"Here comes this fellow directly on to us," whispered Mr. Brown; "what can we do to start him in another direction?"
"Groan him away," I replied, recollecting the efficacy of diabolical sounds in my own case; and forthwith we uttered in chorus the most hideous noises possible for human beings to produce. So frightful were they that even Tyrell, who had made his boast of being able to endure all things, gradually retreated as he saw the ghost advance towards him with the flaming headdress, and at length, after giving one quick glance around, and finding that he was deserted by his crew, fairly turned, and bounded into the brush and disappeared from sight.
We listened attentively, and could hear the bushrangers making their way through the woods in hot haste; but fearing the shrewdness of Sam, we kept perfectly quiet, until we were certain that gentleman had really left his quarters, and was not lurking in the vicinity to see what sort of a ghost had frightened him.
"A splendid performance," I said, as Mr. Brown and myself stepped from our ambush, and congratulated the shepherd, who, much as he liked to be praised, didn't think it worth while to listen in so conspicuous a place.
"Follow me as fast as possible," he exclaimed, removing his still smoking headdress, and exhibiting a face blackened and singed by the flames. "We ain't safe here even for a minute, for the devils will come back after their traps, and if they should get hold of us we would be real ghosts in less than an hour."
I had the same impression, and therefore followed our guide through the woods in a directly opposite course from that which the bushrangers took, and in a few minutes we had the satisfaction of gaining our island and finding our horses as we had left them.
"Now that we are beyond the reach of the robbers, tell me how you prepared your fiery headdress?" Mr. Brown asked, turning to the shepherd, who was rubbing his burnt face and singed hair and whiskers.
"The fact is," replied Day, "the flames are a new sort of 'speriment, and I've hardly got use to 'em. I think that I should do better next time. I have every reason to think so, and if I don't, I shall be forced to give up that portion of the show, although I should think that it was very effective, if I may judge from the remarkable antics of the coveys. That black-whiskered scoundrel wanted to have a shot at me, and I guess that he would hadn't it been for the fire. The flames are a great improvement, 'cos they make me look jist as though I had arrived from kingdom come."
"But how was the effect produced?" demanded Mr. Brown.
"Well, I don't know as I had ought to tell you coveys, 'cos you might claim the 'vention as your own," replied the shepherd, coquettishly; but finding that we were ready to vouch for our disintertestedness, he continued: "You see when I was overhauling your traps last night—"
Here Mr. Brown groaned, as he thought of the liquor which had been carried off, and how acceptable it would be at the present time.
"I found a lot of matches, so I took half that you had," continued Day, "which I consider an honest transaction, 'cos I know coveys who would have carried all off and not thanked ye. I've got some honor, if I am a shepherd."
"Especially when you drank all my brandy," Mr. Brown remarked.
Day scorned to notice the insinuation, but continued:
"I thought how convenient them 'ere matches would be, and I didn't scruple to take 'em, 'cos I knew that if we were acquainted you would divide, and be glad to accommodate me."
We didn't tell Day the maledictions we had showered upon his head, or how we should have treated him had we caught him with our puck. We thought that as he had been of service to us we would withhold our expressions of dissatisfaction. Day continued:
"I had the matches in my pocket when I seed that black devil get ready to kill his man, and a thought struck me that if the bushranger was 'gentleman Sam,' I'd better look out how I played pranks with him, 'cos he's as bold as a lion, and nearly about as strong. I thought that if I was to frighten him I'd got to put on the extras, and I jist collected a few dried twigs, lashed them on the head with dried kangaroo sinews, tougher than an undertaker's heart, and when I found that it was about time for the coffin, I jist lighted the wood works with a match, and there I was all shining bright like an angel."
"If you resemble an angel, I don't wonder at the few visits they pay the earth," grumbled Mr. Brown, who, now that the danger was nearly past, was disposed to quiz the man who had been so serviceable to us.
"Well, I 'spose there is some difference 'twixt us," returned Day, "for if all angels got burned as bad as I have been they would leave out the fire when they went visiting."
"Well, well," replied my companion, consolingly, "you have been an angel to us, Day, and if I had only a portion of the good liquor which you carried off last night I would drink your health and bathe your wounds."
"Would you, though?" demanded Day, with animation.
Mr. Brown reiterated his statement, although in a languid manner, for he did not exactly approve of the midnight depredation which our friend had been guilty of.
"Well, to tell the truth," continued Day, "I didn't drink all that I found, 'cos I thought it would be cruel, so I jist changed it into a bladder that I carried water in, and I have got it stowed away here somewhere."
Never did a confession sound more welcome, and we watched out friend eagerly until he returned from the place where the liquor was hid, and we found about a pint of the raw material saved from his rapacious stomach.
"Here is health and long life to all undertakers' apprentices," Mr. Brown said, pressing the bladder to his mouth in the most affectionate manner.
The words were hardly uttered when we heard the shrill calls of the bushrangers, as they rallied after their flight, and were returning to their encampment to recover what articles they had left behind them. Surprised to think that they should have ventured upon haunted ground the second time, I glanced towards the woods, and found, to my surprise, that daylight had stolen upon us almost unperceived, and that the bushrangers had gained fresh courage from the fact, and were still in a condition to annoy us.
FINDING THE BURIED TREASURE.
If we had once given the matter a thought, we might have known that the bushrangers would return to their camp by break of day, for the purpose of securing their effects which they had left behind, and to talk over the matter of the spiritual apparition. I almost regretted that we had not, during their absence, endeavored to gain some secure retreat, either at the station on our right, which our Day belonged to, and where it was thought the bushrangers would not have dared to follow us, or else having struck out boldly for Mount Tarrengower, endeavored to have discovered a path or trail that led over the mountain, where we might have found safety. In case no trail existed, we could have secreted ourselves in one of the dark glens on the side of the Mount, and remained there until Day had brought us word that the coast was clear.
Even Mr. Brown and the ghost began to look black when the peculiar calls, which we knew were signals employed by the bushrangers, saluted us. Daylight was already upon us, and the occupation of our apparition was at an end, for however horrid he might look during darkness, the light of the sun revealed his true character, and stripped him of his ghastly look.
As it was impossible for us to venture from the island while the robbers infested the woods, we naturally turned to each other for advice and counsel. Mr. Brown considered that our only chance for safety was to remain where we were, and wait patiently until Sam and his gang were disposed to vacate the woods, and he argued shrewdly that they would not pass a second night in a locality that had been the scene of a cold-blooded murder, and the appearance of a ghost of the most frightful description.
The shepherd was in favor of the same plan, and expressed himself ready to fight like a Briton in case we were attacked, and to show his sincerity, revealed to us the state of his powder horn, half full of diamond glazed, while his pouch contained nearly thirty bullets, each weighing an ounce.
Luckily we had taken the precaution to remove Mr. Brown's gray horse from the main land to the island, so that no trace of our presence remained, excepting the footprints of the animals.
"I think," said Day, after a moment's hesitation, "that I can venture to meet the coveys and have a talk with 'em, and endeavor to allay their suspicions if they have any."
Of course Mr. Brown and myself remonstrated against such a measure, as we considered that his life would not be worth one of his sheepskins if met by the gang.
"I don't know 'bout that," Day replied. "The coveys ain't so fond of killing stockmen, if they don't meddle too much with their mutton, and I'm sure whenever gentlemanly Sam and his boys have honored me with a visit, I have let 'em have their own way, and they have killed without hinderance. If that isn't treating 'em well, then I was not larnt manners."
"There is some force in what you say," Mr. Brown replied.
"Of course there is. Can't I go to the coveys and pretend that I am searching for stray sheep, and tell a lie or two about the horses, and then hint that I don't like to be caught in this part of the country after dark, 'cos I have seen strange sights, that I don't like to talk about? I don't know how we are to manage, unless I act the part proposed, for as sure as you are alive, the coveys will feel curious enough to know what has been going on in the island, and if they once get a hint that we are here, it is all day with us."
"We could defend the island against ten times the number of bushrangers that belong to the gang," muttered Mr. Brown.
"No doubt of that," remarked the shepherd, dryly; "but the coveys ain't going to make a fight of it by any means. They would starve us out in less than twenty-four hours after beginning the siege."
Mr. Brown pointed to the horses, as though intimating we could eat them if pressed,—but Day shook his head.
"Tain't the grub that we should need as much as something else. Give me a well of water and the horses, and I'll agree to hold this island agin all the bushrangers in the country. Don't you know that when the sun begins to scorch a covey's head he must have water in his stomach, or he'll soon kick the bucket? We could eat the animals, but we must have something to drink likewise, or else we'd have fits, and like as not kill each other. No, no, we can't stand a siege and hope to escape, and I think what I have proposed is the very best plan."
We hardly knew what reply to make our acquaintance, who seemed determined to run his head into the lion's den, but the thought suddenly struck Mr. Brown that if the shepherd meant to thus expose his life he deserved to get large pay for it, and as my friend was one of those kind of men who liked to have every thing understood, he considered that it was his duty to touch on that particular point, and find out what his views really were.
"We could afford to pay something for the risk that's run, in case you undertook the task, but we are not rich by any means, although you may think so by our appearance," my friend said, with a complaisant glance at his person, which he imagined was dignified, forgetful that he had dismissed the uniform of an inspector, and wore nothing but a flannel shirt and duck trousers.
"Humph," muttered the ghost. "I should almost be ashamed to change places with either of you. As for reward, first wait till I ask for one. I will promise not to claim any thing more expensive than a bottle of brandy, and a few pipes of 'bacca, and those I shan't ask for unless you come this way again, which isn't likely."
