"The dodge succeeded badly; the d——d fool of a commissioner let the store keepers off on bail, and shoved Follet in jail, to be held as a witness. But he's a good and true one, and has not once alluded to me."
"Is that all?" asked the inspector.
"That's all," replied Jackson, emptying his glass.
"Well, now, let me see your hands," Mr. Brown said.
Jackson held out his hands, which Mr. Brown grasped firmly, and then I heard two sharp "clicks," and to my surprise, and the consternation of our companion, a pair of stout handcuffs were on his wrists, and he was a prisoner.
MORE OF THE SAME SORT.
The securing of Jackson was so sudden and unexpected that no one in the room besides our party had noticed what was going on, and even the prisoner seemed not to realize for some moments that his tongue had revealed secrets which were likely to cost him imprisonment for life. He appeared to imagine that the handcuffing was an excellent joke, and a taint smile overspread his face; but after finding that no one returned it, a deadly paleness chased the color from his lips, and he trembled as though he was already arraigned before a tribunal for sentence.
"What is the meaning of this?" he stammered out, after moistening his mouth, which seemed parched, with his tongue.
"It means," whispered the inspector, "that you are my prisoner, and the first effort that you make to escape will result in your death. Remain quiet, and do as I wish you to, and you will fare well, but—"
He pressed the barrel of a revolver against his side, and the fellow trembled at its touch.
"Who are you?" Jackson demanded, almost in an inaudible voice.
"I am that d——d Brown whom you spoke of a few minutes since," replied the inspector, with a chuckle.
"And these two men?" he asked, pointing to Fred and myself.
"The Americans, whom you thought to get convicted of murder. You see that they have played you a Yankee trick, and have rather got the best of the bargain."
The poor wretch's head fell upon his breast, and we supposed that he was completely crushed by his unexpected arrest, but we kept a sharp eye upon his movements, nevertheless, for fear that he should convey intelligence of his situation to the noisy and drunken gang in the room. We knew that the single word "Traps" would cause them to swarm around us like hornets, and that many blows would have to be struck before we could make our way to the street and escape with our prisoner, whom we were desirous of holding on to at every hazard.
"Steel Spring," whispered the inspector, but no Steel Spring was present to respond. The fellow had stolen away unperceived as soon as the handcuffs were put on Jackson's wrists,' disliking the idea of fighting his way from the room. The act was characteristic of the man, and we cursed him in our hearts for a coward and a traitor.
Here were but three of us to oppose nearly thirty, and to add to our trouble it was not only necessary that we should get clear ourselves, but that we should take our prisoner with us; and while we knew that in case of a rush we would stand but a slim chance, we determined that we would dispute our lives with the ruffians, and make every shot in our revolvers tell.
"If that coward of a Steel Spring was only here," muttered the inspector.
"He would be of little use to us," I remarked, "for he has not pluck enough to fight a hedgehog, if it showed spirit."
"I expected to send him for the reserved police force that I have posted near at hand. I told them to wait until they got word from me, and they will obey orders."
"It is useless to repine," Fred exclaimed. "Let us make a bold push for the street, and trust to our usual good luck and boldness for an escape."
"Or, had we better sit here until morning, and pretend to drink as hard as those around us? By daylight most of those present will be either drunk or asleep, and then we could get off without much of a struggle."
The advice of the inspector was good, and perhaps we should have adopted it; but just at that moment a burly fellow staggered towards our table, and seemed determined to cultivate a more intimate acquaintance.
"You coves don't seem to drink as though you liked our lush," he began, steadying himself by holding on to the table with one hand, and pointing to the half-filled glasses before us. "If the liquor isn't good why don't you say so, and be hanged to you," he continued.
We made a short reply that we liked the liquor very much, and was going to drink our share of it as soon as we got some business arranged.
"Well, let us have a rousing drink, and I'll pay for it," our troublesome friend continued, and in spite of our declaration he ordered a pint of whiskey, and then sat down beside us as though he was determined to see that full justice was done to his treat.
I shoved Jackson's hands under the table so that his bracelets could not be seen, and then I held them in that position until the liquor was brought, when a new source of trouble awaited us. It was necessary, to escape without a quarrel, that each of us should honor the unexpected treat by partaking of it; but when it came Jackson's turn to drink, we all protested that he had his reasons for not imbibing, but our troublesome friend overruled them.
"He shall drink, by G——d, or fight," roared the ruffian; and as he spoke we saw, with some misgivings, that our corner of the room was the centre of attraction, and that the sleeping thieves were waking up, and listening to hear what the row was about.
"Sit down, man," cried the inspector, calmly, "and let me drink his share. I'll drink glass after glass with you, until daylight."
"Not by a d——d sight. I want that fellow to respond to my toast: 'Death and confusion to all policemen!'" shouted the ruffian, bringing his glass down upon the table with so much force that it was shivered to pieces, and one of the fragments struck our prisoner on his face, and so startled him that he sprang up, in defiance of the inspector's threat, and revealed what we had attempted to conceal, his confined hands.
The secret was out, and frowns and threats were in vain. We felt in our pockets and satisfied ourselves that our revolvers were ready, and then waited for the astonished ruffian to give an alarm; but he seemed incapable of motion, for he sat staring at Jackson as though hardly daring to believe his eyes.
"Make for the door," whispered the inspector, and grasping the prisoner by his right arm he arose, an example which we followed.
Then did the ruffian, who had insisted upon our drinking with him, find his tongue, for with one spring he cleared the rude bench upon which he was seated and rushed towards his comrades shouting a word, which, above all others, was most dreaded by thieves.
"Traps!" he yelled; and at the sound every thief started to his feet, and even those who were lying in the corners of the room, sleepy and overpowered with drink, sat up and rubbed their eyes, ready to fight in self-defence, or to make an escape, just according to the chances which presented themselves.
"Traps," once more repeated the frightened ruffian, and a dozen voices demanded where they were, while three or four men opened the shutters of the windows to see if the building was attacked on the outside. Two or three of the most timid disappeared from the room through a small door, which we afterwards learned led through a subterranean passage to a deserted mine, and from thence escape was easy by means of the shaft.
"Where are they?" roared a dozen voices all at once; and as the ruffians asked, we had the disagreeable pleasure of seeing long knives unsheathed and two or three pistols drawn; but even during the confusion we managed to approach the door through which we had entered, and which we prayed to leave without a severe wound.
"There they go—we are betrayed—down with them," were the cries that we heard; but to our satisfaction a man whom we had not counted on rushed between us and the crowd, his voice, clear and ringing, being heard above the din.
"Put up your knives," he shouted, "or you'll bring trouble on me and my house. Let the gentlemen go—it's nothin' but a fadlin' cove they've got, and not a bushman. For the honor of the 'Cricket' don't spill blood here," pleaded Dan Brian, the proprietor.
"Move on," whispered the inspector, "and don't relax your hold of the prisoner. Keep your pistols in your pockets, and don't use them until I set an example."
"It is selling us, Dan Brian, you are," cried half a dozen voices, and there were shouts and oaths of rage at the thought.
"'Pon my honor, I'm not," reiterated Dan; "I never sold a pal in my life, and, by the blessing of God, I won't. It's a poor devil they've got now, of no account to any of us."
"He's a thief, and in the hands of 'Traps,'" shouted one, "and if we let him go without a blow, none of us will be safe."
"That's so," yelled the crowd, and the most violent pushed Dan aside, or attempted to, for the purpose of getting at us.
"We will listen to nothing," roared the ruffians, "until the poor devil is free, and then we will talk until daylight, if it will please the police."
An almost imperceptible signal was exchanged between the inspector and Dan, but to no purpose, for our party continued to retreat, and the others advance, with many menacing gestures, and the only thing that surprised me was the reluctance to use firearms on the part of our enemies. This, I afterwards found, was owing to the fear of bringing a squad of mounted police to the spot, large numbers of whom were constantly patrolling "Gravel Pit Hill" during the night, and the signal for a disturbance would have been the arrest of every one present, simply by surrounding the house and searching the underground passages.
By the time the last demand was made, we were at the door and all ready to take down the bar, when a rush was made towards us, and by the rather dim light I saw a dozen long knives, such as the stockmen of the plains wear in their belts for the purpose of killing cattle, flash from their sheaths, and grasped as though business was intended.
"Keep your backs to the door," cried the inspector, calmly, not at all dismayed by the formidable array against us, "and don't let a man approach within a yard without getting a good shot."
We covered our prisoner in such a manner that he could do us no harm, and then formed in a triangular manner, so that our fronts and sides would be equally well guarded, then glanced over the excited crowd, in hopes that Dan would array himself on our side—but that enterprising gentleman had suddenly disappeared, and left us to our fate.
"Stand back," shouted the inspector; "it will be the worse for you. There's many of you present who know me, and know that I have a large force of policemen on hand. If you strike a blow, not one of you shall escape justice.
"Unbar the door as quickly as possible," whispered the inspector, after getting through with his threatening speech.
I lifted the heavy gum wood bar from its place, and then raised the latch, expecting that it would yield, but to my surprise it did not—it was locked, and the key in the pocket of the doorkeeper, who had made his escape from the room in company with Dan.
I almost uttered a groan of agony when I made the discovery, and to add to the perplexity of our situation, the ruffians must have understood our case, and known that the key was never left in the lock, for they uttered a discordant and ironical hoot, and then a shout of sardonic laughter.
