We passed the day by visiting the island and sleeping by turns. Towards night we carried our tools to the place where we expected to dig for the gold, and starting before sundown rode our animals to the river and watered them, so that they would not break away from their stakes during the night for the purpose of slaking their thirst. Then we waited impatiently for darkness for the purpose of once more changing our camping ground, and this time we left nothing behind. Our quarters were fixed at a short distance from the island, so that when the moon was up we could keep our eyes on the horses, yet not be seen on the main land.
At eleven o'clock the first rays of the full moon became visible from behind Mount Tarrengower. The night was awful quiet, and not a living thing had approached us, and not a sound had we heard, except an occasional bleat of a lamb, off towards the stock-house on our left.
"Let us be moving for the island," Mr. Brown said, almost in a whisper, for the solemnity of the scene was bringing back all his superstitions and fears.
I readily consented, and, lighting our pipes, we walked slowly towards the peninsula, crossed it, and then waited calmly for the shadow which the mountain was to throw upon the spot of earth where the robber's treasure was buried. Our pickaxe and shovel remained where we had left them, although I could not help fancying that they had been handled since I had thrown them down. I said nothing to my friend on the subject, however, for he was too full of imaginative fancies to be consulted and listened to.
Time passed slowly while we sat and watched the shadow which was creeping over the bogs, as the moon rose behind the mountain. I consulted my watch and found that it was nearly twelve, but just at that moment a white cloud passed over the moon, and our hopes seemed dashed. The shadow was no longer to be seen; we watched that white cloud as though our lives depended upon its disappearing, but still it lingered, like a veil covering the face of a coquette—anxious, to reveal the beauty which was concealed, yet taking pleasure in exciting expectation.
"What time is it?" whispered Mr. Brown.
I held my watch before him, while I again scanned the heavens.
"It is just twelve o'clock," my companion whispered.
Hardly had the words escaped his lips, before the cloud disappeared, and the moon looked down with a roguish twinkle. We started to our feet, when, lo! precisely where we stood was the edge of the shadow, cast in the form of a cross, with the upper part resting towards us.
Mr. Brown seized the pickaxe and struck it into the ground, and as he did so I thought that I heard a low groan. I could not tell in what direction it came from, yet I would have sworn that it originated on the island. I glanced at the face of my companion, but he was too intent upon the business before him to notice my look, or to pay any attention to the sound that had disturbed my composure.
"There is one thing I wish to caution you about," my companion said, pausing in his work; "don't speak while we are digging, or the gold will vanish from our sight like magic. You understand."
I nodded in the affirmative, although I had no faith in his advice, or in the necessity of maintaining silence. I considered that the devil and his imps would not care about interesting themselves in a matter which could do them no good, and might hurt their friends.
Mr. Brown glanced around the island, saw that every thing was quiet, and then recommenced his labor with energy and determination.
About the second blow that he struck was answered by a groan so unearthly that I began to entertain serious ideas regarding the propriety of joining a church, or attempting a prayer of some sort. My companion did not seem to notice the interruption, and I remembered his instruction not to speak, so I did not intrude my thoughts in relation to the matter upon him.
A dozen blows with the pickaxe removed the dead grass, and exposed a soil such as two thirds of Australia is composed of, a light sand, soft, and not suitable for agricultural purposes.
Mr. Brown made a motion for me to use the shovel, and I was about to do so, but a groan, louder and more unearthly than the original ones, prevented me.
"What, in the devil's name, is that?" demanded my friend, looking around the island with some symptoms of alarm and curiosity, forgetting, in his eagerness for information, that speaking aloud was strictly prohibited while digging for the gold.
"Perhaps one of your ghosts that you have talked so much about, or it may be the spirit of Bill Swinton, desirous of claiming a share in the booty."
"I don't think that," my friend said, after a short pause; "after all the trouble I had with him—furnishing the candles to die by, and allowing him luxuries of the most costly description, I don't think that he would be so mean."
"Then let us solve our doubts by making search over the island," I replied, drawing my revolver, determined to shoot at whatever I saw, let it be man or beast, devil or ghost.
"No, no—don't do that; we should he decoyed into a bog by an ignis fatuus, and smothered without mercy. Let us stay where we are, and dig until we see sights that make us abandon the project."
I agreed to be guided by Mr. Brown's advice, and once more we began to toil amid the rocks and dead grass.
About this time the moon, which had shone with wonderful brightness while we were digging, became obscured by white clouds from the westward, so that objects on the island were more indistinct, and even the trees on the main land, under which we had left our horses, were no longer discernable.
I thought, as I threw out the earth from the hole which we had already made, that the ground had been dug up before, and I felt encouraged to continue my labors, in hopes that we should soon reach the treasure which we considered belonged to us by bequest.
All thoughts of ghosts and spirits were fast passing away in the excitement of my occupation, when suddenly Mr. Brown dropped his pickaxe and uttered an exclamation.
"Did you hear that?" he cried, pointing in the direction from whence he supposed the sound proceeded.
"No," I answered, beginning to feel a little of his own alarm.
"If this d——d island isn't haunted, I wouldn't say so," my companion continued.
"Remember the compact which you proposed, that we were not to exchange a word during our occupation."
"The devil take the compact, and me, too, if I can help speaking when I hear such unearthly noises."
Hardly were the words out of his mouth when from the earth arose a form that seemed at least ten feet high. It was clothed in white, and from its head projected two monstrous horns, which were pointed towards us in a threatening manner. I could discern no features, but a huge mass of white bones were visible where the face should have been, and I thought that I could hear them rattle as the beast, devil, or ghost shook its head in an ominous manner, and advanced towards us.
"I can't stand this?" cried Mr. Brown, in a trembling whisper, and away he went, with the speed of a greyhound, towards the bridge that connected the island with the main land.
I did not think that words were desirable or becoming on my part, as I did not have charge of the expedition, so no sooner had Mr. Brown turned to run than I followed him.
Fear lent me wings, and I bounded over the rocks like a deer pursued by hunters, but in despite of my utmost endeavors I found that I was unable to compete with my friend, who ran as though trained for ten mile stretches upon a race course.
Once I looked back to see if we were followed, but the white visitant appeared content with driving us off, for no pursuit was made.
I had half an idea of stopping, but another groan, more unnatural and ghostly than any that I had heard, determined me, and I recommenced my flight with but faint hope of overtaking Mr. Brown, who, I perceived, was already on the peninsula, bounding along with a recklessness that would have made him shudder at any other time. I attempted to utter a warning cry, but the effort was a failure, and just as I reached the bridge I saw that my worst fears were realized, for my friend caught his feet in the long, dried grass, lost his balance, and fell heavily.
I quickly gained the spot, and saw, to my horror, that my companion had fallen upon the soft, black mud which extended for many acres on each side of the island, and that he was slowly sinking, in spite of his frantic efforts to reach the bridge, which was about six feet from his outstretched arms.
"Save me!" he cried, in despairing accents, and just then the moon, as though in mockery of his request, shone out brighter than ever.
He made an almost superhuman effort to sustain himself, and keep from sinking, but I saw, with horror, that he was settling slowly and surely, and that all his struggles only hastened his end.
"Can you do nothing for me?" he shrieked. "For God's sake, don't let me die such a horrid death as this. Try and save me."
I thought of a dozen different ways to assist him, but none of them were practicable, and I was obliged to conjure up others.
"Can you reach my hand?" I asked, stretching it towards him, first taking the precaution of twisting my left hand in a clump of dried grass, so that I, too, should not be dragged into the bog.
The poor fellow made a frantic effort to do so, but he could not reach within six inches.
"Lean a little more towards me," he shrieked, but I did not dare to, for I should have shared his fate, and both of us would have smothered, and our friends would never have learned our fate.
My companion uttered a groan, and for a moment was silent. During the brief period, I heard, with awful distinctness, the sound of the pickaxe, as it was struck against the rocks upon the island, worked, I had no doubt, by supernatural hands.
THE ISLAND GHOST.—NARROW ESCAPE OF MR. BROWN.
I would sooner have faced the most savage gang of bushrangers in Australia than that fearful sound, yet I was so anxious to save my friend that, frightened as I really was, I did not run, or even make a motion to that effect. The drowning man, with face upturned, and eyes that watched my every motion, at length heard the dull, heavy blows of the pick, and he seemed to comprehend that they were intended as warnings of his end. He no longer struggled like a brave man wrestling with death, but seemed to grow more calm as the slime and mud closed around him, and his body settled.
"How can I save you?" I asked; "I cannot think that we are to part so suddenly; I would give all my wealth for a rope six feet long."