"If we don't come we can send," cried Mr. Brown, eagerly, "and I promise that you shall have a gallon of as good brandy, and half a dozen pounds as good tobacco as can be found in Ballarat, if you can get those d——d bushrangers clear of this part of the country so that we can escape. There they go again, with their eternal co-hoo-pe. What in the devil's name do they mean by that, I wonder?"
"It is the signal for them to extend, and keep a sharp lookout," I replied, recollecting the signal perfectly well, having heard it many times.
"Then I have no time to waste, as the funeral undertaker said, when told that the body in the house would come to life if left unburied," cried the ghost, beginning to strip off his sheepskins with nervous haste. "I'm to have the liquor and 'bacca, mind."
I joined Mr. Brown in assuring him that we would freely keep our word; and after Day had drained the last drop of liquor that we had with us, he boldly started on his dangerous undertaking, and we watched his form as he walked over the peninsula, and reached the main land, with more than ordinary interest.
Suddenly he stopped, before reaching the woods, and applying his hands to his mouth, he uttered a word that is well known to stockmen of Australia.
"Co-hee," he shouted, and it seemed as though the sound could be heard for miles, so sharp and shrill was it.
In an instant the various cries which the bushrangers had uttered were hushed, and the robbers seemed surprised at the sudden call, which they knew did not belong to their party.
Once more the shepherd placed his hands to his mouth, and gave the shrill cry of—"Co-hee."
I never heard a yell that sounded so distinct, and which seemed to travel such a distance. I venture to say, that if a person had been upon the summit of Mount Tarrengower, he could have recognized the call, and had he answered, we should have heard it.
Day, apparently satisfied with what he had done, rested upon his honors, and waited for the finale of his adventures, and he was not long kept in suspense, for the bushrangers, after a brief reconnoitre from behind trees and bushes, suddenly debouched into the open plain, and advanced towards the seemingly unconscious shepherd at a rapid rate, and foremost in the group, I recognized the dark features of Sam Tyrell, the leader.
"Who are you, that answers our calls like a man lost on the plains?" demanded Sam, throwing his gun into the hollow of his arm, as though he meant mischief if provoked.
"That's a pretty question for you coveys to ask, after eating my mutton as long as you have," replied Day. "I'm a shepherd, and belong to this station, and am now looking after my pet ram that got away from the flock some time during the night, and I'm afeard he's missed. You coveys ain't seen him, have you?"
The leader shook his head in a negative manner, and seemed to entertain no suspicion in regard to Day's doings the night before.
"I want to find the ram, 'cos he's a valuable one, and cost the owner of the stock considerable money, but I'll be blamed if I stay round here long, ram or no ram."
"Suppose we refuse to let you leave us?" asked Sam, rather gruffly.
"I don't care about, leaving, as long as you stay," replied Day, with perfect assurance, and here he looked over his shoulder, as though he feared to see something at his elbow that would prove disagreable, "but I don't visit this spot often, and when I do come, 'tain't in the night time, you had better believe."
This confession seemed to awaken an interest in the bushrangers, for they crowded round Day as though desirous of an explanation; and from the point of our observation, carefully concealed by rank grass and rough rocks, we could observe the gang whisper to each other, and look at the shepherd, as though he could give an explanation if he was disposed to.
"What do you mean by your hints and frightened looks?" demanded the leader, in a tone that was intended to act as a warning, in case Day should attempt to deceive.
"O, what is the bloody use of my telling you coveys any thing?" the shepherd answered. "You fellers who don't care for the devil, wouldn't believe me, and I should only get laughed at. Have you seen my ram?"
"Blast your ram," cried Sam, with an impatient air. "We want to know what you mean by saying that you have seen strange sights?"
"Did I say that I had?" inquired Day, casting a rapid glance towards the woods, as though he feared the appearance of a horrid spectre.
"We are not to be trifled with, shepherd," and as the leader spoke, he made a motion with his gun that was very significant, and Day understood it, although he manifested no signs of disquietude.
"Is it possible," our friend asked, "that you have never heard of the Hunter of Mount Tarrengower? A huge spectre that rides on a white horse sometimes, and who threatens with death all who invade his sacred retreats. I have never seen the ghost, but one of my brother stockmen has, and he told me that he would not look upon the like again for the station, stock and all."
"Why does he frequent this spot in preference to others?" demanded the leader of the gang, who seemed to be interested in the story in spite of his assumed indifference.
"O, an old stockman once told me that a shepherd was roasted near these diggings by a gang of bushrangers, who wanted him to give up some money that he had. The covey was stuffy, and refused, or else he hadn't got any, I don't know which is the right story, but this I am positive of, I'd sooner give up all I was worth than be burned at the stake."
"Perhaps the reason is, you are worth nothing," suggested Sam, after a brief survey of the speaker.
"You have hit the nail of the coffin on its head this time," chuckled Day. "I don't see a sovereign from one year's end to t'other, and don't 'spect to till my time has expired, so that I can work for myself."
"You are a ticket of leave man, then?" demanded Sam, with more feeling than he had shown during the interview.
"Well, if I wasn't I shouldn't be here, working for thirty pounds a year, when there's gold to be dug for the mere paying of a license. No, no, just wait till I can call myself my own master, and then the sheep and stock may go to the devil, for all that I care."
"Can't you tell us something more about the ghost?" asked one of the men, who seemed to take an especial interest in Day's narrative.
"Well, I don't like to talk about the matter, 'cos 'tis said that the old feller visits those who are too intimate with his name. My comrade, who is at the other end of the station, told me once that he saw the Hunter when he was all in a blaze, and that when he spoke the ghost and flames disappeared. I don't believe half what he tells me though, 'cos I 'spose he tries to frighten me, but I've got as much courage as he has, any day."
There was a breathless silence for a few moments, and the robbers seemed to be digesting the story which they had listened to. We could see them whispering together, and apparently were disposed to believe what the shepherd had said.
"Here are the prints of horses feet," Sam exclaimed, pointing to the ground. "Have you seen horsemen in this vicinity lately?"
"Heaven forbid," cried Day. "The only horse that visits these parts is rode by the Hunter."
"Then we will give him fire to light him on his way," exclaimed Sam, with a forced laugh, and calling his men he turned and walked towards his late encampment, and was soon lost to view.
His gang followed close at his heels, and we were not sorry to see them depart, although we could not help wondering what was meant by the threat of finding fire for the supposed ghost. We found out, however, full soon, and owed the scamp a bitter grudge for his work.
The shepherd pretended to walk rapidly in the direction of the stock-house, but concealed himself amid the trees, and waited until he thought the last robber had retired from sight, when he again joined us, and received our hearty congratulations for his good conduct.
"Now, then, let us have another search for the treasure," cried Mr. Brown, springing into the hole which Day had excavated, after he had frightened us from the island.
"And you can't be too quick about the work, neither," muttered the shepherd.
I asked for a meaning to his expression, but he declined answering, and seizing the pick began to tear up the sods with lusty strokes, but before a dozen blows wore struck, I heard the point of his pick strike something that gave forth a metallic sound.
"Hold on, Day," I cried, "the prize is within our grasp at last."
I carefully removed the dirt with my hands, and had the satisfaction of bringing to light a canvas bag that was so decayed that it barely supported the heavy weight which it contained.
Mr. Brown and the shepherd were almost frantic with delight, and would have cheered lustily, had not fear of bringing the bushrangers upon us again restrained them.
"Down with it, so that I can say I have seen some money in my lifetime!" cried Day. "Empty it out, and let me feel of it; let me but touch the precious yellow boys with my fingers, and wonder how many splendid funerals it would pay for."
I took one of his sheepskins and poured the contents of the bag upon it, and out rattled gold dust, sovereigns, doubloons, a number of American gold pieces—all bearing the date of 1832—articles of jewelry, such as finger rings and watch chains, and at the bottom of the bag was a lady's gold watch, enamelled back, and half a dozen small diamonds set in the form of a cross upon the case. I examined the watch carefully, and saw a stain near the diamonds. Something told me that the mark was the blood of the unfortunate owner. I laid the jewel down with a shudder, and thought of the cruelties to which the owner had undoubtedly been subject before she met her death. Day, however, partook of none of my feelings, for he was eager to possess so attractive a trinket.
"Take it if you desire it," I said, handing the watch to the shepherd, "but you will always recollect that there is a stain of blood upon the case."
"Not I," he replied, handling the article with as much pride and pleasure as a boy receives a new toy; "I didn't shed her blood, and so shan't trouble myself about this little spot that is on the case. It's as pretty as a mahogany coffin, but it don't go."
"The works are rusted, and it will be necessary to send it to Melbourne for repairs."
"Not I," answered the ghost, with a chuckle; "somebody might see it and lay claim to it, and then where would be my watch, and where would I be? Another term at the hulks is not agreeable to think of, and my accounts of the manner in which I got hold of the thing wouldn't be believed. No, no; I'll wear it out of sight until I leave the country, or am rich enough to escape suspicion."
I thought that Day's course was the best, if he desired to retain possession of the property, for, as he said, a number of awkward questions would probably have been asked him at Melbourne, the mere carrying of a watch by a ticket of leave man being looked upon as suspicious by people who were not so honest as Day.
We continued our examination of the treasure, and were delighted to find that it exceeded our expectations, and so engrossed were we in speculating upon the nature of the dust that we forgot the hardships attendant upon obtaining it.
We counted the coins, and found that we had about three thousand dollars, and I judged the dust was worth about as much more, as it was of good quality, and entirely free of dirt. "Now, Day, how much shall we give you for your valuable services?" asked' Mr. Brown.
