"Come, now to business," my acquaintance said, wiping his lips on a richly embroidered handkerchief, imported from Manilla.
"Very well, to business it is," said I.
"You have got all the flour in the market in your hands," he began.
"I know it," I answered.
"Yes, I suppose that you do," he said, dryly; "now, I want the flour that I sold you, and which still remains in my store. What is the figure, sir?"
Here was a man that I could trade with, and not resort to art. He was never schooled in diplomacy, and his blunt nature rejected all subterfuge. I saw that he was willing to allow me to make all that I could, knowing that he would have done the same, had he been situated as I was.
"Fifty-five pounds per ton," I answered.
"I'll take it at that figure," he replied, promptly; "come with me to the store, and I will settle the amount immediately."
I did not require to be invited a second time; and after I had received my money, I calculated how many more tons I should have to dispose of before I could call my funds whole.
In the midst of my calculation, I was disturbed by a message from Messrs. Hennetit & Co. They desired to see me immediately, and requested to know when it would suit my convenience to call on them. I replied, in half an hour; and when I was leaving the store to keep my appointment, my blunt friend stopped me.
"Hennetit & Co.," he said, "have received a number of orders for flour, and they must fill them. Don't sell for less than what I paid you; perhaps you can get more."
I thanked my acquaintance for his hint, and acted on it. When Mr. Hennetit talked about purchasing a few barrels, I put him off by replying that it was hardly worth while to retail them, and that I had received proposals for all that I held, and that I probably should accept.
This information rather startled the cautious gentleman, and the question was put to me without equivocation,—
"How much advance did I demand for the flour which they held for for me?"
"Fifty-six pounds per ton," I replied, promptly and firmly.
"Would I not take fifty pounds?"
"Would I sell all that I held in the city to the firm of Hennetit & Co. for that price?"
I replied that I would, provided the transaction was cashed that afternoon.
There was a short discussion among the members of the firm; and I saw the junior partner go out in great haste. He returned in a few minutes, and reported, I knew what he went after. He desired to learn the direction of the wind before completing the bargain. Fortune favored me. It was blowing a gale directly off shore.
"Will you take a check on the bank, or do you desire gold dust?" was Mr. Hennetit's polite interrogation.
I replied that I preferred the dust, if it was clean, and had been received from the government office. It was warranted free of sand; and while the weighing commenced, I drew up orders for the delivery of flour held by the several firms in the city. By the time that I had concluded, the dust was put into bags, marked with my name, the amount in each bag, and I found myself thy possessor of ten thousand pounds in hard cash, or nearly fifty thousand dollars.
In less than an hour the money was safely locked up in the vaults of the bank; and then I began to feel as though I had passed through an ordeal that had left me, at least, ten years older than I really was; and I almost made a solemn vow never to attempt another speculation; but I am glad that I hesitated, because before I left Australia I indulged in many; and while some were unfortunate, others, I am happy to state, turned out well, and enable me to live at the present time, a life of such comparative idleness, that I almost repent being a bachelor, and sometimes think that the sea of matrimony would relieve my life of ennui.
I owe an apology to the reader, perhaps, for thus taking so much space to relate a transaction that made some noise in Melbourne, owing to the boldness of my strike, and the success that attended it. It was a lottery, with the chances in my favor, and had I not improved it there were others who would.
The vessels expected did not arrive for three days after I sold out; yet the Messrs. Hennetits & Co. made money out of the operation, and whenever I met them, after our business relations were ended, always joked me about selling to them for so low a price, while they were prepared to give me at least five pounds more per ton.
But I will retrace my steps, and return to our store at Ballarat, from which place I took flight on the very day that we found our nugget.
"I think," said Mr. Critchet, as we sat smoking our pipes after tea, the store being closed for the night, "that I shall be well enough in a few days to go to work myself. I feel the spirit in me, but the flesh is yet weak."
"You will not be fit for a day's work in the mines for a month yet," returned Fred.
"I can't remain idle for that length of time," Mr. Critchet said; "I have already trespassed on your hospitality, and am laboring under a debt for kind attention, that I shall have hard work to repay. I am not rich, but if the few thousand pounds which I have accumulated, and which are on deposit at the government office, can recompense you, they are yours."
"I suppose," said Fred, re-filling his pipe, lighting it, and then puffing away vigorously, "that you imagine that it is best to surrender all your property in the most gracious manner possible. If that is your opinion, you misjudge us."
"My dear young friend!" cried Mr. Critchet, "I certainly did not entertain any such opinion. I have been treated as kindly and carefully as though you were my own sons; and through your exertions and attentions my life has been saved. I feel as though I cannot repay you with empty thanks, for I have caused an expenditure of much time and money. Let me feel as though I had endeavored to requite your kindness."
"So you can," returned Fred, composedly.
Mr. Critchet brightened up. I looked at my friend anxiously, and feared that he had forgotten our agreement on the subject under discussion.
"The fact is," said Fred, knocking the ashes from his pipe, "if you wish to deserve our friendship, never speak again in reference to the subject of a recompense."
"But—" exclaimed the old man.
"No buts about it. You sought our house as a refuge for safety, and if you found it, none can be more satisfied than ourselves. The first night I saw your gray hairs I thought of my dead father, and I determined to do all that I could for the honor of his name. God bless his memory—he was a good man, and I am certain that if his spirit is allowed to visit this earth, it would approve of my conduct."
"Then all recompense is refused?" demanded our guest, after a moment's silence.
"Then let me make a proposition to this effect: My claim is lying idle, and is probably half full of water. I feel that I am not strong enough to work it, and will tend the store until well, and one or both of you can take my mine and carry it on, and, if you choose, divide the profits between us three. By such a process you will be spared from being under pecuniary obligations to me, and I shall feel as though I was in some measure, however slight, repaying the expense of my board and lodging."
How carefully the old gentleman concealed the fact, that the mine which he owned, and had partially worked, was one of the most valuable, in Ballarat, and that it we consented to the arrangement we should, in all probability, make two or three thousand pounds with but a trifling amount of labor!
"If you will do as I wish," Mr. Critchet continued, "I shall feel as though I was not intruding upon your privacy, or upon your generosity. If my offer is not accepted, then to-morrow I return to my tent, and trouble you no more."
"But consider," I said, "you have no knowledge of storekeeping, and will make but a poor clerk for attending upon these rough miners."
"My dear boy," our guest exclaimed, "before you were born, as a British merchant, I sold thousands of pounds worth of West India goods; and should now, if I had my rights, be in possession of a princely fortune. Do not think that I am speaking boastingly, for I am humble. All pride, excepting the love of honesty, and a desire to see my family once more in comfortable circumstances, has left me; and now I labor for love of my children, at whatever business I can make the most money."
"You have a family, then?" I asked.
The old gentleman nodded; and through the tobacco smoke I saw that his eyes grow moist at the question. We sat silent for a few minutes, for we did not wish to interrogate him in relation to his family affairs, although I must confess that I felt something of a Yankee's curiosity in regard to his position in life.
"I have no desire to keep from you my story," Mr. Critchet said, "although it may not interest you, and is but a repetition of trust and wrong—of confidence and betrayal. Such as it is, however, I will confide to you, and hope that it may prevent you from being shipwrecked on the same sea."
The old gentleman moistened his lips with a drink of cold tea, and began:—
"My father was a merchant before me, and dealt largely in West India and India goods; and, when I was of sufficient age, I occupied a stool in his counting room, and learned the mysteries of buying low and selling high, for the purpose of taking his place when he felt rich enough to retire.
"When he did, which was at a ripe old age, I was left in possession of two thirds of his property, it being shared by my sister and myself; and when my sister married, which she did without my consent, and almost before I knew her husband by reputation, I paid over to her every penny that belonged to her, and wished her God speed on her journey through life. We were nearly strangers to each other, owing to the death of our mother during her infancy, when an aunt had volunteered to assume the control of her education, and that was one reason why, perhaps, my advice was not listened to in regard to the choice of a husband.
"Well, time passed on, and at length I too married, and was blessed with a daughter, and then I renewed my exertions for wealth for my child's sake; for then I was a silly and ambitious man, and hoped that I could connect myself by marriage with some peer or lord, or even a baronet. That was eighteen years ago, my friends, and since that period I have grown wiser, and, as you see, older. If I can live to see my daughter wedded to an honest man my ambition will be satisfied."
I began to reflect and ponder over those words. How did I know but that I might suit her fancy! I looked at Fred, and would have sworn that he was debating the same subject. I already began to feel jealous; for an English girl, at the age of nineteen, is not to be passed by without a kind consideration. I wondered if she was handsome, but supposed that she must be, judging from the appearance of her father.
"I rarely saw my sister," Mr. Critchet continued, "after her marriage, but I heard from her frequently; and seldom looked at the Morning Post without seeing her name announced as having been present at a party the night before. I did not envy her her life of dissipation, for I preferred to secure happiness in a different course; but still I could not help wondering how her husband managed to support such extravagance. Too soon did I learn the secret; for one day he sought me out, and with a gloomy brow, announced that his purpose in visiting me was to obtain money to meet notes which were maturing.
"I did not feel surprised, and neither did I question him in regard to his circumstances. I listened patiently to his expressions of regard, gave him a check on my bankers for two thousand pounds, and after he left my counting room I busied myself with my accounts, and tried to forget an unpleasant impression that his interview had left upon my mind. A few days after I received a note from my brother-in-law, Mr. Follet—"
"Follet?" I cried, in surprise; "then the young man who is still held by the commissioner is his son, and your nephew?"
