We were sitting in our store one evening, smoking our pipes, as usual, and talking over the business of the day, when we heard a knock at the door, light and timid, as though delivered by the hand of a woman.
It was long past the hour of our closing, and we had made preparations for retiring for the night, for our hammocks were slung, and ready for occupancy, and it was seldom that we had a visitor at so late an hour. The knock started us, and even Rover, who had been sleeping soundly, awoke with a growl, as though he scented danger, and was going to be prepared to meet it.
"Who can that be?" asked Fred, involuntarily placing his hand upon his revolver.
I was unable to answer the question, of course; but we waited in silence for a repetition of the knocking with as much anxiety as though it had been a summons of instant execution.
There was a secret gang of ruffians in Ballarat at that time, and in defiance of the vigilance of the police, they had committed many bold robberies, and even murders; and the stories told of their atrocities had awakened a feeling in our hearts that perhaps some night the villains might undertake an attack upon ourselves, knowing, as they must, that our sales were large, and that we must have considerable money on hand, which we did not deposit at the government office, for the purpose of being sent to Melbourne under military escort.
Every night, since we had grown in importance and wealth, we had slept with our revolvers under our heads, and beneath our pillows were small bags of gold dust, and gold and silver coin; and when men begin to collect riches, they will defend them and watch over them with more tenderness than any thing else that they possess.
Again we heard the knock upon our door, and, we thought, a low groan; but it might have been the wind. The hound was snuffing at the door, and uttered a low wail, as though mourning for the dead. Two or three times he trotted towards us, and then returned and scratched at the woodwork with his claws, as though anxious to get into the street.
"I can stand this no longer!" cried Fred, cocking his revolver, and starting up. "I will see who is at the door if a dozen robbers are waiting outside."
He started towards the door as he spoke, and I followed him. Just as we were about to draw the bolts, another knock, but much fainter, and a low, death-like groan, fell upon our ears.
We started, and hesitated about proceeding; but Rover looked up into our faces with such an expression, as though to encourage us to see what the matter was, that we determined to investigate, and no longer suspect a trick.
We withdrew the bolts and suddenly threw open the door, and as we did so, the body of a man fell inward, and lay at our feet motionless, although by our lights, dim as they were, we could see that our midnight visitor was covered with blood.
THE ATTEMPT TO MURDER MR. CRITCHET.
We were surprised and somewhat startled at the intrusion, but we did not stop to exchange surmises, or to ask questions. A man was lying at our feet, badly wounded, and was bleeding freely from half a dozen cuts or stabs.
We considered that our first duty was to attend to him, and defend him, if necessary, from a fresh attack of assailants, and that after his wounds were dressed, and he was able to answer questions, then we could investigate the circumstances connected with his mysterious appearance at our door, and, if possible, bring to justice the perpetrators of the wrong.
Before we moved the now insensible body, we looked out and endeavored to discover if persons wore loitering near; but all was quiet, and not a soul was to be seen. We hastily closed the door and bolted it, and then moved the wounded man to a mattress that we kept for Smith to sleep upon when he was with us, and as we did so, and the light fell upon his features, we were surprised to discover that our visitor was our nearest neighbor, an elderly Englishman by the name of Critchet, who, in company with his nephew, a young fellow of dissipated habits, was working a mine about a quarter of a mile from our store. The young man's name was Follet; and while we had never had any conversation with him, excepting while selling a few articles which he required from the store, we had taken a strong prejudice against him, although upon what ground we could not really tell.
He was one of those kind of men who never look you full in the face while speaking, and if indeed you caught his eye, it was only for the sixteenth part of a second, and by accident at that. He had the name of being a desperate gambler, and once Mr. Brown had called our attention to him, and remarked that he had lost more money at card playing than he made honestly, and wondered if his uncle supplied his extravagances.
The latter owned the claim which he was working, and employed the nephew at a fair salary, and that was all that we knew of the connection between them, excepting that we had seen them talking together in an excited manner quite frequently, and only the day before we had heard them quarrel on some subject that we did not care to listen to, for it did not concern us.
Report had often reached our ears that Mr. Critchet had made quite a fortune with his claim, and that he was very prudent in his expenditures; but as he had never disputed our prices, and paid what we demanded without a word of complaint, we placed no reliance upon the assertions.
After our first expression of astonishment was over, we set to work without delay to ascertain what injuries the old man had sustained. We removed his vest and shirt, and found a small cut near the region of his heart; but upon probing the wound we found that the blow, evidently intended to be a fatal one, had been misdirected; that a rib had received the point of the knife, and saved the old man from instant death.
A further examination revealed two more stabs, one on the right shoulder and the other on the left breast, both of which were bleeding profusely, and had so weakened the old man that he fainted the instant he found that he was likely to receive assistance.
We went to work and cleansed the wounds of blood, and then stopped the bleeding by applying balsam and lint freely, and over all we put pieces of adhesive plaster, which we had used before for cuts, and found very efficacious.
In the present instance it served to keep the lint in its place, and I have no doubt that it was mainly instrumental in saving the life of Mr. Critchet, for it prevented the insects from irritating the wounds and causing inflammation.
A dose of weak wine was poured down our patient's throat, and then we sat by his side until morning, before he recovered his consciousness, and was able to speak.
"I've foiled the young scamp," he muttered, as he looked around the store, and then suffered his glance to rest upon our faces. "He thought that he could get the old miner's dust; but he missed his aim, and I shall yet live to punish him."
"Of whom do you speak?" I asked, bending over his form so that I could hear him more distinctly, for he spoke rather low and incoherently.
"There were two of them," the old miner continued, not noticing my interrogation; "I know there were two of them, because I could hear them whisper, and feel for the gold; but I cheated them, and shall live."
The old man attempted to laugh, but the effort sounded like a death-rattle, it was so faint.
"You must not talk now," Fred said, "but save your strength, and in a few days we hope you will be quite well. Sleep if you can, and in the mean time we will send you a physician."
"No, no," our patient exclaimed, hurriedly; "I want no meddlesome quack near me, with his solemn face and pretended knowledge. There is not a doctor in Ballarat that I would trust with my life. Besides, they are so expensive, and where is the money to come from to pay a physician's bills?"
"We will be responsible for his bill," rejoined Fred, soothingly. "You have been grievously hurt, and need better attention than we can give you."
"But I say no," reiterated Mr. Critchet; "I shall get well, and to you alone will the praise be due. And hark ye, young men! don't be too forward hereafter in volunteering to assume another's debts. You may live to repent it. Now let me rest for an hour or two, and when I awake I think that I shall feel stronger."
The old man, who spoke with a sort of dictatorial officiousness, as though he had been accustomed to command all his lifetime, closed his eyes, and in a few minutes was in a troubled sleep; and as he did not require the services of both of us to attend him, I went to bed, and left Fred watching by his side, with the understanding that I was to be called at daylight, so that I could relieve him and let him obtain a few hours' rest, which he very much needed.
Fred called me at the specified time, but our patient, instead of being better, was much worse, and was laboring under the effects of a high fever. A dozen times he attempted to leave his bed, and as often did I restrain him, and soothe him with kind words, until at length, just before daylight, I recollected a bottle of opium that I had in my trunk, and I managed to get it and persuade the sick man to take a large dose, which he did under the impression that I was a servant, and was handing him a glass of wine.
The opiate acted in a beneficial manner, for his system was so weakened that it set him into a deep sleep, which lasted for a number of hours; and before he had awakened we had removed him to a little room that we had partitioned off from the main store, where he could be free from most of the noise and confusion that large sales occasioned.
About sunrise, the first person that entered the store was the old man's nephew, Follet. He looked agitated and alarmed, and shuddered when he saw the stains of blood upon the doorstep, and also on the floor of the store where we had rested the old man before putting him on the mattress. He did not raise his eyes to our faces, although many times I endeavored to get a fair glance at his face, to see if I could read his thoughts.
"I have bad news this morning," he said, at length, finding we were not disposed to open the conversation.
"Have you, indeed?" asked Fred, with a slight sneer.
"I slept from my uncle's tent last night," he went on to say, "and upon returning this morning I find that there has been violence and robbery committed. My poor relative is missing, and I fear murdered, for his bed is bloody, and tracks of blood are to be seen on the ground."
"And in regard to the robbery," Fred asked, "how do you know that he has lost any thing?"
"O, I am positive on that score, because my uncle had about a thousand ounces of gold, in nuggets and fine dust, buried under one corner of his tent, and the treasure is gone," cried Follet, eagerly.
"You are certain of that, I suppose?" Fred asked.
"O, quite certain, because the gold is the first thing that I thought of when I found that my uncle had been murdered," exclaimed the young fellow, with his eyes still cast to the floor.
"Do you suspect any one?" we asked, with a design to bring him out.
"There is blood upon your door step and floor, and the tracks lead this way," he answered evasively.
I saw that he raised his eyes quick as lightning to note what effect his words had upon us; but meeting the stern glance of Fred, he again gazed upon the floor.
"I suppose that we might effect a compromise, and get somebody to swear that we did not molest your uncle, if we promised five hundred of the thousand ounces that the robbers and would-be assassins obtained," Fred remarked, in an under tone, and in a careless sort of manner.
"I, for one," the young fellow replied, "should never be disposed to ask questions, although you can imagine my feelings at the thought of the bad treatment that the old fellow received. When can I have the dust?"
The question disconcerted Fred for a moment, for he had no idea that the fellow would answer as he did.
"As soon as your uncle is well enough to talk about money matters, we will mention the subject," I rejoined, hastily.
"Well enough?" he asked; "I thought that you said he was dead."
"O, bless you, no, indeed; he is far from being a dead man, and we hope, by proper treatment, to see him well in the course of a few weeks."