"O, I am satisfied with this," he answered, holding up his watch, which he was polishing on his shirt sleeve.
"But, of course, you expect a portion of the dust and gold coins?"
"No, I don't expect any thing, 'cos I volunteered my services, and I'm always happy to accommodate, as the man said who was willing to be put in a coffin before he was dead. Never mind me, I'm satisfied."
The shepherd's modesty surprised me, for I had anticipated, from his eagerness to get hold of the watch, that he would be equally as eager for a share of the gold, and Mr. Brown and myself were both aware that he deserved a handsome reward for the dangers through which he had passed to free us from the inquisitiveness of the bushrangers. Therefore, the more backward Day appeared the more firmly did we insist upon doing justice to his merits.
Mr. Brown and myself consulted together for a few minutes, and then concluded to give him a thousand dollars in gold coin; and when we announced our decision, the shepherd was frantic with delight.
"O, luddy!" he cried, "wouldn't I have a time to-night if I was in London and had this money in my pocket? Wouldn't I drink 'alf and 'alf till I couldn't speak, and then go to bed with—"
So elated did Day get with the idea that he clapped his hands together, and sprang into the air, cutting antics of the most singular kind. While he was thus expressing his gratitude, and even while his face was teeming with pleasure, I saw a wonderful change come over it. He stopped speaking, and muttered,—
"D——n 'em; now they have done it, and no mistake!"
"What is the matter, Day?" asked Mr. Brown, rather sternly, thinking the remark was applied to us.
The shepherd pointed with his hand in the direction of the main land, and one look was sufficient to convince us that the threat which Sam had uttered was no idle one, for a cloud of black smoke was issuing from the trees, not in one place alone, but in fifty, and before we could recover from our astonishment, a sheet of flame darted from the woods, and gathering headway as it crept along, seized upon the dry grass, and rapidly approached the peninsula.
THE ESCAPE FROM THE FIRE.
All the troubles through which we had passed were mere child's play compared to our situation at the present time, for a forest on fire was a danger that was calculated to test our energies to the utmost if we expected to escape with whole skins and our lives. For a few minutes, therefore, we were overwhelmed and speechless, and gazed into each other's faces for counsel. Our first thoughts were that we could remain on the island and escape the fury of the flames, and so we might have done had we possessed water sufficient to quench not only our own thirst but that of the animals. A moment's reflection, however, convinced us that we could not exist for half a day where we were, with a scorching sun overhead and a roaring fire in front, and that, if we intended to escape, we must begin to make preparations without delay, as every second the flames increased and extended on all sides.
"Pocket the gold," shouted Day, setting us an example with his share. "We will try and save that and our own lives, but as for the rest of the baggage we must leave it behind."
We were not backward in filling our pockets with the dust and coins and by the time we had secured the last scale Day was saddling the horses and putting on their bridles.
"We can never get the animals through the fire," Mr. Brown said, well knowing the reluctance with which horses approach flames.
"I've thought of that," responded Day, "and intend to cover their eyes with sheepskins."
The idea was a capital one, and was immediately carried into effect The skins which Day had used to play the ghost were now employed to cover the heads of our restless animals, for as the fire increased they seemed to be aware of their danger, and were with difficulty prevented from plunging into the bog, where they would soon have been smothered in defiance of our exertions. The instant that their eyes were blindfolded they became perfectly quiet, and suffered themselves to be led to the peninsula, which they crossed without accident, and while we debated for a few minutes which course we should take to avoid the danger, the animals remained motionless, as though they had every confidence in our wisdom.
"We must look to you for guidance here," Mr. Brown said, turning to the shepherd, who was attentively watching the course of the flames. "There is a horse for each of us, and a few blows must not be spared to make them carry us safe through the fire."
We threw ourselves into the saddles, and left the pack horse, a stout brute, for Day to take charge of. Every thing that we had packed upon his back we had left on the island, and the only articles that we carried on our own persons were revolvers. Even our powder flasks we emptied for fear of an explosion, as the air was full of cinders blown in all directions by light breezes which began to spring up with the morning sun.
"Which direction shall we take, Day?" I asked, thinking that it was about time we started, as the fire was creeping towards us at a rapid rate.
"'Pon my word, I don't know," he replied, with a puzzled expression upon his face. "You see that the woods on our right are on fire, and so are those on our left lending to the banks of the Loddon. 'Tisn't the trees that I care so much about as the grass. If I only knew whether the grass was on fire beyond the woods on our right I'd give half of the gold I've got in my pockets, and think myself fortunate."
"If our situation is so desperate it won't do to stand here and talk about it. Let us make a bold push and reach the river if possible, unless you think the bushrangers have retreated in that direction," I remarked.
"Them coveys are safe enough," replied Day, pointing to the mountain, from which we were separated by a wall of fire that almost blistered our faces where we stood. "They have gone up there like so many kangaroos, and no doubt are laughing at the sight, and thinking how surprised the ghost will be when he appears to-night. Them coveys hain't got much respects for beings of this world or 'tother, I should judge by their treatment of the best specimen of a goblin ever got up in any country."
"D——n your long yarns, let's get out of this confounded furnace before we stop to talk," was the response of Mr. Brown, who began to grow impatient under the fiery ordeal.
Day looked as though he would like to discuss the matter, but he altered his mind when he found that the fire was within ten feet of where we stood.
"For God's sake, are you going to keep us here till we are smothered?" yelled my friend; and there was some danger of it, for the smoke swept towards us in clouds, and made us gasp for breath and long for a drink of the sweet water of the Loddon.
Thus urged, Day made another hasty survey of the smoking plain, and then, striking his sharp, bony heels into the sides of his horse, led the way over the burning grass at a tremendous pace, closely followed by Mr. Brown and myself.
The animals, as though aware that their lives and our own depended upon their good behavior, galloped over the plain that separated us from the woods without once balking, although I feared and expected it every moment. After we reached the trees where the fire was raging severely, and where it was impossible to discover the path which we had followed when we were on our way to the treasure, I was fearful that we should be obliged to dismount and trust to our legs for an escape, for to have checked our animals even for a moment would have so bewildered them that we should have lost all control over them. Our good genius, Day, however, by some peculiar landmark, knew the trail in spite of the smoke, and did not hesitate for a moment.
"Keep close to me," he shouted, looking back for a moment, and then, with a wild yell, he gave his horse free rein, and on we dashed close to his heels.
On each side of us the flames were roaring and surging like the breaking of a heavy surf upon the seashore, and every moment the fire was extending by the aid of the grass and dead branches of trees, which were like tinder, no rain having fallen in that part of the country for three months.
We could see but a short distance ahead of us owing to the smoke, and for a while we were in a state of great uncertainty whether there was an outlet in the direction which we were pursuing. Our retreat was cut off, for the fire had rolled across our track, consuming every blade of grass in its course, and our only hope of safety was to continue onward and endeavor to outstrip our enemy.
Suddenly Day checked his horse, and waited for us to gain his side.
"We can't get to the river this way," he said, hurriedly, "for the grass is all on fire in front of us, and is burning like a furnace. Our animals would drop before they got twenty rods, and then where should we be?"
The question was too pertinent to be answered readily, even if we had the time.
"I think that we had better take to the woods on our right and endeavor to gain the mountain, or the foot of it at least. The fire does not spread so fast in the vicinity of the trees, although there is more smoke than on the open land."
"There is danger of our getting confused, and rushing into the fire, instead of out of it," replied Mr. Brown, in answer to my suggestion.
"Not if Day knows the ground," I replied.
"I know every rod of it between here and the Loddon," he answered, promptly.
"Then lead the way, and the risk be on my head," I said, turning my horse's head in the direction of the woods.
The shepherd hesitated for a moment, and while he was considering the matter, a huge kangaroo bounded from the woods on our left, passed within ten feet of us, and disappeared in the smoke that was rising from the trees on our right. A second afterwards my horse suddenly started, and with difficulty could I control him. I thought that the fire had got under his feet, but a glance to the ground convinced me that such was not the case, and that the animal was frightened at something more dreadful than the flames, for creeping across the trail, with head erect and flashing eyes, was a huge diamond snake, nearly fifteen feet long and about fourteen inches in diameter. The serpent was too eager to make his escape, and was too much frightened to think of molesting us, but I was not sorry to lose sight of him, although at any other time I would have given him the contents of my revolver.
"That kangaroo knows the best route for getting clear of the danger. Let's follow him."
Day's idea of following the animal was good, but it was exceedingly probable that the brute was half a mile from us before we made up our minds which direction to take. Kangaroos get over the ground with more than railroad speed, each bound which they make averaging from fifteen to twenty-five feet in length.
We turned our horses' heads and urged them through the smoke, avoiding the fire as well as possible, so that our animals would not become alarmed and refuse to move, except in the direction of danger. By this means we made some progress, and soon hoped to get clear of the trees; but before we had advanced a quarter of a mile a long wall of fire headed us off, and again brought us to a stand still. To retreat was impossible, for the fire was surging after us, and feeding upon the long grass with a fierceness that told us we could not cross the line and hope to live, while if we advanced a like result was certain. On every side of us we could hear the trees crack, and sway to and fro, and then fall with a heavy crash that showed how rapidly the flames had spread, and with what intensity the fire was burning. Our fate began to look doubtful, and I had almost a mind to throw away the gold which loaded down my pockets, and to possess which I had encountered so many dangers.
"What shall we do now?" demanded Mr. Brown, his voice as firm and apparently as composed as when in Ballarat, surrounded by his policemen.
