, and brushing off a few specks of dust
which had collected on the barrel.

"It is a mystery to me how he disappeared so soon after discharging his
gun," I said.

The old man shook his head, and, laying one finger on my arm,
whispered,--"Do you believe in spirits?"

"Do you mean this kind?" I asked, drawing a flask of excellent whiskey
from my pocket and offering him a drink.

"No, I didn't mean this kind," the stockman said, slowly raising it to
his mouth, and I could hear the liquor coursing down his throat in a
stream.

"No," he repeated, removing the bottle from his mouth, and drawing a
long breath, "I didn't mean these kinds of spirits, because there's no
harm in them, and the more a man gets the better he is off. I meant the
kind of spirits which wander about the earth, and play tricks upon
living men."

"Ah, a sort of ghost, I suppose you mean," I answered.

"Precisely," replied the stockman, mechanically taking the bottle from
my hand and again applying it to his lips; "ghosts are the fellows--they
do every thing without being seen; and why should not the spirit of
Gulpin hover around this spot, and repel all attempts to get at his
money?"

"I know of but two reasons," I replied, gently taking the bottle from my
friend's hands, for fear that my share of its contents would be very
meagre; "in the first place, ghosts usually don't care about money, as
they have no use for it in the country in which they spend a large
portion of their time."

"That's true," replied the man, making a dive to get the bottle in his
possession, but I prevented this, by applying it to my own lips.

"In the next place," I continued, pausing to take breath, "fire, but not
fire-arms is furnished to refractory spirits; and if I am any judge of
worldly matters, it was a piece of lead that whizzed past my head half
an hour ago."

"Then you don't believe that the sound which we considered the report of
a gun was produced by evil spirits, who are set here to guard the
treasure of Gulpin?"

"It is more likely a bushranger was secreted in the bushes, or behind
the trees, and that when he aimed, he intended to make short work of one
of us, in hope of frightening the remainder."

"Then give me another drink, and if the scamp wants a muss he can have
one, for I'm not going to remain here, broiling under the hot sun, all
day."

The old man snatched the flask from my hand, and before I could stop
him, had nearly drained it of its contents. I discovered, for the first
time, that day, that the stockman was no longer under self-control when
he had tasted liquor, and from that period until our acquaintance ceased
I never again offered it to him.

I sought to restrain him, but in vain; with a fanatical yell he plunged
into the clearing, and waving his long gun over his head, he dared
spirit, ghost, or bushranger to meet him on even ground.

There was no response to his challenge, and considering that it was
cowardly to let him remain there alone, the rest of us quickly gathered
around, and requested him to lie down for a short time.

He repelled us with scorn, at the imputation that he was drunk; and
finding that it was impossible to reason with him, we left him digging
away as though for life, and throwing the dirt in the form of a parapet.

We separated and scoured the woods within a radius of half a mile, but
not a sign of a bushranger could we detect, and somewhat reassured by
our search, we returned to the stockman, who was working most
industriously, and leaving Smith to remain concealed, and give us
warning of the approach of danger, we joined labor with the old man,
although not in the same place in which he was at work.

I had reasoned on the subject, and came to the conclusion that if Gulpin
had buried his money, he would like to destroy all evidence of its
concealment. He and his gang were on friendly terms with Darnley, and
the former had piled up the dead bodies, with the evident intention of
consuming them with fire, as we had afterwards done, on our second
visit.

Now, it struck me as being likely that the spot where the gold was
buried would be chosen by a man who was inclined to be superstitious,
for the finale of the grand tragedy, and perhaps impressed with the
thought that the dead men would guard his treasure securely.

With this conviction, Fred and myself broke ground amidst a heap of
ashes, without a thought or care of the invisible guard, and in a few
minutes we had excavated a moderate sized hole, and would have continued
working, had not Smith interrupted us by pointing to the sun, and
advising a respite, owing to the danger of a sun-stroke.

As our hands were somewhat blistered, and we had as yet not discovered
the first sign of gold, we readily took his advice, and upon repairing
to the spot where the stockman was supposed to be at work, we found that
the bottle had proved too much for him. He was lying on his back in the
place which he had excavated, with his face exposed to the sun, the
shovel clasped tightly in his arms, and his snoring sounded like distant
thunder.

It was with some difficulty that we at length aroused him, and got him
to the cart, where he was allowed to rest and sleep as long as he
pleased, and while he was thus employed, we made another discovery,
which set us to wondering.




CHAPTER XXIV.

ROBBERY OF THE CART.--CAPTURE OF STEEL SPRING.


What caused us so much surprise was the fact that during our absence the
cart was visited, our provisions overhauled, a portion carried off, and
one or two bottles of claret emptied. It was evident that the thief was
in too great a hurry to draw the cork, even if he had had a corkscrew,
of which there was some doubt; so he had just broken the necks of the
bottles on one of the wheels, and then drank to satiety.

Our visitor was no ghost-like character, who could pass through a hole
and not feel inconvenienced. According to the quantity of provisions
which he had eaten and carried off, he must have possessed a human
stomach of remarkable voracity.

It was very evident that we had a thief of extraordinary shrewdness to
deal with, and that unless we were a little sharper we should be cheated
of our gold and fleeced of our provisions--two reflections not very
comforting.

We held a long conference and debated the best way to entrap our
opponent, and yet we could reach no conclusion, and were about to
provide our dinners, when Rover bounded from the bushes with a piece of
cloth in his mouth, which he shook and played with for some time before
he would relinquish.

It was the remnant of a blue flannel shirt, and the idea struck me that
our visitor had not only taken our provisions, but had stolen a portion
of our clothing. I examined the few articles which I had brought and
found that my surmise was correct. A pair of pants and a shirt were
missing; but I felt glad to think that the exchange had been made, as
now I considered that we had our friend on the hip.

I explained to Fred and Smith the manner in which we could track our
visitor, and they agreed to assist me in trying the experiment. I called
the hound, and laid the remnant of the shirt before him. Thinking that I
meant to have a lark with him, he began to tear the flannel and play as
formerly, but I touched him with a small switch and he crouched at my
feet, and looked up so reproachful and timid that I was almost sorry to
think I was obliged to correct him. I steadily persevered until I
impressed upon the mind of the hound that he was to follow the one who
had worn the shirt, and if there was not scent enough the thief was not
to blame, for the article looked as though it had seen service.

At length the dog comprehended me. He trotted to the cart, walked around
it once or twice, with his nose close to the ground, and when he had got
track of the thief he uttered a low bay of satisfaction, and looked up
into my face as much as to say, "shall I go on?"

We caught up our rifles, and leaving the sleeping stockman to continue
his nap, we motioned the dog to start, and followed close at his heels.

He led the way along the path until he came to the spot where I imagined
I had seen a man disappear, and after snuffing for a moment, the hound
trotted on, sometimes leaping over bushes four feet high, a feat which
we found not easy of accomplishment, tired as we were, and the heat up
to over a hundred in the shade of a forest.

If the animal got two rods in advance of us, a word was sufficient to
check him until we came up, when, receiving our praise with an
acknowledgment in the shape of a wag of his tail, he would trot on with
renewed watchfulness.

We observed that our course led us towards the spot where we had been
digging a few minutes before, and as we neared the clearing our
watchfulness increased. Not a tree was passed without anxious glances
being cast among the branches to see if an enemy lurked there, but
nothing in the shape of a man was to be seen.

At length we were within a few steps of the bushes from whence we
supposed the gun to have been discharged. Immediately in front of us was
a low tree of the balsam species, with branches and leaves so close
together that it was impossible to see through the top. The foliage was
most dense, and the thought suddenly occurred to me that if a man wished
to secrete himself that tree would be the one which he would choose from
amongst the thousands within sight. I was not, therefore, greatly
surprised when Rover suddenly stopped and exhibited signs of having
treed his game.

"The thief is lodged in that tree," shouted Fred, eagerly.

"It is singular that we did not think of examining it before," I
remarked, as we sheltered ourselves behind trees, for we had evidence
that, whoever he was, he possessed a gun and know how to use it, and
therefore we did not wish to needlessly expose our lives to his aim.

Rover acted in a frantic manner. He stood upon his hind legs and sought
to get at his enemy, and when finding that he could not, he appealed to
us for assistance; and for fear that he should get injured I called him
away,--an order which he obeyed most reluctantly.

"Come down from the tree," shouted Fred, "and we will give you quarter
and kind treatment."

There was no answer; we listened, but not a movement was to be heard. An
old parrot, that was perched high upon a blasted tree, attempted to
imitate our cry, but he got no further than the first word, and that
appeared to puzzle him so much that he gave up in despair and remained
mute with disgust.

"Do you surrender?" he yelled.

Not a word was heard in reply.

"He is like the flying Dutchman," cried Smith, a slight superstitious
feeling beginning to creep over him.

"Give him a shot, then, and see if he cannot be brought down," Fred
said.

I saw that Smith had no particular relish for the duty, but for fear
that we should laugh at him he raised his gun and discharged one barrel.

The leaves flew as though the tree had been struck by a whirlwind. A
small branch was cut off by the bullet and fell to the ground; but no
sign of an enemy was manifest.

"It's no use," cried Smith, with a lengthened visage. "We might waste
all our ammunition and the result would still be the same. It's no human
being in that tree."

"We'll see," replied Fred, briefly, and he aimed his rifle near the top
of the tree, and fired.

Not near as many leaves fell as at Smith's discharge, but the effect was
more astonishing. The tree swayed back and forth as though some one was
moving in its centre, and from amidst the dense foliage a voice
exclaimed,--

"Blast yer hies, vot is yer doing?"

"Here, Smith," cried Fred, "there is a cockney countryman of yours up
there."

"Come down," we roared.

"See ye hanged first, and then I von't," repeated the voice in the tree.

"Then we shall have to send another bullet into the tree to start you."

"If ye don't cut hout of these diggins, yer'll wish that ye had,"
replied our defiant acquaintance.

"Once for all, will you surrender?" was demanded.

"See ye blasted fust," was returned, in a dogmatical manner.

Fred let fly another bullet into the tree, and this time with remarkable
success; for suddenly a singular-looking genius, with wonderful long
legs, and those dressed in untanned skins of the kangaroo, hair side
out, tumbled from the tree, feet foremost, and with bounds which I
thought no human being capable of, sprang over the bushes and attempted
to escape, which he no doubt would have done, as we were too much
surprised to think of checking his career with a bullet, had not the
hound, with a yell of satisfaction, followed in pursuit.

We started as fast as possible for the purpose of preventing the dog
from killing the man outright, as we feared he would, but our alarm was
groundless; for after a smart run of a quarter of a mile, we found the
hound standing over his victim, and exhibiting a wicked set of grinders
at every motion which his prisoner made to escape.

"Vot is the meanin' of this 'ere kind of a go?" demanded our prisoner,
as we gravely took seats upon fallen trees, and regarded him with great
interest.

The fellow was a curiosity, and I have often laughed at the ridiculous
appearance which he made upon our first meeting in the woods of
Australia.

His long legs and feet were encased in the skins of kangaroos, which
accounted for the ease with which he passed through the bushes and left
no scent but of the animal, for Rover to follow, and as I had often
punished him for chasing kangaroos without permission, it sufficiently
explained why the poor dog was so puzzled.

The skins of the animals appeared to have been fitted to the legs and
feet of our prisoner while green, and by drying them on his limbs he was
then unable to remove them without an hour's washing in water; a process
which, by the looks of the fellow, he seemed to have no relish for; the
dirt was glued upon his face as though it was warranted to wash,
although it's doubtful if he ever tried the experiment; and I may as
well observe here that water was his abhorrence, and he never drank it
unless he couldn't get something stronger. Upon the back of the scamp
was a new blue flannel shirt, which he had stolen from the wagon,
leaving his old one in exchange, and by the means of which we had traced
him to his resting-place. Around his neck was a silk handkerchief
belonging to Smith, and on his head was a skin cap, with a long tail
which hung over his shoulders and resembled the brush of a fox.

"Will ye call hoff the hanimal, and let me up?" cried our new
acquaintance, casting rueful looks towards us.

"Where did you come from?" asked Fred.

"Vy, didn't you see? I dropped down from the tree."

"Yes, we are aware of that; but how came you in this part of the country
alone?"

"How does you know I'se 'lone?" asked the fellow, with such a
significant leer that we involuntarily glanced over our shoulders as
though expecting a gang of ferocious bushrangers to be within gunshot.

"Answer me," cried Fred, with pretended sternness, placing the muzzle of
the rifle against the fellow's heart. "Tell me where you came from, and
what you wish in the neighborhood?"

"Vell, I vill, if ye von't hinger my feelings with the cold iron. Take
away the gun and I'll do the right thing. 'Pon the 'onor of a gentleman,
I will."

We laughed at his last remark, and the fellow joined in with us good
naturedly, as though he did not expect to be believed.

"Very well, sit up and tell your story," we said; and calling off the
dog, who manifested a great reluctance to obey, we permitted him to take
an easier position.

"Vell, the fact of the matter is, I am strolling round 'ere just for the
fun of shooting parrots."

"You know that you are lying," Fred said, sternly.

The fellow seemed to think a compliment had been paid him, for he
grinned so hard that the dirt actually cracked on his face and peeled
off in scales. A motion towards our rifles brought him to his reason.

"Stop that," he cried, "and I'll tell hall."

"Go on," we repeated.

"Vell, then, I s'pose I'm 'ere for the same thing as vot you're here
for."

"Well, what is that?" I asked.

"Vy, you know--the hold boy's tin vich he buried afore he vas taken up
and dished."

"What do you mean?" I inquired, wishing to see how much he knew.

"O, don't 'tempt to gammon me, 'case I knows by the way that yer
does--that yer knows all 'bout the trick. But I say, can't I come in for
shooks?"

"Then you know that there is money buried near here?"

"Hof course I does. Didn't I see Jim Gulpin ven he planted it, and
didn't I run hoff the next day, and ven I hears that Jim is a goner, and
had got into the hands of the beaks, didn't I leave the mines, vere the
vork is jolly 'ard, and come 'ere with the intention of raising it, and
having a jolly good blow out at Melbourne?"

"Then you have been connected with a gang of bushrangers?" Fred asked.

"Vell, I did use to do the cookin' for 'em, vile they did the robbin';
but then you wouldn't blow on a fellow, would you?"

"What did you make a target of my body for?" I inquired.

"Vell, I vill be plain, and no mistake. I did think that if it killed
von of ye, vy the rest vould run, and then I should be left alone to
ring the blunt."

"And why did you not continue to fire at us?"

"'Cos I hadn't got any more bullets," was the frank answer; and on
examination of his powder pouch, we found such to be the case.

"What have you done with your ammunition?"

"Vell, I had to live on something, so I used to shoot into flocks of
parrots; but I've skeered 'em all hoff, I believe."

"And why did you not try to get hold of a sheep? There are plenty of
those within five miles of the forest."

"And get pinked by the hold shepherd wid the long gun?" he demanded,
with a knowing grin, which showed that he had heard of the skill of the
old man with his smooth bore.

"You have confessed that you once belonged to a gang of bushrangers, and
you may have been guilty of many crimes. It is a duty which we owe to
the government to either hang you, or else deliver you to the police.
Which do you prefer?"

"Vell, to tell the plain truth, I don't like neither plan, and I don't
b'leeve that you will do it."

"Why?" we asked, astonished at his assurance

"'Cos, then I couldn't help you get the dirt out if you give me up to
the police. I'd peach 'bout it," and then you'd have to fork over to the
government, and would get nothing for your pains."

"But suppose we should despatch you on the spot?"

"But there's no use s'posing any thing of the kind. 'Mericans don't
often kill people in cold blood."

"You know that we are Americans?" we demanded, in astonishment.

"Of course I does. Didn't I 'ear all about ye vile I vas at the mines?
Didn't the papers bring hus the news?"

"But how do you know that we are those which the papers mention?"

"'Cos I guess at it, and I don't think I'm a great deal hout of the
way."

"And if we consent to spare your life you will consent to lend us your
aid in searching for the gold?" I asked. "Won't I? You just try me and
see if I don't serve you 'bout right. I'm a regular hout and houter ven
I takes a likin' to any one."

"On these conditions we will consent to protect and spare you. But mind,
no tricks. The first indications which we discover of your playing us
false, shall be your last moment on earth."

"All right," replied the long-legged individual, with a chuckle of
delight.

"Now, tell us what your name is," Fred demanded.

"Steel Spring," he answered, with another grin.

"Then, Mr. Steel Spring, as you say that you are a good cook, we will
test your truthfulness. Return with us to the cart, and let us see a
sample of your skill."

"I'll do that, and you'll say that, however ugly I look, I'm just the
feller to sarve as a cook."

Uttering these words in a chanting sort of way, Mr. Steel Spring
stretched out his legs with a jerk, which resembled the sudden opening
of a jackknife. He stood upon his feet, and then we had an opportunity
to see how long and lank he really was; and yet beneath all his withered
skin we saw that his muscles were of prodigious size, and that his
strength must he astonishing.

We motioned for him to lead the way, and in a few moments we reached the
cart, beneath which the old stockman was still snoring.




CHAPTER XXV.

STEEL SPRING'S HISTORY


Steel Spring made no idle boast when he said he was famous as a cook. In
a shorter space of time than I conceived possible, he had built a fire,
boiled water, and made an excellent dish of coffee, and then spreading
our provisions under the shade of a tree, he informed us that our
dinners were ready.

By this time Hardum, the stockman, was awake, and repentant, as most men
usually are after a drinking bout. He seemed surprised that we had made
an addition to our company during his snoring hours, but he was too
proud, or too much ashamed, to ask any questions concerning the mystery.

As for Steel Spring, I observed that that amiable, long-legged
individual eyed the stockman rather narrowly, as though he expected a
few words of reproach, or something worse; but in this he was mistaken;
for Hardum contented himself with expressing surprise at the length of
his pedal extremities, and wanted to know if he was not sired by a
kangaroo--an expression which our new acquaintance laughed at, as he
wished to conciliate the old man.

As the sun poured down with scorching severity, and two hours would
elapse before we could venture to return to our work without fear of
being sun struck, we lighted our pipes, and stretched our forms beneath
the shade of a gum tree, leisurely watched the smoke of the fragrant
tobacco as it curled over our heads.

For a long time we smoked in silence, until at length Fred grew weary of
the monotonous stillness, and wishing to add a slight stock of
information to our store, exclaimed,--"Steel Spring," and he regarded
that wonderful being with a knowing glance, "you have a history. All men
have histories, and I know that you are not exempt from the common lot."

"Well, I don't deny that I've seen a thing or two in my life, and that
it has been an eventful one," he answered.

"Then," said Fred, refilling his pipe, and composing himself in an
easier attitude, "you will be kind enough to tell it for our
entertainment."

"I'll villingly do that, sir, if you'll promise not to go to sleep."

"We can give no pledges," replied Fred, with a grin. "Whether we go to
sleep or keep awake remains with the historian to decide."

"Veil, then, I'll do my best," and Steel Spring crossed his right leg,
as though it had helped him on many occasions.

I will relate his account of his life, although I shall leave his
cockney expressions out, as much of it may mar the beauty and humor of
the recital. I don't vouch for the truth of what he told us, and, in
fact, I don't believe that Steel Spring himself meant that we should.
However, he always swore that he spoke the truth, and, in lack of
evidence, we were bound to believe him.

"I was born twenty-six years ago, in the vicinity of Belgrave Square,
London, and as the locality was an aristocratic one, I need not mention
that my parents were wealthy, and circulated in the highest circles in
the kingdom. There was great rejoicing when I came into the world, and I
have been told that Parliament adjourned in honor of the event."

"I wish to ask if the narrative is to consist of lies?" inquired Fred.

The fellow grinned as though he had been complimented, and without
replying, continued,--"I was sent to Eton when I grew old enough, and
all that money could do was expended towards completing my education.
Latin and Greek, however, are languages which I was never able to
master, and it's owing to my dislike to them that I am now here. I will
explain the reason, so that you may not interrupt me with expressions of
astonishment. I was destined, when only ten years of age, to succeed the
ambassador to Greece, an uncle of mine, who was full of years and
honors, and wished to retire on half pay, like an invalid soldier or
gouty bishop. You will see the reason why I was supplied with Greek
roots, until I thought my brain would turn in digging them. But tasks
and whippings were in vain. The more I was beaten the less I learned,
and the upshot of the matter was that I was sent home, and then kicked
out of doors by an indignant father, who swore in good English that if
my head was only as long in proportion as my legs, I should have
comprehended the dead languages in less than a month.

"Alas! how little do parents understand the feelings which animate the
bosom of their offspring. I who was--"

"Quit your moralizing, and drive on with your story," growled Fred.

"All right, sir," replied Steel Spring, not the least disconcerted.

"I had, when kicked from the home of which I was destined to be the
ornament, only a half crown in my pocket--smuggled there by an indulgent
mother, who dreaded her husband's wrath. I knew that the money would
purchase me a rasher of bacon and half a dozen pots of half-and-half,
but that would not support me forever, you know, and it was necessary
that I should stir these stumps which my heartless father had ridiculed.

"With this idea I exchanged my elegant suit of black clothes which I was
wearing, and dressed myself in others of a less attractive nature; and I
will also state that I received a half crown from the Hebrew with whom
I traded--a piece of generosity on his part as unexpected as any thing I
ever met in this world.

"After I had made the exchange I hardly knew myself, and I thought with
joy that if my father's heart relented, he would not be able to discover
me in the disguise which I wore. In fact, it was perfect; and for the
purpose of testing it, I went to Hyde Park, and stood near the ring, and
as the noble lords and ladies passed me--those, I mean, with whom I was
on visiting terms--it made my heart swell to think that they did not
even deign to look at me."

"I have no doubt of it," said Smith, dryly; and the fact of his being an
Englishman made him appreciate the story of Steel Spring the more.

"I quitted Hyde Park, and to preserve my spirits I went to a public
house, and drank a full quart of beer--a feat which I had often
performed, but never with such good will. The proprietor of the house
noticed the ready manner in which I emptied his pewter, and then
surveying my legs, judged, very rightly, that I would make an excellent
pot boy. He hinted at his want of assistance, and made me an offer of a
crown a week, and the privilege of drinking the slops left in the pots.
He did not have to make the proposal twice; I accepted without delay,
donned a white apron, and the intended ambassador to the classic land of
song and ruins went to work supplying workmen with beer and pipes. No
one, to have looked at me in the bar room, would have mistrusted my
noble birth, and I have often thought of the singular freaks of fortune.
Some are raised by the magic wand, and others are depressed. How little
did the nobility, as they gazed on my fair face, when an infant, think
that the object of their admiration would one day become--"

"Will you go on with the story, and drop the nobility?" demanded Fred.

"With the greatest pleasure, because I bear them no love, they having
dropped me at an early age. At that public house all of my misfortunes
commenced; and, singularly enough, I had no serious suspicions, until I
was arrested and lodged in prison, that the proprietor of the concern
was a dealer in counterfeit silver. I had often observed that all the
change that came from the bar was new, and looked as though fresh from
the mint, but I didn't dream that it was counterfeit; and when a police
officer nabbed me, and searched my pockets, and exhibited a few bad
shillings, I thought I should die with shame, for I little suspected
that I was the medium through which the money was circulated.

"I protested my innocence, but the wretches said that my appearance was
not in my favor, and that my sweet face was certain to lead me to the
gallows; and faith, I was afraid that it had, yet my pride did not
permit me to send for my parents and the nobility, a word from whom
would have set me free."

"Steer clear of the nobility, if you please," cried Fred.

"All right, sir; well, would you believe it, the villains had the
audacity to arraign me before the beak, when I pleaded not guilty, and
dared them to the proof.

"I have a faint recollection that my defiance availed me but little,
for I was brought in guilty; and when the old beak sentenced me to
transportation for twenty years, he took occasion to say that I was the
worst looking prisoner he had seen for many years. I thought, even then,
how much respect he would feel, were he but aware that I was connected
with the nobility--"

"Never mind the nobility," broke in Fred.

"I don't intend to, hereafter, as I think that I am better off without
their acquaintance. Well, in a few days I was put on board of a ship,
with a number of other distinguished gentlemen, and I started on my long
voyage to Australia.

"Jim Gulpin was one of the passengers, and I early made his
acquaintance, and won his friendship by a few acts of kindness, which
distinguished strangers should always extend to each other. In fact, I
became so useful to the officers of the ship that I was installed as an
assistant cook; and when I was obliged to part with them, owing to the
pressing solicitations of the wretch who has the charge of the hulks at
Hobson's Bay, I don't think that there was a dry eye on board, from the
captain to my illustrious commander, the chief cook.

"Owing to good recommendations, I was set at work doing scullion's duty
at the hulks--a situation which I filled to the satisfaction not only of
myself, but to the officers who had charge of me. I got plenty to eat,
for I looked out for that, and I think that I should have served out my
time with great contentment had I not learned that my old friend Gulpin
had made his escape, but not until he had done for one of his keepers. A
sudden desire to travel possessed me; I longed to see the world, to be
free, and accumulate wealth so that I could return to London, and
astonish the nobility and my hard-hearted parents.

"I watched my chance, and one day when I was on a visit to Melbourne for
the purpose of carrying a bundle for one of the keepers, I thought I
would begin my travels; so I started on a dog trot, in a direction
opposite from the hulks, and when a pistol was discharged at my fine
form, it had the effect of quickening my pace materially. Finding that
the shot had no effect, the keeper ran after me; but what chance do you
suppose he had with me, the possessor of such a pair of legs? In five
minutes I had run him out of sight, but after I got outside of the city
I did not lessen my speed, for I recollected that there was a mounted
police force in Melbourne, and that they had a fancy for scouring the
country in search of escaped convicts.

"With nothing to eat, excepting what I was enabled to steal--I don't
mean steal--but then I didn't pay for such as I got, because I had no
money in my pocket--I managed to subsist, and by skulking in the woods
during daylight, and travelling at night, I struggled on, undetected.

"I used to visit encampments, and load myself with every thing that I
considered necessary for my happiness, and by such means I soon was
enabled to dispense with my convict suit, which was calculated to
attract more attention than was desirable.

"A number of miners must have been greatly astonished, upon awakening in
the morning, to find that most of their stores were gone, and perhaps
they attributed their disappearance to magic. If they did they were
wrong, for I hold myself personally responsible, and intend some day to
settle for all that I took, and I will not only pay interest, but
principal also. Can any thing be more honorable?"

"But how are you to know whom to settle with?" demanded Fred.

"That is none of my business," replied Steel Spring, with a cunning
leer. "It is sufficient for me to know that I am ready to settle when
the bills are presented, and I don't consider that I am bound to hunt
all over the world for the purpose of finding my creditors."

"Your ideas are certainly original, and deserving of consideration,"
returned Fred, amused at the fellow's impudence. "But finish your
history."

"By such honorable means I was enabled to work my way along, striving to
reach the mines, where I expected to earn an independence, when one day
I fell in with a few notorious characters called bushrangers. The
villains searched me, expecting to find gold, thinking that a gentleman
of my respectable appearance must be loaded with wealth; but for the
honor of mankind I am glad to say that they didn't get so much as a
shilling piece.

"The robbers, intensely disgusted, swore that I must go with them, as
their captain wanted a cook; and although I insisted that I was not
qualified for the station which they intended to elevate me to, they
only replied that I must either be hanged or work. I need not tell you
which I preferred.

"When I was taken prisoner I had a large supply of provisions on my
back, and they asked me why I hadn't stolen more while my hand was in.
In vain I protested that I was innocent of crime. I was laughed at and
marched off towards this forest, when their renowned captain was
introduced to me, and who should he prove to be but my old friend, Jim
Gulpin.

"Of course, I was at home at once, and for many months I shared the
meals and confidence of my illustrious commander; but at length getting
dissatisfied with my share of the prize money, I procured a dishonorable
discharge, and went off to the mines in the night time, where I managed
to subsist by my honesty."

"You mean," replied Smith, "that you were afraid of being dishonest, as
the miners have a summary method of disposing of thieves."

Steel Spring grinned, as though he didn't wish to gainsay the truth of
the remark.

"But about the buried money. You have said nothing about that," I
observed.

"I knew that there was money buried there, because one day Gulpin sent
his gang away on an expedition, and then started me after a sheep, (no
offence to the old shepherd.) I thought something was up, so instead of
hurrying to do his bidding I skulked around until he thought I was out
of the way, and then I saw him dig a hole and put a bag into the earth
and cover it up, and try and make the place appear as though it had not
been disturbed. I smelt a rat, but never let on that I knew any thing of
the matter, and it was not until I heard that Jim and Darnley's gangs
were destroyed that I thought I would visit my old haunts and endeavor
to get rich at once. I have been in the neighborhood a week, skulking
about to see if any other person was lurking near for the same object as
myself, and you may imagine my surprise when I saw four men marching up
to take possession of that which I considered my own."

"Do you still entertain the same opinion?" I inquired.

"My opinion since I have entered your service is your opinion, for you
are four and I'm one;" and Steel Spring, with a contented look, knocked
the ashes from his pipe, and gathered up the remains of our dinner and
placed them in the cart with wonderful despatch.

"We will trust you," said Fred, after scanning the man's face; "but if
you serve us a trick we shall remember it."

"You will find it for your interest to do so," was the composed reply,
and bidding him follow, we took our rifles and led the way towards the
buried treasure.




CHAPTER XXVI.

FINDING OF THE TREASURE.


By the time we reached the scene of our gold digging operations the
greater portion of the heat of the day was passed, and we felt refreshed
and ready to commence work with a will. Steel Spring, who had promised
his valuable aid in searching for the treasure, in consideration that we
would befriend him and save his neck from the grasp of the police, had
led the way with immense strides, and a confident air that inspired us
with renewed hope and bright anticipations of success.

Upon reaching the ground we found that our shovels and picks were
undisturbed, and it was evident that no visitor had intruded during our
_lengthy absence_.

"Come, Steel Spring," I said, addressing that worthy personage, "point
out the right spot for us to dig, and then we will go to work _without
delay_."

"But I can't do that vithout some calculation and study. All great
hengineers has to investigate before vorking, and I'm no exception to
the rule."

"Why, you miserable scamp," cried Fred, angrily, "didn't you say that
you could lead us to the very spot where the treasure was buried?"

"Vell, vot if I did? Can't a man make 'stakes--and vouldn't you 'ave
said that you knew something, if a rifle vos placed agin your brains,
and a feller threatened to blow 'em hout?"

"Then you mean to say that you have imposed upon us?' I asked, coolly,
seeing that Fred was likely to get into a passion.

"No, I don't say that, 'cos tain't so; and I should but tell a lie if I
spoke in that way. A falsehood is an abomination vich I can't stand, and
I was never guilty of one," answered the fellow, with a grin which
proved how well he liked to stretch the truth.

"Explain your meaning," said Fred, "or I will hang you on a gum tree,
and use you as a scarecrow." "Vell, didn't I tell you I saw the money
buried from a distance? You don't s'pose that I would be very near when
Jim Gulpin was doing secret things, does you?"

I made no answer, and he continued,--

"I took good care to be hoff so far that he couldn't even smell me, 'cos
I knew that if I had but vinked once vithin ten rods he would have seen
me, and then vot would 'ave been the consequence?"

Fred replied that he supposed he would have been kicked in a summary
manner, and he was not sure but he deserved it.

"Had it only been kicking I could 'ave taken it very comfortably and
thought nothing of it--but no, sir, it would have been nothing of the
kind. It would 'ave been after this fashion."

He made an expressive motion with his hand across his throat, and
judging from the habits and antecedents of the illustrious bushranger,
there is but little doubt that he did wisely in placing a great distance
between them.

"Well, point out the spot which you think contains the money," I said.

"Vell, I can do that, although I'm not to be 'bused and deprived of my
supper if I don't happen to hit right."

"You shall be treated according to your merits," cried Smith, who had
listened patiently to his woes, and was amused at his impudence.

"Vell, if I is treated according to my merits it's all I vants, 'cos
I'se certain to get 'nuff to heat and drink without vorking very
hard--and vot can a gemman 'spect more in this vorld?"

We returned no answer to his suggestion, and finding that we were
disposed to be serious, and not likely to stand any more of his
nonsense, he requested permission to occupy the same place where he had
secreted himself when the bushranger buried his gold; and while one of
us walked over the clearing he thought he could tell when we reached the
exact spot. He gave as a reason that he had taken the bearings of the
place by a tree which stood on a line with the bushranger while digging.

We gratified his humor, but to prevent trickery Fred was despatched to
watch his movements and prevent escape. Steel Spring vowed and protested
that he meant honestly by us; but he was too notorious a liar to be
believed, and when he found that we would not trust him, he appeared to
be highly pleased, and considered it a proof of his sagacity and
cunning.

We watched them as they walked to the spot which Steel Spring
indicated--a distance of nearly a quarter of a mile from the clearing;
and when the fellow announced that he was ready for the test, I slowly
passed over such portions of the ground as I thought contained the
money.

Three or four times did I pass over the ashes where the bodies of the
dead bushrangers were burned, and yet I heard no indications from Steel
Spring. At last I set my compass, and walked in an exact south-eastern
direction, about ten paces from the location of the hut, and within a
dozen feet of the hole which we had already dug.

"Stop," said the long-legged biped, "don't move for your life! Vait till
I comes--you've hit it for a farding."

With springs which caused Rover to howl with jealousy, the fellow
bounded over the bushes towards us, and in a minute's time was beside
me.

"Give me the shovel!" he cried, in an excited manner. "I is certain that
you is standing on the place."

"Here is a shovel," said Smith, with a wink of mischief at us; "let us
see how soon you can bring the dust in sight."

"It won't take me long, I can tell you," replied Steel Spring, throwing
out a few shovels full and then pausing to rest, as though a new thought
had entered his long head.

"Dig away," yelled Smith, who was wielding a pickaxe with great effort.

"I was thinkin' how much better I could direct than work," said the
cunning fellow, too lazy to dig.

"Then stand aside and give me the shovel," cried Fred, impatiently.

Steel Spring willingly relinquished it, and pretending that he felt
exceedingly nervous and faint, he squatted down upon the ground and
watched with eager eyes every particle of dirt that was thrown from the
hole.

Before we got fairly to work the sun had set, and the shades of night
began to be thrown upon the dark forest of gum trees by which we were
surrounded. We had wasted so much time talking and listening to Steel
Spring, that the afternoon had passed away almost imperceptibly. To be
caught in the woods over night was a joke which we did not care about
indulging in, and we made strenuous exertions to complete our task
before darkness had entirely set in.

Already had we piled up a large mound of earth, and excavated a hole big
enough to bury an ox, and yet nothing was to be seen of the treasure;
and as each additional shovel full of dirt was thrown up I began to grow
discouraged, and felt that I had been deceived, and almost cursed the
folly which led me to believe in the dying declaration of the
bushranger.

"I don't see any use in digging here," said Smith, pausing, and wiping
the perspiration from his heated brow; "the dirt we are removing now has
not been disturbed since the formation of the island. If there is any
gold dust buried in this clearing, we must search in another direction."

"But haven't I told you that you was in the right spot?" ejaculated
Steel Spring.

"Keep your advice for those who ask it," returned Smith, bluntly, want
of success having made him cross.

"Vell, haven't you all been haxing me, and don't I tell vere the money
is? If you 'spect to get it, you must vork."

"Then take hold of this pickaxe, and see how you like it. Jump into the
hole without a word, or I'll help you with my heavy hand!" cried Smith,
somewhat irritated.

Steel Spring would have hesitated, but a glance at the face of his
opponent decided him, and, with many a groan, he entered the hole and
commenced working.

The rest of us discussed the propriety of suspending labor until
morning, as the evening was so far advanced that it was impossible to
see half a dozen yards from our faces. Fred and myself were opposed to
cessation, as we knew that we were in a dangerous part of the country,
and how soon we should be interrupted by gangs of bushrangers it was
hard to tell. The forest was full of outlaws--desperate men, who would
shed blood freely for the sake of gold or revenge, and should we be
surprised, there was no possibility of escape.

Under these circumstances, we urged that we had better work that night,
dark as it was, than remain there two or three days, and expose our
lives needlessly.

During the time that we were debating the question, Steel Spring was
apparently busy at work, although I noticed that he paid considerable
attention to what was going on, and listened to every word uttered with
an interest that appeared unaccountable. I thought it was from
curiosity, and did not call any one's attention to it; but when I
suggested that a small fire should be made, so that its light would
enable us to work to more purpose, to my surprise he urged the advantage
of the scheme, and was clamorous for the privilege of tending it.

The project was dismissed as soon as formed, for I recollected that the
light of a fire would attract visitors that we were not anxious to see.

As a last resort, however, we resolved to go over the whole ground, and
endeavor to detect the spot, by discovering if the earth had been
recently removed.

We no longer placed confidence in the story of Steel Spring, yet we
thought it better to keep him at work in the hole, which was now even
with his neck, than permit him to mingle with us in the dark, for
somehow, we began to have strange suspicions that he was not dealing
fairly by us.

Luckily, the sky was cloudless, and the stars shone with uncommon
brilliancy, as though the constellations wished to afford us every
facility for carrying our designs into effect.

The clearing was sufficiently large to enable the light to penetrate the
open space, and with no other guide, we commenced striking our shovels
and picks into the earth, in hopes of reaching the right spot.

I still clung to the idea that the money was buried under the ashes of
the burned bushrangers, and with this impression, carefully scraped them
aside, and felt with the point of my shovel, until I touched earth which
I considered had been disturbed.

I said nothing to my companions, but worked diligently for a few
minutes, until I became convinced that the ground had been moved at no
distant day.

Wishing to be convinced that I was on a track which corresponded with
the last words of Gulpin, I set the compass, and by the light of a
match, noted its bearing.

The place where I had been at work bore in a south-west direction, and
on pacing off the distance where the hut stood, I found it to be exactly
ten paces.

"Hurrah, boys!" I shouted, commencing work with renewed energy, "I think
that I have discovered the spot!"

My comrades hurried to my side, and all of us concentrated our energies
upon that particular spot, and none worked harder than the aged convict,
who appeared, since his recovery from the effects of too intense an
application to my flask, to be desirous of making amends for his
weakness.

"You are not vorking in the right place!" shouted Steel Spring, from his
excavation, stopping his labors to watch our movements; "you will find
nothing there, I gives you varning. Come and hassist me, and we shall
find all the gold!"

"Cease your cries," said Smith, sternly; "do you wish to bring a band of
bushrangers upon us in this lonely spot, where they can murder us
without opposition?"

"There's no fear of 'um," retorted the fellow, raising his voice to an
unnecessary pitch; "but listen to my varning--you'll find not a bit of
gold there."

We paid no attention to his words, but worked with energy, and while
Smith examined with his hands every shovelful of dirt that was thrown
out, so that we should not miss any thing, Fred and myself dug along the
edges of the ground, carefully, yet rapidly.

Still Steel Spring persisted in calling to us that we were wasting time,
and that we should find nothing; and just as he echoed his words for the
third or fourth time, my shovel struck upon some tough substance.
Breathless with hope, I stooped and felt of it with my hands, and to my
joy I discovered a small canvas bag, which appeared to be stuffed with a
heavy substance, for I found some trouble in lifting it.

"I have found it!" I cried, so excited that I could hardly stand;
"here--feel of it, lift it, and see if its contents are not gold!"

I was about handing the bag to Fred, when a wild, shrill scream,
apparently proceeding from our very midst, was heard, startling us by
its unnatural character.

Fred dropped the bag, and sprang for his rifle, which was lying near
him, ready for use, while Smith and the stockman appeared paralyzed with
terror.

"For God's sake what noise was that?" asked the stockman.

Before we could reply, we heard an answering yell, which appeared to be
distant about a quarter of a mile, while near at hand, the rustling of
the bushes showed that either an enemy or a wild beast was regarding our
movements.

"Who goes there?" cried Fred, bringing his rifle to his shoulder.

There was no reply, but I thought I detected a chuckling laugh which
sounded familiar. Before I could interpose, Fred had fired at the moving
bushes, and for a brief second the clearing was lighted up with the
flash of his rifle. I glanced towards the hole in which Steel Spring had
been at work; it was empty; that notorious liar and singular genius had
made himself scarce.

Hardly had the echo of the rifle died away, before another yell, more
searching and protracted than the first, again started our party, for it
seemed to proceed from a tree not more than a rod distant; even the
hound appeared disconcerted at the noise, and seemed undecided whether
to attack or wait for more decided manifestations.

"God be with us," cried the stockman, suddenly grasping his
long-barrelled gun; "let us make the best of our way from the forest, or
by morning we shall not be alive."

"Of what are you afraid?" demanded Fred. "A wolf cannot harm you, and
at the worst, a wildcat or two are no match for us well-armed men."

"There are no wolves on the island, and wildcats are unknown," replied
the stockman, calmly.

"Then name the animals which produced those screams," cried Fred.

"I wish that they were animals," rejoined the stockman, "for then there
would be hope for us miserable sinners. The screams which we have heard
are produced by men bent upon destruction."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that we have been duped by Steel Spring to reveal the burial
place of the treasure, and that now, in answer to his signal, a band of
murderers are already enclosing us in their meshes, and in a few
minutes, unless we act with promptness and prudence, we shall be in
their power."

"We will sell our lives dearly, at all events," muttered Fred, "and
sooner than their blood-stained hands shall grasp this gold, we will
lose it forever."

Again we heard a chuckling laugh amid the bushes, and angry at the
imposition of the long-legged scamp, I raised my rifle, and guided by
the noise, let drive its contents. A yell of agony, such as is often
uttered by a wounded man, met our ears, and I rejoiced to think that I
had punished his treachery.

"God be merciful to him a sinner," exclaimed the pious old stockman.

"You have punished him for his tricks," said Fred; but almost before he
had finished the sentence, a scream of sardonic laughter, in a different
direction, proved that he was uninjured.

Again did we hear shrill, prolonged yells from several parts of the
forest, and from their distinctness we knew that the bands of
bushrangers, or whoever were the utterers, were gradually closing in
upon us, and to stay where we were for half an hour was certain
destruction.

The light was not sufficient to see each other's faces, but I had but
little doubt, from the manner in which my friends grasped their weapons
and examined their contents, that they were determined to sell their
lives as dearly as possible.

"I am an old man," sighed the stockman, "and of little use on earth, and
were I but certain that my child would be cared for, feel that I should
be content to die."

"Die?" repeated Fred, cheerfully; "your sight is still good, and your
hand does not tremble. A bushranger at forty rods is as good as slain
when you draw a bead on him, and yet you talk of yielding up your life
because we have been caught in a trap by a crafty spy."

"Man's destiny is like--"

"Spare your proverbs," exclaimed Fred, impatiently, "until we are in a
place of safety. I feel like making my way out of these woods as fast as
possible, and if I have got to cut through a line of robbers I shall
leave my mark before completing the job."

"Then let us lose no time," Smith said, speaking after a profound
silence. "I can hear the devils calling to each other as they make their
way through the forest, and if we wait for their arrival we shall be
hemmed in on every point."

Even while Smith was speaking, we could hear the calls of Steel Spring,
repeated in rapid succession, as though urging his comrades to renewed
exertion. I raised the heavy bag of gold to my shoulder, and away we
went, tramping through the bushes, stumbling over decayed trees, and
bumping heavily against growing ones. Every few minutes we halted and
listened attentively; yet strange to say, not a sound was to be heard
except quick breathing and beating of hearts. The stillness seemed worse
than the noise, for during the latter we were enabled to define the
position of our opponents, and knew that they were at arm's length; but
now, when every thing was quiet around us, we knew not but our next step
might bring us under their fire, and then farewell to life and fortune.

"Forward," whispered Fred; and on we struggled, the forest apparently
growing more dense at every step, and at length we seemed so surrounded
with impenetrable thickets that we were obliged to halt and consult as
to the best route to the team, which we were anxious to reach.

Suddenly the cracking of a twig beneath the foot of a man who appeared
to be making his way in the direction from which we came, started us.
Rover uttered a short growl, and would have sprung upon him, but Fred
held the brute with hands of iron and whispered a word of caution, and
then the dog became mute as stone.

The invisible robber continued on his way towards the clearing, passing
so near us that it seemed as though we might have touched him, had we
been so disposed. He evidently was on the lookout for our party, for he
would stop and listen attentively, and then proceed with careful and
certain steps.

We waited until he was beyond hearing, and then extricated ourselves
from the thicket and continued our course. For more than two hours we
toiled and worked, until at length we saw an opening through the trees.
With eager but careful steps we moved towards it, thinking that the
worst part of our expedition was over, and I was just about to throw the
gold to the earth and thank God for our escape, when I looked up and saw
that we were at the very point from whence we started--that we were
standing on the edge of the clearing, and that directly in front of us
were twenty or thirty bushrangers, with levelled muskets, evidently
taking our bearing with great familiarity.




CHAPTER XXVII.

CAPTURE OF ALL HANDS, BY THE BUSHRANGERS.


There was no time to retreat, had we been so disposed; and though Fred's
rifle flew to his shoulder with the quickness of thought, he apparently
considered it better policy not to commence hostilities until the
bushrangers showed their disposition.

Fighting was not to be thought of; for who would think of taking part
in a struggle when eighteen or twenty guns were aimed, and ready to be
discharged upon the least sign of resistance.

There was one thing which I had the presence of mind to do. I stepped
quietly behind the stockman and Smith, and dropped the bag of gold
amidst a thicket of bushes, and I inwardly prayed that whatever might be
our fate, the robbers would not get sight of the treasure.

"Do you surrender?" asked a voice; and following the bushranger's words,
we could hear the ominous clink of the muskets as they were brought to
their shoulders.

"What promises do you make us?" replied Fred, undaunted.

"What do you wish us to promise?" continued the bushranger.

"Our lives and arms."

"Our promises are easily broken. Why do you request mercy at the hands
of bushrangers?"

"Because, in this case, if we do not obtain your most solemn pledge that
our lives shall be spared, we will die with our rifles in our hands. I
need not tell you that when we aim, we do so with the intention to
kill."

The bushrangers whispered together for a few minutes, and from their
eagerness we could see that a large majority of the men were in favor of
complying with Fred's request. Once or twice we heard the word "gold"
mentioned, as though that was the chief theme of their discussion.
Presently the whispering ceased, and the man who appeared to be the
leader of the band again spoke:--

"I have talked with my men, and they are willing to comply with your
desire, provided you will deliver to us the gold which you found buried
in this clearing."

"As for the gold," returned Fred, "we dropped it some time ago, and you
are welcome to it if it can be found."

"Then lay down your arms and step towards us. We are not to be taken by
surprise, having heard of your Yankee tricks."

"We had better trust to darkness and our guns," muttered the old
stockman; but his warning was too late, for Fred advanced towards the
bushrangers and placed his rifle in their hands, and with a sigh I
followed his example.

"Come!" shouted the leader, his voice growing harsher as the disarming
proceeded--"there are two more of 'em; hurry up, and don't keep us
waiting too long."

"I make the third," said Smith, handing in his double barrelled gun.

"Ha, driver, are you here?" laughed the ruffian, as his eyes fell upon
Smith's burly form. "You had better have stuck to the teaming business
than digging up dead men's gold--I think you would have found it more
profitable and less dangerous."

"There is where we differ in opinion, Sam Nosey," replied Smith, quite
coolly. "I work at any kind of business where I think I can make an
honest shilling, and don't see but this expedition comes under the head
of regular trade. At the edge of the wood you will find my team and two
pair of good oxen, with a bottle of brandy such as you have not tasted
for many a day."

"You mean that I would have found things as you describe, an hour or two
ago; but the fact is, my men were hungry; so two of your cattle were
knocked in the head, and a right jolly feed we had, I assure you."

"I wish they had been so tough that their flesh would have choked you,"
was the unsatisfactory exclamation of the stout-hearted Smith.

"Your wish is unkind, considering the favor which we intend to show
you," sneered the bushranger captain.

Smith uttered an oath, and I thought, that in spite of the number around
us, he would make a push for freedom; but after glancing around and
seeing that his intention was anticipated, and that the crowd had
enclosed us in a circle, he gave up the idea.

"There is one prisoner missing--where is he?" demanded the chief,
abruptly.

"There's no other to be seen," cried half a dozen voices.

"Fools! why do you talk in that way? The old stockman is one of the
party, for I saw him not more than five minutes ago. Bring him out of
the bushes and let us see if his hair has grown any whiter since the
time he shot at me for killing a lamb. I have an account to settle with
him."

"He has made his escape, for no one is to be seen," cried the men, after
searching for a few minutes.

"It can't be, for only a moment ago I saw him mumbling prayers and
hoping that his life would be spared. Fire the pile of brush, call in
the scouts, and let me hear their report."

As the chief spoke, a huge pile of brush was fired, which illuminated
the open space and cast a bright glare upon the faces of those present.
Involuntarily, I looked at the person of the man who appeared to hold
such despotic sway over his followers, and I shuddered while I gazed,
for a more horrible face I never saw, except in my dreams.

His cheeks were seared until the flesh appeared livid and raw, and I
expected to see blood trickle from the half-healed wounds. His eyes were
large and glaring, being entirely unprotected by eyelashes, and as for
eyebrows, they seemed to be eaten away and destroyed. The fellow's nose,
however, was the most disgusting part of his face; for the nasal organ
was entirely gone, and nothing was to be seen excepting two small holes
which led to the chambers of the head.

I understood the reason that he was nicknamed Nosey, without asking a
question, but it was not until some days after that I learned how he
came to be so badly disfigured.

Charles Bowen, alias Nosey, was sentenced to transportation for
twenty-five years for appropriating about ten thousand pounds to his own
use by means of a forged will. He was a man of a good education, and
withal shrewd and unscrupulous; but sharp as he was, it did not prevent
his getting convicted and sentenced--and from the time that he stepped
foot on board of the transport he began his career of defying officers
and all wholesome discipline.

One day he attacked an assistant surgeon, who was attached to the
vessel, and the doctor repelled him by hurling a bottle of oil of
vitriol at his head. Bowen closed his eyes when he saw that the liquid
was about to strike his face, and by resolutely keeping them closed
until the powerful acid was cleaned from his flesh, managed to save
them, and then the surgeons of the ship commenced and arrested the
progress of the vitriol, and preserved his life; but not until the
fellow's nose was entirely gone, and his eyebrows and cheeks nearly
eaten away.

A more hideous-looking wretch, as he stood by the blazing pile of brush,
I never saw; and it appeared to me that he gloried in his deformity, for
he rolled his glaring eyes at me, and chuckled immensely when he saw
that I regarded him rather closely.

"The stockman has given us the go-by," said one of the gang, returning
from his pursuit of the old convict.

"Have you examined every bush and tree between this and the prairie?"
asked the chief.

"As well as we can in the darkness," was the answer.

"Return to the woods, and don't allow a space as large as a man's body
to escape inspection. Away with you--our triumph is not complete without
the head of the old shepherd."

"I can find nothing of the gold," said a voice that I had heard before,
and looking up I saw our treacherous companion, Steel Spring.

The fellow regarded me with a sly grin, and winked his eye as he pointed
to the deep hole where he had labored when we discovered the treasure.

A frightful expression came over the robber's face as he heard the
report. His staring eyes seemed to become injected with blood, and the
scars on his countenance turned to a more livid hue.

"Where have you secreted the gold?" he asked, with a voice trembling
with passion.

"What gold?" I demanded, indifferently.

"The gold which Jim Gulpin buried here. You know what I mean; and let me
tell you that a civil and correct answer will stand your friend, just at
this time. You have no police to fall back upon, and if I but give the
word, your lives are not worth a farthing."

"It is true, we were after the gold, but what evidence have you that we
found it?" I demanded.

"The evidence of the man who has been on your track ever since you
entered the forest--saw you remove the sack, and then saw you attempt to
escape with your plunder. Come here, Steel Spring."

The long, lank, lying wretch came at the call of his commander, and with
a gracious nod towards us, stood ready to answer any questions.

"At what time did you give the signal, Steel Spring?"

"The hinstant that I sees they had got the money. I didn't know vether
you had returned from the trip vich you vas to make, but I vas
determined to try the signal agreed upon, and to my great joy, I heard
you hanswer the first time I calls."

"And you saw them remove the sack?" demanded the chief.

"Yes, hindeed I did; and 'cos I calls to you, these fellows fires at me,
but they vas not quick enough for Steel Spring."

"You hear what my man says; you were seen to take the gold. Yield it to
us, and go, and the devil go with you, for all I care; but deprive us of
it, and to-morrow's sun shall not see you alive."

Fred, Smith, and myself held a whispered conversation for a few minutes,
and concluded that it was better to give up the money and save our
lives, and trust to chance to recover the treasure.

"Have you decided?" asked the chief, his voice growing more rough at
each moment's delay. "We have."

"Enough; lead us to the spot where it is secreted."

"You have but a few steps to go," I said, as I motioned for the
bushrangers to stand one side and allow me to approach the spot where I
had dropped the bag.

"Let him pass!" exclaimed the robber; and, obedient to his word, the
gang stepped aside, but closed in upon me, so that I had no chance to
escape, even had I been so disposed.

"You will find the gold there," I said, pointing to the spot where I had
dropped the sack.

Half a dozen arms were thrust eagerly forth, and searched amidst the
rank grass and stunted bushes. Suddenly, one of the men uttered an
exclamation and sprang back, holding aloft his hand, upon a finger of
which was fastened a deadly snake, of a pale orange hue, with a fine
ring of black around its neck.

With oaths, and cries of terror, the robbers sought to escape from the
vicinity of their companion, who, with yells such as I thought no mortal
man capable of uttering, endeavored to unfasten the firm grip of the
adder's teeth.

We could have escaped at that time, and no one would have thought of
pursuit, so busy were the gang in regarding the contortions of the
wretch, who rushed wildly back and forth, begging, cursing, and praying
in one breath.

Once I thought of starting alone, after vainly endeavoring to attract
the attention of Fred and Smith; but I considered how cowardly it would
be to desert my friends, and banished the idea, unless we could all go
together.

"Will no one save me?" shrieked the wretch, running first to one and
then another of his comrades; but as fast as he approached them, they
would retreat, and hurl imprecations at his head for seeking to bring
destruction upon themselves.

"Curse you all for a pack of cowards!" he yelled; "may you all die by
the hands of a hangman! Will no one save me? Will no one relieve me of
this cursed snake?"

"Hold your hand still, for a moment," cried Fred, suddenly starting
forward, and picking up a bowie knife, which one of the men had dropped
in his terror.

The poor fellow sought to obey, but his fright was too great; and as the
adder curled its tail over his arm, without relinquishing its hold, he
endeavored to shake it off, and succeeded so far as the tail was
concerned, but the jaws were too firmly clinched to be made to let go so
easily.

Fred's eye was quick, and his hand steady, and as the snake hung full
length, pendent from the finger, he struck at it with the knife and
severed it in two parts. The tail fell to the ground and wound itself
into knots, but the jaws did not relinquish their hold until the last
drop of blood had drained from the trunk, when, with an expiring gasp,
the teeth were unlocked, and the robber's finger was free.

Stout-hearted as the fellow undoubtedly was, he no sooner saw that the
reptile was dead than he fell to the ground in a fit. Foam issued from
his mouth, and by the light of the fire I saw that the poison was
already performing its work, and that it was mixing with his blood and
coursing through his veins with the speed of thought. His face grew
black and commenced swelling rapidly, and all the medical science in the
world would have been unable to give him an hour's life.

"Can you do any thing for him?" asked the chief, turning to us.

We replied in the negative.

"Then let him die where he is, and one of you take a torch and find the
money. Be careful; there may be more snakes in the grass."

The men obeyed the heartless speech, and forsook the writhing wretch to
look for the gold.

"There is nothing here!" they cried, in chorus.

"I put the bag there but a moment ago," I replied.

"You lie!" roared the chief; "you are deceiving us, and think to escape
with life, and pocket your stealing. I tell you, if the money is not
forthcoming, I'll hang you like dogs. Tie them up and lash them to a
tree; I will give them a short time to think the matter over."

The robbers threw themselves upon us and bound our arms, in spite of
resistance, and with an expedition that proved they were experts in the
matter; we were then fastened to trees, and taunted with our
instrumentality in destroying the gangs of Darnley and Gulpin.

Luckily, Fred and myself were fastened to the same tree, so that we
could condole with each other in our misfortunes. This was the hardest
situation in which we had ever been placed, and yet we felt no fear of
immediate death, although we knew that an injudicious word would seal
our doom without a moment's delay.

"Where can the money have gone to?" whispered Fred.

"I know not," I replied; "you saw me throw it amidst the bushes, and
yet, now, it cannot be found."

"One of the gang must have watched our movements, and, during the
confusion, moved the bag to another place."

As Fred ceased speaking, the dying man, who was lying at our feet,
raised his head, and sought to get up; the effort was unsuccessful, and,
with a groan of agony, he fell back and called in feeble tones for
water.

"Water," he cried; "for the love of mercy, give me a drink of water; I
feel as though I was burning to death. My mouth is parched, and my
tongue swollen to an unnatural size."

"Give him a drink, one of you," grunted the chief. "It's probably the
last one he will ever ask for."

"Don't say that," exclaimed the snake-bitten man, struggling to rise. "I
am not going to die just yet, I can tell you. I have not half revenged
myself upon those who injured me."

"Live, and be hanged, if you can," retorted the chief, coolly, seating
himself upon a log, and lighting his pipe; "I don't hinder you from
getting well, do I?"

"No, no. Nosey, I know that you would rather assist me," said the man,
with a faint attempt at a smile, but it was soon banished from his face,
and then he again sought to rise, but without success.

The poison was spreading swiftly through his veins, and we could almost
see his body swell, so rapidly was it bloating him. He had unbuttoned
the wristbands and collar of his shirt, for the pain was too great to
keep them fastened; and as he lay at our feet a spectacle too dreadful
to be looked upon without pity, we wished that we had the means to save
a life that had been passed regardless of laws or man.

"If one of you fellers are acquainted with a prayer or two, p'raps it
would be well to mutter it over the poor devil, so that his soul may not
be snatched by the evil one as soon as it leaves his body," said a
bushranger of grim aspect, speaking to Fred and myself.

"I will willingly do all that I can to comfort the dying man," I
replied; "but first I want my arms untied, so that I can hear his last
words."

"Well, that's only asking for a reasonable thing, and hang me if I won't
risk it," replied the grizzly robber, proceeding to untie my hands.