"For Heaven's sake, don't be all night in getting that door open," cried Fred, nervously, and I will confess that I also partook of the same complaint.
"Now for a rush—cut them to pieces," exclaimed many voices; but I observed that the cries came from those who were farthest from us, and out of the reach of our pistols, which we were forced to display, in hope of keeping the robbers at a respectful distance.
"Is the door unbarred?" asked Mr. Brown, turning half round, and exposing his side to the knives of the crowd, and quick as thought, a man sprang forward to begin the work of bloodshed; but sudden as were his movements, they were anticipated, for I raised the heavy bar, which I had not relinquished, and let it fall upon his head with crushing force.
The poor devil fell at our feet without uttering a groan, although many spasmodic twitchings of his nerves showed that he was not killed outright His long knife narrowly missed the side of the inspector, and for the first attempt at our annihilation, it was not to be despised.
The wretches uttered yells of rage when they saw their comrade fall, but none seemed inclined to assume the leadership and begin the attack in earnest.
Not one of their motions escaped us, and as long as they were disposed to brandish their knives at a distance, we did not choose to carry matters to extremities; but change of tactics was suddenly resorted to on the part of our opponents, that placed us in no little peril.
All the tumblers, bottles, and decanters of the bar were token possession of by the savage scoundrels, and the first intimation that we had of the fact was the crushing of a bottle (empty, of course—they were not the sort of men to throw away liquor of any kind) against the door, just above our heads.
The fragments were showered upon our faces and shoulders, but before we had time to consider on the matter another bottle flew past my head, and hit our prisoner upon one of his shoulders, injuring him so severely that he dropped to the floor as though he had been shot.
"Self-preservation is the first law of nature," cried the inspector, in a calm tone, cocking his pistol; and when he saw an arm raised to hurl another bottle at our heads, he fired. I saw the raised arm fall suddenly, and I fancied that I could hear the pistol ball when it struck, and buried itself amid bone and muscle.
"And are we to be shot down like dogs?" was the indignant question which some one put, and a loud yell of "No," and a rush towards us, was the response.
One ruffian struck at me, and the point of his knife entered my shirt near the left shoulder, and inflicted a slight scratch, or wound—but before he had time to renew the blow, which I escaped by dodging, Mr. Brown had singled him out as a victim, and he fell, with a horrid imprecation upon his lips, dyeing the black and soiled floor with his blood.
Three or four pistol shots were fired, and they were barely sufficient to keep the crowd at a distance, when I heard a movement at the extremity of the room, and through the windows I saw the well-known blue coats and caps, of the Ballarat police force pouring into the room.
We raised a shout of welcome, and our cheers were answered by the gallant fellows, who kept crowding in until about thirty were drawn up in line, with their long, heavy pistols presented, and ready for destruction.
The ruffians were seized with a sudden panic, and would have fled, but their retreat was cut off, and there was no chance for escape. Then our leader, Mr. Brown, seemed endued with the importance of a dozen men.
"Down with your knives," he shouted, "or those who refuse shall rue it."
The speech was one of the most unfortunate that ever the inspector made, for our opponents were in that peculiar state where a mild word would have done no harm, and a cross one much injury.
The robbers were, in fact, already conquered, and a policeman might have passed from man to man, and collected every knife and pistol that they possessed without danger, and with but few sullen remarks; but the words of the inspector made them think that no quarter was to be shown, and if that was the case, they might as well sell their lives as dearly as possible.
With this unfortunate impression, the ruffians replied to the inspector's words with a shout which sounded like the roar of a wounded tiger; and then commenced one of the most shocking scenes that I ever witnessed (with one exception) in my life.
The robbers rushed upon the line of policemen with brandished knives, and as they advanced they discharged the few pistols which they carried on their persons, and they made every shot tell, for I saw three or four of the government force give sudden springs, and full headlong to the floor; and then came the rattling, deadly discharge of the policemen, and I could hear the heavy balls strike on the partition behind me, and send huge splinters from the woodwork, and scatter them upon our heads. Seven or eight of the robbers fell, mortally wounded, and others, with the blood streaming from their hurts, which only appeared to inflame their courage, once more rushed towards the blue coats in hope of cutting their way through the line, and gaining the secret passage.
But what madness it was to expect to cope with men who carried long sabres, and knew how to use them! The knives of the robbers were powerless against them, and once more the latter were driven back, overpowered, and with half their number disabled.
"Do you surrender?" demanded the inspector.
There was a sullen response in the affirmative, and knives were thrown down, but there was no cringing or supplication for mercy; and the desperadoes only needed a lion-hearted leader to have placed hors du combat one half of their enemies present. They were about as full of pluck as English bull-dogs, and about as resolute.
The police, without moving from their positions, re-loaded their pistols, and then two or three of them advanced and collected the discarded knives without resistance. Handcuffs were then placed upon the robbers' wrists, and they were secured in such a manner that escape was impossible.
The victory was won at the expense of three mortally wounded policemen, and four who were only slightly injured, while on the part of our opponents six were dead, eight badly wounded, and four slightly.
During the battle both Fred and myself had abstained from firing a single shot, for we looked upon the affair in the light of a massacre, yet we could not condemn Mr. Brown or his men, for they had acted according to the best of their judgment, and under the sincere impression that our lives were in danger; and so they were; but we felt as though we had rather cut our way through the villains, or have given up our prisoner, than to have caused so much blood to flow, and so many deaths in an affair that interested ourselves alone.
But the battle was ended, and the wounded required attention. We left our prisoner where he had fallen, when knocked down by a bottle, and as he did not move, we supposed that he had fainted from the effect of fear or pain, and that he would soon come to his senses.
We were picking our way across the floor, endeavoring to avoid the pools of blood, when the rough hands of policemen were laid on our shoulders.
"Put out your digets, and on with the darbies," they said, meaning that we should suffer ourselves to be handcuffed, evidently thinking that we were a portion of the gang with whom they had been fighting.
"Don't hinder us, Mike," I replied, addressing the officer, whom I had seen a number of times, and who know both Fred and myself.
"By the powers, it's hinder ye'll get wid a rope round yer neck. Out wid yer digets, and don't keep us waiting."
I saw that the man was in earnest, and I was surprised—but suddenly I thought of my disguise, and the mystery was explained at once.
"Don't you know your friends when you see them, Mike?" I asked, and while speaking I tore off my wig, revealing my natural hair.
"O, the devil! I axes yer pardon; but who would have thought of seeing you here? It's funny ye are going from place to place, where the hard knocks are to be had, and no pay for it."
We did not explain to the Celtic gentleman the interest we had in being present, but passed on to where the bodies of the wounded bushrangers and robbers were lying. Mr. Brown had already sent for the surgeon of the police force, and a squad of men was removing the wounded soldiers who could go on horseback to their quarters, while litters had been ordered to carry off the remainder. No one appeared to care whether the injured robbers were attended to or neglected.
The poor fellows were suffering the most excruciating pain; but they bore their pangs without a murmur, although two or three of them did ask for water, and when it was brought drank eagerly, and appeared thankful for the favor, slight as it was.
Fred and myself made an attempt to examine their wounds; but before we could strip off one of their shirts, we heard a crashing and roaring beneath our feet, and up through the floor streamed clouds of smoke, black and suffocating, as though produced by pitch or tar.
"The house is on fire," cried a dozen voices; and in an instant there was a rush for the doors and windows, and policemen and miners, who had been drawn from their beds by the tumult and confusion, were mixed in a dozen struggling masses, all striving for escape.
"Come back," we shouted, "and save the wounded;" but our words were unheeded. The fire seemed to increase every moment, fanned as it was by a strong breeze, which blew from the south.
The materials of the building were dry, and easily ignited; and we judged that in less than fifteen minutes the house would be one mass of flames.
We expected to hear the robbers moan and shout for assistance; but to our surprise they maintained a stoical silence, and disdained to beg for help.
We heard the inspector call us by name, but we determined to save every wounded man in the room if possible, and therefore returned him no answer.
Carefully, but quickly, we lifted one of the sufferers from the floor, and conveyed him to the nearest window, where a dozen willing hands were stretched out to receive him; but before we could remove a second, the flames burst through at the extremity of the room, near the bar, and the planks of the floor seemed to blister our feet, they were so heated by the fire raging in the cellar.
CONVALESCENCE OF MR. CRITCHET, AND OUR DISCHARGE FROM THE CRIMINAL DOCKET.
"Do you wish to perish in the building?" cried the inspector, who had made his way through one of the windows in search of us.
"By no means," returned Fred, hurriedly, "but we will not leave until every wounded man is saved."
"You are mad. The building will be a mass of cinders in ten minutes," exclaimed Mr. Brown.
"Five minutes would be sufficient to clear the room, if we only had help," retorted Fred, as cool as though certain of being saved.
The inspector uttered a hoarse growl of displeasure; and as we hurried to perform our duty as men, he sprang to one of the windows where his policemen were drawn up, awaiting his orders, yet not making the first effort to save the building.
"Ho!" he shouted. "Will you be outdone by strangers. Where are my volunteers? Who will help save a wounded enemy?"
