"And I will do it, too," yelled the brute.
"No you won't, not as long as I've got charge of this squad. I ain't going to do all the work, and then let you act as you please, by a d——n sight. Touch that woman, and I'll make a hole in your side big enough to throw in a Bible. Put up your knife, and let us see if we can't cross the creek before daylight."
"Well, don't let her insult me again, that's all," the fellow said, in reply to the threat, although it seemed that he was prepared to obey the order, much as he disliked it.
"Insult you! you miserable specimen of a fool? why, it would be impossible to insult you, for your life is but an insult to your Maker!" cried the shrill-voiced woman, who had been addressed by the name of Nancy.
"I'd like to hire that woman to do my scolding," whispered Mr. Wright. "Lord, how she would make the men fly if they didn't come to dinner at the exact time."
By a flash of lightning we could see three of the bushrangers examining the banks of the creek, for the purpose of judging whether it could be forded by the horses or not.
They seemed to decide against its feasibility, for we heard them grumbling at the idea of stopping there all night, and getting sighted by "d——d old Wright" in the morning.
Our host listened to the complimentary remarks about himself with great glee, for it showed that he was a power that was respected by the robbing fraternity, and that they took good care to visit his range of land as little us possible.
"Are we to stay here in the wet all night?" grumbled Mr. Brown.
"I don't see how we are to avoid it," Mr. Wright replied.
"Let us cross the creek, and take those fellows in the rear," I whispered; "in half an hour we can have every one of them prisoners, or else hors du combat."
Mr. Wright didn't like the project, as he thought that it was running too great a risk. Mr. Brown meditated on the undertaking, while the ghost was pleased with the idea, and vowed that he could accomplish the project alone. As for Mike, he was in ecstasies at the plan, only he couldn't swim, which somewhat damped his ardor.
"Ask Kala if there is a place where we can cross, where the water is not over our heads?" I inquired of Mr. Wright.
He put the question, and the native replied that a few rods down the stream, at a bend, we could cross on a bar, where the water would not be more than up to our armpits.
Mr. Wright no longer hesitated, but gave the order to move down the stream to the place proposed, and as the rain had nearly ceased, and the moon was high in the heavens, we had no difficulty in finding the spot which Kala indicated.
Our only trouble was to prevent the bushrangers from seeing our movements, so that they should not be prepared for our reception. This we were enabled to do by keeping within the shade of the bushes and trees, which grew in profusion upon the banks of the stream.
"Lead the way. Mike, and find out the deep places with your spear," commanded Mr. Wright, but the Irishman held back.
"I couldn't think of taking advantage of my betters, and going before 'em," pleaded Mike.
"Are you afraid?" our host demanded, angrily.
"Divil a bit, master; but it's misgivings I have about the water. What it was made for, 'cept to mix with punch, I don't see."
"Kala go first," muttered the native, and without waiting for orders, he dropped quietly into the stream, followed by Iala.
"The divil! but can't I go where the nager does?" demanded Mike, and he was up to his shoulders in the brook before we could answer him.
The ghost followed Mike, and then the rest of us, leaving our oil-cloth coverings on the bank of the stream, crossed without difficulty, taking good care that our revolvers were kept dry.
"Now, I want all to keep silent, and obey my orders," whispered Mr. Wright; "when I give the word to fire, do so, but not before.
"Now then, let us steal forward as fast as possible, and Kala, you and Iala can remain behind, if you please."
"Kala and Iala will go with you," was the prompt reply, and I marvelled at it, for the natives are dreadfully afraid of firearms when in the the hands of white men.
"Now, gentlemen, let us onward, and may the God of battles give us success. If any accident should befall either of us, we shall have the satisfaction of knowing that we suffered in a good cause. Be careful how you step, and don't be impatient."
Mr. Wright placed himself at the head of the column, and moved along carefully, and with some considerable knowledge of woodcraft, although I almost lost all patience by his continually stopping and listening, as though that part of the performance was really necessary to insure success.
The rain had now entirely ceased, and the black clouds overhead had parted, and showed light fleecy ones, tinged by the rays of the moon, which was struggling to show its face, as though angry at having been hid from the earth for such a length of time.
This circumstance required our movements to be prompt if we wished to surprise the ruffians, but Mr. Wright was not a man to be hurried by such trifles. He had a peculiar idea of how such matters should be conducted, and neither Mr. Brown nor myself were disposed to interfere with his plans.
Suddenly, when within twenty rods of the place where the bushrangers were camped we saw a light, and for a few minutes Mr. Wright was uncertain whether to advance or retreat, thinking that the light was intended as an ambush to draw us under fire.
In vain I explained that the bushrangers had kindled a fire for the purpose of cooking a sheep, or a portion of one, and Mr. Brown entertained the same idea, but Mr. Wright said we were young men, and rash at that, and that we were not to be trusted.
We were more amazed than indignant, knowing that our host regarded our safety more than his own, for he was as brave as a lion, and would have willingly fought the whole gang had it been necessary to prove his courage.
At length I volunteered to act the part of a scout, and investigate matters, but for a long time Mr. Wright would not listen to my advances, until I saw that there was a prospect of our remaining on the ground all night, and then I tore myself away, and requested my friends to remain quiet until my return.
This they promised to do, and I started on my mission, not a dangerous one, as I knew full well, for the ruffians did not suspect the presence of our force, and I felt certain that they had no sentinels posted.
The result justified my expectations, for when I had crawled as noiselessly as a cat to within a rod of the light, I saw that the robbers had in some way managed to kindle a fire, which, by the way, attracted myriads of flies and mosquitoes, and they were biting as only Australian flies and mosquitoes know how to bite, much to the rage of the bushrangers, who were cooking meat, and endeavoring to beat off the cloud of insects by threshing their heavy hands about their heads, and uttering oaths that were frightfully original and emphatic.
They were coarse-looking fellows, but dressed better than bushrangers usually were, and I accounted for it by supposing that they had made a successful plundering expedition, and got new suits from their victims; and such I afterwards found to be the case.
I endeavored to get a view of the faces of the women, and by changing my position I succeeded. The youngest one was not more than twenty-five years of age, but she looked careworn and weary, and seldom removed her hands from her face, except, to answer a question addressed to her by her companion, who seemed about forty years of age, and by the flickering light of the fire I read determination upon every line of her countenance, weather-beaten and grim as it was.
The bushrangers were broiling their meat upon sticks, and eating it with a relish that smacked of a long fast; and while the women were seated near the fire on saddles taken from the horses, which were tied to a tree, and were browsing upon the tender branches, the men did not offer them food, until one fellow, whose appetite seemed sated, offered the younger one his stick, upon which was a huge lump of flesh nearly raw.