"Hullo," shouted the chief, "what are you about?"

"I'm going to let this feller confess Ben, 'cos I believe he's half
priest or parson, and I think it's hard if a man can't have a little
religion occasionally."

"Tie the prisoner up again," said Nosey, sternly, laying his hand
carelessly upon a pistol which was stuck in his belt.

"Shan't do any thing of the kind," replied the robber, firmly. "Old Ben
is going to die, and he wants religion before he starts. I'm not the one
to refuse him."

"Once more I tell you to make the prisoner fast to the tree," cried
Nosey, drawing the pistol and cocking it.

"Look a-here--is that your game?" demanded the humane robber; "let me
tell you that you had better put up the barker, 'cos I've got one that
can speak when it's told to."

The old bushranger drew a pistol and held it in his hand for a moment,
and then, turning to his companions, said,--

"You ain't going to see me shot 'cos I want to 'friend as good a man as
was ever transported? How do we know how soon we may want a prayer or
two to help fix things up in the other world."

"Let him have the prayers," muttered the gang, with one accord. "What
harm can they do?"

Thus backed up, the old robber, who had formerly been a sailor,
continued to unbind my hands, while Nosey replaced his pistol without
further remonstrance.

I knelt by the side of the dying man, but he was past consciousness, and
no longer appeared to heed what was going on around. His tongue had
swollen to such an extent that his jaws were open to their fullest
width, and it was impossible to close them. His eyes were set and nearly
concealed in their sockets, so rapidly had his face bloated from the
effects of the poisonous virus that was coursing through his veins.

I spoke to him, but he did not heed me, and in answer to the robbers'
questions, I predicted his speedy death. They received the news with
great coolness, and fell back to their old occupation of smoking pipes,
leaving me alone with the body.

For a few minutes I sat there endeavoring to relieve the poor fellow's
sufferings by welting his lips with water, and while I was thus engaged
I was startled by hearing a slight rustling in the bushes; I looked up,
thinking that the companion of the dead snake was about to visit us in
search of its mate, and as I did so, I caught a glimpse of the wrinkled
face of the stockman. I did not start or manifest symptoms of surprise,
for I had lived too long in a country where Indians were my nearest
neighbors to allow such an emotion to be observed. I continued my
occupation, therefore, and while I kept my eyes on the hiding-place of
the convict, I did not neglect to note the movements of the bushrangers,
who were grouped around the fire, and wholly unsuspicious of the
presence of their most deadly enemy.

"Hist!" said the stockman, after successfully imitating the singing of a
cricket to attract my attention.

I turned my head towards him, but I still pretended to be busy attending
to the wants of the dying man.

"Cut Smith and your friend loose, and then stand ready to aid us in
striking a blow. Be cautious, and not a word."

I was left in wonder, for the head disappeared so quietly, it was only
by a slight rustling of dried leaves that I knew the stockman was
working his form through the bushes to rejoin whomever he had enlisted
to assist him.

I puzzled my head for a few minutes, trying to think who was near at
hand, but it was in vain; and I at length concluded that a passing train
of miners had volunteered, under a promise of a large reward, which now
I had not the means of paying. I tried to invent excuses for the purpose
of approaching Fred, and at length I hit upon a plan.

"I think," I said, speaking to the old sailor, "that I might relieve the
man's sufferings were I to bleed him."

"Go ahead, then, matey," he answered, with a nod of his head.

"Let me see," I said, feeling in my pockets; "I believe that my friend
has my lancet. Will you get it, or shall I?"

"Get it," he replied, mechanically, not even taking his pipe from his
mouth to answer.

I had carefully secreted a knife which I had found upon the person of
the bushranger, and with it I cut Fred's bonds, whispering words of
caution as I did so.

"I haven't got the lancet," cried Fred, with a sudden shake, as though
to prevent me from searching his pockets. "You know that I gave it to
Smith."

"I'm sure that you didn't," Smith said, surprised at Fred's assertion.
Before he could utter further remonstrance I had severed his bonds and
repeated my words of caution.

"Are you ready?" I heard a voice whisper close behind me.

I glanced to the spot where the rifles were lying, and then surveyed the
bushrangers, as they lay stretched out before the fire, perfectly
unconscious that we were plotting their destruction.

"All ready," I responded, making a signal to Fred to be on the alert.

"Stoop down a little," was the whispered injunction. I obeyed the order,
and no sooner did I bow my head than the bushes appeared to be
illuminated with a sheet of flame. A roar of musketry that seemed to
shake the forest followed the flash, and over my head I could hear the
bullets whiz as they sped on their errand of death.




CHAPTER XXVIII.

OPPORTUNE ARRIVAL OF LIEUTENANT MURDEN AND HIS FORCE, ROUT OF THE
BUSHRANGERS.


I heard a wild yell, such as men utter when taken by surprise--I heard
groans and curses, and then, loud above all, arose a cheer which could
only have proceeded from men who had some great matter at stake, and
were determined to fight to the last for victory.

Through the smoke, which slowly drifted over the clearing, I saw half a
dozen robbers spring to their feet and fall headlong, like logs, to the
ground, and by the light of the still blazing fire I observed the
astonishment depicted upon the faces of the bushrangers as they looked
in the direction from whence the discharge proceeded, and stumbled over
each other on their way towards the spot where their arms were stacked.

All this I observed in a few seconds' time, but before I could start to
my feet, wondering who were the attacking party, I heard the voice of
the old convict, shrill and wild, shout out a quotation from the Bible,
and conclude with one of his semi-religious, fanatical expressions.

"May the God of my fathers," he exclaimed, "forgive me for killing the
devils, but I couldn't help it."

"Charge, men!" cried a manly voice that I thought I knew.

A wild cheer arose that shook the very forest, and through the bushes
came the regular tramp of disciplined men. I caught sight of the old
familiar blue uniform, and one glance at the leader of the force was
sufficient. I saw my old friend, Lieutenant Murden, and a strong squad
of Melbourne police at his back.

I sprang to my feet and cheered lustily, and then grasped the first
weapon that I could find, and joined their ranks. I saw that Fred and
Smith were with me, and like eagles we swept down upon our prey.

A hasty discharge greeted us, and one man fell badly wounded, but we had
no time to pause to administer to his relief. On we rushed where the
bushrangers were endeavoring to make a stand, and were calling upon each
other to fight to the last. Even Nosey was evidently determined to
sustain his great reputation and die facing his enemies; but as we
advanced upon a run we delivered our fire and tumbled over two or three
others, and that, with the complete surprise which had been gained over
them, completed their confusion. They broke, and dashed into the woods,
but not before half of their number was placed _hors du combat_, and
amidst them, stretched upon the ground bleeding from two bad wounds, was
the old sailor who had released me.

"No mercy--kill the accursed dogs," roared the stockman, swinging his
long gun over his head, and dashing after a young fellow who had fought
desperately, but now sought to escape.

"Come back," shouted Murden, in a voice of thunder. "Venture beyond the
edge of this clearing, and your life is not worth a sixpence. The
bushrangers know every turn of the woods, and are already in ambush,
waiting for victims. Extinguish that fire, men, as soon as possible, and
don't too many of you venture near it until it is smothered."

"You are the last man that I expected to see to-night, Murden," I said,
grasping his hand with a pressure that expressed my gratitude at his
arrival.

"Well, to tell you the truth," he replied, "I must say that three hours
ago I had no idea of shaking hands with old friends. But let me station
the men to prevent a surprise, for I shall have to stop here all night,
as the risk is too great trying to reach the prairie until morning, and
then we will compare notes. I see that you are well, and that is all
that I care about now. Even Smith has not lost an ounce of flesh since
our last meeting."

"I may not have lost flesh, but my worriment of mind for the last few
hours has been awful," replied the teamster, with a grin of satisfaction
at his escape.

"A few hours' sleep will restore you," cried the lieutenant, pleasantly.

By this time the police had extinguished the fire, which was burning too
brightly for safety. The half-consumed logs were thrown aside to
smoulder and die out, and dirt thrown upon the coals to extinguish their
brightness.

"Maurice," called the lieutenant, speaking to his old orderly, "station
four men at different quarters, and tell them to give an alarm if they
but hear a stick move. The bushrangers have not gone far, I warrant you,
and perhaps they will beat up our quarters before morning."

"Yes, sir," promptly replied the policeman.

"How many of our force are wounded?" the officer asked.

"Sam, sir, has got a shot in his thigh, and the blood flows pretty fast
from the wound. I have tied it up as well as possible."

"I will go and attend on him, and see what can be done for his relief;"
and the lieutenant started at a brisk pace towards where the injured man
was lying.

"Well, Sam, how do you feel?" inquired Murden.

"Weak from the loss of blood, sir, but I think that I shall get over
it."

"Get over it?" repeated Murden, in pretended surprise, "of course you
will. I don't want to lose the best fighting man that I have got in my
troop. When we get back to Melbourne you can go into hospital quarters
if you wish to, but not for any length of time. I cannot spare you many
weeks, Sam."

"I'm glad to hear it, sir," replied the policeman, in a tone of voice
that showed how pleased he was. "Did you see how I brought the fellow
down who was aiming at us?"

"Of course I did. I knew the instant you sighted him that he was a dead
robber. But don't talk any more. I will have a torch lighted, even if it
brings the devils upon us, and by its light I will bind up your wound so
that you will feel quite nicely by morning."

One of the men brought a lighted limb of a gum tree, and by it Murden
examined the wound, which seemed quite severe, although he did not say
so. After he had applied some balsam which he carried in a case in his
pocket, he re-bound the leg, and then ordered the torch to be
extinguished.

"The poor fellow cannot live until morning," whispered Murden, as we
walked one side. "The main artery of his leg is cut, and he is slowly
bleeding to death."

"What are we to do with these wounded men, sir?" asked Maurice, after he
had stationed the guard.

"What can we do with them? We have neither wine, nor water, nor medicine
to bestow. But not to let them think we are cruel, call the wounded and
find out how many there are, and tell them that in the morning we will
attend to their wants, as far as we are able."

"Where is the old stockman?" I asked, not recollecting seeing him since
the fight was over.

Word was passed for him, but every one declared that he had not been
seen since the moment when Murden recalled him from the pursuit of the
rangers.

"Let him go," said the officer; "he is perfectly able to take care of
himself, and I have no doubt that he has a project in his head."

"But how in the name of humanity did he manage to find you at such a
favorable moment?"

"That is easily explained," Murden replied. "I left Melbourne two days
since in pursuit of a man who has been committing murder in the city. He
started for the Ballarat diggings, and I have been on his trail until
this noon, when I lost it, and had good reason to believe that he had
cut across the country, intending to join a gang of bushrangers,
secreted in the forest. I thought that I should get information from the
old stockman; so I concluded to ride to his hut.

"To my surprise I saw that your horses were confined in the cattle pen,
and after frightening the old fellow's daughter almost to death, I
learned from her that you had been gone for two days on some kind of
treasure seeking, in which her father was to take the lead and point out
the money. I feared that, you had got caught in some kind of a trap, set
by the frequenters of these woods; so I determined, as I was no longer
on the trail of the murderer, to take a look at your operations, and, if
possible, lend a hand in getting the gold."

Murden laughed when he spoke of the treasure, and we almost feared that
he suspected us of keeping the secret from him.

"But where did you meet the stockman?" we asked.

"I am coming to the point of my narrative. We halted barely long enough
to water the animals, and get something to eat--in the latter, let me
assure you, the woman was pleased to lend her aid, and supplied us with
meat enough to feed a regiment; and when I told her that we did not need
so much, she begged that we would take what we did not want to her
father and Mr. Smith."

"To whom?" we asked, astonished.

"To Mr. Smith," replied Murden, gravely.

"Ho, ho, Smith!" we cried, "you have, it seems, been making a conquest,
and now, for the first time, we are to hear of it."

"I assure you," stammered Smith, "I had no idea that--"

"How long has it been going on, Smith?" we cried.

"There is nothing in it, I assure you; I never said much to her, any
way, and what few compliments I have paid her, are in fact--"

"Intended to mean nothing. Very well, Mr. Smith, I shall take care to
put the lady on her guard, the next time I see her," said Murden,
pretending to be serious.

"No, don't do that," cried Smith in alarm, "because I don't know but I
shall marry her, yet."

"Ah, if that is the case, I'll not interfere on any account. But
remember, I'm to be asked to the wedding."

"I'll not forget," Smith said; and after that affair was satisfactorily
concluded, Murden went on with his story.

"I accepted of her offering, and agreed to convey a portion of a baked
lamb to her friend Mr. Smith, and I am bound to say that neither of you
gentlemen was mentioned in connection with the affair. It was near dark,
when we replaced our saddles upon our animals, and started across the
prairie, but before we were half way to the woods, the last glimmer of
twilight had faded out, and we were obliged to continue our journey by
guess work, for no beaten trail leads across the plain.

"When we were within a mile or two of the secret path, I saw an object
that looked to me like a kangaroo, on the prairie, so swiftly did it
run. Not feeling perfectly convinced that such was the case, I called my
men's attention to it, and one, who has sharper eyes than the rest of
us, declared that what I took to be an animal, was a good-sized man, who
appeared to be making the best of his way across the plain.

"I started in pursuit, and called once or twice to him to stop, but not
until I had nearly rode him down, did he come to a stand still, and to
my surprise, I found that I had come very near ending the days of the
old stockman.

"A few questions and a few answers were all that I required to
understand the case. I instantly mounted the old fellow behind one of my
men, and at a gallop I dashed towards the woods, which I had no sooner
gained, than I sent three of my men back to the hut with the horses, and
ordered them not to come near us until after sunrise in the morning.

"Here commenced the most difficult part of our undertaking, as we deemed
it best to take the robbers by surprise, and exterminate the gang, if
possible. The old stockman undertook to pilot us through the woods, and
the manner in which we crept to within a few feet of you without making
any noise, shows that he performed his part with great success.

"The large number of bushrangers assembled, astonished me. I found that
my force contained only one half as many as they did, yet I had no idea
of not attacking. Desperate as I knew the robbers were, I thought they
would yield upon being taken by surprise. My expectations were not
disappointed; they did fly, and left one half of their force upon the
ground."

"We thank you, heartily, for the trouble and danger which you
experienced in saving our lives, for I have serious doubts whether
to-morrow would have seen us alive," Fred said, shaking hands with
Murden, at the conclusion of the latter's account.

"Say no more, my dear boy, for I know that you would have come to my
assistance as soon as I did to yours. But about this treasure; I see
that you have been digging; have you found any thing yet?"

Before we had time to answer that question, Maurice called the officer's
attention, and relieved us of a reply.

"If you please, sir, there's a dog out here at the edge of the clearing,
and he's got a bushranger down, and has had him there ever since they
run for their lives. The animal won't let one of us come near him, and
threatens the throat of the robber, every time he offers to move. I
can't tell, in the dark, what kind of a dog he is, but I think it's the
one the gentlemen own."

"Poor Rover, I have missed him for an hour or two. Let us go and see
whom he has taken as prisoner," I said.

We followed Maurice to the spot, and found Rover standing sentry over a
prisoner, whose slightest motion caused a growl of warning. I called off
the dog, and ordered the fellow to get up, so that we could see who he
was.

"Vell, of all the games that I ever seed, this is a beater!" cried a man
whose voice was familiar to me.

"Ah, Mr. Steel Spring," said Fred, seizing the individual by the collar;
"we have you in our power again."

"Vell, if I haint thankful to think that I've hescaped from them ere
villains, and got into decent company again. I 'ave trembled at the
profanity of the brutes, and feared for my life ever since I've been
with 'em."

"Do you think, you long-legged wretch, that you can impose upon us for
the second time? Do you suppose that after betraying us into the hands
of your companions you are to be spared?" we demanded, indignantly.

"Vell, 'ere's a go. All through my life I 'ave been suspected vithout
cause. Fust, I'm cast hoff by my hungrateful parents, and left to seek
my living, and artervords I'm made a fool of, and gets transported, and
now the very coves vot I thought friends, turns agin me. Vot a vorld
this is!"

"Why, you hypocritical rascal, did you not first deceive us by saying
that there were no bands of bushrangers in the woods, and while we were
digging did you not raise an alarm which brought upon us Nosey and all
of his gang?"

"Ha, ha!" roared Steel Spring; "vot a funny man that Nosey is! so
handsome, too!"

"You rascal, you will laugh differently in a few minutes. Lieutenant,
let him be tied to a tree, and give him a few dozen across his bare
back."

"No, don't do that," cried the fellow, in some alarm. "I never could
stand a flogging, and my proud spirit vill break if I get's one."

"Tie him up, Maurice," said Murden, coolly. "I recollect the fellow, and
a bigger decoy rogue does not exist in the country. He will lie by the
rule of three, and then retract all that he has said, without the least
regard for himself or others. I have heard of him a number of times, and
now think that I shall live to see him punished."

"I 'opes you vill live a thousand years, lieutenant, but I also 'opes
you'll not joke over my misfortunes. I've 'elped the gentlemen, and now
I'm to be punished for it."

"Tie him up, Maurice, and use your sword belt over his back until I tell
you to stop," repeated Murden. "I owe him a flogging for the manner in
which he sent me on a wrong scent once."

'"On my vord ov 'onor, sir, I didn't do so on purpose. I afterwards
found that I vas wrong, and run after you to put you right, but you'd
gone, and I couldn't find you."

"Lies will not answer your purpose, you long-legged scamp. I'll flog you
now, and then carry you to Melbourne in triumph."

The fellow uttered a dozen excuses, but they did not avail him, and in
spite of his resistance two or three of the men dragged him to a tree,
and fastened his hands with their sword belts. Steel Spring called on
all the saints to prove that he was innocent of trickery, and when the
strong arm of Maurice, wielding a stout belt, descended upon his
shoulders, his entreaties were pitiful.

"That's blow number one," cried Murden. "Go on, Maurice."

"Stop--for God's sake, stop," he yelled. "I vill tell all that I know,
and more too, if you will let me go."

"Who killed and robbed those two miners on their way to Melbourne this
spring?" asked the officer, motioning the policeman to suspend his
punishment.

"Do you mean the two men near the muddy brook, or on the Ballarat Road?"
inquired Steel Spring.

"The two last," replied Murden.

"Vell, don't strike, 'cos it hurts like thunder, and I don't mind
telling you all about it. You see Nosey heard that they'd got the dust
vid 'em; so I was sent to talk vid 'em and find out how much they had,
and get 'em to stop in a convenient place; and then Nosey and two others
comes up and pretends to be going our vay, and ven a good chance
occurred the miners vere knocked in their heads, and Nosey took the dust
and divided it around, but I didn't get any."

"Give him another cut, Maurice, for telling the last lie," cried Murden,
coolly.

"Don't do that," shouted the long-legged wretch, as the blow fell with
awful distinctness upon his back. "Darn it all, you hurt."

"I intended that the blow should," replied Maurice, making preparations
to repeat it.

"Don't strike, for God's sake don't. I'll tell the truth this time," he
yelled.

"How much money did the men have, and what was your share?" repeated
Murden.

"I don't know how much they had, but I does know that I got a hundred
pounds for my share in the affair. But I didn't kill the men. 'Pon honor
I didn't"

"I believe you on that point. Wait a moment, Maurice; I have another
question or two."

"I vish that you'd let me hanser 'em vithout bein' tied up," groaned the
wretch.

"What became of that young girl who was on her way with a party of
friends to join her father at Ballarat, and who was carried off by a
gang of bushrangers?" questioned the lieutenant.

"She's dead," replied Steel Spring, dropping his voice and looking
around anxiously, as though fearful he should see her ghost in the
darkness.

"Who claimed her as a prize?"

"Nosey took charge of her, and threatened to kill any one vot spoke to
her; but I believe that she got a knife and stabbed herself, sooner than
submit to his vishes."

"This is horrid," I said, hardly knowing whether to believe all that I
heard, or consider it the effect of imagination.

"Nevertheless, it is true. You have never heard all the cruelties that
the gangs commit; if you had you would be ready to exclaim, Give them no
quarter, for they deserve none!"

"Now that I've hanswered all you vant to know, you von't vip me any
more, vill you?"

Murden was about to speak, but just then a new subject engrossed his
attention, and he had no longer an opportunity to inflict chastisement
upon the begging wretch.




CHAPTER XXIX.

REVENGE OF THE BUSHRANGERS.--FIRING OF THE FOREST.


The punishment of Steel Spring was suspended, and the stout sword belt
remained in the hands of Maurice, inactive, while all eyes were directed
towards the heavens, from whence a bright light proceeded, which
illuminated the open space where we stood, so that even the ghastly
faces of the dead and dying could be observed with awful distinctness.

For a few minutes' time, even the busy tongue of Steel Spring ceased to
wag and each turned to the other, and asked the reason of such a bright
light at that time and place.

"I think it's the moon just rising," one of the men ventured to say.

"There's no moon to-night," was the brief rejoinder.

"Then what is the meaning of the light?" was the inquiry; but no one
seemed to fathom it.

Presently a few clouds passed over the heavens, and then we smelled
smoke, of which they seemed composed.

"The bushrangers can't have set fire to the stockman's hut, can they?"
asked Murden.

"They could not have crossed the prairie so soon, and the distance is
too great to allow of such a reflection," was my answer.

"Hark, I hear the cracking of bushes," said Fred; "some one is
approaching us."

"Look to your guns, men," called out Murden; "we do not know but this
may be a device of the robbers to get a glimpse of us."

The policemen cocked their carbines, and sheltered their forms from the
bright light behind trees and bushes.

We heard the quick panting of a person who appeared to make his way
through the bushes with difficulty, and the next moment the old convict
sprang into the clearing, trembling with fatigue and agitation.

"You are all lost," he shouted, sinking upon the ground, wringing his
aged hands, and rocking his body to and fro.

"What do you mean, man?" demanded the lieutenant, sternly.

"I mean that there is no chance to escape--_the bushrangers have fired
the forest!_"

I felt the blood at my heart grow cold, for too well did I know the
import of those dreadful words.

"How do you know this?" asked Murden, calmly.

"I followed the bushrangers when they fled, and mixed with them and
talked with them, without being discovered. They discussed a plan for
being revenged upon you and your men. They did not dare attack you,
openly, after you caused the fire to be extinguished; so that Satan upon
earth, Nosey, suggested that the forest should be fired at three
different places, and that you would seek to escape from the flames by
going in an opposite direction."

"And what will prevent us?" asked Murden, glancing his eyes over his
men, who were listening in silence to the revelation.

"All of the best marksmen are going in ambush to the left of us, waiting
for your force to attempt to escape that way. They now guard the passes,
and not one of us could get out alive," groaned the stockman.

"But we can make our way through that portion of the forest which is not
burning," Fred said.

"Impossible," muttered the stockman; "the flames are spreading with the
speed of a horse, and even now a huge wall of fire bars us from the
prairie."

"Why did you not give us notice before?" I asked.

"I came to you the instant a torch was applied to the dry leaves and
branches, but before I was twenty rods from the flames I could hardly
have returned without danger of being burned."

"Well, gentlemen, what is to be done?" asked Murden; "shall we stay here
and be singed like dead rabbits, or shall we push through the forest and
endeavor to escape the ambush?"

"In either case I don't see but that our prospects of escape are
hopeless," said Fred, quite calmly.

"Hark!" cried the stockman, starting to his feet; "do you not hear the
flames?"

We all listened, and a noise like the roaring of the surf on a beach
could be heard, but apparently at a distance.

"That does not sound encouraging, I confess," remarked Fred; "but I
think that we can yet circumvent the devils."

"How?" cried Murden, eagerly.

"Will you be governed by me, for a few hours?" Fred asked.

"Yes, and my men also," answered Murden, heartily.

"Then let us commence work, for we have no time to lose. In the first
place, collect all the powder that your men have, and cover it with
dirt, a foot high, we want no explosion to dishearten the men, and
encourage the enemy."

"Do you hear, men?" cried Murden; "bring to me your flasks without a
moment's delay."

The policemen hastened to obey the order, and a few shovels full of
earth secured our safety in that respect.

"Now, then, as many of you as can use shovels and pickaxes, dig away at
that hole, which Steel Spring commenced. Do not spare your labor, for a
gang will relieve you, when tired. Dig deep and wide."

"But I don't see of what use that is to be," remonstrated Murden.

"Remember that you have promised to be guided by me. Don't stop to
question, but see that the men work with a will, while I attend to other
important duties."

Murden no longer sought to fathom Fred's motives, but grasped a shovel,
and set an example of energy which his men were not slow to follow.

"Now, Smith, you and the stockman and Jack help me. Rekindle the fire,
which has almost died out, and burn every stick of timber within reach
on the left side of us. We will catch the bushrangers in their own trap,
if they are not quick."

"But vot is to 'come of me? Vho's to take care of me? Vhere's my
friends?" yelled Steel Spring, making desperate efforts to break the
bonds which confined him.

We were all too busy to attend to the wretch, and merely glanced towards
him occasionally, to see if his bonds held; but Steel Spring was a man
not easily discouraged, and every few minutes we were addressed with
prayers and oaths, to make provision for his safety.

The fire, which Murden had given orders to extinguish, was easily
rekindled, and then burning brands were thrown upon the dry bushes and
leaves, raising flames that roared aloft and caught at the branches of
the gum trees, and then spread to the trunks, and leaped from bough to
bough, driving parrots and gaudy-plumed birds from their nests, that
vented their displeasure at being disturbed by uttering hoarse croaks of
rage.

"You will burn down the whole of the forest," cried Murden, alarmed at
the rapidity with which the flames were spreading.

"I had rather see it down, than a man in this company should be
injured," was the brief reply.

"Amen to that. But, Fred, it's growing warm here. Is not the hole which
we have dug large enough?" asked the lieutenant, wiping his brow.

"Not half," replied Fred. "Do you see that long line of fire, which,
urged by a strong wind, is rushing towards us like a furious wave of the
ocean?"

"Well, a man can't very well keep his eyes off of it when he knows that
it is to crisp him up like a baked pig," Murden answered, with a rueful
look.

"We have hardly begun to experience the heat from that line of flames
yet, and our only chance of escape is by entering the excavation which
your men are making." "I see, I see!" cried Murden, a new light
breaking in upon him. "It is our only chance, sure enough."

The officer spoke to the policemen, who, with coats off, were working
like heroes, and they redoubled their exertions.

"The next question is, what shall we do with these wounded men?" Fred
inquired. "We can hardly hope to save them all."

"There is but one of my force wounded, and if it is possible to save
him, I will; but as for these cutthroats, I see no chance for them."

We looked into Murden's face to see if there was any show of pity for
the bushrangers, but there was none. He had already calculated in his
mind that the robbers deserved death, and the sooner they died, the
better for the county.

"Let us speak to your wounded policeman, and see if he can bear
removal," Fred said.

We passed over to the side of the clearing, where he was lying at the
root of a tree which had as yet escaped the flames.

"Well, Sam, do you still feel like having another battle with
bushrangers?" asked the officer.

There was no response. I stooped down and carefully removed the corner
of a blanket from his face, and the open, staring eyes met my view. In
the midst of the bustle and confusion, the spirit of Sam had taken its
flight without uttering a groan, or one repining word. We gazed upon his
face again, and left the corpse where we found it, to be licked by the
greedy flames which were now roaring around on every side.

"We must burrow like rabbits," cried Murden, "or we shall be burned to
death. It seems already as though I could hardly breathe. A breath of
fresh air would now be worth all the gold of Australia."

"Don't talk of feeling suffocated yet," Fred replied, stripping off all
of his surplus clothing--an example which the rest of us were glad to
follow; and to prevent it from being burned, we rolled it into one pile,
and covered it deep with dirt.

"When the fire reaches the edge of the clearing, and the wind blows the
flames within a few inches of our heads, and the earth blisters the skin
at a touch, then I shall not blame you for asking for fresh air," Fred
continued.

"I certainly am obliged to you," Murden said, with a rueful look; "but
if you will explain how we are to keep those same flames from melting
our brains while we are huddled in that hole, like sheep in a pen, I
shall feel gratified."

"Then I will explain immediately, for I see that only a few minutes will
be allotted us by that moving circle of fire to make our preparations.
Let the place which your men have excavated be covered over, with the
exception of a hole to crawl into, with the pieces of half-burned timber
which you see lying around."

"For what purpose?" asked Murden.

"To save our heads from being burned, as they otherwise would, unless
protected," Fred replied.

"But the logs will get on fire."

"Not if they are protected by a heavy covering of dirt," answered Fred,
composedly.

"An idea that I should not have entertained," muttered Murden, in
astonishment.

"But now that you understand me, hasten the men in their work, for
already our clothes give tokens of singeing."

Our situation was one which might well make a timid man fear for his
life; for on each side of us the flames were roaring and surging like
the grass of a prairie on fire, and over our heads the heavens were
concealed by the black clouds of smoke which, urged by the wind, were
traversing the sky at a rapid rate; and on that same night an alarm was
entertained at Ballarat, ninety miles distant, that Melbourne had burned
to the ground. So dense was the smoke occasioned by the consuming of
hundreds of acres of trees in the black forest of Australia.

The five on the left of the clearing, which we had kindled to prevent
the bushrangers from approaching us and thinning our numbers at leisure,
had already assumed a fearful aspect, and was running along the ground
rapidly. I hardly dared to stop my work and watch the scene, so fearful
was it. I had serious doubts as to the practicability of the plan which
Fred proposed, yet I gave no evidence of my want of faith, and
encouraged the men with example and words, and when a number of the
trees began swaying to and fro, as the fire consumed their trunks, I
remonstrated against their seeking shelter until the work was entirely
finished.

During our struggle to secure a place of safety, we had forgotten
entirely the wounded bushrangers, who were stretched out, side by side,
at the farther end of the clearing. Their cries for assistance, however,
soon called our attention to the fact that we had made no provision for
their safety, and while the policemen were hurriedly placing a roof upon
our den, Murden and the rest of us held a brief consultation as to what
we should do with the poor wretches.

"Speak quick," exclaimed Fred, as a burning tree fell with a tremendous
crash into the clearing, sending the sparks high into the air, and
causing the atmosphere to seem like the breath of a furnace.

"Speak quick," he continued. "We can endure the heat but a few minutes
longer, and our lives are endangered by the falling of trees. Shall we
save the bushrangers and perish ourselves, or shall we abandon them to
their fate?"

"I am as humane as any man alive," said Murden, "but I can't think that
I am called upon to expose my command to death for the sake of saving
our most deadly enemy. Were there innocent and unoffending women here, I
should know my duty and behave as become a man, but now I must remember
that I am a commander."

"I expected that you would prefer your men's safety to that of robbers,"
Fred said; "but as you are an interested party, we will hear what Smith
has to say."

"My life is as dear to me as the rest; but while I cannot see how we are
to save the bushrangers, I would gladly give all my wealth for the
privilege of so doing," was the honest answer.

"Spoken like a man," replied Fred, rubbing his side, which, owing to his
neglect to turn at the right moment, was somewhat scorched.

Faint moans, uttered by men who stood upon the brink of the grave,
hastened us in our deliberations. We glanced towards the poor wretches
and found that they were endeavoring to work their maimed bodies towards
us for the purpose of pleading for mercy.

There was one man, however, who did not move from the spot where the
policemen had first deposited him, and although the flames were roaring
within forty feet of his position, he merely turned a dimmed eye towards
them, and appeared to be resigned to his fate. I thought I recognized
his weather-beaten countenance and grizzly hair, and nearer inspection
convinced me that my surmises were correct. It was the old sailor who
had so manfully resisted the orders of Nosey, and insisted upon allowing
me to administer consolation to the snake-bitten bushranger. "Here is a
man who must be taken care of, if I go without shelter," I said,
pointing to the sailor.

"It is impossible," Murden replied. "He is badly wounded, and would
occupy the room of three or four men. Let us retreat, for already do I
feel as though my lungs were being boiled."

"You may go," I answered, firmly, "but not a step do I stir until I see
that old sailor provided for. He saved my life, and I will try and save
his."

"Don't mind me, matey," cried the wounded man, in a feeble tone; "my
cruise is nearly up, and the log book will soon record my fate."

"If you die you shall expire without the torture of fire. We cannot save
your companions, and indeed hardly know whether we can save ourselves,
but the experiment shall be tried."

"Well, well," Murden said, seeing that I was firm in my demand, "we will
share our den with him. Lift him up, men, and place him in our vault as
carefully as possible."

The policemen performed the duty with an alacrity that I did not
anticipate, and after I had seen the old sailor placed in a corner of
the vault, and Rover by the side of him, I turned to join Fred and
Murden, who were still arguing whether they could desert the other
bushrangers and yet appear honorable in the eyes of the world.

"The old follow seems a little cast down," said one of the police, as I
prepared to leave the vault.

I answered in the affirmative, and was continuing on, when the man
touched me on the arm.

"Hist," he whispered; "don't say a word, but it's a little wine I have
in my canteen which the old robber is welcome to, if you think it will
do him any good."

I grasped the treasure with more pleasure than I should have experienced
had I found a bag of gold flung at my feet. I thanked the kind-hearted
man for his offering, and in another instant. I had poured a portion of
the contents of the canteen down the grizzly old fellow's neck.

The drink revived him. He expressed his pleasure at my kindness by a
glance from his sunken eyes that told of a warm heart, even if it beat
within the breast of a robber.

"Thank you, matey," the old man said; "but it's of little use to try and
right the hull when there's a shot between wind and water, and the
top-hamper is gone. Nevertheless, I take it in kindness."

I could not reply, for I understood enough of his nautical language to
know that he had given up all hope of living, and that the two wounds
which he had received were fatal.

I returned the canteen to its owner, and hastened to join Fred and
Murden. The fire was still working its way towards us on one side, and
receding on the other. The heat, however, had lost none of its
intensity, and every breath which we drew appeared to parch our lungs
and consume us internally.

"Have you decided what to do with the wounded men?" I asked, as I joined
my friends.

"Our first decision still holds good," replied Murden. "We cannot save
them and save ourselves."

"Hark! Do you hear that shout?" Fred said.

We listened intently for a moment, and above the roaring of flames and
crushing of trees we could hear the shouts of exultation which the
bushrangers in a distant part of the forest uttered, as they thought how
we were struggling for life.

That cry, so joyful in the thought of our misery, steeled our hearts
against the wounded wretches, who, with uplifted hands, were praying for
drink, for life, for protection.

"In, men," shouted Murden. "We can endure the heat no longer. Already do
yonder trees threaten to fall and crush us with their weight, and a
minute's delay may prove our ruin."

There was no struggling to see who should first obey the order. With
military precision the men filed in as calmly as though parading for a
drill, and in a short time no one but Murden and myself were uncovered.

"Enter," motioning to me. "I will be the last man who seeks shelter."

"But what shall we do with this poor devil?" I said, pointing to Steel
Spring, whose agonizing yells for help had often interrupted our
deliberations.

Murden made no reply, but walked towards the scamp, who redoubled his
calls for help when he thought it was to be rendered. The officer untied
the hands which confined him, and without a word he retreated with us
towards our vault.

Steel Spring eyed us for a moment, as though uncertain whether he was
included in the invitation or not, but when he found that the latter was
the case, he broke forth into lamentations that fairly rivalled the
shrill yells of triumph which we had heard his companions utter.

He pleaded and threatened, promised and protested; and when he found
that we were invulnerable and unmoved, he uttered curses upon our heads
so bitter that it seemed as though he had spent all his life in framing
them.

I crawled through the narrow opening and found that the men were seated
so close together that not an inch of spare room was between them. A
small space was reserved for Murden, Fred, and myself, but it did not
look large enough to seat one of us comfortably. In the corner opposite
to me was the wounded man, and partly resting upon one of the police was
Rover, as quiet and orderly a dog as ever suffered confinement for the
purpose of saving life.

"And von't you take me in?" asked Steel Spring, as Murden entered our
over-crowded den.

"Your miserable system of treachery does not entitle you to that
kindness. Burn, and get a foretaste of what you may expect in the next
world," replied Murden.

"I'll see you all hanged first," was the indignant answer of the
long-legged brute; and we did not hear another murmur escape him,
although we felt that his sufferings must be intense, and his ultimate
death certain.




CHAPTER XXX.

PERILOUS SITUATION DURING THE FIRE.--STEEL SPRING TURNS UP.


As Murden crouched down by my side, he loosened his pistols in his belt,
and whispering to me, requested that I would follow his example. While I
wondered at his command, he spoke to his men, and then I understood his
motive.

"During our long connection with the police force," the lieutenant said,
"we have never been placed in a situation like the present. We have
undergone almost starvation--we have had bushrangers howling at our
heels and ready to kill all who fell behind while on the march--we have
been nearly dead for the want of water--we have been surrounded by
natives wielding poisoned spears, and you know that a prick from them is
death--we have enjoyed good and bad fortune together, have we not?"

"We have," replied the men, with one accord.

"And during all the scenes through which we have passed, have I not
shared your dangers and toils?" Murden asked.

"That you have," the police said, uttered in a tone of voice that showed
they should like to see the man who would gainsay it.

"I ask you these questions, men, because all dangers through which we
have, passed were nothing compared to the present. Our safety depends
upon our actions."

"Our actions?" repeated the men, in great surprise.

"Yes, I repeat it. Our safety depends upon ourselves. You feel that the
air is close and heated within our retreat. In half an hour's time the
present temperature would seem like winter if offered in contrast to
what we shall endure. We shall suffer for water, and perhaps none of us
will survive the ordeal; but let me tell you that our hope of safety is
in keeping still, and enduring all without a murmur. If a disturbance
does come in our midst, and one of you loses his reason, remember I
shall not hesitate to sacrifice him to preserve the rest. I have my
pistols with me--they are loaded, and I seldom miss my aim."

The men listened in silence, and by their looks appeared to agree in the
conclusion to which Murden had arrived.

For a few minutes not a word was spoken, and not a man moved from his
position or even offered to fan his heated face, for fear the act would
be construed into one of suffering.

Almost over our heads we could hear the roaring of flames as they
gathered force and fury in their course; but worse than all, the groans
of the wounded bushrangers fell upon our ears with awful distinctness,
in spite of the falling trees, which at times crashed upon our heavy
roof, and sifted down dirt through the cracks like falling rain.

The flames were almost forgotten--the heat, oppressive as it was, seemed
endurable when compared to the sufferings which we knew the bushrangers
were experiencing.

We listened attentively, and could tell when they expired, one by one,
by the cessation of groans, oaths, and curses which they heaped upon us.

Those who survived the longest appeared to have become insane; and after
dragging their mutilated bodies to the entrance of the vault, laughed as
they told us of the delicious warmth which they were experiencing, and
died cursing their Maker, and their mothers who bore them.

I stopped my ears, but, long after the most hardy had died, I fancied
that I could hear their dreadful ravings; and even at this late day, I
frequently start from my sleep as I dream of the frightful scenes which
I encountered in that black forest. Better death a thousand times than
again purchase life at such an expense of suffering at the hands of
others.

Hour after hour passed, and it seemed as though we could not possibly
survive many minutes longer. Our tongues were swollen and hanging from
our months, dry, parched, and apparently ready to crack for the want of
moisture.

Our eyes were expanded, fierce, and fixed--our brains seemed melting,
and a heavy pressure rested upon our temples. I counted my pulse, and
found that, as near as I could judge, it was beating at the rate of two
hundred per minute. My heart appeared to keep pace with my pulse, and
throbbed so violently that it seemed as though it would force itself
through my side. A feeling of death-like sickness stole over me--I
closed my eyes, and tried to fancy that I was by the side of a cool
stream, and at length, I think that my senses did wander; for I was
brought to myself by feeling a hand laid upon my shoulder, and no gentle
shake aroused me.

"Courage, friend Jack," cried the consoling voice of Fred. "Cheer up,
man! the worst is over, and in a short time we shall be free again.
Come, cheer up."

I remember looking at my friend long and anxiously, and trying to settle
in my mind where I had seen his face before. I think that I even
laughed, and told him that he was taking great liberties with a
stranger, and demanded what he meant by striking me on my shoulder.

I also think that I saw him carefully remove my revolver, and place it
beyond my reach. But all was uncertain; a blur appeared to be before my
eyes which prevented my seeing distinctly.

"Here, drink of this," whispered Fred, and as he spoke he raised a small
bottle to my lips.

The draught restored me to full consciousness. The liquor was
claret--warm, almost hot; yet I thought that I never tasted any thing
half so sweet and reviving.

I saw a score of eager eyes fixed upon the bottle which I held, and even
Murden glared like a famished wolf as he heard the gurgling of the
liquor in my mouth.

"Softly," whispered Fred, as I was about to apply the bottle to my lips
the second time. "Remember there are others suffering as well as
yourself."

Noble-hearted Fred! when did you ever fail to sympathize in the
sufferings of others, and use your utmost endeavors to contribute to
their relief?

"If hell," groaned Murden, "is hotter than this hole, I have no desire
to go there."

"You would not get liquor like this to cool your tongue there," Fred
said, handing the lieutenant the bottle to wet his parched lips.

"The bushranger is dying, sir," cried one of the men, who was seated
nearest to the wounded man.

Murden hesitated while raising the bottle to his lips for a moment.

"If I thought, that the contents of the flask would save him, I would
yield it," he said; "but all the wine in the universe would not bring
him to active life, while a few drops will help sustain me. My duty is
clear. I will try and preserve my own existence."

He barely wet his lips, however, but even while he was doing so, I saw
by the appearance of the men that they were perishing from thirst; yet
such was their pluck and discipline that not one of them uttered a
groan, or spoke in an angry tone.

"Divide it fairly, men," Murden said, passing the bottle to Maurice.
"Remember, each one can only wet his lips."

The injunction was obeyed, and the half pint of claret went the rounds,
and came back to Fred with a few drops remaining.

As though to reward the men for their forbearance, a slight breeze,
deliciously cool, swept over our heads, and revived us with new life. At
the same time we heard a hissing on the outside, which sounded like a
piece of hot iron suddenly thrown into a pail of water. We all listened
attentively at the sound, hardly daring to believe that what we heard
was real. The noise grew louder and louder, and through the small
opening we caught, sight of huge drops of rain falling.

"Hurrah!" yelled Murden, starting to his feet and poking his head out of
the den; "we are all right now--it's raining in torrents."

The news was so good that we shook hands with each other, and
congratulated ourselves as being under the especial care of Providence.
Even Rover added his joyful barks to our cheers, and so eager was he
that I suffered him to go out and roll in the wet to his heart's
content.

The fire was being rapidly extinguished by the torrents of water which
were falling, and so eager did our party feel to gain the open air once
more, that they preferred to brave the rain and smoke to remaining in a
place that liked to have been their grave.

It was rare to have rain at that time of year in Australia, and a number
of the men construed it into an omen of the good will of Providence; but
I reflected, and came to the conclusion that the cause was natural, and
could be produced at any time if there were forests enough to burn so as
to obtain the requisite amount of heat.

The danger, however, was not all passed. The ravages of the flames were
stayed, but the ground which the fire had burned over was covered with
smoking brands and livid coals, which, unless speedily extinguished by
the rain, would keep us prisoners for a number of days--and with nothing
to eat, the prospect was any thing but cheering. It is no wonder, then,
we all mentally prayed that the rain would continue, and that our eyes
were cast towards the heavens often to see if there was a prospect of
the clouds breaking away.

Still the rain poured down in torrents, and huge clouds of mist and
vapor filled the air and walled us in until we seemed as though confined
in a steam box. We cared not for that, however; rain, rain in torrents
was all that we prayed for; and so engrossed were we, that even the dead
bodies of the bushrangers, lying almost at our feet, were neglected.

At length, however, our reason returned, and we found time to pay some
respect to the dead. We resolved to bury them in a grave near the
excavation in which we had sought shelter, and for this purpose three or
four of the men commenced throwing dirt upon a large pile which we had
previously thrown up. Hardly had the second shovelful been added before
an extraordinary movement amongst the dirt took place, and the police
started back in wonder and alarm.

"What are you afraid of?" demanded Murden.

"We are afraid of nothing," replied Maurice; "but the dirt appears to be
bewitched."

"Nonsense! Strike the earth with the point of your shovels and let's see
what witchery there is concealed there," cried the lieutenant,
authoritatively.

Maurice no longer held back. He raised his shovel and drove it into the
soft earth, and the effect was electrical.

"Blast yer hies, vot is ye 'bout," roared a voice that we instantly
recollected; and before we could utter a word in astonishment, up rose
the lank form of the genius Steel Spring.

"Is this the vay to treat a man vot does hevery thing he can to save
ye?" the impudent wretch demanded, in an indignant tone.

"For God's sake, how came you alive?" asked Murden, looking at the man
as though he expected to see him disappear from before his eyes at a
moment's warning.

"O, it's wery vell to ax me how I does a thing after I get's out of a
fix," Steel Spring replied, with one of his grins; "but I know'd that I
varn't goin' to kick the bucket vithout vun trial for my life."

"Tell me how you managed to preserve your worthless life?" asked the
officer, too much astonished to feel indignant, and almost inclined to
believe that the fellow was under the protection of some good genii.

"Vell, I doesn't think my life very vorthless if you do, Mr. Hofficer;
but in case you should ever get cotched in the same kind of a trap, I'll
tell ye. Do ye see, ven I found that your company vas exclusive, I looks
herround for means of safety, but I didn't find heny wery 'andy; if I
'ad I don't think that I should be here now; vell, the longer I stopped
to consider, the wus I felt; and at length, ven the fire begins to burn
the nice clothes vich I vore, I thought it bout 'time to do somethin';
so I 'appens to cast my hies on this loose dirt, and then quicker than
lightning I digs a place, and lays down and covers me all hup, leaving
only a leetle 'ole to breathe through. It vas varm, though--hawf'ul
varm; and at one time I feared I should die; but the Lord supported me
in my trouble, and here I is, safe and ready to be of service agin."

For a short time every one was silent, so astonished did we feel to hear
the treacherous wretch use the name of his Maker in connection with
himself.

"God has preserved your life for some object which we mortals cannot
understand," Murden said. "I shall not punish you, neither shall my men.
The courts of Melbourne must decide upon your guilt." "Vot, is you going
to take me afore the big vigs?" asked Steel Spring, with dismay.

"There is only one chance to escape such a fate," replied the
lieutenant.

"Name it, name it," cried Steel Spring, with avidity.

"By leading me to the hiding place of that arch fiend, Nosey."

"Is that all?" cried the fellow, with a look of intense delight.

"And do you consent?" asked Murden, disgusted at the fellow's
treacherous instincts.

"Consent?" he repeated; "vy, of course I does; vouldn't Nosey 'ang me
and all of his gang for the purpose of saving his life? and vy should I
refuse; to 'elp stretch his neck ven I can keep mine free of the rope?
Consent? of course I does."

"Remember," said Murden, with a stern look, "that we are to have no
tricks here. If you even offer to lead me out of the right course I'll
make a hole in your body big enough to throw a Bible through."

"I should then he sanctified, vouldn't I, lieutenant?" asked the wretch,
with one of his cunning grins.

"How far from this place is the gang?" demanded Murden.

"Not more than four or five miles, I guess," was the answer.

"In the woods?"

"In the woods," repeated Steel Spring.

"Easy of access?"

"Vot is that?"

"I mean, can I and my men get at the gang without being surprised on our
part?"

"Vell, if I hoffers to guide you there'll be no difficulty, 'cos I knows
the vay, and no mistake. But my life is to be preserved, you know.
Recollect that, lieutenant."

"I shall remember my word, and I will keep it in every respect. If you
prove true, your life is safe, but if false, not a man under my command
but will single you out for instant death. I know your tricks, and shall
be watchful."

"I 'opes you vill, 'cos I can bear a great deal of that kind of
vigilance. But I'm all right now. I know my friends."

"You'll know them better if you lead me into an ambush," remarked
Murden; and here the conversation with Steel Spring dropped, but Fred
and myself took occasion to speak to the lieutenant on the folly of
trusting to him, but Murden was firm.

"If I can use this man," he argued, "to break up the gang of Nosey, and
destroy that wretch, I shall think that I have been of real use to the
country, and feel content to retire on my honors. There is some risk,
you say. I grant that there is; but consider how many people have been
murdered by the villains, and then reflect whether it is not better to
entertain the danger and strike a blow that shall free this part of the
country of bushrangers for months to come. Come, come, look at matters
in their true light and promise me your cooperation."

How could we refuse him, after the trouble he had endured for our sake?
We extended our hands, and with a warm pressure the compact was sealed.




CHAPTER XXXI.

CAPTURE OF THE BUSHRANGERS, AND DEATH OF NOSEY.


"Vot, is the Yankees going vid us?" asked Steel Spring, when he saw
Murden shaking hands with us, to bind the contract.

The question was such an impudent one that I did not feel indignant, and
perhaps our calmness restrained the lieutenant from giving vent to his
wrath, which we saw blazing in his eyes. At any rate he managed to
answer in a quiet tone that we were to accompany him, and that the
rifles which we carried, and which he had previously expressed a great
dread of, would cover his body during our march.

"Then Nosey is as good as dead," cried the lank wretch, hardly deeming
it worth while to notice the allusion to himself; and so elated did he
appear, that he actually borrowed a plug of tobacco from Maurice, and
forgot to return it until asked to do so.

"A portion of the men may continue digging a grave, while the rest ran
retreat to our late den and get our carbines and arms all ready. There
is no knowing how soon we may want them."

The orders of Murden were obeyed promptly; and in spite of the rain
which still poured down in torrents, the guns were put in complete
order, and loaded ready for use. By the time the latter job was
completed the grave was announced to be finished, and with not a prayer
or a word of regret did we consign to the earth the remains of the dead
bushrangers. They were all thrown in together, without much regard to
order or decency, for the policemen were too accustomed to such a state
of things to become sentimental; and with a last look at the
weather-beaten face of the old sailor, I turned away and walked towards
the opposite end of the clearing.

After concluding the burial of the men there was nothing for us to do
but to sit down, light our pipes, and see the rain continue with
unnatural fury. The progress of the flames was completely checked, and
we hoped that if the storm continued an hour longer we should be enabled
to pick our way over the burned district, find something to eat, and
then fall upon Nosey before he thought it time to look after us.

That he supposed we were dead there was but little cause to doubt, for
he would not anticipate the earthing process, and would feel some
astonishment to find that we had passed through the ordeal in safety. At
any rate, after we had concluded to proceed against him, we felt anxious
to begin the good work, and have it off our minds.

The morning's sun, however, soon dispersed the clouds and dried up the
rain, and when we examined the burned district we were rejoiced to find
that we could pass over the ground if our feet were protected with
shoes, a precaution which none will omit if an Australian forest is to
be visited. In these important articles of clothing we were well
supplied, and without delay we started. Murden gave the word to move
forward, but first impressed upon the minds of the men the necessity of
caution in regard to the manner in which their guns were carried, for,
as he quietly observed, "we have enemies to kill, and can't afford to
despatch each other. A spark of fire is sufficient to ignite our powder,
and then where should we be?"

We found his advice good, for sparks from half-burned trees were
showered upon our heads as we carefully picked our way through stumps
that were black and charred and still aglow. On we went, as swift as
possible, the soles of our shoes getting warmer and warmer each moment,
until we feared that our feet would blister and burn with the exposure.
At length, however, we saw the spot where we had left the team, and with
a wild shout of exultation we rushed for it, each man striving to be
first in the race.

Smith, nimble of foot, and urged by anxiety for the loss of his cattle,
outstripped us all; but the poor fellow's face changed when he saw the
wanton destruction of his property; for the bushrangers, not content
with robbing our cart of every thing which it contained, had
deliberately backed it into the fire, and the "body was completely
burned off. The wheels, however, were good, and so were its axletrees,
and I knew that it would enable us to reach the mines with a little
patching. The most cruel part of the proceedings was the chaining of a
yoke of oxen to huge trees and allowing them to die a lingering,
terrible death. The villains were not prompted to the deed by hunger,
for their bodies remained untouched, burned to a crisp, apparently.

"If I had a bushranger within reach," cried Smith, surveying the bodies
of his favorites with almost tearful eyes, "I think that I should be
tempted to roast him alive, as my poor oxen have been. Why, of all the
mean acts that the devils were ever guilty of, this is the meanest."

"Don't repine, Smith," said Murden; "when you get back to Melbourne I'll
see that you have a yoke of cattle to replace them."

"I don't wish to hurt your feelings, Smith," Fred exclaimed, "but as the
cattle are dead and cannot be brought to life, I think that the best
thing we can do is to satisfy our appetites from their carcasses. I, for
one, am hungry, and think that a pound of steak is almost worth its
weight in gold. Let's strip the skin from one of the brutes, and see
whether the flesh is burned up."

"A good idea, and one that we will adopt," cried Murden, with alacrity.
"Maurice, where is your knife?"

The officer did not wait for a second bidding, for he scraped off the
worst of the burned portions of the hide, and then ripped it off,
leaving about the hind quarters as juicy and wholesome looking meat as
a man could wish for when in a state of hunger. Smith turned away, too
much grieved to touch the food thus opportunely prepared, but the rest
of us showed no such signs of delicacy, for in a twinkling our knives
were out and cutting huge slices of the beef. The smell was very
provoking of hunger, and so Smith thought, for he apparently could stand
abstinence no longer. He joined us in our attack, and muttered as he did
so:

"I don't see why the rest of you should fill up, while I starve;
although I still contend, that to tie the poor things up and let them
die such a death was cowardly and mean."

And always after that, if Smith wished to express the very quintessence
of brutality and meanness, he would refer to the death of his favorites.

Our dinner was soon despatched, and once more we shouldered our arms,
and under the direction of Steel Spring, skirted along the edge of the
forest in quest of the lair of the bushrangers. We had proceeded but a
mile or two when we saw the three men left in charge of the horses,
galloping along apparently in search of us; and when they discovered
that we were alive, and but little the worse for our fiery siege, their
astonishment knew no bounds.

They stated that the flames had lighted up the country for miles in
extent, and that they had tried to raise a party of miners, on their way
to Melbourne, to come to our assistance; but that fear of being robbed
or losing their lives prevented them. In fact, every one they had spoken
to had construed the fire into a ruse of the bushrangers to entrap
people, and would not believe that a large police force was in the
woods, and surrounded by fire on all sides.

We gladly mounted our animals, for the men had taken the precaution, by
the advice of the old convict's daughter, to bring our own horses with
the rest; and then mounted Steel Spring behind Maurice, first taking the
precaution of tying them together for fear of mistakes, as we told the
former, and not from any doubts of his honesty--an admission which made
the fellow grin until his huge mouth expanded from ear to ear.

The balance of our company was served in the same way, and after a sharp
gallop of fifteen minutes, Steel Spring intimated that we had better
dismount and approach the remainder of the distance with less noise if
we wished to be successful in our designs. His advice was taken; when
leaving two men to attend to the horses, we went forward at a brisk
walk, and soon found an entrance to the forest that apparently had been
long in use.

"This is the spot," whispered Steel Spring, "where Nosey's gang enters
hafter a thieving job. Ah, many's the time I've been so loaded with
plunder that I could 'ardly stand." But that's all passed now, you know,
and in future I'm to be 'onest and good."

"How far from this entrance is the camp?" asked Murden.

"Not mor'n a mile, sir."

"Then lead the way. Maurice, walk by the side of him, and if--but you
know what I mean."

"I think I do, sir," answered the policeman, drawing one of his
formidable holster pistols, and examining the cap with a careful glance.
"Vell, please don't pint it this way, 'cos I'm always nervous about
firearms in the 'ands of inexperienced persons."

"Don't be alarmed," replied Maurice, composedly; "I'm well acquainted
with the pistol, and once killed a bushranger with it at the distance of
fifteen rods."

"Did it hurt him?" asked Steel Spring, with a shudder.

"I don't think that it did, for he never complained to me about the
transaction," replied Maurice, with a grin. Steel Spring regarded the
face of his companion for a moment in silence, and then seemed to decide
that it would be better not to meddle with such a cool philosopher.

"Are we ready?" asked Murden, after every man had once more examined his
gun and pistols.

"All ready, sir," answered the squad, eager to push forward.

"Then step light and keep your eyes about you. Smith, will you and the
stockman defile to the left of us, while Fred and Jack perform the same
duty on the right? It is the post of danger I offer you, gentlemen."

We readily accepted our location; for we had hinted to Murden that our
safety required some such disposition of our forces, and he had acted on
the suggestion.

On we stole, slowly, but noiselessly, each man looking to see where he
planed his foot, so that no cracking of dry bushes should give warning
of our approach. In fact, so well had the men improved under Fred's
hints and observations, that they would have passed for old Indian
hunters to a casual observer.

Rover, as though aware of the nature of the expedition, trotted along a
few yards in advance of us, stopping every few minutes to snuff the air,
and then glance at my face, saying as plain as language could express
the words, "There's no danger yet--come along and I'll give you
warning."

For over an hour we picked our way, at each step whispering our repeated
vows to shoot our guide if he did not conduct us right; and when I had
begun to think that the fellow was playing us false, he suddenly
stopped, and repeated his caution for silence.

"Ve is close to um," he said. "A few steps more and ve'll be in sight of
their camp. Now, don't you think I'd better go behind, 'cos I'm not good
at fightin', and Nosey is the devil when he gets in a rage."

"Don't stop to remonstrate," Murden replied. "Lead us to the very camp
of the bushrangers, and don't think that you can go to the rear, and
escape the action of my pistol in case you play us false. Onward you
go."

"Here's a precious fix," muttered Steel Spring. "I've got to lead the
way to the presence of that old devil, Nosey, and I know's he'll pin me
the fust."

"Stop your grumbling," said Maurice, "or I'll treat your lank body to a
dose of this."

He pointed to his huge pistol, and the threat effectually silenced all
objections on the part of the guide, who meekly continued to move on, as
though under the influence of some charm which he could not resist.

Ten minutes brought us to the edge of a clearing similar to the one
which Black Darnley and his gang had occupied. It was in the most dense
part of the forest, and well chosen for secrecy. Near the edge was a
spring of water, and directly in the centre of the vacant space was a
log hut of large dimensions, with loopholes through which muskets could
be poked in case of an assault.

There was no sign of life about the premises, and we were led to wonder
whether the gang was within the hut sleeping off last night's fatigue,
or whether they were off on an expedition. If the latter surmise was
correct, we might have to wait three or four days before they returned,
and that was something which we could not afford to do.