For the honor of the blue coats, let it be told that he did not have to speak twice. The men threw away their pistols and powder, and rushed in a body towards the windows, from whence smoke was streaming of a pitchy darkness and suffocating odor. A number seized logs of wood, and dashed them against the door until the lock gave way, and it flew open. All seemed animated by a spirit of rivalry, as to which should perform the most labor in the attempt to save the wounded from a horrid death.
And it was well for us that assistance arrived, for human endurance could go no farther. We felt as though about to suffocate, and should have fallen upon the bodies of those whom we were attempting to save had not the inspector and one of his men carried us forcibly from the room to the open air, where we quickly received aid by the influence of a bottle containing a quantity of Jamaica rum mixed with water.
While we stood watching the burning building, the inspector joined us. His clothes were nearly burned from his back, and his hair was singed to a crisp, yet he made no complaint, nor appeared to regard his numerous burns.
"Rather a narrow escape this time," he said; "a few minutes longer, and you would never have seen that Yankee land which you boast so much about."
"We have to thank you for our rescue, and we will do so when you are prepared to listen," Fred said.
"Then I shall never be ready. Keep your thanks until I have repaid you a small portion of the debt of gratitude which I owe you for my life. I am not forgetful, believe me."
"I suppose that Mike told you about Jackson," Mr. Brown continued, after a moment's silence, during which we stood looking at the fire.
"He did not mention his name," I replied; "he is safe, I trust."
"Yes, his body is saved, but his soul is now before his God, to be judged and punished, or forgiven, as the Omnipotent may decree."
"Dead!" we exclaimed, in astonishment
"When my men burst the door of the 'Cricket,' they discovered a body lying against it, with handcuffs on. I was referred to, and found that it was Jackson. A pistol ball had passed through his breast, and probably killed him instantly. His body has been taken to the station house with the dead and wounded, where you can see it if you desire."
But we had no desire for such a sight. We had seen bloody deeds enough for one night, and we felt sick at the thought of what had occurred.
We bade the inspector good night, and wended our way home in a thoughtful mood. The death of Jackson, we knew, would not prevent our being declared innocent, for Mr. Brown had heard his confession, as well as Steel Spring, although we knew that the latter would not be believed in a court of justice, even if he did speak the truth, which he was not addicted to.
We reached our store in safety, and found Rover watching by the side of our patient, Mr. Critchet, who appeared to have slept during our absence, and probably never knew that we left him for one of the most dangerous expeditions that we ever ventured on, during a lengthy residence in Australia.
The "Bloody Fight," as it was called, and is called to this day, by those miners who were living at Ballarat at the time of its occurrence, created a profound sensation in the country; and Mr. Brown gained high encomiums for his bravery and good conduct in ridding the country of so many notorious characters at one fell swoop.
The particulars of the melee were never strictly inquired into by the government; for to speak plainly, those in authority did not care a straw whether Mr. Brown was justified or not in shooting down the habitues of the "Cricket;" and as our names did not appear in connection with the affair, we were not disposed to work against the best friend we had in Ballarat. The inspector was made a lieutenant, and he deserved his promotion, but not for the part he took in the "Bloody Fight," and he had good sense enough to know it. From that dreadful night, Mr. Brown's name was a terror to evil doers; and bushrangers and petty thieves gave our miners a wide berth, as sailors express it.
We changed our clothes after our return home, washed the soot and dirt from our hands and faces, and while we were thus employed a modest rap was heard at the door, and who should enter but Mr. Steel Spring, looking as important, defiant, and boastful as ever.
"I's so glad to know that you is all right—that you is alive and kicking, that it almost takes my breath," the fellow said, sinking gracefully upon a vinegar barrel, and fanning his face with his hat.
"If we are alive, we have no thanks to offer you in return," Fred muttered, rather testily.
"Vell, if here ain't gratitude, and no mistake. After I does all that a cove can do to find the real assassin, and makes him tell his yarn right afore ye, I'm treated—no, I'm not treated, for I've bin here five minutes, and I'm not axed to drink."
We made no response to this gentle hint, but continued our occupation. The fellow watched us in silence, and then began again.
"I'd like to know vot more a cove could do than I've done? Haven't I hobeyed all horders that vas given? Have I spent much dust in my vast researches; and haven't I even had to get drunk to please ye? And now, ven the vork is completed, I is looked at coldly!"
The hypocrite dug his knuckles into his eyes, and attempted to force a tear, but the effort was a failure; he knew it, and attempted to cover his confusion by pretending to sob bitterly.
"Hark you, Mr. Steel Spring," Fred said, "if you can explain why you left us so suddenly, just as we wanted your services, we shall feel inclined to overlook your little faults, and reward you."
"Is that all that you've got agin me?" he asked, quite cheerfully. "Vy, I really began to think that it was something serious—something calculated to hinjure me in the estimation of good fellows."
"Perhaps leaving us to fight our way out of the room was not a serious matter in your estimation, but we think differently," I replied.
"Vy, I left on purpose to save ye; and if I hadn't have gone, vere vould you have been now? Dead as a sheep, and no mistake. It ain't the one vot fights the most is the bravest, and hany military man vill tell you that. I knew vot I'd got to do; so before the fuss began I slipped out by the underground vay, and vent in search of the police fellers, and didn't I bring 'um up in time? I told 'em how to get in, but I didn't care about goin' myself, because I knew that Lieutenant Murden would feel quite aggravated if any thing happened to me; and then the governor would never have pardoned him in permitting me to leave Melbourne."
"But you might have entered with the police, and found out whether we were dead or alive," Fred said.
"Didn't I know that you vas veil able to take care of yourselves; and couldn't I do more good outside, vatching that none escaped? You come to think of the matter for a minute, and you vill see that I vos right, and you vos wrong."
We did not care to argue the matter with the fellow, for we knew too well that he could lie faster than we could think; although, to do Steel Spring justice, I will state that he sent the police to our assistance, but it was by accident, and not by design.
When he found that trouble was likely to arise between our party and the bushrangers, he slipped quietly away from the table, and escaped from the building by means of the subterraneous passage.
The instant he emerged from under ground he started on a run, with no definite idea of where he was going to; although I always thought that he intended to pay our store a visit during our absence.
He had not gone far before he ran into a squad of policemen, who were lying in ambush, awaiting the inspector's orders; and as the guardians of the night were about to confine him as a suspicious person, he suddenly bethought him that he could benefit us and himself at the same time. He told of the danger that Mr. Brown was in, and urged a rapid movement for his relief.
The sergeant, who had charge of the men, had been told by the inspector, that a person answering Steel Spring's description would be sent to them when their services were wanted; and without doubting that every thing was right, they stole forward as quickly as possible, but arrived none too soon, as the reader will admit.
The sergeant of the force tried the front door, but it was locked, and all attempts to enter by that way were useless.
Just then the bottles crashed against it, and Mr. Brown's voice was heard loud above the confusion.
That quickened the movements of the men amazingly; and although Steel Spring was watching an opportunity to run away the second time, yet he did find sufficient voice to suggest an entrance by the windows. It was necessary, however, to find articles to stand on, as the windows were eight feet from the ground; but even that difficulty was speedily overcome, by taking a number of dry goods boxes and empty rum barrels, which belonged to a grocer's store near at hand, and which the enterprising proprietor had left out over night.
By their aid an entrance was effected, and we were saved, but at an enormous sacrifice of life.
As soon as the police disappeared, Steel Spring, who never had much love for the smell of gunpowder, speedily retreated to a safe distance, and, no doubt, laughed in his false heart, at the struggle which was taking place, for he never appeared to experience much regret at the slaughter; and I suppose if we had been killed, he would have plundered our store, and then fired it, and ran away by its light.
"What do you intend to do now, that you have finished our job?" I asked of Steel Spring, after he had refreshed his inner man with a drink of what he most loved on earth.
"I start for Melbourne within an hour," he answered promptly.
"Why do you leave so suddenly?" I inquired.
"I has my reasons, but I don't mind telling 'em to you. In the first place, three or four fellers made their 'scape from the 'Cricket' afore the fighting began, and it's quite likely that my company vill be desired by the gents, on the ground that I vos the one vot betrayed 'em. I know that you will consider it strange that such an idea should exist, and any one wid half a knowledge of my character vould laugh at the thought; but I think that the best vay to save my life vould be to step out vile I am hable, and so prevent mistakes."
"And what reward do you require for your valuable services?" I demanded, after commending him for his prudence in leaving town so soon, to escape the thrust of a long knife, or a pistol shot.
"Vell, I's one of the most bashful men in that respect that ever lived, and couldn't think of naming a sum, and should be glad to make you a present of the trifle, but money is a scarce article vid me, and so say fifty pounds, and don't think that I'm hard on ye."
We made no objection to the proposed sum; and while Fred was counting, out his money in sovereigns, for Steel Spring entertained a profound disgust for gold dust, because he couldn't pay for drinks without a loss to himself, I sat down and scribbled a few lines to Murden, telling him the result of our expedition, and thanking him for the kind, but somewhat deceptive letter which he had forwarded to the commissioner, relative to ourselves, and after intrusting the missive to Steel Spring, and loading him with provisions sufficient to last him to Melbourne, we saw him start on his journey, profuse in his thanks, loud in his professions of leading as honest a life as his near connection with the police would let him.
The next day we saw the commissioner in company with Mr. Brown, and re-told the story which Jackson had told previous to his death. Mr. Sherwin professed that he was entirely satisfied of our innocence, ordered our names to be struck from the docket, and excused our bondsman (the inspector) from being responsible for our appearance, but insisted upon retaining Follet in custody until his uncle's injuries terminated one way or the other.