Mr. Critchet gave a token of assent, and continued:—
"In which he requested a further loan to meet some pressing engagements. I complied with the den and, although I felt that I was wronging myself to do so. A few weeks passed, and I was unmolested; but one morning I received a hurriedly written letter from my brother, and I saw with grief that, it was dated Fleet Street Prison, and that he had been arrested the night, before for debt, and now called on me in piteous expressions to save his name from disgrace. I went to see him, and found that his wife was unacquainted with his situation, and that she was making preparations to have a grand party that night, at which she expected half the notables of London. He pleaded long and earnestly, and at length I paid the claim that was brought against him, although it took many thousand pounds to do so.
"Three days afterwards I was visited by my sister, in company with her boy, a young man with dark eyes and a sinister expression of countenance, that too nearly resembled his father's to be pleasing to me; although God knows I have tried to love the boy, and should have ultimately succeeded had he not behaved like a barbarian.
"My sister requested a private interview, which I readily granted; and then with tears, and groans, and lamentations, told me that her husband's fate rested in my hands, and that if I wished to kill her I could by pursuing a harsh course. I begged her to explain, but she threw herself upon her knees and vowed that she would never rise until I had promised to do as she wished. I declined to make a profession that I did not understand, and at length I drew from her that her husband, the man whom she had married in opposition to my wishes, had forged my name to bills amounting to nearly fifty thousand pounds, and that I was expected to save him from a public death, or transportation for life, to conceal the crime. I indignantly refused, but I did not know how hard a woman can plead. I was promised my sister's property that was settled on her at the death of my father, and she gave me an order to sell out her stock in the public funds, for the purpose of reimbursing me, although I found that I should suffer to the extent of twenty-five thousand pounds by the transaction; but sooner than witness her tears I consented, and, in consequence, was made almost a beggar."
The old man brushed away a tear that coursed down his rugged cheeks, and for a few minutes seemed lost in thought. At length he continued:—
"I assumed the forged notes and paid them as they matured, but the public discovered that I had made many sacrifices in my business to meet the spurious paper, and then came doubts and suspicions, and at last a run upon my house, and to save myself I called upon my sister for her fortune. God of heaven! how I felt when I discovered that the villain, her husband, had already used her name, drawn her money from the funds, and had left for some part of the world where we could not trace him.
"I sank beneath the blow, and when I rallied my business was swept away, and the firm of Critchet was known only by its debts. I struggled for a time against the stream, but I could not gain a foothold, and at last yielded and gave up all thoughts of resuming business. My family was supported by a small settlement of one hundred pounds which had been left to my wife by an aunt, and by music lessons which my daughter was enabled to give, and thus we struggled along, until at length my sister, who could not bear up under her disgrace, died and left me her child to provide for. Well, I undertook the task, and when I had failed to resuscitate my fortunes in England, I left for Australia and brought him with me."
"And you have never heard of his father since?" I asked.
"Hullo, house—grocers—let me in!" shouted a voice at the door; and a heavy kick was bestowed on the wall to attract our attention.
Mr. Critchet started from his seat, and then sank back to the floor with a groan.
THE SAME, CONTINUED.
"Are you sick?" we demanded, springing towards the prostrate man and helping him to a chair.
"I know not," he replied, wildly; "but unless I am dreaming, I heard a voice demanding admittance to the store. Do not open the door, for mercy's sake. I cannot bear to look upon his face again."
"Poor man," muttered Fred; "his story has affected him to such a degree that his mind wanders. Let us put him to bed as soon as possible, for fear of a return of the fever."
"You are mistaken, young men, if you think that fever or a diseased imagination has caused my emotion. See, I am perfectly calm."
In fact, he didn't seem as though afflicted with his late sickness, for his flesh was cool, and his face pale, but for all that he trembled violently, and as though attacked with the ague.
"I thought that I recognized the voice," our patient said, in a half whisper, and in a listening attitude, "but I may have been mistaken."
"Hullo, within there—open the door, and sell me a quart of the best quality," cried the rough voice on the outside, accompanied by another violent shake of the door that made every thing jar again.
Rover uttered a threatening howl, and pawed at the door as though desirous of inserting his teeth into the body of the brawler.
"I was certain that I could not be mistaken," exclaimed Mr. Critchet, in a hoarse whisper.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Will you let me have the liquor? Say yes or no," cried the impatient fellow on the outside, with an oath.
"I am positive that that is the voice of my brother-in-law," Mr. Critchet said. "I have not heard him speak before for six years, yet there are some things that I cannot forget. What shall I do? How shall I act?"
"Do you wish to speak to him?" I asked; "if so, we will admit him, and trust to our arms for security. Not a hair of your head shall be injured, even though you tell him disagreeable truths."
"What say you? Are you awake? Shall I have the rum?" continued our midnight visitor.
I waited for the old gentleman to come to some conclusion, and although he was intensely agitated at the thought of an interview, he gave a token of assent.
"Call off the dog and let him come in," said Fred, "and do you keep in the background for the present," addressing our guest.
I quieted Rover with a word, and then unbolted and unbarred the door and threw it open, feeling some curiosity to see the man who had had the audacity to commit extensive forgeries, and yet escape the punishment of the law, especially when the criminal code of England is so rigid that rank or station in life is not respected.
"Well, sleepy heads, have you woke up?" was the impudent question that first greeted me, and through the door strode a tall, powerful-built man, with dark whiskers which covered his face almost to his eyelids, and long, black hair plentifully sprinkled with gray. He wore a short monkey-jacket, such as sailors are in the habit of adopting as a convenient overcoat for working aloft on shipboard—a blue flannel shirt, with large collar turned over and confined to his neck with a black silk handkerchief—a pair of fancy colored pants, somewhat soiled and worn, yet a little better than the majority of the miners were accustomed to wear at Ballarat—and lastly, the visitor had on his head a felt hat of ample proportions, such as the stockmen and shepherds of Australia have adopted to protect their heads from the noonday heat, and eyes from the bright sun, while scouring the plains in search of cattle.
"You are late in your purchases," I remarked, in a conciliatory tone, as the stranger entered.
"A man with money, and a desire to spend it, can choose his own time to trade, I suppose, can't he?" the black visitor asked, in a gruff manner; and as he moved his arm to emphasize his words, I saw the butts of two pistols protruding from his coat pockets—a discovery that did not alarm me, although I was glad that their possession was revealed.
"That depends upon two things," I replied. "First, whether—"
"Pshaw! don't bother me with your homilies," he exclaimed, impatiently, as I closed the door and turned the key.
"No, I won't, for you are homely enough in all conscience," I answered, pretending to think that he referred to personal beauty.
The stranger turned on me like lightning, and his sinister eyes were expressive of intense rage, but I pretended not to notice his actions. Rover, however, became slightly alarmed for my welfare, and placed himself between us, and showed his strong teeth with perfect frankness.
"Call off your dog," our visitor said, finding that it was useless to intimidate, "or I will make short work of him, and sell him to the Chinamen as a luxury."
"You would never have another chance to trade with the Celestials," I answered, carelessly.
"Why?" demanded the black ruffian, with a grim smile, as he walked towards that portion of the store where Fred was sitting, Mr. Critchet having entered his room.
"Because, if you harmed my dog, I should take the liberty of shooting you without a moment's delay."
"Well, that is a question that two would have to study over," the stranger answered, in a more subdued tone, and with less inclination to swagger. "I suppose that you little think that I carry these things about me, and that they sometimes bark when I say the word, and more to the purpose than any dog you ever owned." And he tapped the butts of his pistols with a confident air, but the announcement was not such as he had anticipated.
"We sometimes do a little in that line ourselves," I answered, "and we take care that the tools we use shall be the best that money can obtain. When this speaks it means something."
I quietly drew from my coat pocket a revolver, and held it before him, and then as quietly returned it to its resting-place.
"I'm satisfied with your word," the dark-haired stranger said, a grim smile spreading over his face. "When gentlemen meet they should know how to treat each other with courtesy. By your weapon I judge that you are an American."
"My friend and myself both claim that country as the land of our births," I replied, pointing to Fred, who sat smoking his pipe for the purpose of keeping the insects, attracted by our light, at a distance.
"O, I didn't see that you had a companion," the stranger exclaimed, spying Fred for the first time, which somehow rather disconcerted him; but he quickly rallied, and continued to converse in a free and easy manner, like a man who had seen much of the world, and had opportunities of enjoying it.
"I am glad to know that you are Americans, for I have visited that country, and was kindly treated by those with whom I came in contact. A great and fast country, as I can bear witness, for while travelling in the southern part I suffered a railroad collision and a steamboat explosion on the same day, and yet escaped with whole bones. Were I not an Englishman I would be an American, to use the words of Alexander, altered to suit the occasion."
"May I ask if you belong here in Ballarat?" I demanded, with the intention of finding out what his business and prospects were.
"To tell you the truth, I am here on what your countrymen call a 'bender;' a freak that assails me about once in three months, and after it is over I return to my stock-house and think how great a man can be, and yet how little."
"Then you are a stockman?" I said.
"That is not what I am termed," he cried, with an expression of pride upon his dark face. "I employ stockmen to look after my cattle, but I am called a proprietor."
"I always supposed that proprietors preferred to live in the large cities, and trust their flocks and herds to employees," Fred said, dryly.
"What is it to you what I prefer?" he demanded, turning on Fred fiercely. "Have I not a right to do as I please as long as I am my own master, and pay those who work for me?"