The nephew's face darkened, and his eyes looked snaky, as though he would like to strike, but dared not. We motioned to him, and led the way to the small private room where Mr. Critchet was lying, and when he saw his uncle's wan features, he turned pale, and his agitation was intense.
He saw that we were watching his movements, and tried to appear as though surprised, but the artificial effort was too much for him; and finally he turned and left the room, giving as an excuse that his feelings overpowered him.
"You can see the sufferer every day, if you are disposed," Fred said, "but it must always be in the presence of witnesses. When your uncle is well he can act as he pleases, but here he remains until cured."
"Your language is mysterious, and seems to reflect upon me as a man of honor," he exclaimed. "Do I understand you to say that you suspect me of injuring my poor uncle, whom I loved above all earthly things?"
"With the exception of playing cards," Fred added.
"You shall be sorry for your words, and perhaps I may make you appear in rather an equivocal light before many hours have passed;" and with a look of devilish malice the nephew, who had attempted to murder his old uncle for a few thousand dollars' worth of gold dust, left the store, and we did not care if we never laid eyes upon his treacherous, cold-looking face again, although I had serious forebodings that we had not got rid of him entirely, and that he would work us injury.
I hinted something of the kind to Fred, but he laughed at it, and in a few minutes we had a rush of morning customers, and all thoughts of Follet and his vengeance were banished from my mind.
I think that we were seated at breakfast, and wondering why Mr. Brown had been absent for such a length of time from the store, when who should pay us a visit but the police commissioner, Mr. Sherwin, a tall, dignified man, with a face that had no more expression in it than a piece of coal. He was never known to lean to the side of mercy during the whole of his career as an officer, and as commissioner he had exclusive jurisdiction over the petty court of Ballarat, and fined and sentenced miners, who were brought before him for drunkenness and petty larceny, without mercy. He was an ambitious man, and had striven for a long time to get a seat upon one of the benches of the upper courts in Melbourne, but owing to the want of influence, he had never succeeded. Every person that he imagined could sway the governor-general was treated with delightful consideration; but a look blacker than a raven's wing was the reward of every one who ventured on familiarity not up to his standard of excellence.
I must confess that I was surprised at the early visit of the commissioner, and I was still more astonished when I saw half a dozen policemen near the door, as though they were on business that they were ashamed of, and desired to keep out of sight; still, it never entered our minds that we were the parties that the policemen were watching.
Supposing that the commissioner wished to purchase some articles from our store, Fred went to attend upon him, while I continued to eat my breakfast.
"I want no goods, sir," returned Mr. Sherwin, in a short, sharp tone, in reply to Fred's question as to what he would be served with.
Fred appeared slightly disconcerted, and returned to his breakfast with an independent expression upon his face, that spoke more than words the contempt he felt for the visitor.
"You young men appear to be quite at your ease," the commissioner said, surveying our indifference with no favorable eye.
"Why should we not be?" asked Fred; "we have a license for our store, we have paid for our goods, and owe no man a penny."
"Does your license extend to killing and robbing men?" asked the commissioner, in an insolent tone, and one that we knew he used to insult us with.
Fred sprang to his feet, and an angry reply was upon his tongues, but I managed to check him.
"An explanation of these words is required," I said, as mildly as my nature would allow; and to my surprise, instead of facing me, and answering, the commissioner pointed to the stains on the floor, and asked, in a sneering tone,—
"Whose blood is that?"
"That of an old and helpless man," I returned, bearing his searching glance without flinching, although I had an inward feeling that told me that we were standing in a suspicious attitude, and that one false move would wreck us both.
"Remember," Mr. Sherwin continued, "I do not ask you to criminate yourselves, but if a full confession is made, I will lay the matter before the governor-general, and perhaps he may be disposed to grant you some mercy. I fancy that a frank confession would be the most desirable course for both of you to pursue," the commissioner said, in a careless tone, as though he did not care whether we complied with his advice or not.
"All the confession that we can make is to tell the truth," cried Fred, who always grew cooler the more imminent the danger; "we will simply state the facts, and then you can judge of our guilt."
The commissioner made a sign for Fred to go on, although I could see by his face that he was anticipating a yarn, and was prepared to believe just as much of it as he pleased.
Fred told the circumstances of the affair just as they occurred, and without equivocation. Mr. Sherwin listened without interruption, and also, I will add, without belief.
"Of course I can see the old man?" the commissioner asked, in a half-sneering manner, as though prepared for us to deny him the right.
"Certainly," answered Fred; and he led the way to the little private room where Mr. Critchet was lying, and, to our joy, still sleeping, which argued well for his ultimate recovery.
"Here is the man whom you accuse us of murdering," Fred whispered; "see what pains we have taken to hasten his end." And he pointed to the numerous bandages with which we had bound up his wounds.
"I was prepared to find the body of Mr. Critchet here, but not alive," the commissioner said. "I was told that he was dead, and that I could find unmistakable signs of those who committed the murder, here."
"Perhaps you will give us the name of your informant. We desire to be confronted with the man who dares charge us with assassination!"
Fred spoke with firmness, and with a degree of hauteur that was not habitual.
Mr. Sherwin hesitated for a moment, and then stepped out of the little room and beckoned to a police officer.
The latter did not display that degree of alacrity that one would have suspected in obeying the summons, and upon looking at the man, I found that he had accompanied us on our tax-gathering tours, and that he was aware of the estimation in which Mr. Brown held us, and was fearful that he should incur the inspector's displeasure if he manifested too great an eagerness in our affairs.
"Michael," said the commissioner, "bring in Follet."
We started at the words, and then we saw a dark smile upon the face of the cold-hearted commissioner, that told how keenly he enjoyed our misery.
"If you please, sir," said Michael, cap in hand, and a beseeching glance upon his face, "I think that Follet is lying, for I've known him for six months past, and never saw or heard much about his habits that is favorable."
"I did not ask your opinion or advice, sir," interrupted the commissioner, in the same cold tone, and with a look that almost froze the policeman; "do as I bid you, and learn to keep silent."
Michael looked as though he would like to make a reply, but fear of losing his place prevented. He walked slowly to the door, and after a delay of a few minutes, escorted our accuser, Follet, into the store.
The fellow's face was deadly pale, and his eyes were never once raised during the interview. He had evidently schooled himself for the part that he was to play, by imbibing deeply of some spirituous liquor, for he was rather unsteady in his gait; but that might have been the result of agitation as well as whiskey.
"Are these the two men whom you alluded to in my office this morning?" the commissioner inquired, pointing to Fred and myself.
The scoundrel, without raising his eyes, replied in the affirmative.
"Repeat in their presence what you told me, and mind that you don't tell two stories."
The fellow cleared his throat, which was rather husky, and in a monotonous tone began. The policemen, who were lounging near the door, had all edged their way into the store, and listened to the recital with many expressions of wonder and disbelief upon their faces.
"About three weeks ago," Follet began, "these two men [pointing to Fred and myself] asked me if my uncle was not digging out a large amount of dust and nuggets from his claim. I said yes; that he would probably get five or six thousand pounds, if it held out as well as it opened. We exchanged a few other words, and then the question was indirectly put to me—if my poor uncle was in the habit of sending his money to the government office or keeping it buried in his tent. I suspected nothing, for I knew that the men stood in good estimation with the police force, and foolishly answered that he seldom sent money by escort to Melbourne, as he feared to trust the soldiers with it. I thought no more of the matter until about a week ago these same men sent for me, and by indirect inquiries wanted to know if I would share with them in robbing my poor uncle's tent. I indignantly repulsed them, and threatened to give information to the police if another word was uttered concerning the subject, and I had supposed that the matter was dropped, until, on my return home this morning at an early hour, I found that foul play had been practised, and that my relative had been robbed, and I didn't know but that he was murdered, for I saw blood on various articles in the tent; and when I reached this building, where I first went to see if its occupants had been concerned in the outrage, I found blood upon the doorstep and also upon the floor, and these men were badly agitated, and even offered me five hundred ounces if I would keep silent, and not inform of them, I indignantly refused, and then these men showed me the body of my uncle so terribly mangled, that I was sick at heart; and thinking that I should share his fate if I remained, I hurried away, and laid the whole matter before you for investigation. What I have uttered is the truth, so help me God!"
The miserable, lying wretch ceased speaking, but trembled so that a policeman was obliged to support him.
For a few seconds Fred and myself looked at each other in consternation and despair. If the testimony of the wretch was taken without a grain of allowance, we were in a dilemma that would tax us to the utmost to find means of escape. Even the policemen appeared to have changed their opinions, and ranged themselves against us, and we could hear them whisper in relation to the straightforward manner in which Follet recited his story.
A smile of triumph was upon the face of Mr. Sherwin, and already I thought he was congratulating himself upon judicial promotion for his shrewdness in causing our detection, when the arrival of a new comer put a little different light upon the affair.
OPPORTUNE ARRIVAL OF MR. BROWN.—THEY SEND FOR STEEL SPRING.
Of all persons in the world the one most welcome to our eyes was Mr. Brown, the inspector; and when he made his appearance at the door, looking dusty, hot, and tired, we were tempted to rush forward and embrace him, for he seemed as though capable of delivering us from the perplexing situation in which we stood, although in what manner we were unable to say, for the commissioner was his superior officer, and could dispose of us as he pleased, regardless of the remonstrances of his associate.
"My dear boys," the inspector said, coming hastily towards us, and extending his hand, regardless of the presence of the commissioner, who scowled at the interruption, yet did not think it worth while to protest against it,—"my dear boys," he continued, "I have but this moment arrived in Ballarat from a short visit to Melbourne, where I was unexpectedly called on business, and learned at the office that some trifling charge had been trumped up against you, and without waiting to change my dress, or wash the stains of travel from my face and hands, I hurried here to see in what way I could assist you."