He was not kept long in suspense, for the morning after our visit, very unexpectedly, Mr. Critchet opened his eyes, and began talking in a rational manner; and although he was weak from the effect of his fever, yet he gained strength sufficient in two days to sit up, and give a clear and impartial account of the attempt to rob and murder him.
I remember the day on which his recovery was dated. I was sitting by Mr. Critchet's side, while Fred was dozing away the afternoon in the shop. The invalid opened his eyes, looked around the room in which he was lying, and then stared at me in some astonishment, as though wondering how it happened that he had been sleeping under the roof of a house, instead of his tent.
"How came I here?" he asked, raising himself from a recumbent position, and sitting up. He did not notice, at first, the many bandages which were bound around his arms and shoulders.
"I will explain all to you in a few days," I replied; "at present, you are too weak to listen to me."
"I am not too weak," the old man exclaimed, imperiously, as though accustomed to have his own way all his life time; "why should I grow weak in a single night? answer me that, if you can!"
"I don't wish to answer you now, for I fear that you cannot submit to excitement. Keep quiet for a few days, and then you shall know all," I answered, soothingly.
"There is some mystery connected with my being here that I must and will solve. Where is my nephew? Where—"
He stopped suddenly, and seemed to recollect something, for, after remaining silent for a few moments, he extended his hand, pressed my own, and then fell back upon his pillow.
"I know all," he murmured, in a low voice; "my memory is perfect from the time that I was attacked in my tent, to the hour when I fell fainting upon your doorstep."
"Do not agitate yourself," I whispered; "in a few days you will be strong enough to talk, and then all matters will be set right."
"I have no desire to proceed against my nephew," Mr. Critchet began, "for the part he has taken in this matter. He is a bad youth, and will some day be punished for his crime. I have attempted to make an honest man of him, and have signally failed. I expected as much, yet I am glad that his hand was raised against me, instead of one less capable of forgiving. He is my sister's child, and I promised to act a father's part towards him. I shall do so, by attempting to procure his discharge, and supplying him with money sufficient to reach some other portion of the country, where his crimes and character are unknown. Peace go with him—I have no desire to see him more."
"Those are the sentiments of a Christian," I remarked.
"They are the feelings of a man and a relative," he exclaimed, hastily.
We made no reply, and he continued,—
"I had often remonstrated with my nephew against keeping late hours, and in relation to the company that he was in the habit of associating with, but my remarks were unheeded; and then I bethought me that I had a large amount of gold which should be consigned to a more secure place than my tent; and it was but a few days after I deposited it at the government office, that I was awakened by hearing whispering in my tent. I sprang from my bed, and as I did so, I heard Follet say, 'Kill him.' I was instantly struck with a sharp-pointed knife, and as I grappled with my enemies, I called upon my nephew to spare me.
"Half a dozen blows were showered upon me in answer, and then I fell, fainting, and revived just sufficiently to crawl to your store, and by that means, I have no doubt, my life was saved; although, if I had supposed that you were to be involved, I think that I should have remained in my tent, and expired without making known my condition. I am grateful for your kindness to me, and will some day show you how highly I appreciate it."
We would not allow him to talk more, and even if he had been so disposed we could not have stopped to listen, for a whip was cracked in front of the store like the report of a pistol, and then we heard Smith's voice, shouting, in no gentle terms, to his oxen.
OUR TEAMSTER BARNEY, AND HIS WIFE.
The burly form and red face of our partner was never more welcome, for our stock of goods was run low, and our good credit required that we should have an assortment on hand second to none in the town. We had already a reputation with the miners for keeping articles of the best quality, and our prices seemed to give better satisfaction than the rates of any other storekeepers.
We grasped our diligent partner by his huge, hard hand, and welcomed him to our home, and asked a dozen questions in a minute, regarding the state of the markets in Melbourne—whether he had got a package of letters for us—how many newspapers he had with him—whether the roads were safe—and a dozen other matters were touched on, that required all of Smith's patience and lungs to attend to.
"Just you hold on a minute," he said, "until I can get my cattle unyoked, and then I will attend to you and your questions."
We did not wait for him to carry his request into effect, for we lent him a helping hand with the cattle, although, to tell the truth, the animals did not seem in the least grateful for the assistance, and attempted, with their long horns, to transfix certain portions of our anatomy that we were not disposed to have injured. At length, however, the animals were turned loose, and then Smith was at liberty to reply to our interrogations.
"In the first place, I've got a dozen or twenty letters, and about the same number of newspapers from the States. I'll tell you how I fixed it."
"But the papers?" we cried.
"I'm coming to 'em as fast as I can. Just as I got into Melbourne, a big American ship dropped anchor, and on board I went. I got hold of the captain, told him the news, and then boned him for papers. I informed him that I wanted them for countrymen of his, and he gave me all that he had, and here they are."
Smith pulled the precious documents from his knapsack, and in a few minutes we were absorbed in devouring the contents of letters, and Boston and New York newspapers.
We never knew the name of the captain who responded so promptly to Smith's appeal, but wherever his fortune may lead him, may he have fair winds, and high freights, and never lose a spar.
No one can understand the joy with which a letter is received from home, unless he has travelled in foreign lands, and been without advices from friends for many months. The letters were the first that we had received while in Australia, and we prized them more on that account, perhaps, than if we had been in constant communication with the States.
We had written from California, announcing our departure, and directing that all letters should be sent to Melbourne until further notice, and the warm expressions which our epistles contained showed that our friends had not forgotten us.
Smith, who seemed as fresh as the day that he started from Melbourne, left us to our letter-feast, and prepared supper with that dexterity which had distinguished him many times; and even when we had put our papers under lock and key—so greedy were we, and fearful that some acquaintance would step in, and desire to borrow a journal before we had gleaned the news—waved us back, and expressed himself competent to perform his allotted task without interference.
"You talk about home and the news until after supper, and leave me alone, 'cos after we light our pipes we shall have business matters to look over, and figure up, unless the woman and her husband gets along, and then we shall see fun."
"What woman do you mean?" I asked.
"Why, didn't I tell you that Barney was married?" demanded Smith.
"Of course you did, and said that he was about five miles from town, and would be here in two or three hours' time."
"Well, Barney has his wife with him, and a pretty life she is leading him. I listened to her scoldings and complaints until I couldn't stand any more, and then I whipped up my cattle and got out of the sound of her tongue, and by good management I have avoided her for two days. She is good looking, but has got the spirit of the devil in her composition."
We recollected that Murden, in his letter, alluded to the lady, and although we were not impatient to see her, we know that she would have some claims upon our hospitality for her husband's sake, and to prevent her from breaking out into open mutiny, we made some few preparations to receive the lady with becoming honors. We got out a small tent that we owned, and had made on the passage from San Francisco to Australia, and pitched it near the store for the express accommodation of the bride and groom, and then stocked it with a mattress and blankets, and thought the lady would be delighted at our delicate attentions. We even kept back supper an hour, and added a number of little luxuries, on purpose to give her an agreeable surprise, and show that we were still susceptible of woman's influence and beauty.
At about seven o'clock we heard the rumbling of wheels, and the loud, quick crack of a stockman's whip. Smith glanced anxiously towards the supper, and was visibly agitated, as though he expected to receive disastrous news. Rover, who had been lying near the door, waiting with remarkable patience for his supper, uttered a howl, and retreated towards the horses, as though to communicate some bad intelligence.
"Why don't you stop the team, if this is the place, you confounded fool?" we heard some one say.
"That's her," groaned Smith; "I should know that voice if I was off the Cape of Good Hope, and I almost wish that I was at sea, or on a desert island."
We hurried to the door, to receive our guest, and with our curiosity somewhat excited to see the woman whom all appeared to dread.
To our extreme surprise, we saw a female not more than twenty years of age, dressed in the latest style of Melbourne fashion, with a frank, pleasing face, looking fresh and clean, which was so extraordinary, in that part of the world, that we rather exceeded good manners by the length of our gaze.
We little knew, at the time, that the lady, for the purpose of making a favorable impression upon our susceptible hearts, had insisted upon her husband's stopping his team, a few miles from Ballarat, while she made her toilet, and to do so, had used all the water in the water kegs, to the great distress of the oxen, who were really suffering for a drink.
Yes, the bride was really handsome, and would be called so in any civilized portion of the world, where beauty is recognized by the standard of regular features, clear skin, white teeth, and a perfect form. Her eyes, too, were large, black, and lustrous, and she understood the use of them as well as the most arrant Spanish coquette that ever lived.
I advanced to the team, and extended my hand for the purpose of assisting the lady to alight, for her husband seemed occupied with his cattle, and unable to afford her those delicate attentions which a wife sometimes requires.
"Who, in the devil's name, are you?" she asked, in a quick, pert manner, as though determined to astonish us on the first hour of her arrival.
I heard a smothered laugh in the store, as though Smith was endeavoring to prevent an explosion, and even Fred had hard work to retain his countenance.
"This gentleman, Maria," cried the woman's husband, rushing to my rescue, "is one of my employers, whom I spoke to you about."
"O, is he?" she asked, with a strong stare, first at me and then at Fred. "Well, I don't see any thing remarkable about him, and he isn't half as good looking as the fellow standing in the door."