If the gang was asleep, an excellent opportunity was offered to capture
them without the loss of a man; but who would venture to creep to the
hut and find out, when there was a probability of a dozen men being
encompassed behind those walls, waiting to take us by surprise, instead
of our treating them to such a course of strategy!

Murden looked first at his men, but they rather avoided his eyes, and
then his glance wandered to the old convict, but he did not appear to
take the hint, and returned the stave with one of mildness. Fred's turn
came next, and in him the right man was found.

"I see what you want, lieutenant," Fred said, with a smile, "and I am
ready to comply. Keep me well covered with your guns, and think there is
not much danger."

He left his rifle with me, and then, getting upon his hands and knees,
crept forward, carefully sheltering his body, as far as possible, with
stumps and tufts of grass, until he reached the door, which stood open.
He glanced hastily in, and then, without wasting time, turned his steps
towards us as fast as possible.

"Well," we whispered, "what have you to report?"

"The bushrangers are in the hut, and sleeping, I think."

"Are you sure?" asked Murden.

"No. I am not sure that they are sleeping, but I am sure that they are
lying on the floor, and apparently are not aware of our approach,"
returned Fred.

"Then let us move onward without delay, for the cracking of a branch
might cost us our lives, and that is something none of us wish to spare,
just now."

With cautious steps the men moved towards the hut, led by Fred and
Murden. We met with no opposition, although it would not have surprised
me to have heard a discharge of musketry as we advanced.

We gained the door without awakening our adversaries, and saw them
stretched upon the floor, little dreaming that danger was so near.

On we stole until all our force was within the hut, and each policeman
held a cocked carbine at the head of a bushranger. Still they did not
awaken, and it could only be accounted for on the supposition that they
had been up all night making merry over our supposed death by fire.

"Kill the first man that offers to stir, in his defence," the lieutenant
said, after having carefully collected all the guns that could be found
handy.

The whisper, slight as it was, had the effect of causing the chief, the
hideous Nosey, to open his eyes and look around, as though half
dreaming; it, was not until his eyes met those of Murden that he fully
awoke, then he made an effort to start to his feet, but he found the
cold muzzles of Fred's and my own rifle pressed to his brain.

"We're betrayed!" he yelled, in a voice so shrill that it awoke every
bushranger as suddenly as though the blast of a trumpet had rang through
the room.

There were mingled oaths and exclamations, and desperate attempts to
gain their feet; and one young fellow, who, in spite of warnings and
threats, persisted in getting up, was shot through the head, and his
brains spattered upon his comrades, who were lying by his side.

"Kill all who resist!" yelled Murden, scenting blood like a tiger; "if
they submit, spare them, but death to the refractory."

The shooting of one appeared to have a good effect on the others, for
although many a menacing glance was east upon us, and many a
half-uttered oath was checked, yet there was no more struggling, or
thoughts of resistance.

"I thought you dead," muttered Nosey, after a keen glance at the face of
the lieutenant.

"It is not your fault that we are not," answered Murden, dryly.

"No, that it is not, for I meant to roast you and your force; in a few
hours we intended to start on an expedition, and look for your bones.
How did you escape?" asked the unabashed robber.

"That you will never know; be assured that Providence has no such
fortune in store for you, and that if enough wood and rope can be found,
the manner of your death will not remain a mystery."

"Perhaps you mean by that I shall die on the gallows?" demanded the
bushranger.

Murden nodded his head in token of assent.

"I'll bet you two to one, that a rope will never end my existence,"
cried the fellow, with an impudence and coolness that almost surpassed
belief.

"Bind the villains with stout cords, for the present," cried the
lieutenant, returning no answer to the banter of Nosey, who fired with
indignation at the epithet.

"Whom do you call villains?" he demanded. "We were forced to become
robbers by the tyrants of the hulks, and all the wrongs which were there
inflicted upon us we have returned; and we should not have been human
had we acted otherwise."

"I have no time to bandy words with you, even if I had the inclination,"
returned Murden; "get upon your feet, and submit to be bound like the
rest; we know no distinction, and serve all the same."

The bushranger slowly rose to his feet, and his hideous face seemed
almost to burst, so livid were the scars which marked it; his eyes were
injected with blood, and glared like those of a wild beast.

"Bind me as soon as you please; here are my hands; you see that I am
harmless and unarmed; the lion can be taken by his mane, for his claws
are clipped, and his teeth are broken."

"You bloodthirsty monster, do not compare yourself to a lion; bah! you
are like the skulking wolf that sneaks and steals upon its prey, and
after appeasing its hunger, slays for the sake of showing its strength.
Give his cords an extra twist, men, for his impudence." Murden uttered
the words with an expression of disgust that did not fail to convince
the bushranger of the estimation in which he was held.

"You think, I suppose," Nosey said, with an angry scowl, "that you will
have the pleasure and triumph of carrying me to Melbourne alive; you are
mistaken."

"Look well to your prisoner!" shouted the officer, as the men prepared
to slip a cord over his wrists.

He was too late in his warning, for the desperate robber suddenly thrust
his hand into his bosom and drew forth a huge knife, which he waved over
his head.

The policemen started back, surprised and confused at the suddenness of
the action; and before they could rush and disarm the prisoner, he was
outside of the door, nourishing the knife, and threatening death to all
who opposed him.

"Fire on him!" yelled Murden, perfectly frantic at the thought of his
escape. "Kill him--kill him!"

The robber rushed towards the woods, and it seemed as though he would
escape in spite of the loaded guns which we carried in our hands; but
one of the men, more cool than the rest of us, discharged his carbine,
and the ball struck the right leg of Nosey, and crushed the bone as
easily as though it was a pipe stem.

Wounded as he was, he did not immediately stop, but continued on,
striving to gain the woods, as though his safety was secure if he could
reach them. But the effort was too much for human endurance. He
staggered, struggled to maintain his erect position, and then fell with
a crash to the ground. We went towards him; he did not move; we turned
him over, and found that he was lying in a pool of blood, quite dead.
Either by accident or design, he had fallen upon his knife, and it was
sheathed to the hilt in his heart.




CHAPTER XXXII.

RETURN TO THE STOCKMAN'S HUT.--SMITH IN LOVE.


The bushrangers were struck with awe at the sudden death of their chief,
and made no resistance as they were bound in pairs. Indeed their
audacity appeared to desert them, although they maintained a sulken
aspect until they got a glimpse of Steel Spring, who, to prevent
mistakes had been bound to a tree, while we secured his comrades.

The glances of hate and scorn which were cast upon their betrayer
appeared to have no effect upon his well-tried nerves, and he seemed to
act as though he had done his duty and was not ashamed of it, and didn't
care who knew the part which he had played in the drama. The death of
Nosey, however, appeared to astonish Steel Spring, for when he was
allowed to see the body he grew pathetic.

"So old Nosey is dead!" he exclaimed, looking upon the face of the
wretch; "veil, he vas a vonderful man, and used to rob more peoples
than hany bushranger in those parts; ve shall miss him, I know ve shall
miss him; and vere shall ve find a man to take his place?"

"Do you still think of robbery?" demanded Murden, sternly.

"No, sir; I vouldn't take a shillin' from a traveller to save my life.
But ven I thinks of the times ve've had, I feels like shedding tears! A
vonderful man vas Nosey; so 'andsome, too!"

"Cease your nonsense, and answer me one or two questions," Murden said;
"the gang has plundered for months; do you know where they concealed
their money?"

"I'm blessed if I do," replied Steel Spring, with alacrity.

"Do you think that our prisoners know?"

"Veil, that feller who is looking at me so cross, as though I'd hinjured
him, could tell if he'd got a mind to," replied Steel Spring, pointing
to a robber who seemed to be regarded as a sort of leader, now that
Nosey was dead.

"Are you disposed to inform me where Nosey buried his money?" asked
Murden, appealing to the man.

"And what inducements do you hold out, if I give you the information?"
asked the robber, dryly.

"I do not promise you your life, but I think that I can get the sentence
put off a few months," the lieutenant replied.

"And you suppose that I will reveal on such conditions?" demanded the
bushranger, impudently.

"I do; you have every thing to gain, and nothing to lose."

"My life, I suppose, you call nothing; that is already forfeited, you
seem to think; but you shall find that, robber as I am, I know how to
keep a secret."

"Then you refuse to divulge?"' asked Murden.

The bushranger regarded him with a scornful air, and remained silent.
Murden grew excited, and forgot that he was only an humble instrument of
the law, and that life and death were not at his disposal after men had
surrendered.

"Throw a tackle over the branch of yonder tree," he said, pointing to a
sturdy gum tree which grew near; "we will save the courts of Melbourne
the trouble of trying the fellow."

The bushranger did not seem surprised, or appear to be affected at the
news.

Not so the policemen; they knew that their officer was exceeding his
authority, but their discipline was too good to allow them to cavil at
his orders, right or wrong.

They threw a rope over the shrub pointed out, and then making a
slip-noose, passed it around the neck of the obstinate robber. Still he
wore his scornful look, and did not even ask for mercy, which Murden had
evidently anticipated.

"Will you reveal?" demanded the lieutenant.

"No!" he yelled: and with his refusal was a gesture of the most impudent
and insulting nature.

"Up with him, men!" cried the officer, beside himself with passion.

The men tugged at the rope, but with all their strength they could not
raise the man from the ground, owing to the cord being passed over a
limb, instead of through a block, the friction was too great.

Smith, during all of this time, had been a spectator, instead of an
actor in the tragedy; but when he saw that the policemen were unable to
carry their designs into effect, he appeared to recollect the death of
his oxen, and to think that the present was an excellent time to avenge
their death.

He rushed to the rope, and pulled away at it with such good will that
the bushranger was raised from the ground a few inches, and by the
spasmodic movement of his feet, I saw that he was choking, and could
exist but a few minutes longer.

"Are you mad?" I asked of Murden; "you have no authority to hang the
man; the courts of Melbourne will make a noise about the matter, be
assured."

The lieutenant appeared to reflect, and seemed to think that my advice
was worthy of being taken, for he waved his hand, and the nearly
strangled man was lowered to the ground, much to the disgust of Smith,
who appeared to think that he was cheated of his prey.

"Once more, I ask you to reveal the hiding-place of the treasure," the
officer said, when he found that the robber had sufficiently recovered
to answer his question.

"I refused when a rope was tightened around my neck, did I not?" the
bushranger asked, in a gasping manner.

Murden nodded his head in token of assent.

"And do you think that, after being half choked to death, I'll reveal
now?" he demanded, in an indignant tone; "I'll see you and your cowardly
police d----d first; and sooner or later I know that you will be."

"Up with him again!" cried the angry lieutenant; but his rage was only
momentary, and before the men could put his order into execution, he
countermanded it.

"You are too impudent a scoundrel to die immediately; a few months'
solitary confinement in the prison at Melbourne, with nothing but bread
and water to eat, and the certain prospect of a long, lingering death,
will tame your spirit, and make you docile."

"Do you think so?" asked the bushranger, with a sneer.

Murden made no reply.

"If I am placed in solitary confinement," the robber said, "I shall have
the more time to think upon the many poor devils who have begged their
lives of me, and yet never got their prayers granted. I shall think of
the meet revenge I have had for my injuries during a long term of
imprisonment at the hulks. I shall think of the many pounds of gold dust
which I have robbed from passing trains; and better than all, I shall
laugh to know that the police force of Melbourne cannot find it to
enrich themselves."

"Devil!" yelled one of the men, more fiery than the rest, "do you mock
us?"

He raised his carbine, and with no gentle hand let the breech fall upon
the fellow's head. The blow loosened the skin, and let loose a torrent
of blood.

"Yes, this is a fair sample of the manner in which the police of
Melbourne treat prisoners. Is there any wonder that they fight
desperately to prevent being taken?"

He dipped his finger into his blood, and held it aloft for his comrades
to see. Had those men been free, our number would have been lessened in
a very few minutes; for such expressions of rage passed over their
faces, that it seemed as though the devil had entered their bodies.

"You did wrong to strike him, Manuel," Murden said, and that was all the
reproof the man received.

"When I'm arraigned before my judges, I shall tell them of the blow,"
muttered the bushranger, wiping the blood from his brow.

"Do so, if you think it will help your case any," answered Murden,
indifferently. "When you get before the judges you speak of, let me
advise you to keep a civil tongue, however, or the worse for you."

"I shall speak my mind," replied the bushranger, who appeared determined
to have the last word.

Orders were now given to get ready for our passage through the woods;
but before we started we threw the bodies of the dead robbers into the
hut, and then set it on fire. Long before the flames ceased, we were
safe out of the woods, and mounted on our horses, heading towards the
old convict's hut.

Our travel was slow, as the bushrangers were compelled to walk with
their hands tied behind their backs, and it was only by threatening to
ride them down, that we could get them to move at any kind of decent
pace.

Smith, whose whole ideas were concentrated on his lost cattle, left us
to see if he could find one yoke which were unaccounted for. When we
entered the woods in search of the gold buried by Jim Gulpin, we had
left two yoke hitched to the cart and a tree, and after our severe
ordeal of fire, we had found two oxen burned to death, while two more
were missing.

Thinking that, they might have wandered to the corral where the
remainder of the cattle were confined, Smith galloped across the prairie
and was soon out of sight. He did not rejoin us until we reached the
hut, where we found that he had regained his oxen, and was paying
considerably more attention to the old stockman's daughter than to his
own affairs.

There was one thing which he deserved credit for, and it was accorded
him with all our hearts. The supper which he provided was capable of
making us forget our pains and fatigue; for a roasted lamb was smoking
on a table, and three or four gallons of coffee were all ready to be
drank, to restore us to new life.

All the articles which we had left at the hut were found in good order,
and nothing was missing. It may seem strange that a stockman's hovel,
miles away from other habitations, should escape the assaults of
bushrangers; but the latter knew their own interests too well to meddle
with keepers of sheep and cattle.

Many stockmen are in league with escaped convicts, and give them the
earliest information in regard to the pursuit or routes of policemen;
and although such a charge could not be brought against my friend, the
old convict, yet the bushrangers knew that if he was molested or
injured, the owners of the animals under his charge would find it very
hard work to fill his place, and be forced in the end to drive their
herds to other grazing spots. Hence, the supply of provisions which the
bushrangers were in the habit of always considering secure, would have
been cut off, and uncertain means resorted to.

The only instance of attack on my friend's house, on record, was when
Jim Gulpin and his band required the surrender of a number of policemen
sheltered within its walls. The result of that assault is well known to
the readers of these sketches; so I will not review the circumstances.

During our absence the old man's daughter, or, in other words, Mrs.
Becky Lang, had attended to her few household duties, and also watched
our cattle, to prevent their straying from the corral. She had supplied
them with water from the small stream, and in every respect behaved like
a courageous woman, as she was. She had, apparently, recovered from the
deepest of her grief on account of the loss of her husband, and her full
ruddy cheek gave ample tokens of good health.

I saw that Smith was more attentive on our return than perhaps there was
any occasion for; and I also noticed that the woman appeared anxious
that he should have the best of every thing, and helped him twice to our
once.

There was no occasion for our complaining, however, although we did joke
Smith upon the conquest he had made, and asked if he had named the happy
day; questions which he took in very good part, in spite of the blushes
which mantled his sun-burned face.

That evening I offered my sincere congratulations, when Smith, after a
confused account of what he wanted to do, informed me with an air of
secrecy, that he had spoken to Becky, and that she had returned an
answer that she thought she could make him happy the remainder of his
life.

"But when is the wedding to take place?" I asked, coolly lighting my
pipe; for the reader will please to note that it was not I who
contemplated the awful act, and therefore I could condole with other
people's woes with great equanimity.

"Well, I'd like to have it take place immediately, but there's no parson
near," replied Smith, with great deliberation and solemnity.

Like all lovers, he wished to hasten his fate, and have the affair off
his mind.

"But what will you do with your wife while absent with a load at the
mines?" I asked.

"O, we've fixed all that--Becky and I have. She will live at our house
in Melbourne, where she can be nice and comfortable, until I'm rich
enough to start some kind of business in the city, when I can remain at
home and enjoy her society."

I looked at the man, and actually compared him to a young lover, sighing
at the first thoughts of his mistress, and picturing to himself how
happy he could be with her in a cottage.

I filled my pipe afresh, and smoked for a few minutes in silence.

"Becky tells me that she took a fancy to me on the night that Gulpin
assaulted the house. She thought I acted like a man on that trying
occasion." Ungrateful Beck, to thus forget the valuable services of
Fred and myself. Love had indeed blinded her, for all that was noble and
generous was centred in Smith.

"Well, Smith," I said, extending my hand, "I give you joy, and hope that
nothing will ever occur to disturb your happiness. I should like to be
present at the ceremony, but I fear that it will be impossible."

"I don't know as it is so very difficult. There are parsons at the
mines, and Ballarat is nearer than Melbourne."

I knew what he wanted me to do, but I feared that we should waste too
much valuable time. He looked hard at me to see if I was not intending
to urge him to take the lady with us, but as I smoked on in silence, he
did not continue the conversation.

We were all tired enough at sundown to stretch our weary limbs upon the
ground, and endeavor to sleep in peace for one night. To prevent our
being surprised, sentinels were stationed around the hut, with orders to
keep their eyes open, and report if any thing of a suspicious character
was seen.

Whether they acted up to the orders is more than I know, but of one
thing I'm positive. After I rested my head upon my knapsack, I did not
awaken until I felt a hand laid upon my shoulder, when, starting up, I
found that Murden was standing by my side.

"Day is just breaking," he said; "I am sorry to disturb you, but you
know we must be on the march to Melbourne by sunrise. Have breakfast
with us for the last time, and then we'll to the saddle."

I could not resist the temptation, and when I had packed my blankets, I
found that the policemen had nearly completed their arrangements for
breakfast, and were feeding the prisoners with the remnants of last
night's repast.

Coffee was swallowed hastily, and then the clear, ringing notes of the
bugle gave the signal for bringing up the horses.

"You surely don't intend to make these poor devils walk all the way?" I
asked of the lieutenant, just before he started.

"They will have to walk until we come across teams on the road to
Melbourne, and then I shall let them ride. There is no other way that I
can do," he replied.

Even while we were talking, the bugle sounded to mount, so anxious were
the men to reach the city.

"There will be a large amount of money placed to your credit," Murden
said. "Remember that each bushranger killed or taken prisoner is worth
one hundred pounds."

"We hope we shall never be poor enough to ask for it," Fred replied.

"I hope that you never will be in want, certainly," Murden said, "but I
do hope that your sensibilities will not prevent you from accepting that
which is legally your own. I have no time to argue with you more, but in
less than a month I shall be at Ballarat, when we will further discuss
the subject."

"You will have business there at that time?" I asked.

"I think that I shall. The miners have suddenly become convinced that it
is not right to pay government taxes for the privilege of digging gold.
Nothing serious has occurred as yet; but how long the storm will hold
off is quite uncertain."

"This is all news to me," Fred said, after a short pause, "and I hardly
know how to act under the circumstances. We have no desire to violate
your laws, or to foster rebellion, and I have half a mind to abandon our
enterprise for the present."

"I should be happy to see you both residents of Melbourne, but I cannot
advise you to turn from the course you have marked out. Go to the mines
and satisfy yourselves that the labor of gold digging is the hardest
labor that you ever undertook, and that a week of such work is
sufficient to convince you of the fact."

We resolved to follow Murden's advice, and were about to bid him
farewell, when he added,--"If you conclude to remain at the mines, write
me a full account of how matters stand, and what you think of the
demands of the miners. I can rely upon you, for you have not mingled
with the men, and of course do not at present sympathize with them. I do
not ask the favor because I wish you to act the part of a spy, but
simply for my own gratification."

We promised faithfully to keep him advised of our movements, and also
those of the disaffected part of the residents of Ballarat, and with a
hearty shake of his hand, Murden wheeled his horse and galloped after
his command, which had been gone some time.

"Now, Smith, we are once more dependent upon ourselves. Shall we first
go after our cart, and repair it, or do you feel like resting for a day
or two?"

"Well, I don't know," answered Smith, in response to Fred's question. "I
feel as though I should like to rest for a few hours; you see the
confounded hole where we roosted was so hot, that I'm pretty nearly used
up."

I saw through his design, but concluded not to notice it. Like all
lovers, he hated to tear himself from the idol of his heart, and thought
that a few hours might alleviate his pain.

"Well, we'll postpone our trip until to-morrow, and to be certain that
we shall be ready then, we will take two yoke of cattle and bring up the
team and repair it. Had we not lost that bag of gold which we have
wasted so much time for, I think that we should have bought you a new
cart, of later pattern."

Fred spoke jestingly, and yet not without a sigh at the magnitude of our
loss. The old stockman, who was seated on a bench at his door, overheard
the conversation, and interrupted us.

"Who says the gold is lost?" he asked.

"We all do," replied Fred; "the bag was not to be found where Jack
placed it."

"I know that," the old man answered, with a silent chuckle.

"How do you know that it was gone!' I demanded.

"Why, because when you threw it down, I picked it up, and made my way
out of the woods as fast as possible."

"And the bushrangers took it from you?" I demanded.

"I didn't say so," the stockman replied, coolly.

"You don't mean to tell me that the money is safe?" asked Fred.

"Well, I should think it was, because I don't believe that any
bushranger would discover the place where I hid it." "Bless your old
heart!" cried Smith, slapping him on the shoulder; "you are worth a
dozen of us young ones. But why didn't you say something about it
before?"

"And let those police fellers share with us? No, no; I know too much for
that; they would have required at least half the amount found, and I
didn't think my young friends here would be willing to be bled to such
an extent. They shall have the money, and can do as they please. I have
redeemed my word; I promised to assist them, for they have assisted me;
and when I have placed the gold in their hands, I shall think that I
have only paid them a small portion of the debt which I owe them."

We were too much surprised and delighted to speak for some time, for the
recovery of the money was something we were not prepared for.




CHAPTER XXXIII.

RECOVERY OF THE GOLD.--ARRIVAL AT BALLARAT.


"Lead us to the spot where you have secreted our gold," we cried, with
one accord.

"There's time enough," replied the old man; "I tell you that it is safe,
and where I can get it any time. What more would you have?"

"We would have the assurance that we possess it, so that we can reward
those who have aided us in searching for it. We wish to feel that we are
indeed worth so much money, so that we can lay our plans for the
future."

"Do you say that you wish to reward those who helped you obtain it?"
asked the stockman, removing his pipe and pricking up his ears.

"Of course we do," replied Fred, eagerly; "do you think that we are so
selfish as to claim the whole of the prize?"

"It's not for myself that I ask; 'tis for my daughter, who, in case I am
called to rest, will be destitute. Every pound shall be returned to you,
and then if you think from out of your abundant means, you can spare the
old convict and his child a few grains of dust, why, we shall be
thankful."

"Don't fear for me, father," the daughter said, with an expressive
glance at the brawny form of Smith, which seemed to say that he is
"strong enough to take care of me in this world of trouble."

"But I do care for you, for who else have I to love in this world?"
answered the stockman, wiping away a tear.

"And will you not let another share that love?" she said, fondling his
gray hairs, as though she had just awakened to a sense of his worth.

"What do you mean, girl?" he demanded, with a suspicious glance at her
face, which was suffused with blushes.

"I mean," she replied, coloring with contusion, "that if a suitor
should present himself, would you not be willing that I should marry
again?"

"You have just lost one husband, and who thinks of whispering nonsense
in your ears? Not these young gallants, I hope, for they never would be
willing to introduce you to their homes; and if they mean false, the old
gun is still capable of sending a bullet as true as the day that I took
it from a bushranger for killing my sheep."

"O, no, father; the young gentlemen have hardly spoken to me, and if I
should wait for them to make love, I should never be married."

"Then who has caught your fancy, and made you feel as though you wished
to desert your old father?" demanded the old convict, sternly.

"Not to desert you, father, for you shall come and live with us, and
give up your shepherd's occupation. The work is too hard and dangerous
for one of your years, and if you wish to make money the city offers
larger inducements."

"I don't understand all of this," cried the old man, wiping his brow,
and staring at us as though he wished we would explain. "You want me to
live with you, yet when, and where, I am left to conjecture."

"He will tell you all," cried the daughter, breaking away and entering
the hut, her face nearly as red as Smith's, and the latter's seemed as
though burning. He cast an imploring glance towards me, and I helped him
out of the dilemma as well as I was able.

"A man whom you might well be proud to call son-in-law has taken a fancy
to your daughter, and seeks to make her his wife. The match in one that
you can't help approving, for he is able to support her and be a kind
husband. What more can you ask for?"

"I ask for the name of the person, and you confuse me with a torrent of
praise," exclaimed the old man, testily.

"Here he is to speak for himself," I said, leading Smith up. "This is
the man who desires to become your son-in-law."

"Are you serious, Smith?" the stockman asked, with a suspicious glance
of his keen, gray eye.

"I assure you that I am, and that I will labor with all my might to make
your child a happy wife."

Smith bore the scrutiny without flinching, although his words were
uttered by syllables.

"But my child is poor; I can give her neither wealth, nor a proud,
untarnished name. I have been a sentenced convict."

"And what have I been?" asked Smith, with a tremulous voice, his head
falling upon his breast.

"Let us not refer to such matters," cried the stockman, briskly,
throwing off, with an effort, the constraint which the conversation had
given him. "I ask you if you are willing to marry my daughter, poor as
she is, and poor as you know me to be?"

The stockman's gray eyes were fixed upon the face of the suitor as
though reading his most secret thoughts.

"I have already answered that question, and told you that I was willing
and anxious to have the ceremony performed without delay. You shall live
with us, and take care of the house while I am at the mines. You shall
never want as long as I possess a shilling," answered Smith, heartily.
"Do those words come from your heart?" asked the old convict, eagerly.

"Else I should not have uttered them," Smith answered.

"Then my daughter shall be your wife; but she will not be the penniless
woman you think for. Follow me, and I will show you a sight that will
surprise you."

Thinking that the invitation was not addressed to us, Fred and myself
held back, and did not offer to follow the old man into his hut. The
stockman saw that we hesitated, and he called to us.

"Come in, all of you. I can trust friends, and I am sure you have all
proved to be such."

We followed, wondering what he meant by his words and hasty gestures,
and half inclined to think that the late trials through which he had
passed, had unsettled his brain.

"Come in," he whispered, "and shut the door. We don't want passing
strangers to see what we have concealed. Becky, where is the iron bar?"
he whispered, still lower.

His daughter handed a small iron bar to him, and with it he raised the
corner of a heavy stone, which formed his hearth.

"Now hold the bar in that position for me," he said, addressing Smith.

The latter complied, with his request, when the stockman inserted his
hand under the stone, and after groping about for a moment, pulled out a
heavy sheepskin bag, and laid it beside him. Once more he reached, and
again dragged to light another bag, similar in size and weight. He
motioned to let the stone return to its place, and then turned to us
with a triumphant air.

While the old man was thus employed, we remained silent, hardly knowing
what the proceedings on his part meant. With trembling hands he untied
the strings which confined the mouths of the bags, and held them up for
us to view. To our amazement, we found they were filled with fine gold
dust, of an excellent quality, and that the two sacks contained not less
than twenty thousand dollars' worth.

We uttered an exclamation of astonishment, and could hardly believe that
what we saw was real.

"Yes, yes; it's all good gold, God be praised," cried the stockman,
eagerly; "you thought that the old man was poor and destitute, but you
see that I'm not. I've wealth, and it's all my own. God be praised."

"But how came you in possession of so much gold dust?" asked Fred; a
slight suspicion crossing his mind that the old convict might have
employed his leisure hours at a bushranger's occupation.

"Honestly, good youth, honestly. God knows all things, and he will
acquit me of obtaining the dust otherwise."

"The amount is large for a person to possess who has received only a few
dollars per year for his services as shepherd," Fred remarked.

"I know--I know," cried the old man, trembling with eagerness, and
hastily taking up the bags again, and depositing them under the stone.

"I know," he continued, when he saw that the stone was safe in its
accustomed place, "that the amount is large; and I mean to add to it,
and be rich, and have men bow to me, and say, 'There goes one of our
most worthy men. He is worth a million.'"

The old convict actually straightened his lank body, and looked proudly
upon his daughter, as he thought of the homage which he should receive
as a wealthy man.

"But you have not told us how you became possessed of so much gold,"
Smith said, rather coolly.

"Never you mind how I got it--that is a secret. But be assured, one half
goes to you on the day that you marry my daughter."

"I accept of the woman, but before the gold crosses my palm, I must know
that it was--"

Smith hesitated, for he did not like to wound the old man's feelings.

"You would say honestly," cried the stockman, looking Smith full in the
face with his calm, gray eyes. "I like you better for your reluctance to
receive a portion with your wife until you know that you can use it with
honor. Be assured that you can do so."

"Convince me of the fact by relating how it came into your possession,
and I am satisfied," returned Smith.

"O James, James, have mercy," murmured the distressed daughter, who was
a witness of the scene.

The sturdy Smith resisted her appeal, and did not withdraw his eyes from
the face of the stockman, who seemed slightly discomposed at the
pertinacity of his intended son-in-law.

The old man hesitated and muttered to himself, and at length appeared to
recover sufficient confidence to speak.

"Will all three of you solemnly promise me that you will not divulge the
secret which I am about to impart?" he demanded.

"We will readily give our consent, because we have fought too many
battles, side by side, to injure a friend, even if he has been guilty of
imprudence," he replied.

"And will you also promise not to interfere with my plans, and demand to
share my profits?" he asked.

We smiled, for we thought how little he was capable of coping with the
energy and enterprise of ourselves.

"I see that you consent," he cried; "and now for the friend that yielded
all the wealth which I possess. Follow me a short distance."

He led the way at a rapid pace towards the small stream which we had
crossed so many times, and near the very spot where we had encamped on
our first visit to that part of the country.

"There is where I obtained my gold," he said, stopping suddenly, and
pointing with his hand towards the bank of the stream.

"You are misleading us," I said, not knowing what he meant.

"So help me, Heaven, I am not. Here, on the banks of the stream, I have
dug and washed thousands of pans full of earth, and yet no living soul
ever saw me at work. Here did I collect my gold, a shilling's worth at a
time, some days, and on other occasions by the ounce, until I gained
what I possess. I have toiled for it during heat and wet, and every
grain that you saw was obtained that way."

We were silent from wonder, and could hardly realize that he spoke the
truth. At length, Fred remarked,--

"For months, then, you have been aware of the existence of gold in this
particular spot?"

"Not only in one spot, but all along the stream can gold be found. Even
where you stand scales of dust can be obtained. The earth is full of
treasure, and requires but little stirring to enrich all who choose to
work."

"Then there is no occasion for us to go farther," I said; "here will we
rest and try our luck."

"You can't," shrieked the old man, shaking his withered hands, and
gesticulating violently. "You have promised not to interfere with my
work, and I hold you to your word. To me belongs the exclusive right of
mining on this land. I cannot share it with strangers."

"Why, how unreasonable and selfish you are, to exclude us from the
privileges which you enjoy!" returned Fred, angrily.

"Not so," replied the old man, somewhat mortified. "Let a rumor reach
Melbourne that gold is to be found by the side of this small stream, and
thousands of adventurers will flock here. My sheep would be driven off
or destroyed--the stream would be dried up, for there is hardly water
enough to supply my animals at the present time. Men would perish with
thirst, and cut each other's throats in their despair. My home would be
invaded, and the old man forced from the ground, and perhaps lose his
all while struggling in the race for wealth."

There was too much truth in the old man's words, and we were not
disposed to gainsay them. Still, we did not like to relinquish a chance
for money-making, and therefore we were disposed to argue the question.

"Here are days," we said, "when not a team or a foot passenger passes
this way. We could always be on the watch, and as soon as we saw
strangers we could desist from digging. Besides, then you would have us
near you to protect and look after your interest. Consider how much we
could assist you."

"I considered every thing," replied the old man, with a shake of his
gray head, as though he was determined not to be convinced. "I knew
that, unless I exacted a solemn promise, you would be wild to take
advantage of my information. But I know your hearts, and am well aware
that you will not struggle against an old man's wishes."

"Our company is disagreeable to you, then," Fred said. "We will not
force ourselves upon you, be assured. In an hour's time we shall turn
our backs upon the place, and probably never return."

"Come, come," cried the old convict, extending his hand, which we were
in no hurry to accept. "You are angry with me, and yet you have no just
cause, for I would expose my life to assist you. You are richer than I,
and need not quarrel with an old friend for the sake of working from the
earth a few scales of gold. Let me remain here in peace; for the
present, without being elbowed by strangers."

"We are agreed," I replied, pressing the stockman's hand: and as we did
so, a vision of his services rose before us, and amply rewarded us for
the slight sacrifice which we had made.

"Now," cried the stockman, "we are friends again; and to prove that I am
such, before noon I will place in your hands the bag of gold which we
came so near losing night before last"

"Ah, now we are convinced that you have our interest at heart," Fred
said, joyfully. "Let us but touch the treasure and you shall share with
us."

"I want no share--I've been repaid, ay, more than repaid, in obtaining
my freedom through your instrumentality, and if I can make some return I
shall be happy."

We no longer stopped to discuss the question of working upon his claim,
and in less than ten minutes after our return to the hut, we had saddled
our horses, and leaving Smith to follow with his oxen, for the purpose
of bringing home his half-consumed cart, we started once more towards
the still smoking woods.

The hot winds of Australia, which begin about ten o'clock in the
forenoon, swept over the prairie with a blast that felt like the flames
of an extensive conflagration, and yet we heeded it not, for our whole
thoughts were fixed, like greedy misers, upon the gold which we were
soon to acquire, and we speculated what we should do with our wealth,
and how expend it.

We urged our panting horses to their utmost speed, and not until the old
stockman cried out to us to draw up, or we should exhaust the brutes,
did we allow them to take breath.

"There's no use in being in such a hurry," he said, "because we are near
the spot, and have all the afternoon to get home."

In fact, even while he was speaking he dismounted near Smith's cart, and
we quickly followed his example.

"When I made my escape from the bushrangers, and carried off the gold, I
recollected that I had seen a stone near this spot, and that some kind
of animal had burrowed under it. The knowledge served me a good turn,
for when I gained the edge of the woods I scraped away a little dirt and
dropped the bag into the hole. Then I rapidly covered it, and entered
the forest again undiscovered."

While he was speaking our eyes had wandered in search of the rock which
he was mentioning, and within a rod of us we found it. We hardly waited
to hear the conclusion of his words before we had pushed aside the loose
dirt, and saw the soiled canvas bag which we had taken from the earth on
the day of our capture.

We raised it carefully from its hiding-place, and found that the weight
had not diminished. With eager hands we untied the strings, and exposed
to our longing eyes the glittering scales of gold dust, mixed with gold
coins, sovereigns, and American ten and twenty dollar pieces.

"Well," asked the stockman, "how much do you think you are worth now?"

The old fellow was as cool as an iceberg, and offered a striking
contrast to our excitement.

"Twenty thousand dollars," replied Fred, weighing the bag with both
hands; and no easy matter he found it to hold the gold at arm's length.

"More than that," replied the stockman, with a smile of gratified pride
at our pleasure. "Say thirty thousand, and you will come nearer the
mark."

"Five thousand shall go to reward you for your trouble," I said.

"Not a penny will I accept," he answered, quickly and decidedly; "I told
you that some time ago. I plead poverty because I did not wish people
to consider me rich, and I suppose by that means I have saved my life:
for if the marauders of those parts knew me to possess gold, my hut
would have been turned inside out, but that it would have been
discovered. No, no; keep your money, and may you do good with it."

We mounted our horses again, and hugging the bag of gold to my saddle
bow, as though fearful I should meet bushrangers to dispute my right to
it at every step, we recrossed the prairie, meeting Smith on the way, to
whom we imparted our good fortune, and received his congratulations. By
three o'clock the gold was safe under the hearthstone, and then we
breathed free, and felt that we indeed owned it.

By six o'clock Smith joined us with his dilapidated cart, when we
immediately commenced repairing it, and getting ready for our journey
towards Ballarat.

By the ingenious use of tree limbs, we were enabled to repair it
sufficiently to carry all of our freight; and after it was loaded on, we
ate our supper, and prepared for an early start.

The gold, which we were so glad to obtain possession of, troubled us,
however. We did not like to risk its safety with us, for we knew that
the population of Ballarat were wild and lawless, and we were rather
fearful of losing our treasure, now that we possessed it. We consulted
with Smith, and came to the conclusion that the safest place was with
the honest old stockman, buried beneath his stone hearth. He readily
accepted of the trust, and promised to deliver it only upon a written
order, signed by both of us, and with a private mark upon the paper.

With Smith we settled according to what we considered a liberal reward.
The honest fellow refused, at first, to accept of any thing, saying that
he had only performed his duty, and that he was still in our debt; but
we would not listen to such reasoning, and weighed out five thousand
dollars, as his share, for losses sustained, and time expended.

After that matter was settled, we retired to sleep, and only awakened to
partake of a substantial breakfast, for which, I have always suspected,
we were indebted to the kind consideration Smith was held in by Mrs.
Becky. At any rate, every thing that we could desire was spread before
us; and when we shook hands with the old stockman and his daughter, I
observed that Smith held the woman's hand with a firm grasp, as though
reluctant to relinquish it.

Our friends waved an adieu, Smith cracked his whip, and sighed, Rover
barked joyfully, as he saw preparations for moving, Fred and myself
cautioned the stockman, for the last time, to be careful of our gold,
and then we were off; and in half an hour's time had shut out the hut
behind a miniature hill, the first which we had seen for many days.

For two days we travelled, meeting teams and vehicles of all
descriptions, owned by uncouth individuals, who asked us the news from
Melbourne, and ridiculed us when we said that we didn't know the price
of ale and beer, or what flour was worth per ton.

As we advanced towards the mining district, the road was filled with
people flocking that way, while hundreds were on their return to
Melbourne or Sydney.

Wan, ghastly looking men were groaning upon the bottom of carts
destitute of springs. Others, hardly able to lift their feet, were
staggering along for some city where they could receive the attentions
of a physician, being too poor to employ one at the mines, and too
destitute to ride towards civilization.

Occasionally we saw a poor wretch by the roadside, who had apparently
lain down to die, too exhausted to proceed upon his journey; while
others hailed us, and begged us, in God's name, for a swallow of wine,
or other stimulant, to cheer them on their way.

Long before we reached Ballarat our slender stock of liquors was
exhausted, and yet we had not administered to the wants of one half of
those who sought aid. Indeed, had we listened to all who begged, our
provisions would also have disappeared, and we should have had to trust
to our purses to replenish our supply.

Smith was an old campaigner in these regions, and cheeked our
generosity, by giving us a few words of advice, which we afterwards
found were correct.

On we went, the road growing worse and worse as we advanced, and as the
wheels sunk into the deep ruts, I thought the wagon would be shattered
to pieces in the struggle to extricate it. Dozens of teams were stuck,
and despite the yells and curses of the drivers, the tired cattle
refused to move.

Smith's oxen, the freshest and strongest we had seen on the road, were
often borrowed to give distressed teamsters a lift, so that our progress
was rather slow; and it was not until five o'clock that we entered the
town of Ballarat, and passed along the main street, which was graced
with huts and tents of rough boards, on each side.

On we went, passing the "Melbourne Saloon," the "Sydney Saloon," the
"London Hotel," the "American Hotel," the "Californians' Retreat," and
numbers of other tents, decorated with huge letters of black paint, and
all setting forth the peculiar merits which each offered to the weary
traveller.

At one place, we were told that real London porter could be obtained for
ten shillings per bottle; and at another, that XX ale was selling for
only one shilling per glass.

Signs innumerable greeted our eyes. Doctors, who informed the public
that their charges were only one pound per visit, cash in advance to
save trouble; carpenters, who offered to build houses at the cheapest
rate; carriers, willing to freight goods to any part of Australia, and
would not guarantee a safe delivery--all these were passed by without
attracting any attention, although the scene was one of novelty and
excitement to us.

We gained a portion of the town that was comparatively clear of tents,
and near a stream of water. Here Smith thought we had better stop; and
tired, and perhaps homesick, we pitched our tent, and ate our first
supper at the mines of Ballarat.




CHAPTER XXXIV.

THE BULLY OF BALLARAT.--FRED FIGHTS A DUEL.


Horse stealing is not regarded as a very serious crime, I regret to say,
in Australia. There is a certain class of people who make no scruple of
borrowing an animal without the owner's consent, and if great objection
is made to such a proceeding, a resort to firearms quickly settles the
matter, generally to the disadvantage of the remonstrant.

The mines are overrun with ruffians, who have no fear of law, and can
only be kept in awe by courage superior to their own. Of this we were
quickly made acquainted, as we were considered, by the old residents,
green, having but recently arrived, and not yet learned the mysteries of
Ballarat.

The first case occurred even before we had finished our supper, and
perhaps gave us a better insight into the manners and customs of the
miners than we could have otherwise learned for months.

I have already said that Fred and myself rode two fine horses, formerly
owned by the police department of Melbourne. The animals, owing to the
care which we had taken of them during our journey, were in capital
order, and worth full as much money as when we first purchased them.

As we had understood that horseflesh was scarce and dear at the mines,
we had determined to hold on to the brutes for a few days, and then, if
we liked Ballarat, and were disposed to locate there, we had resolved to
sell them, to save expense of keeping--no inconsiderable item, where to
turn a horse out to pasture was to lose sight of him forever, and where
barley was worth about ten dollars a hundred.

We were leisurely sipping our coffee, after looking to the comfort of
the animals, having fed and rubbed them down, and allowed them to drink
their fill of water, when a thick-set, black-bearded man, evidently
partially intoxicated, came swaggering towards us. He wore a blue
flannel shirt, open at the neck, exposing a chest brawny enough for
Hercules; and around his waist was a leather belt, such as is worn by
sailors on shipboard. In the belt was a long knife on one side, and on
the other a pistol of mammoth dimensions; but it looked to me as though
more dangerous to the holder than the one who stood before it, for the
stock was broken, and the barrel rusty and neglected.

Thus equipped, the ruffian--for we could see that he was a ruffian in
every movement and in every line of his animal face--swaggered towards
us, nodded to Smith in a patronizing manner, and after a broad stare of
half-defiance and half-wonder at Fred and myself,--an act of
impertinence of which we took no notice,--he began examining the animals
as though he was a connoisseur in horseflesh.

We apparently paid no attention to his movements, and continued
discussing our private affairs, and sipping our coffee. Rover, who was
sharing our meal, once or twice showed his teeth, and manifested a
disposition to commence hostilities; but we silenced him, and thought
that we would let the fellow operate for a few moments without
remonstrance.

"Who is he?" we asked of Smith.

"The worst man in Ballarat. He is called the bully of the mines, and it
is as much as a man's life is worth to anger him. His real name is Pete
Burley; he served out his time for breaking a man's head and then
robbing him, in London. Say nothing to him, but if he speaks, answer him
civilly."

This was all spoken in a tone not above a whisper, and we began to think
that the fellow was indeed dangerous, if a man like Smith displayed
signs of fear in his presence.

After Mr. Pete had satisfied himself which horse possessed the best
bottom, he turned towards us, and condescended to honor us with his
attention.

"Is them hosses yourn?" he inquired, with a growl, as though the effort
of asking a question was painful.

Fred intimated that they belonged to us, and that he considered them,
confidentially, fine animals.

"I want to use this ere one, to-night; where's the saddle and fixins?"

"Let him have the animal," whispered Smith, without raising his eyes;
"it's better than having trouble with him."

The advice was intended for our benefit, but the Yankee blood which
coursed through Fred's veins was opposed to such an inglorious
acquiescence.

"You don't intend to take the animal without asking our consent, do
you?" inquired Fred, mildly.

The ruffian actually looked astonished, and for a moment did not reply,
so bewildered did he seem.

"Have you told them fellers who I is?" asked Pete, appealing to Smith.

"I don't think that I have," replied Smith, hurriedly; "it's all right,
Pete; you can have the horse, if you want him."

"If it's all right, I've no more to say; but if it's not all right, I
can make it right, d----d quick," the ruffian said, still looking
towards us, as though he should like to see a little opposition, just
for the sake of showing us who he really was.

"My friend, here," said Fred, pointing to Smith, "is slightly mistaken
in what he says. I own the horse you have selected for a ride, and I
have objections against loaning him to strangers. You can't have him."

Fred was as cool as ever I saw him in my life. He reached over to the
coffee-pot while he was speaking, and deliberately helped himself to
coffee, sweetened it to his fancy, and then drank it, without showing
the least agitation.

To my surprise, the ruffian, instead of answering Fred's speech, burst
into an uncontrollable fit of laughter, which lasted for some minutes.

"If this 'ere ain't jolly!" he said, after recovering his breath; "why,
you fools, don't you know me? hain't you ever heard of me afore? I'm
Pete Burley, the bully of Ballarat, and can lick any two men in the
mines! Bah, greenies, don't be putting on airs afore you've been in
this ere town two hours. Where's this hoss's bridle?"

"I have told you once," replied Fred, a small, red spot beginning to
appear on each cheek, "that the animal is not at your disposal. We are
strangers here, it is true, but we are not disposed to be imposed upon."

"Now, I've half a mind to hammer the whole party till you're black and
blue, and then drive you from the mines. Why, you fools, who am I? what
do you take me for? am I a fighting man or not?'" roared the ruffian,
his eyes beginning to grow bloodshot, and his bloated face livid with
rage.

By this time, a large number of idlers began to gather around, and
listen to the altercation of words. None of them seemed disposed to
interfere, although I saw that the mass were too much under the
influence of Bully to say a word in our favor, while half a dozen
sycophant curs boldly encouraged him in his course of aggression, and
whispered to each other, that we should soon knuckle into "nuggets,"
when the bully got fairly awakened.

We paid no attention to the crowd, but continued to keep our seats and
sip our coffee; but when we saw that Pete was determined to carry off
the horse at any rate, we concluded that it was time to interfere in
earnest.

The bully had begun to unfasten the halter which held the horse, when
Fred and myself rose to our feet. The crowd kept at a respectful
distance, for they knew that Bully was a man who did not stop to
consider who were for or against him, when in a rage, and that he had
been known to discharge a pair of pistols in the midst of a party of
friends, if he felt that it was necessary to keep up his reputation for
fierceness and decision. Under such circumstances, there is but little
cause to wonder why men were not disposed to press forward for the
purpose of listening and offering assistance.

As I said before, Pete had begun to untie the halter, and the crowd
applauded in approbation of his firmness. He held the strap in one hand,
when Fred and myself, followed by Smith at a short distance, reached the
spot.

"I have told you once, that you cannot have my horse!" cried Fred,
firmly and decidedly; "will you have the extreme goodness to let him
alone?"

"Look here, you cussed counter-jumper," roared the bully; "if you utter
another word, I'll make you eat the hoss and saddle, and then boot you
out of town in the bargain. I'm going to have a ride; so stand aside,
and don't interfere with me."

He was walking off with the animal, when Fred laid his hand upon the
halter. The ruffian turned suddenly, and aimed a blow at Fred's head
that would have crushed his skull, had he not quickly avoided it, and
allowed the huge fist to pass within a few inches of his face.

The impetus of the blow turned the bully half round, so that he exactly
faced Fred, and for a moment he was off his guard; that opportunity was
improved by my friend, who saw his advantage.

Quick as lightning, I saw Fred's right hand raised, and with a "square
shoulder hit," such as would have felled an ox, he let it fall full upon
Bully's face. I saw the dark blood spurt out from beneath the eye of
Pete, and I heard a crunching sound, as though bones were broken; but
before I had time to think, the ruffian staggered, swung his arms aloft,
and pitched heavily to the earth.

"By G----d, that was a Yankee blow," yelled a rough-looking genius, who
had regarded the scene with great composure during the war of words.
"Them fellers is Yankees, and my countrymen, and they is going to have
fair play if I can get it. Stand back, all of you, and let us have this
thing out. Bob," our new ally said, speaking to a friend, "you just run
down to the Californe Saloon, and tell the boys a Yankee is in trouble,
and needs help; and mind and tell 'um that they needn't stop to draw the
charge of their revolvers."

The person addressed as Bob hastened from the spot; but before I could
reward our new friend with a word of thanks, Pete, who had lain as if
stunned for a few moments, began to show signs of reviving.

"We must look out for his pistol," said our rough friend, stepping from
the crowd, and approaching me. "He will be certain to use it if he is
not too groggy."

The words were prophetic; for hardly had the fallen man looked around,
after rubbing his eye, when the whole transaction appeared to flash upon
his mind.

"I have been struck," he yelled, springing to his feet, and stamping the
ground in his rage. "Where is the man that dared to lay a hand upon me?
Show him to me, and his blood shall run like water."

"Put up your pistol, Pete," said our new friend, laying his hand upon
that weapon, which Burley had drawn, and was about to cock. "You begun
this 'ere quarrel, and you are not going to use the barkers without
giving the other side a chance. Is it a regular stand up and take match
that you want, or do you like ten paces better? If you are for fight,
you can be accommodated; but the fellow that fires the first shot,
without a signal, dies, if there's any virtue in a revolver."

"A fight, a fight," yelled the outsiders, and even while they were
cheering, I saw a dozen or twenty brawny-limbed fellows break through
the crowd and rush into the ring.

"We just got word from you, Charley, that an American wanted fair play.
Who is he?" asked one of the new comers; and by his peculiar dialect, I
knew him for a native of old Vermont.

"These two 'Mericans have been pitched into by Pete Burley, 'cos they
won't let him have their hoss. I happened 'long and saw the whole of it,
and I tell you it was butfully done, and, no mistake. The Yankee give
him Jesse, and yet he fetched him only one winder."

"We'll stick by you, and no mistake," cried our generous countryman,
standing between the bully and Fred, for fear that the former should do
him some harm. "The fellow is a nuisance, and ought to be kicked from
the mines, for he makes his living by sponging and stealing."

"Come, Burley," cried the American addressed as Charley, "is it a fair
stand up fight that you want, or an exchange of shots? Our countryman
will accommodate you with either, I have no doubt."

"I want his blood; d---- him, I'll have his heart out of him," yelled
the ruffian, who was also surrounded by a small circle of admirers. "He
has struck me, and I want revenge."

"Well, don't cry about it," cried Charley, quite jocular. "I suppose
that there will be no trouble in satisfying you. What say? shall I make
arrangements for a meeting, so that you can have a pop at each other?"
he continued, addressing Fred.

"The fact of it is," Charley said, dropping his voice to a whisper, "the
fellow is a bloodthirsty wretch, and has committed more than half a
dozen murders, yet they cannot be brought home to him. You have struck
him, and he will take your life on the first opportunity. You had better
shoot him, and get him out of the way. I will explain the matter to the
government inspector, and there will be nothing said about the matter."

"But you forget that the ruffian may shoot me," replied Fred, with a
smile.

"Well, the fact of it is, I disremembered that. But I'll tell you what I
will do, if you think it will be of any consolation to you. If he hits
you, I'll challenge him, and revenge your loss."

"I am much obliged to you, certainly," Fred replied; "but I won't
request you to put your life in danger on my account. If you think I am
bound to give satisfaction for the blow, please act in connection with
my friend as my second."

"We'll arrange it, never fear," Charley said, with great readiness, as
though the meeting was one of the most natural things in the world.

Cowards are always fickle, and can be swayed by good or bad success.
Those who a few minutes before were silent, or encouraged the English
bully in his course, now left his ranks, arrayed themselves upon our
side, and many a hand, rough and hard with toil, was stretched out for
us to grasp and receive congratulations.

"Faith, Mr. Yankee," whispered a Hibernian to Fred, "ef ye can kill the
divil, do so wid all your heart, for a bigger thief never lived. He
stole me boots day afore yesterday, and the spalpeen refuses to return
'um."

"He licked me last week," said another, in an under tone, "and if you
think you can afford to beat him for a pound, I'll give it, readily."

"When you aim at him, be sure to fire a second afore the word is given,"
cried another new, but not very conscientious friend. "It's a trick the
bully is up to, and it's that way he treated poor Billy Hanes, who
accused him of stealing his dust. Do as I bid you, and you'll be all
right."

"We've fixed it," cried California Charley, as he was called by the
crowd, interrupting the confidential advice which Fred was receiving.
"We have concluded to let Burley have a shot to heal his wounded honor,
as he calls his black eye. A devilish bad looking peeper he has got, and
a stunning blow you must have given him to have produced such an
effect."

"When is it to come off?" I asked, almost trembling for Fred.

"We have decided that it shall take place immediately, 'cos it would be
cruel to disappoint the crowd assembled. They expect a duel, and we must
gratify them. If you are successful, you will be the most popular man in
Ballarat, and there is no knowing what is in store for you."

"What weapons are we to use?" Fred asked.

"Revolvers, to be sure. I've promised to let the fellow use mine for
the sake of placing him on an equality with you. I see that you have a
revolver, so that I know you will be able to shoot better with it than a
strange pistol. But remember, we have no fooling about the affair. I
never stand second for a man unless he tries to win, and I should hate
to think that you were foolish enough to throw away your fire. Do you
kill him the first time, or he will kill you."

Fred thanked our countryman for his advice, and for a moment we
conferred together apart.

"The same directions which I gave you when I was compelled to fight my
first duel, will answer for this," Fred said. "If any thing should
happen, don't let me be buried near this place. Carry my body to the old
convict's hut, and let me be interred there by the side of the stream."

I promised, although there were tears in my eyes and a choking sensation
in my throat, as I did so.

"Don't give way to any weakness, here," Fred whispered. "Remember that
the eyes of a thousand people are upon us. Let them see that we possess
the true Yankee grit."

He squeezed my hand as he spoke, and the next instant I was restored to
my usual calmness, as far as the prying eyes which were fastened upon us
could discover.

"Am I to be kept waiting all day for the young feller to say his
prayers?" roared the bully, who began to grow impatient for blood.

"Don't let him call again," said Charley; "if he does, the people will
think we are rather backward to meet him. Sympathy is now all on our
side, and we must not lose it."

"I am ready," replied Fred, after a brief inspection of his revolver.

"That's right--are you certain that those caps are not damp? Do you want
any thing? Can I do any thing for you?"

With these questions, and half a dozen others in the same breath, which
Charley asked as rapidly as though there was not a moment to spare, Fred
was conducted near his adversary, who uttered an exclamation when he saw
him, that was intended for an intimidation.

"Where shall I hit the d----d Yankee?" he cried, brandishing his pistol.
"I'll pepper him just where you tell me to, and afterwards we'll drink
his speedy passage to--"

The balance of the exclamation was so shocking that his only friend
checked him by asking if his pistol was well loaded.

"It's loaded well enough to kill that d----d pup. I say, what a joke it
will be! I kill a d----d Yankee with a Yankee's pistol. I suppose they
want to thin the breed off."

The bully's words, instead of intimidating Fred, had a contrary effect,
for I saw by his eyes that his mind was made up, and all feeling of
compassion was banished from his bosom.

"You're to stand off twenty paces," Charley said, speaking to Fred; "I
had some thoughts of making the distance less, but I was afraid to trust
you so near, considering that you are a new beginne ..."

Fred glanced at me and smiled. The Californian little, thought that he
was acting as second to a man whose reputation as a hunter of
bushrangers was the theme of every miner's discourse, and that the
newspapers of Australia had spread our fame all over the island.

"You need not fear that I shall disgrace your patronage," Fred said. "I
have seen an enemy's front before to-day."

"Gad, I begin to think that you have," Charley cried, noticing that his
man displayed no sign of tremulousness.

"Stand one side, gentlemen," cried the Californian. "Our men are going
to fire."

"Let me get in front of them--that's the safest place," roared out some
joker.

"It's pluck the Yankee is," cried our Hibernian friend. "See, he don't
look a bit like running away."

"Five to one that Burley hits at the first fire," cried a sporting man.

"Done," yelled the Irishman. "How much does ye wish to come down?"

"Five pound to two that neither is killed at the first fire," roared
another.

"Make it mortally wounded, and Jim's your customer," replied an anxious
miner, producing his small bag of gold to cover the stake.

"I'll go this nugget that the Yankee hits his man at the first fire,"
cried one fellow, holding up a lump of virgin gold as large as a hen's
egg.

"I'll take it--I'll take it," a number of voices replied, and
straight-way there was a rush towards him.

"Jim," cried our bully opponent, "do you go into the crowd and take a
few bets on my account, as I am in want of money, and _after_ I've
killed this young sprig of insolence, I intend to go on a spree. Take
all the odds offered."

I saw no one accept of the mission, so I concluded that the ruffian's
words were merely intended as capital for the crowd, accessions to which
were constantly increasing.

"Come," said Fred, speaking to Charley; "let us have this concluded as
soon as possible, or the whole town of Ballarat will be here to witness
it."

"That is just what. I want," replied our new-found friend, with great
coolness. "If you are fortunate enough to kill the bully,--and I am sure
I hope you will be,--every one who sees him fall will swear that the
fight was a beautiful one, and that every thing was perfectly fair and
just; 'while those who did not, will vow that murder has been committed,
and urge the commissioner to arrest you. It's a great satisfaction
sometimes to see a duel, and it's only right and proper that as many as
possible should be gratified with the sport."

"But it appears to me that the population of the town is all here now,"
remonstrated Fred.

"There's where you are mistaken," replied Charley; "the news has hardly
reached the miners in the shafts, and that class of people will feel
deeply grieved unless they are among the spectators."

"There comes a gang of men," I said, calling the Californian's attention
to thirty or forty, who, to judge by soiled garments, had just come from
the bowels of the earth.

"Yes, there are some of the underground miners, and a rough set they
are. Will you hurry up?" Charley shouted, "or are we to wait here all
night?"

"Why weren't we called afore?" asked one of the party. "This don't look
like the old style of doing things, I must say."

"I got word to you as quick as I could, and what more can I do? It's all
owing to me that you got an invite at all. This young feller don't know
our customs, and wanted to bang away afore any one was here," replied my
assistant second.

"Did you tell him how we managed things?" asked the leading miner,
gravely, as though a breach of etiquette had been committed of the
rudest kind.

"Of course I did," replied Charley, with alacrity. "You don't think I'd
forget my duty?"

"And what answer did the young feller make?" inquired the miner, as
though a great deal was attached to Fred's reply.

"He said that he was ready to comply with the customs of Ballarat, and
that he would wait a fortnight, if necessary, to allow the shaft miners
to get out to see the fun."