"And we gladly welcome you, for we find that a grave charge is preferred against us, and all our assertions of innocence will not avail us," returned Fred, in a sorrowful tone.
"Pooh! don't be low spirited—I'll investigate the facts of the case, and I'll warrant that every thing will be all right. I will relieve you of a troublesome duty, sir, and take charge of this matter," the inspector said, turning to the commissioner; but to Mr. Brown's surprise the latter bowed rather coldly, and declined the offer.
"I have begun to investigate this matter, and will complete it, sir," he said.
"I believe that I have always attended to the duties of my office in a satisfactory manner, and this is the first time during my connection with the police force that I have been supplanted by a superior," cried Mr. Brown, rather angrily.
"I shall act my pleasure in this case, or in any other that I choose to interfere with. Here are two men charged with a heavy robbery and an attempt at assassination, and my duty will not permit me to let the parties escape until a full investigation is made;" and the commissioner straightened himself up as though he was as immovable as granite.
"An attempt at assassination?" echoed the inspector, turning towards us for an explanation.
"That is the charge," I replied.
"And who dares make such an assertion?" Mr. Brown asked, his face pale with suppressed excitement.
"Mr. Follet has presented the complaint to me, and backed it with some proof that looks conclusive," the commissioner said, pointing to the perjured villain, who stood with sullen aspect a short distance from us.
"Do you dare bring such a charge against these men?" asked the inspector, facing the lying scamp, and endeavoring to get a glimpse at his face. "Take time for your answer, and consider the suspicious manner in which you stand in the estimation of the police at Ballarat. I know you and your doings."
Follet made an appealing gesture to the commissioner, and the latter interfered.
"I will have no browbeating of the witness," he said. "He appeared before me in good faith, and until his assertions are contradicted, I shall consider that he is under my protection."
"But if I can show you that he is unworthy of belief, and that for months past he has been in the habit of gambling with money which he has purloined from his uncle, and that he owes large debts which he has contracted, and is unable to pay, will that have any effect upon you in judging of this matter?" demanded Mr. Brown, with some warmth.
"If you can prove to me that these young men are innocent of the charge, then I shall be ready to listen to complaints against Follet, but not until then. Bad habits sometimes prejudice the minds of a jury against a witness, and testimony is weighed in connection with circumstantial matters which are brought to light. I think that we have a strong case, for there are marks of blood, and the victim is found under this roof almost lifeless, but with bandages on the wounds. Now it is a question in my mind, whether this binding up of the injuries is not a trick for the purpose of escaping punishment. If—"
"But these men are above suspicion," cried the inspector, impatiently.
"I have not finished yet," the commissioner said, coldly. "I was about to observe that if more evidence was wanting this would complete it;" and bending down, he inserted his arm in a barrel that was partially filled with rice, and to our utter consternation, held up to our view a sheath knife covered with blood.
"Perhaps your friends can account for the presence of this knife in their store?" asked the commissioner, with a cold smile at the distress that he saw upon our faces.
"We cannot," I answered. "We had two dozen of just such knives when we commenced business, and sold the last one that we had yesterday."
"I will wager a hundred ounces that Follet put the knife in the barrel when he visited the store this morning," cried the inspector, dogmatically.
"Did you sell a knife of this pattern to Mr. Follet?" asked Sherwin, turning to us.
Mr. Brown seemed to take fresh courage at the question, and we could see that he was anxious for us to answer in the affirmative. Had we done so, the commissioner would have been staggered with the coincidence, and our dismissal have followed instantly.
But we disdained to lie even to save ourselves from incarceration, and much to the disgust of Mr. Brown, and the triumph of the commissioner, we replied without a moment's hesitancy,—
"Mr. Follet never purchased a knife at our store."
"Do you wish for more conclusive proof?" asked Mr. Sherwin.
"Proof?" echoed the inspector; "I hope that you don't call the finding of the knife in that barrel proof. I do not believe that these young men, the preservers of my life, would commit an outrage of the kind that you charge them with for all the gold in Ballarat."
"Time will, perhaps, reveal the secret of the affair. Mr. Critchet may live, and be able to give us a clew to his assailants; and until he recovers or dies, I think that I shall be justified in committing your friends to prison without bail."
The words of the commissioner fell upon our ears like a thunderbolt. A dozen different ideas coursed through my brain, yet I was too much bowed down with grief to attempt to form them into tangible shapes. And even while I was thinking what would become of the store and contents during our imprisonment, Mr. Brown broke the ominous silence.
"This is a case where bail can be readily given, if you will accept of it, and any amount that you may name will be forthcoming," the inspector said, addressing the commissioner.
"I have concluded not to accept of bail, and I shall not alter my determination, sir. I leave the prisoners in your hands, and you will render a good account of them to me when I call for them."
The commissioner bowed coldly, and was about to return to his office when Mr. Brown interrupted him.
"I am not a rich man, as you know," he said, "but I have a little property, and it can readily be converted into cash. I will place five thousand pounds in your hands for the appearance of these gentlemen, if you will admit them to bail."
"And we will deposit half of that sum in addition to insure our appearance," cried Fred, eagerly.
The commissioner shook his head, and already his foot was on the doorstep, when Mr. Brown detained him.
"I shall be absent from Ballarat for four days," he said, testily.
"Where do you propose going?" inquired Mr. Sherwin, with a slight indication of curiosity.
"To Melbourne, as fast as horse can carry me. I start immediately."
"May I ask for what object?"
"To lay this matter before his excellency the governor-general, and obtain an order for the admission of the prisoners to bail, and the detention of Follet for conspiracy. Michael, run to my office and bring my best horse."
The policeman started on a run, and was lost to sight in a cloud of dust that swept along the street. The commissioner looked slightly perplexed and undecided. He was evidently taken by surprise at the position which Mr. Brown had assumed.
"You cannot hope that the governor will rule contrary to my decision?" Mr. Sherwin said.
"I know that he will. His excellency has too great an esteem for these gentlemen to allow them to languish in prison when no stronger proof than the story which a broken-down gambler can invent is urged as evidence against them."
"Do you mean to say that the governor is acquainted with these (men, he was intending to say, but altered it) gentlemen'?"
"So well that he has granted every request that they have made; and he has even offered them commissions in the service in return for many acts of bravery which they have performed."
Mr. Brown was right in the first instance; for the only requests that we had ever made were for the pardons of Smith and the old convict.
"Are you sure that you are not mistaken?" inquired the commissioner, with a sudden degree of interest that was quite refreshing, when contrasted with his former indifference.
"I am so sure," Mr. Brown said, in answer to the commissioner's question, "that three days since I saw the governor, and he inquired for these gentlemen, and sent a message that they must call and see him the first time that they visited Melbourne."
"Have you any letters or documents to prove that his excellency regards these gentlemen with unusual interest?"
The inspector glanced towards us, in hope that we could rescue him from the position in which his assertions had placed him, but we were afraid that we could benefit him but little, as we were not in possession of an autograph letter from the governor, and what was more, had never seen one. I suddenly recollected, however, having in my possession a copy of one of the Melbourne papers, in which our services at the great fire were mentioned in eulogistic terms; and I concluded that I would let Mr. Sherwin peruse the paragraph, in hopes that he would imagine much more than the reality.
My experiment succeeded admirably.
Mr. Sherwin eagerly perused the paragraph; and after he had concluded, folded the paper, and requested permission to speak with Mr. Brown in private for a few minutes. Obedient to the intimation, the policemen and the rest of us fell back, and suffered the two officers to have a quiet talk. They whispered together earnestly for a time, and then Fred and myself were summoned to the council.
"The commissioner is not disposed to press this matter," Mr. Brown said. "I have convinced him that you are a little different from what he supposed; and he will admit both of you to bail until such time as Mr. Critchet is able to testify, or at least until more evidence is offered than what Follet brings forward."
We bowed our thanks, and blessed the governor-general, to think that his name made such a difference with his officers.
"We cannot be too careful in this part of the country," the commissioner said, "whom we trust, we are so liable to imposition. Our life is a hard one, to make the best of it; and I shall be glad when I am changed to some other location, where jurisdiction is not taken so extensively as at Ballarat. I have long desired a change."
Mr. Brown winked with both eyes in a violent manner, as though warning us that the pitch of his regret at being at Ballarat was yet to come.
"One good turn deserves another," Mr. Sherwin said; and then lowering his voice, he continued, "May I hope that you will remind his excellency that I deserve a better position than the one that I now hold?"
Promises are easily made, (vide politicians in this country, where offices are to be obtained;) and the reader will not wonder, considering the light in which we stood, that we murmured a ready assent to his wishes. The commissioner looked gratified, while Mr. Brown grinned with delight.
"What shall we do with the wounded man, and this young fellow, Follet? He has made a strong charge against these gentlemen, and he should be made to give heavy bonds to meet it at the proper time," said the inspector, pointing to the nephew, who stood trembling, as though already anticipating trouble.
"Well, really," Mr. Sherwin said, "I don't see why the old man should not remain under the charge of your friends until his injuries terminate one way or the other. Suppose you send the government physician to attend him, and a fortnight from to-day I will call the case up, and decide whether to dismiss it or send it to trial."
"And Follet? Hadn't he better be put under heavy bonds for his appearance?" insinuated the inspector.
"Certainly; it is very important to keep him. Let him be committed to jail until he can find bonds in one thousand pounds;" and with a cheerful wave of his hand, the commissioner left us.
"You see how much you have injured yourself in trying to fasten your crime upon these gentlemen," Mr. Brown remarked, addressing Follet; "if you will make a free confession, I will endeavor to get you as comfortable a sentence as possible."
"Will you?" sneered the wretch; "you shall offer better terms than that before I will let them up. I have the game in my own hands, and my evidence will tell before a jury."