The compliment to Fred, at my expense, was answered by another suppressed groan from Smith, while the poor husband hardly knew whether to abuse his better half or coax her.
"Don't talk that way to strangers," the poor devil pleaded, but his good nature was all thrown away.
"Go and attend to the cattle," she ordered, "and let me alone. I haven't had a moment's peace since I married you, and I almost wish that I had fallen to the stout miner who wanted me so much. He was something like a man, and was as big as two of you."
"I wish, with all my heart, you had," muttered the bridegroom, but he took good care not to let her hear him.
"Well, give me your hand," the wife exclaimed, addressing me; "I see that no one is coming to my assistance, and a poor beau is better than none, as we used to say in Radcliff Highway." And when I extended my hand, she grasped it warmly, pressed it strongly, and with a display of ankles that put my modesty to its severest test, gave a spring, and was on the ground beside me.
"Well, you ain't so bad looking as I thought for," Maria continued, flashing a wicked glance at me, with her large eyes, that stirred my blood, in defiance of her forwardness and vulgarity. "We shall be cronies, I know. Only let me have my own way, and make love to me, and we shall get along quite pleasantly."
"But you forget your husband," I insinuated, seeing that that worthy individual began to look rather black at the idea of having a rival in his wife's affections.
"O Lord! what's the use of mentioning Barney? He's a poor coot, and will soon get used to my ways; won't you, deary?"
The husband didn't make an audible reply, but I understood him to say "Damn," quite distinctly.
"What have you got for supper!" our female visitor asked. "I'm hungry enough to eat a two-year-old baby. Let me have something, that's a good feller, and then we'll talk about other matters."
I didn't admire her impudence, but as Fred was inclined to keep in the background, and Smith wouldn't respond, I had to do the honors of the house with as much dignity as possible. I seated her at our rough table, and helped her liberally, and was pleased to see that absence from her haunts in London had not diminished her appetite, or caused a regretful feeling in her heart.
"I'm glad I accepted the chance to visit this country," she said, "for I begin to like it. The old fogies promised that I should have a husband as soon as I arrived, and they kept their word, but I wished that I'd got a larger one. I don't like little men, and never did."
Her husband was heard to observe that he preferred a quiet woman to a noisy one, but the remark didn't seem to make much of an impression. "By the way," Mrs. Barney cried, "where am I to sleep to-night? in that little room?"
Before we could answer her, she arose from the table and ran towards it, and saw our patient lying upon the bed.
"Hullo!" she exclaimed, in astonishment, "what is that old fellow doing there? I can't have him with me!"
I explained to her that a bed had been provided in a tent but a few feet from the store, where she and her husband could make themselves comfortable, if they were so disposed, but she would not listen to me.
"Do you s'pose," she cried, "that I'm such a fool as to sleep out under a tent, where I shall be liable to be eaten up by the savages? My old man can sleep there, but I'm going to pass the night in the store."
We assured her that we could not consent to any such arrangement. That all our papers and every thing that we possessed in the world was in the store, and that we could not think of leaving under any consideration whatever.
"Well, who wants you to leave?" she demanded, with a flash of her amorous eyes, that would have told powerfully on men of more nerve than ourselves; "there can be no harm if I stay here. You are men of honor, I suppose?"
Again did her large, black eyes fall upon me, but I was blind to her blandishments and arts; and, at length, Maria appeared to entertain the same opinion, for she threw out signals to Fred, and when she found that they were not answered, she commenced the practice of a thousand arts, which a woman knows so well how to use, to make him feel an interest in her welfare. But all her play was useless, and even when she pretended that her hair, long, black, and wavy, fell around her shoulders accidentally, and when she laughed, and threw it back from her fresh, child-like face, we were not melted, for we remembered that she had a husband, and that his rights were sacred.
Her bold challenge was unheeded, and Maria felt that she was defeated, even where she was sure of victory. She had, apparently, entertained a different idea respecting us, and for a few minutes she sat looking humbled, but not ashamed. It seemed a pity that one so fair should be so rude and vile; but the streets of London soon corrupt, and the haunt from whence Maria graduated is notorious for its wantons.
We pitied her husband, although we had only known and employed him for a short time, yet we had found him honest and industrious, and apparently disposed to do well. I could see that he felt grateful for the course which we had pursued, and I determined to have a long talk with him, upon the first favorable opportunity, in regard to his future prospects.
"Well," Maria muttered, after sitting in silence for a short time, suddenly starting up, "if I am to be turned out of doors. I suppose that I must go without delay. Come along, old man, if you are coming," she continued, addressing her husband, and the latter obediently followed to the tent, which we had been to some pains to prepare for her.
"Thank Heaven, she has gone," said Smith, fervently, raising his head, like a camel after a cloud of dust had passed over a desert; "only think what my wife would have said, if she had insisted upon sleeping in the same room with us. And yet I feared that she would carry her point, for she is as determined a vixen as ever assumed the form of woman."
The matrimonial life of poor Barney was not a lengthy one; and I may as well follow it to a close, while I am writing upon the subject. At his request we paid him off, and hired another man to drive the second team. He had money enough to commence housekeeping, or rather tent-keeping, on a very respectable scale, and with the funds which he had left, purchased a mining claim, nearly worked out to be sure, but still, considerable sums of gold had been taken from it, and quite a number of nuggets of fair size had been secured.
The claim was very near our store, so that our advice was frequently required by poor Barney, who led rather a hard life of it, toiling as he did all day under ground, in wet and cold places, and when night arrived, half of the time he would have to get his own supper, his amiable wife being on visits of privacy to people in the neighborhood.
For the first few weeks of their residence at Ballarat the ill-matched couple did all of their trading at our store, until at length so many stimulating luxuries were purchased by Maria, that Barney requested us to refuse her credit, which, in compliance with his wishes, we did, and received such a torrent of abuse from the wife for so doing, that we wished her back to her old haunts, in Radcliff Highway, and had serious thoughts of attempting to recover damages from the "Moral Emigration Society" which exported her. For a woman with so fair a face, she had the vilest tongue that I ever heard.
After the credit system was abolished, Maria transferred her favors to a store on Gravel Pit Hill, where, for a time, she was quite a favorite, and thrived wonderfully; but her husband got wind of her doings, and threatened to shoot the first man that he saw taking improper liberties with his property, and that rather dashed the spirits of the gallants, for Barney was bold as a lion, and carried a pair of very good pistols in his belt, in addition to a bowie knife of wondrous keenness.
The poor, depraved woman, finding that she was watched, and that her male companions kept aloof, after the threat which Barney made, got up a clandestine correspondence with a young fellow who was smitten with her pretty face, and to put a stop to it Barney was obliged to break one of his rival's arms with a pistol bullet, one morning, just as he was putting a letter under a log that stood in front of his tent.
The wife, for the first few days, refused to be comforted, and then she apparently forgot the matter, and seemed to care no more about it. To her husband's surprise, she paid more attention to his comfort than usual—remained at her tent while he was absent, forsook the company of strange men entirely, no longer run in debt, and such a complete change was observed in her, that the Rev. Mr. Blackburn ventured to call once, and inquire if her sinful heart had melted. What answer Maria returned is unknown, as the reverend gentleman never divulged; but it was noticed that he left her tent walking quite rapidly, and that he never ventured there a second time.
I think that it was about six weeks after Barney had broken the gallant's arm, that he suddenly presented himself in the store, his face radiant with happiness.
"I've got some good news for you," he said, rubbing his hands with satisfaction.
"What is it, Barney?" I inquired; "have you found a nugget?"
"Better than that," he cried.
"Then you have found a chunk."
"No; something better than that—ten times better."
"Well, relate it. We are impatient to learn what good has befallen you."
"You would never guess," Barney said, in a mysterious manner, as though what he had to impart would bear keeping for some time; "but," and here his face once more beamed with smiles, "my wife has cut stick."
"What do you mean—run away?" I asked, surprised at the intelligence.
"That is what I mean. She has run off with the fellow whose arm I broke some time since; and she not only took her clothes, but she seized every thing of value I had in the tent. They have got six hours the start of me, but I think—"
He paused, and seemed to consider for a moment.
"You think that you can overtake them," I suggested; "I have no doubt but that you can, and the best horse that we own is at your disposal."
"O, bless your heart, I was not considering the subject in that light," he answered, "I was thinking whether I should advertise that I would not be responsible for any debts that she contracts."
I told him that I thought he need give himself no uneasiness on that score; but Barney was a mathematical body, and always desired to do business on the square; and as he seemed so set upon writing an advertisement, I furnished him ink and paper, and after a laborious process, he wrote the following, which I copy verbatim.
"NOTICE.—My wife, Maria Barney, the ugliest woman that ever lived, has left my tent and board without any justifiable cause, 'cos I use to do all that I could do to make her pretty comfortable, and in spite of my wishes, she would cut up like the devil, and run after other men. Now, I want all men to notice this act of mine. I won't pay a d——d cent of her debts, and I hope no one will return her to me, 'cos I don't want her. JIM BARNEY."
I persuaded Barney that the announcement would be valid in law, if he only stuck it up in the store, where it could be read by the miners, and it may be there until this day, for all that I know.
MIKE FINDS THE LARGE "NUGGET."
What trifles will sometimes change the destiny of a man!