"He said that, did he?" asked the spokesman, nodding his head with
pleasure.

"Of course he did; and let me tell you he is one of 'em," Charley
exclaimed, with enthusiasm.

"I believe ye, and the fight can go on without any further delay, after
I've filled my pipe and lighted it."

We watched the miner as he slowly cut his tobacco and stuffed it into
his pipe, and then, with great deliberation, sheltered it with his hands
while he lighted it with a match.

"Now I'm comfortable--let the fight go on."

As soon as the miner, who appeared to have great authority over the
crowd, uttered these words, there was a scattering on every side to get
out of range of the bullets. The people fell back and left the two
principals with their seconds in a double line, which extended for some
distance.

"Let us shake hands again," said Fred, as the two men were brought into
position. "You, too, Smith, are entitled to my thanks, and a farewell."

"Don't say that--God knows I did all that I could to keep you apart."

"I know that you did," replied Fred, with a smile; "but we have no time
to talk of such matters. Stand one side, for I see the crowd and my
opponent are impatient to smell blood."

Smith fell back, and I slowly and reluctantly followed him.

"Gentlemen," cried the Californian, taking his station about midway
between the principals, "you are to fire when I say 'fire,' and not
before. The man who discharges his pistol before the word is given shall
get the contents of half a dozen different revolvers."

This piece of intelligence appeared to disconcert Burley, for he
whispered to his second, and they glanced suspiciously towards the
crowd.

"There'll be no firing afore the time at this fight," I heard the man
say who had requested us to be on the watch for the bully.

"Now, then, gentlemen, are you ready?" asked Charley.

"Ready for half an hour past, 'cos I've got to be at old Steve's at
eight o'clock," returned Burley.

The crowd cheered him for his spunk, as they termed it, and when Fred
only bowed to the question, and pulled his hat a little more over his
eyes, the Californian's party applauded.

"Now, then, remember what I told you. Are you ready?"

Both men cocked their pistols, and aimed as though they meant mischief.

"Fire!" thundered the Californian.

I heard a bullet whiz past me, and I saw that Fred stood firm upon his
legs, and then I had just time to look towards the bully to see him give
a spring upward and fall heavily upon his face. The earth fairly shook
as he struck it.




CHAPTER XXXV.

BALLARAT CUSTOMS, AFTER A DUEL.


A wild cheer, whether of joy or rage I could not tell, burst from the
crowd as Burley fell. The vacant space which had been kept clear for
duelling was filled at once by a struggling mass of people, all pressing
towards the fallen bully to learn the result of his injuries.

Amidst all the confusion and struggling, our California friends managed
to keep close to us, as though to afford protection in case we were
molested by adherents of Burley. But no one appeared to assail us, while
hundreds rushed up and shook our hands, and congratulated us on the
result of the fight.

"It's well ye did it, by gar," cried our Hibernian acquaintance; "niver
fear but ye is all right now. I'll fight for ye, mind, for faith, I've
won a nugget on ye."

"Take your men off the ground, Charley," said the stout miner, who
appeared to exercise such unlimited control over the crowd. "Take 'em
off, and if they is wanted we know where to find 'em."

In obedience to this mandate we were forced off the ground towards our
tent, and when we reached it we did not have to wait long for news.
Indeed, we found some trouble in keeping people out, for crowds were
wishing to get a sight of the man who tamed the bully of Ballarat; and
had not our California friends reported that Fred was slightly wounded
and desired time to have his hurts attended to, I verily believe he
would have been paraded round the town on the shoulders of his
enthusiastic admirers. While we were speculating on the result of the
duel, and Fred was congratulating himself on getting off so cheap,
Charley rushed in.

"Well, how much injured is Burley?" I asked.

"He is pretty badly hurt, but I reckon he'll get over it. The shot hit
him on the hip, and if ever he does get well he'll be troubled in
walking, I should think."

"Then there is a prospect of his recovering?" demanded Fred, anxiously.

"Well, I should think there was a right smart chance of his getting on
his pins in the course of time. It's hard killing such ugly customers,
you know."

"I am thankful that he will not die by my hand," replied Fred, with his
whole heart.

"Well, it's just as one fancies, you know. Now I shouldn't have thought
it a great crime had the old scamp been peppered right through the
heart. But, how's this?"

The eyes of Charley wandered around the tent as though he saw something
that excited his suspicions. We looked at him with astonishment.

"It ain't the way the miners have been accustomed to be treated, and I'm
sorry that I had any thing to do with the duel, 'cos I'll be blamed,"
Charley said, shaking his head, and looking as mournful as though he had
just heard of the death of his grandfather.

"Will you be kind enough to tell us what you disapprove of," asked Fred,
anxiously.

"Well, I hope that I'll be acquitted of all blame, and I want you to say
so when the influential miners make their appearance," our new
acquaintance said, still shaking his head and muttering to himself.

"Pray, what do you mean?" repeated Fred, beginning to feel a little
nervous and a little angry at the same time.

"Well, I suppose you know something 'bout the customs of the miners,
don't you?" Charley asked.

"I know nothing about your customs or laws, for I've been in Ballarat
only two hours, and yet I've fought a duel and eaten supper, work enough
for one man," Fred said.

"I forgive you," cried Charley, seizing our hands and shaking them in a
sudden burst of friendship.' "Say no more--I forgive you."

"For Heaven's sake, what have I done that deserves forgiveness on your
part?" demanded Fred.

"Why, didn't you know that on occasions like these 'ere the survivor of
a duel is expected to have a few refreshments set out in his tent, and
that all the principal men of Ballarat will be here to take a drink?"

"I certainly was not acquainted with such an understanding, and I don't
think that even my friend Smith, here, who has made many trips to
Melbourne and the mines, ever heard of it," replied Fred.

Smith shook his head to intimate that he was in blissful ignorance, and
just then one of the Californians, who acted as doorkeeper, put his head
into the tent and shouted,--"They're coming, Charley; are you ready for
'em?"

"You see," our friend said, with great coolness, "that something to
drink is expected, and yet we have nothing to offer. What are we to do?"

"What have you been accustomed to do?" interrogated Fred, beginning to
think that he had fallen among queer people, his countrymen included.

"Well, a gallon or two of gin, or the same amount of brandy, has always
been considered as about right. It all depends on a man's circumstances.
Now, you," and Charley fixed his eyes with great earnestness upon Fred's
form while speaking, "I calculate, is worth something considerably
handsome, and can afford to treat the boys pretty liberal."

"Is any thing more customary?" asked Fred, with a slight sneer.

"Well sometimes, when it's a pretty bad case, I've known a feller to
come down liberally with beer; but of course you can do as you please
about that. They sell first rate at the Californe saloon--new tap, just
arrived," and Charley's eyes sparkled at the prospect of getting a
drink.

"Then, perhaps, as I and my friend are strangers here, you will do me
the pleasure of acting as master of ceremonies, and order what you think
fit."

"But you'll pay for the fixens, you know," our friend said, with true
Yankee sagacity; and as he spoke he watched narrowly to see if the money
was forthcoming to back up the request.

"Certainly," answered Fred, with a melancholy smile at the prospect
before him. He drew from his pocket a number of gold pieces and handed
them to Charley, who clutched them with avidity.

"I say, Bob," our California friend exclaimed, running to the entrance
of the tent; "it's all right. Tell the folks to wait, and we'll have
something to wet their whistles. He's come down handsomely, and no
mistake."

"Any orders?" asked the fellow addressed as Bob.

"Yes, indeed; go down to my place and tell my partner that we'll be
there in a few minutes, and that we intend to drink him dry afore
morning."

"A pleasant prospect," I muttered, in an undertone, to Fred. "It seems
that the fellow is proprietor of a saloon, and is determined that we
shall pay him for his trouble by drinking all that he has got."

Charley intimated that he would show us the way, but Fred held back.

"Why can't you drink your ale without my presence?" he asked,
impatiently.

"'Cos we don't approve of haristocracy here in Ballarat, and it would
make the miners think that you didn't want to 'sociate with 'em. It
wouldn't do."

"But if you should tell them that I am slightly injured, and need rest,
wouldn't that have some effect?" Fred inquired, driven almost to
desperation.

"Well, the only effect it would have you'd be obliged to receive the
folks in your tent, and perhaps that would not be agreeable. But you can
do jist as you please, remember. I've been at Ballarat for six months,
and I should think I know'd the ideas and habits of the miners purty
well."

"For Heaven's sake, let us go to your place without delay, and get
through with the business. I've half a mind to turn my back upon
Ballarat to-morrow," cried Fred.

"You won't do that, I reckon, while there's so much of the root of all
evil in the ground. Why, I s'pose you come up here to get rich, and you
is going jist the right way to work to do it. To-morrow you'll be the
most popular man in the mines, and there's no telling what the boys may
do for you. Perhaps send you a delegate to the governor-general, to ask
him to clip off the taxes which we have to pay for digging gold. I tell
you there's a brilliant future before you, so come along."

We could not resist such a plea, and, followed by about half a thousand
miners, teamsters, and idlers, we gained the saloon owned by our friend,
which proved to be the much vaunted "Californian Retreat."

The saloon was made of sail cloth, not exactly in the form of a tent,
for a slight frame was visible of a square order, and to the joist was
the cloth tacked. A few rough boards, evidently taken from boxes, formed
the bar, or counter, and half a dozen shelves were nailed up behind it,
composed of the same material.

On the shelves were a dozen or more black bottles, and three cracked
tumblers stood upon the bar ready to use. A pitcher of water, that
almost steamed with heat, was arrayed before the tumblers; but that, I
imagine, was intended as an ornament, and not for use, for I did not
observe, while I was at the mines, a man make use of such liquid to
qualify his liquor. The merchants of Melbourne and the carriers of
freight between the city and the mines saved them the trouble.

In the rear part of the saloon was a good sized Yankee stove, black with
dirt, and rust, the accumulation of many days' cooking, during which
fried pork was the staple article; and it was evident that the presiding
genius of the _cuisine_ department had been regardless of how much fat
was spilled, and how much dirt his patrons consumed.

Three or four berths, near the stove, shaped like those found in the
steerage of a ship, completes a description of every thing in the
Californian Retreat worthy of notice. In one of the berths I noticed a
man who appeared to be very sick, for he hardly opened his eyes when the
crowd which followed us to the saloon rushed in in a disorderly manner.

"Well," said our friend Charley, rubbing his hands with an air of great
satisfaction, and glancing around his premises, "this looks snug, don't
it?"

"Very," I answered, rather dryly.

"You won't find in all Ballarat a saloon that can begin to compare with
this in point of neatness, and a supply of all the luxuries of the
season. Our liquors are first rate, and no mistake; and although we is
out of cigars, we have got some of the juiciest nigger-head that you
ever seed."

The miner, who appeared to exercise such sway over his comrades, edged
his way through the crowd.

"I came here," he said, "thinking that the duel feller had axed us to
wet our whistles, but it 'pears that I am mistaken."

The speaker, now that I had time to study his countenance and
appearance, I found was a man nearly six feet, six inches high, broad
across the shoulders, with a face massive and determined, yet not
wanting indications of good nature.

"Don't be in such a stew, Ben," cried Charley, rushing towards him, and
preventing his leaving the saloon. "The thing is all right. The dueller
feller pays for all, and we're only waiting for my partner to roll in a
keg of some of the slickest Yankee whiskey that was ever made in York
State, I tell you."

"Is that so?" asked stout Ben, as he was called, and his face appeared
to express satisfaction at the news. "That is r-e-l-i-a-b-l-e, I s'pose,
Charley?" "My word for it, Ben. But come and shake hands with Burley's
tamer, and encourage the youngster with your patronage."

The giant, drew the back of his hand across his mouth as though it was
watering for the whiskey, but after a slight urging, the second time he
suffered Charley to conduct him to the corner of the saloon, where Fred,
Smith, and myself were standing, receiving congratulations from all who
wanted a drink of liquor free of cost.

"This is the chap, Ben," Charley said, nodding towards Fred, and that
was all the introduction which was deemed necessary.

"I am happy to know you," said "Fred, grasping n hand that was about the
size of a shoulder of mutton, and twice as hard and nubby.

"You did putty well with Burley, and I am glad of it," Ben replied,
shutting his fist and compressing Fred's bind for what he intended as a
gentle squeeze--but I could see by my friend's face that he would be
very glad when it was relinquished.

"A fine shot you made of it, sir," Ben said, not noticing that he had
inflicted a large amount of pain.

"Is the poor fellow badly hurt?" asked Fred.

"Well, he's got an ugly hole in him, and it's hard hunting--the sawbones
will have to find the lead."

"I hope that, he will live," repeated Fred. "I did not seek his life,
and I should be sorry to think that an act of mine sent him from the
world with all his sins unrepented of."

"Never you mind about that," replied Ben. "If a feller wants to take
your heart out, you've got the right to say to that feller, you don't
come it; and if the feller still persists, you is bound to act on the
defensive, and either lick him or kill him, I don't care which. I
jinerally lick 'em."

As I glanced at the sturdy limbs of the giant miner I thought that he
would be apt to meet but few men who would not prefer the shooting to
the licking.

"You often have trouble here in Ballarat?" Fred asked.

"Well, no, I can't say that I see much of it. Sometimes the fellers make
a rumpus, but they generally let me alone, and that's all I ax of 'em.
But whar's that 'ere licker we's to have? 'Pears to me it's rather slow
in getting 'long."

"Here it comes," shouted Charley, bustling around the crowded room, if,
indeed, room it could be called. "I had to wait for it to be unloaded,
Ben, 'cos it arrived only an hour or two ago from Sydney."

"You say it's the real New York first proof whiskey, do ye?" asked Ben,
holding a tumbler two thirds full of the stuff up to the light, and
scanning its color with a critical eye.

"The real thing, and no mistake. It's just sich as you used to git when
chopping away down in the backwoods of Maine," replied Charley.

We then discovered, what we had all along suspected, that the miner was
an American, and belonged in the Eastern State.

"Come, ain't you fellers a goin' to drink with us? That ain't exactly
the thing, you know. There ain't no aristocracy in these parts. Every
feller is tree and equal, as the old Constitution of the States says."

We could not withstand Ben's pressing intimation that we were to
consider ourselves no better than others present, and after waiting
five minutes for a chance at a glass, we managed to swallow a few
mouthfuls of the vile stuff.

"That's the ticket!" he cried, when he saw that we were disposed to
follow his example; "nothing like good whiskey to keep a man all right,
at the mines. I don't drink much myself, but I've no objections to other
people taking a nip now and then."

As he spoke, he held out his glass for another nip, and the attentive
Charley, with an eye to his profits, quickly filled it.

"I give you," said Ben, appealing to the crowd for silence--for most of
the miners had grown talkative, under the influence of their drink--"I
give you a toast. Here's to the tax, and d---- the man that wouldn't
d---- it!"

The toast was received with yells of applause, and even when the
confusion was at its height, I noticed a small, dark-complexioned man,
wearing a blue frock coat with brass buttons, but with no other insignia
of office or authority, enter the room.

His presence was not noticed by the crowd, which still continued its
revels, until the new comer approached us, when a death-like silence
crept over the assembly.

"Good evening, gentlemen," said the dark man, addressing Fred and myself
in a courteous manner; "I belive that you are recent arrivals?"

"Not more than three hours since," I replied, returning his salutation.

"I believe you have stated the hours correctly," he returned, dryly; "we
live fast, here in Ballarat, yet I think you have outstripped us by your
activity."

"No one can regret the circumstance which has taken place more than
myself," replied Fred.

"Perhaps not," answered the dark man with a grim smile; and while he was
speaking, I noticed that those in the saloon edged towards us for the
purpose of hearing our conversation.

"The quarrel was occasioned by a dispute about horses, I believe?" the
little man said.

"You are correct in your suppositions," returned Fred.

"Will you be kind enough to inform me how those animals came in your
possession?" interrogated the stranger.

"I don't know what business it is of yours," returned Fred, with some
asperity; "but as we seek to disguise nothing, I will frankly inform you
that we purchased the horses and paid for them."

"A likely story, truly; I never yet knew the police of Melbourne to sell
their spare horses."

At these words, we saw that the crowd looked at each other suspiciously,
and appeared to regard us as being guilty of some serious crime.

"When you show us your authority for asking questions, we will explain
matters." I replied, after a moment's hesitation.

"Perhaps you will explain before it suits your convenience," the little
man said, ironically; "I heard of the quarrel and the duel which one of
you has been engaged in, and while investigating, I took occasion to
look at the horses which you rode. You will imagine that I was surprised
to discover that each animal had upon his hind quarter the private mark
of the police of Melbourne. I repeat, sir, that the authorities of that
city are not in the habit of selling horses to adventurers."

The little man spoke confidently, and glanced around the crowd to see if
his words were having an effect upon his audience. Thinking that he
would complete our humiliation, he continued:--

"Our worthy miners here at Ballarat, have sometimes been put to great
trouble by losing the dust which they have sent to the cities, and I
think that I am right in demanding, in their name, a strict account of
all suspicious people who visit us."

This was a shrewd bit of acting on the part of the little man, for he
instantly carried all the miners with him. Hardly one present but had
suffered at the hands of the bushrangers, and was anxious to avenge his
loss.

"Let the fellers show who they is," the crowd began to murmur; and even
our former friend, Charley, I observed, joined in the cry, while Ben
remained silent, and drank two more glasses of whiskey during the
tumult.

"It is evident that you suspect us of being bushrangers," observed Fred,
coolly.

"I certainly think that you are," returned the little man, bluntly; "and
it is a matter of surprise to me that I see you in the company of a man
who has, during his trading at the mines, borne a good character."

This was a hard dig at Smith, and he sought to explain, but Fred checked
him.

"If we should prove to you that we are honest men, I suppose that you
would be willing to make an ample apology for the manner in which you
have addressed us?" Fred said.

The little man smiled sarcastically, and intimated that he should be
most happy.

"Then," Fred exclaimed, drawing a paper from his pocket and handing it
to the little man, "you will please to read that, and see if you are
acquainted with the signatures."

The stranger called for a candle, for it was nearly dark, and by its
light began perusing the document.

"What is this?" he muttered; "a bill of sale of two horses, formerly
owned by the police of Melbourne, to Messrs. Frank ---- and James ----,
signed by Hansen, the captain of police, and Murden, lieutenant. Can it
be possible? Yes, it must be; I understand it all."

The little man threw himself upon us, grasped each of our hands, and to
the intense astonishment of all present, began shaking them as though he
was working a pump.

"How could I be so mistaken?" he asked. "I really thought; but, pshaw,
my suspicions were so absurd."

"What's the row?" demanded big Ben, who began to feel the effects of the
chemical whiskey.

"There is no row, only I am happy to say that I made a mistake in my
man," the little person said.

"What, ain't they men, after all?" shouted Ben; "if they ain't men,
they must be wimmin, and that's all the better; if one of 'urn wants a
husbin' I'm the feller for her!"

"Their past conduct don't prove that they are women!" cried the little
man. "They are the two Americans who are known all over the island as
bushranger hunters. We have all read an account of their doings in the
Melbourne papers, and we welcome them to the mines, and hope that they
will be as successful here as they have been elsewhere."

"The devil they is; why, I thought when I seen that ere feller stand up
to be shot at, that he had smelled gunpowder afore. Give us your hands,
my chickens! Cuss me, if ye ain't an honor to the States!"

We hardly dared trust our hands within Ben's grip, yet when we did so,
we were delightfully surprised to find that he was reasonable.

"Well, I allers said that they was all right!" cried Charley, who turned
with the tide; "the instant I seed 'um insulted, I knew that I should be
on the right side. You wouldn't like to pay for the whiskey which has
been drunk, would you?" he asked, in an undertone.

Fred put a number of gold coins in his hand, but whether our sponging
friend was overpaid, or whether the money fell short, I never knew, as I
saw the little man give him a glance that was very expressive of his
disapprobation, and with an ashamed look, the fellow slunk back to his
whiskey cask.

"Come, gentlemen," said the little man; "this is no place for tired
travellers. Let us retire, and leave the crowd to drink themselves
drunk."

We followed his advice, and in a few minutes had left the dissipated
miners to their revels.




CHAPTER XXXVI.

ARRIVAL AT BALLARAT.--MR. BROWN'S STORY.


We walked slowly along the main street of Ballarat, and chatted with our
new friend on a variety of subjects. He appeared to be well informed on
mining, and shrugged his shoulders when we intimated that our intention
was to get rich by delving in the earth, and bringing its riches to
light.

"By the way," our new acquaintance said, "it is a little singular that
Murden did not give you a letter to me. He knows that I am stationed
here, and that I would do all in my power to assist his friends."

I suddenly recollected, that just before we left Melbourne, Murden did
scribble off a letter, and hand it to me, with a remark, that perhaps it
might be useful to us. I had forgotten the circumstance, but I knew
where the note was, and I determined to hunt it up as soon as I returned
to my tent.

"I have a letter from the lieutenant," I said; "but if I am not
mistaken, it is addressed to a Mr. Brown, although where Mr. Brown is
to be found is more than I can tell."

The little man laughed in a quiet manner, as though he did not wish to
commit himself by being too jovial.

"I think that you have hit upon the right one," he said, "for my name is
Brown."

"Then you shall have the note," I replied; "but I should never have
thought of looking for the one that it is addressed to."

"O, yes you would," he replied, confidently.

"Why do you think so?" I asked.

"Because you will hear my name mentioned oftener at Ballarat than any
other."

"And pray, may we he so bold as to ask what your position is, that gives
you so great a notoriety?"

"Ask? To be sure you may," returned the little man; "I am the police
inspector of Ballarat, and my name is James Brown, very much at your
service."

"We have mingled with the police so much since we have been in
Australia, that we almost consider ourselves as belonging to the
department. We are therefore sorry that we were not introduced to your
notice under better auspices," Fred said.

"O, you alluded to that shooting affair to-night. That did not amount to
much, although I must say that I wish you had killed the bully, for he
has given me more trouble than any other man at the mines. He is as
desperate a scoundrel as ever went unhanged, and had he been killed
outright, there are few who would mourn his fate."

"That may be true, yet I have always a great repugnance to shedding
human blood," replied Fred, in a sorrowful tone.

Mr. Inspector Brown stopped for a moment, as though surprised by the
answer.

"I had the same kind of feeling once, yet it is many years since. A long
residence in Australia has blunted all my finer sensibilities, and I
have witnessed so much crime and cruelty, that I am unmoved now, even
when a poor wretch is gasping forth his last words. I have often thought
that I would give all the gold that the mines of Australia yield if I
was but young again, and possessed the same sympathizing heart that I
did once."

By this time we had reached our tent, and our approach was challenged by
a deep bay from Rover, whom we had left to guard our baggage.

"A splendid animal," remarked the inspector, as he sought to lay his
hand upon Rover's head; but the dog resented the liberty, and growled
menacingly.

"He deserves all your praise," I replied, pleased at the conduct of the
brute, and doubly pleased to hear a deserved tribute to his ability.

"If you ever feel disposed to part with him," the inspector hinted, "I
will not haggle about his price."

"I will never sell him," I answered.

"Where did you obtain him, for I see that he is of English breed?" asked
Inspector Brown.

We entered the tent, where we found Smith, who had preceded us from the
Californian's Retreat, and, after finding a seat for Mr. Brown, we
related the manner in which Rover had started us by his deep bays, on
the night of our first encampment by the hut of the old convict.

"And Black Darnley--when you met him, did the dog appear to recognize
him as the author of the murder?" asked the inspector, who appeared
deeply interested in our narrative.

I related the scene in the forest, when the bold outlaw yielded up his
life to satisfy the vengeance of an enraged father; and when I had
concluded, the little, dark man's eyes gleamed as though he had taken
part in the battle.

"How I should liked to have been with you!" he exclaimed; "I can imagine
your feelings, as you crept through the forest, and awoke the
bushrangers with the crack of your rifles. No wonder the
governor-general wished to secure your services in the police force."

"How did you learn that?" I asked, astonished at his knowledge.

"A friend at Melbourne wrote to me to that effect, and also sent me
newspapers containing your exploits. The last brush that you had with
Murden was more exciting than any other that you ever engaged in."

"How did you know that we had been so engaged?" asked Fred.

"By rumor. A team reached this place this evening, and the driver
reports that he met Murden fifty miles from Melbourne, with eight or ten
bushrangers as prisoners. From one of the police he gained his
information that two Americans were participants in the fight. Of course
I arrived at the conclusion that both of you were present. Come, tell me
all about it."

"On condition that you relate one or two of your life adventures," Fred
said.

"Agreed."

Fred commenced from the time when we began our search for gold,
(although he wisely omitted all mention of finding any,) and recounted
the surprise, and our capture--the rescue by Murden--the fight--the
attempt of the bushrangers to burn us by firing the woods--an escape,
and promise to Steel Spring, (at the mention of whose name Mr. Brown
smiled, as though acquainted with the reputation of the treacherous
wretch,) if he would guide us to the retreat of Nosey--the fulfilment of
his promise, and the death of the bushranger chief, and the capture of
his gang.

"A splendid, stirring time you had of it," said Mr. Brown, rubbing his
sinewy hands as though he liked to work, and was impatient to think that
he had not been there.

"But you," Fred said, "must have seen many rough times during your long
service at the mines."

"My fights have been more with single men, or at least, not over three
at a time. You were speaking of Black Darnley, and the manner in which
he met his fate. I never encountered him but once, and then he slipped
through my fingers; and whether the fellow concluded that we pressed him
too hard, or thought that better opportunities for stealing existed near
the forest, I can't say; but, at any rate, I never heard of his being
nearer Ballarat than twenty-five miles after we met."

"If not too much trouble, please relate an account of it," I said.

The little man glanced at his watch, and saw that the hour was still
early, and after asking our permission to light his pipe, which we
readily accorded, and joined him with pleasure in the same agreeable
occupation, he began:--

"I think it was about three months since, when a party of three miners,
who had accumulated a considerable amount of treasure by working in
these mines, concluded that they would sell out their claim and return
to Sydney, and from thence take ship to England, where they belonged.
For the sake of saving the small percentage that government charges on
sending gold dust to Melbourne, or Sydney, under the escort of soldiers,
the miners concluded that they would guarantee its safety.

"I explained to them that they were running a great risk, as I had heard
that Darnley was in the neighborhood; but they only laughed at my
warnings, and pointed to their long knives and smooth-bored guns, and
intimated that the bushranger must be a bold man who dared to ask them
to stand and deliver.

"If I had not often heard such boasts, perhaps I might have been
deceived; but I knew many men, both brave and daring, who had quailed at
the sight of an armed bushranger, so I put no confidence in the stories
of what they intended to do in case of an attack. I considered it my
duty to warn them once more, and when that failed, I let them leave the
mines without further remonstrance.

"I think that it was the third day after the miner's departure, that I
was sitting in my office, making out a few records that were to be sent
to Melbourne, when, to my surprise, one of the pig-headed follows
presented himself before me. I should hardly have known him, he was so
changed. His feet were bare and bleeding, his clothes were torn into
shreds, and his whole appearance of the most abject and wretched
description.

"I asked a few questions, but for a long time my visitor could not
answer me, so overcome was he with grief. He shed tears, upbraided
himself for his obstinacy, and refused to be comforted. At length, by
the aid of a few glasses of stimulants, I was enabled to learn his
story. It was as I had half supposed.

"About twenty-five miles from Ballarat, a singular looking genius had
joined them, and requested permission to travel in their company. He
manifested so much fear of robbers, and told about his aristocratic
relatives, and the large amount of money on his person, that a ready
assent was given to his request."

"It must have been Steel Spring," I said.

The little man nodded his head in token of assent, and continued:--

"At noon, on the day that Steel Spring joined the party, a halt was
proposed, under the shade of a gum tree that stood near the road. The
miners, tired with the long walk, readily consented, and after partaking
of their humble fare, Steel Spring produced a bottle, and invited all to
join him in a friendly drink. He did not have to ask twice, and although
no suspicions were entertained by the miners, the relater of the
transaction told me that he noticed that Steel Spring's sups at the
flask were short, and not at all frequent.

"The treacherous scamp, after he had won their confidence by relating
some incidents connected with his early life, began to examine the guns
which the miners carried; and after he had finished, and when the men
were about ready to commence their journey, a stout, dark-faced,
ferocious-looking man appeared before them. He soon made known his
intentions, for in his belt he carried a pair of pistols, and at his
shoulder, with glistening eyes glancing along the barrel, sighting the
first one that offered to stir, was a heavy gun, with a bore like a
blunderbuss.

"For a few seconds they stood thus, not a word being spoken, when
suddenly Steel Spring, with a pretended cry of terror, threw himself at
the feet of the stranger and shouted for mercy. It was a trick of his,
and well he played his part; yet the miners did take up their guns, but
found that the priming had been removed by Steel Spring while they were
drinking his liquor.

"The instant the poor fellows made a motion towards repriming, the
bushranger discharged his gun, and one fell. The other two, struck with
awe at the sight of their comrade's blood, turned and fled--but a pistol
shot brought down one of them, while, by good fortune, the third
escaped, and brought to me a narrative of his sufferings.

"He had lost all of his hard earnings, for the gold dust was in their
knapsacks, and left behind, a prize to Black Darnley. The survivor
begged of me, nay, entreated, and promised half that he had lost if I
would only recover his wealth. In fact, he appeared to be much more
anxious to get his gold than avenge the death of his comrades; and
amidst all his grief, he had the impudence to ask me if I did not
consider that he was entitled to the wealth of his partners in case I
recovered it. I was almost tempted to turn him out of my room, but I
thought that it would do no good; I recollected that I had a public duty
to perform, and I made preparations for an immediate departure. I took
with me but three men, stout fellows whom I knew I could rely upon, and
whose courage had been tested in a dozen fights.

"We armed ourselves with pistols and rifles, and mounting the fastest
horses that we could command, started for the scene of robbery, in hope
of tracking the villains to their retreat, and bringing them to speedy
justice. We reached the tree, near where the murders had been committed,
but no bodies were in sight. A short distance from the road, however,
was a long line of dried weeds and rank grass, and as I observed a
number of birds of prey sailing over the place, I concluded that I
should find the remains of the men there. I was not disappointed.

"The bodies had been dragged out of sight of the road, and then rifled
of every thing of value. I did not stop to give the poor fellows burial
then, because every moment was of importance; but after we had concluded
the expedition, my men returned and covered them with earth, and placed
a rude cross at their heads.

"We examined attentively for a trail to show the direction that the
robbers had taken, and luckily found it without difficulty. It led in a
direct course towards Sydney, and it was evident that Darnley intended
to cross the country for about fifty miles, and then strike for the
common road, so that he could get provisions or water from those who
happened to be passing.

"I studied on the matter for a few minutes, and wondered why they should
choose such an extraordinary course; at last I came to the conclusion
that the murderers were really bound for Sydney, and that they had an
object in view, and were determined to get there as soon as possible--or
why should they go over a mountainous country, when they might have kept
the woods?

"The course which they had evidently taken was many miles shorter than
the usual route, but a road that a horse could not travel.

"I suddenly recollected, while my men were following the trail for the
purpose of seeing if my surmise's were correct, that the miners had
deposited in the Sydney bank about a thousand pounds, and that it was
subject to their order. Their certificates of deposit must have been
upon their persons when murdered, and Darnley would not scruple to
boldly present himself at the bank, or else send Steel Spring to secure
the money. I reasoned in that manner, and then concluded to act as
though my surmises were facts.

"I recalled the men, and we started towards Sydney without a moment's
delay. I knew that both robbers were fast travellers, but I calculated
that I could reach the point at which they would strike the Sydney road
as soon, if not sooner, than they did.

"In this I was disappointed; for although we rode all night, and only
stopped long enough to recruit the strength of our animals, yet when I
made an inquiry of a party bound for Ballarat, I found that two men, who
stated that they were from the mines, had purchased provisions and water
from them, and then continued on their course, as though they had not a
moment to lose. It was noon when the information was given, and the
murderers were seen at daylight. They had ten hours the start of us,
but, nothing daunted, we pushed on, making inquiries of those whom we
met, yet not a word of news could be obtained. I did not wonder much at
that, for I knew that Darnley would avoid the high road as much as it
was possible, and only strike it to obtain provisions. I also knew that
he would conduct himself in a discreet manner, for fear of starting an
alarm; and that he would forego all thoughts of pillage for the sake of
carrying through the business which he had undertaken.

"Hoping to reach Sydney before him, I pressed on night and day, and only
stopped long enough to recruit our animals when there was a prospect of
their breaking down. On the forenoon of the fourth day after leaving
Ballarat we entered Sydney, and rode direct to the bank. I inquired if
the murdered men had money deposited there, and found that they had, and
that no attempt to draw the same had been made. With a brief caution to
the cashier not to pay out the amount, and to arrest any one who asked
for it, I mounted my force on fresh horses and again sought the road on
which I expected Darnley.

"I did not report myself to the police of Sydney, for I was determined
to win all the honor, or sustain all the disgrace, of an encounter with
Darnley. Perhaps afterwards I felt sorry that I had not obtained
assistance, but I never acknowledged it to those in authority. I made an
excuse that was considered sufficient for my course, and there the
matter rested.

"About twelve o'clock on the day that we reached Sydney, we discovered
our men trudging along the road, disguised in a manner that at first
almost deceived me, and I called myself well acquainted with the persons
of Darnley and Steel Spring. I allowed them to get within a few feet of
us, when I suddenly called upon them to stop. Up to this time it was
evident that neither suspected us, but upon my speaking, I saw Darnley's
hand thrust into his bosom, and I knew what he was searching for.

"'You are our prisoners,' I said, covering the person of Darnley with a
pistol that I had never known to fail me.

"'You are mistaken in your men,' he answered, edging away from my horse.

"'It's no mistake," I replied; "I arrest you, Black Darnley, for the
murder of two miners.'

"Still keeping my eyes upon the bushranger, and suffering my men to
attend to Steel Spring, who cowed as though overwhelmed by despair, I
disengaged one foot from the stirrup, and was just about dismounting,
when I saw the villain draw a pistol and aim at me. He was so quick that
I had no time to defend myself; but his rapid movement started the
horse, and he shied just enough to save me and receive the contents of
the pistol.

"The poor brute bounded and dashed against my companions, overturning
two of them, and nearly unhorsing the other; and while I was picking
myself up from the road, where I had been thrown, I heard a hoarse
laugh, and saw Darnley and Steel Spring bounding over a fence that
enclosed a number of acres of growing grain.

"Frantic with rage, I sighted them with my pistol, but the cap alone
exploded; and before I could draw another, the murderers were out of
sight. I looked towards my companions, to ask why they did not use their
weapons, and I found that two of them were just picking themselves up
from the middle of the road, and the third was going towards Sydney at a
rapid rate, and in despite of his utmost exertions to stop the animal
upon which he was mounted.

"I shouted to the men to follow me, but only one obeyed; the other had
broken an arm in his fall, and was groaning over it piteously. We sprang
over the fence and followed the trail through the grain, each step
leading us away from the city and assistance, but I thought not of that.
My whole desire was to grapple with the villains, and either capture
them or end their career. I encouraged my companion to keep up with me
in the pursuit; but I was either fleeter of foot, or else he sadly
lagged behind, for after ten minutes running I was left alone.

"I knew that it would be useless to return to the city and ask for
assistance, and in fact, to tell the truth, I didn't want to be laughed
at, as I knew that I should be after telling my story. So on I went,
running with all my might after two men, either of whom was a match for
me in a fair hand to hand fight.

"At length I caught sight of the murderers, and I redoubled my speed;
and as I ran I placed fresh caps upon my pistols, and prayed that they
would not disappoint me in my extremity. The villains saw me close at
their heels, but they did not stop, supposing, of course, that I was
backed by my men. Once or twice I saw Darnley look over his shoulder as
though calculating the distance between us, so that I was not much
surprised when he stopped suddenly, and aimed his undischarged pistol at
my head.

"That act stopped me in double quick time, for I had heard accounts of
Darnley's proficiency with the pistol, and I thought I would exchange
shots with him instead of coming to close quarters.

"I think that I owe my life to the speed with which Darnley had been
running, and I am certain he escaped from the same cause, for when I
raised my pistol I could hardly hold it in a straight line. We fired
both at the same time. I felt something strike my side that appeared to
burn like a coal of fire, and when I put my hand to the spot it was soon
covered with blood.

"I staggered and fell; but even as I did so, I looked towards the
bushranger to see if my shot had taken effect, I heard him exclaim,--

"'Hang him, he's hit me on the shoulder. I'll murder him for it!'

"'And get kotched by the beaks vile doing so!' rejoined Steel Spring,
who appeared more anxious for flight than for blood.

"I remember seeing the ruffian start towards me, and then all was a
blank until I awoke in the hospital at Sydney, where, by the way, I was
obliged to stay for two weeks before I could get the physician's consent
to let me return to Ballarat, and nearly three more passed before I was
a well man."

"Did Darnley strike you after you fell?" asked Fred.

"He had no time, as I was afterwards informed. Just as he advanced
towards me, the fellow I had outstripped appeared in sight, and the
bushranger evidently thought that it was better to beat a retreat."

"And the gold, did you recover that?"

"Not a penny's worth, with the exception of that in the bank on deposit.
I found out the relatives of the men murdered, and sent it to them, and
very glad they were to get it."

"And the miner who escaped--where is he?"

"Here in Ballarat, a dissipated, shiftless wretch. The loss of his gold
ruined him, for he has not had ambition enough to do a day's work
since."

"Is the inspector here?" cried a man, thrusting his head into the tent
just as Mr. Brown had concluded.

"Yes; what is wanting?" the little man asked.

"There's a big fight at the 'Pig and Whistle' saloon, sir, and it's
pistols they is using, sure," replied the visitor.

"I wish they would enact the part of the Kilkenny cats," replied the
inspector, as he rose to bid us good night, "for as sure as night comes
a fight occurs at that den. Gentlemen, I shall see you in the morning,
and if I can be of any service to you pray don't scruple to ask for it."

The inspector shook hands with us, and then turned to the fellow who had
brought the news.

"Run to the Whistle and tell them I'm coming, and those not killed by
the time I arrive shall be hanged without judge or jury."

"Yes, sir," replied the person addressed, and off he started to carry
the message, while the inspector followed more slowly.

We saw that our animals were safe, and then left them in charge of
Rover, while we retired to get a night's rest--something that we really
stood in need of.




CHAPTER XXXVII.

FINDING OF A 110 LB. NUGGET.--CAVING IN OF A MINE.


We had hardly dressed ourselves and made our scanty toilet the morning
after our arrival, when the inspector made his appearance, looking none
the worse for the tumult which summoned him away the night before.

"You are stirring early," he said, warming his hands by a fire which
Smith had started for the purpose of getting breakfast; "I expected to
find you sleeping off your fatigue, for men with nothing to do generally
like to lie abed mornings."

"Late sleeping will not earn the fortune that we expect to get," replied
Fred.

"So you still think of sinking a shaft here, do you?" inquired the
inspector, with a grave smile.

"Of course, such is our intention at present, if we can get a license
for mining."

"The license is obtained easily enough--government is very happy to
receive ten shillings per month for the privilege of allowing a man to
try his luck," the inspector answered, with an attempt at a laugh.

"Then if you will oblige us by getting a license, we will commence
operations to-day," Fred answered.

"Why, you are in a hurry," Mr. Brown replied, seating himself
composedly, and lighting a pipe which he carried in a small box in his
pocket.

"Wouldn't you advise us to commence mining?" I asked.

"To answer you frankly, I would not, because I know that you can do
better than by spending your days under ground, and emerge at night to
find that you are killing both mind and body."

"Why do you speak of working under ground?" I inquired. "Is not mining
the same here as in California?"

"Bless your heart"--and Mr. Inspector Brown smiled at my
ignorance--"don't you know that at Ballarat a shaft has to be sunk many
feet below the surface of the earth, and after you have reached the
layer of dirt in which the gold is found, you are obliged to work upon
your hands and knees, and excavate for many feet in different
directions, until at last you break in upon some other miner's claim,
and are compelled to retreat and sink a new shaft?"

This was all news to us, or if we had heard of it before we had not
given the subject any attention. A new light broke in upon us, and we
began to consider.

"Breakfast is all ready," said Smith, just at that moment.

We had brought a few luxuries with us from Melbourne that were unknown
at the mines, and I saw the eyes of the inspector sparkle as he snuffed
the perfume of the fried potatoes and warm chocolate.

"Will you join us, Mr. Brown?" I asked, extending an invitation that I
knew he was dying to receive. "We have not much to ask you to share, but
such as it is you are welcome to." "Well," he answered, "really, I
don't know as I feel like eating at so early an hour, but--"

Smith opened a hermetically sealed tin canister, which he had been
warming in a pot of hot water, and the steam of fresh salmon greeted our
olfactory nerves.

"What!" cried the inspector, with a look of astonishment, "you don't
mean to say that you have got preserved salmon for breakfast?"

"If you will really honor us with your presence at breakfast you shall
he convinced of the fact," Fred answered, politely.

"Say no more; I'd stop if all Ballarat was at loggerheads."

We were soon seated upon such articles as were handy, and after the
first cravings of our appetites were satisfied, we renewed the subject
of mining.

"All the miners," Fred remarked, "are not obliged to work so deep
beneath the surface."

"If they do not, their chance of finding gold is exceedingly slim,"
replied the inspector. "I have known stout, lazy fellows pick around on
the surface of the earth for weeks, and not earn enough to find
themselves in food. To be successful a shaft has to be sunk."

"And yet, according to your own showing, gold is not always struck by
such a method."

"True, and I can easily explain why it is so. Mining is like a
lottery--where one draws a prize, hundreds lose. We might dig deep into
the earth where we are seated, and it would surprise no one if we took
out gold by the pound; and yet no one would think of laughing if we did
not earn our salt. The case would be so common that no notice would be
taken of it." We sat and listened to the inspector's words in silence,
and began to think that we had better have remained in Melbourne and
entered into business of a more substantial nature.

"I know of a dozen cases," the inspector continued, "where not even
enough gold has been found by industrious men, who have sunk shafts, to
make a ring for the finger; and yet not one rod from the place where
such poor success was encountered others have grown rich, and left
Ballarat well satisfied with their labor."

"But we have certainly read of men taking a nugget from these mines
weighing over a hundred pounds," I said.

"And the account that you read was perfectly correct. I remember the
circumstance well. It was soon after my recovery from the wound
inflicted at the hands of Black Darnley. A man rushed into my tent one
afternoon with his eyes apparently starting from their sockets, and his
whole appearance that of a crazy man. He was breathless and speechless
for a few minutes, but I at length obtained information that two miners
had come across a nugget of gold so large that half a dozen men were
unable to lift it from the shaft. I hurried to the spot, and as I went
along hundreds of people were flocking to the scene. The news spread
like fire upon a prairie. Saloons and rooms were deserted--miners
crawled from their shafts--sick men forgot their ailments--even gamblers
desisted from playing for a short time, in their anxiety to look at the
largest lump of gold that had ever been discovered.

"When I reached the opening of the shaft I found many hundred people
present, and fresh arrivals were joining the crowd every moment. I
organized a force, and drove the excited throng from the opening of the
mine, for I feared that the chambers which had been excavated would not
stand the pressure, and that those above and below would be buried
alive.

"After I had succeeded in my efforts, we set to work and raised the
mighty nugget to the surface, but instead of its weighing two or three
hundred pounds, it weighed one hundred and ten. But it was a splendid
lump of gold, almost entirely free from quartz and dirt, and of rare
fineness and purity.. The finders were overjoyed, as well they might be,
and guarded their treasure with great care until they saw it safe in the
custody of the government agent. A gentleman from Melbourne, who was on
a visit to the mines for the purpose of collecting rare specimens of
gold, offered the lucky finders four thousand pounds for the nugget, but
they got an idea into their heads that it was worth more, and declined."

"And was that the largest nugget ever found?" I asked.

"As far as my knowledge is concerned. At the other mines I have heard
that immense pieces have been found, but I consider the rumor as
exaggerated."

"You would be greatly surprised if we should happen to discover a piece
worth as much," I remarked.

"I think I should," answered the inspector, dryly, slowly filling his
pipe, and apparently dilating on the subject mentally.

"Well, we will not pledge ourselves to make such a strike as the one you
have related, but we will guarantee to get more gold than two thirds of
the miners at Ballarat," Fred said, confidently.

The inspector shook his head.

"You don't know the kind of work that you will have to undertake," he
said. "In the first place, you have got either to buy a claim, or begin
digging at some spot where no one would think, unless a new arrival
looking for gold. All the dirt that you wanted to work out would have to
be carried to the water, and you can see that our lakes and rivers are
not very extensive.

"We will imagine that you have resolved to commence operations, and that
a suitable spot has been selected. After a day's digging, you will find,
that to prevent the earth from caving in and burying you up, timber is
wanting. You make application, and find that to buy staves and planks
will cost you as much as a small house in the States. Even a few cracked
branches are valued at the rate of five or ten shillings per stick, and
you can calculate how much the cost would be after sinking a shaft a
hundred or two hundred feet, to say nothing of the chamber work."

We began to comprehend that mining was rather difficult and uncertain
work.

"Then, according to your showing, the best thing that we can do, is to
pack up our traps and return to Melbourne," Fred said, after a long
pause.

"By no means; you are not going to start so soon, I hope," the inspector
replied.

"We see but little use of remaining here and wasting our means on an
uncertainty," I answered.

"Have patience, my lads," replied the inspector, softly; "are there no
other ways of making money besides mining?"

"What do you mean?" I asked, with a suspicious glance.

The inspector laughed, and slowly refilled his pipe.

"I don't propose to rob the specie train, or to waylay travellers. I
think that money can be made in an honest manner, and without working
very hard."

"But how? Show us the _modus operandi_."

"I will, with great pleasure. Make an agreement with your companion
here, Smith, and let him return to Melbourne and load two teams with
goods, such as I will give you a hint to buy. By the time he returns,
you can have a store or large tent to receive them. Paint on a huge
piece of canvas that you have fresh goods from England and the United
States, and call your place the 'International Store." It will sound
well, and half of the fellows here won't know what it means, and of
course they will patronize you for the purpose of finding out."

"But where is the capital to come from?" I asked, thinking that I would
test his friendship by pretending that we had but little money at our
command.

"A thousand pounds will be enough; I will recommend you to dealers in
Melbourne who will be glad to give you three months' credit," the
inspector answered, promptly.

"That may be true, but a thousand pounds is a large sum of money, and
where are we to find it?" I asked.

"Why, I have five hundred pounds that I don't want to use, and I am so
certain that what I recommend will succeed, that you are welcome to it
without interest for a twelvemonth."

Mr. Brown seemed so sincere and honest that we were compelled to shake
hands with him in token of our appreciation of his offer.

"We are comparatively strangers to you," Fred said. "How dare you to
offer to trust us with money, when you don't know but we may deceive
you?"

"Because I have met a number of Americans here at Ballarat, and I never
knew one to do a dishonest action, no matter how hard he strove to make
money. But what makes me feel positive in this case that I shan't lose
my funds, is the honesty expressed in your faces."

"Pray spare our blushes, Mr. Brown," Fred said, laughing, "for we have
not met with so much praise since we have been in Australia."

"Then you have been thrown in contact with rogues, who didn't give
honest men their due. But speak; is my offer accepted?"

"We will consider on it, and let you know how we feel disposed, in the
course of the day. But of one thing rest assured. We shall not call upon
you for money, as we can manage to raise enough of our own to commence
business."

Mr. Inspector Brown looked disappointed, and seemed to think that we had
been playing with him.

"We only plead poverty to see if you would lend us your powerful
assistance," Fred said. "If we should conclude to follow your advice, we
will be sure and ask aid from you if we require it."

"Well, on such conditions I forgive the little trick you have played
upon me; and now I will explain more fully the idea that I entertain
regarding my money-making scheme. You must set Smith at work, in company
with another driver or freighter, and let them bring such articles as
will find a ready market. A stock must be laid in, sufficient to last
nearly all winter, for during the wet season the roads are next to
impassable, and provisions go up like a rocket, only they forget to fall
until good weather begins, and freighting gets brisk."

"But what articles are best for the market of Ballarat?" I inquired,
beginning to grow interested in the inspector's scheme, in spite of
myself.

"Smith can tell you as well as I, but I may as well answer the question
while my tongue is loose. Flour is our great staple here, and is selling
at a large profit on Melbourne prices. Let Smith, or some one that he
may select, watch the potato market closely, and often great bargains
may be picked up. Ship bread is also paying a big profit, while pork and
rice can be made to cover all expense of freighting other articles.
Pickles and vinegar, and even preserved meats, sell well, and, in fact,
more money is gained by selling luxuries than dispensing more
substantial articles. A large stock of tea, coffee, and liquids of all
kinds, will enable you to open the most extensive store in Ballarat"

"That is so," echoed Smith, approvingly.

We were about to make further inquiries, when, breathless with haste, a
miner rushed into our tent.

"In the name of God, Mr. Inspector, come and help me!" he gasped.

"Why, what is the matter, Bill?" Mr. Brown asked, quite coolly.

"It is matter enough. Our mine has caved in, and both Sam and Jack are
buried alive! Help me get them out and you shall have a share of the
gold they have got on their persons."

"Did I not tell you, no longer ago than yesterday, that you was not
shaping your shaft properly?" demanded the inspector, sharply.

"I know that you did, but we thought that we could save a few pounds,
and run a little risk," replied the miner, in a humble tone.

"And a pretty mess you have made of it with your meanness. I have a
great mind to let you do your own work, and save the lives of your
comrades as best you can," and Mr. Brown looked cross.

"Don't say that, sir, when two poor human beings are probably dying.
Hadn't you better help them first and scold them afterwards, if alive?"
I inquired.

"Your advice is too good to go unheeded," returned Mr. Brown; "Bill, I
will go with you at once, and do all in my power to assist you to rescue
your comrades."

The miner led the way towards his claim at a brisk trot, and while we
followed at his heel's, Mr. Brown explained what we afterwards found
often happened at Ballarat. Through neglect to buy staves, or heavy
pieces of timber to keep the sides of the shaft from caving in, the poor
fellows had been suddenly buried, and it was a question whether they
could exist long enough to allow of a force to remove the earth which
blocked up the entrance of the shaft.

When we reached the scene of the disaster not more than a dozen people
were present, and they did not display any intense affliction at the
catastrophe. Five or six were smoking and lounging about, discussing the
probabilities of the miners being alive, yet showing no great
inclination to commence work and put all doubts to rest.

One miner--an aged man who had worked in the coal mines of Newcastle,
England--expressed a decided opinion that both Sam and Jack were alive,
and proceeded to demonstrate it by saying that the mine had been worked
for some time, and it was probable that the men were at some distance
from the shaft when the earth caved in; and when I asked how they could
exist without air, he pointed out a large shaft that had fallen in such
a manner that it prevented the dirt from filling up a large space,
although it appeared to me as though hardly a ray of light could
penetrate the crevice.

"If you think the men alive, why do you not commence working for their
rescue?" I asked, indignantly.

"Hoot, man, who's to pay me for the time I'd be losing, while helping
other folks. It's me own bread and butter I hiv to earn widout running
after strange kinds of jobs," answered the old miner, a Scotchman; he
was determined to be paid for his labor, and did not believe in
charitable deeds unless one of his countrymen was concerned.

"Why, you don't mean to say that you require payment for helping dig out
the men buried?" I demanded.

"Hoot, and why not, man? It's mickle a man gets here for his work, that
he should be after throwing it awa."

"Is this a fair sample of the charity miners exhibit towards each
other?" Fred asked of the inspector.

"I am sorry to say that it is; but this is not unusual; before you leave
the mines you will see cases of selfishness that will make you think men
have turned brutes, and possess the hearts of stoics," replied Mr.
Brown, with a shrug of his shoulders.

"I confess," Fred said, speaking so that those present could hear him,
"that I have not lost all feelings of humanity, and that I never turned
a deaf ear, or calculated what I should make by assisting a person in
distress. The customs of Ballarat may be just, but I must say, that in
my humble opinion, they are heartless and cruel."

"Hoot, man," replied the Scotchman; "you are but a boy, and have not
been long enough here to understand us. It's little silver or gold ye
will git if ye run after other people's business."

The Scotchman relighted his pipe, and was walking towards his tent, when
Fred stopped him.

"What shall I pay you per hour for assisting to rescue the miners?" he
asked.

"Ah, now man, ye is talking to some purpose, now. What will you give?"

"Two shillings per hour," answered Fred, at a venture.

"Ah, well, I don't mind helping the poor fellows, at that rate. I never
could stand distress. But, Misther, ye wouldn't mind paying in advance,
I suppose?"

"I will be responsible for your pay," the inspector said, seeing that
the man hesitated from fear that he should get cheated, after he had
performed his part of the bargain.

The fellow, luckily, had an axe with him, so, without more delay, we
lowered him into the shaft, and set him at work shoring up the sides, so
that others could work without danger of the earth caving in.

We had just got him employed, when Bill, the man who had first appealed
to the inspector for help, again joined us, having been absent in search
of friends to lend assistance.

"I can't get a man to aid me," he cried, "unless I promise to pay them
for their labor."

"Well, then, you must pay them," briefly rejoined the inspector, who,
with coat off, was hard at work cutting timber in proper lengths for
shores and supports.

"And ruin myself by so doing," the heartless wretch exclaimed, in a
sulky manner, and with the expression of a fiend.

The inspector made no reply, but continued his labor, and without delay
we joined him.

"I don't suppose these young fellers would be willin' to allow me two
shillin's per hour for workin', would they?" the impudent scamp asked,
appealing to the inspector.

"Hark ye, Bill," Mr. Brown said; "if you are not stripped and in that
shaft in less than five minutes, I'll not only drive you from the mines,
but I'll levy on your property to pay all the expenses of this job. I
know where you keep your dust, and can lay my hand on it at any time."

The brute, without a moment's delay, removed his heavy guernsey frock
which he wore, and was lowered to a place beside the Scotchman.

By the time we had got fairly at work, we were joined by Smith, who had
remained behind to attend to the wants of his cattle, and the honest
fellow, without a moment's delay, lent us his powerful aid.

The novelty of seeing three strangers at work endeavoring to save the
lives of unfortunate miners, began to attract attention, and we soon
found that a large crowd was assembling.

Fred, in his eager and impetuous manner, appealed for volunteers; and he
painted the duty that man owes to man in such fine colors, that a dozen
or twenty burly fellows presented themselves, and demanded a chance to
assist in the benevolent work.

It was a great triumph for us, and so Mr. Brown informed us, for he
declared that he had never known the people of Ballarat so liberal
before. Just as the old Scotchman was about to leave the shaft for
dinner, he requested silence, as he thought he heard the voices of the
imprisoned men.

We all listened, and found that he was not mistaken, and the knowledges
that I the men were alive was a sufficient incentive to urge us all to
renewed exertion.

Men forgot their dinners, and worked as though their own lives depended
upon their labors, and without stopping to rest or eat, we continued on
until four o'clock, when we raised the poor fellows to the surface of
the earth, and found, with joy, that they were as well as could be
expected, after so long an imprisonment.

Shouts rent the air, and hundreds of miners rushed towards the shaft to
congratulate the rescued men, and amid all the confusion, Fred, Smith,
and myself walked off quietly, and sought that rest at our tent which we
so much needed.

We were just engaged drinking a pot of coffee, when, to our surprise,
all three of the miners, Bill, Sam, and Jack, entered our tent, without
ceremony.

"We are not very rich," Sam said, wiping his heated brow, and remaining
uncovered while he addressed us, "but we can't let three strangers, who
have worked so hard for our deliverance, go unthanked. Bill, here, has
told us all about it, and how the d----d Scotchman refused to work
unless paid. Don't let the latter affair trouble you, 'cos we've settled
with him, and now we want to fix things with you."

"We are already settled with," I answered; "it's pleasure enough to us
to know that you are both safe, and for that object we would work as
hard again."

"Would you, though?" demanded the speaker, a look of delight
overspreading his face. "Well, if I ever see my children or wife again,
they shall learn to pray for you, and I would, if I knew how."

"When the shaft caved in," Jack said, "we had just found three nuggets
of gold, and even during our extremity, we retained our hold of them. We
are not rich, as Sam states, but if you will accept of the nuggets, and
keep them as a remembrance of our deliverance, we shall feel thankful."

They laid them down and were gone before we could remonstrate, and just
as they left the tent the inspector entered.

"Well," he exclaimed, "what have you decided to do about the store? The
patronage of the whole of Ballarat is at your disposal, for, go where I
will, I can hear of nothing but the two Americans, who fight duels with
one hand and rescue people with the other."

"We have decided," replied Fred.

"That you will commence business?" eagerly inquired the inspector.

"Yes."

"Good!" and without another word the inspector left our tent abruptly,
as though he had forgotten some important business.




CHAPTER XXXVIII.

INCIDENTS IN LIFE AT BALLARAT.


We had hardly recovered from the surprise of the inspector's mysterious
disappearance, when our old acquaintances, Charley, the proprietor of
the "Californian's Retreat," and "Big Ben," made their appearance, and
seated themselves upon boxes in our tent without the formality of being
asked. Ben was smoking away desperately at a short pipe, nearly as black
as his beard, while Charley, as became the owner of an established
business, confined his attention to a cigar which are vulgarly called,
in this country, "short sixes," I believe.

"I s'pose you hain't forgot old friends nor nothing?" Charley said, as
he carefully laid aside his cigar, to be resumed some other time, while
he accepted a pot of coffee at the hands of Smith.

"We have thought of you often since we parted," replied Fred, with a
slight flight of imagination.

"Do tell if you have? Well, I declare to man, if you two fellers don't
beat all natur, and no mistake. You don't 'pear to make any thing of
fighting duels, and then hiring folks to dig other folks out of a mine.
I tell Ben, here, ef I had known you had the dust to spare I should have
axed you to discount a note for me for sixty days, payable at sight,
with interest. You wouldn't want to do any such thing as that, I s'pose?
No, I reckoned not."

For the first time we really noticed our countryman's peculiar dialect
and manners, and it gave us more pleasure to see a genuine Yankee at the
mines of Ballarat than it would had we found a nugget weighing a pound.

"We have but little money, and from appearances I think we shall need
all we have brought with us," replied Fred.

"You'd better believe you will," said Ben, with an ominous shake of the
head, as though he had passed through the furnace of experience.