"Take him away," cried Mr. Brown, addressing a policeman; and after the prisoner was out of hearing, he continued, "There is too much truth in what he says, and we have work before us to discover who his accomplice is, and bring him to justice. Even if Mr. Critchet does recover, it is probable that he will not be able to identify his assailants, and in that view of the matter I need not tell you in what a precarious situation you will stand."
We saw the force of his reasoning, and looked to him for advice.
"We must set the police at work to find Follet's accomplice; and I will not leave a stone unturned on 'Gravel Pit Hill,' but I will discover him if in Ballarat"
"And is there any way that we can assist you?" I asked.
The inspector thought for a few moments before he replied.
"If we could but get Murden to lend us Steel Spring for a week or two," he muttered, "I think that we could make that scamp serviceable to us."
"Murden will accommodate us in that respect, I am sure, if we make application," I returned.
"If he will, we can set the fellow at work, and he will be able to get information that no policeman in Ballarat could possibly obtain. He must be supplied with a liberal amount of money, and must represent himself as being connected with a gang of bushrangers between here and Melbourne. I will give the 'Traps' a hint not to molest him unless he betakes himself to roguery again, and I suppose that he will some day."
"But won't suspicion be aroused if Steel Spring is seen to enter the store, or hold communication with us?" we asked.
"Of course it would," returned the inspector, with a smile, at our innocence; "of all the persons in Ballarat, you must he the most avoided, and when an interview is needed, a rendezvous must be appointed where there is no fear of listeners. Take my word for it, in less than a fortnight we shall have the true account of the attempted assassination, and if Follet's companion does not leave the town, we will nab him, and 'pinch' him severely. Write to the lieutenant at once, and don't fail to tell him that your reputation, and perhaps life, depends upon the loan of Steel Spring."
With these parting words, the inspector left for his office, and without delaying for a moment, I sat down, and briefly wrote an account of the transaction in which we were involved, and stated the necessity there was for the employment of a spy of Steel Spring's adroitness. I succeeded in getting my note posted before the mail left Melbourne, and soon after my return to the store, the surgeon of the police force made his appearance, and examined the wounds of our patient with some considerable skill, and did us the honor of saying that he could do no more than we had already done; and John Bull like, wondered where we got our knowledge of the art of healing. He thought that there was danger of inflammation; and ordered a cooling draught and low diet, and then said that he considered we were competent to attend the patient, unless he was worse, in which case we were to send for him, and not without.
And we did attend the old gentleman; hour after hour, and night after night, we watched by his side, barely taking rest ourselves, for fear that he would suffer; and although he was unconscious of our kindness and attention, and was wandering in his mind, many miles away to his family and friends in busy London, yet we never lost our patience, or refused to gratify his wants, as far as lay in our power.
Day after day passed, and we were impatient to hear from Murden. Mr. Brown had put his police to work to find out the accomplice of Follet, but all attempts to discover him had proved futile.
Follet still remained obstinate and defying; and to add to our misery, our patient was hovering between life and death, and it seemed as though a feather would turn the scale either way.
One night, soon after twelve o'clock, and while I was taking my turn watching by the bedside of Mr. Critchet, I heard a gentle tap at the door. I paid no attention to the first summons; and not until a repetition warned me that some person was desirous of entering, did I cock my revolver, and without disturbing Fred, stole softly to the door, which I unlocked, and discovered a man with a long black beard and slouched hat, standing on the doorsteps, whistling, in a low key, the popular negro tune, just introduced into Australia from California, by a band of negro singers, of "Nelly Bly."
"What is wanted?" I asked, bringing my revolver up so as to command his head, in case his visit was hostile.
"Can you tell me the time of night?" he demanded, in a tone so gruff and guttural, that I thought he must have slept in a mine for a week, and that the dampness had gone to his lungs.
"Ask the first mounted policeman that you come to," I rejoined, and was about to slam the door to, when I heard a peculiar chuckle that arrested my attention.
"Veil, if this 'ere isn't a go!" the man with the black beard said; "a feller comes hall the vay from Melbourne to see a friend, and gets the door shut in his face."
I knew the voice, and should know it if I met its owner fifty years hence. I seized the visitor by his collar, dragged him into the store, shut the door, tore off his black beard, and had revealed to my eyes the grinning countenance of Steel Spring!
THE WAY THE COLONISTS OBTAIN WIVES IN AUSTRALIA.
"Vell, of all the jolly things in the world, if this don't knock um," Steel Spring said, with one of his most hideous grins. "I told my friend, Murden, and I halso 'inted the same thing to 'is excellency the governor, the last time that I dined vid him, and just as he was axing me to take vine, that I would vager a stiff glass of viskey, vich you vill ax me to take by and by, that you vouldn't know me on the first occasion of my visit. 'Steel Spring,' said the governor, 'it can't be did;' and ven I pledged my vord as a gentleman and a man of probity, that I vould vrite to him the result, in a strict sense, he shook my 'and, and said I was a honor to the land wot give me birth, and that he 'oped he should never be called upon to part vid me. Ven can I 'ave the viskey?"
I stood a few minutes surveying the ex-bushranger with admiration, and hardly knowing whether he most deserved a kicking or a word of praise for his falsehoods and perfect disguise. While I was considering the matter, Fred joined us, being awakened by the shrill chuckling of our visitor.
"You have not forgotten how to lie, at all events," I said, "and perhaps the peculiar talent that you display in that line may be of some service to us; so, for the purpose of keeping in practice, all your stories will go undisputed at present."
"Ven a man is perfect in a certain line of things, he don' vant practice, unless he grows rusty, or is out of employment. Now, since I have been connected vid the police force, I've almost forgotten how to speak the truth; and, somehow, I don't think that it agrees vid me; for unless I'se honest I have a fit of blues that lasts me until I've made up to my reckness. Ven can I have the viskey?"
I gave him a glass of strong American whiskey, which would make the tears come into a man's eyes unless his throat was sheathed with tin; but Steel Spring tossed it down, and smacked his lips, as though it was so much water.
"Now, then, I feel like a man vot has found a nugget—perfectly happy for the time being, but miserable as soon as the excitement has passed away, 'cos he don't know when he shall get another."
"When did you reach Ballarat?" Fred asked, as soon as Steel Spring was inclined to hold his tongue.
"This evening. I've been on the road two days, but feel as fresh as a newly-hatched parrot."
"Did Murden tell you what we required of you?" I asked.
"He said something about my getting the vorst thrashing that I ever had in my life, unless I obeyed orders. So here I am, ready to go to vork and do my best."
"Where are you stopping?" I inquired.
"Vell, the lieutenant said that I vos to play loose; and pretend not to go near you, unless I vos so fixed up that even my dear friend, the governor, vouldn't know me; and I don't think that he vould, had he seen me to-night."
"But where are you stopping?" I again asked.
"Vell, I am at Dan Brian's 'Cricket,' and I must say that my old friend keeps tiptop lush, and is disposed to be civil," answered Steel Spring.
The "Cricket" was one of the vilest places in Ballarat; and its proprietor, Dan Brian, one of the most noted characters. He was once a convict, but made his escape, and joined a gang of bushrangers. For two years he lived in the bush, and subsisted by killing sheep and cattle.
Soon after the gold mines were discovered, he helped to rob a government escort of dust on its way to Melbourne, and two thousand ounces of gold fell to his share. His ill-gotten wealth made him long for an opportunity to squander it; and unknown to the gang, he sent word to the captain of police at Melbourne, and asked what terms he could receive if he betrayed his comrades.
Of course the police were too ready to accede to any proposition that Dan might make to haggle about terms; and the Judas was promised not only his life and a free pardon, but it was intimated that the treasure in his possession should never be claimed by government.
On these considerations Dan promised to turn traitor; and one day he persuaded the gang to visit a spot which they considered unsafe, but which Dan swore no policeman would ever dare to venture in. The bushrangers were surrounded, surprised, and captured, and executed to a man, with the exception of the betrayer.
After this bloody piece of work, the fellow spent most of his money in dissipation, and when it was nearly all gone, he determined to open a resort for thieves and assassins at Ballarat; and although the police knew the kind of house he maintained, yet they were unable to break him up for want of evidence to convict him and his guests.
Some went even so far as to say that he furnished information to the police for certain considerations, but Mr. Brown always denied the imputation with great eagerness.
"Does Dan know what brings you to Ballarat?" I asked, resuming the conversation with our visitor.
"He's already bin pumping, but the clapper don't work. I told him I was after a few scrags, for the purpose of raising a gang; and taking the bush agin; and he thinks it's so, and promised to help me. I 'opes I don't forfeit your confidence by being compelled to tell a lie. It goes agin me, you know."
We readily promised him that all such little failings on his part should be overlooked; and after a second edition of whiskey, we laid our trouble and plans before him, and gave him full directions how to proceed.
He was to frequent all places where crime was committed or planned; to converse with all sorts of characters, honest or otherwise; to avoid the police, and pretend an intense hatred for them; and when he wished to communicate with us, it must only be done in the night time, and dressed in such a disguise that none of his gang would recognize him.
In case of his discovering Follet's companion in the attempted assassination, he was to let us know, so that the fellow's arrest could take place immediately; and while we agreed to find money for his expenses, we promised a handsome gratuity in case he was successful.
Steel Spring listened with more patience than I ever gave him credit for, while we were enlightening his mind; and although he asked a dozen different questions, which we considered at the time as frivolous, we answered them to the best of our ability, and gave him what insight we were able to regarding the company that Follet had been in the habit of keeping.
