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.
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.
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.
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.
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.