"What we came here to see you fellers for," Charley said, after a slight
pause, and an exchange wink with Ben, "is to know how you stand in
regard to this 'ere mining tax, which is crushing the life blood out of
the vitals of us honest working men, and making us think of Bunker Hill
and the American Eagle, I can tell you?"

"Really," Fred answered, after a moment's thought, "I am too fresh an
arrival at the mines to give an opinion as yet, and I think we shall
have to wait and see how grievous the tax is."

"Ain't that what I told you?" grunted Ben, appealing to Charley.

"You just wait a while, will ye, old feller," remonstrated Charley.
"Things is working. I tell ye."

"We shall be happy to listen to you--go on," was all the response Fred
returned.

"I s'pose you have all read 'bout the tea tax, a good many years ago,
when our revolushinary daddies pitched the darned stuff overboard in
Bosting harbor?"

Fred nodded in token of acquiescence.

"Wall, things here is something like the things in them 'ere times, only
a darned sight wus. Now, the miners are taxed a putty considerable sum
jist for the chance of digging about on this earth, when by nat'ral
rights the fellers hadn't, orter pay a cent.

"Sometimes the miner is lucky, and then agin he isn't; but whether he
gets a pile or not, he's got to shell over every month, and if he don't
come down he gets no license, and can't arn an honest livin'. Now what
do you think of such a state of things, hey?"

"Perhaps that the government don't know that you feel that the tax is a
burden," Fred answered, evasively.

"O, yes, they do, 'cos we've petitioned a dozen times to have 'em
abolish it, but no notice has been taken of our papers. They can't say
that the thing was not correct, 'cos I writ one of 'em and headed it
with my name, to let 'em know that we Americans still possessed the
spirit of our granddaddies."

"Then you had better petition again," remarked Fred, determined to take
no part in his schemes at present.

"No, we are tired of that 'ere game, 'cos two can't play at it. What we
have got to do is, to say to the Britishers, here, we won't give you
another shillin' to save your old crown, and then we shall bring 'em
round."

"But what say the Englishmen at Ballarat? Do they refuse or grumble at
paying a tax?"

"Of course they do! There isn't an Englisher or a foreigner but Jo ready
to say we won't stand the imposition no longer--things is coming to a
head, and no mistake."

"And what do you wish us to do?" inquired Fred.

"We want you to jine us, and help stir the boys up so that they'll
listen to reason, and stand out like men," replied Charley, and Big Ben
grunted his applause at the sentiment.

"But that we are not willing to do at present. We are strangers here,
and have paid no tax, nor have we been asked to. We shall not go into
the matter blindfolded; therefore, for the present, we must keep aloof
from your gatherings and petitions"

Charley sat and listened without interruption.

"Do you know what Australia is?" he asked, in a whisper, dropping his
voice as though fearful of being overheard.

Fred replied that he considered it the largest island in the world, and
that, if the truth was known, it would not be so well populated as at
present.

"That's it," replied Charley, "the largest island in the world. Bigger
than all the New England States, and much more valible. Do you
understand me?" and the fellow winked violently.

"I can't say that I fully comprehend you. Can't you be a little more
explicit?" Fred asked.

"Sartainly. This 'ere island is rich--more gold is exported than from
California--immense droves of sheep is scattered all over it, and all
kinds of garden stuff will grow in abundance, if only planted. You
understand me now, don't you?"

"I am still in the dark,"' replied Fred, trying hard to refrain from a
smile at the mention of "garden stuff."

The two visitors again exchanged glances, when Charley sank his voice
still lower.

"What do you think of annexation, hey?"

"What, annex Australia to the United States?" we exclaimed, in
astonishment.

"Hush! Don't blart it out in that way, 'cos the thing is a secret as
yet. We have got to work to bring the thing 'bout, but it can be done."

"And, pray, in what manner?" we asked, somewhat amused to find that even
Australia was not safe from the Yankee's covetousness.

"In this 'ere manner. The Britishers feel riled at the idea of paying
taxes on mining, and when we tell 'em that in California every body can
dig as long as they darn please, without paying a dime, they feel madder
than ever. Of course, we don't check that 'ere feeling at all. O, no; we
stirs 'em up, and preaches how great a blessing it is to belong to a
free and enlightened government like the United States of America."

"Well, go on and explain the whole method."

"I'm coming on as fast as I can. By and by the fellers round here say
that we won't pay any more tax, and then the government says you shall,
and tell the sogers to collect it; and while they is doing that, some
miner resists and is killed, and then we have something to work upon,
and, we begin to stir people up by telling 'em how badly we've been
treated; and then a soger gets knocked on the head by some lucky
accident, and we have a fight with the red coats, and lick 'em, and then
war is declared between us, and at it we go for a few months, till we
have driven every red coat out of the country, and then declare that it
is a republic, and that we'll do as we please."

"Why, this is treason," we exclaimed, amazed at his audacity.

"I know that old Ben Franklin, Geo. Washington, and others were called
traitors for talking in the same way during the revolution, but their
cause was just and triumphed at last," replied Charley, dogmatically.

"But you don't compare your sufferings and oppression to that which our
revolutionary fathers bore, do you?"

"I don't know 'bout that. We is taxed, and so were the old fellers that
we read about who fought and died for our benefit, and I think we ain't
worthy of the name of Yankees unless we resist all taxes!"

"But suppose that the English government should feel inclined to yield
and vacate the island, leaving the people of Australia to make laws for
themselves, what course should you pursue?"

"Do?" replied our ardent friend, without a moment's hesitation, "appoint
the proper officers, elect a president, and have a senate and house of
representatives, jist as they do at Washington."

"And what then?" we inquired.

"Why, after we had got to going we'd send a feller, and I know one who
would do first rate, to the United States, and after playing our keerds
putty well, we'd agree to annex Australia to the United States, and we'd
do it, too, by thunder."

We could hardly retain our countenances long enough to listen to the
splendid burst of expectation which Charley had dreamed upon so long,
that he really fancied his project was practicable. Conquest first, and
annexation afterwards, is the theme upon which Americans harp when in
strange lands.

"You don't know the feller that I have in my mind's eye!" Charley said,
after a few minutes' silence.

"No, I am not acquainted with any of my countrymen here at Ballarat,"
Fred replied, with a vacant look.

"The fellow that I know hain't bin here in Ballarat a great while."

"Indeed."

"Yes; and though I don't know your name, I reckon you'd do the trick
putty neat."

"O," answered Fred, with a smile, "it's me that is to be honored with so
delicate a mission, is it? To what am I indebted for the selection?"

"Wall, we want your help to stir the folks up, and no mistake. Me and
Ben have been and talked the matter over, and we've agreed to let you
have that 'ere office, if you will back us up; Ben is to do a good part
of the fighting, and I'm to negotiate."

"We will take your proposition into consideration. But there is one
thing that you have forgotten. What offices are my two friends here to
get?"

"O, we'll make 'em senators, or somethin' of that sort. They shall be
cared for in some way or other."

I could only bow my thanks to the kind gentleman, but before I could
reply, the inspector joined us.

"Ah, Ben, you and Charley here," he said, in a careless way. "How does
the indignation meetings and the petitions get along?"

"Wall, we have another meetin' to-night, and I think that it will be a
rouser. We shall make ourselves heard yet, Mr. Brown."

"I have no doubt that you will, but it will be in a different manner
from what you anticipate. Let me advise moderation, or there may be
trouble."

"There kin be a muss if we is disregarded, and made to pay for what we
don't have," answered Ben, sullenly; and with that shot the Americans
left the tent.

"Of all the unreasonable brutes that I ever encountered, the miners of
Ballarat appear to be the worst," ejaculated Mr. Brown. "That fellow,
Charley, has not worked ten weeks in the mines, and yet he talks as
glibly of the evils of taxation as though the government was wringing
the last shilling from his possession. He is a pot house wrangler, as we
call them in England, and is a positive nuisance at Ballarat"

Mr. Brown appeared to be disgusted with our countryman, for he displayed
more temper than we had seen since we had made his acquaintance.

"But the miners have some reason for complaint," I said. "Taxation
without representation is wrong, and has occasioned much ill feeling and
bloodshed."

"True; but without the present tax, how can government support a police
force, and send gold to the cities under the escort of soldiers? How can
the hospitals at Sydney and Melbourne, always filled with disabled
miners, be kept open, and how can the roads be kept clear of
bushrangers? The tax is not unreasonable per month, and yet through its
collection see how much government is enabled to do? All goes to the
benefit of the miner, and every pound is expended for his protection or
comfort. As far as representation in our House of Assembly is concerned,
I'm certainly in favor of it; but just show me how we are to arrive at
any satisfactory conclusion regarding the number of members Ballarat is
entitled to. I've been here ever since the mines were discovered, and I
can't tell. To-day there may be fifteen thousand, and to-morrow not ten.
People are coming and going continually. They change from mine to mine
at every rumor, and I assure you that change is not beneficial to their
financial affairs."

"In that case we shall have to do a cash business when we open our
store," Fred said, with a smile.

"Of course. It will never do to give credit to strangers. But while
speaking of stores, let me inform you that I have made a few
arrangements in your behalf. I have secured a fine location for you, and
spoken to a man who is desirous of selling a suitable building."

"And the price?" we asked.

"Is reasonable beyond all my expectations. The owner is homesick, and
will not haggle about a few pounds."

"Why cannot we look at the store this afternoon, and decide whether we
will take it or not? It will save time."

"Come, then; I have no objections."

We followed the inspector through the most thickly-settled part of the
town, and at length stopped before a good-sized frame building, with the
roof and sides covered with sail cloth and common cotton. The man who
called himself the proprietor, was an Englishman, suffering under a
severe attack of rheumatism, and therefore inclined to exclaim loudly
against the mines, and Ballarat in particular. The few articles which he
had in his store were old and unworthy of purchase.

We examined the premises, and found, according to our California
experience, that we could take up our quarters there, and with a little
trouble, make the building water proof. There was room also for an
addition to be made in case it was necessary, and as the place was easy
of access, we concluded we could do no better than strike a bargain, and
secure the building as soon as possible. This we were the better able to
do through a few suggestions which Smith let fall concerning the
severity of a wet season, and the danger of rheumatic people remaining
at the mines during its continuance.

For a hundred pounds in cash, we were put in complete possession of not
only the store, but all it contained, including a very good stove, of a
Massachusetts man's make, and sent to Australia on speculation--three or
four pots and kettles--a number of cracked dishes, very dirty--weights
and scales, both large and small, and which, we afterwards found, were
so arranged that the buyer got about two-thirds of what he paid for,
while the weights for purchasing gold dust were a little too heavy to
accord with strict honesty--barrels containing remnants of articles of
not much use to any one, besides other things which we did not make any
account of.

We made a bargain that we should take possession of the premises on the
next day, and after taking a bill of sale of the articles purchased,
with the bold signature of Mr. Brown as a witness of the transaction,
we returned to our tent, and thought that our labors for the day were
over. In this, we were unhappily disappointed, for, to our extreme
amusement, a dozen or twenty persons were seated in the vicinity of our
temporary home, and a more wretched, woe-begone set I never saw in my
life.

"Hullo! what is the meaning of this?" I asked in surprise, as I surveyed
the crowd.

"We've come to be doctored by you," said an Irishman, exposing his hand,
wrapped in a dirty bandage.

"But there is some mistake here. You have applied to the wrong man," I
replied.

"No mistake, yer honor," answered a sturdy, good-looking, bronzed
fellow, with a military air and a military salute; "we've heard of yer
honors, and we know that ye can do us good without wringing the last
shilling from us, like those blood-sucking sawbones."

"They take us for physicians," muttered Fred, in astonishment.

"You are mistaken," replied Mr. Brown; "they are poor devils, who cannot
afford to employ a surgeon, so come to you to get their wounds dressed.
If you have any knowledge of cuts and bruises, assist them, and you will
be no loser by it."

The advice was good, but the idea of our prescribing and dressing all
the wounds of the poor of Ballarat was something that we had not
bargained for.

"You see, your honor, I got an ugly cut on my hand with a shovel, a few
days since, and, somehow, I don't think that it's doing very well," the
military man said, exposing his right hand, which looked in a horrible
condition.

"You should ask the advice of a physician," I said, after a brief
inspection of the poor fellow's injury; "inflammation has set in, and
you will have trouble, unless the cut is attended to."

"I know that, yer honor; but it's little the doctors around here care
for me, unless I visit 'em with a gold piece in my hand. I've paid six
pound already, and I think I'm getting worse very fast."

I could not help pitying the poor fellow, he was such a sample of manly
strength, and bore himself like a true soldier. He had been discharged
from the British army, at the expiration of his time, and was in hopes
of making money enough to go home and live in peace with his parents.

All this I learned after a few minutes' conversation; and when I saw
that he regarded us as superior in medical intelligence to the few
practising surgeons at Ballarat, and all on account of our being
Americans, I could not find it in my heart to turn away from him. He had
touched the right spot in our national character, and perhaps we felt a
little vain, and a desire that his expectations should be fulfilled.

"Your honor is going to do something for us?" the soldier said, and he
read the expression of my face correctly.

With none too much confidence in my own skill, I determined to undertake
his cure, and at work Fred and myself went, I taking the soldier and he
the Irishman.

For the information of those who may be disposed to question my skill,
I will state that I first washed the wound in tepid water, using castile
soap to cleanse the parts, and that after a patient process, I covered
the cut with salvo, such as we had brought from Boston, and then bound
it up with clean bandages, and gave him strict orders not to remove the
cloths, or to use his hand in working. Other directions, concerning
diet, I administered, and made my patient promise to keep them, and
after I had concluded, I was obliged to attend another, and out of
charity, Fred and myself were kept working until near sundown.

"That is the best day's work that you ever performed," the inspector
said, as the last patient took his departure, profuse in his thanks.
"Before this time to-morrow, the skill of the American doctors, as they
will insist upon calling you, will be so magnified, that there is no
disease that they will not insist you can cure. Two branches of business
are now offered you--that of a professional gentleman, and the more
plebeian one of a storekeeper."

"The latter, by all means," replied Fred, with a laugh at the idea of
our having M.D. added to our names.

"Don't make sport over that which may yield a large income," the
inspector said, seriously; "I have seen injuries dressed in a worse
manner than those this afternoon."

"Perhaps," I rejoined, thinking that he was disposed to make game of us.

"I am honest in my expression, and to prove it so, how many regular
surgeons or physicians do you think there are at Ballarat?"

"Ten," I answered, at a venture.

"One is the actual count; the balance are quacks, or else apothecaries'
apprentices, escaped from indentures, who find a rich field in
humbugging the unwary."

"Well, let them operate," returned Fred; "we will not enter into
competition with them at present. But come in and eat supper with us,
for we have many things to talk about."

"I accept the invitation with more pleasure than you are aware of,
because the exquisite flavor of the pickled salmon that I ate for
breakfast is still lingering in my mouth, and I long for another taste."

We humored our friend by complying with his hint, and after we had
finished our tea, we lighted our pipes, talked business, and broached a
subject to Smith, which we had entertained ever since we had decided to
go into business.

Our proposition to Smith was, that he should form one of a partnership,
to be conducted under the firm of Frank, Jack, & Smith. The latter was
to attend to the freighting and buying in Melbourne, while we would do
the trading and selling at Ballarat. We agreed to put in three thousand
dollars each, and we were to value Smith's team and animals, and allow a
fair price for them, and then he was to make up with cash enough to
bring his capital equal to ours.

There were many things which we had to say that we did not like to
discuss before the inspector, so that when he arose to go, we felt
thankful. We then drew up articles of partnership, and gave Smith an
order to get the gold which we had stored at the old stockman's, and to
take a certain portion of it to buy goods, and deposit the remainder to
our order in the Melbourne Bank. After our business was completed, the
night was far advanced; and with bright anticipations for the future, we
retired to our hard beds, and dreamed of home and happiness.




CHAPTER XXXIX.

ATTEMPT OF THE HOUSEBREAKER.--ATTACK BY THE SNAKE.


I confess that it is somewhat startling to awaken a few minutes before
sunrise, and see a dozen rough, gaunt, ragged men, standing near the
entrance of one's tent, and to hear them whisper in a low tone, as
though they intended murder, or robbery at least; and it was with the
latter impression that I sprung from my couch, revolver in hand.

"What is the meaning of all this?" I asked, rubbing my eyes, not being
thoroughly awakened.

"Ah, yer honor is awaken, is ye?" inquired a familiar voice; and upon
closer inspection, I found that our Irish friend, whose hand Fred had
dressed the succeeding evening, was one of our visitors.

"Ah, it's you, is it?" I asked, hastily concealing my revolver. "What
has sent you here so early?"

"Faith, it's yer honor that may well ax that. It's a beautiful night's
rest I had, yer honor, and I couldn't rest without coming and telling
yer honor of it. It's painless is my hand, and it's all owing to the
doctoring, I know, glory to God; and it's a few friends of mine I've
brought wid me, whom I hope yer honors will look at for my sake, and
long life to yer honors' ginerosity."

"Well, this is cool, certainly," I said, in a low whisper to Fred. "What
are we to do? We can't afford to devote all our nights and mornings to
practising on the philanthropic style."

"We must make the best of our bargain, at present If we should turn them
away, people would say that we possessed no feeling, and as likely as
not we should get insulted in some manner or other during the first
drunken fray that occurred near our new place of business. As we have
begun, so must we finish."

I concluded that Fred's advice was far the best, and without another
complaint, I assisted him to go through with our new patients. As usual,
they left, profuse in their thanks, but no substantial token of their
appreciation was deposited with us.

There was one thing that we found we were running short of, and that was
salve; and we saw, perhaps with some tokens of satisfaction, that when
that was ended, our career of doctoring would also terminate.

After breakfast, Smith yoked up his team, and moved our tent and worldly
goods to the new house which we had purchased the day before. The man
from whom we had bought it was all packed up and ready to start for
Melbourne that very day, and when he found that Smith was going on the
same journey, he engaged a passage, and expressed, in heartfelt thanks,
his joy at the prospect of his soon leaving Ballarat forever.

"I 'ope," he said, in cockney dialect, "that I never shall be obliged to
earn my living in a country vare the spiders are as big as a 'at, and as
savage as a bull dog--vare snakes crawl into bed vith yer, and drive yer
out--and vare the inhabitants had rather tell a lie than the truth. I'm
going 'ome to Hingland, and those vot vant gold may come 'ere and dig it
if they please, for all I care."

Our parting with the honest fellow who had been our companion for so
many days, and who had shared with us so many adventures, was of a
sorrowful nature, and it seemed as though all that we held dear on the
island was lost to us. Even Smith tried hard to conceal his grief, and I
saw moisture in his eyes as he turned towards his rattle, after
receiving our instructions for the last time, and started on his long
journey.

The team was just disappearing from view, when his passenger, who, owing
to his rheumatism and a light freight, was allowed to ride, struggled to
his feet, and gave us a parting salutation.

"Look out for the snakes," he yelled; "they is apt to enter the 'ouse
during the night and if you value your dog you'd better tie him on to
the roof, or he'll be swal--"

The balance of the wretch's remark was lost in the distance, but we knew
its meaning, and almost wished the same might befall the late proprietor
of the building, before he reached Melbourne.

Our feelings were not very lively during the day, yet we went to work
and made many improvements in our future home, and even got hold of a
few boards,--remnants of boxes,--which we nailed on the roof; and by
purchase and favor, were enabled to complete it in the course of a week,
so that by spreading tarred sail cloth upon the boards, we flattered
ourselves that we should be comparatively protected from the heavy rain
storms which comprise the winter months.

We cleaned out our store, and arranged the few articles which we owned,
and got ready for commencing business when Smith returned. Then we began
painting a huge sign on strong sail cloth, and acting on the inspector's
suggestion, called our place the "International Store."

By night time we were thoroughly tired, and were ready to thank fortune
that our usual number of patients was not present to demand our
_professional_ aid. The inspector dropped in to see us for a short time,
after supper; but he did not stop long, as a large meeting of the miners
was to take place that night, and he expected quite a stir would be made
in regard to the mining tax. We were therefore left alone to pass the
night, and after an inspection of the horses, and finding that they were
doing well, we "turned in," as the sailors say, and slept soundly for
three or four hours, when I was awakened by a low growl from Rover, who
was lying at my feet.

I started at the sound, and listened, but could discover no cause for
alarm. Still, I saw that the hound was restless, and through the
darkness observed that his eyes burned like coals of fire, and that he
appeared to be watching for further signs of danger.

Thinking that the noise of some brawler had disturbed him, I again lay
down; but as I did so the dog uttered another low growl, and crept near
my face, as though fearful of something that was invisible to my eyes.
I patted his neck, and to my surprise I found he was trembling as I had
never known him before. He crouched close to me, and seemed almost
inclined to desert me; but I soon calmed him, although, for the life of
me, I could not understand why he should appear so frightened.

For a few minutes I sat upright and listened attentively, but not a
sound rewarded me for my patience. I heard Fred breathing heavily a few
feet from me, but I disliked to awaken him, as I knew that he was very
tired when he went to sleep, and as yet I had seen nothing that
warranted me in disturbing him. I was just about to speak to the dog in
an angry tone, when he suddenly uttered a sharp yelp, and I heard a
slight rustling within a few feet of me.

It was a peculiar sound, and startled me. It was not like the heavy or
light tread of man, but it seemed as though some substance was being
drawn across the floor at a cautious rate. Again it stopped, and all was
still; I held the dog firmly by the collar, but he trembled so violently
that I began to partake of his fear, and no longer delayed in awakening
Fred.

I reached over, and placed my hand upon my comrade's face, and the touch
awoke him instantly.

"Hist!" I whispered; "don't speak above your breath for your life. There
is some person in the room!"

I could feel my friend place his hand upon his trusty revolver, and I
knew that he was prepared for action. I shifted my position so that I
could got beside him, and then, armed in a similar manner, I awaited
further developments.

"What has disturbed you?" he asked, in a whisper that would have been
inarticulate two paces from us.

"I can't imagine. Even Rover has taken fright; and for the first time;
see how he trembles," I responded.

"Get your matches all ready, and when we wish a light we will have one
without delay. Hark! What was that?"

We both listened attentively. Not ten feet from us, we could hear a
movement that now sounded as though a man was crawling upon his stomach.
Carefully he appeared to work his way along, stopping every few seconds,
as though uncertain whether to advance or recede; and it seemed as
though we could hear our night visitor breathe during his pauses.

We did not wish to use our pistols, for we did not know but that the
former proprietor of the store was in the habit of giving lodgings to
miners, who were not acquainted with the change of ownership; but we
made up our minds that we would guard against such interruption of our
slumbers in future.

"We had better ask what he wants," whispered Fred, "and then we will
light a candle and examine him."

"Go ahead; your lungs are the strongest," I answered, in an audible
tone.

At the sound of my voice, the slow, slimy movement upon the floor
ceased, and the visitor appeared to be listening.

"Who goes there?" demanded Fred, with a voice slightly tremulous. It
appeared to me that I could hear a slight breathing near, but I was not
sure. The slow moving or creeping across the floor had ceased; we
listened for a repetition of it.

"Are you a friend or foe?" Fred asked.

There was no response for a moment, and then the slow, cautious movement
began again.

"Strike a light," whispered Fred, "and let us see what this means."

Among the effects which we had found in the store was a large lamp for
burning alcohol; this Fred had cleansed and trimmed the day before, and
filled with spirits of turpentine, for the purpose of using it in
cooking. I knew where it was placed; so I crept carefully along on my
hands and knees, and suddenly lighted it with a lucifer. As the huge
wick took fire, I hastily glanced over my shoulder, for fear that an
assassin should strike a blow before I could be on my guard.

A startling yell from Fred caused me to spring to my feet, and as I did
so, a long, dark object flashed before my eyes, and narrowly missed my
head. The next instant my yell of terror was added to Fred's, for in the
middle of the floor, with waving tail, and eyes that blazed like coals
of fire, was a monstrous snake of a jet black hue; the huge mouth of the
reptile was thrown open to its widest extent, and was armed with fangs
an inch in length!

For a short time after my cry of terror, I remained silent, not daring
to move, for fear that the reptile, who appeared to be debating which of
us to attack first, should make a spring, and encircle me in his
dreadful folds, and crush out my life before I could utter a prayer.

Even to this day I can remember how I trembled, and how weak my knee
joints appeared to grow; and even now, I fancy I can see the slimy,
gleaming monster examine first me, and then the flickering flame of the
lamp, as though only astonishment at the illumination kept him at a
distance.

I did not for a moment lose sight of that powerful, waving tail, or the
glowing eyes, although I thought I would give all the world to be miles
from the spot.

I had heard of the monstrous size that black snakes acquired in
Australia, but I had regarded the stories as travellers' yarns, and only
got up to intimidate new comers. Now that I was satisfied of the truth
of the accounts, I could have wished that an earthquake would swallow
the reptile, so that it but left me secure.

I glanced hastily towards Fred. He was seated on his bed, as startled
and surprised as myself, but I thought that I saw his hand move slowly
towards his revolver, and I prayed that his eyes would not deceive him
when he fired.

Rover had disappeared, but I could hear his loud bay outside of the
building, and I hoped that it would attract attention, and that
assistance would reach us before it was too late.

Still that fearful and muscular tail waved and played in the air, as
though undecided where to strike.

For a moment I removed my eyes from the bright orbs before me, and to my
surprise, I saw a quantity of old canvas, stowed in a corner where we
had left it the day before, begin to move. The snake was apparently
attracted by the same object, and moved its body slightly to get a
better view. I thought, with horror, that perhaps it was the mate of
the reptile, and that Fred and myself would furnish a meal for each.
Still, I watched the canvas and the movements of the snake closely. The
former was gradually and carefully unrolled, and then, to my surprise, I
saw the head of a man thrust cautiously out, as though to discover the
cause of the recent noise, and why a lamp was burning at that hour of
the night.

The snake saw the man's head as quick as myself--at least, I judged that
it did by its motions; for the huge mouth expanded wider than before,
and a long, forked tongue darted back and forth, as though longing for
something to gorge. The tail of the reptile also waved more gently, as
though uncertain where to strike.

To my surprise, the man who was concealed in the canvas appeared to pay
no attention to our hideous visitor, for he pushed aside the cloth that
covered him, and seemed desirous of either investigating the contents of
our money-pouches, or else making his escape from the building.

He was an ugly-looking fellow, as seen by the flickering of our lamp,
and had I been unarmed, I should have cared but little about meeting him
in the dark; under the present circumstances I almost welcomed him as a
friend, and would willingly have given him a few hundred pounds, if,
when he left us, he could carry our shiny visitor along with him.

We watched both the man and the snake with an unflagging attention. The
former, to my surprise, did not appear to observe the danger that he was
in, and I could only account for it when I saw that his eyes were
watching my movements, as though fearful that a well-directed shot was
to punish him for his intrusion.

The fellow was well armed, I could perceive, for a pair of pistols was
stuck in his belt, and a long, glittering knife reposed near them. Once
I saw him make a movement with one of his hands towards his belt, as
though anxious to try the chances of a shot in my direction, but he
apparently altered his mind, and arose to his feet.

I hastily glanced towards the snake; the movement of its long tail
ceased, and the reptile coiled itself up as though to escape
observation, but the fire of its eyes burned as brightly as ever, and
the long fangs were exhibited, as though determined to bite something
before long.

Still the stranger did not appear to observe the dangerous position that
he was in, for he seemed too much occupied with scrutinizing Fred and
myself to attend to objects in his immediate vicinity. Our silence must
have struck him with wonder, for after a while he spoke.

"Darn it!" he exclaimed, pettishly, "why don't some of you hail a
feller? or are you all struck with a Spanish mildew?"

We returned no answer.

The snake appeared to be as much interested as ourselves, and hardly a
motion of his black, glistening skin could I observe; but his eyes
seemed to emit sparks of fire, so brilliantly did they blaze.

"You can't hail a convoy, hey?" demanded the stranger, in a contemptuous
tone; "has my appearance put a stopper on your tongues, or what is the
matter?"

We still remained silent, awaiting the finale of so singular a meeting.
"You can talk glib enough when you get with old Brown, and other police
fellows, after having shot down the best man in the mines--you know who
I mean--and I tell you that he is a better man than either of you two
lubbers, squatting there, with faces whiter than a ship's main royal!
You know the feller I mean--Pete Burley; he never trembled when a feller
hailed him."

We let the ruffian--for his last words convinced me: that he had visited
us for no good--go on.

The snake had, inch by inch, moved its location, and was partly
concealed from the sight of Burley's friend by a barrel. The light,
also, was not shed over that portion of the floor, and while every
movement of the monster was distinctly revealed to me, the ruffian could
not, without stepping towards us, observe it.

"I s'pose you fellers want to know why I am here," the ruffian asked,
with a sneer.

I tried to reply, but I could not; my eyes were fastened upon the
glowing orbs of the snake, and it seemed to me that if I spoke, he would
spring towards me.

"I'll tell ye why I am here, and how I got in. I want to revenge the
injury which you have inflicted upon my friend Burley, and I also want
to get a few pounds to pay me for the trouble I have taken in his
behalf; so just heave ahead and shell out the shiners, and then we'll
spin a yarn 'bout other affairs. Interest first, and then satisfaction."

I heard every word that the villain uttered, but if he had drawn a
pistol, and offered to have shot me where I stood, I could not have
moved a hand in my behalf. I struggled to overcome the feeling, but it
was in vain; the glistening, restless eyes of the snake were on me, and
seemed to dance with triumph at their thraldom. The tail was motionless
now, as though awaking the result of the conversation.

I wondered that Fred did not come to my relief; but the longer that I
looked, the less I thought on the subject, and after a while I began to
really enjoy my situation, and to feel surprised that I had considered
the monster so terrible. I felt a strange desire to move forward, and
fondle the snake, and the eyes that at first seemed so hideous now
looked like glittering stones of inestimable value. The black, slimy
skin appeared to be of burnished gold, and I thought that if I could but
touch it, I should be enriched forever.

Even in my stupor I could hear the loud barking of Rover, on the outside
of the building, and it passed through my mind, like an electric shock,
that he was uttering a howl for my death. But, like a flash, the bitter
feeling that I experienced passed away, and I no longer regretted that I
was to die; in fact, I felt rather rejoiced that I was so soon to end my
troubles, and it appeared that I had got but a step to move forward, and
I should be surrounded with all the pleasures of paradise.

"Why, what is the matter with you two lubbers?" I heard the ruffian ask,
the few minutes' silence that had prevailed having startled him; "darn
yer eyes, can't one of ye speak, and say that you'll come down with the
shiners?"

I could hear the loud breathing of Fred, and I thought that he was
trying to answer, but if he did attempt it, the effort was a failure,
and the words died in his throat unuttered.

I do not know how long I stood thus silent and motionless, but it seemed
to me hours; and each moment I could feel that I was growing weaker and
weaker, and more strongly urged forward in the direction of the snake.
And then the tail of the monster, which had lain dormant for some time,
began to exhibit signs of life, and to form graceful curves in the air,
as though enjoying a mighty triumph, or beckoning other monsters to come
forward and witness the result of an interview with the lords of the
creation.

"Blast your picturs!" exclaimed the ruffian, and I heard him move as
though he intended to come towards us.

I could not withdraw my gaze from the snake, and if I should live a
thousand years, I never could hope to witness such a gorgeous display as
the eyes of the monster exhibited when the sound of footsteps disturbed
the silence of the room. Showers of gold, silver, and precious stones,
all mingled together, and exhibited by gas light, would be but a poor
comparison, when contrasted with the splendor that I thought I observed
in the serpent's eyes.

I heard the ruffian take one, two, three steps towards us, and I heard
him utter an oath at our apparent indifference, and then, like a flash
of lightning, I saw the tail of the snake gleam through the air, and
encircle, coil after coil, the stout body of the midnight robber!

I heard a sudden exclamation of horror; a fearful imprecation escaped
the lips of the ruffian, and then the wonderful spell, which had bound
me for I know not how long, was dissipated, and weak and trembling, I
staggered back, and sank upon the floor, too much exhausted to escape
from the building, and too much overcome with horror, at the struggle
going on before me, to offer aid.




CHAPTER XL.

DEATH OF THE BURGLAR BY THE SNAKE.


The struggle that was going on in our room did not prevent me--as I lay
upon the floor, too exhausted and faint to assist the ruffian who called
himself Pete Hurley's friend--from glancing towards Fred, to see how he
fared. He appeared to be in the same condition as myself, and was lying
upon his side, almost motionless; but his eyes were riveted upon the
horrible contortions of the snake, as the ruffian, a powerfully built
man, strove to tear off the coils which bound him with fetters that were
like steel.

The man's cries and oaths were fierce, but uttered in a gasping tone, as
though his very life was being pressed out. Three coils were around him,
and each moment I thought that I could see them gradually tighten, but
still the resistance of the victim was none the less powerful.

He grasped the snake around the body, and strove, with his powerful
hands, to make it yield its death hug; but his efforts seemed to have
no more effect than if he had clinched a bar of iron, or a young
sapling. Around they went--the snake with his head upon the floor, his
eyes flashing fire, and his mouth expanding, and tongue darting back and
forth, and seeming to enjoy the night's adventure as one that was
unexpected as well as gratifying.

I saw the ruffian make desperate attempts to reach his knife, which was
in his belt; but the coils around him prevented, and in their extremity
they turned and staggered around the store, upsetting barrels and boxes,
yet all the time I saw that the reptile had the advantage, and could,
with a slight exertion of strength, drive his antagonist whither he
pleased.

I was as much fascinated with the fight, as I had been with the eyes of
the snake, and did not move hand or foot to assist the robber. Even if a
shot would have put an end to the combat, I did not dare to fire it, for
fear of killing the man; and as for approaching to use our knives, the
bare thought was enough to cause a shudder, for the snake managed to
keep his head towards us, and with expanded mouth and glistening lungs,
appeared to warn us that the fight was a fair one, and that he would
brook no interference.

At length I saw the struggling wretch grasp the tail of the reptile with
one hand, and seek to unwind the folds that bound him. As well might he
have attempted to bend or loosen bars of iron, for with a slight effort
the snake freed that portion of his body, and raising his head, hissed,
as though with scorn, at the effort of the poor mortal.

The ruffian was not daunted, although a fierce imprecation escaped his
lips, as the animal raised his head, and seemed disposed to accomplish
the destruction of his antagonist without further delay.

Again did he struggle to get at his knife, and this time, owing to a
slight relaxation of the coils around his body, he was successful. I saw
the glittering steel flourished in the air, and I saw by the sudden
contraction of the serpent's folds, that it was aware that a battle of
life and death was now to take place between them.

"Die, d---- you--die," yelled the man, cutting with his knife at various
parts of the snake's body.

I saw the hot blood spirt from the wounds, and cover the floor, and I
saw that the snake's eyes grew more brilliant than ever, and that he was
gradually bringing his head on a level with the face of his antagonist,
as though to bite and disfigure his countenance.

Again the keen knife descended, and this time struck deep, for the
wounded animal, with a convulsive spring, overturned the ruffian, and
together they rolled upon the floor.

I could hear the hard breathing of the man, and I could tell every time
that his knife struck home, by a peculiar hiss that escaped the snake.
It was like the sudden escape of steam.

"We must now lend some assistance to the poor wretch," said Fred,
suddenly starting to his feet, knife in hand. "Do you hold the light, so
that I can see where to strike."

"Help me or I die," yelled the ruffian, whose strength began to fail;
and he called none too soon, for in spite of his desperate efforts with
his knife, the monster had struck one blow, with his fangs, upon his
face, and was about to repeat it, as we drew near, light in hand.

The snake raised its head, and shook it menacingly, us we approached.
The huge mouth opened, and the quivering tongue darted back and forth,
as though warning us not to interfere with what did not concern us; but
in spite of its threatening attitude, Fred directed a blow at its head,
and the keen steel made a large wound near the reptile's neck.

The hot blood gushed from the wound in torrents; a few drops fell upon
my hand, and burned the flesh as though seared with a heated iron.

I saw that the folds of the serpent were gradually relaxing, as though
tired of the unequal contest, and the sight gave us renewed courage.
Again and again did Fred flesh his steel, and each blow that was struck
told upon the life of the monster, and at last, with a convulsive
shudder, the tail was uncoiled, straightened out, and with a long-drawn
sigh the snake expired.

We did not delay a moment, but went to the assistance of the wounded
man. He was covered with blood and slime, and a frightful wound was upon
his face, where the fangs of the reptile had struck. He was breathing,
but very faintly; so we lost not a moment in placing to his mouth a cup
of wine that we fortunately had saved from our supply obtained at
Melbourne. The liquor seemed to revive him, for he opened his eyes, and
made a desperate effort to speak.

"How fares it with you?" asked Fred.

"The d----d snake has made a finish of me, I believe," he gasped,
placing one hand upon his side, as though the effort to speak had caused
excruciating pain in that region of his body. "Blast his pictur, how he
hugged me!"

"Take another drink of wine," returned Fred, "and then rest until
morning, and we will see what can be done for you."

"By morning, mates, I shall be at rest--never fear. A man can't have his
heart squeezed into his mouth, and hope to live. But I'm darn glad that
I killed the black scoundrel. He'll never _purcel_ another sailor with
his bloody tail."

"Let us make an examination, and see how much you are wounded," I said,
proceeding to strip off his shirt.

"Avast there, shipmate," he cried, in a more feeble voice; "I'm going
fast, so don't disturb me."

"But there may be hope--we will run for a physician."

"Of what use would the old sawbones be? Haven't I already been tortured
enough? Besides, I've no money to pay for a visit."

"We will attend to that part of the duty," rejoined Fred.

"You will?" demanded the wounded man, in astonishment.

"To be sure."

"Well, all I've got to say is, I'm sorry that I attempted to revenge old
Burley's wrongs, and if I could live he might fight for himself--I
wouldn't."

"Did the man you call Burley hire you to redress his fancied wrongs?"
Fred asked.

"He told me that you both had money, and that if I was a mind to, I
could make myself rich, and pay you up for his wound in the hip."

"I'm going," he gasped, at length, "and I feel sorry for my past crimes.
Do you believe that there is a hell where sinners burn forever and
ever? Forgive me. I should have murdered you both had it not been for
that d----d snake. I crept under the canvas while you were at supper,
and while waiting for you to retire, I fell asleep. I am glad that I
didn't kill--. D---- the sn----"

There was a gasping in the man's throat, and with a slight struggle his
breath departed, and his soul flew up to God to be judged, and treated
according to the crimes which were recorded against his name.

"What's to be done?" asked Fred, when he found that the robber's heart
ceased to beat.

"We can do nothing until daylight. Let us go back to bed and try and
sleep."

"And wake up and find a snake for a bedfellow? No, I feel that I shall
not sleep again for a month. I am almost ready to declare that I will
not stop another day at Ballarat, or in Australia. We have met with
nothing but dangers since our landing, and it seems that on each
occasion our lives have been spared as by a miracle."

"I can feel only too grateful that they are spared, without questioning
the means," I replied. "Whether a gracious Providence, or our
shrewdness, has prevented us from being food for worms, is a subject we
will not discuss."

"But I feel tired of this kind of life," Fred said, as he seated himself
upon his bed and looked around the floor, covered with blood, and the
bodies of the huge snake and the dead man. "A few weeks ago there was
nothing that I liked so well as an adventure, but now I am surfeited,
and would fain enjoy a respite. A few weeks of inactivity would not come
amiss, for ever since we have been on the island we have seen nothing,
heard of nothing, but blood. I am sick of it."

"Well?" I inquired, anxiously.

"I will adhere to the vow that I took before leaving California. We
swore then never to desert each other, either in sickness or in health.
Until you are content to leave Australia, I remain. That is settled
upon."

We shook hands, and bound the bargain, and as we did so, the light that
had wavered and flickered, and revealed the desperate fight, between the
robber and the snake, suddenly died out, and left us in darkness.

And then we heard gentle steps upon the floor, and a snuffing, as though
some animal was pawing over the bodies, and while we were listening to
discover who our new visitor was, I felt something cold touch my hand,
and I started in alarm; but my fears quickly vanished, for I found that
Rover had recovered from his fright, and had come back in search of his
master. The poor dog! I could not blame him for deserting us,
considering the character of our late visitor.

The brute curled down beside us, and sat and listened to our
conversation through the night, but during that period his ears were
raised as though waiting a repetition of the sound that had alarmed him
hours before.

"I saw you move your hand towards your revolver," I said, addressing
Fred; "why did you not use it before the snake attacked the poor
fellow?"

"Because, while looking at the monster, a feeling came over me that I
cannot at this moment account for. I had regarded the snake with the
utmost dread and abhorrence, until all at once I thought that I did not
appear to look upon him with the same disgust, and the longer that I
gazed, the more fascinated I became, and I could not have harmed the
reptile, had my life depended upon my actions."

It was singular, but his feelings were the same that I had experienced,
and I refer the matter to scientific gentlemen, and desire them to solve
the question. Can a black snake, by the aid of lamp light, fascinate two
men, separated a distance of three yards, so that they lose all mastery
over their actions, and are impelled, by a power that appears
uncontrollable, to approach an object that they most dread on earth?

It seems a strange story, yet it is a true one: I will give the
dimensions of the reptile, so that the public may know that it was no
puny monster. Its length was exactly thirteen feet, five inches and a
quarter, and its circumference was thirteen inches and a half. The snake
was of the Diamond species, and grows quite large in Australia. I have
heard of even larger ones being destroyed, but I thank fortune that I
never met them during my residence. Their bites are not of a poisonous
nature, but their fangs are so large and strong that they inflict an
awkward wound; and in one case, when a miner was bitten, all efforts to
stop the flow of blood were futile, and the poor fellow bled to death.

This occurred at Ballarat, soon after we located in that cheerful place,
and Fred and myself were both sent for to investigate the case. We
judged that the fangs of the snake had struck an artery, and this
supposition, I have, since my return to this country, found to be
correct.

There is quite a number of species of the serpent tribe in Australia,
whose bite is death; but there is one kind, of a bright orange color,
with a dark ring around the neck, that is very venomous. I once saw a
miner bitten by one, and in defiance of all exertions that were made to
save his life, the poor fellow died in less than an hour. We cauterized
the wound with a hot iron, and at the same time compelled him to swallow
huge draughts of raw whiskey; but to no purpose. In twenty minutes after
he was bitten, the miner began to swell--in half an hour he could not
swallow another drop of liquor, although what he had taken apparently
had no effect upon him. In three quarters of an hour he was speechless,
and in fifty-five minutes he was dead. That was quick work for the
poison, and proves that the snakes of Australia are more venomous than
the rattlesnake of America. Luckily, the orange colored snakes are not
numerous, and I only saw three during my residence on the island, and I
suffer no compunctions of conscience when I acknowledge that I assisted
to kill them.

But the saddest part of the story connected with the miner's death
remains to be told. After he was dead, no one would go near him, or
assist to give the body a decent burial. Fred offered a handsome sum to
any one who would do so, but all declined, until an American, whose
heart was not contaminated by bad influence, gathered pieces of boards
and made a coffin, and then assisted us to dig a grave on the hill-side,
where we deposited the remains of the unfortunate man, to take his last
rest.

Fred and I sat in the dark, conversing in a low tone, and starting at
every sound, expecting to hear the slimy crawling of another snake; but
in this we were disappointed, and happily so. As soon as daylight
appeared, we started towards the hut of the inspector, situated at no
great distance from our so-called store. Mr. Brown was asleep when we
called, and it was with some difficulty that we aroused him.

"Hullo!" he exclaimed, at length, raising his head from his hard couch,
and rubbing his eyes; "what's the matter? The store hasn't burned down,
has it, and destroyed all the stock in trade?"

"Worse than that," returned Fred.

"Then a great misfortune must have occurred. What is it? If I can assist
in any thing, I'll get up; if not, I'm going to sleep an hour or two
longer. The miners had a meeting last evening, and what with bad rum and
long resolutions, they kept me pretty busy until an hour since."

"Then make up your mind that you'll have no more sleep until our
business is finished. Come, get up and take breakfast with us," Fred
rejoined.

"That invitation is sufficient to make a hungry man forget sleep for a
week. I'm with you."

The inspector gave himself a shake, and was dressed and ready to
accompany us. He left word with one of his men, who was on duty, where
he could be found in case he was wanted, and then declared that he was
ready.

As we walked along, we told him of the visit that we had received the
night before, and he listened without any expression of astonishment.
When we reached the store things remained as we had left them, with
blood scattered over the floor, and on the overturned boxes and barrels,
while nearly side by side were the bodies of the snake and the robber.

Mr. Brown stooped down and examined the face of the corpse for a few
minutes attentively.

"I knew that fellow would come to some bad end," the inspector said,
"for he was a friend of Burley's, and many a robbery have they committed
together, that never came to light."

"You might have cautioned us against him," remarked Fred.

"So I might, had I but known he was in Ballarat. I have not seen or
heard of the fellow before for two months, and I thought that he was
either shot or hanged, as he certainly should have been a year ago. He
must have arrived here yesterday afternoon, and Burley told him that you
had money, and that he could make a good thing in avenging his injuries
and stealing your gold. I am glad to say that he was caught in his own
trap, and I shall always cherish the name of a diamond snake for the
good that one of them has done in ridding us of a ruffian who would have
robbed his mother, and beat her in the bargain."

"But the snake--what do you think of that?" we asked.

"I have seen larger ones, though I will quiet your fears by saying not
in this part of Australia. They are not so dangerous as they look, and
seldom attack a man unless frightened into the encounter. A few miles
from Ballarat is a colony of the same kind of reptiles, and it's
something of a curiosity to see the monsters squirming about during a
pleasant forenoon."

"Have you seen them often?" asked Fred.

"O, yes, I have seen them a dozen times, perhaps." "We have nothing of
importance to attend to, for a few days, and would like to visit the
colony. Will you go with us?"

"Willingly," replied the inspector. "Appoint your day."

"Say to-morrow forenoon. Our horses will feel better for the jaunt, and
so shall we," Fred said.

"To-morrow forenoon we will go; and now, before we take breakfast, let
us get rid of these encumbrances."

He pointed to the bodies on the floor, and while we were wondering what
we should do with them, the inspector called a policeman, and directed
him to find a cart and carry them off, and for all that we know to the
contrary, they were both buried in the same grave. At any rate, the skin
of the snake, which we had requested as a trophy, was returned to us,
and by the aid of a quantity of arsenic, we were enabled to preserve it,
and send it to Murden as a sample of one of the staple articles of the
mines.

As soon as the bodies were removed, we went to work and cleaned our
store, and then prepared breakfast, and I am happy to be able to record
it, that the horrors of the night had no sensible effect upon our
appetites.




CHAPTER XLI.

VISIT TO SNAKES' PARADISE.


We spent the day in idleness, for the adventures of the preceding night
were too harrowing to allow our minds to become settled on any kind of
work. It is true that we had many questions to answer, and that numerous
visitors thronged our store from sunrise until dark; but after repeating
our story to our friend Charley, he took upon himself the important
situation of narrator of the snake's doings, and by that means we were
entirely relieved of a disagreeable duty.

Our California friend--never a great stickler for truth--embellished his
version of the affair in such glowing colors, and set forth the courage
that we had displayed in the fight in such a guise that we really began
to think that our conduct was not so very tame, after all, and that we
were worthy of the congratulations showered upon us by the admiring
miners, who vowed that when our stock of goods was in, we were the men
for their money.

At length, however, the last visitor had taken his departure, with the
exception of Charley. He hung around, as though he had some important
duty yet unperformed, but what it was we were at a loss to know until he
disclosed it.

"We did pretty well, didn't we?" he asked, taking a seat by our rickety
supper table.

"In getting the crowd off? Yes, we feel much obliged to you," Fred
rejoined.

"O, tain't that. I mean 'bout making the fellers believe all I told um."
"Why, I must say that I think you disregarded the truth slightly, in
your account of the adventures."

"O, I know that I did; but don't you see that it was all 'cos I wanted
to make ye popular with the masses, and one of these days you'll get
elevated to pay for it. I knew that you fellers was frightened to death
when you seed the snake, but of course I wasn't going to say so, 'cos if
I had, it would have sp'ilt all. O, no; I know'd better than all that,
by a long chalk. Putty good coffee this, ain't it?"

We were silent with astonishment and admiration at his matchless
impudence.

"Perhaps you will be good enough to let us know how you knew we were
frightened?" Fred asked, coolly.

"Certainly--'cos I met one of the same darned things, and I run like the
devil. Fact, although you may not believe it. I don't fight snakes, if I
can get clear of um."

The man's answer was so characteristic of human nature, that we could
but smile at the honest expression, and were not disposed to quarrel
with him for giving vent to the same feeling that would have actuated us
in another encounter.

"I s'pose you won't mind coming down an ounce for the service I've
rendered you to-day," Charley said, after a pause.

"For what service?" I demanded, in astonishment.

"O, for making you popular, that's all," he repeated.

"Look here, my friend," Fred said; "it seems to me that you think we are
two log-rolling politicians, anxious to turn every thing of an exciting
nature to an advantage. In this you are disappointed. We are here to get
money, and not to get office."

"Well, ain't I here to make money, too? so where's the difference
between us? You open a store; I sell rum, and starve boarders, and
electioneer, so that you can have a great run of custom, and yet you
ain't willing to pay a man a fair sum for his work. Wall, if I ain't
almost riddy to forswear my kintry and turn Turk. It's too
aggravating--it is."

Our friend looked as though he was a martyr to friendship, yet I saw
that he was only acting in a systematic manner, to excite our
sympathies, and procure the reward that he anticipated.

"Here is the money," Fred said, after a moment's hesitancy, handing a
Spanish doubloon to the cute Yankee, who clutched at it like a hungry
shark.

"All right," he replied, pocketing the gold with a chuckle.

"And now, before you go, we wish to say one word," Fred remarked,
calmly, yet firmly. "Ever since we have been at Ballarat, you have
contrived a number of ways to swindle us of our money. What you have
received we don't wish back into our pockets: but we do give you warning
that hereafter, if you interfere in our affairs, we shall take the
liberty of administering a sound kicking to that portion of your anatomy
made to be kicked. We hope that you understand us with distinctness, and
that we shall not be called upon to put into execution our threat. Good
day."

The fellow sneaked from the store like a petty thief caught in the act,
and during our residence at the mines, he always declared that he didn't
think much of aristocrats taking the bread out of the mouths of honest
workmen, and that for his part, he should like to know from what part of
New England we came.

We spent the day, as I said before, in idleness, yet we did not forget
that we had an appointment with the inspector, the next morning. Our
horses were in fine condition and anxious for a run, and as we rubbed
them down and fed them the night before we were to start; they appeared
to know that a journey was contemplated, and whinnied with joy.

As there was to be a monster meeting of the miners, that night, to
consider what action should be taken in regard to the mining tax, we
determined to be present--not for the purpose of taking any part in the
deliberations of the people--but to see how such matters were conducted
in Australia.

We therefore left Rover to attend to the horses, and prevent their being
stolen while absent, and about eight o'clock we joined the throng of
miners flocking towards the place designated for the meeting.

It was an out-door affair, and about one thousand people were present,
and a rougher looking set of men I never saw in my life. All nations
were there. Even a number of Chinamen, who couldn't understand ten words
of English, and knew not what they shouted for, were in the crowd,
wooden shoes, pig-tails and all. Manillamen, with long black hair, white
teeth, and dark skins, and murderous looking knives by their sides, were
present, and jabbered in the _Mestisa_ tongue, which no one understood
but themselves. Then there were Lascars, Arabs, and other countrymen,
known by their peculiar dress and talk, and loud above the tumult could
be heard the oaths uttered in good old Saxon, or else with a brogue that
showed that the Gem of the Ocean had its representatives, who, as usual,
were ready for a drink or a fight, but preferred the latter.

The chairman of the meeting was a Scotchman, who occupied a conspicuous
position on a bank of earth, overlooking the audience, and who,
fortunately being blessed with strong lungs, shouted, "Order, order,"
whenever the miners grew too quarrelsome, or had more than two fights
going on at the same time.

An Irishman, whose clothes might have been bought at a second hand
dealer's for a very moderate sum--for they were rent in various places,
and no attempt had been made to patch them--was the first speaker, and
he howled in the most approved manner, and even our political friends
might have taken a lesson from him. He had not spoken two minutes before
he denounced England as the worst nation upon the face of the earth, and
considered Englishmen as lions and brutes, while Irishmen were every
thing that was amiable and intelligent.

He was about to declare that an Irishman could lick a dozen Britons,
when an indignant Englishman planted a blow upon his nose that knocked
him headlong from the box on which he was standing.

The chairman called order, but did not appear surprised at the turn
which things had taken.

The next speaker was a Scotch miner, who declared that he was no slave,
and was not afraid to let the Governor General of Australia know it. He
thought that if there was an Eden in this world, that Scotland would
have to be visited to find it. He declared that he had rather live in
his native country, and subsist upon oatmeal porridge, than remain in
Australia and dig gold, and that the reason he paid a mining tax, was
because he wanted to encourage the English to continue their outrages.

The next speaker was our late friend Charley. He alluded to the American
Eagle, touched on Bunker Hill, eulogized the Declaration of
Independence, admired the Revolution, and then artfully proceeded to
depicture the prosperity that Australia would be likely to enjoy, if
separated from the mother country, and become a republic. Then, he said,
taxation would be equal, and money would not be wrung from the
hard-working miners to support governors and other officials in luxury.
While Mr. Charley was shouting with all his might, and trying to infuse
a little of his own warmth into his hearers, a little, decrepit old man,
with long, gray hair and shabby clothes, edged towards us, as though to
enter into conversation.

"Well, I don't know but the man is right," the old man said, after
listening a few minutes in silence. His dialect was broad Yorkshire, and
we mentally concluded that he belonged in that part of England.

"There's a great dale in havin' independence, and all that. What d'ye
think about it?"

The interrogation was addressed so pointedly that there was no chance to
escape without an answer; but we had lived too long in foreign countries
to commit ourselves on any question that was likely to cause us trouble.

"We have not given the subject a thought to-day. When we have made up
our minds, we will let you know," returned Fred.

"Well, that is singular," the old man returned; "I always supposed that
ye 'Mericans was riddy to declare that yer own country was the best. But
don't ye think that Australia would make a great addition to the
States?"

"We don't care to talk on the subject," rejoined Fred, shortly, seeing
that a number of miners began to gather around, to listen to the
discussion.

"That is capital," whispered a voice that we knew; "I am glad to see
that you take no interest in the knave's fancies."

We felt a strong pressure on our arms, as though the speaker would have
added other tokens of his approval, had he dared, and before we could
recover from our surprise, the little old man was edging his way into
the thickest of the crowd.

"Did you suspect him?" whispered Fred.

"No, he altered his voice too much. We owe Mr. Brown a trick for the one
he has just played on us."

In fact, the little old man with the Yorkshire accent was no other than
Mr. Inspector Brown, who was disguised so perfectly, that we should not
have recognized him, even in broad daylight.

He was mingling with the crowd, and "spotting" the most turbulent, for
the purpose of refusing to grant them a license, when next they applied.
He went upon the principle that a few agitators were sufficient to
corrupt the morals of all the miners in Ballarat, and to get them to
leave for other parts was Mr. Brown's whole study.

We did not wait to hear more of Charley's harangue, for we were too
tired to enjoy his artful attempts to excite the miners in opposition to
the government.

The night passed off without any incident worthy of notice, and by
daylight we were astir, and preparing for our expedition.

Shortly after sunrise the inspector joined us, mounted on a very fair
horse, but not equal to the nags that we owned.

We were off without delay--leaving Rover to tend the store--although we
did not forget to examine our revolvers before we started, for the
inspector hinted that there might be such a thing as meeting a
bushranger who would feel disposed to borrow our horses, or take our
lives, just as his fancy seemed to lead him.

"How did the meeting terminate, last night?" I asked, after we had got
clear of the town, and were ascending a high hill, at a slow pace.

"O, after your precious countryman got through with his great annexation
speech, there was quite a brisk fight between half-a-dozen of the men
present, and then the meeting broke up in a row. No arrests were made,
for if I had offered to take any one into custody, I should have been
ill-treated, and raised a tumult that could not have easily been
suppressed. I bide my time, and think of the day when government will
have a force here sufficient to resist all attacks."

We laughed at Mr. Brown's tirade against our countryman, and then joked
him on the cleverness of his disguise, and promised to pay him in his
own coin. He dared us to the experiment, and we mentally promised that
we would keep our word.

For almost two hours we continued our journey, sometimes passing through
deep valleys, which, in winter months, were green with verdure, but now
were dry and parched for the want of moisture; and sometimes ascending
high hills, from the summits of which we could command a view of the
country for many miles in extent.

Not a soul had we met since leaving the borders of the town, and with
the exception of one or two animals, game appeared to be very scarce.

"How much farther have we to go for a sight of the 'Snakes' Paradise'?"
Fred inquired.

"Only about a mile. At the foot of the hill the den is located, unless
the reptiles have changed their quarters since I was here last."

The inspector pointed with his whip to the spot indicated, and for a few
minutes we drew rein and admired the scenery.

At our feet was a deep valley, which, in the winter season, received the
washings of the mountains that completely surrounded it, and the soil
evidently retained the water for some time, for we could see where it
had settled or evaporated, and we asked ourselves the question,--

"Did the snakes take up their quarters in the valley for the purpose of
being near fresh water for about nine months in the year?"

Mr. Brown only shook his head, and said that he was not versed in
"snakeology," but thought that if the reptiles remained in the valley,
it was a sign that they liked to take a drink occasionally, and proposed
that we should descend.

We assented, but before we did so, we took another survey of the scene
before us. As I said before, the valley was surrounded by hills, and
the only outlet was by means of a ragged ravine, through which the water
had forced its way, and extended to another plain about half a mile
distant The hills opposite to us were nearly perpendicular, and their
summit could only be gained by immense exertion on the part of a person
on foot. The only places where horses could escape, or leave the valley,
was by means of the ravine, or the path we were about to descend.

I have been thus particular in describing the locality of Snakes'
Paradise, as we named it, because we met with an incident there, which I
shall relate in another chapter.

We were obliged to dismount from our animals, when half-way down the
mountain, for we found that the trail was very insecure, and that a
proper regard for our necks demanded a descent on foot. The horses,
freed from our encumbrance, got along very well, and much faster than
when guided by reins; but we found that, as we neared the foot of the
hill, the animals manifested considerable reluctance to proceeding
farther, and that some energy was required to prevent their retracing
their steps up the ascent.