"There, that will do for the present," Steel Spring said. "Ef the feller is in Ballarat, I shall hear of 'im afore long. Give me another drink of viskey, and I'll be off, 'cos a select company of the elite of Ballarat expects me to honor their supper vid my presence in about an hour's time, and ven I gives my vord to a gentleman I don't like to disappint um. Keep cool, and don't be afeerd of swinging on this little affair, 'cos there's no danger. Ef I thought there was, I should certainly speak to my friend, the governor."
"Mr. Murden did not send you here to jest, did he?" asked Fred, a little sternly.
"O, by no means; and I didn't mean any 'arm by vot I said. Please don't say anything to the lieutenant."
We promised; and Steel Spring turned to go, quite satisfied. Just as he reached the door, he stopped, and drew a very dirty-looking letter from his bosom, and handed it to us.
"I'd almost forgotten that Lieutenant Murden sent this letter by me. Good night. I'll see you again to-morrow some time, but it will be late in the evening;" and with these words he stole from the store as noiselessly as a serpent creeping towards a paroquet sleeping on a gum tree.
We broke the flaming red seal of our friend's letter, and read as follows:—
MELBOURNE, Jan. 24th, 18—.
My dear friends: You may believe that I was astonished when I got your letter. Such damnable scrapes as you two are always getting into, warrants me in saying that a keeper is needed in your store to take the entire charge of you. I wish that I could get away for a few days; I'd run up and lend you a helping hand to clear up that shocking affair.
As I can't leave, I send Steel Spring, agreeable to request. May you make the most of him, for such a liar never went unhanged. As an incentive to stir himself in your behalf, I thrashed him like the devil on the afternoon that he left, and promised a repetition unless he obeyed orders, and followed your directions to the letter.
I find that the oftener I lick him the better he likes me; and he actually pretended to feel grieved at parting. I have great hope that he will live long enough to be honest; but I have reasonable doubts of the scheme, and it would not surprise me any day to hear that he had taken to the bush. Still, I must say that I find him useful in a number of ways; and a better detective cannot be found in the country, for no matter what I have placed him on, he has followed it up until the mystery was unravelled.
Yesterday, a ship load of interesting girls, many of them in interesting conditions, arrived from England, being sent out by a society for the prevention of pauperism, or something like it. They are intended as wives for us poor colonists; and I wish that you had been here, to have seen the fun and the rush for the first choice. The ship was surrounded by boats, until at length the crowd was so great I had to take twenty-five men, and hire a steamboat to carry us down the river, to where the vessel was lying. The uproar and confusion was great—terrific.
Men wanted their first pick, and swore frightfully when they couldn't be gratified. The women all wanted stout, healthy husbands, and rich ones at that, and they shrieked some when told that they must take them by lot.
However, sooner than go unmarried, the girls at length consented to any arrangement that was proposed; and then what a time we had of it! for you are well aware that delicacy is not a characteristic of Australia. Amidst the crowd, struggling for a wife right manfully, did I observe the teamster whom Smith has in his employ, and who made you one visit with his load of goods while I was at Ballarat. He did honor to the firm, for the fellow got one of the best looking (and I will say at the same time, one of the most vicious, if I am any judge of faces) on board, out of a cargo of one hundred and ninety-eight.
I asked your man what he intended to do with a wife in his circumstances.
"Marry her," he replied, "and take her to Ballarat, and go into the mining business."
So look out for an addition to the population in a short time.
A day was required to get all the girls married off; for those who were left till the last stage were not of an enticing character; and there was a slight prospect of a row between the snub-nosed women, each of whom thought she was superior in point of beauty to the others; and not until I sent on shore and got three Victoria miners, not over scrupulous in taste, were they disposed to be silent.
You should have been in Melbourne on the first night of the arrival. Of course, where so many marriages took place, some little latitude was allowed to the happy couples; and more carousing I have not seen since whiskey was only a pound per gallon. The beauty of the arrangement was that the men got drunk, and one half of them could not tell the next morning whom they had married, or whether they had married at all.
The wives were in the same state of blissful ignorance, for they had not known their husbands long enough to get familiar with their features; and you will admit that where all men wear their beards in full, there is some resemblance between us bipeds.
Our police office was besieged from morning until night, by anxious husbands and inconsolable wives. Six different times was your friend seized upon and claimed as the lawful spouse of six different women, two of whom were the snub-noses spoken of above.
I hope you will admire the taste of your employee in the selection of a wife, and that you will continue to conduct yourself in a decorous manner after her arrival. Fair play, and don't take advantage—(the balance of the line was illegible.)
I must close my letter by once more recommending you to keep a bright lookout for Steel Spring, and to write me information if he does not come up to your expectations. Let me hear from you as soon as practicable, and don't forget to send me all the news that is stirring, including mining tax and other matters. By the way, the artillery corps in this place have received orders to be in readiness for instant duty and marching order. They are practising with their guns every day. Their destination is a secret, although I think I can guess where they are to go.
Yours in purity and honesty,
The next day we informed the inspector of Steel Spring's arrival, and the place where he was domiciled; and the former hinted to his sergeant that the latter should be watched narrowly, but was not to be interfered with unless something criminal was noted, in which case he was to be arrested without delay. Of course Mr. Brown did not impart to his subordinates what the ex-bushranger was attempting to accomplish, and the matter always remained a secret to them.
We saw nothing of Steel Spring until two days after his arrival, when he paid us a nocturnal visit, disguised as usual, and gave us some information that was of real importance.
"I'se getting along werry slowly," he said, "'cos I've got to creep afore I can walk. But things is vorking, and no mistake; and I 'spected ven I took that horn of viskey the other night, that it would clear my hideas, and make me find somethin'."
"Well, what have you found out?" I demanded.
"That the confounded dust gets into my throat, and keeps me dry, and I think will really drive me into a galloping consumption time. I'se dry now, and I think that if you had some vater here vid the brackishness taken off vid a little somethin' good, that it would help me."
We understood the hint, and gratified it; only after we had poured out a tumbler of whiskey, he refused to have it spoiled by adding a drop of water, as he thought that the latter was most too salt to agree with his constitution. He drained the glass, smacked his lips, and made up such a hideous face that he would have frightened a person of delicate nerves into fits, had his countenance been seen.
"Now, then, for the information!" I cried.
"Vell, then, to business. I vant some more money."
"You shan't have it until you give a good account of yourself, and tell us what you have done with the gold we already gave you."
"O, werry well," the mutinous scamp replied, moving towards the door; "ven you get ready to give me the chink, I'll be ready to vork for you, and not until then."
He had already got his hand upon the latch, and was making a motion to open the door, when Fred sprang upon him by his collar, and despite of his long, spider-like legs, hurled him to the floor, where he lay for a moment motionless and senseless. He raised his head, however, after a while, and attempted to get to his feet, but Fred was watching his motions, and grasping him by his neck, choked him, until the impudent fellow was almost black in his face, and was glad to beg for mercy.
"Will you answer our questions now?" Fred asked, giving him a shake.
"I'll do any thing hereafter," he gasped, "that you desire; only don't squeeze the breath entirely out of my body."
"Now, then, tell us what information you have received, and let us have no more of your impudence; and if you don't tell a straight story we'll beat you to death with our horsewhips."
Steel Spring understood the meaning of the language used, and he saw that he had men to deal with who were not disposed to submit to his demands and impudence, as he supposed they would. His confident air was gone, and an abject one assumed its place.
"Last night," he commenced, "I vas sitting vid a few coves in Dan's crib, talking flash, ven von of 'em mentioned the case which I is hunting up. I pretended that I didn't, know vot vas meant, and axed in a careless sort of vay for the particulars. One of the coves tells me how old Critchet got lammed, and then said that the coves didn't get anything, 'cos the old feller had carried all of his money to the government office, and took a paper for the amount. I axed him how he knowed, and he said he seed the old cock lugging the dust to the office, and followed him, thinking that if he could get a chance he would crack him over his head, and make a raise. I didn't make many 'quiries, 'cos I thought I vould vate a little vile until I got 'quainted."
"And was there any thing said about the parties who committed the outrage?" I asked.
"There vas a few hints, but not enough to give me a hold. However, von of the chaps said that he would show me a man vot helped in the business to-morrow night, if I vished."
"And what answer did you make?" we inquired eagerly.
"I said that I thought he would make a good pal for the bush, and that I would like to know him, and talk the matter over with a few good ones vot I had already spoken to."
"And what do you propose to do in case the assassin meets you?" we demanded.
"Get him to talk of the matter—praise him for his courage, make him boast of it, and then nab him, and vere is he? Ve have the feller fast and no mistake, and vether the old gent lives or dies ve don't care, 'cos ve shows the commissioner that you're hinnocent."
"How many men will be required to act as you state?" we asked.
"As few as possible," responded Steel Spring, promptly; "three besides myself. Say Mr. Brown and both of you."
We knew enough of Dan's crib to be certain that, if an attempt was made to arrest a noted character, there would be a struggle, and possibly bloodshed; and we had seen too many desperate battles not to know that a shot can be fired by a pretended friend with more coolness than an enemy, and no one the wiser for it. I scrutinized Steel Spring's face to see if I could read his thoughts, but nature had given him eyes of such a peculiar hue and shape that I was baffled in my attempt.
"Do you mean honestly to assist us if we agree to your plans?" I asked.
"So help me Heaven," he cried; and one of his hands was raised as though swearing to the truth of his words.
"We want no oaths, because we know the value that you place upon them; but let me impress upon your mind that to-morrow night we will accompany you—that each of us intends to carry a revolver, (and you know what execution we can do with them,) and the first shot fired shall be at your body if we see any signs of treachery. Now go, and meet us to-morrow night at any time you see proper."
I opened the door as Fred ceased speaking, and, with a thoughtful brow, Steel Spring passed out of the room, and was soon lost to view as he skulked homeward.
ADVENTURES AT DAN BRIAN'S DRINKING-HOUSE.