She declined the tempting morsel with a shudder, and the action produced an oath from the ruffian, and an insulting gesture, so vile that I could hardly keep my hand from seeking the lock of my revolver and shooting him on the spot.
"O, well, Miss Dainty, you'll come to your appetite one of these days, see if you don't. Mark what I tell you;" and the other ruffians smiled at their companion's wit.
"There's blood on the hand that offered her food—her husband's blood. How do you suppose she can touch what you feel disposed to give?" cried the elderly woman, who was called Nancy.
"Hullo, old croaker, I thought that you were asleep," the bushranger said; but still I noticed that he glanced at his hand, and wiped it on his clothes, as though the stain was burning his flesh like a coal of fire.
CAPTURE OF THE BUSHRANGERS.
"I've not been asleep, but still I've had a dream," Nancy replied to the insulting taunt of the robber.
"Hullo, here's a go. An old woman can dream with her eyes open. Tell us what it was all about, old Tabby."
The woman looked sternly at her tormentor, but did not deign to reply; but the robbers were not disposed to have her rest in peace.
"Come, Tabby, tell us the dream," cried the first speaker.
"You would know it, would you?" she asked, her dark face looking grim and sardonic in the wavering light of the fire, which was kept up by throwing on wood that had long laid exposed to the hot sun of Australia.
"To be sure I would; and, while you are about it, tell my fortune. Whether I shall be rich and marry a princess, like them old fellers, hundreds of years ago, that we read about in some book, blast me if I know the name of it. Come, fire away while I smoke my pipe, and try to kill a few of these d——d mosquitoes that have got bills longer than a criminal lawyer in full practice in Old Bailey."
The man filled his pipe with tobacco, an example that was followed by those who had finished gorging, and after he had lighted it, he turned his head in the direction of the prisoners, as though signifying that he was ready to listen.
"The only wife that you will marry will be the gibbet," the old woman said, spitefully.
"Peace, you old hag," cried the bushranger, angrily. "How dare you talk to me in that sort of way?"
"I thought that you wanted to hear what I have been dreaming about?" she replied, with a sneer.
"So I do, but don't you mention gibbets, do you hear, 'cos you might provoke me, and then you would dangle from one of these trees, a scarecrow that would cause old Wright much wonder. Now you go ahead."
"I dreamed that I was in a crowd of excited people, who were walking towards a prison where they said an execution was to take place. I went with them, for I felt that I had received so many injuries at the hands of men that it would be joy to my wounded heart to see them suffer. I struggled until I reached the front ranks of the crowd, and then waited patiently until a procession, headed by soldiers with solemn music, left the prison and marched towards the scaffold."
"Didn't I tell you not to talk about such things?" cried the bushranger, fiercely.
"Then I will not;" and the woman remained silent.
"Let her go on with the yarn," the other robbers exclaimed. "Let her tell what she likes about hanging coveys, if she pleases. Fire away, old woman."
Thus commanded, she resumed the subject of her pretended dream.
"I thought that I saw three prisoners, with faces covered with black crape, march with trembling steps towards the scaffold, while the hangman, who walked beside them, continually shouted, with a voice so loud that it was heard by every one, 'Behold, these men are about to be executed for murder and robbery. Don't pray for them, Christians, for your prayers will be in vain. They are denounced by God and man, and hell alone knows how to punish them as their many crimes deserve.'"
"You old she devil, can't you tell us something more lively than that?" demanded one of the bushrangers, glancing around uneasily.
"The best is yet to come," she replied, calmly, her eyes fixed upon vacancy, as though she really saw the scenes she was narrating.
"Well, let's have the rest, and don't be too hard on bushrangers, if it's all the same to you."
"I saw the procession reach the scaffold, and the three condemned men ascend the steps, although they trembled so that they had to be supported by the soldiers, for, though they could kill and rob, they were cowards at heart, and were to die like dogs."
"They should have given the coveys a pint of brandy each, and then they would have been all right," grunted the fellow whom the bushranger called Bill.
"A prayer was made by the clergyman," continued Nancy, not heeding the interruption, "and then the men were informed they could say any thing if they wished. The crape was removed from their faces, and I saw—"
"Who?" exclaimed the listeners, eagerly.
"Your face, and yours, and yours," she cried, pointing to three of the men, who sprang to their feet with frightful oaths, and murder in their hearts.
"Let's hang her," cried one.
"Burn her for a witch," said another.
"D——m her," cried the third; while the fourth, who seemed to be much pleased that he was left out of the galaxy of rascality, remained silent and thoughtful.
"Don't harm her," exclaimed the younger woman, removing her hands from her face, and endeavoring to shelter the person of her companion; but the bushrangers were regardless of her entreaties, and pushed her aside with rudeness.
I did not stop to see more. I rapidly made my way back to Mr. Wright and party, who were anxiously expecting me, for they had begun to grow alarmed at my absence.
"Not a moment is to be lost," I said. "Follow me, and make no noise."
"What is up?" demanded Mr. Wright, who perhaps did not like to have his command usurped so rudely, although he did not object.
"I cannot stop to explain now. Haste, or there will be murder committed," I replied.
No more questions were asked, and in less than five minutes after we were in motion we were near enough to the bushrangers to witness their operations. They were holding a council, and debating violently what sort of death poor Nancy should die, but could not agree. They supposed her words were deserving of instant punishment, and each man thought his method of taking her life the more praiseworthy. The discussion saved Nancy, for we were enabled to reach the spot before the fellows could make up their minds.
Even in that dreadful moment the tongue of Nancy did not lose its bitterness, and she was bold enough to boast that her words would come true, and them what she had told as a vision would prove a reality.
"Now, then, men, rush on, but don't use your pistols unless necessary. Let us make them prisoners," whispered Mr. Wright.
We answered back that we were ready, and dashed forward just as the ruffians had decided that to hang the woman would be a more pleasant spectacle than to burn her.
"Hurrah for Ireland," shouted Mike, springing into the clearing where the enemy were encamped.
The bushrangers were so taken by surprise that they had no chance to gain possession of their weapons, or to beat a retreat. One fellow, when he saw us emerge from the bushes, drew his knife and struck at Mike; but it was the last blow that he ever made, for the enraged Irishman shortened his spear, so that he could use it to more advantage, and then drove it through the body of his opponent, and from the squirming wretch's back protruded the barbed point. The fellow threw his arms wildly over his head, and fell to the ground, and with his last breath cursed his slayer and the whole of mankind.
There was not much for us to do, although every man present, including the two natives, performed the limited part assigned with fidelity and despatch.