"If you had one of the horses' bridles here," suggested Mr. Brown, but before I could start to get one, he continued, "don't leave me, for I should be smothered before you could get back; see, the water is up even with my chin."
I had noticed the same thing before he alluded to it, and I dreaded to remain and hear his last struggles for breath.
"I have a mother somewhere on the coast of England; the last that I heard of her she was at Falmouth. Will you write and collect what money I have saved, and send it to her? I know that you will, and a dying man thanks you."
While the poor fellow was speaking, a thought entered my head that he might yet be saved, but there was no time to lose if I intended to put into operation my plan for his relief. I hastily tore off my belt which I wore around my waist, and which contained my revolver and knife, and then stripped off my trousers, (the ladies will please not to blush—there was no habitation within three miles of us,) made of stout woollen cloth, which I had bought in Melbourne for the purpose of riding through the brush on horseback.
In an instant my friend appeared to comprehend my plan; he raised his right hand from the mud and reached towards me as far as possible, and then, with a struggle to keep his head above the water, murmured—"Quick, for God's sake, quick!"
"Keep up your courage," I shouted, throwing one leg of the garment towards him, while I retained the other.
To my great joy I saw that he grasped it in his right hand, and exerted all his strength to extricate himself from his perilous condition. Had I not have been prepared for his struggles, and braced my feet firmly, I should have been dragged into the bog.
"Gently!" I cried, fearful that my friend, in his exertions, would rend the cloth.
My words were thrown away, however, for when did a man, struggling for life, ever listen to reason? For a few seconds the suction was so great that I could only prevent him from sinking lower, and keep his head above the mud, until at length I recommended him to endeavor to work his legs loose, so that he could rest upon his stomach, as though he was attempting to swim.
Brown followed my advice, and when he saw that there was a certain prospect of being saved he grew quite calm, and soon I had the satisfaction of reaching out my hand, grasping one of his own, and dragging him upon the peninsula, a little the worse for his contact with the bog, but cheerful, and disposed to regard his adventure in the light of a joke.
"My dear friend," he exclaimed, clasping my hand, and I thought he was about to pour forth a profusion of thanks for my services, "let me advise you to put your trousers on as soon as possible, for these blasted mosquitoes will devour you alive."
I think that his recommendation was the best evidence of his attachment that I could possibly have desired, for I had been so inwrapt with the business before me that I had not heeded the cloud of ferocious insects hovering around my naked extremities, filling their bodies with my life blood, and causing me to almost desire a bath in the bog, for the purpose of getting rid of my tormentors.
I hurried on my clothes without loss of time, and then desired to know in what manner I could help him.
"Let me get away from this place first, and then secure a wash, and a change of clothing, for I feel as though I had been fished out of a molasses hogshead," Mr. Brown said, scraping the mud from his shirt and pants, and even taking it from his pockets by handfuls.
"What made you run in the manner that you did?" he asked, as I assisted him to rise.
"I but followed your example, and I begin to think that I followed a very poor one," I replied.
"I am of the same opinion, for I don't believe that we saw any thing excepting a ram anxious for a hunting match. Let us return."
As my friend ceased speaking we glanced at the island, and that one look was sufficient to start us towards the main land in double quick time, for, standing at the end of the peninsula, with one arm raised in a threatening manner, as though warning us against a renewed attempt for the treasure, was the white figure which had first frightened us.
"That is Buckerly's ghost," gasped Mr. Brown, as we gained the palm trees under which the horses were hitched; "I know it is his spirit, from the many descriptions which I have heard concerning it."
"What do you propose to do?" I asked, beginning, now that I was some distance from the object of my terror, to entertain serious doubts in relation to the spirituality of the visitant.
"Do?" repeated Mr. Brown, "what can we do against a ghost?"
"We can at least find out what claims it has upon the treasure, and whether it requires a fair dividend in case we are successful. Come, change your clothes, and let us return and question this wonderful visitant."
"Would you dare to speak first?" demanded Mr. Brown, in astonishment. "Don't you know, or have you not read, that the person who holds conversation with a ghost dies within a week?"
"A week is better than a day, so we can have time to think of our sins and get prepared for the event. Come, let us return like men and face this white object, and see what kind of stuff it is made of."
While I was urging Mr. Brown I did not have the faintest idea that he would accede to my request. In fact, I rather hoped that he would not, for, in spite of my expressed doubts in relation to the ghost, I was more than half inclined to believe that there was something supernatural about it. A desire to make my companion think that I was more reckless than himself prompted me to attempt to combat his fears.
While I was talking, Mr. Brown was changing his clothes, and getting a portion of the mud from his person by means of the contents of the water-keg, and when he had succeeded I think that his courage revived, for he asked me for the loan of my flask; and when I handed it to him, he lowered its contents materially, and then declared that he felt better than when he was up to his neck in mud.
"You say that you are anxious to return and have an interview with the old fellow with horns on his head?" Mr. Brown asked, and I observed a wonderful change in his bearing all at once, which I could only attribute to putting on clean clothes, or due to the magical influence of my flask. I was inclined to the latter opinion, and therefore tasted the liquor for the purpose of seeing if I could not get a little Dutch courage.
"The fact of it is," my friend continued, "I am inclined to think that we have been frightened at a shadow, and therefore I am in favor of returning to the island without delay. No blasted ghost is to keep me from the treasure which was bequeathed to me in due form by its owner, and for which I paid him in candles, six to a pound. How does the liquor hold out?"
I shook the flask, and found that almost half a pint remained.
"I think that a quantity of salt mud got in my mouth, for I have a bad taste which nothing but brandy can remove. Let me have another spoonful, and then we will start with courage enough to face the devil.
"A man," my companion exclaimed, throwing back his head and looking full at the moon, "should never depend upon liquor for courage, for in the moment of danger he wants all his self-possession. I only make the remark," he continued, as he handed me back the empty flask, "to warn you against drinking any thing of an intoxicating nature upon the eve of an important expedition."
"Your advice is good," I remarked, "and to help me carry it out you have drained the flask of its last drop. The next time we go on an expedition, I wish that you would practise what you preach."
"This is an ungrateful world," Mr. Brown remarked, as he rose from the saddle upon which he had been seated, and steadied himself by holding on my shoulder. "I have drank your liquor merely out of friendship, and now I am reproached for my kindness; I didn't expect it."
"I didn't expect that you would help yourself so liberally," I replied, laughing at his quiet humor. "But come along, if you intend to reach the island before day, for it's said that ghosts don't walk during daylight."
"Look first to your revolver, for mine is in a deplorable condition, and wouldn't go if I should carry it. The barrel is filled with mud, and the chambers with salt."
"Remember, there is to be no running away this time," I said, as I replaced my revolver in my belt, having found it in good order and condition. I almost wished, as I spoke, that Brown would decline going, and find some valid excuse for declining. But there was no hope for that. He had drank too much, and was as full of pluck as an Irishman on a Fair day.
"No fear of me, my boy," he cried, as we started towards the peninsula, walking rather slow, however. "I am determined to see what kind of a devil is on the island, even if I tumble into the bog again. You are sure," he continued, "that the liquor is exhausted?"
"I am sorry for that, 'cos it is good to keep the stomach in order, when mixed with a little river water. Although, to save trouble, I like it, as a general thing, with as little of the latter as possible, for fear of disorders and snakes."
We were within five rods of the bridge, when we suddenly stopped, as though by mutual consent, and looked at each other for a few moments in silence.
"Well?" said my companion.
"Well," I answered.
"Are you going to the island or not?" demanded Mr. Brown.
"That is for you to say," I replied.
"The liquor is all gone?"
"Every drop," I answered.
"I think," said Mr. Brown, after a short pause, "that I would give a month's pay, including bribes, if I had a gallon of good whiskey by my side. A man who intends to combat the devil and his imps should have something besides powder and ball to fling at their heads."
"If you had the liquor," I replied, "neither of us would be in a condition, after a few drinks, to throw any thing at your ghosts. I know of one man who would throw himself upon the ground and sleep until morning, and let Bill Swinton and money go to the devil, where they belong."
"Pass on," whispered Mr. Brown, making way for me to proceed, the bridge being too narrow for both of us to walk abreast.
"Excuse me," I replied, "I think that I should follow on behind to prevent you from running away; or in case you again tumble into the bog, to lend a ready hand. You go first."
My friend hesitated for a moment, glanced eagerly towards the island, and seeing nothing objectionable, stepped foot upon the bridge and commenced the perilous journey.
I followed close at his heels, and when we reached the spot which was the scene of his experience in the bog, the slime and water had filled up the hole which his body made, and all looked hard and treacherous as ever. Mr. Brown pointed to the spot with his hand as he passed, but he neither turned nor made remark, although I thought I saw his form tremble at the recollection of his danger.