Day was evidently at the end of his expedients, for he sat on his horse and only stared at us in reply, not offering a word.
"In which direction is Mount Tarrengower?" I asked.
The stockman pointed with his hand to the right of us.
"Are you sure?" I demanded.
"Positive," he answered.
"Then follow me!" and with a word I encouraged my horse, and started at as rapid a pace as possible in the direction indicated.
Mr. Brown and Day followed as close as possible, and for a few minutes we were kept hard at work dodging the branches of trees, and guiding our blindfolded horses through the labyrinths for the purpose of avoiding the fire as much as possible. Sometimes we were compelled to halt until a cloud of black smoke, impregnated with the juice of gum trees and stately palms, had passed over us and revealed the course which it was necessary for us to pursue to find safety. Amidst all this it was a consolation to know that we were not getting into hotter localities, and that the flames were raging more extensively in the quarter which we had left but a minute before, for we could see fire rolling over the very spot we had stopped at when Day had relinquished the head of the party.
On we went, and at length the smoke gradually diminished, and above the tree tops could be seen the rugged sides of Mount Tarrengower. Even then we did not consider that we were in safety, for a change of wind would bring the fire upon us a second time, and then we should be hummed in between the sides of the mountain and the woods—no very enviable situation. We felt thankful, however, for our escape so far, and prayed as well as we were able that the wind would hold in its present position until we were in safety.
For a few minutes we sat upon our horses and watched the flames at our feet,—for we were on elevated ground, and could overlook a large portion of the fire—and a grand sight it was to see tree after tree fall with a tremendous crash, sending up sparks and jets of flame, and thick clouds of black smoke which rose high in the air, and then sailed in majestic grandeur in the direction of Ballarat. We were too busy with our thoughts to converse for some time after our escape, but at length Mr. Brown suggested to Day that his sheep would suffer during his absence, even if they were not all destroyed by the fire.
"No fear of that'," replied the shepherd, with a grin which showed how much interest he had in his employer's property, forced, as he was, to take care of it by the strong arm of law. "Sheep ain't such devilish fools as to run into fires with their eyes wide open. When I go back I shall find my flock all right, and if I don't 'tain't much matter. My comrades, however, will wonder more about my absence than the animals, and I s'pose they will think I'm a goner."
"How near are we to the station, Day?" I asked.
"Let me see," replied the shepherd, after a moment's reflection. "We can't be move than five miles from the Loddon, and if we follow the left bank of the river long enough we shall reach Wright's station, where we can get something to eat, and perhaps be sure of a welcome."
"Humph," grunted Mr. Brown, "your directions are not very plain, and you seem to be in doubt whether we will fare well or ill after we gain the farm. Why should we not be received with kindness?"
"Well, to tell you truth," replied the shepherd, with commendable frankness, "I don't think that the looks of you two coveys are very prepossessing, and I have a fear that you will be mistaken for bushrangers, and get a dose of lead instead of a dinner. I 'spose that if I was to go ahead and speak for ye 'twould be all right."
We could not help laughing at the impudence of the fellow, and yet he was perfectly serious in his belief.
"Let us shape our course for the farm, and not be all day thinking of the matter," Mr. Brown said testily. "If Wright won't give us a supper and a bed we can go without."
"Remember," shouted Day, as we urged our horses along as fast as possible over the uneven ground, keeping close to the base of the mountain, to avoid the fire which was still raging parallel to our course, "I don't bold out hopes that you will be well received. I ain't much acquainted with the covey Wright, so that it will be no use for me to ride in advance."
"Don't distress yourself," replied Mr. Brown, somewhat annoyed to think that a stockman should want to vouch for his respectability; but I looked at the matter in the light of a good joke, and, riding by the side of Day, I managed to discover the reasons for not wishing to appear before the farm house of the proprietor.
It seemed that Mr. Wright was engaged extensively, not only in agriculture but in stock raising, and that to carry on his business it was necessary to employ quite a small army of laborers, as well as a small colony of dogs, who guarded the sheep during the night, and formed regular cordon around them, into which circle none could enter or depart except the shepherds. In case of an alarm by an invasion of bushrangers, the employees were required to turn out and act as skirmishers to repel the enemy; and as every person was well armed and compelled to be a good marksman, Mr. Wright, after a few battles, in which the bushrangers suffered no insignificant loss, finally concluded that it was better to get their mutton at some station where blows were less plenty and flesh equally as good.
Still, in spite of these drawbacks, Mr. Wright was compelled to be constantly on the alert, and never laid his head upon his pillow of dried grass at night expecting to wake up alive in the morning, for the region in which his farm was situated was surrounded by bands of depredators; and how should he know but they would join forces and make common cause against a man whom they considered an enemy?
ARRIVAL AT MR. WRIGHT'S STATION.
A love of excitement was the key to Mr. Wright's secret for remaining on his farm and cultivating it, while danger attended him at every step that he took, unless surrounded by a body guard of laborers. Yet he neglected no precaution to insure his safety, and those under his charge; and for this purpose he had two natives of Australia attached to his farm, and their duty consisted in watching for the footsteps of strangers, and following their trail until satisfied that no wrong was intended; or, if danger threatened, the occupants of the farm could be prepared to meet it from the timely warning of the industrious blacks. I think that I have before spoken of the ability of the Australian to follow a trail with the fidelity of a bloodhound—no matter how light the step or what kind of ground is passed over, the native is never at fault, or thrown off the scent; and even if a dozen men attempt to deceive him, he picks out the footsteps of the person he is in pursuit of, and knows an enemy from a friend.
Their tact and knowledge in this respect is marvellous, and is only equalled by their skill at throwing the boomerang,—a curved piece of wood, measuring from twenty inches to three feet in length.
As I listened to Day's description of the farmer of the Lodden, and his means of repelling attacks, and precaution against surprise, I no longer regretted the dangers of the excursion and its hardships. I longed to see a farmer of Australia, and learn his method of planting, and what kind of tools he used, and all the information which I hoped would be interesting to my agricultural friends in this country. I forgot that I was not clothed in exactly the kind of costume that would insure me a warm reception, and I forgot that the farmers of Victoria, as a general thing, are as aristocratic in feeling as the gentlemanly farmers of England.
I could have wished for a white shirt and a decent riding costume; but as I was destitute of those luxuries, I determined to appear like an American gentleman, even if I didn't look like one.
As for Mr. Brown, he manifested the most profound contempt for clothing when I hinted the matter to him, and concluded by expressing a hope that if Mr. Wright didn't like our personal appearance he wouldn't look at us, which I considered only just and reasonable, although, as a general thing, I prefer open hostility to quiet contempt.
In about two hours time we gained the banks of the Loddon, and quenched our thirst with its pure water, and then followed the stream along for a number of miles until we began to approach signs of cultivation, when we struck a very good road that apparently had been used for the carting of water to the farm house. In a short time we came in view of an immense field of wheat, ripe and ready for reaping, but without a fence or hedge to guard it against the depredations of animals, although, as far as I could judge, the grain had not suffered in that respect.
Still, we met with no one connected with the farm; a circumstance that gave Day some uneasiness, for he was continually urging us to be cautious how we moved along, and to check our horses the instant a word was addressed to us.
"It's all very well for you coveys to pretend that you don't care, but if a few bullets should happen to fly this way and knock you off your horses, what satisfaction would there be in letting the coveys know that they had made a mistake. Recollect, you don't look over genteel."
We calmed the shepherd with assurances that we would be extremely careful, and continued onward, and when we least expected it, a sudden rounding of the road freed us from the trees which grew upon the banks of the Loddon, and we emerged upon an open space containing about sixty acres, and in the middle of the vast square was the farm house belonging to Mr. Wright. It was quite a respectable building, two stories high, with flat roof, and constructed entirely of rough logs, yet fitted together with considerable pretensions to skill and nicety.
On the roof, to keep out the rain, and to prevent the bushrangers or natives from setting fire with burning arrows, was dirt about a foot deep, and sodded over with turf. The body of the building, we could see, was full of loopholes, and commanded every approach, and there was no tree or outhouse sufficiently near to interfere with this arrangement, or any unequal ground which a foe could take advantage of.
At some distance to the left of the castle, as Mr. Brown facetiously called it, were three immense pens, one filled with sheep, and the others with horses and other animals, and I judged there were as many dogs on the outside of the pens as there were rams on the inside, for the instant we appeared in sight we were greeted with such frightfully discordant yelling and barking that I began to fancy we must indeed present a woeful spectacle, or we never should be saluted by such vindictive sounds. Still, not a shadow of a human being did we discover, and I began to think that the bushrangers had made a descent, murdered those connected with the farm, and then escaped, when I was suddenly convinced of my error by hearing the report of a musket, and an ounce ball whizzed by my head and struck the ground about ten rods in the rear of us.
"That says, stop where you are, plain enough," remarked Day, checking his horse; an example which we were not slow in following.
"But if we remain here we shall get no supper," I remarked.
"That is the truest word that you ever uttered," cried Mr. Brown, with a grin, at our predicament.
"Will you go forward, Day, and let Mr. Wright know that we are friends?" I asked; but the shepherd shook his head, and declined, and manifested a willingness to retreat from the neighborhood of the house, although I will do him the justice of stating that he showed no signs of fear.
"Look at the cowards at the windows of the house," cried Mr. Brown; and sure enough, the inmates of the building had thrown open the iron shutters, and were gazing at us with some curiosity, although I noticed that each man held a musket in his hand for fear of surprise.
"I wouldn't refuse to speak with all the bushrangers in Australia, if I had a fortress like that to retreat into," muttered Mr. Brown, with a smile of contempt.