"No one denies it, I believe," exclaimed Fred. "I only made a supposition. Some men dislike to be seen in cities, while others would go mad if obliged to live on the plains. I sometimes think that it depends entirely upon the conscience which every man is supposed to have locked within his breast, although my arguments are liable to be refuted, on the ground that there are some men destitute of such an article."
"Death and the devil! do you refer to me, you babbler?" shouted the stranger, his hands again seeking the pockets where his pistols were nestling.
"Don't get enraged at a few words," I said, half soothingly and half ironically. "My friend didn't mean to cut you with his remarks."
"We won't quarrel over an unmeaning word," I said. "Give me a quart of good whiskey, and I will go back to the tent where I have agreed to stop for the balance of the night. I was told that I could get the best liquor here of any place in Ballarat."
"Raising cattle is considered a profitable business in Australia," I hinted, while pretending to be attending upon his wants.
"I find it satisfactory," he returned, shortly, as though determined to baffle my inquiries.
"I have some thoughts of engaging in the business," I continued, "and would, if I could buy a tract of land on the banks of the Loddon or the Campaspe. All the pasturing that is desirable within sight of Mount Macedon skirt is already sold, I suppose."
"I should think it was," he answered, with a grin; "but I am open for an offer."
"How! do you wish to sell?" I asked, apparently in surprise.
"If I can get my price, yes."
"How long have you occupied your tract?" I inquired.
"For four years, and during that time my flocks have increased threefold, and now I count my sheep by thousands and cattle by hundreds."
"And your range is located on the banks of the Loddon?" I asked. "How much land have you taken up?"
"Five thousand acres of as good pasturage as can be found in the country, well watered, and free of bogs and quicksands."
"Why do you desire to sell, if the raising of cattle is so productive?" I demanded.
"None of your business. If you wish to buy, say so, and I'm open for a trade. Come and see me some day, and I'll talk with you on the matter; at the present time I'm in a hurry."
"I think that I know a man who will take the station off your hands without delay. Wait a moment and I'll bring him to you."
I left the cattle raiser wondering at the suddenness of my exit, and entered the small room, where I found Mr. Critchet suffering with nervous agitation.
"Have you heard all?" I asked.
"And do you think that you recognize the voice?"
"It is Follet," he whispered.
"Dare you face him, and demand restitution for your wrongs?" I inquired.
"Why should I fear to meet him, and strike terror into his guilty heart? Let me go at once."
"Then roll the collar of your coat over your face, and slouch your hat over your eyes, and keep them there until I ask you to remove them. Now keep up a stout heart, and trust to fortune for the result."
Mr. Critchet followed me from the room without another word. His agitation seemed to have left him, and he displayed all the "pluck" which characterizes the representatives of Great Britain, when placed in situations that require nerve and courage.
"Hullo! is that the man you have selected to purchase my stock?" cried the stranger, with a hoarse laugh; "why, a horseback ride of ten miles before breakfast would finish him for the day, and if bullocks should get sight of his thin form, they would break into open rebellion, for they know that it requires a powerful arm to use a stock-whip. Take your old granddaddy back to bed, and send me a customer that can keep the saddle all day, and sleep in a pond of water all night, if need be."
"He is not so feeble as he looks," I replied, giving Fred a quiet signal, which he understood, and therefore rose and sauntered near the counter, so that he could be in the rear of the stockman, in case he was disposed to use violence.
"See," I continued, removing the hat of Mr. Critchet, and throwing back his collar, "he does not look so very weak, after all."
I noticed the stranger gave a convulsive start when he saw that pale face, so full of mild reproach; I heard him utter an exclamation which sounded like an oath, and then he turned and rushed frantically towards the door; but before he reached it, he was attacked by an enemy in his rear that he little counted on.
Rover, who had been lying quietly at our feet, watching the movements of the stranger with distrust, yet apparently determined to give the man a fair hearing before he made up his mind in regard to his character, uttered a yell when he saw our visitor turn to fly, and before he reached the door the faithful dog had seized a portion of his garments on that section of his body where the strain is supposed to be the strongest, and, with defiant growls, held him fast.
"Call off your dog," shouted Follet, with an oath, "or I'll send a ball through his lean carcass."
"If you but offer to lay your hand upon a pistol you are a dead man!" exclaimed Fred; "remain quiet, and you are safe."
"Why should I obey you?" demanded Follet, with a sudden jerk of his body, for the purpose of freeing himself from the jaws of the dog, in which he was unsuccessful, for Rover took a double grip, and I think that his teeth grazed the forger's flesh, for he attempted to apply his hands to the spot, but was not able, and therefore they once more sought the formidable pistols which his pockets contained.
"Curse you and your dog! Do you think I'm a bullock, to be thus dragged down, and make no resistance?"
He was in the act of cocking the pistol when a slight blow upon his arm, near the elbow, with the butt of a stock-whip, made him drop it as suddenly as though his limb had been paralyzed from wrist to shoulder.
"Do you mean to rob or to assassinate me?" cried Follet, rubbing his arm, and looking dangerous.
"Neither," we replied; "but we require you to be patient, and to make atonement for some of the wrong that you have done. This you shall do, or be lodged in a prison and returned to England."
"Do you take me for a child, that I should be thus lectured by boys and a gray-headed idiot? You don't know me yet!"
The desperate man suddenly turned, while talking, and with one of his heavy boots kicked the hound upon his head; but the noble brute did not even utter a whimper, although the blow brought blood upon his glossy coat. But dearly did the fellow pay for his cruelty, for, as he dashed towards the door, for the purpose of escaping, Rover sprang upon him, seized him by his neck, and bore him headlong to the floor, where he held him, despite of his struggles and cries.
We let them fight it out without interference, but a few minutes were sufficient to produce cries for quarter from Follet, although before we listened to them we disarmed him of his knife and remaining pistol.
"Get up," I said, addressing the prostrate man, "and remember that acts of cruelty sometimes bring immediate punishment."
He arose, sullen and angry, yet not daring to manifest it by deeds and words. I motioned him to a place near the stove, where Mr. Critchet was seated, and from whence he had witnessed all that had transpired, without remark or interference.
"Why am I treated in this manner?" demanded Follet, hesitating, before he complied with my request.
"Because we think that it is necessary for you to make reparation for wrongs that you have committed during a lifetime."
"Who accuses me?" he asked, after a pause.
"I do!" said Mr. Critchet.
"I never saw you before in the whole course of my existence!" cried the forger, with a degree of effrontery that was characteristic of the man.
"Do you deny that you married my sister, and that I lent you money, besides taking up your forged paper to save your neck from the common hangman? demanded Critchet, earnestly.
"I do," replied the prisoner, without a moment's hesitancy; "and I will also add, that if you think that I am to be robbed with impunity, you are mistaken. What money I have about me I shall hold on to; and when I do gain my liberty look to yourselves, for there is law to be obtained in Ballarat."
We consulted apart with Mr. Critchet, and found that he was positive that the man who had wronged him so basely was in our power, and we had too great confidence in the judgment of the old gentleman to believe that he would tell a lie, or endeavor to deceive us in the premises.
"How old was young Follet when his father left London?" Fred asked of Mr. Critchet.
"About sixteen," was the answer.
"Then we can settle this matter in the morning, without trouble, or further debate."
"By confronting the son with the father."
We determined to try the experiment at all hazards, and as there was no law by which we could be reached for detaining a supposed criminal without a warrant, I suggested that a pair of irons should be slipped upon his wrists, for the purpose of insuring his security during the night, and that in the morning we should consult with Mr. Brown, and be governed by his advice.
My proposition was accepted, and the matter was communicated to Follet, who swore many strange oaths, and would have resisted, but he found that it was useless; and to add to his terror, Rover sat within a few feet of him, displaying his ivories, and ready to avenge his affront upon the first symptom of hostility.
The stranger at length complied with our terms, and while we provided a bed for him, we did not fail to intimate that Rover was to watch by his side, and give an alarm, in case he meant mischief during the night, of which we were not much afraid.
At daybreak we wore all astir, and ready for business. We provided a substantial breakfast for our prisoner, and then I sought the presence of the inspector, and laid the whole matter before him.
He agreed with me that it was only right and just that Follet should make reparation for the wrongs that he had inflicted, but thought that it was hardly fair to make the son betray the father.
After studying over the matter some time, the inspector visited the prison, and got the young man to give a description of his parent, and so perfect was the likeness that there could be no doubt of his identity.
Then, for the first time, did we tell the forger that he had a son near him, who was held to answer for an attempt at murder. The feelings of the man were obliged to yield before the intelligence, but how much more intense was his sorrow, when told that his son had nearly murdered the very man who had stepped forward to save him from starvation!
"He came honestly by the disposition, so don't blame your son," said Brown, bluntly. "Consider how much injury you have caused the old gentleman, and ask your heart if there is not an opportunity to make some redress!"
"What would you have me do?" demanded the forger, sullenly.
"You own a well-stocked tract of land; you must give him a deed of it, and then leave this part of the country forever," Mr. Brown said.
"But then I shall have to begin the world without a penny, and I am growing old," pleaded the forger.
"So did your victim; and yet his age is greater than yours. When stripping him of wealth you had no misgivings, and as you showed no mercy, neither shall we."
"Give me time to consult with my friends," pleaded Follet; but Mr. Brown was deaf to his entreaties.
"Either go with me before the commissioner, and give a title to your property, or else you go to prison and wait the return of a ship to England, where you will be tried for forgery, and probably condemned. You can take your choice—a life at the hulks, or freedom and poverty."
"This is a d——d trap!" yelled the forger, "but I will not be caught so easily."