At length, however, we readied even ground, and again mounted our
restive animals, and led by the inspector, approached a mound of earth,
about fifteen or twenty feet high, and eight or ten feet in
circumference. It was in the form of a pyramid, and resembled the work
of man more than nature, and I turned to the inspector for an
explanation.

"What motive could a man have for forming earth in that shape?" I asked.

"That was never built by human beings, but by insects, more industrious
than the lords of creation. That pyramid of earth was once the home of
millions of black ants, and by them alone was it raised."

I had heard of the wonderful industry of the ants of Australia, but this
was the first time that I ever saw their works. I felt curious to
examine one of their homes, and touched my horse for the purpose of
riding nearer. To my surprise the animal refused to move in the
direction that I wished, and the more I urged, the less inclined he was
to obey. I was not disposed to give up the contest, and was making
preparations to continue with more vigor, when Mr. Brown stopped me.

"It's useless," he said, "to try and get the horses nearer the pyramid.
They scent danger before we are aware of its presence. If you wish to
inspect the place you must dismount."

"But why should the animals be afraid of ants?" Fred asked.

"They are not afraid of ants," replied the inspector, dryly, "but they
are afraid of snakes."

"But we can see no snakes, although you told us that their den was near
the foot of the mountain."

"What does that look like?" asked Mr. Brown, pointing to a dark object
that was slowly creeping from an opening in the pyramid.

We saw at once that the object was a snake, such as we had encountered
at the store, and we watched his languid movements with some curiosity.
The reptile had no sooner drawn his body from the mound than another
snake of the same species poked his head out, and after surveying us for
a few seconds with an appearance of considerable curiosity, he, too,
quitted the pyramid, and stretched his long body in the hot sand, as
though it was grateful to his slimy skin.

Another and another followed in slow succession, until we counted no
less than twenty black snakes, none of them less than thirteen feet
long, and from ten to fifteen inches in circumference. They appeared to
be as playful as puppies, and rolled over and over each other in their
gambols; but at the least movement on our part their sport ceased, and
they seemed to form themselves in hostile array as though to repel an
attack. Then their mouths opened and their huge fangs were exposed,
glistening in the sun, as though anxious to try their strength upon our
bodies.

It was with some difficulty that we could get our horses to face the
monsters, and even with all our exertions the animals would suddenly
start, as though anxious to quit so loathsome a sight.

"Do ants and snakes live peaceably together in Australia?" I asked of
the inspector.

"By no means. They are continually at war, but the insects struggle with
desperate valor to maintain their homestead against their assailants;
but in the end they have to retire and build another pyramid, where they
live until a fresh colony of snakes appear and drive them forth
wanderers once more. The fight, however, lasts nearly a week before the
insects acknowledge defeat, and if, during that time, the snakes wound
each other in trying to free their bodies of the ants, it is a great
triumph for the latter, for they fasten upon the wound, and all the
twisting and squirming of the reptiles cannot dislodge them. For days
they fatten upon their victim, until at length the slight wound becomes
a sore of great magnitude, and never heals. Mortification at length
ensues, and the death of the snake is then certain. You can see that if
the insects are weak and insignificant, nature teaches them a method of
avenging their wrongs, and they are not slow to adopt it."

As we found that it was impossible to get our horses to approach the
nest of reptiles, we got the inspector to hold them while Fred and
myself advanced, revolvers in hand, to get a nearer view of the
squirming monsters. They instantly arrayed themselves in a compact mass,
and with flashing eyes and erect heads watched our motions. Every few
seconds they would utter a hiss, that sounded like an expression of
displeasure in a theatre during some bad piece of acting. We advanced to
within ten rods of them, and then halted and surveyed them at leisure.

"I should like to try the effects of a shot," Fred said, glancing at the
snakes and then at his revolver.

"Fire away," I replied, as anxious for the fun as himself.

In spite of a warning cry from Mr. Brown, Fred discharged his revolver,
and the hall struck in the mass of squirming bodies. I saw one huge
monster tear himself loose from the others, and wind his body into
knots, and beat the ground with rage with his tapered tail, while his
hot blood dyed the ground as it gushed forth during his contortions.

"Try another," said Fred, enjoying his own shot.

I also fired, and the same result followed. The wounded snake either
struggled, or else was forced from the mass, and the same bold front
was kept up by the others. The hissing, if possible, was a little
louder, and the eyes of those uninjured flashed brighter, but the mass
did not move forward, or recede from our attack; and it was not until we
had each discharged five barrels of our revolvers that a movement, as
though determined to revenge their loss, was made.




CHAPTER XLII.

FLIGHT FROM THE SNAKES.--ATTACKED BY THE BUSHRANGERS.


Slowly, but in a compact form, did the snakes creep forward, hissing,
and expanding their huge mouths, and darting out their forked tongues,
which quivered like a million of grasshoppers strung upon steel wires,
and exposed to a strong breeze.

"Come back, you--." The rest of the sentence was inarticulate, but I
think it sounded like "fools."

We glanced at the inspector, and found that he was in full retreat with
the horses, evidently being disposed to be on the safe side.

"Let us give them one more shot, and be off," said Fred.

He was about to carry his words into effect, when a thought suddenly
struck me, and I lowered my revolver.

"Fred," I said, "did you put your powder flask in your pocket?"

"No, for I supposed that you did," he replied.

"Then let me advise you to reserve your fire, for we have but one shot
each, and it is a long way to camp."

I had hardly delivered the caution, when we found that it was full time
to beat a retreat. The snakes, still showing signs of anger, had crept
to within ten yards of us, and I thought, from a hasty observation, that
they were preparing to separate, and make a spring.

"Now, then, for a run!" cried Fred; and we turned our backs upon our
enemies, and started towards the horses as fast as our legs could carry
us.

I glanced over my shoulder to see what action the snakes were taking,
and to my horror I found that they had separated, and were pursuing us
with inconceivable rapidity. Their huge heads were raised about eighteen
inches from the ground, and their wide mouths were expanded as though
grinning at our flight.

"Run faster," yelled the inspector, who was watching the novel race,
seated on his horse.

We tried to obey, but found that we were putting our best energies to
the work, and therefore could not increase our pace. It seemed to me
that I was shod with lead, my feet felt so heavy.

"Run, run, run!" yelled the inspector, endeavoring to urge the horses
towards us; but the brutes resisted with all their might, and he was
obliged to relinquish the attempt.

I again looked over my shoulder, and saw that we did not increase the
distance between us and our loathsome foes, but I felt a little hope at
the thought of their not gaining on us. Ten rods more, and we should he
within range of the inspector's revolver, and perhaps he could check the
snakes' pursuit.

Even while these thoughts passed through my brain, I saw one of the most
active of our pursuers suddenly stop, raise one half of his long body
from the ground, in an upright direction, and then spring forward, at
least twenty feet, and far in advance of his competitors. Two more such
springs, and we would be enfolded in his embrace. Again he raised his
black, shining form, and was about to repeat the attempt, when we heard
the sharp crack of Mr. Brown's revolver.

To my joy, I saw that the inspector's aim was true, for the reptile,
just as he was about to repeat his spring, was struck by the ball, and
rolled over and over, lashing the ground with his tail, and causing his
companions to suddenly stop, as though desirous of seeing what the
matter was.

It is very certain that Fred and myself did not stop to learn what
conclusion the snakes came to; in less than a minute after the shot was
fired, we were beside our horses and mounted.

"Well, of all the fellows for getting into scrapes, you two are the
worst!" cried the inspector, with an air of vexation; "didn't you know
that those cussed black devils could run faster than a man?"

"This is the first that we ever heard about it," rejoined Fred,
completely at his ease.

"Well, now that I have told you, let us be getting clear of the clan,
for there is no knowing how soon the varmints may recommence another
pursuit," and the inspector turned his horse's head, as though he was
determined to remain no longer in such a dangerous neighborhood.

"Don't be in such a hurry," said Fred; "we have an inclination towards
natural history, and now is a good time to take lessons. I want to see
if the snakes will follow a man on horseback as readily as when he is on
foot."

"Are you determined to get choked to death by those dark scamps?"
demanded Mr. Brown, with a stare of amazement.

"By no means; we want to prevent others from suffering such a death, and
therefore feel that we have a mission for killing all that we can with
safety. There's ten or twelve of them left. Lend me your revolver, for
mine has but one charge in it."

Fred held out his hand to receive the weapon, and Mr. Brown, hardly
knowing whether he was joking or not, complied with his request.

The snakes were holding a consultation over the body of the last one
killed, and therefore paid but little attention to Fred, as he urged his
unwilling horse within shooting distance. I remained by the side of Mr.
Brown, and watched his operations.

At the first discharge of his revolver the consultation was broken up,
and after hissing their displeasure, the reptiles commenced slowly
retreating to their den; but every few seconds they would stop, face
him, and then another discharge would start them into full flight.

As they neared the pyramid--what there was left of them--their speed
increased, until it seemed to be a race as to which should get under
cover first. But the most surprising circumstance was the uninjured ones
refusing to allow a maimed one to enter, and every time that it
persisted in its attempt, the others fought him desperately.

That was something that I could not account for; but Mr. Brown said that
the reptiles were only imitating human beings in their treatment of a
comrade, and that as long as a snake was well, and able to fight, the
main body were willing to use him; but after he was wounded and wanted
shelter, there was a conspiracy to kick him out of their comfortable
quarters.

Fred returned with but one barrel of the revolver loaded, and that he
saved because the inspector was in the same condition as ourselves,
having left his powder and ball at Ballarat.

"Now, then, let us return," Mr. Brown said; "you have shed blood enough
for one day, I hope."

The words had hardly passed his lips, when, upon the top of the mountain
that we had descended two hours before, I saw the forms of five or six
men stealing along the trail, as though desirous of gaining the cover of
a number of trees, for the purpose of watching our movements.

I pointed them out to the inspector, and he stopped and examined them
through a pocket spy-glass which he usually carried when he left town.

"Well, are they friends or foes?" asked Fred.

The inspector made no reply until the men were lost to view beneath the
branches of the trees.

"Are you sure," he asked, "that you left your powder and lead at
Ballarat?"

"Quite sure--why do you ask?"

"Because, unfortunately, there are six as great rascals as ever went
unhung on the hill, and they mean mischief, I'll swear."

The inspector put up his glass, and examined his nearly-emptied revolver
with a rueful look.

"If the blasted snakes had not wasted our powder there would be some
show for us," he continued, "because, luckily, the scamps are armed with
pistols only."

"But we have three shots," cried Fred, his blood beginning to dance
through his veins at the prospect of a struggle; "I will guarantee that
every discharge brings down a bird, and as for the remainder, why, we
will meet them single-handed."

"I like to hear you talk in that strain, but the odds are against us. We
have a long hill to ascend, and should have to leave our horses behind,
and that I can't think of. The bushrangers, I suppose, desire the
animals for the purpose of escaping to some other portion of the
country, and even at the risk of running from a fight, we must
disappoint them. No, no; it would be madness attacking six men with
empty revolvers, when they have the choice of ground."

The inspector returned his revolver to his belt, and once more examined
the spot where the robbers had gone into ambush.

"Yes, they are watching our every motion, and I can see one fellow
standing near the trunk of the first tree on our right examining his
pistols attentively. Now he looks towards us, and points with his hand
in the direction of the ravine. It is our only chance." He closed the
glass abruptly and put spurs to his horse, calling upon us to follow him
without a moment's delay. We suspected Mr. Brown's intentions, but did
not consider the danger so imminent as he imagined. We therefore
galloped along at a moderate pace, and allowed the inspector to take the
lead.

"Faster, faster," he shouted, looking over his shoulder to see if we
kept up with him.

"What is your hurry?" cried Fred, with a provoking degree of coolness.

"Because there is need of it," Mr. Brown answered, reining his animal in
for the purpose of allowing us to get alongside of him. "Those
bushrangers have noted the road we have taken, and will seek to cut off
our retreat. Our only safety now lies in getting through the ravine
before they can gain a position to fire at us. Ah, I thought so. Look
there."

The inspector pointed to the hill top, and there we saw all six of the
robbers running at a rapid rate towards the edge of the ravine. The
latter was about six feet deep, and it was easy to see the advantage
such a position would give them; for while they could fire at us with
awful accuracy, we could not return a shot with any hope of success.

"We are with you," cried Fred, striking his horse with his spurs, and
forward we all went at a killing pace.

The bushrangers saw that they were discovered, and raised a shout of
triumph, as though certain that we were within their toils. I heard the
inspector utter a bitter curse at his stupidity in leaving his powder
and bullets behind, and that was the only answer to the challenge.

The ravine was about thirty feet wide, and like all places where a large
body of water has forced its way, was rugged, and difficult for horses
to tread. Huge rocks and deep gullies wore met at every step, and the
utmost caution was requisite to prevent our animals from breaking their
legs, or refusing to move forward at a pace faster than a walk.

For the first few minutes after entering the passage we anticipated a
discharge over our heads every moment; but finding that the bushrangers
did not take advantage of our situation, and that, we were unmolested,
we had time to wonder at their forbearance, and to suggest to Mr. Brown
that perhaps we were more frightened than hurt.

"Not a bit of it," he rejoined. "I tell you that the scamps have not
given up the chase so easy, and that all our trouble is to come at the
outlet of the ravine. The only reason we have escaped so far, is because
we were too quick to enable them to reach the edge of the bluff at the
entrance. We shall hear from the devils, never fear, and before long, I
am thinking.

"Press on," cried the inspector, as the outlet of the ravine came in
view; "we may defeat the devils yet."

Unlucky words, for hardly had he uttered them when a sharp crack from
the top of the cliff was heard, and a ball whizzed within a few inches
of my face, and struck the nag upon which the inspector was mounted, the
animal plunged forward for a few steps, and then suddenly rearing, fell
back heavily, crushing the left leg of Mr. Brown, and jamming it between
the saddle and the earth. "On," cried the wounded man, faintly; "save
yourselves, if possible, and leave me."

"You must have a poor opinion of Americans if you expect us to do that,"
cried Fred, with as much coolness as I ever saw him exhibit in my life.

And even while my friend was speaking, to my great admiration he
dismounted, letting his horse go wherever it desired to wander--for he
knew that no shot would be aimed at that which the bushrangers most
desired--and rushed to aid the fallen inspector.

I could do no less than follow his example, although I confess that I
considered my time as having nearly arrived, when I got off my horse,
and even when attempting to roll the dying animal from the body of the
inspector, I wondered why the deuse the bushrangers did not pick us off
without mercy. We were certainly in their power; but I afterwards
understood that five of the bushrangers were, at that particular moment,
engaged in damning the sixth, who had, by his aim, killed a horse
instead of a man. Although I don't approve of swearing, yet I must
confess that after this I must consider that there is some virtue in
oaths, for they saved not only my life, but my friend's.

Luckily for Mr. Brown, the horse died very quickly, and did not
struggle, or the body of the inspector would have been ground to powder,
and Ballarat would have required the services of another police
commissioner. We rolled the animal off, and then quickly lifted the
wounded man in our arms, and carried him for shelter under the bank,
where the villains overhead could not get sight of us.

"How fares it with you?" asked Fred, making an examination of the
injured limb.

"Bad enough," replied Mr. Brown, with a sigh. "I don't think that any
bones are broken, but the flesh is awfully bruised."

"That is true enough," answered Fred, tearing his handkerchief into
strips, and binding up the bleeding limb with as much coolness as a
professional surgeon; "the flesh is mangled, but it will heal in less
time than a broken limb, and I must congratulate you on your lucky
escape."

"Lucky escape?" repeated the inspector, bitterly; "you talk as though we
were not surrounded by six bloodthirsty scamps, who will greatly rejoice
to make a prisoner of me. Why did you not escape when my horse fell? You
could have done so."

"We grant that; yet we Americans have peculiar notions regarding some
things, and we are apt to call a man a coward who deserts a friend in
distress. We sink or swim in the same boat, to-day."

The inspector faintly squeezed our hands, and a gratified expression
beamed upon his face, yet his pain was too great to allow him to reply;
and Fred and myself began to consult how we could bring into play the
early lessons which we had learned while mining in California, and
surrounded by tribes of hostile Indians.

We were no longer bound to regard the advice of the inspector, even if
he had been disposed to offer it, which he was not, and after a slight
deliberation we came to a conclusion, and resolved to act upon it. For
this purpose we removed Mr. Brown to a place of greater security, and
after informing him that we should not be far off, and that he was to
remain silent until our return, we crept along under the bank for some
distance, stopping every few minutes for the purpose of listening, yet
making no noise by our movements.

The ravine, as I said before, led between two high hills, and each bank
was perpendicular, and covered, at the edges, with small gum trees.
There was only one place on the left bank, where the bushrangers were
stationed, that could be descended, and unless the ruffians made an
attempt to reach us by that single place, they would be compelled to go
a mile or two to descend the hill, and then enter the ravine at the
outlet. By attempting to surprise us by entering the ravine the way that
we did, the distance would be greater and more difficult. We therefore
reasoned that the bushrangers, after waiting an hour or more, and
finding that we made no stir, would attempt to secure the two horses
that were quietly grazing nearly opposite the place where the bank was
most shelving, and that they would seek for the quickest way of
accomplishing their object. We therefore resolved to station ourselves
near the animals, and see what would happen.

By good fortune we found a large ridge of earth, formed like a shelf,
about four feet wide, which the water had gullied out when rushing
through the ravine, during the winter months--and under this we
stationed ourselves, and waited patiently, well aware that we were
secure from observation from our enemies, unless some of them happened
to be on the opposite bank, which we did not expect.

Half an hour passed, and there were no signs of the enemy. Our horses
had approached us once or twice, but as we paid no attention to them,
they had wandered off, and were standing in the shade of the west bank
for the purpose of getting rid of some of the insects which were
hovering in the air, and biting with a sharpness that proved they had
been without food for many days.

We were almost in despair of our plan succeeding, when we heard a
crashing overhead, as though a number of heavy-footed men were stepping
upon dried branches, and did not care who heard them. Suddenly there was
a silence, as though the party had halted to view the very place we
anticipated they would look at, and then a voice exclaimed:--

"D---- it, what can you say to that place, I'd like to know?"

"Ah, Bill, I've got nothin' to offer agin that place, 'cos it's suthin
like. A man can get down there without trouble."

"Well, then, down you go, and lead the horses out of the ravine, and
wait for us," cried a man who appeared to have some authority with the
bushrangers.

"But I want somebody to go with me, don't I? S'pose the fellers should
make a jump at me?" cried the man, who was evidently the slave of the
gang.

"But they won't make a jump at you, 'cos they are at the other end of
the ravine, looking after Brown. Get hold of the horses, and then we
shall have um at our mercy."

"All right, Bill; I'll go, 'cos I killed the hoss, when I meant to kill
one of those d----d Yankee chaps. I thought that I had him sure, but my
pistols didn't carry straight."

It seemed that the party knew us, and had followed us ever since we had
left Ballarat, for the purpose of robbing us of our horses, and probably
murdering us, into the bargain.

We heard the bushranger selected for the purpose, commence descending
slowly, for the task was one of considerable difficulty, and required
some caution. His comrades stood upon the bank and joked him for being
so long, and at length we concluded that they had stretched themselves
upon the grass to wait until he had performed his work; for their voices
became nearly inaudible, although we could hear the fellow who was
approaching us grunt and swear at the obstacles which he had to
overcome.

Fred's brow grew black as he unsheathed his long knife, and passed a
finger across the blade to test its keenness.

"What do you intend to do?" I asked, fearful of his reply.

"Preserve our lives at the expense of the scoundrels," he answered, in a
whisper. "Leave the blow to me, but stand ready to grasp the fellow by
the throat, and remember that a cry will destroy us."

I made no further remonstrance against the course that Fred had marked
out, but I inwardly dreaded to think that it was necessary to shed more
human blood for the sake of preserving our lives.

Nearer and nearer did the bushranger draw, and we could hear him mutter
an oath at the difficult task that was assigned him. By the direction of
the sound, we calculated that he would land directly in front of us; and
we were not mistaken, for he jumped to clear the shelf under which we
were hid, and when he struck the earth, it was within a foot of us.

Before he discovered us--for his back was towards me--I flew at him,
grasped him firmly around the throat, and then fell backwards, drawing
my prisoner with me. He struggled desperately for a moment, but I saw a
knife gleam before my eyes, and I felt a convulsive shudder run through
the frame of my prisoner, and then his resistance ceased.

I rolled him from me, and allowed the body to remain face down. I could
not encounter the ghastly face of the dead. It seemed to me like murder.

Fred noticed the expression of my face, and must have surmised my
feelings, for he grasped my arm, and whispered hoarsely,--

"Remember that it is to save our own lives, and the life of Mr. Brown,
that we resort to the knife. I would give all the gold that I am worth,
or hope to get, for a chance to escape such a massacre, but it is
impossible. Another victim will descend, and he must share his fate, and
then--"

He ceased speaking, for just then a voice called out, and wanted to know
where their companion, who had descended to get the horses, was.

"You, Jim," called out the fellow who appeared to be in authority.

"D---- him, he has gone to sleep, I'll bet a nugget. Go down, Sam, and
wake him with a kick of your boots."

The man addressed as Sam grumbled some at the order, but we could hear
that he was obeying the command, for the dirt rolled down the bank and
fell at our feet, and the oaths and exclamations uttered by the gang
hurried him in his descent. "The same operation is to be repeated,"
Fred whispered; "use all of your strength, for this fellow is a
dangerous customer, I'm convinced."

He had hardly finished speaking, when a stout, burly fellow slid down in
front of us, and as he did so, he got a glimpse of our forms.

He was about to utter an exclamation, when my hands were around his
throat, compressing his windpipe with a strength that seemed marvellous
to me. There was a slight struggle, unseen from the top of the bank,
owing to the friendly shelf, and then I saw Fred make a motion with his
arm, and almost immediately I felt that I held a corpse in my hands.

I let the body fall to the ground, and as I did so, Fred tore the
slouched hat from the wretch's head, placed it upon his own, and then
thrusting his head out so that those upon the bank could see the hat,
but not my friend's face, and assuming, as nearly as possible, the voice
of the dead, shouted:--

"Ah, Bill, come down here and see what we've got."

"Hullo!" cried Bill, "what's up? can't you tell? D---- me if I don't
believe they have found a gold mine, down there. Let's go and see,
boys."

"Now is our time," cried Fred, quietly removing the pistols which the
dead men carried in their belts. "When they have descended half way, we
must take them."

We listened attentively, and when we thought that our time had arrived,
we stepped out from our place of concealment, and before the bushrangers
could overcome their surprise at our sudden appearance, we gave the two
nearest the contents of our revolvers.

They relaxed their hold upon the bushes that grew sparsely upon the hill
side, and rolling over and over, fell into the ravine, badly wounded.

"Surrender, villains," yelled Fred, in a voice of thunder, pointing his
empty pistol at the two remaining robbers--an example that I was not
slow to follow. "Make but an attempt to use your weapons, and we'll blow
you through and through. Throw down your pistols and knives, and then
yield peaceably, or it will be worse for you."

For a moment the villains gazed at us in sullen silence, and then
reluctantly complied with our demand. With an imprecation that would
sound fearfully in print, the bushrangers commenced their descent, and
while they were doing so, we quickly exchanged our empty revolvers for
the loaded pistols, and then prepared to receive them with proper
attention.




CHAPTER XLIII.

TRIUMPHANT ENTRY INTO BALLARAT, WITH THE BUSHRANGERS.


We did not allow our attention to be drawn from the bushrangers, even
for a second, while they were descending, and the scamps knew it, for
they cowered, as though expecting to be shot every moment, and one of
them muttered something about his being honest, and never engaged in a
robbery; while one of the wounded ruffians, who was groaning piteously
in the ravine, prayed that his life might be saved, as he had many
important revelations to make, which the police would like to hear.

We had taken the precaution to disarm the wounded men, before they
fairly recovered from their surprise, so that they were powerless to
inflict harm; and after the two bushrangers who were uninjured stood
before us, obedient to our will, we began to ask ourselves what we
should take to secure them with.

Luckily, upon one of the horses was a halter of considerable length,
which we had used when we staked the animals for feeding nights, and we
determined to secure them with this, and then carry them to Ballarat in
triumph.

Fred stood guard over the ruffians, while I got the rope, and carried
our resolution into effect. Bill, the leader of the gang, who was one of
the uninjured, uttered a number of angry oaths, as I bound his limbs;
but the cocked pistols which Fred held were too much for him to attempt
to brave, and he submitted without a struggle.

Even while tying the rope, I used due precautions to prevent their hands
from getting at the knots; and although the scamps winced a little, as
the cord sunk into their flesh, I did not pay that attention to their
comfort that I should, had they been other than bushrangers.

After lashing them together, and then making them lie down upon their
backs, from which position they could not move without help, we turned
our attention to the two wounded men, who were groaning piteously.

One of them had received a ball near the hip, which had shattered the
bones in that region, and prevented his standing upon his feet, even for
a second.

The other was wounded in the back, near the spine, and could not move
without great exertion. We could not relieve their pains, or even
furnish them with a drink of water, for which they begged piteously; but
we promised that they should be removed to Ballarat, as soon as
possible, and that their wants should there be attended to.

We then led our horses to the spot where the inspector was lying, and
was glad to find that he was quite cheerful, in spite of his intense
suffering.

We briefly explained to him what we had done, but it was some time
before he would really believe that we were giving a true account of our
proceedings. It seemed so extraordinary that two men could accomplish
so much, by the aid of a little strategy, that he was lost in wonder,
and declared that to us alone did he owe his life.

Only wait until I get back to Ballarat and tell the police force that
two Americans have saved my life, and refused to leave me, even when
their own was in danger, and you shall see the manner in which they will
treat you and your countrymen. I'll never complain again that Americans
are troublesome at the mines, and if I had the power, not one of them
should be called upon for the payment of a tax.

Mr. Brown never forgot us, and even now, I am in the habit of receiving
letters from him from Australia, and in each one there is an allusion to
the ravine scenes. But I am again getting before my story.

"We have but little time to spare," said Fred; "we must reach Ballarat
before sundown, and send out a party to look after the wants of the
wounded bushrangers; now, if you think that you can ride to the mines,
we will start immediately. Even if the pain of moving is great, let me
advise you to endure it for much depends upon your firmness."

The inspector understood the meaning of Fred's words too well to
hesitate about which course he should pursue. He knew that his wounds
were dangerous, and that they would mortify in a short time, unless
dressed and cleansed; for already a crowd of flies were hovering in the
air about his head, and ready to plague his life out, the instant we
withdrew a short distance.

"I think that I can ride to Ballarat," the inspector said, after feeling
of his leg, and finding that the bleeding had nearly ceased; "at any
rate, I cannot remain here through half of the night. Lift me on to one
of the horses, and let me see how I can navigate."

We raised him gently in our arms, and placed him in my saddle, and to
our great satisfaction, we found that after the first paroxysm of pain
was over, he could get along very well. We led the animal upon which he
was mounted slowly along the ravine, until we reached our prisoners, who
were lying in the same position as when we left them.

Upon the inspector's thinking that it would be better to take the two
uninjured men with us, we cut a portion of their bonds, but still
allowed their arms to be confined, and after a hasty examination of the
wounds of the two bushrangers, we promised them speedy assistance, and
then started on our return to Ballarat.

Our prisoners marched in advance of us, in gloomy silence, for a short
distance, but I could observe that the leader, or the man who was called
"Bill," cast anxious glances at the inspector, as though desirous of
speaking, yet fearing that his remarks would not be received with much
cordiality. At length he mustered sufficient nerve to exclaim,--

"It is long since we have met, Mr. Brown."

"I know that, Bill; yet you have managed to keep your name alive, so
that you see I have not forgotten you."

"I never was a favorite of yours, even while at the hulks," replied the
bushranger, with a gloomy scowl.

"It was your own fault, Bill. I would have treated you in the manner
that the others were treated, had you but given me the chance. Was not
your conduct of the most stubborn and rebellious nature? Did you not
endeavor to excite to mutiny the prisoners of your ward, and when you
were detected, how could you hope for mercy at the hands of the prison
commissioners?"

"But you flogged me--flogged me until my back was marked and bruised,
and even now the scars are visible. You tied me up like a dog; you would
not hear me, although I begged with tears for death, rather than have
the cat touch my back. I then felt like a man. After the flogging I was
a brute, and ready to avenge my wrongs upon all who crossed my path."

The outlaw stopped while delivering his remarks, which were uttered with
vehement passion, and we were obliged to compel him to move on, so
carried away was he with his subject.

"The flogging which was administered to you caused you to murder a miner
and his wife, who were journeying towards Melbourne, rejoiced to think
that they were worth a few hundred pounds," continued Mr. Brown,
sarcastically.

"It's a lie," muttered the fellow, with a downcast look.

"You know that you murdered both, while sleeping. Coward that you are,
you feared to meet the miner awake."

"It's a lie.'" returned the fellow, with a glance towards the inspector
that would have annihilated him if it had been possible; "I met them
when awake, and--"

He ceased suddenly, and continued to walk forward at a rapid rate.

The inspector glanced at us in a meaning manner, as though desirous that
we should remember all that was said.

"Your brother pal, who was with you at the time, and who is now working
out a sentence on the roads, tells me that you crept up to the miner and
wife, and struck the former first; and that after the deed was
completed, you refused to share the gold dust."

"That's another lie!" cried the fellow, stamping his foot with passion;
"I gave him his share for silencing the woman, while I dealt with the
man. He knows it, and he also knows that he spent the dust in three days
at Melbourne, where we were in disguise, and stopped at old mother
Holey's."

A gratified expression beamed upon the inspector's face, and I doubt if
he remembered the pain with which he was afflicted, for the murder that
he had thus suddenly brought to light was one that had puzzled him for a
long time, and a reward of two hundred pounds was due to whoever
revealed the mystery. He had indulged in a little fiction to make Bill
confess the crime, and he had succeeded beyond his utmost expectations.

For a long time after Bill had revealed his knowledge of one of the most
brutal murders that ever occurred in Australia, our prisoner refused to
talk, although Mr. Brown provoked him to reveal other matters that he
was anxious of knowing.

The bushranger appeared to recollect that in a moment of passion he had
disclosed more than he should have done, and therefore refused to
converse; but at length Mr. Brown led him to talk of the days when he
was a prisoner at the hulks, and when the inspector was an overseer or
turnkey at the same institution.

"How many years have passed, Bill, since you crossed the water?"
inquired the inspector; meaning, in a polite way, to find out the exact
time he had been transported.

"It's over six, I think; let me see; it's two years next month since I
left my quarters at the hulks and started in search of fortune, and at
times a hard one it has been," returned the prisoner.

"I've no doubt of it. Had you but remained faithful and obedient, your
time would have nearly expired, now, I think," continued the inspector,
in a friendly tone; but I could see that he was only leading the
bushranger along for the purpose of extracting information.

"Yes," replied the fellow, bitterly, "my time would have arrived, and I
would have been discharged from the accursed hulks, but not by human
hands. Death would have claimed me long before this; and death would
have been preferable to the life that I led."

"But there were others who were confined with more serious charges
against them than yourself, and yet you know that many of them were
pardoned, or obtained tickets of leave, and are now doing well."

"Yes, because they became slaves to your will, and played the spy upon
those who dared to remonstrate against the food and the treatment which
they received. I was one of their victims, and well I paid for my
independence."

"You did, indeed," muttered the inspector, but Bill did not hear him.

"I went to the hulks determined to serve out my time like a man; but a
few weeks' residence convinced me that, unless I became a slave, and
trembled at the officer's nod, I should be broken in body and spirit.
Then I laid my plans for an insurrection of the convicts, and had I not
trusted to your minion, Ned, you would not have been driving me to
certain death at the present time."

"Well, what would you have done?" asked the inspector, quietly.

"There were eight hundred of us, all desperate men, and reckless of
life. We should have murdered our officers, and then, before an alarm
could have reached the soldiers, we should have attacked their quarters,
and those who would not have joined us must have perished without mercy.
Afterwards we intended to sack Melbourne, collect all the gold that we
could, and seek for asylums upon some of the islands in the broad
Pacific. Such was our programme, and it would not have failed, I am
convinced; but your spies destroyed our hopes, and brought me to
punishment and shame."

The bushranger strode on as though he was at the head of an army, and
his dark features were lighted up at the thought of the carnage which he
and his companions intended to inflict.

"Your plot could not have succeeded," the inspector said, after a
moment's pause, "because every citizen in Melbourne would have armed
himself, and hunted you to the death. But we will not discuss the
subject. You failed in your design, and were punished as you deserved to
be. Were I in the same position that I then held, and should another
attempt be made to revolt, I should recommend, not the lash, but death
to all who were engaged."

"Better death a hundred times, than a hundred lashes," cried the
bushranger, with a fearful oath. "But I have revenged myself for the,
flogging, and for every lash I have made some one pay dear."

"Bah! that is all talk!" cried the inspector, in a careless way; but I
saw that he was trembling with anxiety to learn a correct history of the
prisoner's outrages.

"Is it all talk?" repeated Bill, with a sneer. "It was talk, I suppose,
when we robbed the escort of thirty thousand pounds. It was talk, I
suppose, when we picked off six of the soldiers, and drove the rest,
like frightened curs, from the treasure. It is talk, when I tell you
that we have been in the vicinity of Ballarat for two months past, and
have watched for you night and day, and never got a chance to strike
until to-day. Talk, is it? Well, we have talked to some purpose, and
even if I am a prisoner, I feel satisfied."

"But you could not have spent your share of the plunder," said Mr.
Brown, in a soothing, conciliating tone.

The bushranger stopped, and looked full in the face of the inspector,
and a glow of triumph overspread his face as he answered,--

"I understand your question, but it will not do. When I die, I carry all
knowledge of the place where the dust is buried to the grave, and you
shall never see a grain of it. I have you there, and will enjoy my
triumph."

"But perhaps a disclosure may obtain your pardon; and surely, for your
life you would give up the gold," the inspector said, still maintaining
a cheerful deportment.

"The trick is stale, and will not answer," the ruffian returned, with a
hoarse laugh; "you may load me with chains, and starve me to death, but
I'll never divulge the secret!"

As though he did not wish to converse further upon the subject, the
bushranger turned his back upon us, and maintained a stoical silence
until we reached Ballarat.

"I have overcome more remonstrance than you will offer, my friend," the
inspector muttered, in a low tone; "the gold that you have buried shall
yet be brought to light."

"Were you in earnest in promising a pardon?" I asked of Mr. Brown.

"In promising, yes; in expecting to get it granted, I tell you frankly,
no. We have to resort to many ways to accomplish our ends, and promises
work well; and why should we scruple to use them? The gold that fellow
has buried somewhere near here will help enrich three honest,
men--meaning us--and would it not be a shame to let the fellow die
without divulging?"

"But I supposed that property recovered from bushrangers went to
government, unless the rightful owners claimed it."

"So it does, when the owner can prove that the gold dust belongs to him.
Rather a difficult thing, you will imagine; and to prevent dispute, we
generally take care of it. Depend upon it, that fellow will make a
confession to me, a few days before his execution, and with the hope of
receiving a pardon. After his death, I shall know whether he has lied or
not. If he sticks to the truth, as one would naturally suppose he would,
just before his death, we may calculate upon having done a good day's
work."

We contrasted the inspector's idea of right, and wrong with Murden's,
his brother officer, and found that there was but little difference
between them. Both were determined to make money when it was possible,
and were, sometimes, not overscrupulous in their transactions.

It was the effect of a system which belonged exclusively to Australia,
and the jealousy of a government that did not recognize talent unless
backed by influence. The police were not looked upon as men of character
and trust; and they retaliated by making money as fast as possible, so
that they could leave the force, and enter into business more in
accordance with the feelings of gentlemen.

We hinted to the inspector our opinion, and he frankly acknowledged that
such was the case, but he offered a plea in extenuation.

Mr. Brown had become so interested in his subject that his bodily pains
were forgotten. We should have been willing to have listened to him for
hours, for his remarks showed a good knowledge of the country, and what
it required to make it great and prosperous; but we were close to
Ballarat, and issuing from the town we saw a squad of mounted police,
who quickened their pace when they saw us.

"I will wager an ounce of gold that my men have become alarmed at my
prolonged absence, and are just starting in search of me," said the
inspector.

The surmise was correct, for Mr. Brown had left word that he should be
back by noon, and it was now past three o'clock.

The guard of police looked surprised when they saw their chief, who
certainly appeared somewhat the worse for his trip; but their discipline
was too good to permit them to ask questions, although I could see that
they were anxious to.

"I have met with a slight accident, men," Mr. Brown said, after
exchanging a word with the sergeant of the corps, "and to these two
gentlemen am I indebted for my life. Look at them well, and remember
that they are my friends for life, and if you can ever benefit them in
any way, you are to do it. They are Americans, and strangers in
Ballarat, and must be protected in their business if every other firm is
ruined.

"Jackson," the inspector said, "get a team, and take six men with you,
and proceed immediately to 'Snake Paradise.' In the ravine you will find
two wounded and two dead bushrangers. Bury the latter, and bring the
former to the prison, where their injuries can be attended to. Lose no
time, but start immediately."

The corporal addressed as Jackson stopped only long enough to detail six
men, when he starred towards the town at a brisk gallop, which raised a
cloud of dust that resembled a fog bank.

"Two of you take these fellows to prison and double iron them, and tell
old Warner that he had better look after them sharp, for they are
bushrangers of some notoriety."

"And tell your keeper that I have escaped from more secure jails than
the one in Ballarat, and that Bill Swinton still possesses the pluck of
a man."

"That will do," returned the inspector, dryly, after the bushranger had
finished. "Take him away, and to pay him for that speech, tell Warner to
put a ring around his waist, in addition to the double irons."

"I still hope for the time when I can meet you alone, and when no
interfering Yankees will save you from my vengeance. Bill Swinton is
worth a dozen dead men, and woe--"

The remainder of the man's remarks was lost, for the police hurried him
off with his companion, who appeared to be completely broken in spirit.

"Now, Sam, give this gentleman (pointing to Fred, who had walked nearly
all the distance from the ravine) your horse, for I am mounted on his."

The man relinquished his animal without a word, and we rode towards the
town, followed at a short distance by the squad of policemen. As we
passed along the main thoroughfare of Ballarat, a crowd of people
assembled to greet us, for already the news had circulated extensively
that a large gang of bushrangers had been broken up through our
instrumentality; and the miners were rejoiced at the intelligence, for
they were more interested than any other class of people in freeing the
country of robbers, so that escorts of gold dust could pass to the large
cities without molestation. Under these circumstances the police were
cheered, and that was something that had not occurred since the struggle
between the government and the miners had commenced regarding the mining
tax.

"You see how much we are indebted to you," remarked the inspector, with
a grim smile, as we helped him from his horse upon reaching his
quarters. "To-morrow the knaves would cheer just as lustily if we were
driven from the town. Good by--don't fail to come and see me early
to-morrow morning."

And with these parting words we turned our horses' heads and started for
our store, where we found Rover keeping guard, and every thing safe.
Tired with our day's jaunt, we resisted several pressing invitations to
attend the indignation meeting that was to be holden that evening by the
miners, and went to bed early.




CHAPTER XLIV.

THRASHING A BULLY.


We slept long past, our usual hour for rising, and were awakened by the
violent baying of Rover, and loud shouts of "Kill him! kill him!"

The cries were near our premises, and we lost no time in throwing on our
clothes and seeking to investigate the matter. A crowd of people were
hurrying towards the banks of the river, or rather what was a river in
the wet season, for at the present time there was not water enough in
its bed to quench the thirst of a bird, and we joined them without
delay.

"What is the matter?" I asked of one excited individual, who appeared
more anxious to get in at the death than his companions.

"Darned if I know. I heard the cry of 'Kill him,' and I suppose somebody
has been stealing something. Don't bother me with questions, for I want
to be in at the death."

Another wild shout from the crowd in front hastened our movements, and
Fred and myself threw ourselves into the excited mass, and strove to
gain a place where we could afford some help to the thief, in case the
confusion was occasioned by one. By struggling desperately we managed to
got into the centre of the crowd, and saw that a young man was in the
custody of two miners, and that they were disposed to take summary
vengeance upon the fellow for the alleged crime of stealing their dust,
which they had concealed in their tent. All this was told to us in the
space of a few seconds' time, and meanwhile the air was filled with
cries of "Kill him," "Lynch him," "Hang him," "Let's stone him to
death," &c.

The young fellow was terribly frightened, and was begging for mercy in
the most piteous tones, and appealing to those by whom he was surrounded
to save him, for he was innocent of the crime, and never stole a dollar
in his life. There was something in the lad's face that convinced me
that he spoke the truth, yet we did not like to interfere and get the
wrath of the ruffians turned upon ourselves, and yet we did not care to
stand idly by and witness the ill-treatment of a boy, who seemed unused
to the rough scenes of the mines. Each of his captors had a hand upon
his collar, and even during the excitement I could not help contrasting
the fineness of his skin with the horny, leather-colored skin of his
accusers.

"So help me Heaven, gentlemen, I never stole any thing in my life,"
cried the lad; and his voice was soft, and so different from those by
whom he was surrounded, I was convinced he belonged to some aristocratic
family, and had sliced to Australia in search of fortune, perhaps to
help sustain his sinking house.

"You lie, you young whelp; you know you lie," cried one of the miners,
shaking the boy by the collar so roughly that I was fearful he would
dislocate his bones.

"I do not lie, gentlemen; upon my honor, I do not. Don't choke me so
hard--you hurt me," cried the boy, putting a small hand upon the miner's
rough paws, as though his slight strength was likely to effect any thing
in the way of obtaining a cessation of their cruelty.

"I've had my eye on you for some time," cried one of the men, "and I
knew I should get hold of you at last. What was you doing in our tent
when we woke up this morning? Answer me that, will you?"

Between them both they shook the boy so roughly that he burst into
tears, and was incapable of uttering a word. This, instead of exciting
feelings of compassion in the breasts of the miners, caused them to
shout with sardonic laughter, and mock him by sobbing in imitation. It
was during the latter performance that Fred, followed by myself,
squeezed into the small circle and confronted the two half-civilized
brutes.

"Don't hurt the lad," cried Fred, in a mild tone. "He is nothing but a
boy, and if he did take your dust perhaps he can make some explanation
that will satisfy you."

"Hullo," ejaculated one of the fellows, with a stare, "who in the devil
are you, I should like to know?"

"That is of no consequence, at present," replied Fred, in a tone of
excessive mildness. "The question is regarding this boy. I think there
must be some mistake in your accusations, and if you will give him into
my charge I will make up to you all that he has taken, provided you can
prove that you have lost any thing."

"Hullo, boys, here's a couple of the young thief's pals. Down with 'em
both."

We had expected such a cry, and knew how to meet it. Instead, therefore,
of looking frightened, and attempting to escape from the circle, we
remained perfectly cool and self-possessed, and those who had pressed
forward to lay hands upon us drew back and awaited further developments.

The youngster, who was still retained by the two miners, had, upon our
first interference in his behalf, trembled with hope; but when he heard
the savage cries, his heart seemed to sink within him, and he appeared
as though about to faint.

"You are choking the lad to death," cried Fred. "Don't you see that he
can hardly breathe? Let me take charge of him until the police call for
him."

"Do you suppose that we are fools?" replied one of the men, who was
disposed to be more obstinate than his companions. We knows rogues when
we sees 'em."

"Then it's probable you know your own face when you consult a
looking-glass," Fred said; and the bitter taunt told well with the
crowd, for they roared with laughter, and appeared to be changing their
views regarding the guilt of the lad.

The ruffian looked at us for a moment, as though almost determined to
rush upon us and try his strength in an encounter; but our coolness
confounded him, and he hesitated, and appeared to seek counsel by
looking upon the numerous faces by which he was surrounded.

"You ain't a-going to let a couple of bushrangers abuse honest miners
who pays their taxes, and only axes for what is right, is you?" the
fellow said.

"No, no; you shan't be hurt, Tom," a number of the crowd said, the
epithet of bushranger being sufficient to excite the worst prejudices of
the miners; and we saw that already a number of lowering brows were bent
upon us, and that but a few words were required to cause the whole pack
to yelp in concert.

Tom saw his advantage, and was quick to follow it up with another blow.

"I knows that this little devil [giving his prisoner a shake] is in
league with these fellows, and that they sent him into town for the
purpose of robbing us honest miners, and they intended to wait outside
until he returned. He didn't jine 'em, and now they want to get him out
of our hands so that they can all make their escape. Let's lynch all
three."

"Lynch 'em! Lynch 'em!" were the cries, and the crowd pressed towards us
to carry into effect the words.

Fred's hand involuntarily sought his revolver, but I restrained him.

"No firearms," I whispered; "if we shed a drop of their blood we are
doomed men. Keep cool, and trust to chance."

"Miners of Ballarat, will you hear me?" I shouted, determined to make
one more appeal to them, and then try the virtues of a revolver, for I
did not wish to die unavenged.

"No, no; we've heard enough! Down with the bushrangers!" cried Tom,
yelling with exultation, and the crowd took up the cry and reechoed it.

"I have a proposition to make," cried Fred, and his loud voice was heard
above the tumult, and curiosity outweighed the thirst for vengeance.

"What's the proposition? spit it out!" shouted the crowd; "will you come
down liberal with stolen property?"

There was a general roar of laughter at this sally, and when it had died
away, Fred said,--

"This man [pointing to Tom] says that we are bushrangers, which we deny,
and can prove that we are honest miners, like yourselves. [Sensation.]
We do not propose to bandy words with him, because he is a contemptible
coward, and dare not impose upon any one but a little boy. That is not
characteristic of the miners of Ballarat, for long before we reached
this part of the country, we were told they were foes to tyranny. [Faint
indications of applause.] We tell the man who called us bushrangers that
he is a liar, and that we require satisfaction, or an abject apology
from him for the insult."

There were cries and yells of--

"That's right--go in, old fellow--a ring, a ring--let 'em fight--he's a
brick, ain't he?" &c.

Tom turned slightly pale, and seemed confused with the way that the
affair was likely to work. The crowd saw it, and were the more strenuous
for the acceptance of Fred's proposition.

"You see, gentlemen," my friend exclaimed, "the man who calls himself a
miner of Ballarat is nothing but a coward. He never worked in a shaft,
or dug an ounce of gold in his life. He is nothing but a 'packer,' and
dare not face a man; but can beat boys and natives, because he knows
they cannot resist him."

"Let him fight, or we'll lynch him," yelled the crowd; and thousands,
who a few minutes before were ready to crush us beneath their feet,
suddenly arrayed themselves on our side, and pressed towards the miner
with scornful looks.

"I'll fight the feller," Tom said, after a few minutes' silence, "but it
shall be in the old English style, stand up and knock down. I'll have no
pistols, 'cos I never used 'em, and don't think I could hit a man, any
how."

"A fight, a fight! form a ring!" and the proposition for a combat _a la
fistiana_ was received with joy by every Englishman present.

"O, don't, sir," exclaimed the youth who had been the cause of the
trouble; "don't expose yourself on my account."

"Don't be alarmed," returned Fred; "I'd fight a dozen men, sooner than
one hair of your head should be touched."

"Remember," Fred continued, turning to the crowd, "that if I come off
best in the fight, the boy goes with me."

"Yes, yes, we understand the conditions of the fight. Form a ring; stand
back there;" and the crowd shouted, and swayed to and fro, and during
the tumult we saw a sturdy fellow struggling towards us, as though to
get a front view. The man, whose face I thought I had seen before, was
not deterred by slight obstacles, and by dint of using his elbows
vigorously, and treading on his neighbors' corns, he soon got within a
few feet of us.

"And it's sitting him a-fighting, is it, ye spalpeens?" cried the
fellow, with a Hibernian accent that was not to be mistaken; and he
looked around the crowd, as though he wished some one would pick a
quarrel with him, for the sake of variety.

"And it's bushrangers ye think they is, do ye?" the Irishman continued,
scornfully; "do ye think ye would know a thafe if ye seed one? Can't ye
tell a rale gintleman from a snaking blackguard?"

"What is the matter, Pat?" the miners asked, good-naturedly, most of
those present appearing to know our new defender.

"Matter, is it?" he repeated, scornfully; "I tells ye that if a hair of
these two gintlemen's is hurted, I'll lick the whole of ye, blackguards
that ye is."

A roar of laughter followed this speech, which excited the Irishman's
indignation to its fullest extent.

"Ye laugh, do ye? It's little ye would laugh if ye saw these two
gintlemen dressing the cuts and sores of poor miners who had divil a
ha'penny to pay the doctor with. It's little ye would laugh if ye had
seed this gintleman standing up and having a crack at old Pete Burley,
the bully of Ballarat; and by me faith, he brought him down in less time
than ye can descend a shaft with the crank broken."

The allusion to the expeditious manner in which miners sometimes went
down a shaft, much against their will, and at a great loss to their
personal dignity, was received with rounds of laughter.

"You know those men, then?" cried a fellow who had been remarkably
officious during the disturbance.

"Men, are they?" cried our indignant champion, and he raised one of his
huge fists and dropped it with full force upon the head of the speaker,
and down he went, as though shot.

"Call them gintlemen, hereafter, or by the powers, I _strike_ ye, the
next time I _hit_ ye."

There was another good-natured laugh at the expense of the fallen man,
and at the Irishman's wit.

"Are these the two Americans who have recently arrived, and who were
concerned in that duel with Burley?"

"Of coorse they is; and haven't they been giving a number of us poor
divils medicine and good advice? O, by the powers, let me say the man
that wants to hurt 'em, that's all!"

This announcement completely changed the feelings of the crowd, and the
miners pressed forward, shook our hands in the most friendly manner, and
we supposed that our trouble was over: but Tom was not disposed to give
up his prisoner in that manner, and perhaps he was the more strongly
inclined for a battle, because Fred's weight was much less than his own,
and therefore he imagined that he would have things his own way at a
game of fisticuffs.

"I am glad that the stranger is not a bushranger," Tom said, "but he
must not expect to make laws for us poor miners. When we have dust
stolen from us, we have a right to deal with the thief, and I shall
claim my privilege." "That is only just," murmured the miners.

"I have already offered to pay you for all that the boy has stolen,"
Fred said, "but if that does not suit you, deliver him up to the police,
and let him have an examination."

"I shan't do any thing of the kind. I caught him in my tent stealing
gold dust, and I shall deal with him in the regular way; I shall give
him two dozen lashes across his back, and then let him run."

"Mercy! mercy!" screamed the lad, clasping his hands imploringly, and
endeavoring to throw himself at the feet of his captors. "Do not beat
me, for Heaven's sake, for I am a--"

The rest of the boy's remarks were lost in the confusion which his
outburst of grief occasioned, yet no one seemed disposed to interfere
with the regular course of things, as the miner had custom to sustain
him in his conduct.

"I'll stand by my bargain," the brute said, with a grim smile; "if the
gentleman wants you, he can have you on the terms that he offered--a
regular Englishman's battle, and fair play to all."

"Your proposition is accepted," cried Fred, turning to Tom, who did not
receive the notice with that alacrity which we expected.

Fred threw off his jacket, and that was the signal for the formation of
a ring some thirty feet wide in the centre; but the desperate struggles
which were made to get within sight and hearing prevented the space from
being very regular, and the ring from being very round.

The miner leisurely stripped off his superfluous clothing, and his form
was large enough to strike terror into the hearts of those who had not
made the art of self-defence a study for years, as I well knew that Fred
had. The man's arms were brawny and muscular, and longer than Fred's,
and when the two men took their positions, I confess that I had some
fear for the safety of my friend. But if I looked fearful Fred did not,
and no one could have traced upon his face the least emotion or sign of
dismay.

But with all the ruffian's physical force, he looked far from confident,
and I have no doubt that if he had possessed a sufficient excuse, he
would have quitted the ring, and acknowledged the defeat without a
struggle.

The Irishman and myself were Fred's seconds, and the miner who helped
Tom hold the boy was obliged to relinquish his prize, and assist his
friend, no one else volunteering.

For a few minutes after the men were placed, each stood upon the
defensive, and waited for hostilities. It was no part of Fred's plan to
begin the battle, as he wanted to discover whether Tom possessed
science, as well as vast strength; and he was not in this respect kept
long in suspense, for the miner advanced towards him, swinging his long
arms and huge fists in the most ridiculous manner, and which caused the
Irishman to shout,--

"Make way for the windmill, there."

A roar of laughter greeted the Irishman's sally, which caused Tom some
confusion, and before he could recover from his bewilderment, Fred had
sprang within his reach, and dealt him a blow that sent him reeling to
the extremity of the ring, where he fell heavily upon the ground.

"The windmill goes stern fust, and no mistake. Holy St. Patrick! but
isn't he groggy?"

The slang term groggy was well understood by those present, and when Tom
gained his feet, he was saluted with another roar of laughter, that made
him foam with rage.

He rushed towards Fred like a mad bull, and had he caught him in his
arms, Fred would have fared none too well, for a time. But my friend
darted one side, and as his adversary rushed past, he delivered another
blow in the vicinity of the man's right ear, that stopped his headlong
career, and he dropped to mother earth once more, baffled, bewildered,
and discouraged.

"Hullo! Fighting here?" shouted a voice, and half-a-dozen policemen
rushed into the ring, and pounced upon Fred and Tom before a third blow
could be struck.

The assembled miners did not dare to interfere, for fear their licenses
would be forfeited by the government commissioner. Therefore no
murmuring was heard.

"Prize fighting, hey?" cried the sergeant of the force. "Away with them
to the prison."

"Had you not better investigate first, Mr. Sergeant," I said, touching
his arm.

He looked me full in the face, and I recognized the man as one whom we
had met the day before, upon our return from Snakes' Paradise. His bold,
confident air instantly deserted him, and he was as civil as I could
desire.

"O, I beg your pardon, sir--I did not see you before," he said, touching
his cap, with a military salute. "What can I do to serve you, sir?"

"You have my friend in custody. Of course, you recollect all the
instructions of the inspector."

"To be sure I do, sir. I think that there must be some mistake here, and
will instantly set him at liberty; but the miner who has dared to strike
him shall be punished."

"That is unnecessary, as he has already been handled rather roughly," I
said; and in a few words I explained to the policemen the origin of the
affair.

"Ah, yes, I see, you were quite right in what you have done, and I
regret that I didn't arrive on the ground before, to have saved you this
annoyance. Release that gentleman," the sergeant said, turning to his
men. "He is a friend of the inspector's."

The men obeyed without a word in opposition, and the crowd took courage
at the sight, and attempted a feeble applause.

"As for you, sir," the sergeant said, turning to the miner, who appeared
to be completely cowed by the array of force against him, and who
expected nothing less than a sentence of thirty days' hard work on the
roads for the part that he had taken in the fight, "you may thank these
gentlemen for their forbearance in not urging your punishment, which you
certainly deserve. Give the boy in charge of the gentlemen, and, mark
me, I shall have an eye on your future habits."

The poor lad, half crazed with delight, shed tears at his deliverance,
and declared that he would serve us to the best of his ability; while
the fellows who had used him so harshly sneaked to their tents without
uttering a word concerning their reputed robbery.

We thanked the sergeant for his interference, and with the lad walked to
our store--but after we were clear of the crowd the boy appeared to be
in a reflective mood, and scarcely exchanged a dozen words with us; and
even when we told him that he should live with us for the present, and
share our hard beds, his gratitude did not appear to be overpowering,
and he hung his head as though he was not worthy of so much attention.



CHAPTER XLV.

A YOUNG GIRL'S ADVENTURES IN SEARCH OF HER LOVER.


We speedily prepared a good breakfast, and invited our _protege_ to
satisfy his appetite, for he looked hungry and appeared hungry; but to
our surprise he manifested some reluctance to eating before us, and not
all of our rallying could overcome his diffidence.

"Come, come, take hold and eat heartily," I said, "and don't appear like
a young girl in the presence of her beau. Your modesty is all thrown
away in the mines of Australia."

"You know me, then?" he asked, in a sad tone, and his head was bent low
to hide his blushes, which covered his face like a thick coating of
rouge.

"Know you? not we; but that is what we are anxious about, and after
breakfast you must tell us what freak drove you to this country, and how
it happened that you were in Tom's tent at such an early hour in the
morning."

"I was weary," he said, making a desperate effort to appear at his ease,
"and having no money, I thought that I would rest myself where I should
not be called upon to pay for lodgings. When I first went there the tent
was unoccupied; but when I awoke, I found that the men had returned
while I was asleep, and then they accused me of stealing their gold
dust, and would have beaten me had you not interfered."

"I have no doubt of that, my lad," I answered, "and I see that they used
you rather roughly, at any rate. One, of the brutes has knocked off a
piece of skin from your neck."

"You had better have a little salve rubbed upon your bruises, for wounds
in this country have to be attended to without delay," Fred said.

I went to my trunk and got all the healing ointment that we possessed,
and offered it for his use--but he firmly declined, and declared that he
did not suffer from the effect of his bruises, and that they would soon
be well. I turned away disappointed, and inclined to be angry, which the
young fellow saw in a moment.

"Don't be cross with me," he said, in such a soft, pleading tone, and he
looked into my face with his gentle eyes so full of tears, that all my
resentment was banished in a moment. "I will work for you as hard as my
strength will allow, but please don't be cross," the boy repeated; "I am
very grateful for what you have done for me, and know that I shall never
be able to repay you; but don't be cross, will you?"

"No, no; we will never use a cross word to you," Fred said, laying his
hand upon the boy's head and patting his check, both of which actions
seemed to cause the young fellow excessive alarm. "You may stay here in
the store as long as you please, and we will pay you for your labor.
When you wish to go, say so, and we will part company without any
ill-feeling."

The boy seemed grateful for our kindness, but he did not express it in
words; and while he and Fred were talking I rummaged my trunk, and found
a number of articles of clothing that were suitable for him, and in
which he stood in great need, his garments being somewhat the worse for
wear.

"Strip off your stockings and shirt, and put these on," I said, handing
him a new pair of socks, and a calico shirt too small for me, but which
I thought would answer his purpose.

Again did the tell-tale blood mount in the young fellow's face, and he
looked embarrassed and perplexed.

"I would rather not," he said, after a moment's pause, and I saw that he
was trembling violently.