The ghost, whose true English instincts would not allow him to be outdone by Mike, made the welkin ring with shouts for England and himself at the grand charge, and then had deliberately knocked down the most burly of the robbers, and placed his foot upon his breast, and hold him there until the melee was ended.
Of course, the other robbers were easily disposed of, for we were two to one; but even after we had them securely pinioned, they taunted us with cowardice, and dared us to meet them in open fight, where they could stand some chance for their lives. Their complaints were unheeded, although Mike and the ghost both expressed a wish to meet two of the men, and give them fair play, according to the well-known rules of the prize ring of London, of which institution the shepherd professed to have vast admiration. The idea was not to be thought of, and the two champions were discontented.
The women had remained spectators of the scene without offering to escape, for they knew into whatever hands they fell they could not be treated much worse than they had been, and just at the moment we made our appearance a change was quite desirable.
I thought that once I heard the shrill voice of Nancy raised in thanksgiving to the Lord for the rescue, and the death of the bushranger, but was so busy at the moment that I did not pay much attention.
"Ladies," said Mr. Wright, "we have rescued you from your unpleasant company, and I shall take great pleasure in offering you a portion of my house until you can make arrangements to join your friends. My name is Wright, and I reside but a short distance from this fording place."
"I told you we should meet with some of old Wright's folks," grumbled Bill, who was extended upon the ground, his hands secured behind his back.
"Yes, you scamp, I am 'old Wright,' as you termed me, and believe me, I never felt prouder of the name than at this moment, when I have helped rescue the women from your clutches, and feel that there is a chance of seeing you hanged."
"God be praised," cried Nancy; "we have met with Christians at last. When men speak of the gibbet, I know that they have served the Lord and will fight the devil. To-night you have fought four devils instead of one, and like angels have overcome them."
"Do you hear that, Bill? The old wench calls Wright an angel," exclaimed one of the scamps, turning his head towards his companion as well as he was able.
"If we had him on the mountain we would make an angel of him d——d quick, by singeing off his hair," replied the fellow addressed as Bill.
"Who is the woman by your side?" Mr. Brown asked Nancy.
"Ah, poor thing, she was on her way to the mines with her husband, when these devils set upon us, killed the men, and made us prisoners. If my old man had been there it wouldn't have happened, I know," was Nancy's confident reply.
"Why so?" I asked.
"Because he can lick half a dozen such cowards as these, and one glance of his eye would have been sufficient to have frightened them."
"That is so, Nance," laughed one of the prisoners; "he is frightfully cross-eyed, and as homely as a hedgehog."
"The Lord be thankful for it, for I know that if his eyes are not right his heart is."
"Keep your remarks to yourself," said Mr. Wright, sternly, addressing the prostrate man; but that they had no intention of doing, for, like all desperadoes, they were determined to appear "game" to the last.
"Don't you think, master, dear, that I'd better string 'em on me spear like herring? 'Twould save a dale of trouble," asked Mike.
"That death would be too easy for them. They must die on the gallows," Mr. Wright said, impressively.
"And how do you know which is the easiest, old cock?" demanded Bill. "Was you ever hung for sheep stealing, or skewered for house breaking?"
"Pay no attention to them, sir," Nancy exclaimed. "They are demons from the other world, and will soon be at home."
"Amen," piously ejaculated the ghost.
We managed, after some little persuasion, to get the women upon their feet, and inspire them with energy enough to undertake the journey to the house.
As for the horses and the dead bushranger, we left them at the ford until morning, when Mr. Wright proposed to send men out to bury the one, and secure the others, and, if possible, return them to their owners.
As we walked along, Nancy related to me the adventures which she had encountered since leaving Melbourne. She was an old campaigner in Australia, and was on her way to Tares Creek to join her husband, who had been mining in that location ever since gold was first discovered.
He had intrusted her with a few hundred pounds to visit the city and purchase provisions and articles of daily use sufficient to last them through the wet season, and she had performed her mission, and instead of waiting for one of the regular freighting teams to take her to the creek, she had engaged passage with two miners, one of whom had his wife with him, and who owned a pair of horses and a wagon. Luckily Nancy had left her goods in the city, with orders to forward them by the freight wagons, so that she lost nothing personally, even if the ruffians did search her person, disbelieving her assertion that she was destitute of money and valuables.
The bushrangers had ambushed the party and shot them at their leisure, and did the business as coolly and with as much indifference as though the poor fellows had been sheep, and the ruffians hungry and in want of mutton. They didn't seem to think that they had done a cruel action; and when the younger female, whose name was Betsey Trueman, shed bitter tears at her loss, the brutes jested at her grief, and promised to supply his place with a fresher and more active husband. They couldn't understand why a woman should mourn for one man when there were others ready to take his place.
"The onfeeling wretches," Nancy said, concluding her story, "they had the impudence to put their hands not only in Betsey's pocket, but mine, too. I boxed the puppy's ears, and he had to bear it, although he did draw his knife and threaten to cut me to pieces. I wish that my old man had been there when he made the attempt. He would have broken every bone in his body, and then tore him limb from limb."
"That would have been rather a cruel fate," I remarked, somewhat amused at her eulogistic description of her husband's strength.
"Well, he could do it," was her confident answer, and I have no doubt that she thought so.
We reached the bend of the stream, where we had crossed an hour before, without accident, for the moon was shining full and bright, but when we intimated to our prisoners that it was desirable that they should wade through the water, which already began to subside, they doggedly refused, and all our urging was useless. They feared that we intended to drown them; and even when we sent Kala to the other side of the creek to prove that the water was not deep, they still remained sulky and obstinate.
"Let me argue the point wid 'em," Mike said, appealing to Mr. Wright, who reluctantly gave his consent.
"Step up, ye divils, the Irishman shouted, applying his sharp-pointed spear to the sides of the most obstinate robber.
"Go to the devil, you Irish bogtrotter!" was the reply.
"Did ye hear him, master, dear, call me names? O, that the ruffians should abuse a dacent lad, who has worked night and day for the paraties that he ates, and the meat that he drinks."
"Whiskey, more like," grunted Bill.
"I'll whiskey ye, ye devils; start at once, or by St. Patrick I'll drive ye into the water like the holy man did the toads and snakes—long life to him."
Still the ruffians held back, and swore roundly, that they would not stir, unless carried across the stream; and at this display of obstinacy, Mike lost all mercy.
"Ye won't go, hey?" he shouted, bringing his spear fair against the broadest portion of one of the bushranger's bodies; "of coorse ye won't move, hey?"
As he spoke, he pressed harder and harder, but the ruffian stood his ground remarkably well, although he must have suffered considerably.
"Is that one of the poisoned spear points?" Mr. Brown asked, carelessly.