"As you please," returned Mr. Brown, carelessly; "I have a greater desire to see justice executed on men of your stamp than to attempt to compromise matters. Come with me."
He passed his arm through Follet's, and beckoned Mike to do likewise; but before the trio had taken three steps towards the door the forger's heart began to soften.
"Am I to be locked up?" he demanded.
"Ay, in the darkest cell in the prison," returned Mr. Brown, firmly.
"One moment!" he exclaimed; "will you agree to let me go free if I comply with your request?"
We gave the required pledge, and in less than three hours' time we had the satisfaction of placing in Mr. Critchet's hands a deed of all the property owned by Follet; and although the amount was not near the sum that the former had expended to save the latter's neck, yet it was sufficient to place the old gentleman in affluent circumstance's for the remainder of his life.
MR. BROWN'S DISCHARGE FROM THE POLICE FORCE.—BILL SWINTON'S CONFESSION.
Mr. Brown, who had interested himself so successfully in Mr. Critchet's affairs, to be sure that Follet did not return to his stock-house, sent two men, old and experienced shepherds, to take charge of the stock and exercise a general supervision over the property until Mr. Critchet was disposed to sell it for the most that he could get, and he did not have to wait long for an offer; for one day the old gentleman astonished us by imparting the information that he had got a letter from a person in Melbourne who was anxious to buy, and desired an interview immediately. Our friend left the same day in the stage line, but before he went he made us a present of his claim, and a munificent gift it was.
We saw the old gentleman no more in Australia, but when in London, on our way home, via the overland route from China and the Indies, we had the satisfaction of once more shaking his hand, and fighting our battles over. His daughter was as handsome as she was accomplished, and her gratitude towards us for the kindness which we had shown her parent would undoubtedly have caused her to look with some degree of favor upon our suits, had we been disposed to demand the sacrifice. Fred was too modest, and I lacked confidence, and between us both we left London without daring to propose for the lady's hand. She is still unmarried, and her father writes me that she shows no disposition for matrimony. If I was not fearful of meeting with a rebuff, there would he one bachelor less in the world, or, as the stage heroes say, I would "perish in the attempt."
"I am tired of this," the inspector said, one day, entering the store, and throwing his weary form upon a mattress. "For nearly a week I have hardly had an opportunity to close my eyes, and my men are in the same exhausted condition as myself. I have warded off the blows as long as possible. But now I see no way of escaping a collision."
"What do you intend to do?" Fred asked.
"Resign my position, and let the commissioner take the responsibility. I have written thrice, asking to be exchanged, but at head-quarters they appear to be deaf to my prayers. You may think that it is cowardly to thus attempt to escape my share of the work, but you have been in too many exciting frays not to know me better, and to feel that where a blow is to be struck in a good cause I am never backward."
We assured the inspector that we never entertained a doubt of his courage, and that whatever course he decided on would meet with our approval.
"I cannot stay here and order men to fire upon miners whom I have known for many months, and whom I entertain a sincere regard for. Besides," and here the inspector lowered his voice and whispered confidentially, "the miners are in the right, and I don't blame them for standing out against a tax that is levied upon all without regard to the amount of gold obtained."
"Had you not better remain as long as possible, and perhaps delay will enable the government to see the suicidal course that they are attempting. If you leave, and Mr. Sherwin is allowed full sway, I will not answer for peace twenty-four hours," Fred said.
"I have already made more sacrifices to my sense of dignity and manhood in the vain attempt to keep Mr. Sherwin within bounds and moderation than the country will ever give me credit for; and yet I am blamed, and accused of not doing my duty, because I do not fill the prison, and load with chains every person who utters a word against the government. If I had a sensible man to deal with instead of the commissioner, I think that this storm would blow over, or at least be delayed for some months, until advices could be received from the Home Secretary. But as it is—"
Mr. Brown stopped talking suddenly; and when I looked up to learn the cause, I saw, to my surprise, that Mr. Sherwin had entered the store unperceived, and had probably heard a portion of the conversation.
There was an embarrassing silence for a few moments; although Mr. Brown did not look at all frightened by the presence of his superior officer. I expected a scene, and I was not disappointed, for ill feeling had long been engendered between them, partly owing to the mining tax, which Mr. Sherwin was supposed to have induced government to believe was just and equitable, and partly owing to conciliatory measures instead of harsh ones, which Mr. Brown had judged best to adopt for the purpose of keeping Ballarat quiet.
"I need not suggest," said Mr. Sherwin, with one of his most sarcastic smiles, "that this store is hardly the place to squander time in when so many disloyal men are plotting against the government, and when an outbreak is threatened every hour."
"You are, undoubtedly, addressing your conversation to me," Mr. Brown exclaimed, with a lazy yawn, and a good-natured smile.
"I certainly am," was the short rejoinder, accompanied by a look of surprise.
"And I suppose that you think I am not doing my duty, simply because I am resting my weary form?" Mr. Brown asked, still maintaining his composure.
"Your thoughts are perhaps right on that point. Time is all that we desire now until the troops arrive, when we can deal with these foolish men as we please, and as the best interests of the country demand."
"I don't think that I distinctly understand you," the inspector remarked. "Do you wish me to break up the meetings which the miners are holding, and make arrests for every dissatisfied word that is uttered?"
"Such a course would meet my approbation, and, I think, the approval of the governor and his advisers. You may take a different view of the matter."
"And if I should venture to differ with you, what then?" demanded Mr. Brown, his cheeks flushing slightly.
"A resignation placed in my hands would be instantly forwarded to the proper quarter, and I have no doubt that it would be accepted," was the curt rejoinder.
"I feel quite grateful to you for the hint, and to show that I can act on it, will lose no time in drawing up such a paper."
Mr. Brown walked quietly to our desk, helped himself to a sheet of paper, wrote a few lines, signed his name with a flourish, and handed the document to the commissioner. The latter cast his eyes over it, and a grim smile mantled his dark face as he did so.
"You have done well, sir, and I think that the government will be obliged to me for thus bringing matters to a crisis; you are no longer a member of the police force at Ballarat."
Mr. Sherwin turned to depart, but Mr. Brown, still calm and quiet, detained him.
"One word before you go. You acknowledge that I am no longer your subordinate officer, do you not?"
The commissioner bowed stiffly, but did not deign to make reply.
"A few minutes since," Mr. Brown went on to say, "I was accused of squandering time. I wish to ask whether I was ever known to squander money belonging to the government?"
Had Mr. Brown fired a pistol at the head of the commissioner, the latter could not have been more astonished. He stared upon his questioner with a bewildered air; and I could see his swarthy cheeks turn pale, as though impeachment stared him in the face for malfeasance while in office. I knew that there were dark hints of his corruption, and that be had, in some manner not known to the public, made a fortune while he held the office of commissioner.
"What do you mean?" demanded Sherwin at length; and even while he spoke his voice was husky and tremulous.
"I asked a simple question, and it requires some time and consideration on your part to make an answer, it appears. I will repeat the question. Did you ever know me to squander money belonging to the government, and fail to give an account of it?"
"Do you dare insinuate aught against me in my official capacity?" cried the commissioner, stepping towards his late officer with a threatening brow.
"Have I said a word that should cause you to feel aggrieved? Do my words apply to you in any way or form?" Mr. Brown exclaimed, without flinching from the withering look that was cast upon him.
"I know what you mean; and if you dare to accuse me of peculation while in office; I will brand you as a liar!"
The belligerents were not more than five feet apart; and I expected to see some brisk work for a few minutes, but Fred passed between them, and prevented a collision that seemed inevitable.
"You have met in the store," said Fred, "on what we call neutral ground, and therefore we cannot permit this quarrel to go any farther. If you have, unfortunately, differences which must be settled, do not involve us, for remember, we are friends to both."
"You speak wisely," Mr. Sherwin said, after a moment's thought, during which time he recovered his composure; "I was foolish to get angry at any words that might be addressed to me by that gentleman. I have known him long, and suffered severely from his vindictive temper. His claws are now cut, and he is powerless."
"But I have a tongue, and know how to use it like an Englishman!" cried Mr. Brown, proudly; "you may triumph now, but I warn you that before many days, you will be stripped of your title and honors, and inquiries instituted which will bring to light many secrets that you little dream of. I have watched your course in Ballarat, and the report I shall have to make is not a creditable one, believe me."
"I cannot prevent people from playing the spy upon my actions, and neither do I wish to. I am honest in my deeds, and care not who knows them; and if I am to be injured, it must be by some person who is ready to perjure his soul for the sake of revenge."
I thought that Mr. Brown would rush upon his opponent, and strike him to the floor, he looked so indignant. His small form swelled with ill-concealed rage at the accusation; but before an outbreak took place, I placed my hand upon his shoulder, and led him into the private room, and during his absence, Mr. Sherwin hurried off.
"The mean, cowardly wretch!" exclaimed Mr. Brown, grinding his teeth with suppressed rage; "to think that the very man whose peculations and stealings I have helped to cover up, for fear that disgrace should be brought upon the police department, now dares to place me upon a level with a spy, and to proclaim that the government will feel rejoiced at my loss, is sufficient to test the fortitude of a Christian. D—— him,—I would shoot him, if that would not deprive me of the satisfaction of seeing him disgraced."
We did not interrupt his ravings, and at length he cooled down, and smiled at his past folly.
"I am glad that I am now out of the force," he continued, "because, as I have always contended, there will be no honor gained when blows are struck, and much condemnation will follow. Government will shuffle the blame upon some poor devil of an employe, and contend that instructions were exceeded. Many letters will be written on the subject, and a rigid investigation held—pounds of printers' ink will be shed, and the newspapers will be lively with discussions, and in the end the miners will triumph, and the tax will be abolished."