"Nonsense--off with your shoes at once," and Fred stooped down to assist
him, and in spite of his resistance tore off his ragged stockings, and
was about to replace them with mine, when the boy began to cry again.

We looked at his grieved face, suffused with blushes, and then we looked
at the naked foot and ankle, and immediately arrived at our conclusions;
and, strange to say, they were of wonderful unanimity. We thought the
exposed limb was too white to belong to our own sex, and as our eyes met
we exclaimed,--

"The devil! A woman!"

"Who would have thought it?" cried Fred, with wonder depicted upon his
face.

"Don't cry," I said, addressing the girl in as mild a tone as I could
assume; but to my astonishment, the little thing only cried the harder.

"You are a smart man to talk to women," Fred exclaimed, pettishly. "That
voice of yours is enough to frighten a female into convulsions, and your
face is not very prepossessing as I suppose you are aware. This is the
way you should go to work."

To my surprise, the impudent puppy seated himself by the side of the
girl, took one of her unresisting hands in his own, and began to talk to
her in such a soothing manner that her tears were dried up, as if by
magic; and she actually smiled when he told her how comfortable she
could be in a little bedroom which, he promised to fit up for her
exclusive accommodation, and where no one would intrude upon her moments
of privacy.

"Jack," said Fred, suddenly jumping up and laying his hand on my arm,
"we must protect this poor girl to the best of our ability."

"I suppose that we must," I returned, with great philosophy.

"She is an innocent little thing," my friend added, in a musing tone.

"Is she?" I asked; "pray, how do you happen to know?"

"O, because she is constantly blushing and crying," Fred answered,
boldly.

"Is that the only method by which you judge?" I asked, quite lost in
admiration at his perceptible powers.

"Of course it is--innocence always blushes."

Let ladies take note that in the estimate of some men a blush is
regarded with more veneration than a hundred protestations of purity.
Where my friend obtained his knowledge of women I am unable to say, for
he was never married, although many times in love.

"What is she doing here at the mines?" I inquired.

"That I have not found out as yet, but I will interrogate her on the
subject," replied Fred, with much confidence.

He began his examination in such a delicate manner that the girl grew
more and more communicative, and revealed her history, which was not a
common one.

Her name was Mary Ann Purcel, and she was the daughter of a respectable
cordwainer of London. Her father, as usual with men of his kind of
business, had taken an apprentice to learn his profession, but it seems
that the young fellow had studied the beauty of the girl more than his
duties, which gave greater satisfaction to the lady than the parent, and
a quarrel ensued; and Robert Herrets' (the name of the apprentice)
indentures were broken or given up, and the young fellow was told that
he had better seek his fortune in some other quarter of the globe, or at
least attempt some other business besides that of being a cordwainer.

The lover did not relish the summary manner that his claims were
disposed of, and so intimated; but he was ridiculed for seeking to ally
himself with a man who could afford to give his daughter five hundred
pounds on her wedding day, and yet keep up his business.

Robert, like all lovers, did not despair of yet claiming the girl as his
wife, and to Mary he made known his plans. She was to remain single for
three years, and to await his orders, while he tried to push his fortune
in the mines of Australia; for they had just been opened to the world,
and thousands wore leaving the shores of England to suffer hardships,
privations, and perhaps death, to collect a portion of the dross. The
girl readily consented to any terms that he offered, and with tearful
eyes kissed her lover, and wished him God speed on his long journey of
thousands of miles across the salt ocean.

He arrived at Melbourne safe and well; and to convince us that, her
story was true she pulled from her bosom half a dozen letters written by
Robert after he had reached the island. In his first he told her of his
stormy passage, and the bad food that he had been compelled to eat to
save himself from starvation; but he was confident and hopeful, and told
her to remember her promise of being his wife, and that if he should
succeed in making money he would send for her, and that they could he
married the day of her arrival. The next letter was dated at Ballarat,
where the lover had proceeded as soon as possible, and where he was hard
at work sinking a shaft, with great hope of taking out gold by the
pound.

The third letter was still more encouraging, for he had cleared in
three months three hundred pounds above his expenses, and yet he wrote
that he had not reached the richest part of the earth which he was
mining. The fourth letter was an urgent appeal for the lady to come to
him without delay, and he would send a draft to pay her expenses.

At this stage of the correspondence the father of the lady died, and
upon an investigation of his affairs it was found that he was insolvent
long before his death. Creditors seized upon every thing, and the matter
preyed upon the mother in such a manner that she, too, died within two
months after her husband. The poor girl was nearly distracted with
grief, and for a long time knew not which way to turn, or whom to
confide in; and during all her troubles another letter from Australia
reached her, upbraiding her for her infidelity, because she had not
written as often as Robert had desired, and because she had not joined
him. The poor girl hesitated no longer. Only a portion of the money
which she had received from the draft was left; but with this she paid
for a steerage passage to Melbourne, arrived there safe, and with barely
sufficient funds to pay her board for a week. She made a number of
inquiries for Robert, but received slight attention at the hands of
those whom she interrogated, for at Melbourne steerage passengers are
not looked upon with that degree of reverence and respect vouchsafed to
those who arrive at our seaports. Besides, there are too many women sent
from the old country, for various misdemeanors, to inspire the
Australians with much confidence that the stories which are told are all
true.

After submitting to numerous insults, for the girl's face was handsome,
and her form was good, (who ever heard of a girl with a very plain face
being insulted?) and after shedding more tears than a man's neck is
worth, the poor thing, to escape persecution and insult, resolved to
disguise herself in boy's clothes, cut off her long hair, and then make
the best of her way to Ballarat, and see if she could not find the man
who had cost her so many hardships. She carried her design into effect,
and then spent the last piece of coin that she possessed to pay her
passage to Ballarat.

Undiscovered, unsuspected, the girl entered Ballarat at a late hour in
the night, and was then told to seek for lodgings wherever she pleased;
and, half-dead with fatigue, she strayed about the town, not daring to
ask a question of the fierce-looking men whom she chanced to meet
reeling towards their tents after a drinking bout at one of the numerous
saloons with which Ballarat was cursed.

At length she became so completely exhausted that she could no longer
stand, and thinking that a tent which she saw was unoccupied, she
entered it and lay down in one corner. Sleep speedily made her forget
all of her miseries, and when she awoke she was arrested by the two
miners, who had staggered home drunk during the night, and thrown
themselves upon their beds not knowing that she was present.

While the ruffians were discussing what, punishment should be meted out
to her, the girl eluded their vigilance and fled, not knowing or caring
where her footsteps led her, as long as she escaped from their horrid
threats and obscene jests. The miners pursued with fierce oaths and
bitter imprecations, and the road, luckily for Mary, led near our door,
and as hundreds joined in pursuit, and all raised the yells which had
awakened us, we were enabled to go to her rescue, and perhaps saved her
from a life or death of shame.

Such was the poor girl's story, told with a simplicity that carried
conviction to our hearts, and strengthened our resolution to protect and
serve her to the extent of our ability.

"You will have to remain with us for a few days," Fred said, after Mary
had concluded her history, "and during that time we think that it is far
better you should maintain your incognito, and appear as you seem--a
boy."

"I have a trunk containing female apparel on the cart that brought me
here," she said; as though she had much rather be dressed in the
habiliments of her own sex.

"There are numerous reasons why you should maintain your present attire,
but I will not wound your delicacy by repeating them," Fred said. "The
people of Ballarat are censorious, and we must give them no groundwork
for remarks," he continued.

The girl hung her head, but seemed to appreciate the advice and delicacy
of Fred. She made no response.

"If the person you are in search of--Mr. Robert Herrets--is to be found
in the mines of Ballarat, you shall see him before this time to-morrow;
and even after he has joined you, I should recommend that you impose
upon the good miners here, and not let them think that the person we
have rescued and the newly-made bride is one and the same person."

The girl looked into Fred's face with an earnest gaze, as though she
would rather have heard some one else mention the idea of marriage, but
my friend did not appear to notice it.

"He will, of course, be rejoiced to meet you, and will sympathize with
you in your troubles; and after your union you will forget your new
friends."

If Fred had but seen the expressive look that the girl gave him, and
then noted the painful thoughts that appeared to have crossed her mind,
he would not have continued in that strain.

"I can readily imagine the joy that Mr. Herrets will feel when he knows
that, for the purpose of becoming his wife, you have braved the dangers
of the ocean, and struggled nobly against a thousand obstacles, and
overcome them all. He will appreciate your love the more, or he will not
be human."

She appeared to listen without the power of speech. I suspected the
cause of her emotion, but did not dare to hint to Fred my suspicions. I
wondered how it would end, and trembled for the fate of the girl if she
should continue to nourish the passion that I saw she entertained for my
friend. It was marvellous, and almost beyond belief. She had known Fred
but a few hours, and yet already was she inspired with a feeling of love
for the man, that threatened to annihilate all traces of her passion for
the apprentice. I hardly believed it possible, and yet I knew that I
could not be mistaken. Fred seemed blind not to perceive it.

"We will go to the police office, and request that diligent search be
made for Mr. Herrets," Fred said, and he motioned to go; but the girl
murmured something in a low tone, and he stopped. "You made some
request?" he asked.

"I only said that--that perhaps--you were tired, and therefore had--had
better rest--before proceeding to the--police."

She tried to look indifferent, but the effort was a failure.

"O, bless your heart, not at all," answered Fred, cheerily; "we will go
at once, and you can read a few books that we own until we come back.
Rover will take care of you."

The hound stretched himself in the doorway, and showed his teeth as
though he understood the order, and was prepared to obey without
demurring.

I saw a slight frown gather upon the brow of the girl, and I read her
thoughts in a moment. She was asking herself if she would not have
possessed more power had she been dressed in female apparel and had
never sacrificed her hair. She passed her hand over her short locks two
or three times, and a sigh escaped her at the ravage which the scissors
had effected.

"Let us go," I said; and I urged my friend from a sight more dangerous
to him than a thousand pyramids of black snakes, and yet he was
unconscious of fear.

We directed our steps towards the residence of Mr. Brown, the inspector,
and were readily admitted to his presence. He was stretched upon his
bed, but was slowly recovering from the effect of his bruises, and was
quite cheerful over his bodily injuries.

He extended such a welcome to us as gratified our pride, yet did not
make us feel as though we were overpraised. We soon laid our business
before him, and he ordered a book containing a list of the tax-paying
miners of Ballarat to be brought, and which he consulted, for a few
minutes, in silence.

"There is no such name as Robert Herrets in the book, but there is a
Robert Henrets, and that may be the person you are in pursuit of. I will
ask if any of my men know the latter."

He touched a bell, and the policeman who was on duty at the door
entered.

"James," inquired the inspector, "do you know a miner here named Robert
Henrets?"

"Yes, sir; young fellow--sandy hair--blue eyes--scar over the left
one--saves his money--is doing well--never heard that he was a
suspicious character," answered the officer, promptly.

"Pshaw!" returned Mr. Brown, pettishly; "you think that every person I
ask about is a rogue; you are mistaken. Show these gentlemen to the
shaft that Henrets is sinking, or the mine that he is working, and
attend to their orders."

"Yes, sir; I know where he is; works the old 'Dugget mine;' smart
lad--makes money--pays his tax regular, and never growls 'cos he has
to."

"Then he is the only one at the mines," returned the inspector, good
humoredly, and we took our leave, fearful that he would begin a long
discussion on the merits and rights of taxation.

We had to walk about a mile before we reached the "Dugget mine," but our
tramp was beguiled in listening to the peculiar conversation of our
guide, who jerked out his sentences and words as though he was firing
them at a whole regiment of refractory miners, and wished to make as
short work as possible with them.

"You have been at the mines some time," I said, drawing the man into
conversation.

"Ever since they were opened--one of the first police officers
here--hard times for grub, then, let me tell you; used to eat leather,
or any thing soft; horses all died for the want of water; gold
plenty--miners died with overwork--few people here, then--civil--treated
the police well, and made us presents. Used to dig myself,
sometimes--didn't like it, though--hard work, very--by and by a lot of
d----d furreners came here--got drunk and made rows--used to fire
pistols at us when we arrested 'em--got hit once, but didn't hurt me
much--the fellow gave me ten pounds to settle the matter--he was a
Yankee, I think--had a revolver, and used to be desperate when he got
drunk--thank God, he died one day, and I saw him buried."

Although the subject was a grave one, we could not refrain from laughing
at his summary method of disposing of a sailor who used to be known at
Ballarat as "Yankee Jim," and who was a terror to all police officers
when he was drunk. He was represented as being as strong as half a dozen
ordinary men, of the courage of a lion, and perfectly reckless when
under the influence of liquor. Even his boon companions were often
obliged to flee for their lives when one of his cross fits came on him:
and if he was thwarted in the most trifling particular, his rage was
unbounded. He would bite glass and chew it with his teeth, lacerating
his gums in a dreadful manner; and it was at one time reported that
"Yankee Jim" used to diet on tumblers whenever he felt disposed to grow
fleshy.

The fellow was in the United States navy for many years, and ran away
from a ship of war that was lying at Sydney when the gold mines were
first discovered. The dissipated course that he pursued soon terminated
his life, and he died, after a residence of only three months at
Ballarat, with delirium tremens.

There were numerous stories told of the sailor, and I was at some pains
to investigate the man's history; but beyond that he was called "Yankee
Jim," and claimed Cape Cod as his birthplace, found but little to repay
me for my trouble; and perhaps a mother is now anxiously expecting a
son, whose bones have long since mouldered at Ballarat.




CHAPTER XLVI.

A MARRIAGE, AND AN ELOPEMENT.


In a few minutes we reached the mine. As there was no one in sight, the
policeman concluded to give the signal at the entrance of the shaft that
the owner was wanted, and as the mine was not very deep, we were not
kept waiting any length of time for his appearance. The tackle for
lowering and raising the miners was worked, and first the head and then
the body of a man appeared in view.

"Here's two gentlemen--they want to see you, Mr. Henrets," the officer
said.

"My name is Herrets," the miner said, "and why you will persist in
calling me Henrets is beyond my comprehension."

"One name is as good as the other--what is the difference?--both begin
with H and end with s."

We found that the officer's description of the man answered very well.
His hair was sandy, his eyes were blue, and his skin was very fair and
beardless. He was about five feet six inches, and not very stout.

Dressed as he was, in mining clothes, stained with many a stratum of
earth, we could form but a poor opinion of his good looks, even had we
been disposed to estimate his beauty before his understanding.

"What can I do for you?" he asked, addressing Fred and myself, in a tone
that was intended to be excessively conciliatory.

"Before we answer that question we must ask one," Fred replied. "Were
you ever an apprentice to a cordwainer in London?"

The man's face flushed scarlet, and he seemed extremely agitated at the
question--but at length he replied,--

"I was an apprentice to a cordwainer, but my indentures were given up
before I left England, sir."

"And your master had an only daughter, whose hand you demanded in
marriage," Fred continued.

"Yes, but I meant nothing wrong; upon my word, gents, I didn't," he
exclaimed, hastily, evidently considering Fred and myself in some way
connected with the law, as we were under the guidance of a police
officer.

"That remains to be seen," returned Fred, in a mysterious manner,
evidently taking some delight in frightening the simple-minded young man
all he could.

"O, I can tell you all about it," Herrets exclaimed with eagerness.

"That is unnecessary," Fred replied. "We know all, or nearly all; but
what we wish to discover is, why you did not join the lady at Melbourne,
as you promised in your letter?"

"Join the lady at Melbourne?" the young fellow repeated, hardly knowing
what to say; "why, I wrote to her that if she would come to Australia I
would pay her expenses, and marry her, besides. That was fair, wasn't
it? But she didn't write me that she would come; so of course I thought
that my hundred pounds were a dead loss, and that the girl had got
another feller, which I don't call exactly fair; do you?"

We did not commit ourselves by any opinion, as we did not know but that
some day it would be brought against us.

We formed an opinion, however, respecting the mental capacity of the
youth, for whose sake the poor girl had wandered so many miles; and I no
longer wondered that she saw a difference between her lover and Fred.

"Then you received no letter from Miss Purcel, announcing that she would
sail on such a day, and requesting you to be on the lookout for her?"
asked Fred.

"Of course I didn't," responded the young man, with commendable
eagerness. "That is just what I am finding fault with."

"Then you will be rejoiced to learn that, after great suffering and
privation, Miss Purcel has arrived, and is in Ballarat," Fred said.

The news almost deprived him of the power of articulation, and for a
moment I thought that he would faint, but he didn't. He was too eager to
see her, and welcome her to her new home.

"Where is she?" he asked.

"Not far distant," Fred answered.

"Take me to her without delay," he cried; "I shall die with joy."

"Softly," replied Fred; "there are some things to be explained before we
comply with your request;" and briefly he went over the girl's
narrative, as told by herself, until he gave an account of her narrow
escape from the hands of the miners who suspected her of stealing their
dust.

The lover moaned piteously as he heard the hardships that his mistress
had suffered; and after we had persuaded him to change his clothes and
remove the stains from his skin, we let him accompany us on our return
to the store.

"You must promise us one thing," I said, as we walked along, hardly able
to keep up with the lover's impetuous strides, "that you will be married
this very day."

I stole a look at Fred's face, but he appeared to approve of the plan,
and I could see no traces of disappointment.

If the girl is not obdurate, I thought, I shall save Fred many unhappy
days.

"O, I'm willing to agree to that," replied the lover, with a chuckle.

"You have the mean's to support a wife?" I asked.

"I've got money enough to support her after we are married. I've waited
too long for her arrival to waste time with silly delays," he answered,
earnestly.

"And you love her well enough to overlook all of her faults, if she has
any, and to be a kind, affectionate husband?" asked Fred.

"Of course I do," ejaculated Herrets. "I ain't a particular man, by any
means; and if she will only look out for my tent while I am absent, and
have my dinner ready when I get home, we shall get along as happy as
pigs."

I saw that Fred gave the man a look of intense disgust, and perhaps he
also thought what chance of happiness a girl would have with a man who
compared his matrimonial life with a pigsty.

"Your intended wife," I said, "has been well educated, and never known
hardships or misery until she reached this country and you must
carefully consider that she requires the society of her own sex to pass
her time pleasantly so far from the land of her birth. You say that you
have money enough to support her; then take my advice, and remove to
Melbourne or Sydney, and enter into business, and where you can form new
associations. The mines of Ballarat are no place for a young wife."

"O, I shall be company enough for her," he answered, carelessly, and
with an air that plainly betokened that he considered I was meddling
with things that did not concern me.

"You fool," I muttered, "stay here and you will be wifeless in less than
a month. The girl will never be contented with such affection as you are
disposed to give."

Not another word was spoken until we reached the store, and ushered Mr.
Herrets into the room where the girl was seated. The latter looked up,
smiled, but did not appear very enthusiastic or particularly overjoyed.

"Hullo, Molly," cried the lover, roughly, rushing frantically towards
her, and throwing his arms around her neck; and in spite of a slight
struggle, he succeeded in imprinting half a dozen kisses upon her cheeks
and lips.

We noted that the interview was too interesting for us to witness, and
we retired and left them together.

"Poor girl," muttered Fred, with a sigh; "what chance for happiness does
she possess with a man whose education has been neglected, and whose
manners have been blunted by a lengthy residence in the mines?"

"He is better than he appears," I replied, "and I have no doubt that
they will soon understand each other's ways, and get along quite
happily. We have no right to interfere."

"I think that we have. She is a _protegee_ of ours, and as such it is
our duty to see lest she comes to harm. I think that I shall object to
this marriage."

Confound it. I feared as much all the time, but I was not disposed to
relinquish all hope of getting Fred from committing himself to such a
course. I know that if my friend but gave the least encouragement to the
girl she would repudiate her lover, and then I could readily foresee
what would follow. Clergymen were not abundant at Ballarat, and Fred, I
knew, had no thought of marriage.

I reasoned with Fred for a long time, and told him (God forgive me for
the lie) that great affection existed between the parties, and that they
were not disposed to show it before us, as we were comparatively
strangers, and had no right to judge of their hearts or their heads; and
at last I so worked on the mind of my friend that he readily accompanied
me to the police office, where we were directed to a clergyman's, and
with the reverend gentleman returned to the store, where our appearance
created some surprise in the heart, at least, of one of the parties.

We insisted upon the girl's changing her clothes--the trunk which she
spoke of having been found and taken to our place of business; and while
she was doing so behind a screen of sail-cloth, we commenced making
preparations for the wedding.

Mary presented an entirely different aspect when she appeared, dressed
in her well-fitting garments; and although her face and hands were
sunburned, and her manners were embarrassed, we did not fail to
compliment her on her beauty, and to congratulate her on her near
approaching nuptials.

"Let me speak with you for a moment," she said, turning to Fred just
before the knot was tied.

Fred stepped a few paces from the group, and waited to hear her
commands.

"When I made a promise to that man," she said, pointing to her lover, "I
thought that I loved him. I was much younger than I am now, and knew but
little of the world. Even when I reached these shores, I thought that my
heart was entirely possessed by Mr. Herrets, and perhaps I should have
continued to think so had not accident revealed to me what real love
is."

Fred looked astonished and remained silent. He did not suspect the state
of her heart.

"It would be unmaidenly," she continued, with a slight air of vexation
to think that Fred remained cool, "for me to speak plainer, and if you
cannot solve my meaning I must remain silent."

"I don't think that I understand you distinctly," my friend said, his
face slightly flushing under a suspicion of her meaning.

"Do you wish to comprehend me?" she said, and her face was cast down
while she asked the question.

Fred hesitated for a moment, and only for a moment. He glanced towards
me and saw that I was watching the struggle that was going on in his
mind, and his decision was instantly formed.

"We must not pursue this subject further," he said. "Believe me, it is
better that we should not; for the sake of Mr. Herrets, and your own
sake, do not ask me more questions."

"One word," she cried, hurriedly, as Fred turned away, and it seemed as
though she could no longer control her emotion; "do you wish me to marry
that man?" she demanded, with an earnestness that showed how much she
had at stake.

"I do," he answered; and without waiting for another question he joined
us.

The girl turned deadly pale, and for a few seconds was silent; but she
rallied at length, and signified that she was ready to vow to love and
cherish a man that I knew she had already commenced hating in her heart,
and looked upon as the author of her misery. The clergyman, who was
impatient to get his dinner, soon united the parties, and we saluted the
bride.

"Let me go," she exclaimed, as her husband folded her in his rough
embrace and covered her face with kisses. "Let me go, for I stifle in
this place."

"Take your wife home," I said, "and be a kind husband to her. She will
need all your care and attention."

They left the store, and I breathed a sigh of gratitude at the result.
Fred's face, however, looked black and threatening, as though he was not
entirely satisfied with his course.

"We have played a mean part in that marriage," he said, at length, "and
I don't feel that I have acted justly. The girl detests her husband, and
you know it."

"Of course I do," I replied, with great nonchalance; "but that is
something she will outgrow in a few days, and if she does not he alone
is to blame."

"I am not so sure of that," he replied, gloomily.

"Neither am I, but it will not affect your position or mine. We have
done the best that we could, under the circumstances, to keep her
honest, and I will ask you, in all candor, if she would have been
virtuous ten days from hence had she lived under this roof?"

He did not answer me, but lighted his pipe and puffed away in silence.

"The girl liked you," I continued, "and you at length discovered it. She
is not a suitable wife for you, and I think too highly of your honor to
suppose that you would blast her prospects for life and make her your
mistress. Your residence here is short, and when you felt disposed to
return home, would you desire to present the girl to your friends as a
specimen of Australian beauty? Come, Fred, consider all things, and
remember that you cannot accuse yourself of her ruin, even if she is not
disposed to remain with her husband."

"You are right," he said; "passion blinded me for a moment, but now I
can see that, your advice is good. Let us talk no more on the subject,
but hope for her happiness."

But we did talk on the subject frequently and earnestly; and as Mary's
career was much as I supposed that it would be, I will follow it and
give the reader the sequel.

Mr. Herrets removed his wife to his tent, and after the first week of
his marriage paid but little attention to her comfort or her wants. A
coldness soon sprang up between them, and then bitter quarrels ensued.
The husband, while grasping for gold in the bowels of the earth, little
thought that his neighbor was paying court to his wife, and that she
received those attentions with eagerness. Women in Ballarat commanded a
premium, for there were but few, and those principally of the lowest
class. A few of the highest officers under government had their wives
with them, but the husbands guarded them with more than Oriental
jealousy, and it was a rare sight to see them in the street or at
windows. There was little cause for wonder, then, that a man, whose good
looks were a passport, should have ingratiated himself into the
affections of Mrs. Herrets, and that one day they should leave Ballarat
in company. We were in the store one afternoon, about a month after the
marriage, when Mr. Herrets rushed in.

"Is she here?" he demanded, his face looking like a demon's.

"Who here?" I asked, calmly, although I suspected his errand.

"My wife," he shouted. "Darn her, I don't know where she is. She is
playing some of her pranks, and I'll fix her for it."

He rushed out of the store frantically, and uttered a profusion of oaths
as he dashed through the streets, making inquiries of every one that he
met respecting his wife. Some laughed at him, while others, after
questioning him until they had arrived at the facts, would gravely shake
their heads, and express an entire ignorance of the woman's whereabouts.
Herrets then made application to the police office, but was curtly
informed that the police had something to attend to besides hunting
after men's wives.

Desperate with rage, and vowing all sorts of vengeance upon the frail
woman, the baffled husband once more sought our store and implored our
aid. He even offered a considerable sum of money if we would unite with
him and make search for her; but we refused his money, and declined for
a long time to interfere, until at length his importunities caused us to
yield, and after we extracted promises that he would be likely to keep,
we concluded to help him.

We sent the young husband back to his tent, and bade him make
arrangements to be gone at least two days, and to bring back with him
some article of clothing that had belonged to the runaway. He obeyed our
instructions, and by the time he had returned our three horses were
saddled and ready for a start. We lost no time in getting under way, and
in less than an hour we were seven miles from Ballarat, on the road to
Melbourne, the nearest city that the runaways could reach. Sydney we
considered as out of the question, for its distance of five hundred
miles was not likely to attract travellers who were journeying for speed
and flying for safety.

We pushed on, stopping only long enough to make inquiries of men on the
road, and at length we got on the trail of the fugitives. They were
travelling on horseback, like ourselves, but were mounted on worthless
animals, that threatened to break down at every step; so we were told.
The last farmer that gave us information said that he had spoken to
them, and supplied them with bread, and that he did not think they were
more than ten miles in advance of us.

This information gave us renewed life, and we spurred on until our
horses were in a foaming sweat; and just as we began to think that the
runaways had diverged from the beaten path, we caught sight of them
riding along as leisurely, and with as munch independence, as man and
wife.

Herrets rushed forward, and uttered oath after oath as he caught sight
of his wife, while the latter applied her riding whip to the sides of
her steed, in the vain endeavor to escape; but finding that we gained on
her and her paramour, she suffered her horse to fall into a walk, and
apparently took no further notice of us.

Not so with her companion, whose name was Delvin, a young and
good-looking fellow; and had we not been present, he would have laughed
at the demands of Herrets, for he was as bold as a lion, and was just
the kind of a man that a romantic girl like Mary would take a fancy to.

"Villain!" shouted Herrets, presenting an old horse pistol, that looked
as though it had seen service in the war of Cromwell, "stop, and account
to me for the seduction of my wife, or I'll shoot you as you fly!"

"Shoot and be d----d!" replied Delvin, with a sneer; "but remember, I
can use a pistol as well as you." And as he spoke, he drew from his belt
a six inch revolver, and coolly waited for Herrets to commence
hostilities.

This the latter was in no hurry to do, when he saw that his opponent was
better armed than himself; so he checked his horse, and waited for us to
come up.

We rode leisurely towards the runaways, and did not think it worth our
while to make a show of hostilities, for while we had promised the
husband to assist him, we did not consider that we were bound to fight
his battles.

"Put up your pistol," said Fred, calmly, when we had reached the woman
and her paramour; "there will be no use for it at present."

Delvin hesitated for a moment, and only for a moment; then, with an
oath, he returned his pistol to its case, and waited our proceedings.

As for the woman, she appeared the most indifferent person in the
group, and instead of being overwhelmed with shame, actually smiled at
the expression of misery depicted upon her husband's face.

"We shall have to relieve you of your fair charge," Fred said,
addressing Mr. Delvin; "civilization has hardly arrived at such a point
in Australia that a man can run off with another's wife, and expect to
escape punishment."

"The woman goes with me!" cried Delvin, fiercely, and his hand again
sought his pistol; but seeing that we took no notice of the movement, he
withdrew it slowly, and appeared undecided what to do.

"Of course, you are not in earnest when you speak thus," replied Fred,
quite coolly; "you must be aware, if you enter Melbourne in company with
this man's wife, and we are disposed to lodge information against you,
that a long residence at the hulks would be your portion."

Delvin remained silent, but he looked as though he would like to try the
issue of the affair with an exchange of shots.

"We have promised this man to help recover his wife, and we mean to keep
our word. We have nothing against you, and therefore do not think it
worth while to risk our lives exchanging shots; but Herrets, here--"

"Ah, then he can meet me," cried Delvin, eagerly.

"By no means," replied Fred, with great distinctness; "you have injured
him sufficiently already, and it appears to me strange that the world
should think a husband bound to demand reparation by receiving the
contents of a pistol, and then consider that satisfaction has been
accorded."

"Then you deny me a chance to satisfy the husband of this woman?"
demanded Delvin, and his looks showed how eagerly he would have shot
Herrets had he been allowed.

"Certainly we do, and we have a piece of advice to give you--don't
return to Ballarat for a few months, or you might fare badly. The miners
have a prejudice against people who run off with wives not belonging to
them, and but little agitation would be necessary to serve you as men of
your kind are served in California."

"May I ask now that is?" Delvin inquired.

"They are tried by Lynch law," was Fred's laconic answer.

The seducer glared at us as though he would like to encounter each
individual singly, and I did not, know but that he would charge upon us,
and risk the odds, great as they were.

"What have I done, Mary Ann, that you should run off and leave me?"
cried Herrets, speaking for the first time.

His wife maintained a profound silence.

"Didn't I do all that I could to make you happy and comfortable?" he
continued.

"No," she replied, with a defiant air, "you did not. You never spoke to
me kindly, or asked if I was contented. I went to your tent with but
little love for you, and now I have less. Did you seek to gain my
affections, or to banish from my mind the image of a man that I felt I
could die for?"

She looked hard at Fred, but the latter avoided her glance.

"I may have to go back with you, but I warn you that I feel only
loathing and contempt for your home, for you, and every one in
Ballarat."

We did not seek to check her, for we knew that her outburst of rage
would end in tears, and we were not mistaken. She wept bitterly, and
upbraided Fred and myself as the authors of her misfortunes; and even
while she was lamenting her fate, we turned her horse's head in the
direction of Ballarat.

Her paramour sat upon his animal sullen, and undecided what to do; and
without stopping to exchange words with him, we commenced our journey
homeward.

Even after we were miles distant, we could see him still motionless,
standing upon the broad prairie, as though he had not determined upon
what course he should pursue. But he never renewed his attempts on the
virtue of Mrs. Herrets, and when next we heard of him he was in the
mines of Bathney, where he was killed by the caving in of a shaft.

As for Herrets and his wife, they took our advice, and moved to
Melbourne, where there was society and enjoyment. The husband went into
business there, and became quite wealthy; and Mrs. Herrets was noted for
her lively disposition and fondness of company. She became a patron of
the Theatre Royal, and gave many a hungry actor a good dinner; and once,
when I had run down to Melbourne from the mines, to transact a little
business, she sent me a pressing invitation to visit the theatre, and
witness her _debut_ in the "Honeymoon," she playing "Juliana," for the
benefit of some actor who wished to insure a good house, and took that
method to accomplish it.

I accepted the invitation, but did not consider her acting as likely to
redound to the credit of the profession; and that is the end of the
history, so far as my knowledge extends, of Mrs. Herrets and husband.




CHAPTER XLVII.

COLLECTING TAXES OF THE MINERS.


About a week after the inspector had received his injuries, he was
enabled to get out, and one afternoon he sent word that if we were
desirous of accompanying him on his tax collecting expedition he should
be happy of our company, and that if we were disposed to go we had
better meet him at his office, on horseback, at two o'clock.

As it was near the hour when we received the invitation, we lost no time
in getting ready, and we were on the spot promptly.

About, thirty policemen were drawn up in front of the office, awaiting
the appearance of the inspector, who was examining the books in which
were recorded the names of the tax-paying miners, checking those who had
refused to pay at the end of the previous month, and placing a cross
against the names of miners who had worked out their taxes on the road,
on the ground that they had not made enough out of their claims to allow
government the large sum of thirty-four shillings per month.

The tax applied to all, and there was no chance to evade it. The
fortunate and unfortunate were alike liable to the officers of the
crown, knowing no distinction, so they said; but I found before the
close of the day that that assertion was a fallacy, and that there was a
favorite class at Ballarat, and that they were rarely troubled by the
inspector's visits, and if short of money were seldom required to pay
taxes.

"I am glad that you have come," Mr. Brown said, hastily glancing from
the large books before him to welcome us; "we are going through with our
monthly ceremony, and I thought you would like to witness it. It is not
an agreeable one, I confess, but duty compels me to do many things that
I disapprove of."

"In what quarter will your honor go first?" asked the sergeant of the
police squad, addressing the inspector.

"The Irish district," returned Mr. Brown. "We can then," he continued,
"strike into the Chinamen's quarters, and visit our folks on our way
home."

As we rode up, a number of Irishmen were smoking their pipes at the
entrance of their tents or huts, evidently expecting us, for it was
tax-collecting day, and they knew very well that government would not
let the opportunity pass of adding to its wealth. No surprise was
manifested, therefore, when our force halted, and those within hearing
were requested to bring out their gold.

"Is it there ye are, Mr. Brown?" cried an old fellow, who was called Pat
Regan. "It's wishing to see yer face this many a day I've desired, long
life to ye, and it's dead I feared ye was."

"Is your tax ready?" asked the inspector, shortly, being accustomed to
the blarney of the man.

"Whist! What blackguard would be after thinking of money, or taxes, or
any thing else when yer honor is near? Will yer enter me tent and
partake of me hospitalities?" demanded Pat, with a serious face, and a
show of politeness that was refreshing, knowing as I did that it was
intended as burlesque.

"Don't stand there chattering, but hand over your month's taxes,"
replied Mr. Brown, sternly, not liking the smiles that he saw on the
faces of Pat's friends, who were clustered around enjoying the
conversation.

"Ah, glory to God, but it's lucky men we are to have so kind-hearted an
inspector, so that when we is unfortunate he knows how to have
compassion on us. Lads," Pat continued, turning to the crowd, "don't
forget to mention Mr. Brown in your prayers, 'cos he's overlooked the
trifling sum that I owe him."

This long harangue was received with shouts of laughter, during the
continuance of which Mr. Pat Kegan stood before the inspector, with hat
in hand, and a face as demure as though no deviltry was at work within
his heart.

Mr. Brown did not reply, but made an almost imperceptible motion to the
sergeant of the force. The latter, and a private, quietly dismounted,
produced a pair of handcuffs, and before Mr. Regan had recovered from
his surprise, a sharp click was heard, and he was a prisoner, both
wrists being confined by a pair of stout steel bracelets.

"What is the meaning of this?" demanded Mr. Regan, with a show of
indignation. "I'm a subject of the queen, and a free-born Irishman, and
it's kings me ancestors were six hundred years ago. It's little they
thought that one of the blood of the Regans would be used in this way."

The inspector paid no attention to his words, but occupied himself with
receiving money from a number of miners who were disposed to pay their
taxes without a murmur, and didn't wish the bother of a dispute.

"Move on," said Mr. Brown, at length, and the cavalcade started with Pat
Regan in the centre.

"Mr. Brown--inspector dear--O darling, listen to me for a moment," cried
out our Irish friend.

"Well, what is wanting?" inquired our chief, halting.

"And what is ye taking me off for?" asked Regan, indignantly.

"For non-payment of taxes."

"And who refused to pay taxes?--tell me that, Mr. Brown."

"You declined paying; so of course you will have to devote the next
three days to work on the road. Move on."

"Hold a minute, Mr. Brown, for here's the money; but it's little good it
will do ye, mind what I say, for to-night I shall write to my friend the
governor-general, and relate the circumstance of this arrest, and me
money will be sent back with many an apology, let me tell ye. It's a
relation I am of the governor's, his wife being a Regan on the side of
me grandfather; and it's many a time I've talked with her ladyship when
we went to school together in the county of Cork."

This speech was also received with shouts of laughter by those
assembled, and even while Pat was paying over his dust he continued to
grumble and threaten; and when we got clear of him he bade us adieu with
a mocking smile, perfectly satisfied to think that he had delayed us all
that he was able to, and that if he did ultimately have to pay over the
money, he afforded sport enough for his companions to last a week.

"Is that a sample of the difficulties that you have to encounter?" I
asked of the inspector, as we left a portion of the Irish district
behind us, and approached another quarter, where the inhabitants did not
appear to be doing so well in their operations.

"If we never encountered worse cases than that I should be contented,"
Mr. Brown replied. "I knew that Pat had the money, for he had served me
in that manner half a dozen times; but I also knew that he had a great
reluctance against working on the road, and that to save himself he
would even sell a portion of his claim, if that was necessary. He has
made money since he has worked in the mines, and I will do Pat the
justice of saying that, with the exception of celebrating St. Patrick's
Day, he knows how to save it."

As he ceased speaking, we drew up before a ragged hut, at the entrance
of which stood a stout Irishwoman, with a terrible dirty-faced child in
her arms.

"It's little ye'll get here," she shouted, shaking her huge fists at
the inspector, and spanking the child, who set up a roar of fright. "Go
on, an' the divil be wid ye, for not a ha'penny do ye get."

"Now we shall hear lying," muttered the inspector, when he saw a grin
upon our faces. "Of all the she devils in the mines, she is the worst."

"Tell Mike that we want his license fee," Mr. Brown said, addressing the
huge female, who varied her time in spanking her child and making faces
at the police force.

"To the divil wid ye and yer fees, ye lazy spalpeens. There's no money
in the house, and if there was ye shouldn't have it. Do ye think that I
can pick up goold like dirt? or what do ye think?"

"Come, come, Judy," the inspector said, "we have heard your complaints
so often that we don't believe them. Let me have the thirty-four
shillings without delay."

"Who do you call Judy? I'm Mrs. Michael O'Flaherty, and a bitter husband
and one more honest don't exist; and that's more than I can say of some
women who's got husbands tied to 'em. It's little ye think I know of ye;
so don't, if ye valey yer reputations, stand there chattering, but pass
on to thim that gets the money."

"We are not afraid of our reputation, Judy," the inspector said. "We
know that you are bad, but we don't believe that you can corrupt the
whole of the squad."

"O, ye murdering villains, to thus slander an honest female who has only
her vartue to protect her." Then raising her voice as though to attract
the attention of some one within the house, she shouted, in satirical
language, "It's little me husband cares about me, or he'd niver stand by
and see me treated thus, and I niver making the least complaint in the
world. It's mighty fine husbands there is in the world now, and it's
little use they are to us fable females."

As though to avenge her injuries on some one, she gave the child a rap
over a certain portion of his anatomy that presented the broadest disk,
and his wild howls were heard for half a mile.

"If there's law to be had in this country I'll have it," Judy continued,
growing more excited as she recited her wrongs. "If ye want yer tax, why
don't ye come here after it in a dacent fashion, and not begin by
insulting me and me own, and then frightening the child out of its wits.
Didn't yer mothers larn ye manners at all, and do ye think we can stand
all sorts of barbarities?"

Before the inspector could return an answer, a stout, broad-shouldered
fellow sneaked to the door, and his appearance was greeted with
laughter.

"We have unkennelled the fox, have we?" the sergeant of the squad said.
"Hitherto we have had to dig for him."

"Come, Mike, where is your tax?" asked the inspector, in a mild tone.

"He's no money, I tell ye," screamed the woman, shaking one of her huge
fists at the officer in a defiant manner, and glancing towards her lord,
as though warning him of the consequences of gainsaying her word. "I've
told ye that he'd no money, and now be off, and the divil go wid ye."

"Pace, Judy, dear," remonstrated Mike, in a subdued tone; "it's the
police who always behave like rale gentlemen."

"Hear him," screamed the indignant woman, "turn upon his own lawful,
married wife, and abuse her like a baste. Why don't ye bite me in two,
ye little brat?"

She gave her child a shake that made him think there was an earthquake,
and then supplied him with a liberal allowance of food that kind nature
had wisely provided for the purpose of keeping children quiet, even for
a few minutes.

"Whist, Judy; don't be after trating the child that way," remonstrated
the father, who appeared to have some spirit when the welfare of his
heir was concerned.

"Ah, go on insulting me--don't spare reproaches. I'm defenceless now."

Woman's last resource, tears, were quickly called up, and under their
shadow Mike sneaked towards us, as though about to pay his money and
have done with the trouble; but before he could accomplish his good
resolution the woman had cleared her eyes, and in a voice that started
us, yelled,--

"Mike, ye divil, come here this instant."

The hen-pecked husband did not dare to disobey. He cast an imploring,
half-sheepish look towards his wife.

"We have delayed long enough," Mr. Brown said. "Sergeant, put on the
irons."

The sergeant dismounted quite coolly, and summoned six men to his
assistance. I noticed that the officers did not display any great
alacrity, and acted as though quite ashamed of the duty that they were
to enter upon.

"The sergeant means to have assistance enough," Fred remarked,
addressing the inspector.

"You will see," the latter returned; and we did, sure enough; for no
sooner did the officers lay hands upon Michael than the woman dropped
her child, and with a wild shout threw herself upon them. The first poor
devil whom she spotted lost a handful of hair--but as it was as red as
fire it was no great sacrifice to the owner--the second had a piece of
skin clawed off his nose, and the third reluctantly parted with a piece
of flesh weighing nearly a quarter of an ounce, torn forcibly from his
cheek. The police endeavored to keep her at arms' length without
success--she broke down their defences, and clawed the hair from their
heads in the most scientific manner; and yet she had all the fighting to
do, for Michael remained in the custody of two officers without offering
to strike a blow for liberty.

The war was at length fiercely contested, for the officers, finding that
they were likely to be placed _hors du combat_, made a rush towards the
Amazon; and while two seized her arms, two more grasped her legs, and I
am obliged to confess that the police did not display much delicacy in
the latter operation. In spite of her struggles--in defiance of her
imprecations, and calls for Mike to interfere in her behalf--she was
carried bodily towards the hut, and poised in the air for a moment; and
then, with a "one, two, three, and away she goes," was thrown head
foremost through the door, and landed in the middle of the hut all in a
heap.

"You have kilt me wife," moaned Mike, who watched the operation With
considerable anxiety for his better half.

"Hang her, she's skinned me from head to foot," muttered one of the
officers, wiping his bleeding face on a handkerchief, and showing his
wounds to the inspector.

"Skinned!" echoed another; "if she had only taken skin I shouldn't mind
it much; but, blast her, she has torn flesh and muscle from my face."

"I'm sorry for your misfortunes, but we will have her arrested on a
warrant to-morrow, and fined," the inspector said. "Bring Mike along,
and set him at work on the roads for a few days."

"Arrah, now, Mr. Inspector, don't be after doing that," shouted the
Irishman; but in defiance of his cries he was handcuffed and driven
along with the rest.

We had got a few yards from the hut when Mrs. Judy appeared at the door,
looking a little the worse for her late usage. Her hair was hanging over
her shoulders, and her dress was torn in a dozen places. Both feet were
bare, and none too clean; but little she cared for her appearance just
then.

"For the love of St. Patrick, Mr. Inspector, stop a minute, and don't be
after carrying away Mike, the poor, harmless divil. Lave him here wid
me, and we'll pay the tax without a murmur."

"Too late," cried Mr. Brown, without turning his head, although I could
see that he was disposed to come to terms.

"Ough, don't say that, bless yer handsome face and yer kind heart. What
could I do, sure, widout me Mike? Lave him here wid me, and if the
blackguard has been insulting ye I'll punish him, depind upon it."

"It's not of your husband that we complain," the inspector said; "he
would act decently, and pay his tax, if you would let him."

"Ah, then--glory to God--poor Mike is safe; and I thought all along that
he wouldn't disgrace his Judy so much as to refuse what a just gentleman
like ye demands. Pay the officer the tax, and say no more about it. It's
but a trifle."

The sergeant looked at Mr. Brown, and the latter glanced at the
sergeant. There was but little use in making Mike work on the road, if
he had the money to pay for his month's mining; so a halt was called,
and the woman quickly poured out dust enough from a cracked teacup to
satisfy the demands of government, and then Mike was restored to the
dirty arms of his better half.

"I hope that all the taxes collected do not come as hard as this," Fred
said, addressing the inspector.

"They all pay out their money with an ill grace; but our worst cases,
with one exception, are over."

As we passed through the several districts, many of the miners stood
ready with their gold, and after answering to their names, paid their
taxes without a murmur; and even while disputes were going on, they did
not prevent the clerks who accompanied us from attending to their
duties.

All those who did not possess the cash were required to follow in our
train, as captives, to work out a certain amount on the roads. Men who
had been sick, and were incapable of raising ten shillings, were shown
no indulgence whatever; and although we often interceded, and our wishes
were granted in every case, yet we felt that the inspector's orders
were rigid, and that we were imposing upon good nature, to make requests
in every instance where poverty compelled a miner to decline paying his
tax.

At length we reached the Chinese district, and the Celestials turned out
in great numbers to receive us. Many handed the clerks the money that
was due without a word of comment, and we experienced no trouble until
we reached the quarters of Yam Kow, an old fellow whose tail reached to
the ground, and who was reported to be the most miserly of all the
Chinese at Ballarat. That he had money there was no doubt, for he was
always at work, or trading with his countrymen, and he was never known
to spend a shilling for clothing or food. What he lived on was unknown,
and could only be conjectured; but it was said that Kow had been seen
nights setting traps for snakes and rats, and even lizards were
considered quite delicate meat for him.

Traps of most ingenious and cunning device were also set for birds, and
Kow had been known to waste a few grains of rice, for the purpose of
attracting them to his fatal snares.

The bodies of the birds were sold by Kow, and if he could find no
market, he would hold on to them until he did; and if, after all his
trouble, none of his countrymen were disposed to buy, the unhappy
Chinaman would devour them himself; and even if fly-blown and slightly
decomposed, it made no difference to Kow; his greatest anxiety was on
account of not being able to get a shilling for the body of the bird
that he was at length compelled to eat. With the plumage of the
birds--and the feathers of the birds of Australia are of the most gaudy
hue--he made, during evenings, rare trinkets, and magnificent wreaths,
and sold them to miners at a fair price, to be taken home as
curiosities. I had a box filled with such articles, and which I valued
highly; but they were lost on my voyage home, while crossing the Isthmus
of Suez.

We found old Yam Kow seated before his hut, which was made of bits of
sticks, pieces of boards, stones, and mud, all cemented and fitted
together in the neatest manner, and what was more wonderful than all,
perfectly water tight, and as clean inside as possible.

The old man was hard at work, or pretended to be, on one of his wreaths,
and seemed not to notice that we were halting in front of his abode.

"Hullo, Yam Kow!" cried the inspector, "putty mi more money, hey?" which
barbarous jargon, it seems, is always considered necessary to use when
talking with a Chinese, no matter whether the latter understands English
or not.

The true meaning of Mr. Brown's interrogation was, whether Yam's tax
money was ready or not.

"No hab," returned the Chinaman, without looking up.

"How, no hab?--putty mi more day. No can see?" demanded Mr. Brown.

"No hab," repeated the old fellow, continuing his work industriously.

"Why no hab?" the inspector asked.

"All go--buy ricey--buy torayun tan pon, and no hab."

"Then workey on rodey ten (holding up his fingers) day. Chinaman no good
for shovel--work more days Englishman. Come." "No can come now. Pay
money by by," the Chinaman said, thinking that his promise to pay before
long would suffice.

"Pay money now--no pay money now, go!" repeated the inspector, who
managed to make himself understood.

"No pay," the old fellow said, and as the sounds escaped his lips, the
sergeant dismounted from his horse and approached him.

"Come," that worthy said, and he laid his huge hand upon the Celestial,
in close proximity to his pigtail.

"No go," repeated Yam.

"Start your stumps," cried the policeman; and he lifted the Chinaman
from the ground by his pigtail, and almost held him at arm's length.

"Me pay! me pay!" he roared, to the great delight of the police, and a
few of Yam's countrymen who were standing near.

The sergeant released the old fellow, and he rapidly uttered a number of
expressions in his native tongue, that I will swear were not
complimentary to the English character.

After he had thus vented his anger, he drew from the folds of his inside
trousers a little bag of dust, which, upon being weighed, was found to
contain just the amount, to a scale, that was required for the payment
of his tax, and after checking his name, we rode on.

In this manner the tax was collected from the miners of Ballarat.




CHAPTER XLVIII.

Murden and Steel Spring arrive from Melbourne.


We were sitting in our store eating supper one afternoon, about a week
after our tax-collecting tour, and were wondering why Smith did not make
his appearance, as he certainly had been gone long enough, and were
debating the propriety of writing or visiting Melbourne for the purpose
of finding him, when a person, dressed quite respectably, but wearing a
slouched hat over his eyes, that entirely concealed his face, entered
the store and looked around as though anxious to purchase goods, but was
disappointed in not meeting with an assortment.

"We shall be happy to serve you in a few days," Fred said. "Our stock is
on the road, and will he here shortly."

"Vell, I guess I can vait," returned a voice that sounded familiar, and
our visitor removed his hat and revealed the not over-pleasing
countenance of Steel Spring.

We could hardly believe the evidence of our senses, yet there stood the
cunning scamp before us, with his long limbs and lank body, as supple as
ever, and grinning with delight at our astonishment.

"I 'ope you've not forgotten old friends," he said, extending his hand,
which neither of us accepted, but which act did not discompose him in
the least; for he only grinned the harder, and appeared to look upon our
refusal as a matter of course. "Where did you come from?" I asked, as
soon as I recovered from my astonishment.

"The old place--Melbourne; 'ave 'ad lots of fun there, but thought I'd
look at the country for a change of air. Can't stay long, though; so
don't press me to stop over a week."

"You certainly have lost none of your impudence by residing at
Melbourne," Fred replied, and the fellow grinned at the compliment. "But
tell us how you escaped from prison," Fred continued.

"Escaped?" asked Steel Spring, with an injured look; "I'd scorn such a
breach of confidence between gentlemen. No, sir, I did not escape, but
was pardoned for the service I've rendered my country."

"And the bushrangers that Murden carried to Melbourne?" Fred asked, with
some anxiety.

"Vell, they suffered for their crimes, and are all forgotten by this
time," replied the wretch, with a grin.

"Hanged?" I asked.

"Every mother's son of 'em, and served 'em right, too. Property is
respected, nowadays, and a miner can travel all the way from Ballarat to
Melbourne, and lose nothing if he's got nothing to lose," the grinning
scamp replied.

"I've got a friend vid me," Steel Spring said at length, "and perhaps
you'd like to see him."

"Who is he?" we asked.

"O, a man you used to know--Murden I believe is his name, and he's in
some vay connected with the police force of Melbourne."

The grinning rascal! he had been sent by our friend to notify us of his
arrival, and that was the way he performed his duty. But before we had
time to administer to him a sound kicking, the lieutenant was with us.

We need not tell the reader that we welcomed him with our whole hearts,
and that he appeared as delighted to see us as we were glad to see him.

"I have just arrived in time, I see," Murden said, glancing at our
supper, "and, by George, I'm glad that I've a place to rest to-night,
for I'm tired. We've been three days on the road, on horseback all the
time, with the exception of a few hours during the extreme heat of noon.
Our animals got used up about five miles from Ballarat; so I footed it
to town. I suppose that you recollect that scamp,"--pointing to Steel
Spring, who bowed low at the compliment. "I've taken him into my service
on his promise to be of good behavior; but I don't think that his word
is to be relied on; so I cane him about once in twenty-four hours, to
see if what little goodness there is in him cannot be brought out."

Steel Spring shrugged his shoulders, as much as to say, There is no joke
in what he is telling, as I can testify.

"But how came Steel Spring to find us first?" I asked.

"Well, when our horses broke down I sent him ahead to find out in what
quarter of the town you were located, and I followed more leisurely. The
first policeman that I met directed me here, so that I found no
difficulty, and was not compelled to wait for my _notorati_
fellow-traveller at the cross-roads."

"But how comes it that you are in citizen's dress, instead of the blue
uniform?"

"Ah, my boys, that is the secret; but as I have nothing to conceal from
you, I will confess I am the bearer of secret despatches to the
inspector of this district in relation to the mining tax. But while I am
talking, set Steel Spring at work cooking supper, for I am famished, and
I suppose that he is also."

It was only necessary to nod acquiescence to the lieutenant, when Steel
Spring stripped off his coat and set to work in earnest. In a few
minutes he had ransacked our private stores and spread our few dishes
upon a box, that answered for a table, in the most tempting array; and
with a few dried branches he set the teakettle to boiling, and almost
before we thought that he had made a beginning, he announced that supper
was ready for his superior.

"By the way," Murden said, while partaking of our fare, "I overtook
Smith on his way to this place, and I should think that he would arrive
by to-morrow morning. He has two large loads of goods, and I think that
he has made a speculation in buying them, from the hints that he dropped
to me in confidence. One of your large American clipper ships arrived at
Melbourne with an assorted cargo of Yankee notions, and as the market
was, in mercantile parlance, glutted with goods of all descriptions, a
forced sale was effected, and Smith bought largely at a low figure. He
is in good spirits, and says that he never felt so well in his life as
since he was married."

"Married?" we repeated, in astonishment.

"Yes, Smith has married Becky Lang, and a good wife she will make him.
The lady's father, the convict, still remains on his cattle ranch, and,
for some strange reason, refuses to move to Melbourne, where Becky has
taken up her residence. The ceremony was performed at the latter place,
and I was one of the witnesses."

We could readily understand why the old man refused to move. The banks
of the brook near which he resided were too rich in gold deposits to be
given up until a competence was acquired. We wondered if Smith revealed
the knowledge of the money which we had dug successfully for, and which
we had shared between us. We feared that he had, and that Murden would
consider we had acted unfair in the transaction. But as he said nothing
on the subject we were not disposed to introduce it.

"How is my old friend Brown, and how does he like the duties at this
station?" Murden asked, as he rose from the supper table, and Steel
Spring took his place.

We gave a favorable account of the inspector, and while the lieutenant
was listening, a sudden thought entered our heads, which we were
resolved to carry into effect, and thereby get square with Mr. Brown,
who had played us a trick some time before. Murden was anxious to speak
with the inspector and deliver his letters, but he wished to do it in a
secret manner, so that no suspicions should be awakened that he was on a
government mission, or that government was preparing to strengthen its
force at Ballarat. The authorities knew that a struggle must occur
between the miners and the police, and it had been considered advisable
to hasten the conflict before the miners gained more strength, defeat
them badly, as the council at Melbourne supposed could be easily done,
hang a few for high treason, and afterwards the mining tax could be
collected without any difficulty whatever.

Such was the programme that the governor-general and his council laid
out, and they supposed that it could be executed; and even Murden
labored under the same impression until we convinced him of his error,
and advised him by all means to keep out of the conflict if possible, as
which ever way the battle went the police would be blamed, and obtain no
credit for their exposure or bravery. The sequel showed that we were
right in our premises. As I said before, the lieutenant was anxious to
see the inspector, but did not care about visiting his office; so we
despatched a note by a passing policeman, requesting Mr. Brown's company
instantly, and advising him to come alone, as we had two suspicious
persons in the store, and we thought that a reward had been offered for
their apprehension, which we were desirous of obtaining. We got Murden's
consent to act in the plot, and by the aid of a wig his disguise was
complete. As for Steel Spring, he was to remain as he was, without
disguise, but was to vehemently deny his cognomen, and puzzle Mr. Brown
if possible.

The instant the inspector got our note he loaded himself with pistols
and started for our store. By the time that he arrived it was dark, but
we had a candle burning that but dimly illuminated the room, and
prevented him from distinguishing objects.

"There are some lodgers that we have for to-night," Fred said, pointing
to Murden and Steel Spring, both of whom sat with their faces from the
light, as though not desirous of attracting attention.

"I am sure it gives me pleasure to meet friends of yours," the inspector
said, with a grim smile; and he rubbed his hands as though already the
capturer of two notorious robbers.

"Who are they?" Mr. Brown asked, in a low whisper, watching every motion
of Murden and Steel Spring, as though he expected a manifestation of
hostility on their part.

"Don't know," replied Fred, in the same tone, "but I suspect that they
are bushrangers."

"Ah, ah, I have no doubt of it," the inspector said. "Have your pistols
handy, for they may resist when I arrest them."

Mr. Brown took a seat, and every opportunity that he could get he would
scrutinize the half-hidden faces of Murden and Steel Spring; but owing
to the light being bad, he was unable to gratify his curiosity. Fred and
myself conversed on various matters, about the yield of gold for the
coming year, and whether the prices of goods would decline before the
wet set in, but Mr. Brown was too anxious for a capture to join us, and
had not the spirit of evil actuated Steel Spring, we should have kept
the inspector in suspense for an hour or two. Steel Spring was too
mercurial to remain dormant for any length of time, and with a desire to
stir Mr. Brown into activity he said, in a careless sort of way,--

"By the vay, I 'eard that these 'ere mines vas paying wery vell."

Mr. Brown started, as I knew that he would recollect the voice, and he
hastily glanced towards us to see if we did not mark it also; but we
appeared to pay no attention, and continued our conversation. "You have
never been in Ballarat before?" the inspector said, addressing Steel
Spring.

"No, I can't say that I 'ave. My time has been so much occupied vid
other duties that I 'ave not been able to visit all the places I'd vish
to."

"Perhaps you would have no objection to inform the company of the manner
in which your livelihood is and has been obtained?" the inspector asked,
nervously handling a pair of pistols in his coat pocket.

"O, I've been in the travelling line," the long-limbed wretch replied,
with a grin.

"Then perhaps you will have the kindness to travel with me, Mr. Steel
Spring," cried the inspector, suddenly starting from his seat, and
covering the persons of Murden and his servant with a pair of horse
pistols that carried sixteen to the pound.