The next day, anxious to test the truth of Steel Spring's statements, I made an inquiry at the government reception office, and referring to the books a clerk informed me that on the very day before the attack was made upon Mr. Critchet he had deposited one thousand ounces of gold, and had received a stationary certificate, or note, acknowledging that the money had been received, but was to lay in the office, and not be forwarded to Melbourne—a method that was often adopted to prevent loss by miners.
This was good news to me, and I felt warranted in calling upon the commissioner to let him understand the fact, as it would in a measure relieve us of suspicion of being implicated in the robbery.
Mr. Sherwin received me with more kindness, or pretended friendship, than I thought him capable of, and invited me into his private room, an apartment about the size of a sugar box, and about as rough. It contained two chairs, a desk, and a pair of old boots, much the worse for wear.
Upon the rough wall of the office was a portrait of Queen Victoria in her coronation robes, done in yellow, and dear at any price. On the desk was a print of Hobart Town, and beneath it was a black profile of the commissioner; at least, he informed me that it was intended as a surprising likeness of him, but I thought it would astonish no one but his mother, in case the old lady ever saw it. It was cut from a piece of black paper by a man who was before him for being drunk, and had no funds to pay his fine, and so thought to conciliate his judge, which he succeeded in doing, if report was true.
After I had sufficiently admired the contour of the head, and the other striking features of the paper counterfeit, Mr. Sherwin invited me to be seated, and asked what I would "take," and appeared to be somewhat surprised when I told him that I didn't care about drinking.
Notwithstanding my refusal, the commissioner unlocked his desk and took out two very dirty wine glasses, and then displayed, with a solemn flourish, a black bottle partly filled with a dark liquid which he called wine; but I would have sworn, without tasting that it was bilge water.
"Now," said Mr. Sherwin, waving me to a seat opposite to the desk, "we can be comfortable and chatty. We have wine and good fellowship, and what more can we desire?
"And how is our friend Frederick?" the commissioner inquired, after filling the glasses and re-corking the bottle, as though he feared the strength of the black stuff would evaporate if left exposed to the air.
I replied that my friend and companion was as "well as could be expected" with such an accusation hanging over his head, and that he would have accompanied me had his presence not have been needed at the store to wait on customers, and to attend to the wants of the wounded man, Mr. Critchet.
"Don't give yourselves any uneasiness on that silly charge," the commissioner said, with a smile that was intended to be engaging, but I shuddered at it, it was so cold and fiendish. "I am perfectly satisfied that Follet lied to me, and any time you wish to proceed against him for perjury I will grant a warrant, and will also release you and your friend from bail."
"May I ask what has caused such a change in your sentiments?" I inquired, half suspecting that he was setting a trap for me.
"You know as well as I do," my companion answered, with a wink of his snaky eye.
I protested with some earnestness that I was ignorant on the subject, and while the commissioner turned his back to search amidst some papers which his desk contained, I slyly poured the contents of my wine glass through a crack of the floor, and watered the soil of Ballarat with a new species of liquor, such as was never known before.
"You see I have heard from Melbourne lately, and am satisfied how the land lays, and I am not going to weaken the cause of government by suspecting two of its greatest defenders." And while the plotting officer unfolded a letter his eye fell upon my empty glass, and, in defiance of my most strenuous denials, insisted that I should "not be afraid of the liquor, because there was plenty more where that came from," (which the Lord forbid!) and once more I had the inexpressible misery of sitting with a wine glass full of the strange compound under my nostrils, which I dared not throw away, fearful that he would see me, and which I dreaded to drink.
"I got a letter from Mr. Murden, who is an officer of some rank in the police force at Melbourne, a day or two since, and he tells me that I must be very careful of you gentlemen, as the governor esteems you highly, and that his excellency would be apt to resent an act of injustice done you while stopping at the mines."
I strongly suspected that the lieutenant had drawn on his imagination in that letter, for he thoroughly understood the character of the commissioner, and disliked him so much that while at Ballarat he had not even called upon him.
"When I obtain a position at Melbourne that I consider suitable for a fair display of my talents, I shall know how to be grateful for favors," the commissioner insinuated, with a bland smile that suggested whole volumes of bribery.
The subject was painful to me, and to avoid making promises which I could not perform, I turned the conversation to the theme which I had uppermost in my mind,—the discovery of Mr. Critchet's deposit at the government office. The commissioner was slightly astonished, and became more and more convinced that Fred and myself were innocent of any complicity in the plot.
"In fact," Mr. Sherwin said, "so convinced am I that Follet and an unknown companion attempted the murder, that I shall this day order a full discharge from our court records, and of course you will no longer be under bail. Nay, I don't desire thanks," the commissioner said, hastily, as I attempted to explain how grateful we should feel. "There are other ways besides words in which a man can certify his good will."
I understood his meaning, but instead of returning an answer I managed to empty his so-called wine upon the floor, and then took my leave, after first hinting that we were on the track of Follet's companion. I felt easier and breathed freer after reaching the open air, in defiance of the dust, which filled the heavens, and almost blinded me; and while I was picking my way through the street, with half-closed eyes, whom should I meet but Mr. Brown.
"Hullo," he shouted, "what is up?"
I briefly related the manner in which I had been received by the commissioner, and the discovery that Steel Spring had made.
"And when does that long-limbed wretch propose to identify Follet's companion, so that we can get hold of him?" Mr. Brown inquired.
"To-night," I answered; "I intended to find you in the course of the day, and get you to accompany us on the expedition."
"What time do you start?"
"About midnight. Steel Spring is to be at Dan's, and will introduce us to the company as men afraid to look upon the face of a 'Trap,' and 'on the square.'"
"I'll be with you before you start, and during the day I'll send two disguises to the store which will be hard to rival in point of ugliness. Good by for the present, and don't forget to examine and clean your revolvers, for we may need them."
At about midnight we donned our disguises, and then surveyed each other with attention. Fred had a close-cropped wig of a fiery red color, which nearly covered his forehead, and made him look like a prize-fighter after a hard battle.
On his nose was stuck an immense piece of adhesive plaster, which rather detracted from his personal beauty; and to complete the adornment of his person, there were other strips of the same material on his face, which, by the way, was slightly smeared with dirt to give him a healthy color so that the company which we were about to seek should not accuse us of aristocracy in being too clean.
I also had on a wig, but it was one of the fussy kind, and made my head look as though guiltless of a comb or brush for many months. To beautify my complexion I smeared it over with soot, and when I regaled myself with a glance at our six by nine glass, I was satisfied that no living man could tell whether I was a dirty white man or a dirty negro.
Our costumes consisted of blue flannel shirts, with coarse canvas trousers, very much soiled and very stiff; but they were made loose, with very deep pockets, for the express purpose of carrying a brace of pistols or huge pocket knives.
A few minutes past twelve o'clock the inspector gave his peculiar knock, and we admitted him. He had on a suit of clothing that formerly belonged to a miner who had passed two or three weeks under ground digging through a stratum of clay, and of course he had not spared his garments, for they were so besmeared that it would have puzzled a conjurer to have defined the original color of the cloth. His wig was black, and contrasted with his saturnine complexion, and as long as he held his tongue he would have passed muster as a native of Italy.
"Well," inquired Mr. Brown, surveying our disguise with approval, "is every thing ready?"
We assured him that, as far as we were concerned, we were, and impatient to set out without delay.
"Where is Steel Spring?" Mr. Brown asked, while sipping his punch, with a gratified expression upon his face that showed how highly he enjoyed it.
"We are to meet him at Dan's at one o'clock."
"Then we had better be moving," the inspector said, emptying his glass, and rising. "I heard from one of my folks to-night, and he tells me that the gathering is unusually large at the 'Cricket,' and to prevent mistakes, I have stationed a small force of trusty men within sound of a call in case they are required."
We left Rover in charge of the store and the sick man, and locked up, and then picked our way towards Gravel Pit Hill, where the "Cricket" was located.
Mr. Brown was in high spirits, and once called down the wrath of a guardian of the night because Mr. B. insisted upon showing us the extent and volume of his voice.
At length we gained "Gravel Pit Hill," and had no difficulty in finding the celebrated "Cricket,"—a house that made some pretensions to size and boards, for it was two stories high, with a large hall, or bar-room, on the first floor, and three or four smaller rooms leading from it. The small rooms were for the elite of the bushranging profession, and when there was too great a cry for a notorious robber, he was accommodated with private quarters where he could enjoy his lush undisturbed by the thoughts of police officers. The "Cricket" appeared to be unusually light and brilliant, for the sharp squeaking of a violin was heard, and the trilling of a clarinet blended with the catgut in most discordant notes.
"Now, gentlemen," the inspector said, stopping short, and laying his hands upon our arms, "we have got to manage this matter with some skill, or we shall hardly escape without a blow from a knife, or a pistol shot, two very desirable things if we use the weapons with which they are inflicted, but bad if in other hands. Let me caution you to study each word that you utter, and to maintain perfect control over your muscles. Now, then, are you ready?"
We answered in the affirmative, and once more strode on until we reached the stout door that separated the "cricketers" from the outer world. It was closed as we expected, for Steel Spring had informed us that after a certain hour at night all ingress had to be made by giving a password, and he had kindly provided us with the magic expression to be used.
Mr. Brown dealt a stout blow upon the door, and while we listened for a response the music ceased, and all was quiet as a churchyard within the house. We could hear whispering near the door as though debating our business, and who we were.
Again did the inspector deal the door heavy blows, and while he rested a hoarse voice asked,—
"What's wanted out there?"
"We wish to come in—open the door, and don't keep us away from, the lush all night," responded the inspector.
"But who are you?" queried our interrogator.