"And what do you intend doing? stay here in Ballarat, or go to Melbourne?" demanded Fred.
"I have hardly made up my mind. I shall write to the captain of police a true statement of my situation, and the manner in which I was endeavoring to conduct affairs to avoid an eruption; and although I am not very desirous of the office, yet I will lay a wager that I am reinstated in some other locality, and that I take a higher rank in my profession."
The prognostication was correct; for Mr. Brown was removed from the Ballarat district, and did duty for many months in Melbourne as a lieutenant, and ranked next after Murden.
Just then a few customers entered the store, and we hastened to attend upon them, and after their wants were supplied, and the place cleared of eavesdroppers, Mr. Brown drew his chair up to ours, and asked,—
"Which of you would like to accompany me on a short journey, and be absent for a week or two, eh?"
"We have not time to spare for that," I said.
"But one of you can go as well as not; that fellow, Barney, whom I see hanging around here, waiting for Smith, can be made to assist the one who remains in the store."
"Where do you propose going?"
"I will tell you," replied Mr. Brown, hitching his chair still nearer, and dropping his voice to a whisper; "I am going to make search for a buried treasure!"
We started, and pricked up our ears. Here was something worth listening to.
"Do you think that one of you can go?" Mr. Brown continued, with a sly wink.
"Well, you have altered our minds slightly, already; but to have our free consent, state the case frankly."
"I will. You remember when we made an excursion into the country some three months since, that we had a brush with a party of bushrangers, and that we captured a number, and among them Bill Swinton, the leader?"
We nodded. We began to comprehend him. Mr. Brown continued, after first glancing around the room to see that no one was listening save ourselves,—
"You will also recollect, if you tax your mind, that I endeavored to get Bill to make some revelations concerning a quantity of dust which he helped rob a guard of many months since."
We remembered the circumstance, and also the furious manner in which Bill had refused to divulge his knowledge of the transaction.
"I told him then that I should learn in what part of the country he had buried his share of the treasure, but if I am not mistaken, I was laughed at and defied."
We confirmed Mr. Brown's words in that respect.
"Well," continued the ex-officer, "poor Bill has taken leave of this world, and I hope has gone to a better one. He was hardly suited for this bustling sphere, and I think his cares were too much for him."
"When did he die?" I inquired.
"Did he make a confession? who was with him when he died?" we asked, eagerly.
"Softly; you would hardly have required me to bother the poor fellow with questions, when his breath was scant, and his thoughts were on things not of this earth. I was with him, but he spoke not, excepting to utter the words,—
"'I am going—remember the shadow!'"
"To what did he refer?"
"That is precisely what the watcher, who was with Bill when he breathed his last, wanted to know."
"He was probably wandering in his mind, and knew not what he said."
"I think that he was sensible of what was going on around him, and uttered the expression to convince me of his sincerity."
"Make us your confidant, and we will endeavor to think as you do."
"I will, because in the first place I owe my life to your devotion on that day, and therefore you shall share in all the benefits that are likely to arise from Bill's death; and in the second place it is necessary for me to have a companion to prosecute my searches for the treasure."
"Then the bushranger revealed the secret?" we eagerly asked.
"Listen, and you shall judge. When we had Bill in custody that day, I thought from his boastful style of talking, that he had money buried somewhere, and I determined to obtain it if possible, for I reasoned that gold would do me much more good than the cold earth."
"With this idea I visited Bill frequently while in prison, and each time gave him some little luxury, that the rules of the institution prevented his getting, unless money was plenty, and the fellow was destitute. I put off his trial on one pretext and another, and always gave orders in his hearing, that he should be treated kindly, and have as much freedom as the place afforded."
"At first my interviews with him were like attempting to tame an enraged bull, and all my advances were rejected. Other men might have got disgusted, but not so with me. I persevered, and gradually softened his rugged nature, but it was like water wearing away stone. At length I perceived that confinement was telling on the prisoner, and then I hinted how much better it would be for my welfare if I was rich and independent of the police force; and although at first my insinuations were rejected with scorn, yet time and an even temper effected my purpose; and one day after Bill had had a bad attack of fainting fits and convulsions, he told me his whole history, and ended with a confession that the dust which he had stolen, was buried, with other treasure, near the banks of the Lodden, within sight of Mount Tarrengower. That there was only one way to reach it, for quicksands surrounded the spot where the money was hid, and that I could find it by searching precisely at the hour of twelve o'clock in the evening, when the moon was full, for then Mount Tarrengower threw a shadow upon the edge of the spot, and no mistake could occur. In fact, he gave me such explicit directions, that I do not fear failure."
THE EXPEDITION AFTER BILL SWINTON'S BURIED TREASURES.
"And you think that Bill was not deceiving you?" Fred asked, after a moment's consideration.
"If you could have seen his death bed—how pleasantly and cheerfully he left this world for the next, and how comfortable he was with new pipes and an unlimited supply of tobacco, and two hard candles, got at my own expense, you would not have thought that the fellow was endeavoring to deceive me. Besides, he died so much like a Christian, forgiving every one, and entertaining no malice, that I can hardly believe he would have been guilty of such rascally hypocrisy."
"How do you know that Bill did not impart his secret to others?" I asked.
"Simply because I gave orders that no conversation was to be held with him; and to see that my orders were carried out, I sat up with him on the night that he died. Almost with his last breath he told me to 'remember the shadow.' I feel so confident that he told me the true spot where the money is buried, that I would not take one thousand pounds for my share."
We thought the matter over, and considered the subject in all its bearings. If Bill had spoken the truth, there was a chance for us to increase our funds with but little labor, and none in Ballarat would be the wiser for it. If the information was false, the only thing lost would be a week or two's absence from business, which, in the present exciting times, we hardly dared to spare. After a long talk, however, and upon Mr. Brown's assertion that there was no danger of an outbreak, for at least two weeks, I concluded that I would leave Fred in charge of the store, and undertake the expedition, in company with the ex-inspector.
Barney, who was with us, waiting impatiently for the arrival of Smith, readily consented to assist Fred to the extent of his ability during my absence; and without further ceremony we bound the agreement with Mr. Brown, that we would share equal with him, in whatever expenses were incurred, or whatever was found.
"We must start to-morrow morning," Mr. Brown said, after all the preliminary arrangements were concluded, "because the moon fulls the day after to-morrow, and we shall want to be on the spot to make an examination by daylight. How soon can we be ready?"
"To-morrow, as early as you desire," I replied.
"Good; we shall then lose no time. It will be necessary for us to go well armed and well mounted, you know, for the distance is long, and the road dangerous. Besides, we shall require a pack mule or horse to carry a few tools, and provisions enough to last us for a week."
That part of the business was quickly arranged. Mr. Brown owned a large gray horse which he had always rode while at Ballarat, and we had three good animals standing idle. I proposed to borrow a pack saddle, and make the poorest animal do packing service, while I mounted the other. The idea was adopted, and before night we had our provisions all prepared, our blankets ready for strapping, and a pickaxe and shovel selected, in case we should have to stir the earth with an extensive search for the hidden treasure.
In the course of the day, the ex-inspector, after bidding his associates farewell, and telling them that he intended to visit Melbourne on business connected with his resignation, moved all his traps to the store for safe keeping during his absence, and when evening drew on, we lighted our pipes, and in subdued tones spoke of the prospect of finding enough gold to pay us for our journey.
The next morning we were up before daylight, preparing breakfast and attending to the horses, and before the sun was ready to show his face, we were in the saddle, and on our way to the banks of the Lodden, driving the pack horse before us at an easy canter, and enjoying all the beauties of the morning.
We avoided the road which led to Melbourne, and upon which some forty or fifty poor devils were working out their mining tax, and by a cut across the country, in the direction of Mount Tarrengower, were enabled to save some few miles of travel, as well as to avoid answering questions from those whom we met on the road. The latter is no slight labor, as every person on a journey to the mines is desirous of asking the latest news, and whether the gold is as abundant as ever.
By ten o'clock we found that our animals began to suffer from the heat, and as our appetites were pretty well sharpened, we called a halt beneath the shadow of some gum trees, relieved our horses of their saddles, and wet their mouths with water, and after a hearty lunch, leaned back and smoked our pipes with delicious contentment, and without a thought of danger.
We were soon unconscious of every thing around us, and did not awake until past four o'clock, when we once more resumed our journey, and by sundown we had gained a small brook within a few miles of Mount Alexander. Here we proposed to pass the night, and after watering the animals, and stalling them in a good piece of fresh grass, we began to make provision for rest. We had no desire to kindle a fire, for the country in which we were travelling was not entirely safe, and a light would have only attracted attention, which we were desirous of avoiding.
"For once," said Mr. Brown, as he arranged his saddle for a pillow, "I feel as though I should rather regret meeting with bushrangers, for I have every thing to lose, and no honor to gain by a contest. If, therefore, the gentlemen of the bush will only avoid us, I shall feel thankful."
"Do you know this part of the country to be frequented by bushrangers?" I asked, examining my revolver for the first time since we had left Ballarat.
"I don't vouch for their presence, but here is water, and there is food," Mr. Brown said, pointing away to our right; "the scamps are always sure to be located when these two essentials are to be found, and, as a general thing, they show good taste in the selection of their retreats, and when idle, feed upon the choicest parts of sheep or lamb."
"Is there a sheep station near?" I asked, not being aware of it before.