We were not more than two minutes in reaching the end of the bridge, and then we again paused to reconnoitre. Nothing to alarm us was to be seen, and we again ventured forward, this time with more confidence than we had felt since we had started.
"Your ghost has fled," I said, in a half whisper.
At that instant, as though to disprove my words, we heard a sharp, quick blow, that sounded like an iron shovel struck upon stones. We uttered no word, or made the least noise, but we turned our looks upon the largest portion of the island with wonderful quickness, and, as though of one mind, we attempted to reach the bridge by a precipitate flight. Our intentions, however, were balked by our own eagerness, for just as I was about striking out my legs got mixed up with my companion's, and down we both went, full length, upon the ground. We scrambled to gain our feet, and I think that I arose first; but I had not recovered myself before I was seized by Mr. Brown in his frantic attempts to arise, and once more fell, and this time directly upon him, and over we rolled together until we were brought up by a large rock, which prevented us from going any farther.
"I think that we are two of the biggest fools in Australia," Mr. Brown said, sitting up and listening attentively.
I readily agreed with him, and determined to be no longer frightened by sight or sound. With this idea, and after a mutual vow to stand by each other, we crept along upon our hands and knees until we could command a view of the spot where we had dug for the treasure. While we were considering whether we should go forward or remain on the watch, the huge form which had so frightened us slowly arose, as though from a grave of its own digging, and, to our horror, we could see the white bones and long horns pointing towards us, while an unearthly groan relieved the monotony of the appearance.
With a trembling hand I drew my revolver, and, in defiance of Mr. Brown's whispered remonstrance, I took as good aim as I was capable of taking under the circumstances, and fired.
I heard a crashing of dry bones, and I saw the hideous head fall to the ground; at the same moment a gruff voice shouted, in angry tones,—
"What in the bloody h——l is you 'bout, hey?"
CAPTURE OF THE GHOST.
At the sound of the voice, and more especially the hearty English oath, Mr. Brown sprang to his feet, drew his knife, and rushed towards the late supposed spiritual visitant.
All thoughts of fear were banished in an instant, as soon as we discovered that we had flesh and blood to deal with instead of grave-clothes and pithless bones.
"Surrender or die!" was the exclamation of Mr. Brown, as we neared the object of our late fears.
"Die be d——d! what do you mean?" was the question asked by the interesting individual who attempted to scrabble from the hole which he had been digging, but did not succeed before the ex-inspector was upon him.
"Stand back, or I'll let daylight into you," shouted the fellow, drawing a long knife, and acting upon the defensive, and the way he handled the reaper showed that he was in earnest.
We both hesitated for a moment, for the purpose of better addressing the person who was so peremptory in his threats, but first I took the precaution of possessing myself of a long smooth-bore gun which was lying near him, and which he had forgotten to seize upon being surprised.
The man before us was about six feet high, (when he appeared in the character of a ghost, we thought he would measure nine,) with long hair, and beard of fiery red, which seemed as though it had not felt the touch of comb or scissors for months. Two little eyes almost concealed, and overhanging eyebrows, glanced suspiciously at us, and watched our movements, with an evident impression that we intended mischief, and that if such was the case their owner was to be counted in for a fight.
Upon the back and person of the red-haired man were sheepskins, made to fit his body, with the wool outside. These we had imagined were grave-clothes, and had nearly broken our necks to escape from the wearer. We could not refrain from indulging in a hearty laugh at our late flight and the occasion of it, but our mirth made no impression upon the mysterious being before us.
"No ye don't," he shouted, brandishing his knife before our eyes as though we intended to entrap him into some snare. "You mustn't think that ye is goin' to fool an honest man who is digging for roots by the full of the moon."
"You dig rather deep for roots," said Mr. Brown, stepping to the edge of the excavation, and looking down in spite of the threatening appearance of the red-haired individual.
"I'll dig as deep as I please," he answered quickly.
"Of course I would," returned Mr. Brown. "Who knows but you may find a buried treasure there if you keep on digging?"
"Is that what you coveys was arter?" demanded the red head, with a degree of interest which he had not shown before. "I 'spected it when I seed you yesterday crossing the Lodden, and I determined to watch."
"What are you doing in this part of the country?" asked Mr. Brown, rather sternly, "as a recollection of the loss of his bottle of liquor the night before began to dawn upon his mind.
"You have no right to question me any more than I have you," was the sulky response.
"Who are you then?" the other asked, somewhat impatiently.
"That's for you to find out the best way you can. If confidence is wanted, why, tell me who you are," and the red-haired genius seated himself on the edge of the excavation, as though awaiting an answer, although he still kept in sight his long and dangerous looking knife.
"I know who you are," my friend said, at a venture; "you are a shepherd on the Hawkswood estate. We are officers of the law from Ballarat."
"It's a lie," was the brief rejoinder. "I don't believe any thing of the kind."
"You d——d vagabond," cried Mr. Brown, snatching the long gun from my hand and presenting it to the fellow's heart, "I have a strong desire to blow your liver out."
"You wouldn't shoot a fellow with his own gun, would you?" the impudent scamp asked, without manifesting any serious apprehension of our doing so.
"Well, no, I hardly think that would be just," replied Mr. Brown, lowering the muzzle of the gun, and beginning to think that he had met with a strange customer, whom it was better to conciliate than to cross.
"Come, tell a feller who you is," the red-haired genius remarked "do you belong to Buskin's gang, or is you on your own tramp?"
"Neither suggestion is correct—we are not bushrangers, and never expect to be. We are men of the law. Now tell us who you are," my companion said, calmly seating himself near the stranger, and lighting his pipe,—a proceeding that appeared to interest him intensely, for he snuffed the burning tobacco like a war horse within sight of a battle field.
"Just give me one draw of that 'ere pipe first," pleaded the would-be ghost, and his request was gratified.
"Real 'bacco, and a real clay pipe, by the bloody jingoes," he exclaimed. "It's many a day since I've had a taste of 'em afore."
In fact the tobacco appeared to open his heart amazingly, and in a short time we had his whole history.
"My name," the stranger said, "is Day Bly, although I'm commonly called Day, for short. I was dragged up in London, and when I was twelve years of age I was apprenticed to an undertaker. I used to take care of the shop, clean the hearse, and sleep in a coffin, with old pieces of mouldy velvet thrown over me to keep me warm in the night time.
"When I ate my meals, it was brought out of master's house by one of the servant girls, and set on a pine coffin, such as we used to furnish the poor devils who hadn't got much money, and who couldn't afford to go the expensive ones. When we had a holiday, such as Christmas, I'd slyly move the grub to one of the polished silver-plated affairs, and imagined that I was seated at a real mahogany table, and I tell you things use to taste better.
"I kept that up until one day I had a dish of meat, that, by some mistake, never satisfactorily accounted for, was really warm, and it took the polish from the slap-up affair, and left a white mark. For that I got licked, and rebuked for my presumption to aristocracy. I didn't mind a flogging in those days, 'cos I was use to 'em, and let me tell you that London 'prentices, as a general thing, get more blows than holidays."
"That's so," muttered Mr. Brown, who appeared to deeply sympathize with the speaker in that portion of his narrative.
"I grew up," continued the red-haired individual, whose cognomen was Day, "quite fond of corpses."
I shuddered, and turned my head to see if there were any lying near, for I didn't consider that the subject was a very proper one to talk about at that time of night, and under the circumstances I should have prepared a more agreeable topic.
"The gentleman needn't be afeard," muttered the fellow, with a sneer; "corpses won't hurt a feller, 'cos I've tried 'em."
He had seen me flinch at the word, and improved his opportunity to show his hardihood.
"In fact, as I growed older," Day continued, "I was quite useful in my way, and got trusted by master with some important jobs. I could lay out a poor covey, who hadn't any money, with as much despatch as any 'prentice in London, and when you come to the mourning part I was really terrible. I could groan more unearthly and oftener than any mute that master employed."
"Did you not give us a specimen to-night?" I asked.
"Well, yes, I think that I did pretty well to-night, but I was too anxious to frighten you off to pay particular attention to my business. I'll show you what I can do, if you'll just listen."
But I declined to hear him, and the undertaker's ex-apprentice continued his story:
"I used sometimes to be borrowed by rival undertakers just 'cos I could groan so beautiful, and had I been contented to have worked my way up in the world, until I got the position of head mute, I shouldn't be here, surrounded by this d——d cloud of mosquitoes, and not a particle of tobacco to put in my pipe, and no friend to offer me a bit."
