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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.