"Within two miles of us, I should judge. It was formerly called Hawswood, in honor of the proprietor; but after the gold fever broke out, he sold it to a man whose name was Buckerly, a fine-looking fellow and bold as a lion. I made his acquaintance when he first landed at Melbourne, accompanied by a wife and children, and advised him to trade at the mines and acquire a fortune; but he was a large-feeling person, and had occupied a good position in England, and I suppose that he considered all kinds of trafficking plebeian, and beneath his dignity.
"Buckerly thought of entering a banking house in the city, but unluckily altered his mind and concluded to raise stock. He met with Hawswood, got an exalted idea of the profits, and without asking advice, paid five thousand pounds for the place and all that was on it. I had serious doubts of the success of his project, especially when he told me that he should move his family to the stock-house immediately, and superintend his estate. The poor fellow thought that it was fitted and furnished like a suburban villa, and his wife, one of the prettiest and most affable women that ever landed in Australia, looked forward, with many expressions of pleasure, to the delightful country residence that she was to occupy with her husband and children."
Mr. Brown stopped, and appeared to be in a reflective mood, while I, who had been dozing, waked up, and requested him to finish.
"I never saw them afterwards, at least alive, but I often heard, by the shepherds in Buckerly's employ, that the bushrangers and he were at war, and that the result could be easily foretold. It seemed that the former were in the habit of taking a sheep or lamb, according to their fancy, whenever hunger dictated, and as they had always done; but Buckerly determined, very foolishly, to stop so unlawful a course, forgetting that he had every thing to lose, and the bushrangers nothing to gain. He was not strong enough to cope with them, and should have bided his time; but he was hot-headed and rash, and at length was unfortunate enough to kill a fellow who had slaughtered a sheep. From that day he was a doomed man, and not only brought destruction upon himself, but upon his family, for one night his house was attacked, and although he made a brave resistance, yet what could one man do against a dozen? He fell with countless stabs upon his body, and then the devils, the fiends incarnate, seized the poor woman and ravished her one by one. Luckily, she did not live to mourn her shame, but died the same night. The children were unmolested, and are now in Melbourne under proper guardianship, and derive their support from the same station, which is carried on by a shepherd who has been there for many years.
"Word was sent to me the day after the transaction, and I made an investigation, but the perpetrators of the outrage were never discovered. There is a tradition, however, and many shepherds in this district believe it, that on certain nights the ghost of Buckerly is seen wandering on the banks of the Loddon, with a winding-sheet covered with blood, and that those who look upon the apparition are sure to be overtaken by misfortune of some sort.
"I don't put much faith in the story," Mr. Brown said, edging towards me, for the night was beginning to grow quite dark, "but still I must confess to a feeling of superstition at times, and why should we not?"
Not knowing why we should not, I merely said, "Ah, indeed, why not?" and as the latter part of the story had awakened me as thoroughly as the first portion had set me to sleep, I refilled my pipe, lighted it, and endeavored, by puffing forth volumes of smoke, to compose my mind, and banish all recollections of ghosts and murders. The effort was futile, for Mr. Brown liked to discuss such matters.
"What is to prevent Buckerly and his wife from visiting this world, and wandering around the scene of their death?"
I hazarded a guess, and thought, that want of breath, and a difficulty that they would experience in getting out of their graves without assistance, would prevent, all such attempts.
"You know that their spirits live, and if that is the case, why can't they enter the body and walk about the earth without difficulty?"
Never having studied the subject, I could not enlighten Mr. Brown as well as I should have desired to; but he apparently was more busy with his own thoughts than my answers, and continued,—
"If Buckerly should make his appearance before us while we were digging for gold, how would we treat him?"
"By giving him a drink from our private bottles," I answered, promptly.
"If he should speak to us, would it be well to answer him? I have read that if you exchange a word with a ghost, the unfortunate can be dragged off without the power to struggle."
"What splendid assistants they would make for private lunatic asylums. Patients could be carried off without trouble, and without attracting attention. I shall think of the matter again."
"Don't speak lightly of such serious matters," cried Mr. Brown, with more solemnity than I ever gave him credit for. "There are many things in this world that we cannot account for, and yet it is out of place to jest about them."
In fact, we were not in a favorable place to talk about ghosts and goblins, for the trees under which we were lying screened the light of the stars, and prevented us from seeing each other. Add to this the night wind wailing through the branches of the gum trees, and the profound silence that reigned around, interrupted only by the movements of the horses, or by the quiet gliding of a snake, which had been to the brook to quench its thirst, and barely ruffled a dead leaf in its course in search of companions. Taking all these things into consideration, I'll confess that I have passed many nights much more pleasant and satisfactory.
"Far be it from me to joke on matters of such grave import," I said. "I have no desire to incur the ill will of any respectable ghost, and, to tell you the truth, I don't think that one with any pretensions to piety would want to intrude his unwelcome presence upon us. There are people enough in the world who rather court such things, but I, for one, do not."
I started up, as I finished speaking, and clapped my hands upon the leg of my trousers, for I felt something squirming next to the skin that did not make me rest as though upon a bed of roses.
"What is the matter?" demanded Mr. Brown; "you don't see any thing, do you?"
"No," I replied, with all the composure possible, "I don't see any thing as yet—I wish that I could. But it strikes me that a snake has run up my trousers leg, and if I am not mistaken, he is wiggling to get out the wrong way."
"Crush him, and then we will hereafter further discuss the subject of ghosts," returned Mr. Brown, with admirable coolness.
"Ghosts be hanged!" I cried, and I have a faint recollection of adding an oath. "They don't trouble me half as much as the feelings of this varmint, whom I have secured by his head or tail, I don't know which."
"Shake yourself, and let him slide," my friend advised; but I preferred to hold on and trust to chance, and find out whether the reptile was of the poisonous species, or the common green kind.
"Excuse me, but if you will light a match and a few leaves, and then insert your hand up one of my trousers legs, I think that we can conquer the reptile."
"The position which you assign me is none of the most pleasant, my friend," Mr. Brown said, "for I don't know what part of the reptile is in your hand, and what kind of an animal you are struggling with. I will comply with your request, though, if I lose my life in accomplishing it."
He hastily collected a few leaves, struck a match and set fire to them. The flames gave sufficient light for the purpose, and in less than a minute's time Mr. Brown was ready to work.
"Steady with your hand," he said, as he passed his arm up my trousers leg in search of the squirming reptile. "In less than ten seconds we shall be either laughing or crying."
The snake, as though aware that its time was near, made a desperate attempt to escape, but I held fast, although I confess that the effort cost me more mental resolution than I ever exercised before, for the position in which I was situated was no envious one. I felt the cold perspiration streaming down my face in large drops, and my heart beat as though it was attempting to force its way through my side, and go into business on its own account, independent of the body.
"For God's sake, be quick," I cried, fearing that I should faint before my friend accomplished his object.
"Patience, patience—don't get into a rage, for it will not help us. If the snake is of the poisonous species, a few seconds will not make much difference; and if the reptile is harmless, were it not for the feeling of the thing, it might as well lodge in your trousers as in any other part of our camp equipage. Don't jerk so—the thing has nerves as well as yourself."
Much more did Mr. Brown say, but I was in no humor to talk, or even to listen; and yet I can now frankly confess that if he had not made light of my misfortune I should have suffered ten times the amount of mental agony that I did. His jesting style of treating the affair was alone sufficient to make me keep up my spirits, and imagine the matter as one of less consequence than it really was.
"Now, then, are you ready?" cried Mr. Brown, "and I felt the snake suddenly cease its gyrations and strain to effect its escape, but I held on with a hand of iron.
"When I say three, do you let go suddenly," my friend exclaimed.
I was only too willing.
It seemed an age between the monosyllables, yet I held on patiently.
I released my hold, and Mr. Brown, with a quick movement of his hand, dashed the reptile to the ground, and stamped upon it with his heavy boots.
"Now let us see what species it is," he said, kicking it towards the fire. A moment's examination, and a hearty laugh set my fears at rest.
"You might have slept with a dozen beneath you, and no harm would have happened. It is nothing but a green snake, and a small one at that."
I could hardly believe the welcome news, and a personal inspection was necessary to convince me of the fact, and then a strong drink from my flask was needful to compose my nerves, and render me a fit subject for sleep.
"Let me give you a word of advice," Mr. Brown said, joining me in the drink with wonderful alacrity. "Never again camp out without seeing that the bottoms of your trousers are shoved tight into the tops of your boots. This simple precaution sometimes saves much trouble and suffering. I again drink to your lucky escape."
"If you do, try the contents of your own bottle, then, for mine is running low."
Mr. Brown did not heed my request, and I had the satisfaction of hearing the liquor gurgling down his throat as though he liked it exceedingly; and when he did return the bottle, he gave me more fatherly advice, which was to the effect that I should carry a larger flask during my travels, if I expected to be successful in life, and die happy.
JOURNEY AFTER THE BURIED TREASURE.
I have a distinct impression that I was thinking on the subject when sleep overtook me, and when I was awakened Mr. Brown was already rolling up his blankets and making his toilet.
"Come," he exclaimed, "let us be stirring before sunrise, and by ten o'clock we can reach the banks of the Loddon. Get the kettle from the pack, and we will have a cup of coffee for breakfast."
While I was unpacking the miscellaneous articles which the pack horse was compelled to carry, Mr. Brown started a fire, and in a short time the fumes of boiling coffee mingled with the fragrance of the numerous flowers which grew upon the banks of the stream.
"How did you sleep?" I inquired, while cooling my pot of coffee, and eating my cake of bread, seasoned with a small piece of salt pork, which I had broiled on a stick.