"Let us cross the Lodden, and find the Hawkswood station," suggested Day, "I'll warrant that we shall get something to eat, and perhaps a drink of rum there. I've had a taste of the hospitality of that place more than once."
I was almost resolved to follow the advice, but a look at the heavens convinced me that we should have rain before many hours, owing, probably, to the fire which was raging at a distance, as fiercely as ever, and night was nearly upon us. Besides, I began to feel really exhausted for the want of food and rest, and I was fearful that if Day should miss the trail we might wander about until daylight, and still be some distance from the place we were in search of.
With these opinions I combated both Mr. Brown and Day, and made an impression, for the former exclaimed pettishly, that if I was desirous of remaining, I might devise some way of giving Mr. Wright and his numerous proteges intelligence of our honesty. The task was a difficult one, but I scorned to be at a loss for expedients.
In the bosom of my shirt I had a handkerchief, made of India silk, and of a yellow color, but at a short distance it appeared white, and I thought it would answer for a flag of truce. Therefore, before my companions were aware of my intention, I flourished the handkerchief over my head, and galloped at a moderate pace towards the house, expecting every moment that I should get a shot for my recklessness, but I intended, if there was any firing, to wait until the farmers were satisfied that I meant honestly, provided, of course, I escaped getting hit, of which I was in some fear, I must confess.
Luckily for my safety, Mr. Brown and Day remained where I left them, and were watching my movements with some curiosity, and considerable anxiety. Had they advanced towards the house at the same moment as myself, we should all have bitten the dust, and rich pickings the stockmen would have had emptying our pockets, and boasting of their exploits in shooting three men with but a single effective revolver to defend themselves.
On I galloped, waving my handkerchief in token of friendship, and exciting dismal howls from the canine brutes, whom I expected every moment would desert their flocks and attack me, but I afterwards understood that the dogs were so well trained that no amount of temptation could induce them from their charges. Had it been otherwise, my gallant horse would have had to put his speed to good account, tired as he was.
When within three rods of the house, I halted, and prepared for a parley with the garrison, and I was the more ready to commence it, from the simple circumstance of seeing about a dozen old muskets pointed at me, and the holders of the same glancing along the barrels, as though meaning mischief.
"Can you give me and my friends supper and lodgings to-night?" I asked, addressing the crowd, seeing no one that I supposed was in authority.
"Go away wid ye, ye thaves and murderers," cried a voice, "rich with brogue," and I could not help laughing in the fellow's face at the answer.
"We will pay you well for our entertainment," I continued, after I had sufficiently recovered my composure.
"Will ye lave, yer blackguard?" demanded the first speaker, shaking his old gun at me, and motioning for me to depart as soon as possible.
"We have been without food all day," I continued, "and, after escaping the dangers of the burning plains, it seems hard to be driven away from a Christian's door like dogs."
"It's a pity, so it is, that ye wasn't consumed in that same fire. Away wid ye, and don't bother honest people like us. Ye can't come in here, and that's flat."
"I suppose that you imagine we are bushrangers," I said; "in that you are mistaken. We have just escaped from a gang."
"Thin ye had better 'scape back agin, as fast as yer two legs will carry ye," cried the Irishman.
"It's the first time that I ever knew a native of the Emerald Isle to refuse a stranger a crust of bread or a drop of water," I continued, resolved to try what virtue there was in flattery.
"Will yer save yer blarney?" demanded the fellow, again levelling his gun in my direction, a proceeding that I did not thank him for, although I did not manifest alarm.
"Go to the devil!" I cried, thoroughly out of patience, "and send your master to me."
"O, holy St. Patrick! only hear him! He calls me master the devil, and thinks I won't resent the insult. Look out for yer eye, for by the piper that played before Moses, I'll bore yer through and through!"
I believe the fellow would have kept his word, and I was just about to show them my horse's heels, when I heard a man speak in a tone of authority,—
"Up with your guns, and don't make fools of yourselves by shooting an unarmed man."
In obedience to the order the guns were lowered, and a number of the men fell back from the window, and allowed me to get a glimpse of the person whom I supposed to be Mr. Wright. He was a tall, well-built man, with broad shoulders, and a face entirely English, covered with sandy whiskers.
"Who are you?" he asked, with the bluffness and arrogance of a native of Great Britain.
"A man," I replied.
"I have your word for that, but I require better evidence."
"What better evidence do you require?" I demanded.
He did not notice the remark, but continued,—
"I see many people every week, and although they have the form of men, they are villains."
"The more reason why you should treat honest people with courtesy when chance brings them this way," I replied.
"Hear the feller's blarney," muttered the Irishman.
"Silence," said Mr. Wright, and the command was obeyed.
"We have to be extremely cautious whom we admit within these walls," Mr. Wright continued, "for a gang of bushrangers has been prowling around the farm for a week or more, and are endeavoring to destroy my flocks. How shall I know that you don't belong to the gang?"
He waved his hand in a significant manner, and I could not have been more surprised had an earthquake shaken me from my horse.
"My deeds have always been squared in accordance with the great principles of the fraternity," I replied, and it was pleasing to see what a change took place in the demeanor of the farmer.
"Down with your guns," he shouted, "and unbolt and unbar the door. See to the gentleman's horse, and let us have for supper the best that the station affords."
The heads disappeared from the windows as if by magic, and in a few seconds' time the heavy outer door was thrown open, and forth issued Mr. Wright at the head of his employees. I signalized to Mr. Brown and Day to advance, and then dismounted and met the strong grip of the farmer's hand with one equally as hearty.
"I ask ten thousand pardons," he said, "for my questions, but I am obliged to keep a strict guard over my property, or I should be surprised by the forest rovers, who would amply repay the numerous checks which they have received at my hands, were they able to do so."
"Make no apologies," I replied, "for I don't blame you for classing me with suspicious characters; but the fact is, we have passed through a cordon of flames, and I think our clothing is somewhat damaged, and our personal appearance not very prepossessing. We should not have troubled you had not necessity compelled us."
"No trouble, no trouble," he exclaimed, with all the heartiness of an Englishman who is disposed to be friendly; "I am always glad to see company, provided, of course, it's the right kind."
By this time Mr. Brown and Day had joined us, and were waiting to receive the same welcome that had been bestowed upon me. I introduced them in due form, and gave Mr. Brown his ex-title, which pleased him excessively.
"I know you," Mr. Wright said, addressing Mr. Brown. "Haven't we met before?"
"I should say that we had," replied my friend, scanning the farmer's face keenly.
"You were stationed at one time in Melbourne?" Mr. Wright inquired.
"For a number of years."
"And of course you remember that I landed at that city ten years since, with one hundred pounds in my pocket?"
"Large numbers of emigrants arrived with more money than that," replied the ex-inspector.
"But my case was a peculiar one, for the first night that I stopped on shore my hundred pounds were stolen," continued Mr. Wright.
"Quite a common case," my friend said; "women are fair to look upon after a long sea voyage."
"D—— it, you have 'hit the nail on its head," cried the Englishman, hastily. "I lost all my money."
"I knew you would say that, if you told all. Go on."
"I complained to the police, and you investigated the circumstances, and found my hundred pounds after some trouble," he continued. "Be thankful that I was young and inexperienced at that period," cried the ex-inspector, with a laugh.
"More—you refused to accept of a reward that I offered for the recovery of the money."
"I must have been dreaming. I am glad to think that there is one circumstance in my life that I can refer to and not blush," cried my friend, jocosely.
"Bah!" cried the farmer, who didn't believe that Mr. Brown was speaking what he felt. "You gave me good advice, and from it I trace all my property."
"I am glad to think that I have given one person good advice in my lifetime. I wish that I had taken some of it myself."
"I followed your directions and bought stock with my hundred pounds, and now look around and see my flocks. I count my cattle by the thousands," continued Mr. Wright, pointing to his immense pens.
"I remember you," my friend said, "and knew you the instant you spoke, but I preferred to let you recall reminiscences of by-gone days, to see if there is any gratitude in the world."
"Gratitude?" echoed Mr. Wright; "darn it, man, when you are tired of stopping with me I'll give you a hundred head of cattle."
"Don't do it, for mercy's sake. I prefer that you should give us something to eat now. Show your liberality that way, for we are famishing."
"Eat, man! you shall have the best that I can get. Here, Mike, Pat, Peter, where am you all? Take charge of the gentlemen's horses, and give them a feed of grain and a thorough rubbing down. Put supper on the table instantly, and brew us a bowl of punch that will make us sing like nightingales, and sleep like honest men. This way, gentlemen, there is my house—rough and uncouth, but better than the shelter of a tree during a rainy night. You are welcome to my hospitality."
SUPPER.—RETURN OF MR. WRIGHT'S SCOUTS.
The room into which Mr. Wright conducted us was on the ground floor, and was about thirty feet deep and fifteen feet wide. Around the walls were hung skins of kangaroos, stuffed parrots, and other birds of gaudy plumage, while confined in brackets were old muskets in sufficient quantities to frighten all the natives of Australia, but their appearance, imposing as they were, would not have sufficiently impressed a bushranger of nerve into the belief that they were dangerous, even if loaded with their proper quantum of powder and lead.
We had hardly crossed the threshold of the building when a shrill voice greeted us with,—
"D——n bushrangers—d——n bushrangers—caught at last!—ha, ha!—I knew it!—I said so!—steal sheep, will you?"
We started back at such a reception, and Mr. Brown began to mutter something about "gratuitous insults," when Mr. Wright pointed to a remarkably large parrot that was roosting on the back of a chair, surveying us with quiet dignity, and evidently with considerable worldly wisdom.