"Of coorse it is," replied Mike, promptly, seeing the pertinence of the question.
"You Irish thief, do you mean to say that the spear is pisened?" demanded the robber, eagerly.
"Of coorse I do; ye die in less than an hour, unless the pisen is worked out of the wound."
The bushrangers waited to hear no more. They sprang into the creek with wonderful rapidity, and waded across, followed by Mike, who continually threatened them with a repetition of his weapon unless they behaved themselves like dacent lads.
"The spear is not poisoned, I hope," I said to Mr. Wright.
"No, if it had been, I should have objected to its use. The fellows are born to be hanged, so there's no danger of their dying any other way."
As soon as the bushrangers were on the other side, we carried the women across, and then picked our way to the house, tired and sleepy, and extremely desirous of a taste of the punch which we had left behind. Our prisoners no longer objected to obeying Mike's injunctions, and he was quite proud of his authority over them.
Kala, swift of loot, had hastened on in advance of us, and announced our arrival to the inmates of the house, and as we drew near, the laborers flocked towards us with cheers of triumph at our success, and words of scorn for the prisoners.
So much did the men sympathize with the women, that they insisted upon carrying them to the house; and although Nancy kicked and scratched when she found a pair of strong arms around her, she was obliged to succumb, and was ultimately landed in the dining room, half angry, and yet half pleased, at her conveyance.
The noise awakened the parrot, and he added his voice to the general uproar.
"More bushrangers! more bushrangers!" the bird shouted; "I told you so; I see 'em! rascals! rascal! steal sheep, ho, ho!"
"Keep quiet, Poll," said Mr. Wright.
"I won't!" promptly responded Poll; and he was as good as his word, for as long as we talked he would, although sometimes his speeches were not quite apropos while the ladies were present.
"I don't know how you can change your clothes, ladies," Mr. Wright said, seeing that, they stood in great need of such an arrangement; "the fact of it is, I never had the fortune to have a wife, so women's garments are unknown in my poor house."
"Give 'em men's," shrieked the parrot; "who cares?"
"The first sensible words that you have spoken to-night, Poll," the master exclaimed.
"Is it?" was the brief ejaculation of the bird, as though inclined to doubt the truth of that remark.
"If you will retire to a room that shall be allotted to you during your stay here, I will provide you with such garments as I have. They are dry and clean and you can use them until your own are in proper order. No one will notice the change, for, believe me, we all sympathize too deeply in your misfortunes to feel aught but pity."
"As for myself," replied Nancy, promptly, "I shall feel extremely obliged, for I have worn damp garments so long that I am almost like a mermaid. But this poor thing," pointing to Betsey, "only desires to lay her aching head upon a pillow, and forget her misery."
"Haven't got one in the house," promptly responded Poll.
"She needs food. Let her come to the table after you have made such alterations as are necessary."
"So do I," croaked the bird.
"If you will have a cup of tea made, I am confident that it will benefit her more than food. As for myself, I don't fear to confess that I am hungry, and shall eat heartily," Nancy said.
"Of bushrangers?" roared Poll, who seemed to be undecided how to class the ladies of our party, never having seen a woman in that part of the country.
"The tea shall be prepared, and by the time you have changed your clothes supper will be ready. Jackson, give me a candle, and I will show the ladies into the west room, where they can be as secluded as though in their own house;" and it was admirable to see the hearty farmer bow, and precede the females up the wide, hard wood stairs, displaying as much gallantry and care for their comfort as though he was to marry one of them next day.
"Good night, master," shrieked the mischievous bird, bringing a red flush to Mr. Wright's face.
"I'm coming back to punish you for your impudence, sir," our host said, shaking his finger at the bird.
"Don't hurry yourself. D——n bushrangers—where's the d——n bushrangers?" and as Mr. Wright disappeared from view, the bird turned its attention to other topics, and after surveying us with commendable attention, croaked out,—
"Give me bread; Poll's hungry."
"And so am I," Mr. Brown answered, making an attempt to stroke the bird's head, but the familiarity was rebuked by a vigorous peck, that almost started the skin.
"You little devil, what do you mean?" my friend said, almost angry.
"That's right; swear and d——n! Where's the women? I love women! I should like to hug one."
"You vulgar little brute! Where did you learn your bad manners?" I asked.
"Mike, Mike, Mike."
"Well, Mike might be in better business. You have got some queer crotchets in your head that are hardly suitable for a ladies boudoir, especially if she expected gentlemen visitors," and Mr. Brown surveyed the talented bird with considerable admiration, although he kept at a respectful distance.
Jackson now made his appearance, and began to lay the dishes for supper, first driving the laborers into their own sitting room, where they surrounded the bushrangers, and, I am sorry to say, did not treat them exactly as prisoners should have been used.
Left together, Mr. Brown and myself superintended Jackson, and wished for supper, so that we could get a few hours' sleep before daylight.
PUNISHING THE BULLY.
There are moments when the hardest hearts are softened with a feeling akin to pity for criminals; and although I thought that I had got pretty well toughened to all sentiments of the kind, yet I must confess that while I looked at the imprisoned bushrangers. I wished them upon the very summit of Mount Tarrengower, and compelled to remain there amid snow and storm, until all their wickedness was washed away, and their past sins were forgiven.
I was more inclined to feel as I did from the fact that the farm hands were encircling the poor devils, and criticising and abusing them without mercy. I hate to see a fallen enemy ill treated. I always thought that it was more noble to treat a fallen foe with some slight show of respect, but that standard was not thought of by the laborers.
At last, one man, carried away by his feelings, deliberately spat into the face of old Bill, and the act was hailed with shouts of applause and laughter. The bushranger was unable to remove the indignity, and it remained upon his grizzly countenance, a dirty monument of reproach to his tormentors. I saw the old robber's eyes flash fire, and I could imagine his feelings while standing there with bound arms, powerless.
"Can't you interfere, and prevent so disgraceful a recurrence?" I asked of Mr. Brown; but that gentleman thought that it was best to wait until Mr. Wright made his appearance, and get him to check the abuses.
I thought so myself for a few minutes, but when I found that one individual in the crowd was disposed to add cruelty to his insults, I could no longer remain silent.
Mike had told the men the method which he took to get the bushrangers to cross the creek, and now one fellow, whom I noticed was foremost in the disgraceful proceedings, was testing the most tender portion of their bodies by the aid of a sharp-pointed knife; and although the robbers uttered no complaints or groans, I saw that they were suffering, and that it was time to interfere.
"These men are prisoners," I said, urging my way through the crowd until I stood before the robbers and their tormentors. "Let them receive good treatment, for we may desire it ourselves some day."