"We is fakey kens and quiddling coves," Mr. Brown answered, adopting the flash language, most in vogue among thieves at Ballarat.
"If you is fakey coves you should know the dig," was the response, meaning that we should know the password.
"Bush and bush," cried Mr. Brown, promptly, being the words which Steel Spring had informed us would carry us into the house without delay.
"Why didn't you go for to say so in the fust place," growled the doorkeeper; and we heard a heavy bar removed, and a bolt drawn, and then the door was opened just wide enough for us to squeeze in one by one, and after we stood in the large room, where twenty or thirty persons were congregated, it was instantly shut, and again secured, and our retreat was cut off had we been disposed to have left the choice company before us in a summary manner.
I had time to glance around the apartment and take a brief survey of the assembly before the ruffian who guarded the door had bolted it, and I must confess that my impression was not very favorable. As I said before, there were between twenty and thirty persons in the room, all with such villanous-looking countenances that a jury would have hanged them without a word of evidence in regard to their guilt. The very creme de la creme of scoundrelism was before us, plotting a recruiting from deeds of crime, and ready to cut a man's throat for a pound.
The apartment was filled with smoke, for each man had a clay pipe in his mouth, and was puffing away in a state of great enjoyment. Along the walls of the room were common pine tables, with rude benches and but a few rough chairs. The tables were nailed to the floor, or confined by iron staples; and I afterwards learned that the plan was adopted by the proprietor of the house to save his property, as sometimes his guests got angry, and were in the habit of breaking chairs over the heads of adversaries—a custom which had been discontinued, owing to the shrewdness of Dan in looking after number one. Of course, the knife and pistol were the next resort; but that was a matter of the most supreme indifference to Dan, who didn't care how many were killed or wounded as long as they didn't injure him or what belonged to him.
Every man was drinking, or had a pot of ale or a glass of rum before him; and in one corner of the apartment were half a dozen persons asleep, or else dead drunk, and even beside them were glasses or pewter cups.
At the farthest end of the room from the street was a small bar, behind which Dan, with coat off and shirt sleeves rolled up, was the presiding genius, and to show his aristocracy was smoking a cigar.
He scanned us with his sharp black eyes when we entered, as though wondering who we were; but apparently satisfied that we were "kenkly coves," or first-class thieves, he turned his attention to more congenial matters, and refreshed his inner man with a stiff glass of rum, diluted with but a slight mixture of water.
The musicians, who had stopped playing upon our knocking, now made feeble signs of renewing their duties; but still the guests assembled did not remove their eyes from us, and we could see a number of them whisper to each other as though making inquiries as to whom we were.
I glanced around the room in hope of seeing Steel Spring, but that worthy was invisible; and I was just about to utter an anathema on his head when a door leading to the hall, or bar-room, opened, and that individual made his appearance. He stopped for a moment to exchange a few words with Dan, and we could see that he was requesting the favor of a drink, and that he was promptly served, a sure sign that his credit was good, or that he had not run out of money.
"Come, ain't you covies agoing to move along and get some lush, or is you goin' to stand here all night, and hanged to you?" cried the doorkeeper, who had secured the door, and wanted to turn his attention to any amusement that might be going on, including that of being asked to drink by any good-natured bushranger present.
"Don't you be in a hurry, you old grampus," cried Mr. Brown, with a swagger and an indifferent look, as though he had been used to just such society as was present. "We are strangers here, but we have lived in the bush for a few years, and knows a 'Trap' from an innocent."
To even claim the title of a bushranger was sufficient to secure respect from the common thieves who congregated around Ballarat, as there was so much danger connected with the pursuit of a robber who was obliged to live in the bush, and rarely show his face, except to attack a train, that petty knaves were always awed when one of the fierce rovers of the prairies made his appearance and condescended to speak. The doorkeeper's manners underwent an instantaneous change, and from the fierce bully he softened to the fawning panderer.
"I axes yer pardon, gents, 'cos I didn't know ye, and 'sposed you was sneaks from Melbourne. Let me show you to a table, and supply you with lush, and (here the fellow's voice subsided to a whisper) I knows the bottles that holds the best rum."
"You're the fellow for us," cried the inspector, slapping him on his back with pretended frankness. "Bring on the lush, and hang the expense. We're in for a time, and a jolly one at that."
Our cicerone led us across the room, and while we were walking every eye was upon us, and the least hesitancy or timidity would have betrayed and brought the whole pack upon us before we were ready to receive them. Therefore, without swaggering, or pretending to be very independent, we reached our allotted table, and called for three bottles of ale and three pipes.
Just then Dan called Steel Spring's attention, and we could hear him inquire in a whisper if he knew us. The long-legged scamp turned deliberately around, pretended to be surprised, hastily swallowed his rum, and then rushed towards us.
"Vel, if this isn't a surprise may I never speak again, or make an honest living vhile in the bush. To think that three of my old pals should turn up jist as I vanted 'um, is a vonderful thing and no mistake. If ye axes me vat I'll drink, I shall say rum."
We all pretended to be pleased to see the follow, and gave him such a rough welcome as we deemed his companions would be likely to bestow, and then, to his extreme gratification, ordered the rum that he was so eager to taste.
"It's all right," we could hear the ruffians, by whom we were surrounded, say. "Steel Spring knows 'um, and that's 'nough;" and then each man applied himself with renewed energy to drinking and smoking, and laying plans for future robberies.
"I should never have known you," Steel Spring whispered, "if you hadn't have peached about the toggles vot you vas going to vare. I don't believe that your blessed mother would know you, and as for your fathers they would be puzzled at any rate."
This was uttered in a whisper, and while the doorkeeper was gone for the rum and ale; and I suppose it was intended to be complimentary, although we didn't look upon it in that light.
"Is he here?" I asked, glancing around the room, and endeavoring to imagine which of those present was the assassin.
"Yes, it's all right; but I can't point him out, 'cos it would attract attention. Keep quiet, and drink your hale in peace."
We were constrained to follow Steel Spring's advice, although I promised him a kicking for his impudence.
"Jim," cried a black bearded fellow who sat near us, and who, Mr. Brown whispered, had served six years as a convict, and who preferred Australia to the old country, "when is you going to try your hand at the trade agin?"
"Not until the brads get low, and when Dan refuses to trust me for lush and grub," was the answer.
"Isn't it a pity that I haven't got the power to arrest these fellows, and hang them without a trial? They deserve punishment, yet there is no evidence by which they can be convicted. Your California lynch law would work wonders here in a short time."
The inspector felt as enthusiastic as an artist in the presence of a great painting, and Steel Spring was obliged to whisper a few words of caution for fear of a discovery.
The doorkeeper brought our drink, and expressed great gratification when we asked him to take a drop at our expense; but Dan, who was watching the operation, looked much more pleased when he saw Fred display a few gold pieces, and pay for the same; and at length the reserve of the landlord wore off; and seeing that we were strangers and had money, he made an excuse to call at our table, and grunt forth a few words of welcome.
"Is you from the town or bush?" he asked, appealing to Fred as the leader, because I suppose he had on better clothes than the inspector and myself.
"From the town; but on the lookout for a chance for the bush," my friend returned.
"Whose gang have you faked with?" was the next interrogation.
"Once we were with Black Darnley; but most of the time we have been together, picking up odds and ends, not making big strides, for fear of the Traps. We are getting short, and came here 'cos we were told that Steel Spring was going into business, and wanted a little help."
If Dan had any suspicious that we were not what we seemed, he kept them to himself at any rate, for after drinking "confusion to all d——d Traps," he returned to his old place behind the bar, and left us to do what we pleased. We were glad to get rid of him, for he had a wicked eye, and could see through a disguise quicker than any other man in Ballarat, robber or policeman. I afterwards accused Mr. Brown of giving him some private signal by which he was warned to hold his tongue, but the inspector denied it, not so emphatic as I could have wished, however.
"Go and invite your friend to join us," Mr. Brown said, addressing Steel Spring, for the night began to wear away. "If we are to pull together, we want to see what land of stuff a man's made of, so that we can know what risks to run and what to avoid. Them's my sentiments, and I don't care a d—— who knows 'um."
This was spoken in a tone of voice loud enough for half a dozen thieves to hear; and as Steel Spring had given out that, he was intending to raise a gang, they did not any longer feel suspicious as to our movements.
"That's the kind of talk I like a man to spit out," cried a huge black ruffian who sat near us, bringing his hand down upon his table with so much good will that a cup before him spilled out half its contents. "I like to 'sociate with men who have pluck, and know what they is about. D——n a coward, dead or alive," and with this emphatic declaration the ruffian drank what spirits remained in his cup, and then called for more.
"That's Tom Benchley," whispered the inspector, "and in spite of his big words and fierce looks, an arrant coward at heart. He frightens people by bouncing, although a boy of twenty could make him eat his words. You see that he sits alone. Most, of those in the room consider him a disgrace to what they call a profession; but the fellow always has money, and so Dan gives him the right of entree to the select scenes."
Steel Spring, who had been to the farther end of the room, whispering with a young man, now returned, and introduced him to us as Ben Jackson. He was not more than twenty-four years of age; and I saw in a moment that he had never passed any portion of his time at the hulks, and that if he had ever been engaged in robberies it was only recently, and that he was not yet quite hardened to crime.
"Gents," said Steel Spring, waving his hand with an attempt to do the genteel, "allow me to introduce Mr. Jackson, a covey vot is desirous of jining our select society, provided, as the land sharks say, you is villing."
Jackson appeared delighted with the introduction; although I thought that I could detect a slight look of disgust upon his face when we extended our soiled hands and shook his white palm.
"Our friend tells the truth—I want to join a gang where I can make money, and then leave the country without danger. I don't want to stop in Australia all my days by a d——d sight."