"Not very soundly, I must confess, yet I think that I can get through the day without a siesta. By the way, how you do snore!"
"Do?" I asked, "I didn't know that you was sufficiently awake during the night to discover the fact. But a truce to jesting. What direction do we travel to reach the Loddon?"
"We have got to ford this stream, and follow the bank for about three miles, where we cross the country in the direction of Mount Tarrengower, which we cannot see from this spot; after we have gained the Loddon, we are to find a sheep path that will lead us to a plain, in the centre of which is a small barren strip, surrounded on all sides, excepting one, with quicksands and bogs. Bill told me that the path would lead almost direct to the spot, and that I could not fail to recognize it, as thousands of sheep resort there every week for the purpose of licking the salt that is constantly forming under the action of brackish water and a burning sun."
"And Mount Tarrengower—how far is that from the place indicated?" I inquired.
"Not more than a mile, I should judge, for at twelve o'clock at night the full moon, partly concealed by the mountain, throws a shadow exactly upon the edge of the spot where we are to dig."
I considered the direction rather blind, but Mr. Brown seemed so confident that I thought I would not dash his spirits by grave misgivings. I was in a reflective mood, however, while assisting to pack up, and saddle our animals, and I thought how Fred would laugh if we returned empty-handed.
We mounted our animals and rode along the bank of the stream for a few rods, until we reached what we supposed to be a good fording place, for we saw the prints of animals' feet in profusion on both sides of the brook.
"I will cross first," Mr. Brown said, "and then you can drive the pack horse over, and follow after him."
I made no objections to the suggestion, but I thought I would watch his course narrowly, and see how deep the dark-looking water really was before I ventured to cross upon what seemed to me a very uncertain soil.
"Here I go," my friend exclaimed, striking his reluctant animal, who didn't appear to relish the expedition.
The spirited animal bounded under the blow, and dashed down the bank, sinking to his knees at every step in the light soil, and straining badly to carry his master in safety to the opposite side. The water was only up to the saddle girths, and the stream was not more than twenty feet wide, yet I feared that both horse and rider would sink before my eyes in the treacherous quicksands which composed the bed of the brook.
"Use whip and spur," I shouted, "or you will lose your horse."
Mr. Brown understood his danger full as well as myself. He lifted the animal with his bridle, and then drove his sharp spurs into his panting sides, but in spite of his most violent exertions the gallant gray floundered about, and did not make an inch headway, and with prompt action was alone enabled to draw one foot and then another from the sands, and prevent being swallowed alive.
The dark water was lashed into foam by the struggle, and yet I could offer no assistance to my friend or his horse. It seemed to me that each moment the latter was sinking deeper and deeper, and in a few moments must disappear from sight.
Mr. Brown appeared to entertain the same opinion, for he disengaged his feet from the stirrups, and threw himself from the animal, striking the water flat upon his stomach, and swimming, with quick strokes, towards the opposite bank, which he gained, and by aid of the branch of a gum tree, which overhung the brook, succeeded in swinging his light form upon solid earth.
The horse, relieved of the weight of his rider, seemed encouraged to renewed exertions, and after prodigious efforts, emerged from the quicksands, and uttered a neigh, as though rejoicing at his escape.
"You will have to go farther up," shouted Mr. Brown, shaking himself, and looking at his soiled clothes rather ruefully. "The bed of the brook is so quidling, that it won't bear the weight of a mosquito; and if you should commence sinking, the Lord only knows when you would stop, or where."
Not wishing to test the truth of his assertion, I rode along the bank of the brook nearly a mile, until I found a place where the water was more than six inches deep, with a solid bed of gravel. At this spot I crossed without trouble, and then we continued our journey across the country, Mount Tarrengower looming up before us like a giant amid pigmies.
"Devilish narrow escape for me and the horse," Mr. Brown said, while walking our animals over some rough ground; "I thought at one time that we both would have to go under, and I began to think of a prayer or two. I knew something would happen to us after talking about poor Buckerly in the manner that we did."
"Do you really think so?" I asked, hardly knowing whether he was quizzing me or was serious.
"Upon my word I am not jesting. I have too much superstition in my composition to think of spirits in any light, excepting that of the utmost respect; for why should not the dead revenge themselves upon the living if so disposed?"
"If that is your belief, how do you reconcile the fact of your having killed so many bushrangers, and yet escape their persecutions?" I inquired.
"Simply because the bad have not the power to injure the good."
I laughed so heartily at the explanation, that even my friend suffered his grim visage to relax a little.
"You may smile," he said, "but it's just as I tell you."
I saw that he was in earnest, so let the matter drop—but the conversation was afterwards renewed and discussed in all its lights and bearings, but still without arriving at any satisfactory conclusion.
It was near twelve o'clock when we reached the river, which was about three feet deep and forty wide. After hunting for some time we discovered the ford, and crossed without difficulty. We found ourselves in an immense grazing district, where ten thousand sheep could have been pastured without trouble or fear of their suffering for food.
The difficulty which we then experienced was to find the right path that was to lead us to the salt lick, but even that was overcome at length, and we galloped along the trail which we supposed that Bill meant, with bright anticipations of a successful termination of our mission.
Suddenly Mr. Brown reined up, and called to me to stop a moment.
"If I am not mistaken," he said, pointing with his whip towards a cluster of gum tress and bushes that stood upon a small mound near our right, "I saw a human being dodge behind one of those trees, after watching us for a few minutes."
"Let us make an examination," I replied. "We want no spies upon our actions in this matter, and if we are to be followed, we had better find out what is wanted." I turned my horse's head as I spoke, and was riding in the direction indicated, when my friend stopped me.
"Don't be rash in this matter, for we don't know how many men are concealed in that clump of bushes, watching our movements. Let us ride on and stop when concealed by those trees in the distance. From that place we can watch movements in this quarter securely."
I considered Mr. Brown's advice the best, and we adopted it without further discussion. Once or twice I looked back, but I could see nothing that would excite suspicion, and I began to think that my friend's fears were groundless.
When once concealed, however, beneath the shadow of the trees we dismounted, and watched patiently—and were presently rewarded by seeing a man, armed with a long gun, steal quietly from the bushes which we had passed, and make towards Mount Tarrengower as though in a hurry to reach some location without a moment's delay.
"It is no use to give chase," Mr. Brown said, seeing me make a movement towards my horse. "Even if we should bring the fellow to close quarters, one of us would have to bite the dust; for let me tell you a secret that may be of some value to you hereafter in case you are anxious for a fight. Every man in this country who carries a long gun is a good shot, and can hit his object with as much certainty as your famed Kentucky riflemen. So you can see that we should get no honor or profit by giving chase to yonder long-legged fellow, who, if I am not much mistaken, is better acquainted with this section of the country than ourselves. Let him go. He is probably a shepherd; been on a visit to a neighboring station, or else out on a tour of observation to look after bushrangers."
"How near are we to a station?" I asked, still following with my eyes the tall form of the stranger, who jumped from side to side with scarce an effort, and who did not appear to regard the heat any more than a salamander.
"As near as I can judge," my companion said, "we are still on the lands belonging to the Hawswood station, although I am not certain. Adjoining those lands is a station owned by a number of Melbourne merchants, and the stock-house should be off towards the mountain. At least, it was there three years ago, during the first and only time that I ever visited these parts."
"Here we are at last," Mr. Brown said, pointing to a small strip of land containing not more than a quarter of an acre, surrounded by those treacherous bogs which are familiar to all who ever visited the plains of Australia.
"That must be the spot indicated," he continued, surveying it with a keen eye, "yet I can see no means of reaching the island. The bog, which looks crusted over and hard, would not bear the weight of a lamb, much less that of a man; yet that is just such a spot as a shrewd bushranger would select for depositing his plunder, simply because no one would think of looking there for it."
"Let us dismount and stake out our animals, and then examine the spot at our leisure. If that is the place, we will find means for reaching it, even if we have to build a bridge, or buy a pontoon of India rubber."
My companion accepted the advice, and under the shadow of a cluster of stunted, gnarled trees, we removed the saddles, and then prepared our dinner, which we stood in some need of, having been without food from the time that we started in the morning, long before sunrise.
"I wish that a flock of sheep would stray this way," Mr. Brown said, while scraping some dried grass together for the purpose of making a fire, while I was occupied in undoing the pack which contained our provisions, as well as our tools and cooking utensils; "I feel like having a mutton chop for supper," he continued.
"Behold your wish," I replied, pointing to a flock of about a thousand sheep, led by a patriarch, whose horns proclaimed many hard-fought battles, just winding their way towards the salt lick from behind a small knoll that stood between us and Mount Tarrengower.
Mr. Brown coolly drew his revolver, and apparently calculated the distance.
"What do you intend to do?" I asked, seating myself on the pack, and watching his proceedings.
"Have a mutton chop for supper, if those animals come within pistol shot. Keep quiet, and don't alarm them, and you will see how delicate I will do the trick."
I was too hungry to make many objections, and therefore followed the advice of my friend. On came the flock, the old patriarch at their head, unsuspicious of danger, and thinking probably of the rich treat which he was about to confer upon his numerous harem, by allowing them to partake of a bit of salt grass at the close of the day.
We were so well concealed by the trunks of the trees, that the sheep, generally wild and suspicious of strangers, did not discover us until the old ram was within about two rods of our hiding place; then he suddenly stopped, and snuffed the air as though he smelled an enemy, and the flock, governed by his actions and motions, likewise halted and looked around, to discover the cause of the commotion.