The laborer whom I addressed paid not the slightest attention to my words, but continued to prick the prisoners with his knife as if he enjoyed it. Old Bill had uttered a few savage oaths in remonstrance, but they were unheeded.
"Excuse me for interfering in your sport, my man," I continued, laying one hand on his shoulder, "but you will gratify me if you desist."
"What is it to you?" he demanded, rudely; and I noticed that there was an uncommon stillness in the room, and many anxious glances were cast towards me, which convinced me that I was dealing with the bully of the farm, and a man whom they all feared, and I fancied disliked.
"Excuse me for interrupting you, but I think that I have a right to. I assisted to capture the men, and therefore have a voice in relation to their disposal."
I was perfectly cool and collected while speaking, for I did not intend that the fellow should get the advantage of me by displaying passion.
"Your voice is of no account here in this house, so you will just take yourself off, and go to the devil, if you wish."
"I have no desire to see your relations, so I shall do no such thing. I have a right to be in the house, and I have authority to ask you to desist from ill treating these men. If you do not, I shall—"
"What?" the bully asked, thrusting his face close to mine, and leering most insultingly.
"Make you," I answered, decidedly.
"You will?" he demanded, with a malignant look.
"I shall do my best," I replied.
The bully did not utter a word in reply, but he put the point of his knife to a bushranger's arm, and pressed so hard that the prisoner uttered a half suppressed cry of pain.
"You see!" the fellow exclaimed, turning to me. "Now, what are you going to do about it?"
I saw that Mr. Brown and every person in the room were watching my motions with considerable curiosity, and that I should be disgraced if I retreated from my unpleasant position. The quarrel was not serious enough to use my weapons, although I was not blind to the fact that the bully had a knife in his hand, and looked like a fellow who would not scruple to use it.
There was but one course for me to pursue—so, no sooner had he proposed his question than I raised my arm and struck him a blow between his eyes that caused a stream of claret to spurt out, and sent the bully reeling backwards to the further end of the room.
"Good!" cried a dozen voices, and I heard Mr. Brown's deep bass foremost in the exclamation.
"Take care," shouted the crowd; "he's got a knife, and will use it."
The warning came none too soon, for suddenly the crowd opened to the right and left, and I caught sight of the bully, with bloody face and inflamed eyes, rushing towards me.
There was no time to draw my revolver, or even my knife, for before I could lay my hand upon either the fellow was within three feet of me, with uplifted hand. I stood firm, and when I saw the weapon descending, like lightning I sprang aside. The point of the knife touched the barrel of my pistol, glanced aside, and such was the force of the blow that the ruffian fell to the floor, completely at my mercy.
"You would, would ye?" I heard Mike shout, as the bully struggled to regain his feet. "Take that, for a bad man that ye are."
The Irishman, as he spoke, snatched a boomerang from Kala's hand and struck the fallen man a blow upon his head that I thought had crushed his skull.
"Served him right!" I heard the laborers say, who, now that their companion was beaten, could afford to give some expression of their opinion.
"The d——d blackguard! he not only insults our guests, but must pick on prisoners he never dared to face. O, the spalpeen, I've a good mind to fetch him another winder," and Mike raised his weapon as if to do so, but I stayed his hand, for the bully appeared to be really suffering, and groaned as though his head ached.
"What is the cause of this disturbance?" I heard Mr. Wright ask, while endeavoring to persuade Mike to remain quiet.
"Faith, the cause of it was insolence, and right well has it been punished," replied Mr. Brown. "But come into the other room, and I'll tell you the whole story."
Our host followed the ex-inspector to the room where we had supped, while I left the now quiet crowd as soon as possible, and passed out of doors with Mike at my heels.
"It's close to your heart he struck," said Mike, alluding to the blow of the knife. "An inch would have been the death of ye. Long life to ye."
"I have to thank you for your efforts in my behalf," I replied, and when I shook his hand I left a gold piece in it.
"Bedad, if ye wish, I'll go back and give 'urn another lick," Mike exclaimed, with enthusiasm, when he felt the weight of the coin.
Before I could reply, Mr. Wright left the house, and hurried towards us.
"Let me, in the first place, apologize for the rudeness of my servant, and, in the second place, thank you for punishing him as he deserves. Mr. Brown has given me a very impartial account, of the affair."
"And did he tell what I did, bedad," cried Mike.
"Yes, I am glad to think there is one man in my employ who knows how to back my friends when I am absent. Mike, from this night your wages are raised one pound per month, and you shall have Kelly's place, whom I intend to discharge."
This news excited all the Irishman's enthusiasm, and we left him bidding defiance to the moon, and wondering how he should spend all his money.
"The fellow whom you punished for insolence, has long held the position of a bully," Mr. Wright said, "owing to his quarrelsome disposition, and readiness to use a knife on slight occasion. I have overlooked several faults in hope that he would improve in disposition, but I see that my leniency is lost, and as soon as his head is healed, he goes to Melbourne."
I begged him not to discharge the man on my account, but Mr. Wright was firm and obstinate as any Englishman, when once resolved on a project, so I let the matter drop, and when we reached the house, Jackson informed us that our second supper was ready, and that Nancy was impatient for something to eat.
"Where have you two men been wandering?" cried Mr. Brown, who was pacing the room like a hungry bear. "Supper has been ready ten, minutes; a long time for famished people to wait"
We did not waste precious time in excuses, for it was near three o'clock in the morning, and I felt anxious to finish, and get that rest which I so much needed.
"Let the men close the doors and windows, and set a guard over our prisoners," Mr. Wright said, addressing Jackson, who stood in readiness to attend to our wants.
"And one more request," my friend said, as we took our seats at the table, "when we once get to sleep, be kind enough to let us rest until we wake of our own accord. For the past three days our naps have not been very long or sound."
"Every thing shall be as you desire, gentlemen. Now fall to, and don't forget that there is a lady present."
Unless our host had alluded to the fact, it is probable that we should have forgotten it, for Nancy was so well disguised in men's apparel that she looked like a respectable farmer.
She seemed perfectly cool and unconcerned, and I was not surprised to hear her say that she had passed many months so disguised while mining with her husband at Bendigo, Tarres Creek, and Ballarat, during the early history of the mines, when it was neither safe nor agreeable to have a woman in camp. Tired as we were, she related a few incidents connected with her life that were listened to with much interest, and we found that if Nancy was rough, she possessed a true heart and a Christian spirit, and was never backward in extending aid to the sick, or giving good advice to the profane.