The hint was so strong that I could not refuse to gratify our new acquaintance with a small piece of the weed, which was received with a grunt, expressive of gratitude.
"As I was saying," continued Day, filling his pipe while talking, "I was always an ambitious cuss, and used to like plenty of money to spend on dress and cheap jewelry, but I couldn't always get it; one day my fellow 'prentice made a proposal, which he stated would fill our pockets and enable us to sport 'round nights in great style. I was ready to listen to any thing that he had to offer, and then I learned that a doctor that lived next street wanted us to supply him with subjects, for which we were to receive two pounds each.
"Well, we used to go out nights with a cart, drive up to some burying ground, where we had planted a feller the day before, whip him out of his coffin, and be off in less than fifteen minutes. In that way we used to make a pretty good thing of it, and we had so much money that we could keep drunk about two thirds of the time. At length some meddling old fool suspected us, and one night we were caught by the police, with a body in our charge. We tried to shake the bloody swabs off, but it was no go. We were jugged, and the first thing I knowed my companion, who had put me up to the work, peached, and saved his precious carcass from being transported."
"How long was you sent for, Day?" asked Mr. Brown.
"Ten years—four of 'em I passed at hard labor, and then I got a ticket of leave, and came out here as a shepherd. I have been here two years last February, and should like well enough if I had plenty of 'bacco and rum. Them 'ere things is hard to get in this part of the world, and I haven't tasted a drop of rum for two months afore last night, when I got a sup out of your pack."
Mr. Brown ground his teeth with suppressed emotion.
"How dared you meddle with our property?" demanded my companion.
"'Cos, how did I know it was yourn. I found the pack covered with bushes, and I 'spose a man is entitled to what he finds in this part of the country?"
"That depends upon circumstances," replied Mr. Brown, with a cautious glance at the place where Day had been excavating. "For instance, if you have found a quantity of gold dust where you have been digging, it would not belong to you but to the lawful owners, or the agent of the owners, sent to recover it."
"I don't know about that," cried the red-headed genius, with a cunning glance from his little eyes, "but I do know that if I find any thing here I shall hold on to it until somebody stronger than myself comes along. I 'spose you would do so, and I shall."
"Before we quarrel on that point," I said, "perhaps you will inform us how you knew we were in search of hidden gold?"
"But I didn't know till I saw you begin to dig. I was lying under a palm tree when you crossed the Lodden yesterday, and I strongly suspected from your looks that you were bushrangers in search of a dish of mutton, in which case I should have tacked your bodies with a ball from my gun. I followed you a few steps, and then crossed your trail, skirted Mount Tarrengower, and from the summit of a gum tree I watched your motions until dark, when I stole towards your camp for the purpose of listening to your conversation. I heard 'enough to convince me that you were in search of hidden treasure, but before I could make out your plans you moved your camp to the Lodden, but left your pack behind, for which act of thoughtfulness I am much your debtor."
"And to defeat our plans you turned ghost," I said.
The red-haired genius chuckled as he answered,—
"I thought that the easiest way to get rid of you, for I have tried the character before with some success. Many a bushranger, anxious for a supper of fresh mutton, have I frightened into fits, and by that means my flocks are not molested near as much as my neighbors, ten or twelve miles from here. I like to play the ghost, too, for it reminds me of the time when I was living with plenty of half and half, and lots of 'bacco at my control. Wasn't my groans beautiful? People say that they is quite unearthly."
We felt ashamed to say that we considered them in that light, and therefore dropped the subject, although we encouraged him to relate the further history of his exploits.
"I got my sheepskins all ready during the day, 'cos I saw that you was idling round doing nothing, and I 'spected that the evening would be selected to begin work.
"I hunted up my old bullock's head, with the horns on, and which has seen some service, although I don't think that I shall be able to wear it again, 'cos your confounded pistol shot about used it up. Here it lays at your feet—examine it."
I found that the head had been cut and trimmed off, and then lined with pieces of old clothes, until it fitted the cranium of Day like a huge helmet.
The shot from my revolver had shattered the dry bones so that it was ready to tumble apart, and had to be handled quite carefully. I no longer wondered at our mistaking Day for the devil, and I congratulated myself that I was not frightened worse than I really was.
"I could hardly keep from yelling with laughter when I saw you two running, and then when I heard one of you tumble into the bog, I thought to myself that's an end of him. Now, Day, you jist go along and get the money that they expected to, and be a rich man for life."
"Then you knew that I was struggling for life, and would not come to my assistance?" asked Mr. Brown.
"Why should I?" demanded Day, with great sang froid. "I didn't know you or care for you. All that I desired was to drive you off as fast as possible, and d—— me if I didn't do it!"
"What did you think when you saw us return the second time?" I inquired.
"Well, the fact of it is, you rather started me then, 'cos I had no idea of the thing. I thought if I couldn't frighten you away with groans, my time as a ghost was 'bout over. You couldn't pay me for the head which you destroyed, could you?"
We declined to do so, and advised him to be thankful that he did not lose his life in his attempt to assume a character that did not belong to him; but Day treated our advice with neglect.
"If I couldn't hit a man at a distance of ten rods, ghost or no ghost, I'd never shoot again. Why, my old gun, that you hold on to as though you feared it would go off, can knock over a kangaroo at thirty rods distance, and never miss once out of a dozen shots. I tell you I have had to practise shooting since I have been a shepherd. The only thing my proprietor is liberal in furnishing is powder and lead."
I was just about requesting Day to remove his person from the place where he had been digging, to allow us to make an examination for the concealed treasure, when we heard the discharge of a gun in the direction of the mountain, separated from us by several valleys, where immense flocks of sheep were feeding.
The shepherd started to his feet, and looked eagerly in the direction of the sound; but nothing was to be seen.
"What is the meaning of that?" asked Mr. Brown.
"It means that Buskin's band of bushrangers is all the more alarmed at the sound of your pistol. They will search every inch of ground between here and the Lodden, but they will find out the occasion of the firing, and if you are men of the law, as you say, the highest tree in this section will serve for your gallows to-morrow."
"You know the members of the gang?" asked Mr. Brown.
"I never exchanged a word with one of them in my life," cried the shepherd, with an air of sincerity, "although I have often held short communion with them in my assumed character."
He pointed to the bullock's head, and grinned as he spoke.
"How do you know that the firing was done by bushrangers?" I asked, suspiciously.
"For two reasons—first, a bushranger will never kill more game than he wants to eat at one time; and, secondly, the gang has been absent from these parts for two weeks, and undoubtedly want to rest and recruit. They can't do that until they know that the whole of this section is free from stragglers and spies. Me they care nothing about, and will not molest unless I am too inquisitive."
"How do we know that this is not a trick of yours to get us to leave this island?" I asked.
"'Cos I shall advise you to do no such thing. The only safe place for you is on this island, where you must stay until the woods between here and the Lodden have been searched, and the gang is confident that the parties who were in this vicinity have escaped."
"But why not escape now? Our horses are fresh and fast," I added.
"Because I suppose that a dozen men are watching the fords of the Lodden, and a bullet in your back would probably be the first intimation of the presence of a party of skulkers. No, sirs, unless you can skim over the surface of this bog, and then scale Mount Tarrengower, your only place of safety is on this island. Trust to me."
"And then lose our horses," I replied. "I suppose that the bushrangers would like no better plan; but I for one will not consent to that?"
"Which is the most valuable to you, your lives or your animals?" asked Day, bluntly.
"Can we not save our horses as well as ourselves?" Mr. Brown inquired, turning to me for advice.
I confess that I could see no way to preserve them; and I still insisted that we had better trust to the speed of the animals than remain in a state of inactivity and siege on the island.
My plans were overruled, however, by both Mr. Brown and the shepherd, on the ground that it would be impossible to escape before daylight, at which time the bushrangers would probably retire to the heart of the woods for rest and sleep, and all their outposts would then be withdrawn.
I was at length reluctantly compelled to yield my opinion to the others, although I could not help, as I did so, wishing for the presence of Fred and Smith, and I thought how different would be our conduct.
All idea of finding the buried treasure was at an end; and I began to feel as though I should be grateful if I escaped back to Ballarat with my life, minus the gold which was so great a temptation for us to undertake the journey.
"Well," asked the shepherd, "what have you concluded upon?"
"To remain on the island, I suppose," returned Mr. Brown, rather sulkily, "although I don't see how we are ever to get back to town if we lose our animals. I wouldn't walk to Ballarat for half of Australia."
"Can't we manage to make the horses walk the bridge, and keep them on the island with us?" I asked.