Barney, after his wife had left him so unexpectedly, earnestly desired to give up mining and return to his first love,—the driving of cattle and teaming. We tried to persuade him to stick to his claim; but he was resolute, and declared that if we would not purchase his mine he would sell to the first adventurer who made an offer; and to prevent the man from sacrificing his property, we purchased on speculation, and paid him just the price he had given. Even after we came into possession, we did not know what to do with the mine, for we had no desire to work it ourselves; and, as a large portion of the allotted ground had been dug over, old miners were shy, and strangers did not bite readily at the temptations which we held out to them.
For a number of days the mine was neglected; and during that period it filled with water, and that was another good reason why it could not be sold; and jokes were cracked at our expense by friends, who lounged in the store purchasing trifling articles, in regard to our speculation, as they termed it. We took all in good part, until one day a man made an application to us for something to eat. We supplied his wants, and upon inquiry found that he was willing and anxious to go to work at a cheap rate. I proposed, partly in jest, and partly in earnest, that he should be employed baling out and cleaning out our mine. Fred assented, when we showed the man what we wanted done, and left him at work, not expecting that he would make much headway; but in this we were disappointed, for our employe made such diligent use of his time, that in the course of the afternoon the mine was free of water and dirt, and Mike announced that he could commence digging in the morning if he had a few "shores" and boards to prop up the places where excavations had been going on. These we readily granted, and began to take an interest in our claim that we had not felt before.
"Mike," I said, at supper time, addressing our new acquaintance, "we will give you one quarter of the gold which you find, and board you into the bargain, but we will not pay you wages."
Mike thought of the proposition for a moment, and announced his intention of accepting it without restriction, and at daylight the next morning he was at work many feet below the surface of the earth, picking away the dirt, and examining it carefully, as though he expected to find a nugget in every gravel stone that he met with. Once or twice in the course of the day, we walked over to the spot and lent a helping hand, for the purpose of freeing the place of water, and when night arrived, we had no need to ask questions in regard to the luck of Mike. His face proclaimed that he had found nothing; but I think that he was more disappointed on our account than on his own.
"No luck to-day, Mike?" said I.
"Divil a ha'penny of goold have I found sir; but there's no telling what may come on yet. I don't despair."
Neither did we; although we had but few hopes of ever getting our money back. The next morning Mike was promptly at his post, and we did not hear from him until about two o'clock; I was dozing on a lounge, Fred was asleep on the counter, and Mr. Critchet was mending stockings,—about the first work that he attempted to do,—when Mike rushed frantically into the store, threw himself upon his knees, and began talking, laughing, and crying at the same moment.
"Glory to God and all the saints!" he exclaimed, after he had recovered his breath, and then he began to laugh frantically, swaying his body back and forth, as though it was an impossibility to keep still.
"It's my opinion," said Fred, without rising from his recumbent position, "that you are a little out of your head, or else you have been drinking."
"Divil a bit of whiskey have I touched for two days; but I'll have a drop now for the purpose of drinking long lives to your honors. It's me head that is affected, and well it may be. O, it's little did I think that I should come to this. Glory to God—it's plazed the old woman and the childers will be."
He made a dive at the whiskey cask, and drank a pretty stiff nipper before he could compose himself. We did not interfere, because we did not know but that the fellow might have escaped from the mine while it was caving in,—accidents of that kind happening quite frequently,—and that fright had turned his brain.
"Now, Mike, be kind enough to tell us what has happened," I said, thinking that he had mystified us long enough.
"O, such news," he exclaimed, springing upon his feet, and executing a wild sort of shuffle that would have delighted the hearts of the 'finest pisantry' in the world, had they been present, to have seen his antics.
"Well, what is the news?" I demanded, while Fred, too indolent to speak, lay upon the counter, and laughed a sleepy sort of laugh, without changing his position.
"Murderation, who would have thought of it? It's a rich man ye will be, Mike, ye lucky divil. What will the old folks say, when they bear of it? Glory to St. Patrick, but won't the boys stare, and call me Mr. Mike!"
I began to have an inkling of the man's meaning. I sprang from my seat, caught Mike by his collar, and shook him for a few seconds, until I thought that his senses were returned before I put a question.
"Mike, you devil," I exclaimed, "you have found a nugget."
"Whoop!" he yelled, springing up, and striking his feet together with excess of joy, "I found the granddaddy of lumps."
"What's that?" cried Fred, starting from his recumbent position, and beginning to take an interest in the conversation.
"It's a lump as big as my head I've found," roared Mike, making another dive for the whiskey barrel, but we choked him off, and made him stick to his text.
"Do you mean that you have found a nugget of gold as large as your head?" demanded Fred, eagerly.
"To the divil wid yer nuggets—what do I know about nuggets? It's a lump of pure goold I've found; as big a lump as my head, and ten times as heavy."
We could hardly believe the news Mike imparted to us was true; but his eagerness convinced us that he had stumbled upon something, although we feared it was a lump of quartz, with a few streaks of gold running through it, such as was often found in Ballarat, and which, for the want of a good quartz-crushing machine, was thrown aside as being worthless.
"Come and see for yourselves," yelled Mike, almost out of patience at our obstinacy in not placing implicit reliance upon his word in regard to the matter.
"Will ye come and look at the beautiful piece of goold wid me? and thin perhaps ye'll belave without further words. But remember—one quarter is mine."
We told Mike that we would stick to our word, and that he should have his share even if he had found a lump as large as his body. The assertion satisfied him, that we intended to deal honestly by him; and leaving Mr. Critchet to tend the store, we walked towards our claim, the purchase of which, on our part, had excited the ridicule of more than one of our friends.
On our way, Mike related the manner in which he found his treasure. He said that he had worked steadily for an hour or two, and had not found the first sign of gold, and that he stopped for a while to rest and smoke his pipe, and also to trim his lamp; that he fell asleep, and slept for an hour or two, and dreamed that he was sitting on a nugget of gold that was as large as his father's mud cabin in Ireland, and that he was wondering how he could get it up the shaft, when he was awakened by a drop of water which trickled from the ground overhead, striking him on his nose.
He started up, and thought how pleasant it would be if his dream would only come true; and rather by accident than design he let the point of his pick fall into the earth where he had been sitting. The dirt gave way, and he thought by the dim light of his lamp, that he saw something glisten.
Once more he struck the ground, threw aside a little dirt, and then he imagined that his dream had come true, for the bright gleam of gold was before him.
"Me heart was in me mouth," Mike continued, "and I did not pretend to use me spade or me pick for fear that the goold would vanish from me sight. I threw myself upon me knees, and dug with me fingers, and hardly dared to breathe for fear that I should lose it; and when I had freed it from the dirt, and attempted to lift it up, O! didn't it seem good to have it howld back, as though it didn't like being dragged from its bed so early in the morning!
"I worked it clear of the soil; and then me heart was too full to stay there any longer. I had to run to the store and ease me heart. But mind, honeys! Fair play in the division, ye know. Mind the honor of an Irish gentleman, who is too modest to spake for himself."
Mike's idea of modesty was about on a par with the natives of Australia, who think they are in full dress when the only article of wearing apparel that they can boast of is a hat, or a cast-off stocking, thrown on the roadside by some blister-footed adventurer on his way to the mines.
We pacified the man a second time; and by this period we were at the shaft, and ready to descend. Fred insisted upon going first, and after him the Irishman, while I hailed a passing patrolman, and got him to extend the same favor to myself, when I got ready to be lowered in the bucket.
"Well, Fred," I shouted, "have we been hoaxed or not? Is it a blarney stone or a lump of gold that Mike has found?"
"Pull up," yelled Fred, and I heard some heavy substance thrown into the bucket.
"I'll see you hanged first," I retorted. "You are not going to make me draw up a fifty pound piece of quartz, and then laugh at me for my labor."
"Pull up quick," cried Fred, in an eager voice; and I heard a howl from the Irishman at my obstinacy.
"In the name of the saints, up wid it, good master Jim," pleaded Mike; but I rather hesitated, strengthened in the view which I took in the matter by the policeman.
"It's little gold that was ever taken from this claim, sir," he said, "although it has paid one or two proprietors by speculation. The soil is not of the right kind for large nuggets."
"How big is it?" I asked, addressing those who were some thirty feet below me.
"About as large as your head," was Fred's reply.
"Is it solid?" I demanded.
"It looks to be! But don't stand there asking questions, when you can satisfy yourself. Round up the bucket."
I began to think that the Irishman's dream was true, and that the whiskey had not taken possession of his senses.
Fred was not in the habit of indulging in practical jokes; and I finally concluded that I might as well satisfy myself whether a stone or a lump of gold was in the bucket. I wound up the windlass, while the policeman peeked down the long, dark shaft, eagerly watching for the bucket, to see what it contained.
"Do you see any thing?" I asked, when I thought that it was near enough to get a glimpse of its contents.
Before I could repeat the question, the eyes of the patrolman glared as though starting from their sockets, and his face flushed scarlet.
"Up with it, in the name of goodness," my companion shouted, leaning over the shaft, and grasping the rope that held the bucket in one hand, and attempting to pull it up, regardless of the rough windlass that I was working at.
"Can you see it?" I demanded, resting from my labor for a moment, and glancing down the shaft.
"Don't stop, sir," cried the policeman; "up with it, or the devil may carry it off before our eyes."