"Smoke your pipes, gentlemen," she said, "and don't be afraid that I shall be sick, or that the smoke will injure my complexion. My old man has used a pipe these twenty-five years, and I hope that he will live twenty-five more, and as much longer as the Lord is willing. I don't think that using a pipe will shorten his days or his nights. When I see him, after a hard day's work, sucking a yard of clay, I thank Heaven that it ain't a whiskey bottle. It's but little comfort the poor fellow gets in this country, and if he's contented I'm happy."
"I wish that I could find a wife with your sentiments," Mr. Wright remarked.
"So you can," Nancy replied; "but you've got to search for 'em. They ain't found out here on the sand plains, or in the mines, but beneath the shelter of a parent's protection in the large cities, where education and virtue are taught."
"If you speak of Melbourne," Mr. Brown said, with an incredulous shrug of his shoulders, "I shall be inclined to doubt you, for in the city no such word as virtue is known."
"Spoken like a man of the world, and without a thought of how much that is good and true is placed upon a level with the vile and unworthy. For shame, gentlemen, and brave men as I know you are, to utter such slanders concerning the weaker sex. Remember that your mothers were women, and if aught was spoken against them, would not your blood tingle?"
Mr. Brown did not jest again that night, and I think that the reply made us all reflect upon our obligations to our Maker, for we pushed back our chairs from the table, and declared that sleeping was better than drinking, and that we would finish the punch some other time.
Jackson led the way to our room, while our host did the honors for his lady guests. We bade all good night, and after Mr. Brown and myself had exchanged a few words relative to the incidents of the day, we threw ourselves upon the mattresses spread upon the floor, and just as daylight began to glimmer in the east we fell asleep, and our slumbers were undisturbed for many hours; but at length we were awakened by Mr. Wright, who sat in the only chair the room afforded, smoking his pipe with great apparent relish, and looking as though he had been awake since sunrise.
"Come, rouse up," he said, "or you will have no appetite for supper. You are the soundest sleepers that ever saw, for I made some noise in hopes of awakening you, but I found that was an impossibility, so I thought I would try tobacco smoke."
"What o'clock is it?" I asked, rubbing my eyes, and trying to think where I was.
"Near four. Come, get up, and help me entertain the women. They have got their proper clothes on, and don't look so bad as they might. The young one still wails for her husband, although I tell her to keep up her spirits, and think of something else."
"Advice which she is certain not to follow. Did you ever know of a woman that would be advised under any circumstances? No, I thought not."
"You are always grumbling about the women," I said, addressing Mr. Brown. "If the truth was known, I suppose that it would show that you have been jilted some day by a female with a pretty face, and revenge yourself by abusing the whole sex. That is ungallant."
"I don't care how ungallant it is, for I know it to be true," replied Mr. Brown, with great candor; "ten years ago, I made love to the prettiest piece of flesh and blood that ever walked on two legs, or allowed her hair to curl in ringlets. But I don't like to talk on the subject."
"A truce to your love affairs," interrupted Mr. Wright; "come and take a gallop with me this afternoon, and have a look at my farm, and I'll warrant that you will think no more of women or of marriage. Will you come?"
We both readily assented, and a good cup of coffee, which Jackson had kept in readiness for us when we awoke, was swallowed with a relish, and then we found our horses standing at the door, looking in prime order, in spite of certain places on their coats which had been singed while riding through the fire the day before.
Mr. Wright had been very attentive to our comforts, for the saddles were repaired and made smooth where they were rough, and the bridles were oiled and cleaned, and looked like new ones. We mounted, and turning our horses' heads, trotted slowly towards the field of wheat, which we had passed the first day of our arrival.
MR. WRIGHT'S FARM.—DEATH OF KELLY.
A pleasant ride we had that afternoon, reviewing flocks and growing crops, and discoursing on the best mode of cultivation. I found that our host preferred the heavy tools of English farmers, to the light, easily managed instruments of the Americans, and I took occasion to point out the superior advantages which the latter possessed; but Mr. Wright was incredulous, and suspicious of my innovations. His land was level, and free from stones, and just suited for light American ploughs, and I pledged my word that a third more work could be done with one, drawn by a yoke of oxen, than could be performed by an English made plough, a huge, clumsy thing, drawn by two span of horses, and requiring three men to attend upon its wants.
I exacted a promise from Mr. Wright, that he would give an American plough a fair trial; and the next time he visited Melbourne he purchased one, and I had the satisfaction, before I left the country, of hearing him say that he was delighted with its performance, and that he had discarded many English farming tools, and substituted American, which were lighter, yet quite strong enough, and saved much labor.
If I had accomplished no other result in Australia than introducing a few articles of the manufacture of the United States, I should think that I was amply compensated for my trouble, convinced as I am, that we have found a market that will consume thousands of dollars worth of agricultural tools, and be paid for in clean gold dust.
Mr. Wright owned fifty thousand acres of land,—not one thousand, but fifty thousand,—and over two thirds of it were devoted to grazing purposes.
For instance, he had five hundred acres sowed to wheat, five hundred to potatoes, and a thousand acres to vegetables, fruits, and oats. The rest of the vast domain was free to the immense herds which were seen scattered over the plains in all directions.
There were ten thousand head of sheep, three thousand head of cattle, and five hundred horses on the farm, and all owned by one man, and that man's wealth increasing every year to an almost fabulous extent. He pointed out the site which he had selected for building an immense barn, to be used for the storage of grain, and to keep a number of his most highly prized horses in during the winter season, and then spoke of the time when the country would be so secure that he could erect a house more in accordance with his ideas of comfort and good taste, and lie down at night and be certain of awaking in the morning and find his herds safe.
The ride and the farmer's conversation were most interesting to me; but I will not inflict it upon the readers, for it is probable that they do not take that interest in agriculture that I do. We returned to the house, and I was more than ever profoundly impressed with the magnitude of Australian farmers' operations.
That evening, while sipping our punch, we hinted that the next morning must see us on our way to Ballarat. Mr. Wright vainly urged us to remain with him for a week, and even offered the inducement of a formidable expedition against the bushrangers in the vicinity of Mount Tarrengower; but we turned deaf ears to the allurements, and promised at some future day to visit him, when our time would not be limited.
We had been absent from the mines a week, and unsettled as affairs were when we left, we knew not what great events had happened. I had considerable property that required looking after, and I supposed Fred would need assistance and advice in case there was a rising of the miners in opposition to the tax, which had for such a length of time caused fierce dissensions and a few bloody collisions.
"But what am I to do with my prisoners?" Mr. Wright asked, with a perplexed look.
"Iron them securely, and send them to Melbourne, under an escort of your most trusty men," replied Mr. Brown.
"Yes, I can do that, but there's the other party—the women. What can I do with them after you are gone?"
"Send them to Melbourne also. They will be needed as witnesses, and will be well cared for during their stay. After the men are hanged they can go where they please. That's the only course that is left for you to pursue."