"A good idea," cried the red-haired genius, suddenly starting up, "and the only wonder is I never thought of it. There is some danger in the attempt, but nothing compared to stealing a body in a graveyard in the heart of London."
THE GHOST AND THE BUSHRANGERS.
The shepherd, who seemed to weigh all emotions by the scale of a body snatcher, appeared to be delighted at the prospect of enjoying a little excitement, and began to examine the priming of his long gun with a degree of attention that showed how much reliance he intended placing upon it in case of emergency.
"I look upon you two coveys in the light of visitors to my possessions, and my honor is engaged to see that you come to no harm," cried the undertaker's apprentice, with a wave of his right hand, as dignified as though he owned the many acres indicated, instead of receiving only about fifty pounds per annum, not including his sugar and coffee.
I think that I expressed a proper degree of gratitude for the shepherd's promised protection, but I intimated that I had lived long enough in Australia to learn how to protect myself.
"Never you mind that," continued the red-haired man, busying himself with the bullock's head. "I shan't be wanting if a little fighting is to be done."
"Then lend us your aid in leading the horses over the bridge, and don't let us lose time in debating the project," I said, preparing to undertake the expedition in company with Mr. Brown.
"Don't be in a hurry. Wait for me, 'cos I'm the most important one here at present," continued Day, still working over the head which had so frightened my friend and myself.
"If you think that your presence is so necessary, we will convince you to the contrary by going without you," replied Mr. Brown, rather tartly.
"There you go," exclaimed the fellow, with perfect composure; "when I intend to do all that I can to save you coveys from being shot and then hung, you get as mad as foaming beer, and don't want to listen to reason. Be guided by me, and things will come out all right."
"I am not so sure of that," I replied, with an incredulous air.
"Seeing is believing then. You ain't got some strings in your pocket, have you?" our newly-found friend continued.
"Strings? no, we have something else to think about at the present time," cried Mr. Brown.
"I'm sorry for that, 'cos a few rods of twine or tape, such as we use to line coffins with, would be worth considerable just now."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I'll tell you in as few words as possible," the shepherd said, resting from his work for a few seconds while speaking. "We three coveys ain't no match for thirty coveys, is we?"
We acknowledged that there was a difference, and that it was favorable to the side of the larger force.
"Very well; then it becomes necessary to deceive 'em, same as we use to do when I was an apprentice in London, when master would put a body in a pine coffin, all flourished off with paint and varnish, and then charge it as cherry."
"What has that to do with the matter in hand?" I demanded impatiently.
"Much—I intend to make the bushrangers think, if we come in contact with 'em, that they have got a ghost instead of a man to deal with, and I needn't tell you how frightened they will be; you know that by your own experience, don't you?"
There was no denying the assertion, however much disposed we might feel to quarrel with such perfect frankness at the present time. At any rate, we no longer manifested symptoms of impatience, but waited until Day had secured the bones, which were somewhat loosened by the shot from my pistol.
"I think that I've got strings enough arter all," he said, shaking the head to see if it was firm and fit for use. "It 'pears all right, and I think will answer."
He placed the huge mass of whitened bones upon his head, and then shook it in a defiant manner, and I no longer wondered at our fright.
"There, I think that will do. Now let me first tie up my sheepskins, and then we will start."
In a few minutes the sheepskins were secured in their proper places, and Day stood before us a ghost of the first magnitude, and looking hideous enough to frighten his Satanic Majesty himself had he been encountered in the vicinity of Mount Tarrengower.
"I ain't got much beauty," Day said, while we were admiring him, "'cos I trust to inside appearances. But don't I look lovely? as we use to say at a first class funeral, when we had gone to some expense to get up the body in pretty good style."
We assured the shepherd that his attractions were of the first order, and that we appreciated his exertions in our behalf, and with these few compliments we walked towards the bridge, the ghost leaving his long gun behind.
"Ghosts," he said, in explanation, "is supposed to do unheard-of things, but I doubt whether any regular one ever walked around the earth with a gun; and if we should encounter the bushrangers, I think I should have more influence unarmed, for to give the devils their due, they don't, care a rush for the smell of gunpowder, while they is firm believers in spirits, 'cos there is a sort of a tradition that a proprietor of a sheep farm, who was murdered some years since, wanders round nights, and makes himself generally disagreeable. I don't put any faith in the stories, 'cos I don't believe that there ever was a ghost, excepting one like me got up for the occasion."
The remark did not meet the approval of Mr. Brown, who was disposed to argue the matter, but I cut the discussion short by recommending silence, for fear of a party of scouts overhearing our conversation, when not even the spectral appearance of the shepherd could have saved us from a speedy death.
"You are right," replied the ghost, with a grave shake of his horny head; "we can't be too cautious now, for we don't know who is near us."
By the time we reached the main land, the ghost whispered that he would lead the way, and strike terror into the hearts of all who dared to look upon him; and I think that he was as good as his word, for no sooner did the horses got a glimpse of his white form than there was a desperate attempt at a stampede; had not our animals been securely fastened to palm trees by stout ropes we probably never should have seen or heard of them again.
"Keep back," cried Mr. Brown, who was endeavoring to restrain his gray horse from breaking away. "Don't come near the animals, or they will make more noise than a hundred bushrangers."
The shepherd obeyed the order with a chuckle of delight, looking upon the fright of the horses as the greatest compliment that could be paid him, on the ground that animals were far better judges of supernatural characters than men.
After we had tamed the brutes, we quickly gathered up our blankets and provisions, and then replaced the pack upon the horse and started towards the island. We were hastened somewhat in our movement by a sound which my experience told me was a signal much used by bushrangers when desirous of calling in or extending their scouts. I had heard it before, when first on my way to the mines from Melbourne, and I could not help, in spite of all the trials and difficulties that surrounded me, from recalling those days, and wondering how we escaped being cut off to a man by Black Darnley and his gang.
"Drive on the horses as fast as possible," whispered the shepherd.
"Them 'ere parrot crawings means, is the coast clear?"
I needed no urging, knowing as I did that the pretended squaking of parrots was produced by human beings, but hardly had the shepherd spoken, when away off to our left the cry was taken up.
"That's an answer," cried Day, listening attentively. "They report all right as yet."
By this time we had reached the bridge, and sought to urge our animals to cross, but they had some experience with the bogs of Australia, and stoutly refused to trust themselves on such a narrow strip of earth. We were almost in despair of saving the brutes, and to add to our anxiety, we could hear the bushrangers' signals from all parts of the forest, as the scouts gradually closed in to join the main body, who were, I doubted not, feasting on mutton, for the perfume of boiled meat greeted us, wafted towards the island by a light breeze which was hardly strong enough to dispel the clouds of mosquitoes hovering over us, ferocious for blood, and tantalizing enough to drive men frantic with agony.
"You won't get the horses to cross until you cover their eyes," the ghost said. "They have probably been mired some time or other, and know a bog as well as you. Don't waste precious time by fooling with the animals."
We thought the advice was good, and we adopted it without delay, by tying our pocket handkerchiefs over the eyes of the animals, and in this condition I led my horse over the bridge, followed by Mr. Brown with the packed animal The ghost, having removed his head gear, held the gray while we were so employed.
We were obliged to proceed with great caution, for fear of a mis-step on the part of the animals, but fortunately we reached the island without an accident, but as we did so we heard a shrill croak from beneath the very palms where we had encamped. The call was repeated in a dozen different directions, and then all was quiet, and not the rustling of a leaf could be heard to show that a large body of men were all tending to one point to investigate the cause of the alarm, and study over the mysteries of our encampment.
We secured our animals in a small valley at the further end of the island, and then returned cautiously to the bridge for the purpose of relieving the ghost of his distress, but, to our surprise, Mr. Brown's gray horse and the supernatural gentleman were not to be seen.
"If the d——d humbug has not run off with my horse!" muttered my friend, indignant at his loss.
"I don't believe it," I replied; "he has probably retired to the shade of those palm trees, seeing that no chance presented itself for getting the animal to us."
"I hope so," Mr. Brown said, "but fear the fellow is a horse thief, and having accomplished his object, will never return to this locality."
I didn't think so, but there was no use attempting to convince Mr. Brown of his error, and while we were discussing the matter, we had the supreme dissatisfaction of seeing ten well-armed men debouch from the group of palm trees, and, with heads bent to the ground, follow the tracks of our horses towards the bridge.
"We are in a pretty condition for a siege," muttered my friend as he thought of the bushrangers attempting to starve us into a surrender, knowing very well that they would never attack us in our almost invulnerable position.
"Be quiet, and let us watch their motions," I replied.