I did not feel so superstitious; and in spite of the warning managed to get a glimpse of the lump that had almost turned the brains of the Irishman and Fred.
At the first glance, I almost let go my hold of the windlass, I was so overpowered. My eyes appeared to blur over, and my brain grew dizzy. I did not seem to possess the strength of an infant, and for a moment I paused, and tried to rally my senses.
My heart beat so wildly that I thought it would burst, for the single glance that I had cast towards the bucket revealed to me a sight that would have driven half the miners of Ballarat crazy, and the remaining portion frantic with delight, provided, of course, they had seen and owned what I saw.
THE RESULT OF GROWING RICH TOO RAPIDLY.
My officious friend lifted the nugget from the bucket and laid it before me, and for a few minutes I gloated over and passed my hand over its unequal surface, and weighed it in my imagination until I was roused from my reverie by those in the shaft.
"Send down the bucket, so that we can get up," shouted Fred; "we don't want to stop here all night!"
I hurried to relieve my friend, and by the time that he was safe out of the shaft, and the bucket had re-descended for Mike, I was comparatively calm.
Fred and myself shook hands over our prize, and then lifted it, and sought to form some idea of its weight, in which we were aided by the official of the law.
"It will weigh forty pounds," cried Fred, after a moment's handling.
"More than that, sirs," answered the policeman, with a dogmatical air that was charming to us, because every additional ounce made us richer.
"I've seen a few nuggets since I've been stationed here, and I had oughter know about such things," he continued, turning our prize over and over, and scrutinizing it with the air of a connoisseur. "Do you see, there's not an ounce of quartz stuck to the whole piece, and gold is awful heavy when it comes in the lump style."
We assented to his remarks without a word of opposition. We could have listened to him for hours, it seemed so good to have him extol, instead of depreciate, the nugget.
"How much, then, do you think that it will weigh?" I demanded.
"Well," replied the officer, after a moment's pause, and another lifting operation, "I should say about fifty pounds, if my opinion was asked.
"If my advice was asked," the officer continued, in a patronizing manner, "I should say, take that nugget to the government reception office without delay, and after it is weighed, get a certificate of deposit. That is my advice, but my opinion may not be worth much, one way or the other."
We agreed that his advice was good, and that it would be wisdom on our part to accept of it without delay, for it was rather dangerous having so much gold in a store, when the town was swarming with thieves.
There was one person, however, who did not seem to like the proposition, and that was Mike. He had a faint suspicion that the project was intended to defraud him of his rightful claim to one quarter of the nugget, and his face showed the feelings of his heart, while we were talking of the matter.
"Is it moving ye intend to do?" he demanded, eyeing the gold as though it had been guilty of a treacherous act.
"We are going to remove it to the government office for safety," I replied.
"For safety?" repeated Mike. "Where could it be more safe than under me eye, or under me head while I slept. Ough! don't bother, but let me carry it to the store, where we can cut it up, and I can get me quarter."
"You wouldn't spoil such a nugget as that by cutting it up, would you?" cried the policeman; "it is the finest specimen of gold that I ever saw, and should be preserved."
"Faith, if that is the case," muttered Mike, "it might just as well have remained in the pit, for I don't see what good it will do us."
We succeeded in explaining to the capricious gentleman what we intended to do, and pacified him by promising that he should have his share in ready money before night, if he desired it; and I will do Mike the justice of saying that he did, most emphatically, and other men would have acted in the same way.
By the time that we had concluded to deposit our treasure at the government office, considerable of a crowd had collected in the vicinity of our claim, and was admiring the nugget, and wishing, with all their hearts, that it belonged to them, and that they could be so fortunate. We even began to receive proposals for our claim, and prices were offered that we never dreamed of asking.
"Now is the time to sell," whispered our tempter, in the shape of the policeman.
"Don't dispose of the mine for any consideration," cried Mike; "I'm sartin that I know where another nugget is hid, and I'll have him out, by the blessing of St. Patrick."
"Sell while the excitement lasts," continued the tempter; "I never knew of two nuggets being found close together."
"It's our fortunes we'll make out of the mine," Mike exclaimed. "I'll go back to Ireland, buy land, and be called 'the squire,' and drink buttermilk twice a day, and ate paraties every meal. I'll have a still of me own, and make the real poteen whiskey, and drink punch, instead of water, and smoke 'bacca, instead of cabbage leaves. Won't I keep open house, and none shall be more welcome than an Australian miner!"
"Will you have a pig?" asked some one in the crowd.
"A pig!" repeated Mike, with intense scorn; "I'll have a dozen of them, and each one shall be fatter than ye."
A roar of laughter followed Mike's sally, and the questioner, who thought that he could ridicule the honest Hibernian, instantly subsided, and was seen no more.
We intended to send to the store for the purpose of getting a stout bucket, into which we could put our nugget and carry it to the office; but Mike would not listen to the suggestion for a moment. He shouldered the precious lump of gold, and marched through the streets, as proud of his charge as though the whole of it belonged to him, and he knew where he could get another just like it.
A crowd of miners followed at our heels, and such a mixture of tongues was never heard, except at the construction of the tower of Babal.
Followed by this motley crew, we passed along the streets, amidst shouts and congratulations, until we gained the government reception office.
"There," cried Mike, throwing down his load upon the counter of the office, much to the astonishment of the clerks; "plase weigh that, and see how much it comes to, for I want me quarterings."
The clerks did not comprehend his words, although they did understand the meaning of his action; and while a couple of police officers, who were stationed at the building, drove from the room all those not interested in the matter, we watched the large scales that were to tell us to a farthing how much the nugget was worth.
"Well," cried Mike, "can't ye spake, and let us know how much me quarterings come to?"
The clerk, who was figuring, looked at the speaker with silent contempt, and did not even condescend to reply, much less hasten his movements.
"Your nugget," said the clerk, at length, addressing Fred and myself, "weighs just fifty-one pounds two ounces, and if there is no quartz in the interior of the lump—and I think that there is not—at the present price of gold it is worth, in round numbers, about two thousand five hundred pounds sterling. A pretty good day's work, sirs."
"Say it again," cried Mike, all ready for another Irish break-down.
The clerk repeated the amount with much amiability. He had just learned that Mike had an interest in the nugget, and his respect for the man increased in proportion to his wealth.
"Two thousand five hundred pounds sterling," repeated Mike, in amazement. "Who would have thought that there was so much money in the world? I'll ate nothing but paraties, and drink nothing stronger than buttermilk and whiskey hereafter. Two thousand pounds and five hundred of 'em to make the figures look a little odd. Ough! murder, won't the old woman and the childers be plased to see me riding home in an illegant coach and four, dressed like a lord!"
The subject was one of so much importance that Mike, in defiance of the dignified-looking clerk, indulged in a hornpipe, and was only brought to his senses when told that he would be locked up by the policemen as a lunatic, unless he was more quiet.
"I'll be like a lamb," he replied; and then, after a moment's quiet, he leaned over and whispered to the clerk, in a confidential manner,—"If the nugget is worth two thousand five hundred pounds sterling, pray, what is me quarterings worth? Answer me that, if ye can."
We did not give the clerk time to make the calculation, but offered Mike, on a venture, a sum equivalent to two thousand seven hundred dollars for his quarterings, while we concluded to run the risk of the interior of the nugget being filled with quartz. Mike accepted the proposition without delay, and merely taking a certificate of deposit, we returned to the store, counted out in sovereigns the amount that was due Mike, made him put his cross, in the presence of Mr. Critchet, to a paper certifying that he had been paid in full, and with the gold in his pocket, off he started for his nearest countrymen, for the purpose of treating every Irishman that he met, and getting rid of his sudden wealth as soon as possible.
I urged him for half an hour to let the larger portion of his funds remain in our hands, but he was obstinate, and feared trickery. I then endeavored to persuade him to deposit all but a hundred sovereign in the government office, but strange to say, he was more fearful of the government concern than he was of our firm. At length I got out of all patience, for I saw that, instead of devoting his fortune to his relatives, he was determined to have a spree, and I let him go without another word of remonstrance.
He conducted himself precisely as I anticipated. For one week two thirds of his countrymen suspended work, and drank cheap whiskey at Mike's expense. His gold vanished like snow on the top of Mount Alexander at midday, and although many of the better class of Irish visited our store every day, and begged that we would interfere and help save a portion of his wealth, we declined to do so; and even Mr. Brown, who was appealed to, shrugged his shoulders, and made an oft-quoted remark that "a fool and his money were soon parted." The most that we would do was to promise that Mike should not buy a single sixpence worth of liquor at our store, and we kept our word, for which we got most heartily abused by our late employee's friends; and one day we were obliged to have two or three arrested, owing to a display of pugilism which they made.
All things must have an ending, and to follow out Mike's fortunes, I may as well state that he soon lost all of his money, was deserted by those who called themselves his friends, and that he was left without the means of buying a loaf of broad, or a glass of whiskey to keep off the delirium tremens. He applied to us for employment, and we gave him something to do; but the thoughts of his folly weighed heavily on his mind, and one morning we found Mike hanging by his neck, in the rear of the store where we stabled our horses.
Had he but adhered to his first resolve, of returning to Ireland, and living in peace for the remainder of his days, his gold would have been of some use, not only to him, but to the community; but as matters transpired, the finding of the nugget was his greatest misfortune.