Even the profanity was forced, and did not come from his heart. He considered it necessary to use an oath to make himself appear an adept in crime—but I saw through the disguise, and pitied him.
"It ain't every man that applies for a chance can jine with us," the inspector answered, assuming a deep and bass tone of voice, and language suited to his supposed condition. "We want men—half a dozen good, firm men, and then we can roll the money in without much trouble. Squat yourself, and then we can think of this 'ere subject, and find out what you can do to help us when we reach the bush."
"I like to meet men, and hope to prove myself one before we part," speaking in a manner that showed he was not destitute of education. "I've never been in the bush, but I hope under good guidance I shall soon be, and then if I show a white feather I'll agree to go without my share of the prize money."
"That's fair talk," I muttered, "and I think that the kid will make a goat. Let's trust him."
"I'm sure I'm very much pleased with your favorable opinion, and I hope I shall deserve it. I've already done some things that can't he beat, although I'm not in the possession of much money. Gentlemen, I must ask you to drink at my expense, if I can manage to negotiate with Dan for credit."
Jackson started for a short conference with the barkeeper, and Steel Spring whispered to the inspector to "draw him out, and hear him talk."
Dan apparently required some persuasion to give credit, but at length the representations of Jackson prevailed, and he returned to us radiant.
"The d——d old 'fence,'" he muttered, "he is afraid of giving credit as a churchman, and nearly as mean. The next time I'm in Ballarat, I hope that I shall have money enough to pay for select lodgings, and then he and his 'Cricket' may go to the devil. What are you going to take?"
We ordered our liquor, and after it was brought made a show of tasting it, but we knew better than to drink spirit at the Cricket.
"By the way," Mr. Brown said, "you was saying something about your not being green, and that you had tried your hand at one or two things. Now, if you have no objections, we should like to know how you've been employed, so that we can judge of your mettle."
The young fellow paused; and I could see that shame was not entirely banished from his heart, for he colored, and then endeavored to crush his feelings with a drink of poisonous spirit.
"What need I care," he exclaimed, at length, a "short life and a merry one for me. A fellow may as well be dead as destitute of money, and when it can't be got by hard work, I'm in favor of taking it wherever I can get it."
"Them's the sentiments," cried the inspector, and then muttered in an undertone, "that have hanged better men than you."
"You see, gentlemen," Jackson continued, the liquor opening his heart, and making him loquacious, "that I began life in Liverpool, in the old country. I was apprenticed to a grocer, but I looked upon weighing coffee and tea as not the kind of employment for a man; so one day I stepped out of the store on board of a ship that was just ready to sail for Melbourne, and started to seek my fortune in this part of the world."
"Didn't you have any capital to begin with?" interrogated the inspector, with a wink of encouragement.
"Well, yes," hesitated the young fellow; "I forgot to say that I had five hundred sovereigns in my pocket at the time I left; and they were intrusted to me by my master to put into the Bank of Liverpool."
"Ah, that was something like," cried the inspector, rubbing his hands. "How old Slocum must have been astonished when he found that you was gone."
"You knew my master, then," cried Jackson, starting up with alarm depicted upon his countenance.
"Of course I didn't know him; but I can read, can't I? Didn't an advertisement appear in one of the papers at Melbourne, offering a reward for the arrest of one Charley Wright. But don't fear us; go on with your yarn. You've made a good beginning."
"I'm glad that you think so, 'cos I don't know as you'd approve of such kinds of pickings."
"Approve of 'em?" echoed the inspector. "No matter; you go on, and while talking I'll order more lush."
"I didn't find so many chances to make a fortune as I expected here," Jackson continued, "but I got employment in a store, where I worked daytimes, and at night I used to do a little on my own account in the pasteboard line; but I wasn't very successful, and somehow or other I think I was cheated."
"It's exceedingly probable," cried the inspector, sotto voce.
"And when I found that I was cleaned out after a few weeks, I attempted to retrieve my losses by borrowing from my employers," Jackson continued.
"Without their consent or knowledge," Mr. Brown remarked.
The young fellow smiled faintly, and nodded his head in token of assent, and then continued:
"One day I borrowed a hundred pounds, thinking that I could replace it without its being missed, if I was lucky at cards; but somehow I wasn't, and my employers began to make a stir in relation to the matter."
"That must have been exceedingly disagreeable to your feelings," the inspector insinuated.
"Well, it was rather hard, I will own, 'cos I might have been lucky after a while, and then I could have paid the whole debt without trouble; but men in business don't seem to have much consideration for their clerks; and I think that a good deal of crime originates through their obstinacy and stupidity.
"I was obliged to leave the firm with whom I was spending my time; and I did it so suddenly that they had no chance to arrest me, or to investigate matters. I stepped out of the store while the partners were holding a consultation, and in ten minutes time I was on board the 'Smiling Queen' steamboat, bound for Sydney, and beyond the reach of the police.
"I didn't have a recommendation in my pocket, for I didn't think to ask for one when I left Melbourne; and I have always entertained some doubts as to whether I could have obtained one had I requested it."
"Ingenuous youth," muttered the inspector, almost fascinated by his impudence.
"I tried to get a clerkship in Sydney, but didn't succeed; and then I accepted a situation as marker in a billiard saloon, where I flourished for a time—but one night a miner, who had been drinking quite freely, lost about a pound of dust, and was fool enough to make a fuss about it. I was suspected of stealing it; and although I pledged my word that I knew nothing of the matter, yet the gold was found in my pocket, and I was obliged to share with the police in order to get clear."
Mr. Brown endeavored to hide his chagrin by drinking from his glass, while Steel Spring could hardly contain himself he was so delighted at the expose.
"A precious sot of wermin those police fellers, hey?" cried the scamp, in defiance of all my frowns.
"O, they are the most rapacious set of villains," Jackson continued, "that ever lived. A man can't do an honest day's work without sharing with them. I know 'em, thoroughly."
"Perhaps you do," Mr. Brown replied, carelessly, and at the same time he gave Steel Spring such a tremendous kick on his thin shin bone that the poor devil was almost bent up double with agony.
"I ax your pardon," cried Mr. Brown; "I didn't know that your foot was there."
"Vell, you've found out," was the reply of the poor devil, as he rubbed his leg.
"After the transaction with the miner, I heard that a man could make a good living, if he was any ways smart, at Ballarat, so I came here and done pretty well, until an unfortunate occurrence took place, which has been the means of making me fight shy for a few weeks past."
"You see he used a 'sticker' rather freely," cried Steel Spring, in a careless way, as though stabbing was a meritorious act, which Jackson's modesty was too great for him to disclose.
"I thought I asked you to say nothing of the matter!" exclaimed Jackson, with a pallid cheek, and a frightened expression.
"Veil, so you did, but vat of it? Ain't ve all friends; and ain't it right that ve should know how much pluck a man has got?"
"If the gentleman has done any thing that is gallus, let's hear it," grumbled Fred.
"Ah, that's the talk; out with it at once," we all exclaimed, although in so low a tone that our neighbors did not hear us.
"Well, since the subject is broached, I don't mind giving you an account of the most dangerous expedition that I ever undertook; but mum is the word, for if that d——d Brown should get hold of me, I should have to swing for it."
"O, mum it is," we all repeated; and none were louder than the inspector in giving the promise.
"Well, the fact of it is," Jackson continued, "soon after I got here, and began handling the 'pasteboards,' I made the acquaintance of a young fellow who was at work mining with an uncle. I managed to clean him pretty well out; and then he used to steal pretty smart sums from his relative, until at last the old man missed his dust, and remonstrated against such injustice.
"One day, after a hard quarrel, the nephew came to me, and proposed that we should enter his uncle's tent, and take what gold he had left, and divide it equally between us. I didn't like the idea, but my friend was so sanguine that a few thousand pounds could be made without much of an effort, that I at last consented."
"I 'spose you mean that affair of Critchet's," the inspector said. "I could have told you that nothing was to be got in that quarter."
"How—you know of that attempt at mur—"
He did not finish the sentence, for the word seemed to choke him.
"Know of it?" repented the inspector; "of course I did. Don't I belong to a gang that hears of all such things? What would an organization be worth unless the news was reported?"
"But you didn't know that I was connected with the matter, did you?"
"Never you mind me—when you belong to the association you will know as much as I do. I'll give you the credit of saying that the job you undertook was well conducted, and only failed through the old fellow's shrewdness. Now drive on, and don't be bashful."
"We agreed upon a night," Jackson continued, "and about one o'clock we crept into old Critchet's tent, and began digging where we supposed the dust was buried, but to our disappointment found it was gone.
"My companion was so enraged that he uttered an exclamation loud enough to awaken his uncle, and he sprang from his bed and shouted for help. We feared that his cries would bring assistance, when we knew that our errand would be suspected, and that our arrest would be certain. We seemed animated by a kindred feeling, and both of our knives struck the old fellow at the same moment. He gave a groan, and fell to the ground, and then, fearing that he was not finished, we dealt half a dozen more stabs, and ran, as fast as our legs could carry us, to a gambling saloon, where we endeavored to forget our disappointment and terror by imbibing deeply of liquor.
"A little before daylight we stole back to the tent, thinking that we would raise an alarm in case he was dead; but we discovered that the old fellow had crept from his tent to a store kept by two Yankees. We tracked him by his blood, and feared that we were lost, but Follet—"
"Follet was the name of your companion, hey?" Fred asked.
Jackson hesitated for a moment, and then continued,—
"I may as well own that it was, 'cos I'm with friends who won't betray me. Follet said that he would visit the store, and by cross-examining the Yankees, find out what they meant to do, and whether the old man had made any revelations. He did so, and while there managed to drop a knife, which I had bought from them a week or two before, and which I took care to blood up, and then went before the commissioner, and boldly accused them of murdering his uncle.