We were not so far from the main land but we could hear every word if spoken in an ordinary tone, for, as I said before, the night was unusually calm and quiet.
"D——n it, don't I know a horse's track from a bullock's?" we heard one of the bushrangers say, as though he was remonstrating with his companions. "I tell you here's the prints of three horses' feet, and I'll leave it to any native in Australia. I've taken lessons from 'em in my lifetime, I have."
If the fellow's story was correct, he could not have learned from a more patient race, for the Australians can track a man through a wilderness, and can see signs of footprints that a European would never discover. If a blade of grass is turned, the native stops and examines it, and can tell within a few hours the length of time that has expired since it was trodden on. If half a dozen grains of sand are displaced from the burning prairies, the native sets himself at work, and can tell what kind of an animal has passed that way, and whether fat or lean, alarmed or unconcerned. They can find their way through a wilderness, and resist hunger and thirst with marvellous fortitude; and while others sink under the influence of burning heat, the native Australian, with head bare, seems to court the rays of the sun, and moves along with a steady step, and without a word of complaint.
I no longer wondered at the assurance of the bushranger when he proclaimed himself a disciple of Australian barbarians.
"Will any man in his senses believe that the horses have crossed that narrow strip?" demanded one of the fellows, pointing to the bridge; "I know the horses of this country too well to believe that they like bogs so well as to venture there."
"I tell you that two of the horses have crossed to that island!" cried the first speaker, after stooping down and examining the ground; "here, see for yourself!"
The robbers gathered around the spot indicated, and we could hear them converse in low tones for a few minutes, and look suspiciously towards the island, where we were hid from observation by a number of large rocks.
"If two of the horses has gone to the island, whar is the other?" cried a voice, more gruff and savage than the others.
No one seemed disposed to answer that question, and for a few seconds there was a profound silence.
"I tell you what it is, coveys, I don't care about staying in this neighborhood long, 'cos I heard a brother pal say once, that ever since old Buckerly was knocked on the head he has wandered round here with a sheet of flame in one hand, a spear in the other, and a pair of horns on his head, to show that he was in the cattle trade when finished."
There was a faint laugh at the suspicious man's story, but I noticed that their expressions of mirth were not overflowing.
"Pooh! you don't believe such d——d lies, do you?" one fellow asked.
"Never you mind what I believe," said the story teller, with a dogmatical emphasis.
"Well, we had better be doing something, or else return to the camp and get a bit to eat; I'm tired of tramping all day and getting no plunder," cried one, who didn't seem to be in a good humor.
"Hullo! one horse went off in this direction!" cried the fellow who was following up the trail.
The gang gathered round the speaker, and satisfied themselves that such was the case, and then we could see them gazing with some degree of apprehension upon the dark palms.
"Who's going there to make a search?" one asked.
"Not I," said one.
"Fools, are you afraid of your own shadows?" demanded one robber, more bold than the others.
"I don't fear any man, if he comes at me single, but I don't like fighting with the devil and his imps!" exclaimed the superstitious bushranger, and I judged that a majority of his comrades sided with his idea, and seemed much more disposed to return to camp than to weary themselves with a search for unknown foes.
"You know what the cap'n will say if we go back without a good report. It's easier for us to work now, than to scout over the whole ground again," we heard the man who had followed the trail say.
"Yes, but why don't he take some work and do it?" demanded another, who was disposed to grumble at the order of things.
"You had better ask him," some one answered, dryly.
"Not I," was the response; "I value my head too dearly."
The others laughed, and for a few minutes held a whispered conversation, the burden of which seemed to be that there was something concealed beneath the branches of the palm trees, and that it was advisable to make an examination as soon as possible, but no one was disposed to lead the way, for reasons—first, if an enemy, and well armed, he could easily kill two or three of his assailants before discovery, and second, the robbers were not sure but that there was truth in the story of their comrade concerning the ghost of Buckerly, and if there was, they did not care about an encounter with a spirit from the other world, who was proof against powder, steel, and lead.
While they were still discussing the question in tones so low that we could not hear all that passed, I thought how materially we could be aided by the shepherd, if he was so disposed.
I was almost fearful that Mr. Brown's suspicions were correct, and that he left us to take care of ourselves, while he made his escape on my friend's valuable horse, worth, at any station, about fifty pounds.
"Look," cried my companion, nudging me with his elbow; "the devils have made up their minds to run the risk, and search for the horse in the shadow of the palm trees."
As he spoke, I saw the gang move forward in a compact body, as though borrowing encouragement from each other, and one or two pretended to laugh, as if scorning all apprehensions, but I thought that the mirth did not come from their hearts.
When about midway between the trees and the bridge, I observed them halt suddenly, and while I was wondering for what, forth, from amid the leaves and branches of the palms, rode a figure that loomed up in the moonlight in colossal proportions.
For a moment I forgot that the shepherd was acting the part of a ghost, and I felt, a little of the old symptoms return, but they were soon banished, and then I was prepared to enjoy the rich treat of seeing how other men acted when dealing with what was supposed to be a visitant from the other world.
For a moment not a sound escaped the group, as the tall figure of the shepherd, mounted on the gray horse, moved slowly and majestically towards them. Presently I heard one fellow utter a yell of terror, and break away from his companions, and run wildly towards the camp—then another followed, and then another, until the remaining ones turned, and, with shrieks and yells of horror, followed the first fugitive as rapidly as their legs could carry them.
A number of the most timid threw away their guns, and every thing that impeded flight, and although the ghost did not depart from his grave and dignified bearing, and solemn walk, yet in less than five minutes no one was in sight except the cause of the fright, our new friend, Day.
SAM TYRELL AND THE GHOST.
As soon as we saw the result of the shepherd's ruse, we crossed the bridge and joined him.
"Didn't I do that in good style?" he asked. "Did you ever hear of a ghost that was more successful than me?"
I complimented him by replying in the negative, and also assuring him that I considered he was at the height of his profession.
"You may well call it a trade," he exclaimed, removing his heavy headdress and wiping his moist brow, "for there ain't a man in the country who knows how to do such things in shape unless he has been in the funeral line, like me. Did you see 'em run?"
I assured him that the retreat of the bushrangers was so sudden that we could not help noticing the fact.
"I didn't believe that coveys could cut so; and they threw away their guns, too, that shows how skeert they was," continued Day, apparently so overjoyed at his success that he could talk of nothing else.
"But it will not do for us to stand here and talk when the bushrangers are liable to come back at any moment and surprise you holding communication with beings of this earth," I said. "Let us get under the shadow of the trees, where we can talk without danger."
My suggestion was agreed to, and in a few seconds we were on our old camping ground and debating what we should do next. I was in favor of an immediate retreat to the banks of the Loddon, which river I proposed to cross, and find refuge at Hawswood station, where we could remain for a few days, and then return for another examination of the earth for the treasure. Mr. Brown, whether fearful to trust to Day's honesty, or the bushrangers' superstitious feelings, did not coincide with me, and was for remaining until daylight at any rate, and during that time make further search for the gold, and if not found in that period, he proposed giving up the expedition altogether and returning to Ballarat.
The shepherd heard us discuss the merits of our several propositions without interruption, and while we were still uncertain what to do,—avarice bidding us to stay, and caution and prudence to fly,—he spoke,—"I have no wish to advise you coveys in any course that ain't right, but if you will listen to me I'll get you out of this affair in safety, and with the money that is buried."
"How?" I asked.
"By still playing the ghost," he replied, with a grin.
"You have done so, and successfully," I said; "can't you think of some other dodge?"
"Don't want any other," he returned, patting the bullock's head in an affectionate manner. "Men can always be moved by their fears and guilty consciences."
We agreed with him in that respect, but didn't see how he could serve us further by assuming the ghost line.
"Then I'll tell you," the shepherd said. "One half of the coveys who saw me by this time think that they have been frightened by a shadow, a white bullock, or a horse. They won't acknowledge that they saw a ghost, while the other portion will contend stoutly that I had fire issuing from my mouth, and that I was the devil or his imp. With this question unsettled I shouldn't be surprised if they made these parts another visit to solve their doubts, for the bushrangers who haven't seen me will only deride those who have, and disbelieve all the statements made."
We acknowledged that there was some truth in the remark, and Day, highly delighted with the admission, continued:
"Now I think that the best way would be for me to show myself once more and give the coveys another and a greater fright. I can steal up to their camping ground, and while they are quarrelling, walk into their midst without waiting for the formalities of an introduction."
"But you may lose your life in making the experiment," I said.
"There's no fear of that—who ever heard of a man firing with a steady hand while in the presence of a ghost?"