Our anger vanished, and we made immediate overtures to Poll, for the purpose of establishing a firm friendship, but our advances were met with dignified coolness, while Day, who attempted to scratch the bird's head, got severely bitten for his pains.
"D——n the beast!" muttered the shepherd, rubbing his finger.
"That's right—swear! D——n it, why don't you swear? Sheep stealers! Who robs people? Ha, ha! Set the dogs on 'em!"
"A precocious parrot," said Mr. Wright, "and he is indebted for his profanity to my men, who learn him much that is bad, and little that is good, and to tell the truth, he learns the former much more readily than the latter."
"In which he closely resembles our policemen," muttered the ex-inspector.
"These gentlemen are my friends," said Mr. Wright, addressing the parrot, and formally presenting us for its distinguished consideration.
"O, friends, hey?" croaked the bird, eyeing us sharply; "why didn't you say so before? give Toll something; pretty Poll!"
We were unable to comply with the request, and the parrot didn't spare us in his denunciations for our illiberality, and to relieve us, Mr. Wright proposed that we should visit his private apartment and change our clothes, seeing that we stood in need of different raiment very much, and having none of our own at hand.
The room into which we were shown was used as a sleeping apartment and wardrobe by the proprietor of the station, and while it contained but few of the luxuries of civilized life, it was not entirely destitute of a comfortable appearance.
In one corner was a rude bedstead, with a hair mattress and blankets, a looking glass of miniature dimensions, a rifle of English pattern, heavy and cumbersome, a pair of splendid duelling pistols, a long sword with basket hilt, and a bowie knife.
"Here's where I sit and read, and sometimes write," said our host, throwing open a window to enable us the better to see his treasures; "my library is small, and I seldom make additions to it, but the few books which I have are like friends whom I can trust, old and true. Now I desire that you shall change your garments, and if you wish, take a bath before supper."
The proposition which our host made was not to be neglected, for my skin felt as though parched in an oven, and my clothes were so scorched that they were ready to fall to pieces. We did not scruple, therefore, to avail ourselves of the courtesy of Mr. Wright, and after a wash in a huge hogshead, that was used for bathing purposes, we once more found ourselves comfortable, with clean garments, and when we were dressed supper was announced.
Day, who had participated in our toils and struggles, and whom we had learned to regard with considerable affection, declined seating himself at the table with us, and all our urging did not overcome his diffidence, although backed by Mr. Wright, but, I must confess, rather feebly, and it was so evident that the farmer did not care about the company of Day that I no longer urged it.
"I saw the fire that is raging in the woods early this morning," Mr. Wright said, when he saw that our appetites were slightly checked, "and I feared that it would spread this way, and so gave orders to drive in the cattle and pen them up until all danger was passed. I was more willing to do this from the fact that my two Australians reported bushrangers in the vicinity, and that, after hovering around for a day or two, they had left for Mount Tarrengower."
While Mr. Wright was speaking, we could hear roars of laughter in the next room, which seemed to be the kitchen.
"My men are at their supper, and I suppose that your follower, whom some of my people tell me belongs at the next station, is amusing them with his wonderful adventures."
"He is as honest a fellow as ever lived, and has served us most faithfully. Without his aid we should not have escaped the fury of as savage a flock of bushrangers as ever roamed through the woods of Australia."
I spoke with some warmth, for I considered that Day deserved as good treatment as ourselves.
"I don't doubt his honesty or his bravery," returned our host, dryly, "but I am compelled to believe that if you knew how much I have to contend with here in the wilderness, hardly knowing friend from foe, and desired to treat all alike, I am sure that you would not think hard of me if I did desire to exclude the shepherd from the table. Be assured that he is happier where he is, and when another stockman visits my farm he will not be expected to sit at the same table with myself. Discipline is what keeps my men in subjection."
Another roar of laughter from the kitchen, and the servant who attended upon our table entered the apartment with a broad grin upon his face.
"Well, Jackson, something is going on in the kitchen that amuses you as well as the rest," Mr. Wright said.
"Yes, sir; that covey from the other station is telling the funniest things about his playing ghost, and frightening bushrangers into fits. He's a wild 'un, and no mistake."
A sudden darkness and pattering of rain drops outside told us that the storm had begun, and we felt thankful that we were under shelter for the night.
"Tell the men who are on duty to look well to the cattle, and then make themselves comfortable for the night," our host said, addressing the man, who seemed to be Mr. Wright's especial attendant.
The person alluded to departed on his errand, and while he was gone we surveyed the heavens from the windows, and found that the clouds were black and full of moisture, while the rain was descending in torrents.
"Let it continue this way for an hour or two, and I shall have the pleasure of your company for a day or two at least," Mr. Wright said, apparently pleased with the thought.
"Why so?" I asked.
"Because the Loddon will be impassable, and resemble no more the quiet river such as you saw to-day than to-morrow morning will resemble the present moment. But come, let us return to the table, and have our coffee and pipes; cigars I have, if you prefer them."
But no one desired them, for after once getting acclimated to pipes, cigars are of a secondary consideration.
We again took seats at the table, and lighting our pipes, sipped some of the excellent coffee at our leisure, and while the storm raged without, we talked and chatted of the past with as much freedom as though we had been friends all our lifetime.
Lights were brought, and the heavy window shutters closed, and we drew our chairs nearer to each other as the wind howled around the stout building, and the lightning played in the air with extraordinary vividness as the darkness increased.
"This storm will soon extinguish the fire in the brush," Mr. Wright said, "and I shall not be sorry to know that my wheat is no longer in danger of being consumed by fierce flames, instead of hungry men. Ah, well, I have seen many fires raging since I settled on the thousand acres that I own, but somehow I have escaped much injury, excepting once."
"Let us hear the particulars; a story will suit me above all things at this time," I said.
"There is not much of a story connected with the matter, and I'm a poor hand at a yarn, but such as it is you shall have."
He touched a bell, and his attendant entered as promptly as though serving in a first class hotel, and had been trained to the business all his lifetime.
"Is the punch ready?" asked our host.
"Bring it in, then, and clear the table of dishes."
A bowl holding about a gallon was placed upon the table, and the fumes of the Santa Cruz rum were grateful to our nostrils. Mr. Brown rubbed his hands with glee, and was impatient to begin the attack.
"Give the men a stiff glass of grog all round, and when I want you I will ring," said Mr. Wright to the servant.
The man bowed, and left the room to make the hearts of the laborers happy by announcing the gift.
Mr. Wright filled his glass and was about to commence his story, after wetting his lips with the punch, when Jackson suddenly entered the room.
"Well?" asked Mr. Wright, with some surprise.
"Kala and Iala have returned, and desire to see you immediately, sir."
"What is the matter?" asked our host, with visible uneasiness.
"They have seen footprints in the bush, sir," was the brief rejoinder.
"The devil they have. Let them come in and report." And while Jackson was absent Mr. Wright remained in a thoughtful mood.
Jackson was absent about five minutes, when he returned, ushering in two natives of Australia, whose names were Kala and Iala. They were bareheaded, and the water was running down their necks in miniature streams, while their long, straight hair hung over their shoulders and faces, almost concealing their deep-set, large, piercing eyes, which were fixed upon us in amazement. Their legs and arms were bare, and did not look larger than those of a child, while their long, bony feet were entirely unprotected by shoes or sandals, yet they were so hardened that the tooth of a serpent would have broken in an attempt to bite through the skin.
"Well, Kala, what news?" asked Mr. Wright of the native who appeared to be the spokesman. He spoke in the language of the Australians, but as the reader is not supposed to understand it I shall interpret it, as Mr. Wright did for us.
"We have been in the bush," was the brief rejoinder.
"And what did you see?" was asked.
"We go many miles from here on the trail leading to the big village," Kala said.
"We see many tracks, and we followed them."
"In which direction?" demanded Mr. Wright, eagerly.
"Come this way," the native said.
"Did you see the people?" asked our host.
"Six," Kala answered, holding up one of his fingers.
"Bushrangers?" our host continued.
At this question the two natives seemed puzzled, and they looked at each other as though wondering what answer they should return.
"Two of them were not men," at length the native said.
"Boys?" suggested Mr. Wright.
The faintest shadow of a smile stole over their faces as Kala replied,—
"No boys. Wear things like shirt round legs, and funny hats on heads."
"Why, darn it, the rascals mean women," cried our host, with some energy and considerable relief.
"Yes," was the prompt reply of Kala.
"They won't hurt you, man, unless they happen to fall in love with your black skin and marry you. Then I'd not be responsible for your head."
"Men have long guns, and little guns in belts," continued Kala.
"Pooh!" said Mr. Wright, turning to us and refilling our glasses, "the poor fellows have got frightened at their shadows. They have seen a small party of miners on their way to Ballarat, and it's probable that they have missed the direct road and got on one of the numerous trails which sometimes puzzle the best stockmen. They will find their way out after a fashion, although this is rather a hard night for exposing females. You can go," he said, addressing the two natives, but the men still lingered as though not satisfied with their visit.
"Miners no kill children," Kala exclaimed, briefly.
"How? Who has killed children?" demanded Mr. Wright, setting his glass upon the table, its contents untouched.
Mr. Brown pricked up his ears and listened, for he had a slight knowledge, of the aboriginal language, and understood a portion of the conversation.
"Men take child and throw against a tree. No cry more," Kala said.
"The brutes!" muttered Mr. Wright, struck with consternation at the atrocity of the deed.