For a few seconds all was quiet, with the exception of a number of bleating lambs in the rear, and just as the ram was once more elevating his head to scent the air, Mr. Brown fired. A fine fat ewe sprang into the air, and then rolled over and over in the agonies of death.
"A good shot!" cried Mr. Brown, but hardly were the words from his mouth when there was a rushing sound, and before I could interfere, or raise my voice in warning, the old patriarch had charged past me. My comrade saw his danger, but disdained to use his revolver in such a quarrel, or even to fly. He probably thought that he could seize the ram by his horns, and arrest his career without a violent effort, but if such were his intentions he was bitterly disappointed, for the old patriarch possessed the strength and power of a dozen ordinary sheep, and possibly had battled with many bushrangers for the preservation of his flock from decimation.
On rushed the ram with the speed of a race horse. He passed me without notice, his eyes glowing like coals of fire, and every muscle in his neck stretched for the encounter. His wives did not offer to fly, but stood watching the result of the old fellow's charge, evidently quite confident of the ultimate result.
When the ram was within three feet of my companion, he thought that it was about time to make good his retreat, seeing that his opponent was disposed to be in earnest.
Mr. Brown started back suddenly, and then turned to dodge behind a tree where he could have laughed his enemy to scorn. But unfortunately he was too late in making up his mind, and just as he turned, the ram struck him upon that portion of his body which presents the broadest basis, and in a twinkling over went my friend, as though shot from a mortar.
I could not, for the life of me, help laughing at the sight, and yet I was not disposed to interfere between them. It was a fair fight, and I wanted to see it out.
I will give the ram the credit of acting in a fair and manly manner, for after he had floored his opponent, he stood perfectly still until Mr. Brown began to scramble up, and after he had gained his knees, the old fellow evidently labored under the impression that more work was cut for him. With a fierce stamp the ram retreated a few feet, and then rushed on like lightning. Mr. Brown was thrown headlong to the ground, and then he began to look upon the contest as one not to be despised. I heard the click of his revolver, and I knew that his thoughts were deadly, but I resolved to save the life of so gallant an opponent.
"Don't fire," I shouted; "it is a pity to kill the old fellow for defending his wives. How would you like it?"
"Call him off then, or d—— his long horns, I'll blow a hole through him large enough to take in a pack saddle," cried Mr. Brown, still maintaining his recumbent attitude, as though no longer desirous of provoking a battle.
The task was not difficult. Indeed the ram had grown so inflated with victory that he was ready to pitch into every thing living, and I had only to show myself and manifest a hostile attitude to accomplish my purpose. The very first motion that I made with my head attracted his attention. He turned from a fallen foe with disdain, and braced himself for a new conflict. I made a second motion with my head suggestive of butting, and on he came, but I was prepared for him. Springing nimbly aside, I let him strike the hard pack saddle with all his force, and the result did not disappoint me. The saddle yielded, and over and over went the ram, until he picked himself up about two rods from the spot where I stood awaiting a renewal of the attack with much patience.
I did not have to wait long. With a toss of his shaggy head the old fellow took deliberate aim, and came towards me. I waited until he got under full headway, and then stepped behind a tree that my body had screened. The crash was terrible. The ram rebounded several paces, and rolled over and over, kicking violently, and when he did struggle to his feet he winked his eyes rapidly, as though afflicted with a headache of a violent nature. For a few minutes we stood looking at each other in silence, and then the old patriarch wagged his tail slowly, and moved towards his wives, with rather a crestfallen appearance.
THE HUNT FOR THE BURIED TREASURE.
"How do you feel?" I asked of my companion, who was sitting where he had fallen the second time.
"Feel," he replied, placing his hand upon that portion of his body supposed to be the sorest, "why I could readily imagine that I had ridden a hard trotting horse all day."
"Why didn't you spring aside?" I asked; "you saw the animal measuring the distance, and could have got out of the way."
"Can a man dodge a streak of lightning or a thunder bolt? If he could, there would he some use attempting to get beyond the reach of that crooked horn devil when he starts on a butting expedition. I believe no bones are broken, for which, I suppose, I must feel thankful."
My friend arose, shook himself, and then declared that he felt no serious inconvenience from his bruises; and while I started a fire he undertook to skin the sheep, and get a portion of his meat ready for dinner.
It was near four o'clock before we got ready to commence our explorations of the island where we supposed the treasure to be concealed. I suggested carrying the shovel, but Mr. Brown, with a degree of superstition that I was not prepared to give him credit for, would not listen to the idea for a moment, on the pretence that if we made any movement for the treasure, except during the night time, we should be defeated in our purpose.
I laughed at such a whim; but it was in vain that I attempted to change his ideas, and then to humor him, so that in case we were not successful in our search, no blame could be attached to me, I consented to be governed as he wished, and we walked towards the spot which corresponded with the directions of Bill Swinton.
We found the island, a rather small spot of earth, as he had stated, surrounded by bogs, with the exception of a narrow peninsula, not over a foot in width, and more than forty in length. It was a singular formation, surrounded as it was on all sides by soft mud, black and bottomless, for I attempted with the branch of a tree, some thirty feet long, to sound, but the limb sunk slowly out of sight, and the slime quickly gathered in the opening, and hid the place where the pole went down. I thought if one of us should lose his balance and fall while crossing the natural bridge, what little probability there would be of a rescue. The same sentiments disturbed the mind of my friend, for he uttered words of caution, and even removed a good sized stone that was lying on the path, for fear of stumbling over it in the night time.
We walked carefully to the island—as I shall call it—and then examined the unequal surface of the ground for indications of what we sought. The grass was dried up, and seemed to be of equal length in every gulley and every hole that we passed over; neither could we discover any indications that the earth had been moved for many years, but that was not surprising, for the winter rains would have washed away all superfluous soil, even if a man like Swinton, who was cunning and up to all kinds of dodges, had not taken the precaution to remove all traces of his concealed treasure.
"It is no use," Mr. Brown said, wiping the perspiration from his face, and seating himself on a small rock, "for us to dig at random. We should get nothing for our labor. We must wait until to-morrow night, when the moon fulls, and precisely at twelve o'clock a shadow will be cast upon the spot."
"If the sky is filled with clouds what are we to do?" I asked.
That was something that Mr. Brown had not thought of. He mopped his face with renewed energy, and looked puzzled.
"Can't we make a calculation if such a thing should happen?" my companion inquired.
I didn't know but that we might, and relieved the heart of Mr. Brown of a great weight by the admission.
It was useless for us to sit there and speculate; so after another hasty glance over the island, with no bettor luck than before, we returned to our camp, and got ready for passing the night, which was fast approaching.
As soon as it was dark, however, and while Mr. Brown was getting ready his blankets, I suggested, much to his astonishment, a change in our camp, and recommended retreating to the banks of the Lodden, where we could find water for our animals, and good quarters for ourselves.
"In the name of humanity, haven't we travelled enough for one day?" my friend demanded. "The horses will not suffer for water, because a heavy dew is falling. We have a keg full for our own use, and what more do you desire?"
"I have a great reluctance to waking up and finding a knife held at my throat," I replied, "by some gentleman who has more courage than money. We have a pretty establishment here, and many a bushranger would be glad to relieve us of our property without asking permission."
"Pooh! there's no danger of their finding us under these trees. Go to sleep, and get a good night's rest, and to-morrow we will have another search for the treasure."
"Listen a moment, and then judge whether my advice is needless. We have been seen, and our footsteps dogged to-day, by some person not desirous of our acquaintance. Do you suppose that he lost sight of us for a moment, from the time we passed the gum trees until we went into ambush to watch his movements? Don't you think that if the stranger is disposed to bring a flock of devils on our track, he could find us here while sleeping? whereas, if we quietly move our animals to the river, we shall throw him off the scent and rest secure. What do you think of the idea?"
"I like the plan, and wonder that I never thought of it," replied Mr. Brown, starting up and hastily securing his blanket. "Let us lose no time in getting back to the river."
We carried our pack a short distance from the trees and concealed it in a clump of bushes, and then mounting our horses we quietly walked them the whole distance to the Lodden, where we found a secure place for camping, and with confidence in our scheme we went to sleep, and rested undisturbed until morning.
At daybreak we were on our way back to the island, and found our pack where we had left it, but Mr. Brown's quick eye detected a change in its appearance.
"Some one has overhauled our stores during the night," he said, "and hang me if the scamp has not drank all my liquor."
He held up his flask to confirm his words. It was empty, but I pretended that he must have drank it himself by mistake.
"Don't tell me that I don't know when good liquor is running down my throat, and that I used all I brought in one day. Haven't I been unusually careful, and drank from your flask two or three times, so that mine would hold out for the trip? Whoever the thief is, and I hope to see him some day, he deserves a halter."
An examination showed that every article that was in the pack had been taken out and then replaced carefully, but we missed the largest portion of our coffee and sugar, and over two thirds of our tobacco. If the robber had been a malicious one he could easily have carried off all that we possessed, but as he did not I was disposed to pardon him. Not so with Mr. Brown, however. He vowed vengeance, and was only appeased when I gave him a drink from my flask, which I luckily had carried with me the night before, to be used in case of snake bite.
I had but little doubt that the mysterious robber was the same person whom we had seen the day before, and I could readily believe that he was laughing at our dismay, at no great distance, and watching our movements with some curiosity. I regretted that I had not brought Rover with me, for he would have been worth a dozen sentinels in the night time, but owing to Fred's strong solicitations I had left him at the store in Ballarat. There was no help for us now, and we determined to put as good a face on the matter as possible, to husband our resources, and go on a short allowance of the two great staples in a campaign—rum and tobacco.