I reminded him that I had tried the experiment, and that if the ball had struck a few inches lower down he would never have played the ghost a second time.
"That just proves what I said. Can't you hit a man at two rods' distance, and place the ball just where you like?"
I flattered myself that I was a good pistol shot, and could do so under ordinary circumstances.
"Yet your hand must have shook, or I should have been hit."
There was no denying the truth of that assertion, for I remembered the circumstance perfectly well.
"If I don't frighten them coveys so that they will avoid this place hereafter, then I don't know much about ghosts, and how they act," Day continued.
We tried to urge the fellow to be content with the triumph which he had already accomplished, but he was mad for another exhibition of his powers, and all that we could say had no effect. Go he would, and at length we determined to accompany him for the purpose of rendering assistance in case he wanted it, or to see how the bushrangers would bear themselves upon a second exhibition.
The shepherd was so well acquainted with the country that he guided us by a short route towards the camping ground, stealing along between the bushes and trees so quietly and rapidly that, with all my knowledge of woodcraft, I had difficulty in following him and keeping close to his heels. At length we saw the reflection of a camp fire, and then we grew more cautious in our movements, frequently stopping for a few minutes to listen if we could hear other sounds besides our footsteps. But we encountered no one, for the bushrangers had apparently fallen back upon the main body, convinced that the coast was clear of all earthly intruders. The shepherd stopped when he thought that we were within sound of the camp, and beckoned us to his side.
"There's no use in you coveys getting your necks in halters follering close arter me, 'cos 'tain't any use. We ain't going to fight the fellers, but to frighten 'em. You jist keep a little back and watch me, and if any thing happens, why, don't stop to see how it terminates. Get off the best way that you can."
"That would be ungenerous," I replied. "You are now risking your life to serve us, and we should not desert you to save ourselves."
"Don't you be afeard of me," the shepherd said, quite coolly. "I can take care of myself, and if the bushrangers finds out the cheat I can explain it to 'em some way or other that will satisfy 'em. Is it all right?"
We assured him that we would be governed by his wishes, and with this declaration he led the way towards the camp, first taking the precaution of putting on his head gear, in case he should meet with stragglers. We followed in his footsteps at some distance until we reached the edge of the woods, when the ghost motioned for us to take up a position in a clump of bushes, while he skulked behind a tree.
We stole carefully forward and saw that we were within five rods of the bushrangers, who were seated around half a dozen fires, cooking their mutton on long sticks, and endeavoring to obtain a cessation of hostilities from the attacks of mosquitoes by beating the air wildly with their huge black fists when not engaged in cutting meat, or throwing on light brush to feed the fires. The men all seemed excited, and we listened to their conversation with some pleasure, showing, as it did, how mistaken they were in their estimate of the true appearance of the ghost.
"For ten years I've knocked about these woods, and done some very pretty tricks, but I never met with such a looking devil as I've seen to-night," I heard an old grizzly fellow (an exact representative of a pirate) say, as he ripped off about a pound of flesh from the carcass of a lamb, thrust it upon a stick and held it over the coals, after which he looked around upon his brother devils with an air that showed how much he should like to kill every one present merely for the fun of the thing.
"I would have stopped and spoken to the darn thing if any one had kept me company," a young fellow said, apparently desirous of raising himself in the estimation of his companions; but, if such was his intention, it was a failure, for the old pirate turned on him like a hungry wolf with snapping jaws.
"You stop and bandy words with a spirit?" asked the old fellow, with a sneer. "Why, d——n it, you was the first one to run."
"Not as you knows of," replied the young robber, shaking his head as though he was willing to test the matter.
"Do you tell me I lie, you impudent son of a Dutch woman?" asked old grizzly, lifting his stick from the fire and striking the youngster full upon his face with the hot meat, which caused him to start from the ground as though about to inflict vengeance upon the old pirate for the insult.
The elder bushranger did not seem in the least disturbed. He shook the mutton clear of his stick as though it had been contaminated by contact with his companion's flesh, and then drew his long, sharp knife, and began to cut off another portion from the carcass by his side.
For a few seconds the insulted youngster seemed uncertain what to do. Then I saw his right hand seek for his knife, draw it, and with a wild cry he threw himself upon the old man. The other bushrangers merely glanced towards the parties, but did not offer to interfere. There was but a slight struggle, for the attack was so sudden that the grizzly fellow did not take the precaution of defending himself, trusting, probably, to his age and influence with the gang to exempt him from a personal combat.
I heard a low groan, and then the attacking party arose and returned to his former place, while the head of the old robber fell forward and touched the fire, and there it remained for a few minutes, until the stench of burning hair became so great that some one shouted out to remove the body, and not let it lay there and spoil their appetites.
One man, more humane than the rest, lifted the dead pirate up and carried him a short distance, and then laid him carefully under a tree. The whole transaction, including the death, did not take ten minutes, and a number of the gang did not even stop from picking bones during its occurrence.
"You settled him, Billy?" cried a fellow at a distant camp fire, slightly raising his voice.
"I should think that I did," answered the young ruffian, wiping his knife on his shirt sleeve, and then finishing his supper, with an evident attempt to appear unconcerned, although I could see that he was all of a tremble, and that he glared around the clear space as though he feared to encounter a disagreeable sight every moment.
"Let this be a lesson to all of us," cried a deep, bass voice, which I heard for the first time. "How often have I told you that I desired harmony in the gang, and that if a man gave the lie he was responsible for it with his life. Why can't you live like gentlemen, and not like a set of d——d blackguards. Because you are robbers and cutthroats is no reason why you should murder each other. The world is large enough and contains enough of our enemies without looking for them in the gang."
There was not a word of response to these remarks, but I noticed that many of the gang hung their heads as though they did not wish to meet the eyes of the speaker, who seemed to be a person in authority.
"That must be Sam Tyrell, who is called the gentlemanly bushranger of Australia," whispered Mr. Brown, who was anxious to get sight of a man who had performed some very daring exploits, and some excessive acts of cruelty, while commanding a gang of ruffians on the road between Ballarat and Melbourne.
"Hush," I whispered, "or you will betray your hiding-place;" for Mr. Brown, in his eagerness, moved the bushes in a manner that attracted attention.
I had heard of Sam, through his many exploits, and was anxious to get sight of him, so that in case we ever met I should recognize his face.
It is related of him, by the old settlers of Australia, that he once returned to Melbourne, dressed himself in black with scrupulous neatness, and then boldly presented himself at the door of the lieutenant-governor's palace, passed in by means of a ticket which he had taken from a man whom he met on the highway, danced with the first ladies of the city, was introduced to the governor's wife, and would have danced with her had etiquette permitted it. In fact, Tyrell created considerable of a sensation, and ate his host's ices, and drank his wine, with a degree of nonchalance that charmed the ladies and disgusted the gentlemen.
Had Sam conducted himself with a certain degree of circumspection no suspicions would have been excited by his conduct; but the devil prompted him to make love to a pretty woman who was present in company with her husband, the latter an old man, ugly as sin, and jealous as Othello.
Sam saw the lady admired his vigorous-looking form, and he addressed her a few remarks of flattery, without waiting for the formalities of an introduction. Her husband fired up at the sight, and growled forth his displeasure in no measured terms.
Sam paid no more attention to his looks and hard words than if he had been a child. The contempt, so quietly conveyed, only enraged the old gentleman the more, and the matter began to be talked about. First one and then another inquired who the good-looking gentleman dressed in black was, but no one could answer the question. The governor was appealed to, but he was as ignorant as his guests. At length an aide-de-camp was intrusted with the delicate duty of requesting the stranger to disclose his address.
The officer touched Tyrell on the shoulder, while he was standing by the fascinating little Mrs. P——, and desired a word with him in private. Sam bowed low to the object of his affections, and followed the officer to an ante-chamber. The guests, who were hovering around the door, waited impatiently for the officer to make his reappearance and report.
Ten minutes passed away, and still the officer was invisible. Half an hour glided by, and then the crowd ventured to knock, but there was no answer. The door was tried, and found to be locked.
His excellency was consulted, and he sent for an armorer of the regiment stationed in Melbourne, a man very skilful in picking and repairing locks. The soldier exerted his skill, but in vain; the door refused to open, and then, grown desperate, the governor ordered an axe brought, and a few vigorous blows drove the door from its hinges, and a crowd rushed in.
There was no light in the apartment, and Mr. P——, the jealous husband, was so eager that he stumbled over some object lying on the floor, and pitched headlong against the wall, bruising his bald head, and causing him to curse, with all an Englishman's spleen, at his mishap, while he did not forget to allude to his wife in his prayers as the cause of his misfortune.