But to return to the day when our wealth was increased by a lucky stroke of the pickaxe, and when we began to think seriously of mining claims as means of making fortunes. In this connection we were advised by Mr. Critchet, who, although not of a sanguine temperament, had made considerable money in speculation as well as in digging, and was enthusiastic when he learned that we had been amply repaid for all funds which we had advanced.
"Now is the time to sell," he said, when he heard half a dozen applicants make inquiries regarding the terms for our now famous claim. "Don't hold back, and say that you don't believe that the mine contains another nugget. That won't do in Ballarat. Speak up with confidence, and tell about the richness of the mine, and your disinclination to sell. That will only make people more eager, and you will get better terms." "But we don't believe that the claim will ever pay another dollar," I replied.
"What is that to you?" he retorted. "Didn't you buy without expectations, and haven't you ever purchased a lottery ticket and drawn a blank? A claim is a lottery, and one of the most treacherous kind. Sell while you can, and try another site."
We remembered of a purchase that we had made in California, when a shrewd fellow sold us his worked-out claim for two hundred dollars, and we were laughed at for our greenness. We felt a desire to retaliate, but we had been taught in New England schools that two wrongs did not make one right, and we banished the plan from our minds of urging people to buy our mine on the plea that it was rich beyond comparison. If it was desired, we determined that it should be bought without extolling claptrap of any kind.
While we were in this frame of mind, a stranger entered our store, and expressed a desire to see the nugget which had turned half the heads in Ballarat.
He manifested no disappointment when told that it was at the government office, and after asking a few questions, boldly made an offer for our claim that was greatly in advance of what we had anticipated.
There was a moment's hesitation on our part, and we were strongly tempted to close the bargain; but better thoughts came to our aid, and we declined the offer, on the ground that he offered more money than the mine was really worth, and more than he could possibly get back.
"That," replied the would-be purchaser, "is my lookout. I know the condition of the mine, and what has been taken from it. If my offer is accepted I am willing to pay the price that I mention, and whether it repays me or not is none of your affair."
It would have been cruel to disappoint the man, and as money was our object, and he was so anxious to do us a service, we, with great magnanimity, accepted of one thousand dollars in gold dust, and gave the purchaser a deed of the claim.
"A good day's work!" cried Fred, rubbing his hands, as soon as the stranger's back was turned. "A dozen or twenty more such, and then, hey for home!"
We had made, as Fred said, a good day's work for the firm, for, of course, Smith's interest was equal to our own, and he shared in any speculation that we might enter into; but while I am on the subject, I may as well tell of a money-making operation that entirely eclipsed the above transaction, even including the finding of the nugget.
I was in Melbourne, one time, having run down from the mines for the purpose of buying a few articles which we wanted forwarded by express, and while I was dodging from one store to another, I saw that the stock of flour was rather low, and that, unless fresh arrivals soon augmented the small quantity on hand, the price must go up. I made a few cautious inquiries, and found that the dealers at Sydney were not much better off than those at Melbourne, and it occurred to me that soon a speculation movement would begin, and that we might as well have a hand in it as to let others make all the money.
As I said before, I made careful inquiries, and discovered that two ships were daily expected, one from Chili, and the other from New York, and both were loaded with flour. No vessel was expected from England with grain on board, although it was not known for certainty.
Upon this intelligence I pondered for an hour or two, and then resolved to try my luck in the way of speculation. Flour was selling at fair prices, I think, although, owing to the non-publication of a price current, and to the absence of an exchange, no two merchants sold alike.
After I had made up my mind what I intended to do, I went to the bank where we had five thousand pounds lying to our credit, drew out the money, and then began my purchases. In each case I stipulated that the flour should remain in store one week, until I could get teams to cart it to Ballarat. To this a ready assent was given, and the merchants expressed themselves pleased to transact business with me. In some instances I paid cash, especially where the quantity bought was very slight, not amounting to more than fifty barrels, or one hundred sacks; but where I bought two or even three hundred barrels, I claimed the privilege of one month's credit, after paying twenty per cent. of the amount down.
In two hours I had engaged nearly every barrel and sack of flour in Melbourne, and then, and not till then, did I begin to tremble for the result of my speculation. A dozen times during the night did I wander through the streets of the city, and down to the water's edge, for the purpose of seeing how the wind blew, and each time did I find that it was favorable for vessels entering the harbor. I consulted an aged mariner, with tar plentifully sprinkled upon the seat of his trousers, and the son of Neptune told me, with many grave shakes of his head, that,—
"You can't always tell about these things; sometimes the wind blows one way here in this bloody hole, and sometimes it blows different on the ocean."
The next day I despatched two large teams to Ballarat loaded heavily with flour, and sent a letter by the mail, telling Fred what I had done, and advising him to put the price up, but to first, frighten the merchants by bantering them with offers for their stock. I knew that that course would startle them into asking at least one third more than they had been demanding, and that a dozen of the most prominent ones would start for Melbourne without a moment's delay for the purpose of seeing what the movement meant.
THE FLOUR SPECULATION.—MR. CRITCHET'S STORY.
After I had written to Fred, and started the teams, I felt a little easier, although no change had taken place in the market. I knew that dealers had sent to Sydney for a supply of flour, and I feared that their orders would be filled, but in this I was agreeably mistaken. Flour at Sydney was ten shillings per barrel higher than at Melbourne, with an upward tendency; while not a sack could be obtained of the few farmers who raised wheat, short of eighty pounds per ton,—just double what I had paid.
Two days after my bargain, and still no ships were signalized. I felt a little more confidence in myself, and in the bold scheme that I was attempting to carry out. A dozen teams were in the city, for the purpose of carrying provisions to Ballarat and other mines, but they were delayed, owing to their inability to get flour. I heard the price of the article quoted at fifty pounds per ton, and I debated whether I should hold on longer, or sell.
Twice, during the day, a rumor was started that a large American ship was signalized, and that she was loaded to her scuppers with grain; but I quickly proved the falsity of the report, and then made my appearance in the store of the largest grain dealers in Melbourne, Messrs. Hennetit & Co., since failed, and didn't pay their English creditors but sixpence on the pound, and I strongly suspect that American firms suffered worse, even, than that.
"My dear sir," said Mr. Hennetit, coming forward and shaking my hand with great cordiality, "I have so desired to see you!"
"May I ask on what account?" I replied, with the utmost sang froid, although I was almost bursting with anxiety.
"Why, to tell you the truth—and I am almost ashamed to confess it—we sold you more flour than we intended, having several orders to fill, and I thought that if it made no difference to you, we would borrow one hundred barrels, and repay you in the course of a day or two at farthest. It is not of much importance, but I concluded that I would speak to you in regard to the subject."
Even while conversing, he led me to his neat and commodious private room, as though the sight of his wealth would soften my heart, and awe me to subjection to his will.
"You see, my dear sir, it is such a trifling matter, that I am almost ashamed to make the request. I am positively mortified to think that we made such a mistake as to dispose of our whole stock. However, a ship will be here in a few days, and then we can supply the country at greatly reduced rates."
I did not interrupt him, but sat patiently, while he was endeavoring to wheedle me out of my speculation. He displayed the anxiety that he felt, to carry his point, while speaking, and I knew that one of his restless eyes was on me, to read my thoughts, during the interview.
"I am sorry that I cannot accommodate you in this instance," I answered, "because I bought for the Ballarat market, and the people of that section of the country are in want. Flour at the mines is selling for sixty pounds per ton, a large advance upon what I paid."
"O, I don't mind allowing you a small margin for your trouble. You paid forty pounds per ton. I will give you forty-five for a hundred barrels."
"My dear Mr. Hennetit, it really grieves me to think that I must refuse your offer," I replied, "but I couldn't think of selling below the market rates. If you wish a hundred barrels at fifty-five pounds per ton, I shall be exceedingly happy to accommodate you."
"Pooh, pooh!" he muttered; "I can't consider such a thing. If you think to speculate in flour in this country, you will miss it, and lose your money."
"Perhaps I shall; but as flour has risen in price since I purchased, I don't see why I should not reap the benefit of it."
I bowed courteously to the merchant, replaced my veil, (for during the summer months, when the ground is dry, and the wind blows strong, it is necessary to wear a veil, to protect the eyes from the dust which rises in heavy clouds, and at times obscures the sun like a thunder squall,) and walked off, hoping that I should hear his voice calling me back, but in this I was disappointed. Mr. Hennetit thought that I would repent, and come to his terms, and so determined to stand the pressure one day more, at all hazards.
I walked directly to the river, and found that the wind was blowing off shore like great guns. This elated me, although I remembered the words of the tarry mariner, and wondered how it was out upon the broad ocean.
For two days I had not slept an hour's time, or eaten more than a crust of bread; but when I saw how the wind was blowing, I returned to my hotel, and supplied my nearly exhausted system with food.
No sooner had I finished dinner than I was told that a gentleman wished to speak to me in the bar room. I went there, and saw one of the merchants from whom I had purchased one hundred sacks of Chilian flour, and one hundred barrels of American brand.
"Well!" he exclaimed, shaking hands with some warmth, "you have dished us, and no mistake! Who, in the devil's name, would have supposed that those two ships could have made such long passages—did you?" and then, without waiting for me to answer, he marched up to the bar and called for drinks, and I must confess that I gratified him, and pleased myself, in taking a very good glass of wine and water at his expense.