"I will leave a note for the ladies with the lieutenant of police in Melbourne, and he will see that they are properly cared for," I remarked.
"Perhaps you had better give it to me," Mr. Wright said, thoughtfully.
"Because I think that business will call me to the city in a day or two, and I will accompany the expedition, and see that the women have all that they desire on the route. I don't like to trust them with my men, for I don't know how the latter would act when no longer under my supervision."
"The very best course you can take," cried Mr. Brown and myself in a breath, glad to think that the ladies were to be well protected.
"If you think that plan is a good one, I shall adopt it," Mr. Wright remarked, a little confused, although I didn't suspect at the time that the youth and tears of the widow had made an impression upon his heart, and that he desired to be as near her as possible, so as to condole with her on her misfortunes.
We settled the business that evening, and I even made an arrangement with Mr. Wright to forward me all his surplus produce, such as vegetables and fruit, and all the cattle he desired to dispose of. I pointed out the advantage he would derive from the trade, and that, instead of sending his stock to Melbourne, and waiting for consignees to dispose of it, I would pay upon delivery, and give the best market price. He agreed with me, and we closed a bargain that was only interrupted when Fred and myself left the country.
The next morning we were up at daylight, and so were the whole household. Breakfast was smoking on the table when we descended to the first floor, and Jackson stood near the door looking quite melancholy at the prospect of our departure, while Kala and Iala ventured as near the dining room as they dared for the purpose of reminding us of our promised bottles of rum, and tobacco. We satisfied them that they were not forgotten, and that they should receive the articles by the first team that was consigned to us from the farm.
"And me, sir," whispered Jackson; "I hope that I shall not be forgotten after your departure."
"We never forget our promises," I replied. "You shall have a pardon, if money or influence can procure one."
With this assurance he was perfectly satisfied, and I may as well state here that he was pardoned in less than a year from the time of our visit, and that he left Mr. Wright's employ, went to Melbourne with a hundred pounds in his pocket, commenced a small business, which gradually expanded, until at the present time he writes me that he is assessed for near one hundred thousand pounds. He has been fortunate in all his speculations, and is regarded as one of the most honorable merchants in Melbourne.
"By the way, that fellow whom you quarrelled with and struck has left my employ," Mr. Wright said, as we took our seats at the table.
"He took a sudden start," I replied.
"Yes, he gave me no intimation of his leaving; if he had, I would have settled with him in full, and discharged him in regular form. He went off in the course of the night, and has taken all that he owned and something over. He will turn out a bushranger yet, or I'm no reader of faces."
"What has he carried off that didn't belong to him?" Mr. Brown asked.
"A pair of large sized pistols, and a lot of ammunition."
"You can afford to lose them, for they are more dangerous to the man who fires them than the one who stands before them. Congratulate yourself on their loss. It is your gain."
Our host laughed, but denied the truth of my assertion, and during the remaining time we were at the table the subject was not again alluded to.
We finished our breakfast, received our gold from Mr. Wright, who had locked it in his safe during our stay, and had not asked us a single question concerning it, although I have no doubt that he suspected the truth—shook hands with the men, and received the blessings of Nancy, and the tearful adieus of Betsy—held a short interview with the ghost, who was inclined to shed tears because he could not accompany us, but who was consoled when we promised to get him pardoned, and to send him a present of tobacco, and brandy enough to last a twelvemonth—had another hand-shake all round, and then we mounted our horses, and with three ringing cheers in our ears we started on out journey towards Ballarat.
"A pleasant visit we have had," muttered Mr. Brown, after we were put of sight of the house. "Faith, I would have no objection to owning a farm like this."
"Which you would sell in less than a year at a sacrifice."
"No, I don't think so. But, hullo! we've forgotten something."
"Well, what is it?"
"Why, something to eat on the route."
"Jackson has looked to our welfare, and if you will examine the bundle strapped to the back part of your saddle you will find a choice collection of eatables, and a large flask of something stronger than water. You see that I am provided in the same manner."
"I am thankful for it, and sincerely hope that you will make no demands upon me during the journey."
"Don't alarm yourself," I replied, laughing. "I have got a revolver, and can shoot a kangaroo if I get hungry."
By chance I drew my revolver from my belt as I spoke, and saw that, it was apparently in good order, although I thought that the caps looked as though they had been put on in a bungling manner. The work did not look like mine, and I had a faint suspicion that the pistol had been tampered with.
I said nothing to my friend, but dropped the rein upon my horse's nock, and removed one of the caps of the nipple. I saw nothing to alarm me until I had wiped away the corrosive substance that clung to the iron, when, to my surprise, I discovered that a small plug had been driven into the priming tube, thus rendering the charge in the barrel useless. The discovery was valuable, for I did not know what designs the man who did the work might have on us.
A brief inspection convinced me that the remaining five tubes were in the same condition, and then I called for a halt.
"What's the matter now?" demanded my friend, who was considerable in advance of me.
"A slight discovery that may prove of value."
"What is it—another bottle of liquor?"
"No, of more importance than that. Had it been a bottle I should have hardly called you back," I replied.
"No, I'll be sworn that you would not. But go on. Tell me what you have found out now."
"Simply that our pistols have been tampered with. At least mine has."
"Is it possible?" cried Mr. Brown, hastily, drawing his weapon and inspecting it.
"I see nothing," he continued. "The powder and ball seem to be in their places, and the caps on."
"Take off the caps, and then see," I remarked.
He did as I requested, and found the tubes stopped as mine
"The devil!" he muttered; "I don't like this much." "Neither do I; but we must make the best of it. The quicker we extract the plugs, the more safe I shall feel."
The task was a long one, but we accomplished it, and then, to make all sure, we reloaded our weapons, and felt relieved when we found that we could depend upon them.
"When was this done?" Mr. Brown inquired.
"Probably yesterday afternoon, while we were looking over the farm."
"But who could have done it?"
"There you ask me too much. It may have been known to the farm hands that we had money on our persons. Indeed, I think that the shepherd, while in his cups, boasted of the rich booty which we had found, and so excited the envious spirit of some reckless fellow who wishes to be rich at our expense."
"Then we must have the satisfaction of riding along, anticipating a bullet every few minutes," grumbled Mr. Brown.
"I suppose that is the case, unless we change our route."
"And go thirty miles out of our way?" exclaimed my companion, sneeringly. "No, sir. I have no desire to cross a sandy plain where the sun heats the earth so hot that a mosquito gets its wings singed if it alights before twelve o'clock at night."
"The plain must be a paradise if insects don't exist there. Let us go by that route," I replied.