A light was brought as speedily as possible, and, to the consternation of those present, the aide-de-camp was found extended upon the floor, his arms tied behind his back, his mouth gagged with a pocket handkerchief, and on his breast was pinned a piece of paper addressed to the governor.
It was but the work of a moment to relieve the officer from his unpleasant position, and the instant he could speak he rushed for the window, which was observed to be open, and hailed the sentry, who was pacing back and forth a short distance beneath.
The guard answered promptly, but declared that no one had passed him that evening, and that if a man had attempted to escape by the window he should have seen him.
By this time his excellency had read the note, and was raving for the captain of the police force, and vowing that it was dangerous to live in his own palace, the bushrangers had become so audacious.
The word bushranger struck terror into the hearts of all present, and even the jealous husband modulated his wrath, and rubbed his head with some degree of contentment.
There was considerable curiosity to learn the contents of the note, but etiquette required that the governor should not be asked regarding it, although every gentleman present was bursting to know, and all the ladies were unanimously of the opinion that the adventure was romantic, and actually looked upon Mrs. P——, who was half frightened to death, with some degree of envy, because she was a prominent actor in the scene.
At length his excellency condescended to enlighted his audience, and read the paper which he held in his hand, although he boiled with rage as he did so. The note was as follows:—
"MOST WORTHY GOVERNOR.—For the very kind manner in which you have entertained me this evening, please accept my thanks. I have drank your wine, eaten your ices, and enjoyed your refreshments as well as any gentleman present, and had I remained long enough I would have added to my exploits by kissing your lady friends, including your wife. As I did not, please perform the ceremony for me. The next time that I visit you I hope you will have a quantity of ice to cool the wine, as I am accustomed to such luxuries, and champagne tastes insipid without it. I think that your excellency should change your wine merchant, for some of the liquor that I tasted to-night never saw France, and I hope never will, for that polite nation would feel eternally disgraced at the thought of concocting such beverages. Hoping that I shall, at no distant day, meet your excellency in the bush, where I can return a few of the civilities which I have received this evening, and, I trust, relieve you of a portion of your worldly cares, in the shape of wealth, allow me to humbly subscribe myself, your friend and well-wisher,
"SAM TYRELL, Bushranger."
"The impudent scoundrel!" was the general exclamation, and I think that the reader will agree with the guests, and pronounce the bushranger a bold man, and one of considerable address and nerve.
Of course, the mounted police were set in motion, and the country scoured for miles in extent, but no signs of Sam were discovered; and the mortification of my friend Murden may be better imagined than described when he was afterwards informed that Sam did not even take the trouble of leaving the city that night, but changed his clothes, and passed a large portion of his time with a lady who was somewhat noted for liberality towards the male sex; and when he was tired of a metropolitan residence, he dressed himself in female attire, and with a veil to conceal his face, passed soldiers and police, and rejoined his gang, who were fifty miles from Melbourne.
The story of the aide-de-camp was a curious one. He said that the stranger requested time to pencil a note to a distinguished gentleman in town, who was to vouch for his respectability; that after he had finished writing and directing it, Sam approached him, as though to request permission to send it by a bearer, but before he was aware of his intentions Tyrell had garroted him in such a manner that all resistance was impossible, and when about half dead, he was laid upon the floor, bound with cords, and then had a handkerchief stuffed in his mouth, threats being made at the same time that death was certain if the least alarm was given.
The bushranger then waited until the guard turned his back, when he dropped from the window like a cat, and made his escape. The officer was laughed at so outrageously, that he sold his commission and left the army.
Such was one of the exploits of the "gentlemanly" bushranger whose actions we were watching, and over whose head a reward of five hundred pounds was hanging.
"If you must call each other liars, and rush to a fight, why don't you do so in a gentlemanly manner, at ten paces distant, and not shoot or cut each other down like dogs? Can I never learn you manners, and be d——d to you."
The speaker, of whom Mr. Brown had whispered, was Tyrell—he walked towards the young fellow, who had, but a moment before, killed the old pirate, and stopped in front of him. From our place of concealment we could admire the athletic form of the leader of the gang, and as the flames from the camp-fire blazed up and showed us his features, we could not help being struck with their stern beauty.
"Well, captin, he began it," cried the young assassin, in a snivelling, apologetic sort of tone; "I didn't want to hurt him, sure, if he hadn't told me I lied. I don't take that from nobody, you knows."
"You lie, you dog, you know you do," cried 'gentleman Sam,' in a tone expressive of profound contempt. "You stabbed old Bill when his back was turned, and did not give him a fair chance. I'll have no more such doings. A stop must be put to such kind of work. Do you all understand me?"
"I'm willing to abide by the regulations," the murderer said, with alacrity.
"I intend that you shall, for I am about to constitute myself a judge and jury, and punish you for shedding blood, as I think it should be punished. Stand up."
The fellow staggered to his feet, and we could see him glance with apprehension upon his leader, and then turn towards his comrades an appealing look, as though desirous of their support during his trying ordeal.
"You killed old Bill without a moment's warning for telling the truth, for I have been told by others that you was one of the first to run, and yet you saw nothing but a shadow, at which you was frightened. You deserve death, and at my hands you shall receive it."
"For God's sake don't kill me, cap'en!" shrieked the young fellow, in an agony of terror, throwing himself upon his knees, and begging for mercy; "I have served you long and faithfully, and robbed as many miners as any man in the gang."
"That certainly should entitle him to mercy," whispered Mr. Brown, giving me a nudge with his elbow, as though I was asleep.
The leader of the bushrangers did not make any reply, but coolly drew a pistol from his belt.
"The cold-blooded scoundrel intends to murder the man!" Mr. Brown said, trembling with excitement and indignation; "why don't the brutes interfere, and save the life of their comrade?"
"Take notice, men," said the robber chief, addressing his gang, "that I am about to punish a man for committing a murder, and that hereafter, if you must quarrel, refer the matter to me for settlement, and if I do not satisfy you with my decision, then you can appeal to the knife or pistol, as can be agreed upon. Have you any reason why sentence should not be executed upon this man?"
There was no response. The villains would not even raise their voices to save a comrade's life.
"I should imagine the fellow was the Lord High Chancellor of England to hear him talk," muttered Mr. Brown; "lend me your revolver, and the instant the ruffian fires I will give him a shot if it costs me my life."
"And it would cost not only your life, but mine, and that I am not disposed to relinquish yet. Be patient, for we can do nothing to save the poor devil," I replied.
The man whose doom had been pronounced, a second time threw himself upon the ground, and crawled to the feet of the leader in humble supplication for mercy. He shed tears, and vowed that if his life was spared, he would steal with renewed energy, and be more faithful than ever; and for a while I thought the chief would relent, but during a moment's pause, I distinctly heard the click of a pistol lock, and saw Tyrell's arm raised as though taking aim.
'I shut my eyes to hide the dreadful sight, and expected to hear the report of the weapon and the groans of the victim, but while I was speculating on the length of time that the poor devil was kept in suspense, I received a tremendous nudge from Mr. Brown's elbow, accompanied by the exclamation of—
"The devil has come at last!"
I opened my eyes, and was gratified to see that the ghost whose disappearance I had noticed, re-appeared upon the scene, but with one important change in his aspect, which rendered his tout ensemble more hideous than ever.
By some means he had managed to light a fire upon his bony head, and the flames were twisting and squirming like so many fiery serpents, revealing the long bullock's horns with telling effect. So well had he managed the affair, that, accustomed as I was to his presence, I had half a mind to run, not knowing but a real devil, or being of the other world, had usurped Day's especial functions in the ghost line.
If the sudden appearance was startling to myself and Mr. Brown, how much more must it have astonished the bushrangers, who were anxiously awaiting the death of their companion at the hands of Tyrell. I saw the arm of the latter fall as if paralyzed, and he started back, but disdained to fly upon the first alarm. Not so with his comrades. With one accord they dropped knives, meat, and blankets, and with shouts of frantic terror rushed towards the woods, tumbling over each other in their eagerness to escape, and looking over their shoulders as they fled, as if they feared that Satan had already laid a hand upon them, and was about to claim them as his own.
Even the young fellow who had murdered the old pirate, seemed to entertain some hope of escape from earthly enemies, for he commenced crawling away from the fires as fast as he could on hands and knees, and bent his course directly towards our ambush. Once or twice I saw him look back, apparently with the expectation of receiving a shot in his rear, but finding that his captain was too much occupied with his own matters, he seemed to think that Providence had interfered in a most wonderful manner in his behalf, and recommenced crawling with renewed energy and hope, not caring half as much for the ghost as he did for the vengeance of his chief.