Neither of the parties moved or showed surprise, but we were astonished
when we heard the inspector utter a shrill whistle, and before it died
away half a dozen blue-coated policemen rushed into the room, armed with
pistols and swords.

"You see that resistance is useless," the inspector said, addressing
Steel Spring and Murden; "I know both of you, and bigger rascals never
went unhanged."

"If you know me, pray tell me my name," Murden said, in as gruff a tone
as he could assume.

"I can't mention your name at present, but from your looks I've no doubt
that you are some murdering scoundrel. Any jury would convict you
without hesitancy."

Fred and I exploded with laughter, and even Steel Spring, fortified as
he was with the protection of Murden, and a full pardon for all past
offences, roared with glee.

Mr. Brown looked astonished and indignant, but he did not give up his
hostile attitude. Even his men lost their savage glare, and waited for
an explanation, which we were in no hurry to give.

"Put up your pistols, Mr. Brown," I said; "you have no use for them
here."

"But what is the meaning of this?" he demanded.

"Send your men to the station-house, and we will explain."

"But these--"

He pointed to the supposed bushrangers.

"We will go bail for their appearance to-morrow morning," I replied.

The inspector made a sign to his men, and they rather reluctantly
dispersed. They were as anxious to know the secret of the mystery as
their chief.

"Now, gentlemen," Mr. Brown said, with some severity, "I am waiting to
hear an account of your strange conduct."

"Do you recollect," Fred asked, "of being disguised as an old man, and
of asking two Americans what they thought of the annexation question?"

"Pshaw, that was a joke," he returned, pettishly.

"Do you recollect that you laughed quite heartily when we promised to
retaliate, and 'sell' you on the first favorable opportunity, and that
we were defied to do it?" Fred continued. Mr. Brown nodded.

"Well, then we are even," I said.

"I don't see that you are," the inspector, cried. "Here are two
notorious criminals who should be safely locked up, and yet you ask me
to spare them until morning. I know them both, and will pledge my word
that they have stolen more gold dust than any other two parties in
Australia."

"And I will pledge my word that I can't begin to prig with the head of
the police force in Ballarat," cried Murden, who could remain silent no
longer.

Mr. Brown sprang to his feet with indignation stamped upon every line of
his face, but before he could proceed to extremities, Murden threw off
his wig, unrolled his coat collar, and stood before the inspector as
lieutenant of the Melbourne police force, and consequently one grade
lower in rank than Mr. Brown.

"Murden," the inspector exclaimed, extending his hand in astonishment.

"That's me, Brown, and I beg that you will forgive me for my share of
this plot. It was to retaliate, I believe, for some joke that you
perpetrated a few days ago."

"Yes, but this matter is serious," Mr. Brown muttered.

"I grant that; especially when you spoke about my stealing. Faith, I
began to think that I should be the inmate of your town prison, before
long, unless I confessed."

"Well, perhaps I was rather fast in my charges; but you know that your
wig altered your face, and in fact, seeing you in company with this
notorious--"

Mr. Brown pointed to Steel Spring, and that worthy individual grinned
with delight at the excitement that he had created.

"Yes, I rather think that we have met afore," he said; "don't you
remember how you ran after me and my pal ven ve vere goin' to Sydney?"

"You scoundrel," replied the inspector, with some warmth, "I only wish
that I had the custody of you for a few months."

"I 'ave no doubt of it; but I shan't give you a chance now. I've turned
'onest, and intends to lead a different life." And Steel Spring grinned
in triumph, and opened and shut his long, flexible limbs with wonderful
dexterity.

"You turned honest!" muttered the inspector, with an incredulous glance.

"That's the vay that ve is doubted," whined the treacherous scamp,
wiping his eyes, and pretending to feel as though his heart was broken;
"ven ve leaves off our bad vays, and becomes associates for the police,
then ve is suspected of being bad. There's precious little 'couragement
for us."

"Don't be too hard on the lad," the lieutenant said, "for he helped us
convict half a dozen of the worst bushrangers in the country, a few
weeks ago, and he saved his own life by--"

"Turning government evidence, I'll be sworn," cried the inspector,
eagerly.

The lieutenant nodded, and continued, "Two or three of the fellows
tried to get clear, on the ground that they were prisoners in the hands
of the bushrangers, and I'll confess that the plea was having a telling
effect on the jury; but when Steel Spring opened his mouth, he brought
them."

"And didn't you tell me how to swear, and didn't I do it?" the wretch
exclaimed, triumphantly.

"Silence, you fool!" and Steel Spring, obedient as a dog, held his
tongue.

"The fact of it is," Murden said, after a pause, "the government has
granted the fellow a full pardon, and I have taken him into my service
for the present, in hopes that his reformation will be complete."

"I know that it will," chimed in the lank wretch, but a look silenced
him.

"And now suppose you should tell me why you have paid Ballarat a visit?"
the inspector inquired.

"I'm on business connected with the government, and to consult with you
in relation to the mining tax."

"Will government send the troops?" asked the inspector, eagerly.

"Hush!" replied Murden, glancing towards us; "you should be more
cautious, Mr. Brown."

"O, these are friends of ours, and espouse our side, and, if necessary,
will fight for us," returned the inspector.

"Softly," rejoined Fred; "we fight for no one but ourselves, and we have
never given you or a living man to understand that we will take up arms
against the miners. The question is too new for a decision on our part;
slightly as we have investigated it, we must say that our sympathies are
with the miners instead of the government."

"Just as I supposed," muttered Murden; but whether in disappointment or
in anger I could not tell.

"Why, I really thought that I had proved to you that a tax was
necessary," Mr. Brown said, in an apologetic strain.

"A slight tax, certainly, is necessary," Fred replied; "one that will
help support a force to preserve order and regularity in the mines, but
not a tax that is large enough to support the whole government of
Australia. Let a trifling sum be named, say a few shillings per man, per
month, and exempt those from paying it who are sick, or unfortunate in
their operations."

The lieutenant and inspector did not reply for some few moments. Each
appeared to be pondering on the words that Fred had uttered, without
knowing how to answer his arguments.

"At least," the lieutenant said, "we can trust our American friends, and
therefore there is no occasion for our adjourning from these comfortable
quarters."

We returned no answer, and he went on, unmindful of our presence.

"The governor and council have concluded that the miners have abused the
government without cause, and that their rebellious attitude is of so
hostile a nature that prompt action must be taken, as it is feared that,
if the miners are allowed to continue in their present course, the
colony will soon be in a state of revolt, and that independence will be
declared. Therefore, to save the effusion of blood, and teach the miners
that they must respect the laws, it is proposed to provoke a collision,
and shoot a few of the ringleaders; and after that is effected, peace
and quietness will be restored."

"The governor and council are mad, if they expect to maintain peace by
such means," Fred said; but no notice was taken of his remark.

"But the troops?" asked the inspector, anxiously.

"Will be on their way to Ballarat in less than a fortnight. Even now,
munitions of war are packing, and wagons being got ready to forward
stores, and accompany the soldiers on their march. Things are working so
quietly and effectively that even the officers of the regiment are not
aware that they are to leave Melbourne."

"And my instructions?" asked the inspector.

"To play the spy, as usual!" cried a gruff voice, within a few feet of
us, on the outside of the building.




CHAPTER XLIX.

CATCHING A TARL AS WELL AS A CASSIOWARY.


We started up in such surprise and rapidity, that the inspector stumbled
and fell head foremost against Steel Spring, striking the latter full in
his stomach, and sending him, like a cannon ball, out of the back
entrance of the store amidst the horses, stabled there in company with
Rover, for security.

Before the scamp could gain his feet, the dog, still entertaining a
little animosity against his old enemy, flew at him, and with a vigorous
bite tore off a portion of his pants, where they were the fullest, and
then luckily desisted from further damage, probably not liking the
taste.

"Some one has been listening!" exclaimed the lieutenant, rushing towards
the front door, followed by the inspector and Fred, while I proceeded to
the relief of Steel Spring, who made more noise than all the rest of us.

"There he goes--follow him!" shouted Murden, as a form was seen to run
towards the river, although the night was too dark to distinguish who it
was; and after running a few yards, the pursuers returned completely
baffled, and bewildered at the turn affairs had taken.

"What is to be done now?" asked Mr. Brown, with a bewildered air.

"Vy, I shall have to get a new pair of pants, I s'pose," answered Steel
Spring, who imagined that the conversation was addressed to him.

"Silence, you fool; we are in no humor for jesting," returned Mr. Brown,
angrily.

"I don't think it any joke to have a big dog tear ye, and spile new
clothes," Steel Spring muttered, although not loud enough for Mr. Brown
to hear.

"Some person has overheard our plans, and the miners will be
forewarned," Murden said. "Who would have supposed that an eavesdropper
was concealed within hearing?"

"But what is to be done?" reiterated Mr. Brown.

"There is where I need advice myself," the lieutenant answered looking
first upon Fred and then upon myself, as though desirous of our
opinions.

There was an ominous pause, but at length Fred concluded to speak in
relation to the matter, and his remarks were received with attention.

"This mining tax," he said, "is one that will have to be abolished
before many months, because it is oppressive, and applies to all without
distinction. The miner who digs his fifty pounds of nuggets per week, or
the one who does not get gold enough to make a finger ring, are
compelled to conform to the law; and as there are more blanks than
prizes in this lottery--for gold digging is but a lottery--of course the
poorer class feel that they are aggrieved, and desire an equalization
law, so that a man can pay according to his earnings.

"As soon as a conflict does occur, the government will be defeated. It
may not be in fighting battles, but it will be in public resentment. Let
ten or a dozen miners be killed by the police or soldiers, and the
governor-general and his council will be driven from the country by
popular opinion.

"The mother country, as she valued her possession, would not dare to
retain him or friends in office, for if they did, a revolution would be
the consequence. With the retirement of the government, all those who
had aided it would be compelled to leave, or all those who had taken a
prominent part in the warfare against the miners. Therefore, if you
desire to make Australia a home, don't be mixed up in the present
struggle, if possible."

"I am half inclined to think that you are right," Murden said, at
length.

"I also begin to think so," the inspector remarked.

"I've hall 'long hentertained similar hideas," Steel Spring said, but he
was not attended to.

"But we are officers of the police force, and must respond when called
for duty," the lieutenant observed.

"Granted," replied Fred; "but it is very easy to get exchanged,
especially if the request is backed with a rare specimen nugget."

The two officers exchanged glances, and nodded acquiescence in the views
promulgated.

"I think," Murden said, "that my time will be so occupied with affairs
at Melbourne that I shall not be able to visit Ballarat again this
year."

"And I have an intense desire to be near an uncle of mine in Sydney.
Will you, Mr. Murden, forward my petition for an exchange?" asked the
inspector, with a smile of great meaning.

"It will give me great pleasure to undertake the commission. I have
heard of some very fine specimens of gold being taken from these mines,"
the lieutenant added.

"It will give me great satisfaction to forward two pieces that I owe to
our worthy chief, and will you tell him that I anticipate obtaining a
third piece after I am exchanged?"

"And what report had I better carry back to Melbourne?" the lieutenant
asked.

"You can say that you gave me the necessary instructions, but there is
no hope of coping with the miners unless five thousand troops, with
cannon, are on the ground. That will startle government, you may
depend," the inspector answered, earnestly.

"And let us keep our counsel. There is no need that we should inform our
superiors that through our stupidity their well-laid plans have been
destroyed, and the miners acquainted with what is in store for them. Eh,
Mr. Brown?"

"Certainly not, sir," promptly responded that individual.

"Ve should lose our reputation for shrewdness if ve did," muttered Steel
Spring, but his master overheard him, and gave him a kick as a reward.

And in this manner was it settled, that government should not be
enlightened in regard to the information which the miners had obtained,
and it was owing to the plot being overheard at our store that the
people of Ballarat were enabled to abolish the odious mining tax, and to
accomplish that, were prepared for the soldiers when they did arrive.

The inspector left us for his quarters, and the rest of us retired for
the night, with the intention of rising early and riding out to meet
Smith, who could not be more than ten miles distant, according to
Murden's report.

We were on horseback about sunrise, and rode slowly out of Ballarat,
leaving Steel Spring to look after the store and its effects. The miners
were cooking their breakfasts as we passed along, and the fumes of fried
pork and boiling coffee greeted our nostrils at every turn.

Stretched out as far as the eye could reach were tents of every color
and hue, from the new comer of yesterday to the old stager blackened by
the dust and rains of nearly twelve months. We met parties of Chinese,
who had been on a hunt for lizards and other insects, and to judge from
their jargon, they had been eminently successful.

Two of them were staggering under the weight of an enormous snake, that
they had found dead a short distance from the town, and they strung it
on a pole, and were congratulating themselves on the many stews that it
would make. They regarded it in the light of a present from their gods,
and danced with joy.

We left the main road, and followed an almost imperceptible trail that
led us in a parallel course, and within sight of the road that we
expected Smith would choose for reaching the town. By doing so we were
enabled to avoid the dust and confusion, and ride more at our leisure;
and before we were five miles from Ballarat we were repaid for our
precaution, for just as we were passing a small clump of half-stunted
vegetation we heard a fluttering of wings, and on looking up, we saw one
of the largest birds that Australia can boast. It was a full-grown
cassiowary, and stood nearly eight feet high, we judged, with long,
stout legs, black and muscular, and a foot that would cover a peck
measure.

The bird's beak was like an ostrich's, stout and sharp, and its head and
body greatly resembled one. The cassiowary's wings were also small, and
seemed as though intended to help its progress when running; for it was
impossible to lift its huge body into the air with such puny ones.

The bird did not seem much alarmed at our presence, and by keeping
Rover at our sides, we were enabled to examine it at leisure. After
first stretching out its long neck, and uttering a peculiar whistle, the
bird, after a second glance at us, continued to feed, and seemed
disposed to let us continue our journey without further attention.

"It's a cassiowary," Murden said, in a low tone, "and I'll give five
pounds for its skin. I never saw a live one before, although I have
frequently seen the stuffed one at the government house, which is valued
so highly by Sir Charles Latrobe. What a prize it would be, if we only
had our rifles?"

The lieutenant was right; if we had only have taken our rifles with us,
we could have killed the bird from where we stood; but the distance was
too great to expect a fatal result with a revolver, and we knew that if
we advanced nearer it would take to flight. If we went back to Ballarat
after a rifle, it was not likely that the bird would stay there until we
returned, and under these circumstances we looked towards Fred for his
advice.

"Let us capture the bird alive," he said, and we laughed at his words,
thinking that he meant to ridicule us.

"I am serious," he said, "for I believe that it is possible."

"Let us know how," cried Murden; "and if your plan succeeds, the best
supper that can be obtained in Ballarat shall reward your ingenuity!"

"For how many?" inquired Fred.

"For the party, and Mr. Brown."

"That will cost you more than five pounds; but as you are anxious for
the bird, I will try and devise a way of relieving your purse."

Fred, as he spoke, uncoiled his long halter,--a rope that we used to
hitch the horses to during the daytime, so that they could wander over
considerable ground, and feed upon the dried grass,--and made a running
knot in one end, and thus formed a slip-noose, like the Mexican's
_reatta_.

"What next?" we asked.

"Why, I want both of you to follow my example, and if you get near
enough to the bird, to throw the rope over its neck, and see that one
end of it is made fast to the pommel of the saddle."

"Why, that is the way that the Spaniards capture ostriches," Murden
said.

"Precisely," returned Fred, "only they have to ride many miles over a
sandy soil before the ostrich will consent to be taken; and it strikes
me that we can imitate those same Spaniards, and even if we can't get
near enough to cast our reattas we can try the effects of a shot."

"By George, I'm in for the sport!" cried Murden, and he commenced
preparing his rope in a manner similar to Fred's.

In a few minutes we were ready, and rode off a short distance, and then
gradually closed in until the unconscious bird was surrounded. I then
allowed Rover to start, and with a low bay he dashed towards the
cassiowary.

The latter, when the dog was within a few feet, stopped feeding, and
seemed to be somewhat astonished; and just us the hound sprang upon his
intended victim, the bird turned tail to, and started on a run, in the
direction of Fred.

The animal made awful clumsy work of running, and yet it got over the
ground in a surprisingly rapid manner; and although Rover exerted
himself to the utmost, he had some difficulty in gaining on the chase.

We hallooed the hound on, in hopes that he would seize the bird by one
of its legs; and in fact, just as he was about to, the cassiowary
suddenly stopped, raised one of its huge feet, and with a vigorous kick
sent Rover rolling head over heels.

The dog got up and looked somewhat astonished, and then recommenced the
chase with renewed vigor and enthusiasm.

The bird continued its irregular course, lifting its huge legs in a slow
and mathematical manner, yet running with great speed, and seeming to
care no more for bushes, and such like obstructions, than an elephant.

As I said before, the bird's course led directly towards Fred; but upon
getting sight of him as he sat on his horse with rope in hand, it
changed, and fled towards me, plunging its long neck, and uttering a
short whistle, as though blowing off steam. Even while running, the
short, stumpy wings were used to aid its flight and steady its body,
which rocked, and rolled, and swayed to and fro like a ship in a head
sea.

"On, Rover, on!" we shouted, and the faithful dog strained all of his
energies to overtake the chase, and when he again got within a few yards
of it, up went a claw, and we could hear the powerful blow that
descended upon the dog's head, and sent him rolling over and over again,
and this time a slight yelp told that he was somewhat hurt.

"Look out for him!" shouted Fred and Murden, spurring towards me, but
there was no necessity to caution me. I had my rope all ready, and when
the bird was near enough, I whirled it over my head _a la Mexicano_, and
let it fly at the long neck that was stretched out to its fullest
extent.

The cord fell directly upon the bird's body, but was shook clear in an
instant, and its course was changed; and instead of seeking to pass me,
it turned and ran towards the lieutenant, who was laughing most heartily
at our attempts to imitate the cattle drivers of Spanish climes.

"Look out!" shouted Fred, but the warning was unheeded, and before the
lieutenant could command his presence of mind the bird charged upon him,
startled his horse, and the next moment the officer was thrown to the
ground directly in the path of the cassiowary.

Luckily Murden struck the ground face downwards, and before he could
turn over the bird was upon him. With one vigorous jerk of its beak on
that portion of his anatomy where the flesh is supposed to be firmest,
he tore away cloth, and perhaps an inch or two of skin; for at any rate
we saw the lieutenant clap his hand upon his wound, and when he withdrew
it, blood dripped from his fingers.

"D----n the cassiowary!" Murden roared, struggling to his feet, and
rubbing his bruised limbs; but we did not stop to hear his complaints,
for the bird was going off like a frightened deer, and if we expected to
make a prize, there was no time to lose.

We struck our animals, and they followed the object of pursuit at the
top of their speed, yet for the first five minutes we did not gain an
inch; and even Rover, who had joined in the chase with renewed vigor
found that he had got his match for once.

At length we got clear of the dried grass and bushes, and entered upon
the prairie, that was as smooth and level as a house floor, and then we
began to gradually gain upon the huge bird in spite of its immense
strides.

Our course led directly towards the main road, and we could see a dozen
teams leisurely pursuing their journey, and we hoped that the drivers
would head the bird and cause it to turn towards us, when an opportunity
would offer for a shot, for we began to give up all hope of making the
capture alive.

We flew over the ground as fast as the horses could stretch, and the
animals seemed to enjoy the sport equally as well as ourselves; in a few
minutes we saw that the teamsters were watching the chase, and that a
number of them had got their guns in readiness to give the bird a shot
in case it went near enough to their carts. That was something that we
did not desire, as we wished the honor of making the capture; and had we
been disposed to trust to our revolvers, we could have wounded the bird
when it unhorsed the lieutenant and left him sprawling in the dirt.

The eyes of the cassiowary were as sharp, however, as our own, and
seeing the danger in front, slackened its speed as though uncertain what
to do, and we took advantage of the hesitancy to urge the pace of our
horses to the utmost, and gained so rapidly that Fred determined to try
his reatta. He whirled it over his head in true Mexican style, and threw
it, but the Mexican science was not in the act; it struck upon the
bird's back, and then slipped to the ground.

Nothing daunted, Fred gathered up his rope again, and by the time that
it was in his hand the chase suddenly stopped, raised its long neck, and
attempted to pass between us, and again seek refuge amidst the grass
that was growing in profusion on our right.

That act was fatal to the poor bird, for before it could gain headway
Rover had caught one of its long legs in his mouth and bit so hard that
a shrill shriek was elicited--something like the cry of an enraged ape.
Again did the bird strike him with beak and claw, but the dog held on
with the tenacity of a death-grip; and during the struggle we rode
quickly up and threw our slip-nooses over that long neck, which had cut
through the air with more than railroad speed. Even then, the cassiowary
seemed to be more concerned about Rover than ourselves, and fought him
fiercely.

"Call off the dog," shouted Fred; "we have him sure, now."

That was a task of some difficulty, for Rover had got his blood up and
was fighting desperately, making the feathers fly in all directions; and
even his antagonist was using all the weapons that nature had given him,
and was striking out like a prize-fighter, fighting with wings and beak,
and sometimes with feet, in a manner that would have excited the
admiration of a cock-fighting padre.

By the time that I got Rover to relinquish the combat,--and during its
continuance I did not escape harmless,--the teamsters had stopped their
oxen and were rushing towards us, anxious to see what kind of an animal
we were struggling with. The bird made frantic efforts to escape, but by
means of the rope we were enabled to frustrate them, and were getting
him quite subdued when the crowd reached us.

"What on airth is that?" inquired a man, whose voice readily proclaimed
his nation.

"Why, that is an Australian turkey," replied Murden, who joined us at
that instant, looking somewhat the worse for his trip, and we noticed
that his seat in the saddle was not very firm.

"Why, you don't say that, 'squire?" asked our new acquaintance,
approaching the captive to get a nearer view.

"Yes, it is. We pasture them out a little ways, and when the people at
Ballarat feel like having a feast we catch one, but sometimes they get a
little wild."

"Wall, I swow to man, if that don't beat all that I ever heard of, and
no mistake. I've seen big cock-turkeys, and uncle Josiah raised one for
last Thanksgiving that was a whopper, but this knocks him. I say, what
could I get a pair of these 'ere for?"

The stranger very imprudently laid his hand upon the bird for the
purpose of feeling his condition, and what proportion of flesh there was
to feathers. Hardly had the captive felt his touch when all of his
native fierceness returned, and while our countryman, with a grave face,
was still expressing his wonder, the cassiowary raised one of his
muscular legs and kicked him full on his breast. In another instant the
American was going backward at a rapid rate, and finally brought up full
length upon the earth. For a second he didn't move, then slowly
gathering up his lank form, he looked first at the cassiowary, and then
at Murden, and muttered,--

"Dod rot yer Australia turkeys,--they don't know manners."

The crowd roared with laughter, and for a long time our American friend
was known by the nickname of "Turkey Johnson."




CHAPTER L.

ARRIVAL OF SMITH.--ATTEMPT TO BURN THE STORE.


Even after we had captured the cassiowary we did not know what to do
with it, as Murden would not listen for a moment to the idea of its
being killed, and yet the bird was too formidable an opponent to play
with. While we were debating how to get the bird to Ballarat, an old
stockman, who upon the discovery of gold had left his employment and
gone into the teaming business, suggested that we should tie a
handkerchief over his head, and guaranteed that we would then lead as
docile as a pet lamb.

"Now, then, how are we to improve the advice of the stockman?" asked
Murden. "Who will throw a handkerchief over the bird's head, and then
have the hardihood to tie it?"

No one volunteered to perform so perilous a duty until our American
friend, who had recovered from the effects of his kick, suggested that
all present should take hold of the two ropes, and by pulling in
opposite directions manage to keep the bird in a state of strangulation
that would utterly prevent all resistance.

Murden was delighted with the hint, and acted on it without delay. We
pressed those present into service, and in a few minutes the eyes of the
huge bird were screened from the light, and he was ready to follow us
wherever we should lead. In this way we escorted him to town, and
Murden, when he returned to Melbourne, carried his pet; and the bird may
be alive now for all that I know, for the lieutenant gave him to the
governor-general, and for many months after the presentation the
cassiowary was to be seen on the grounds, near the palace, an object of
great curiosity to all new-comers.

After seeing the bird safely housed at the back part of our store, where
we kept our horses, and after astonishing Steel Spring by telling him
that he was to make his entree into Melbourne on the back of the bird,
we again took the road, and were soon gratified by meeting our partner,
Smith, with two huge loads of merchandise of all descriptions, and each
drawn by four yokes of oxen.

"Well, I've got along," he said, with one of his most cheerful smiles,
"and a precious whack of itself I've got piled on the carts. Here's a
little of every thing. Cheap for cash, you know."

"Then you made good trades in Melbourne?" we both demanded.

"I should rather think I had. There's three or four American clipper
ships in port with cargoes that must be sold, and no demand. I bought a
lot of stuff at auction, and I never paid such a low figure before."

"But how did you manage to get clear of your wife so soon after
marriage?" Fred asked.

"Ah, I see that the lieutenant has been giving you the news," replied
Smith, with a genuine blush. "Well, the fact of it is, she is too
sensible a woman to regret the absence of one whom she knows is
bettering himself, so that there were but few tears shed between us."

The lieutenant, with a consideration that did him credit, rode in
advance a few rods, out of hearing, as he rightly judged that we must
desire to make a few inquiries of a private nature respecting our
business relation.

"Did you get the gold that was in the custody of the old--"

We were about to say "old convict," when we recollected that he was
Smith's father-in-law.

"Of course I did," our partner interrupted, apparently taking no notice
of our mistake. "He read the order over a dozen times, and then made me
sign a paper, stating that the money was given up to me on such a day,
at such a time, and then called his daughter to witness the delivery. He
wished you both all manner of prosperity, and said that he didn't want
you to think hard of him for not letting you mine on his claim, but
hoped to be rich enough before many days to relinquish it entirely, and
then you could come and be welcome."

"Tell him we appreciate his kindness," returned Fred, with a laugh at
the shrewdness of the old fox.

"Yes, I will," returned Smith, seriously. "But let me finish with an
account of how I spent a portion of the funds, and what I did with the
remainder. I have ten barrels of flour, or a ton as we term it, which I
got cheap enough, and if we don't realize a profit on it I shall be much
mistaken--then I have sugars, molasses, whiskey, wine, spices, boots
and shoes, clothing, meal, preserved meats and vegetables, tobacco and
cigars, pipes, pork, a cask of vinegar, a barrel of pickles, firkins of
butter, and a dozen cheeses, and fifty other things that I don't
recollect, but which I have no doubt will meet with a ready sale after
we have once got started."

"And the price for all these things was low?" we asked, quite amazed at
the variety that our partner had selected.

"So low that over two thirds of the money that we subscribed now awaits
our order at the Melbourne bank." And to confirm his words, Smith pulled
from his bosom a small pouch that contained a certificate of deposit.

Of course we congratulated our friend on the prospect that he had
afforded us of making a large percentage on his purchases, and by the
time that we had finished our interrogations we had reached Ballarat and
drew up in front of our new store; and in spite of the warmth of the
afternoon, we stripped off our coats, and went to work unloading the
carts and arranging the goods to suit our ideas of convenience and
display.

Even Murden did not disdain to lend a hand, and Mr. Brown, when he
dropped around to take a cup of tea with us in the evening, finding that
there was plenty of work to be done, sent us half a dozen policemen; the
latter labored as though they liked it, and when, about ten o'clock in
the evening, we knocked off, and offered to pay them, to our surprise
they told us that they were already paid, and all our entreaties were
powerless to make them accept of a shilling. But they still lingered in
the store, and we wondered at it; and at length we hinted to Murden that
we thought they wanted something for their services, although they had
refused money.

"Leave them to me," the lieutenant replied, "and I will find out what
they expect."

"Well, boys, we have had a pretty hard evening's work," the lieutenant
said, speaking to the men, who had no idea that he belonged to the
service.

"Yes, sir; carrying in the barrels is apt to make one dry and tired,"
replied the men.

"Yes, I know; but you understand that there is no such thing as liquor
in the store," and Murden winked mysteriously.

"O, we knew there was none," cried the men, with wonderful unanimity,
and their faces experienced a change for the better immediately.

"I suppose if there was liquor here, and it was offered, you could take
off half a tumbler full without much trouble?"

The men were confident that they could, although they once more
expressed their full conviction in none being in the store.

"Tap a barrel and give them a strong pull at it," Murden whispered, "and
you need not fear of their informing."

It was but the work of a moment to accomplish the object, and perhaps we
were the more ready from a desire on our part to taste what Smith had
bought. The six policemen threw back their heads with military
precision, and emptied their tumblers without making even a wry face;
but their lips smacked like the reports of six distinct pistols, and as
they turned to go one said,--

"Liquor is not allowed to be sold at the mines without a full license,
and the rules and regulations prevent us from touching any kind of
spirits; therefore we are all temperance men; but, I must say that you
have got some of the best colored water to be had in the country. Good
evening, sirs; we should like to assist again when our services are
needed;" and off went the policemen, well satisfied with their reward.

It was as the men stated--liquor had to be licensed or not at all; and
although a large amount was disposed of daily at Ballarat, yet it was
never sold in the presence of a policeman, or a person who would be
likely to inform of the vender.

We ate our supper with a good appetite, glancing with pride upon our
well-filled store and carefully-selected goods, and bright anticipations
arose in our minds as we thought of the profits that we should reach
before they were all disposed of. A fortune of colossal size seemed
within our reach, and only required a little tact to grasp. While we
were thus cogitating, a barefooted, wild-looking boy, who seemed as
though he had worked under ground all his life, and was only on the
surface for a few minutes for the sake of astonishing civilization, made
his appearance, threw down a dirty-looking note, and then disappeared as
suddenly as he came.

"What does the fellow mean?" asked Murden, who was lazily swinging in a
hammock, smoking a pipe with infinite relish, and endeavoring to keep
the insects at bay by raising clouds of burnt tobacco.

"We are as much in the dark as yourself," I replied, examining the
superscription of the letter, and finding that the address was to the
"Two Americans, who keep the store."

"Well, open it and enlighten us," the lieutenant said, carelessly, and
we complied, and found that the contents were as follows:--

    "BALRAT, AUSTRALE.--You felers is in danger and i wont to tel you
    of it, but i mustnt be seen round or i shal be spected and then no
    confidince will be plac in me, the felers round think you is agin
    um in the mining tack, but i say no, take care of your store to
    night, or you wil see the devil. no more now. A MAN YOU BENIFITTED
    ONE TIM."

"A pleasant kind of note, truly," remarked Murden, laying down his pipe;
"and I don't believe that the writer of the letter had any idea of
needlessly alarming you. He is evidently your friend, and would call and
give you information were he not fearful of being suspected by his
comrades."

"But what is this danger that we are threatened with?" queried Fred.

"I don't know, but it strikes me very forcibly that I have been the
means of involving you in difficulty. The spy who overheard our plans
last night has evidently reported that you are on the side of
government, and to vent their spite against you is undoubtedly the
object of the disaffected miners. What they intend to do I don't know;
but this I do know--I will have every policeman in Ballarat stationed
around your store before it shall come to harm, and I will lose my own
life but I will preserve yours and your property." Murden spoke with an
air of sincerity and confidence that convinced us he was in earnest.

"Our property," repeated Fred, in a musing tone, and he glanced around
the store, where bale and cask were strewed in confusion.

"That is what is aimed at," cried my friend, suddenly starting up.

"Depend upon it, the villains mean to fire the store and destroy all the
goods that we have purchased at such a large expense. But we will be
ready for them."

He drew his revolver from his belt and examined carefully each barrel,
and then saw that the caps were fresh and fitted well.

"In that they shall be disappointed," Murden exclaimed; "I will go to
the police quarters at once and state the facts of the case. A dozen men
shall be detailed to guard your store, day and night, until all danger
is past."

The impetuous officer, filled with this idea, would have rushed
instantly to the inspector's; and before Fred could stop him he had got
into the street.

"Come here for a moment," cried Fred, in a quiet tone, and Murden
doggedly consented.

The instant that he was in the store Fred closed the door and locked it,
and put the key in his pocket.

"What is it you wish!" asked the lieutenant, after a moment's silence,
surprised at the act.

"I wish you to hear a little reason, and not ruin us with your good
intentions," my friend answered, quietly.

Murden looked astonished, but made no reply. He refilled his pipe and
lighted it in silence. At length he asked,--

"What do you mean by saying that I shall ruin you with my intentions? Do
you think that I do not feel very keenly the situation in which my own
thoughtlessness has placed you?"

"We have no doubt that your motives are good," replied Fred, "but we
know that you will listen to reason, and after a few words of
explanation will agree with us that our course is right."

Murden looked incredulous, and puffed away at his pipe vigorously; but
he muttered, "Go on," and we discovered that he was softening rapidly.

"It is evident," Fred went on to state, "that the disaffected portion of
the miners at this place think that we are in league with government in
endeavoring to force the tax upon them, and, to revenge themselves,
undertake to burn our store. This we must prevent."

"That is what I told you in the first place," interrupted the
lieutenant. "We must have a police force around the store, and shoot
down every suspicious character that approaches during the night."

"Such a course would soon make the mines too hot to hold us, and instead
of getting sympathy, we should get the undying hatred of every man in
Australia. No, no; we must meet violence with kindness, and instead of
making enemies, make friends."

"Go on, and tell me how you will act to do so," cried Murden.

"It is very simple: we must watch for those who seek to harm us, and
convince them of our friendship," responded Fred, earnestly.

"By hanging or shooting, I suppose," replied Murden.

"Neither one nor the other method should we adopt. We will keep watch,
and if an incendiary seeks to fire our building, we will seize him, and
convince him that we are favorable to his cause, or that we mean to
remain neutral during the coming struggle, and then set him free to
return to his friends with the news."

"Hadn't you better throw in a glass of liquor, and a few plugs of
tobacco?" asked the officer, sarcastically, never having heard of such
kind of treatment to people who were disposed to be vicious.

"Your suggestion is good, and shall be acted on," replied Fred,
pleasantly. "Have you any other?"

"No, but I wish to tell you that you are laboring under a mistaken idea,
and that you will regret your benevolent motives. Such a course as you
describe might answer very well if the population of Ballarat was made
up of high-minded and honorable men, and not the refuse of the old
countries, whose crimes have outlawed them, and whose greatest
inclination is to be in mischief."

"You forget," said Fred, "that this tax movement originated with the
best and most intelligent men at the mines, and that the class of people
you have described are bushrangers, or else men who live upon the
community without work. If ever the miners and the government do have a
collision, you will be surprised at the respectable ranks that the
former will show."

"I have no doubt of it," responded Murden, dryly.

"Under these circumstances, we must think that it is better to depend
upon ourselves than upon the police for protection, because the instant
that the latter are arrayed on our side it will be known all over
Ballarat, and then our business and reputation will be lost."

"Then you are really serious?" queried Murden, after a moment's thought.

"Quite so, for it is our only hope to escape persecution," returned
Fred.

"Well, perhaps you are right," the officer said, "and I will consent to
follow your suggestions; but I claim the privilege of assisting you in
your watch."

"That we are quite willing to accord, and as it is past twelve o'clock
we may as well begin it, for there is no knowing how soon our enemies
may steal upon us."

To prevent the dog from giving an alarm we tied him up, and then
extinguished our lights, and carefully walked around the building,
keeping well in the shade, so that if any one was approaching we could
be informed of the fact, and be prepared to give a warm reception. The
night was very quiet and warm, and the only sounds to be heard were the
humming of the thousands of insects that filled the air, or an
occasional howling of some dog, tied up during the temporary absence of
its owner, or the loud snoring of Steel Spring, who, taking but little
interest in matters that did not concern his stomach or himself, went to
sleep at an early hour in the evening with his head resting on a herring
box, and his long legs on a barrel, and such doleful sounds did he emit
from his nasal organ, that even the horses were kept in a state of
perpetual irritation, and were inclined to refuse their provender.
Occasionally on the heavy night air would come a dull sound, like a
splash of water, which showed that some industrious miners were trying
to keep their claim clear, and for that purpose were bailing out water
day and night.

Twice did we patrol around our store, and yet saw nothing of danger or
any suspicious circumstance. Hour after hour passed away, and we began
to grow dozy from the effect of a hard day's work, and we sat down
within the building, and thought that we would refresh ourselves with a
few whiffs from our pipes; but while filling them, a low growl from
Rover startled us. In an instant I was by the dog's side, and quieted
him with a word, and during all the confusion that ensued that night,
the hound did not disgrace his training.

The sound that had started the dog appeared to us to proceed from a tent
some distance off; but we were not certain in that respect, and listened
attentively. For a few minutes all was quiet, and then we distinctly
heard the cracking of a stick, and then all was still for the space of
five minutes.

We cautiously moved, so that we could observe every portion of the
building, and yet we saw nothing that deserved notice, and we began to
think that our imaginations were running riot, when a repetition of the
cracking sound once more occurred.

"Some one is under the building," whispered Fred.

Our store rested upon two small hillocks, which was an advantage during
the wet season, for the water was all carried off towards the river, and
the constructor of the store had rightly judged that it would flow under
the building, and leave the front part perfectly dry. It was, therefore,
very easy for one or more persons to crawl along the rough gulf which
the water coursed over, and stopping under the former, kindle a fire
that would give us great difficulty to extinguish in the absence of
engines and scarcity of water.

We all listened attentively, but no sound was heard, and we began to
fear that the flames might already be kindled, and that the incendiaries
had made their escape. Smith and Murden agreed to creep down one side of
the building, while Fred and myself undertook to guard the other.

With this understanding we parted company, and cautiously reached the
gulf, so that we could look under the building, and there, sure enough,
we saw that ample preparations had been made for smoking us out, for a
pile of kindling nearly a foot high was raised, and two men, who, when
they spoke, did so in whispers, were busy adding to it.

"There, there's enough," cried one, "to set fire to all the shanties in
Ballarat. Light the match, and let's be off, or the dog will be snuffing
around, and then we shall have the fellers about our ears."

"Faith, there's mighty little fear of that, for don't you hear 'um snore
as though they hadn't slept a bit for a month. Pile on the stuff, and
let's have a rousing fire while we are 'bout it," replied the other; and
his voice sounded familiar to us, although who the speaker was we had no
idea.

"You forget that firewood is dear at Ballarat," and he chuckled as he
spoke, as though amused at the thought.

"Thin we'll have it chaper before long," returned the other; and by his
language we knew that he was an Irishman.

They worked for a few seconds, and after a match was lighted and thrust
into the pile of kindlings, and then the incendiaries crawled towards us
as fast as possible, for the purpose of escaping, and getting clear of
the flames, which already began to shoot up and crackle, as they
gathered headway.




CHAPTER LI.

ATTEMPT TO BURN THE STORE.


As the heads of the incendiaries emerged from beneath the building, and
even before they had time to gain a footing, we threw ourselves upon
them, and pinned them to the earth in despite of the powerful struggles
which they made to escape; failing in which, their hands sought for
their knives, but we saw the movement, and succeeded in defeating it.

"Yield in peace," cried Fred, "or you will fare worse," addressing his
antagonist, the Irishman, who replied with an oath, and a fierce thrust
of a long knife.

"Is that your gratitude?" continued Fred, who easily avoided the
meditated blow. "Then I will begin in earnest."

He drew his revolver from his pocket, and struck his opponent a heavy
blow on his temple. The Irishman uttered a groan, and remained
motionless, and then Fred rushed towards me to see what assistance I
needed; but I fortunately required none, for the man I had taken charge
of, after being frustrated in his attempt to use his knife, remained
perfectly quiet, and appeared disposed to surrender on as good terms as
he could make.

"Never mind me," I cried, as Fred joined me; "I will take charge of this
fellow, and blow his brains out if he makes an attempt to escape.
Extinguish the fire before it gains headway, and don't, above all
things, raise an alarm."

Fred crawled under the building, and in a few seconds had scattered the
firebrands so that all danger was passed, and in the latter work Smith
and Murden rendered good service; for the lieutenant quickly had a
couple of buckets of water on hand, which he had brought from our "sink
hole," and in a very few minutes all traces of the fire were destroyed.

"Have you got the scamp?" asked Murden, crawling from his confined
quarters, where he had been nearly strangled with smoke.

"This fellow appears to be quiet enough," I answered, turning my
prisoner over on his back, so that I could see his face.

"Is he?" asked the fellow in a sarcastic tone; and quick as lightning he
started to his feet, and I saw a long knife flash in the starlight, and
before I could spring aside he aimed it full at my breast.

In another instant I should have been a dead man, but, fortunately,
Murden saw the move, and struck the ruffian's arm up, and the knife
passed over my shoulder harmless. The next instant my prisoner was
measuring his length on the hard ground, with blood spirting from his
nose and mouth, the effects of a tremendous blow, which the lieutenant
delivered full upon his unprotected face.

"Lie there, you d----d midnight incendiary," cried the officer,
indignant to think that he wished to add murder to his other crimes.

The wretch only groaned in reply; but Murden, thinking that he was
shamming, slipped a pair of handcuffs on his wrists, and then served the
Irishman, whom Fred had rendered tongue-tied by a blow from his
revolver, in the same manner.

"A neat pair of handcuffs is an ornament that disgraces no one, while
they add to a person's security eighty per cent. There is, to be sure, a
slight prejudice against having them on in unmixed company, but it is
astonishing how soon the feeling wears off. Next to a good revolver,
believe me, a pair of handcuffs is a policeman's best friend."

While the lieutenant was speaking, he gave the prostrate Irishman a kick
with his heavy boot, as an illustration of his argument perhaps, and the
blow was sufficient to restore the fellow to his senses.

"Holy St. Patrick, it's murdering me, ye are," he exclaimed.

"No, but we intend to, unless you inform us who hired you to set fire to
our store," rejoined Fred.

The fellow maintained a profound silence, and Murden was about to repeat
his blow when Fred checked him.

"No more kicks," he said; "they have been punished sufficiently already,
and we must now try what effect kindness will have on them."

"I'll try the effect of a stout halter," cried the angry officer; but
Fred was resolute, and refused to allow them to be punished.

Our prisoners listened to the words that passed between the lieutenant
and Fred, and I could see by the bright starlight that astonishment was
plainly visible upon their faces. It was evident that they expected
different treatment.

"Let us take them into the store, and there we can examine them at
leisure," Fred said; and as the idea met our approval, we helped them to
stand upon their feet, and then escorted them into the building, where
we lighted our candles, and after wiping some of the congealed blood
from their faces, we examined their countenances to see if we had ever
met them before in Ballarat.

"Where have we seen you before?" Fred asked, addressing the Irishman.

The man hung his head and refused to reply; and he even appeared to act
as though ashamed of his conduct.

"I can tell you where we have met him before," I remarked. "Don't you
remember the Irishman whose wounds you dressed on the second night of
your arrival, and who swore that he would yet live to reward you?"

Fred nodded, and his face grew dark with passion.

"Well, this is the person. He was destitute of money and credit, and to
save his life we spent many hours in cleansing his injuries, and
dressing them with care. He has already attempted to pay us his debt of
gratitude, and perhaps when he is again sick he will visit us."

"You miserable apology for a man," cried Murden, raising his arm, and
the fellow cowered at the threatened blow; but Fred interposed, and
stopped the impetuous officer from carrying his intention into effect.

"What excuse have you to offer for plotting against us?" demanded Fred,
addressing the Irishman.

"I was poor, and wanted food," he returned, with a face of shame.

"Why did you not come to me, and I would have supplied your wants? It is
but a poor return to attempt to burn us out for the attention that we
showed you. Is your heart made of stone?"

"I was told that you two was plotting agin the miners concerning the
tax, and that it would be a good thing to ruin ye, and make ye lave the
country," answered the Irishman, not daring to raise his downcast
glances from the floor.

"And the miners hired both of you to commence the war of burning, did
they?" asked Fred.

"No, not the miners," returned the man, "although they think that you is
agin 'um, and that you had better move. A man, whose name we don't know,
gave us five pounds to set the place on fire."

"You are lying, and we know it," retorted Fred. "Tell us who paid you
the money, or you will fare badly," he continued, in a stern tone of
voice.

The incendiary stammered, and looked towards his accomplice, as though
uncertain what to say, and while hesitating, the latter exclaimed:

"It is useless to mince matters, Pat--we are in a fix, and have got to
make the most of it. We belong to a secret league, whose object is to
resist paying the taxes imposed by government upon miners, and hearing
that you were with the government, we determined to clip your claws, and
prevent you from doing mischief. If your store had taken fire, we might
have made a few pounds by plunder, but as for receiving five pounds, or
any money for the work, it's all sham, and Pat knows it. We talked the
matter over with a dozen or so, and agreed to do the business. That's
all about it, and you may make the most of it, and hand us over to the
police as soon as you please."

The ruffian spoke in as free and easy a manner as though he had been
engaged in some meritorious work, instead of a piece of black villany.

"You did not know, then, that we were opposed to the government on the
tax question, and that while we determined to take no part in the
struggle, we sympathized with the miners?" inquired Fred.

"One of the men to whom we talked said as much," answered the fellow,
"but we did not pay any attention to him, and neither do I believe it
now."

"Then let this convince you," exclaimed Fred, taking the key of the
irons from Murden's hand, and unlocking the handcuffs. "There, you are
free. Go and tell the dissatisfied miners that we will never plot
against them, although it is probable that we shall not take up arms in
their defence. We are traders, and have done with fighting, and wish to
remain neutral."

The fellows stared in unfeigned astonishment at Fred, and then around
the store, as though hardly convinced that they had heard the welcome
intelligence.

"Is your honor serious?" asked the Irishman.

"Quite so--go; but if another attempt is made to burn us out, we have
weapons that we know how to use. Say so to those with whom you plotted."

"I won't say that I'm sorry for what I've done, 'cos no great harm has
happened any how," said the Englishman, who appeared to possess more of
an education than his companion; "but I'll say this--had we burned your
store down, and then learned that you was not agin us, I should have
felt bad, and would have tried to right it in some way. We are poor
devils at best, and ain't got much in common, but we are all liable to
make mistakes, and so we supposed that we were really doing something
for the cause."

"It's little I thought it was ye," said the Irishman, who seemed
determined also to offer an excuse. "Faith, had I known it was the two
rael gintlemen who healed me sores, it's little I'd thought of setting
ye on fire. Long lives to ye, and don't be afraid of bad luck after
this. It's Paddy O'Shea who will fight for ye to the longest day that he
lives."

We received the apologies with due dignity, and without placing too much
stress upon what was said by the men; and at last they concluded to take
their departure, but just as they got to the door, and while Fred was
unlocking it, O'Shea expressed a desire to whisper a few words to my
friend.

"If ye have such a thing as a thimble full of whiskey in the store,
perhaps ye will give us a drink?" he said.

Fred hesitated for a moment, but at last concluded that it would be a
cheap riddance by giving them a drink. He drew a couple of stiff glasses
from the barrel, and they swallowed the liquor with a relish that would
have delighted the heart of a manufacturer.

"Ah, how I should like to drink such stuff as that all day, and have
nothing to do!" cried Pat; and he glanced fondly towards the barrel, as
though anticipating another invitation, but he didn't get it.

They still hesitated about going, and the two villains looked first at
one and then at another, as though they still had a matter that they
wished to speak about.

"I also have a request," whispered the Englishman, evidently mistaking
his man, and thinking that Fred was a good-natured sort of person, who
would comply with every wish.

"Name it," replied Fred, with some little impatience.

"Could you lend me ten pounds for a few days, until I can collect a few
debts that are due me?" the scamp asked.

"No, I can't do that," rejoined Fred, opening wide the store door, "but
I can let you have a few of these if they will suit you."

He raised his foot as he spoke, and administered a few energetic kicks
to the fellow's posteriors, that almost took him off his feet.

"They fit well enough," cried the beggar, "but they don't suit;" and the
twain were speedily out of sight, and whenever we used to see them
afterwards, they would keep at a respectable distance, and look to see
what kind of boots we wore.

As we apprehended no further difficulty that night, we went to bed, and
got quite a comfortable nap before sunrise.

Murden, whose visit extended a day or two longer than he intended, got
ready to start in the afternoon, and although he had only brought a
valise with him, and a change of clothing, yet did he pretend, every
time that his departure was mentioned, that he had to pack his things,
and away he would go, and remain absent until he had recovered composure
sufficient to face us like a man, and without a display of weakness.

With a hearty shake of our hands, and a troubled brow, Murden left us;
and had he not undertaken the difficult task of driving or leading his
newly-caught bird, the cassiowary, which gave him trouble, and required
all of his attention, he would have broken down in his leave-taking, and
galloped off without daring to trust himself with words.

As for Steel Spring, he appeared delighted at the idea of leaving; for
he was fond of change, and required exciting scenes to keep him out of
mischief, which he was prone to, in defiance of the vigilant eye that
Murden kept on him; and I had but little doubt, as I stood and watched
their forms disappear amidst a labyrinth of tents and crazy huts, that
the long-limbed wretch would have murdered him, and rejoined a gang of
bushrangers, had it not been for a sort of moral fear that prevented him
from committing the crime.

We felt lonely for the balance of the day, although we were extremely
busy in arranging our goods, and in selling. Our store was crowded from
noon until long past sunset, and then we were compelled to close and
exclude the crowd, owing to our being completely exhausted, both
mentally and physically, for the adding up of figures was a new kind of
brain work, that had not tasked us since the days when we were
schoolboys.

How many "nigger heads" we sold that day, singly, for the purpose of
allowing the miners to taste our stock before they bought largely, I
have no means of knowing; but fortunately for our reputation, Smith had
displayed great prudence in his bargains, and his "cavendish" and "fine
cut" were at length pronounced the best that were ever brought to
Ballarat, and so we got up a great sale of tobacco, and our stock ran
low before we had been open a week.

Smith, and the man he had hired to freight goods, remained with us three
days, and then returned, in all haste, to Melbourne for more goods, for
our run of custom was so great that we found that a fresh supply of
articles was needed without delay. Our partner did not need urging to
return to the city, for the reader will recollect that he was recently
married, and that his wife was at Melbourne.

We found, when he got ready to start, that we had taken gold dust enough
to pay for our next cargo, even without drawing on our reserve fund,
which was held subject to our order in a Melbourne bank.

We were sitting in our store one evening, smoking our pipes, as usual,
and talking over the business of the day, when we heard a knock at the
door, light and timid, as though delivered by the hand of a woman.

It was long past the hour of our closing, and we had made preparations
for retiring for the night, for our hammocks were slung, and ready for
occupancy, and it was seldom that we had a visitor at so late an hour.
The knock started us, and even Rover, who had been sleeping soundly,
awoke with a growl, as though he scented danger, and was going to be
prepared to meet it.

"Who can that be?" asked Fred, involuntarily placing his hand upon his
revolver.

I was unable to answer the question, of course; but we waited in silence
for a repetition of the knocking with as much anxiety as though it had
been a summons of instant execution.

There was a secret gang of ruffians in Ballarat at that time, and in
defiance of the vigilance of the police, they had committed many bold
robberies, and even murders; and the stories told of their atrocities
had awakened a feeling in our hearts that perhaps some night the
villains might undertake an attack upon ourselves, knowing, as they
must, that our sales were large, and that we must have considerable
money on hand, which we did not deposit at the government office, for
the purpose of being sent to Melbourne under military escort.

Every night, since we had grown in importance and wealth, we had slept
with our revolvers under our heads, and beneath our pillows were small
bags of gold dust, and gold and silver coin; and when men begin to
collect riches, they will defend them and watch over them with more
tenderness than any thing else that they possess.

Again we heard the knock upon our door, and, we thought, a low groan;
but it might have been the wind. The hound was snuffing at the door, and
uttered a low wail, as though mourning for the dead. Two or three times
he trotted towards us, and then returned and scratched at the woodwork
with his claws, as though anxious to get into the street.

"I can stand this no longer!" cried Fred, cocking his revolver, and
starting up. "I will see who is at the door if a dozen robbers are
waiting outside."

He started towards the door as he spoke, and I followed him. Just as we
were about to draw the bolts, another knock, but much fainter, and a
low, death-like groan, fell upon our ears.

We started, and hesitated about proceeding; but Rover looked up into our
faces with such an expression, as though to encourage us to see what the
matter was, that we determined to investigate, and no longer suspect a
trick.

We withdrew the bolts and suddenly threw open the door, and as we did
so, the body of a man fell inward, and lay at our feet motionless,
although by our lights, dim as they were, we could see that our midnight
visitor was covered with blood.




CHAPTER LII.

THE ATTEMPT TO MURDER MR. CRITCHET.


We were surprised and somewhat startled at the intrusion, but we did not
stop to exchange surmises, or to ask questions. A man was lying at our
feet, badly wounded, and was bleeding freely from half a dozen cuts or
stabs.

We considered that our first duty was to attend to him, and defend him,
if necessary, from a fresh attack of assailants, and that after his
wounds were dressed, and he was able to answer questions, then we could
investigate the circumstances connected with his mysterious appearance
at our door, and, if possible, bring to justice the perpetrators of the
wrong.

Before we moved the now insensible body, we looked out and endeavored to
discover if persons wore loitering near; but all was quiet, and not a
soul was to be seen. We hastily closed the door and bolted it, and then
moved the wounded man to a mattress that we kept for Smith to sleep upon
when he was with us, and as we did so, and the light fell upon his
features, we were surprised to discover that our visitor was our nearest
neighbor, an elderly Englishman by the name of Critchet, who, in company
with his nephew, a young fellow of dissipated habits, was working a mine
about a quarter of a mile from our store. The young man's name was
Follet; and while we had never had any conversation with him, excepting
while selling a few articles which he required from the store, we had
taken a strong prejudice against him, although upon what ground we could
not really tell.

He was one of those kind of men who never look you full in the face
while speaking, and if indeed you caught his eye, it was only for the
sixteenth part of a second, and by accident at that. He had the name of
being a desperate gambler, and once Mr. Brown had called our attention
to him, and remarked that he had lost more money at card playing than he
made honestly, and wondered if his uncle supplied his extravagances.

The latter owned the claim which he was working, and employed the nephew
at a fair salary, and that was all that we knew of the connection
between them, excepting that we had seen them talking together in an
excited manner quite frequently, and only the day before we had heard
them quarrel on some subject that we did not care to listen to, for it
did not concern us.

Report had often reached our ears that Mr. Critchet had made quite a
fortune with his claim, and that he was very prudent in his
expenditures; but as he had never disputed our prices, and paid what we
demanded without a word of complaint, we placed no reliance upon the
assertions.

After our first expression of astonishment was over, we set to work
without delay to ascertain what injuries the old man had sustained. We
removed his vest and shirt, and found a small cut near the region of
his heart; but upon probing the wound we found that the blow, evidently
intended to be a fatal one, had been misdirected; that a rib had
received the point of the knife, and saved the old man from instant
death.

A further examination revealed two more stabs, one on the right shoulder
and the other on the left breast, both of which were bleeding profusely,
and had so weakened the old man that he fainted the instant he found
that he was likely to receive assistance.

We went to work and cleansed the wounds of blood, and then stopped the
bleeding by applying balsam and lint freely, and over all we put pieces
of adhesive plaster, which we had used before for cuts, and found very
efficacious.

In the present instance it served to keep the lint in its place, and I
have no doubt that it was mainly instrumental in saving the life of Mr.
Critchet, for it prevented the insects from irritating the wounds and
causing inflammation.

A dose of weak wine was poured down our patient's throat, and then we
sat by his side until morning, before he recovered his consciousness,
and was able to speak.

"I've foiled the young scamp," he muttered, as he looked around the
store, and then suffered his glance to rest upon our faces. "He thought
that he could get the old miner's dust; but he missed his aim, and I
shall yet live to punish him."

"Of whom do you speak?" I asked, bending over his form so that I could
hear him more distinctly, for he spoke rather low and incoherently.

"There were two of them," the old miner continued, not noticing my
interrogation; "I know there were two of them, because I could hear them
whisper, and feel for the gold; but I cheated them, and shall live."

The old man attempted to laugh, but the effort sounded like a
death-rattle, it was so faint.

"You must not talk now," Fred said, "but save your strength, and in a
few days we hope you will be quite well. Sleep if you can, and in the
mean time we will send you a physician."

"No, no," our patient exclaimed, hurriedly; "I want no meddlesome quack
near me, with his solemn face and pretended knowledge. There is not a
doctor in Ballarat that I would trust with my life. Besides, they are so
expensive, and where is the money to come from to pay a physician's
bills?"

"We will be responsible for his bill," rejoined Fred, soothingly. "You
have been grievously hurt, and need better attention than we can give
you."

"But I say no," reiterated Mr. Critchet; "I shall get well, and to you
alone will the praise be due. And hark ye, young men! don't be too
forward hereafter in volunteering to assume another's debts. You may
live to repent it. Now let me rest for an hour or two, and when I awake
I think that I shall feel stronger."

The old man, who spoke with a sort of dictatorial officiousness, as
though he had been accustomed to command all his lifetime, closed his
eyes, and in a few minutes was in a troubled sleep; and as he did not
require the services of both of us to attend him, I went to bed, and
left Fred watching by his side, with the understanding that I was to be
called at daylight, so that I could relieve him and let him obtain a
few hours' rest, which he very much needed.

Fred called me at the specified time, but our patient, instead of being
better, was much worse, and was laboring under the effects of a high
fever. A dozen times he attempted to leave his bed, and as often did I
restrain him, and soothe him with kind words, until at length, just
before daylight, I recollected a bottle of opium that I had in my trunk,
and I managed to get it and persuade the sick man to take a large dose,
which he did under the impression that I was a servant, and was handing
him a glass of wine.

The opiate acted in a beneficial manner, for his system was so weakened
that it set him into a deep sleep, which lasted for a number of hours;
and before he had awakened we had removed him to a little room that we
had partitioned off from the main store, where he could be free from
most of the noise and confusion that large sales occasioned.

About sunrise, the first person that entered the store was the old man's
nephew, Follet. He looked agitated and alarmed, and shuddered when he
saw the stains of blood upon the doorstep, and also on the floor of the
store where we had rested the old man before putting him on the
mattress. He did not raise his eyes to our faces, although many times I
endeavored to get a fair glance at his face, to see if I could read his
thoughts.

"I have bad news this morning," he said, at length, finding we were not
disposed to open the conversation.

"Have you, indeed?" asked Fred, with a slight sneer.

"I slept from my uncle's tent last night," he went on