"Four men, two women," continued Kala, holding up his fingers for us to count. "All come this way, and seem in a hurry. Women cry, and men swear; men make them ride on horses to go fast."
"This is news indeed," Mr. Wright said, turning to us, "and I hardly know what to make of it. Can you solve the riddle?" addressing Mr. Brown.
"It is plain," my friend rejoined. "A party of miners have been attacked by the bushrangers, and the latter are now endeavoring to escape with two women prisoners. The fellows probably belong to Tyrell's gang, and will make towards Mount Tarrengower to join him."
The solution seemed probable, and for a few moments there was a profound silence. The natives glanced from face to face as though endeavoring to read the thoughts of the white men, although they did not appear much distressed at the events which they had related.
"I pity the poor women," remarked Mr. Wright, at length. "Their fate will be a sad one, and death a welcome release from their sufferings."
"Can't you make an effort for their release?" I asked, but our host shook his head.
"The night is dark and stormy," he said, "and it's impossible to tell where the party, is at the present time. To-morrow we may be able to do something."
"To-morrow will be too late," replied Mr. Brown. "The rogues by that time will have joined the main body of the gang, and will laugh at our efforts to dislodge them from their rendezvous on the mountains."
Still our host did not seem impressed with the idea that we could afford the unfortunate females relief, although I judged that his disposition to do so was strong.
"Ask Kala if he thinks that he can find the fellow's trail to-night, and promise him from me a pound of tobacco and a bottle of rum if he succeeds," Mr. Brown said, addressing Mr. Wright.
The message was conveyed to the natives, and Kala's eyes sparkled at the idea of gaining the promised luxuries, but Iala did not seem so enthusiastic, owing to his name not being mentioned in connection with the presents.
"Tell Iala from me," I exclaimed, "that he, too, shall have a pound of tobacco and a bottle of rum like his brother if he succeeds."
The look of displeasure disappeared from the dark face of the native as he heard the offer, and he displayed his sharp, white teeth in token of approval.
"The men go by the old trail through the forest. They will not trust the new road leading to the house for fear of meeting our people. The trail is much longer, but safer. After they get through the woods they will have to cross a mud creek. The horses will refuse to enter the water, and considerable time will elapse before they can be got across. If we can meet them at the creek there is no escape for them."
Such were the expressions of Kala, uttered slow and distinct, as though he was weighing each word, and knew the importance of good counsel. We had not much time to consider the matter, for the native informed us that he and his brother had run with all their speed to the house, after once making sure that the bushrangers intended to take the trail instead of the road.
"Well, gentlemen, what is your opinion on the subject? Shall we sally forth, like knights-errant of old, and rescue the women from the clutches of the devils, or shall we sit here and finish our punch, and then go to bed? I am ready to hear a few words on both sides of the question, but no long arguments."
Our host meant work; I could see that by his flashing gray eyes.
"Can't we drink the punch after we return?" asked Mr. Brown.
"Ay, and as much more as you wish," promptly responded our host, rising from the table, an example that we were not slow to follow.
Jackson, who had remained waiting in the room during the interview, now stepped forward, as though aware that his services would be required by his master.
"Bring me my pistols, and oil-cloth coat and cap, and be in a hurry," were the only commands that Mr. Wright issued, and Jackson, who knew the man's impulses, did not delay an instant in executing the order, and with the articles named he brought coats and water-proof hats for us, while to our surprise, he placed upon the table the revolvers belonging to Mr. Brown and myself, cleaned, oiled, and loaded.
"I supposed that you would want them in good condition when you left the farm, so while you were at supper I took the liberty of attending to them," Jackson said, in an apologetic tone, as though fearful that he had exceeded instructions.
"You are deserving of a pardon, and hang me if I don't get you one before six months are passed," cried my friend, enthusiastically, after a slight examination of his weapon, which showed him that it was loaded correctly and capped with great nicety.
The poor fellow started with surprise, and his face flushed with agitation. I saw him turn away, as though ashamed to display his weakness.
"There is no such joyful news for me, sir," he said, at length, in as firm a voice as he could command.
"Don't you believe that story," cried Mr. Brown, heartily. "Plenty of men have received pardons, and they didn't deserve them as much as you. My word for that."
"Bushrangers get there before us," muttered the natives.
"Kala is right. We must be under way, or the fellows will slip through our fingers. One drink all round, and here's success to our expedition."
While I was fitting my head gear the door opened, and in walked Day, his eyes glistening as though he had drank a cup too much of Mr. Wright's strong water.
"No, you don't," he said, surveying us from head to foot; "if you think that you can get off without the best ghost that the country can produce you are mistaken. You can count me in." "Then hurry and get ready," I exclaimed, "for we have not a moment to lose."
"Ready?" asked the shepherd, "ain't I all reedy as I am? I don't want your ile-skins to keep off a little wet. I'm used to it. Lead the way, blackies, and I'll keep close to your heels."
"But you have no weapons," Mr. Wright said.
"Ain't I got 'em? Look here!" and to my surprise, he produced from the bosom of his flannel shirt a large pair of horse pistols, which he had borrowed from one of the farm hands.
"You'll do; go ahead," our host said. And as we sallied into the entry we saw that all the laborers were drawn up in a line, as though to take formal leave of us.
"Please, sir, let me go wid you," I heard the familiar voice of the Irishman, who greeted me on my arrival, say.
"And me," cried a dozen voices, in the same breath.
"I don't want you all, but Mike may go," was the brief reply.
"Glory to God! we'll lick thunder out of all the bloody bushrangers that iver dared to show their homely faces this side of the Loddon. I'm off;" and Mike, who feared that the order for his going would be revoked, snatched a long spear that stood in the entry, and rushed out of the house hatless and shoeless, and full of fight.
"Take good care of the house, Jackson," Mr. Wright said, addressing his servant, who stood near him.
"You don't wish me to accompany you, sir?" he asked.
"No, no. Stay here and take care of the house, and mind that you defend it against all odds, in case of an attack."
"Bushrangers move quick," muttered Kala.
"I'm coming. Now, gentlemen, we will try the speed of your limbs;" and out of the house we sallied, and stood in the driving storm for a few minutes, completely blinded by the sudden transition from light to pitchy darkness.
"Follow Kala," muttered the native; but the request was an impossibility, because Kala was invisible even a foot from where we stood.
"Give the strangers your arms, and lead them until their eyes get accustomed to the darkness," Mr. Wright said, addressing the natives.
"That is a good arrangement for us, but how are you to find the way?" cried Mr. Brown.
"We know every foot of land within a circle of five miles," was the prompt response of our host; and to show that he made no idle boast, he started towards the field of wheat which we had noticed early in the afternoon, while we followed close at his heels as best we could, much to the disgust of the natives, I have no doubt, for they could scarcely restrain their impatience at the slowness of our pace.
The dogs saluted us with a mighty howl as we passed them, but a word from their master quieted their valor, and by the time we had got clear of the cattle pens our eyes were sufficiently accustomed to the darkness, and were enabled to dispense with the guidance of Kala and Iala, who gladly got at the head of the column and led the way towards the creek, which it was stated the bushrangers would have to pass.
"Under this tree," said our host, pointing to a gum tree of gigantic proportions, "I killed one of the largest diamond snakes that I ever saw in the country. There used to be a nest of them near this place, but I think that they are exterminated by this time. You recollect the snake, do you not?" he continued, addressing the natives in their dialect.
"We remember," was the brief reply.
"Couldn't you conveniently change the conversation?" Mr. Brown asked, and I shared his interest in the matter, for I didn't like the topic in so dark a night.
"Pooh! you ain't afraid of snakes, are you?" Mr. Wright asked, in a tone that implied that he was not.
"Well, I don't care if I confess that I have seen more agreeable sights than a d——n big, black snake, with a mouth large enough to swallow a baby without much trouble. I don't wish to be rigid, but it strikes me that I prefer daylight when the conversation is tending towards such cheerful topics."
I could see that Mr. Brown was intently engaged in scanning the ground while speaking, as though he feared there might be a few of the varmints unkilled from the nest spoken of.
"About a mile further, gentlemen," and we felt thankful for the information, for a more disagreeable night's tramp, so far, I had never experienced. Still, the thoughts of the two suffering women enabled me to keep my spirits up, and to press forward with eagerness to the point at which we expected to relieve them.
There was no cessation to the rain, and the lightning was as vivid as ever, but the thunder was rolling away to the southward, and muttering and growling as though sorry at having relinquished the battle without more of a struggle.
"If I was only as wet within as I'm without, it's in fighting trim I'd be," Mike said, addressing the shepherd, who was tugging along with the most stoical indifference as to the fulling rain and bad road.
"I can fight, wet or dry," was the answer.
"And can't I do the same?" asked Mike, inclined to take umbrage at the remark.
"Show me a thing that an Irishman can't do as well as an Englishman," cried Mike.
"Can you play the ghost like me?" demanded the shepherd.
"And why not?"
"Because, who ever heard of a ghost speaking with the brogue?" asked the stockman, triumphantly.
"Bedad, I didn't think of that," Mike muttered, completely crushed by this new evidence of his companion's superiority.
"If you two grumblers don't stop your wrangling I'll choke you," Mr. Wright exclaimed, angrily.
"I'm dumb," Mike said.
"I'm silent as a corpse," cried the undertaker.
"I'll spake no more this night," continued Mike.
"See that you don't," answered our host.
"Divil a bit, till I see a bushranger, and then I'll give him a taste of my spear."
"That you may do, and you shall have a glass of grog for every one that you kill," answered Mr. Wright.
"Holy St. Patrick! you don't say so. Don't any one go near 'em but me. I'll fight the thaves and vagabonds every one, single handed and alone, like a Killarney man that I am."
For twenty minutes we continued on our course, expecting to strike the creek every moment,—yet the night was so dark that it was impossible to tell whether we were on the trail, or wading over the pasturage of the farm.
Even Kala was at fault, and glanced towards the trees, and examined them to discover if we were in the proper locality, but apparently without much success, and I began to think that our expedition was a failure, when the native uttered a grunt.
"Well, Kala, what now?" asked Mr. Wright
"There be creek," he said, and by the aid of a flash of lightning we could see his thin black arm pointing to a line of trees on our right.
"And the trail?" suggested our host.
"We reach it by and by. Come now, and don't talk."
We followed the native, with the renewed hope of soon terminating an adventure, and as we gained the edge of the gum trees, which were convincing proof that we were near the water, the Australians bent themselves to the task of finding the trail, or the place where the bushrangers were expected to ford. On their hands and knees they crawled about from place to place, aided occasionally by a flash of lightning, but still they were unsuccessful, though not discouraged. Their natures were too patient for that.
"To the devil with the trail," muttered Mike, hitting one of the prostrate natives with his spear. "Let's find the brook, and then we'll be all right, shan't we? Find the main thing first, and then toiler up the little ones, used to be the advice of me father, God rest his soul, and keep him well supplied wid whiskey in the nixt world! Ah, what man he was to be sure! You knew him, sir?" continued Mike, addressing Mr. Wright, who was awaiting the result of the Australians with exemplary patience, considering that the rain was falling in torrents.
"Be quiet," said our host, "or if you must do something go and see how near we are to the creek, and don't make a noise."
"I'll do that same," muttered Mike, "but it's the opinion of a man who knows more than a dozen nagers, that the creek is a mile from here in the udder direction."
He went on his mission, grumbling at the supposition that the creek was near us, when suddenly we heard a loud splash, and Mike's voice raised in supplication.
MIKE TUMBLES INTO THE RIVER.—ARRIVAL OF THE BUSHRANGERS.
"That d——d Irishman has tumbled into the creek," cried Mr. Wright, endeavoring to suppress a laugh that did find utterance.
"Here's the river, sure!" shouted Mike, "and a cussed mane one it is. Help me out!"
"Be quiet," said Mr. Wright, "or you'll alarm the bushrangers."
"And do you intend that I shall strangle myself for the purpose of letting the blackguards git kilt?" remonstrated the Hibernian; "I've swallowed a gallon of the dirty water already, and it's cowld on my stomach. Help me out, will ye?"
We reached the scene of the Irishman's disaster, and were compelled to wait for a flash of lightning for the purpose of seeing his situation. When the flash did reveal his position, we saw that he was clinging to some rocks most tenaciously, while the boiling waters were bubbling over his head, which he made no attempt to raise beyond the reach of danger.
"Crawl up the bank, you loon!" cried Mr. Wright, but the advice was unheeded.
"Save me!" yelled Mike; "I can't swim and I'm filled with the bloody dust, that weighs me down like lead. A thousand dollars to the man who gives me his hand first."
"Well, give me the thousand dollars, and I'll help you out," Mr. Wright said, facetiously.
"Ah, master dear, won't you take my word for the money, or wait till I arn it?"
"Just as I always thought," grumbled our host; "an Irishman will promise any thing in distress, even while he knows that he has no means of performing his engagements."
"But isn't it better to do so, master dear, than to make no promises and die?" asked the Irishman, and I rather thought that he had him on that question.
"Perhaps you are right," our host answered, and extending his hand, he helped Mike to terra firma, and landed him just as Kala informed us that the ford was ten or twelve rods down the stream.
Mike recovered his spear, and we once more started, under the guidance of the natives, and quickly gained the spot that we had spent so much time in searching for.
The ford had been used but seldom, and resembled the rest of the creek, with the exception that the bushes and underbrush had been cut from the banks of the stream, so that horses, and other cattle, after fording, could gain the plain without trouble.
Kala threw himself upon his hands and knees, and carefully examined, by the lightning flashes, the various footprints which marked the spot, and which the heavy rain had failed to wash away.
"Well, Kala," Mr. Wright said, impatiently.
"No come yet," answered the native, quietly.
"Are you sure of that?" our host asked.
"I might have known that, if I had only given the subject a thought, muttered our host.
"Well, what are we to do?" asked Mr. Brown, gathering his oil-cloth around his person, and evidently thinking of the punch, and a good night's rest; "are we to stay here until daylight, and watch for a party of men who may be upon the summit of Mount Tarrengower at the present time? I wouldn't object to waiting, but I don't like the idea of sitting here and doing nothing, while the rain is endeavoring to obtain a nearer acquaintance with my neck and bosom."
"I don't see any other course," Mr. Wright replied; "it's evident that the devils have not crossed the creek, and can't to-night, but the streams of Australia subside rapidly, and the instant the rain ceases to fall they will attempt to ford. We must stay here and watch for the scamps. Remember the female prisoners."
"It's all very well to say remember the females, but if I ruin my health who is to remember me, and take care of me?" grumbled Mr. Brown.
"I will," promptly responded our host.
"Then I suppose that I must stay here all night, and make a fool of myself by running my head into danger, as I have done fifty times before, and get no thanks for it—hullo! what was that?"
Before Mr. Brown spoke, Kala had glided to the side of Mr. Wright, and called his attention, in a quiet manner, to a crashing of brunches that he had heard on the other side of the river. Our host was too busy listening to the ravings of Mr. Brown to pay attention to him at that moment, and the native knew the disposition of his master too well to be imperative, so Kala didn't have the honor of alarming our squad, or calling attention to what was going on on the other side.
In an instant after Mr. Brown's exclamation, there was a breathless silence, and not a man moved to the right or left.
"They come," whispered Kala.
He was correct in his supposition, for in a few minutes we could hear the party we were in pursuit of halt at the edge of the brook, opposite to us, and discuss the prospect of attempting to ford, high as the water was.
We quietly retreated behind trees and bushes, so that the lightning should not reveal our presence to the enemy, but we were no sooner secreted than we were rewarded by getting a view of the four bushrangers, who were holding horses, on which were mounted the two females, whose capture had so excited our sympathy.
"D——n it, Bill," I heard one of the fellows exclaim, for the creek was not more than four yards across, "didn't I tell you that we couldn't ford here to-night with the hosses? If we had come the other way twould been all right."
"Yes, and run our heads flat agin that d——d Wright, who is always on the lookout, with his tribe of cussed Irishmen, ready to fight or drink bad whiskey," grumbled the man whom they had called Bill.
"Do ye hear him reflecting on me country?" whispered Mike, grasping his long spear, as though he would like to encounter the libellers of his countrymen without a moment's delay.
"Be quiet," ordered Mr. Wright, "and let us hear what the villains talk about."
"If it hadn't been for these 'ere wimin, we might have been out of this fix," cried the first speaker, still grumbling.
"Well, what could we do with 'em, 'cept bring 'em along?" asked Bill.
"Do with em?" cried the ruffian, with a bitter oath, "why, draw our knives across their throats, and let 'em run. That's the way to clear out prisoners. Women have no business with the gang. There's always a quarrel about 'em."
"And 'spose there is? ain't it a compliment to the dear creatures? I'd rather fight for 'em, I tell you, than not see their faces after they get good natured, and the cap'n generally brings 'em round in a precious short time."
"Eh, don't he?" grunted the third man, speaking for the first time.
"I tell ye my plan is best, and it's time ye knowed it. We carry half a dozen into camp to eat up the grub, and make the men lazy. There's no getting work out of the coveys while they is alive, and you know it."
"For pity's sake kill us, and end our misery," I heard one of the females say, appealing to the fellow who seemed in favor of killing prisoners, to save the trouble of taking care of them.
"If I had my way, I'd do it d——d quick," he grumbled.
"We are tired, and can hardly sit on the horses. For the sake of your mothers, who were women, leave us here in the wilderness to perish, or to find shelter, as it shall please Heaven."
"Cease that whine of yours, or I'll throw you into the creek," threatened the ruffian of the party.
"Do so, if you dare!" exclaimed another voice, which I imagined belonged to a female of more advanced age than the first speaker; "you are ugly enough for any thing," she continued, growing excited as she proceeded, and raising her voice until it approached a scream, "but I don't believe that you have the true courage of a man. A man!" she repeated, "you are nothing but a tailor. Where's your goose?"
I could hear the bushrangers indulge in a chuckling laugh, as though the language used to their companion was relished.
"Stop your mouth, you dirty ——, or I'll stuff a goose down your throat!" shouted the ruffian, furious with rage.
"You?" she asked, contemptuously; "why, if my old man was within sound of my voice, you would run like a sheep from a dog. You are the biggest coward connected with the gang, and they only keep you 'cos you can mend their clothes. A tailor! Bah, you are only the ninth part of a man, and a botch at that."
"By G——d, woman, you shall feel the length of my knife if you don't close your mouth," shouted the ruffian, that the woman was goring to madness.
"O Nancy, do be quiet," cried her companion.
"Keep quiet for the threat of that braggart?" the shrill-voiced woman demanded; "why, if I had a bodkin I'd spit him on it." "Would you?" cried the bushranger; "then I'll give you a taste of the same sort of stuff!"
We heard a struggle for a few seconds, and then the earnest tones of the most liberal ruffian in remonstrance.
"Put up your knife, you fool, and don't let a woman get the better of you. Don't you see that she's trying to provoke you to kill her."