"I didn't say that flies and mosquitoes were not there. I said that they didn't touch the sand, but they hover in the air, and unfortunate is the man or beast that they light upon."
I found out that Mr. Brown was not to be changed from his purpose; so we once more rode on side by side, and while we were chatting upon the incidents that had befallen us during our excursion, we almost forgot the plugging of the pistols.
At the edge of Mr. Wright's land, on the route to Ballarat, was a small forest of gum trees, through which ran a small stream, similar to the one that we crossed on the night that we captured the bushrangers. The water was shallow and sluggish, with a soft, sticky bottom, and boggy sides. This stream Mr. Wright had told us we should have to cross, and that after we were over we could soon find the numerous trails and roads leading to the mines, and probably meet with parties of miners.
When the directions were given a number of the farm hands were present, so that I arrived at the conclusion that while we were fording the stream an attempt would be made upon our lives, if it was to be made at all.
As soon, therefore, as we arrived in the vicinity of the brook I checked the pace of my horse, and carefully scrutinized the trees and places where an ambush might be expected.
I even examined the ground for the prints of horses' feet, for I knew that it was customary for every runaway servant or farm hand to steal a horse.
That was considered a matter of course, and it was no unusual thing for the police of Australia, when they saw a poorly-clad man on horseback, to ask him where he stole it; and unless he gave pretty correct answers, the animal would be taken away and confiscated to the services of the force.
I could tell nothing by the earth, for the cattle had resorted to the brook to quench their thirst, and roll in the cool mud.
I glanced hastily around, but saw nothing to excite alarm; so I touched my horse lightly and entered the brook. The animal, disliking the mud, sprang suddenly half way across. The quick motion of the brute probably saved my life, for just as the animal sprang a shot was fired, and the ball whizzed in uncomfortable proximity to my head.
I struck the spurs deeply into the brute's sides, and with a bound like lightning, he landed me on the bank of the stream; but as he did so, the soil yielded, and he fell, throwing me several feet from him.
Again was I indebted for my life to that simple accident, and it was of a kind that had not occurred before during my residence in Australia, for just as the horse fell, another sharp report of firearms was heard, and a bullet struck the trunk of a tree over my head, and sent a shower of bark rattling upon my face.
"I see the d——d scoundrel!" shouted Mr. Brown, and he spurred in pursuit. I saw the form of a stout-built man, mounted on a powerful horse, disappear amid the trees, and I quickly urged my animal to his feet, so that I could join in the pursuit.
Before it could be done, I heard two quick, ringing shots, which my ears told me came from Mr. Brown's revolver, and I easily guessed the fate of the would-be assassin.
By the time I had scraped the mud from my person, Mr. Brown came riding slowly back, looking as unconcerned and calm as possible.
"Did you hit him?" I asked.
"To be sure; both shots told," was the satisfactory reply.
"Who was the scamp? Did you recognize him?"
"Certainly; I could hardly fail to do that, when he bore your mark."
"How—my mark?" I asked in astonishment
"Yes; one of his eyes was black and blue, where you struck him last night."
"You mean to tell me that it was Kelly who sought my life?" I cried, recollecting that Mr. Wright had informed me that the fellow had left the farm the night before.
"If you don't believe it, you will find the body a few rods from here with two wounds—one on the right shoulder and the second through the body."
"I have no desire to see it," I replied; "let us continue our journey, and leave the scene of so disagreeable a necessity."
If Mr. Brown did not utter a prayer of thanksgiving for his escape, I am certain that I did; and it was a sincere one at that, for nothing but an overruling Providence could have saved one from the effects of two shots at a short distance.
On we pressed, our good horses exerting themselves to the utmost, and almost regardless of the boat which poured down upon our heads, until our brains seemed melted, and ready to run from the eyes. Profuse drinking alone saved us from a sun-stroke that day.
At length we reached the plain, and saw stretched before us half a dozen roads, all leading to the mines, but all deserted, for it was at an hour when few travellers cared to move, preferring to wait until the sun had ceased its fiery course, and the earth had thrown off its fervent heat.
"I go no farther," I exclaimed, as I saw that my horse was suffering from his over-exertions.
Mr. Brown reined in, and seemed disposed to take advice.
"Only to the next clump of trees," he replied, pointing to half a dozen, about a mile distant.
"We shall kill the animals, and ourselves in the bargain," I replied.
"A mile or so will make but little difference; I think that I can promise you a good camping ground, and a sink hole with pretty fresh water under those trees; come."
I could no longer resist the inducements, and once more we put our horses in motion.
"See, as I told you, we shall find company under the trees," cried Mr. Brown; "there is smoke arising, and that denotes coffee and supper. Cheer up, and we shall yet learn the news before sunset."
A few minutes revealed to our gaze three or four men and two women, seated near a wagon, that looked as though it had made many journeys between Ballarat and Melbourne, before the roads were in good order. A brisk fire was burning, and on that fire we could see a coffee-pot and a kettle. A short distance from the camp were two skeleton horses, with just life enough left to be able to graze upon the prairie, and who seemed to have been fed on thistles during the last few years of their life. With no suspicion that our appearance was against us, we rode boldly on until we were brought to a halt by a couple of presented muskets, held in the hands of their trembling owners.
"Don't ye come here, ye divils!" shouted one of the men in goodly strong brogue.
"If he does, it's cowld lead ye'll get!" cried another.
"But, my good friends," Mr. Brown said, blandly.
"Away wid ye, at once, and the divil take care of ye. We know ye."
"If you know us, you should not fear us," my friend said, in the insinuating argumentative style so peculiar to him.
"O! better not stand then; blarneying, but go away wid ye!" yelled out one of the women, with demonstrative indications of throwing hot water or potatoes at us.
"Why, who do you think we are?" I asked, Mr. Brown having retired from the conversational portion of his duty in deep disgust at the idea of having his gentlemanly address taken for blarney.
"We think ye are thaves! may the divil confound ye," replied one of the heathen.
"But we are not thieves," I continued.
"Thin yer looks belies ye wonderfully. Go on yer ways, and don't stop here thinking that we've money, or any stuff to stale, for we ain't."
"Why, you d——n fools!" yelled Mr. Brown, "we have more money in our pockets than the carcasses of yourselves, wives, and horses would bring."
This announcement produced a sensation, and we were happy to see the fellows whisper together, as though they had made a mistake, and were willing to rectify it.
"Have ye whiskey?" at length one of them asked.
I shook a bottle in their faces, but made no reply.
"Is it the rale poteen?" he demanded.
"Irish all over," I answered.
"Thin glory to God, come along and welcome."
The muskets were lowered, the hostile attitude ceased, and we rode into the camp like conquerors, and were received with every mark of respect, which I attributed more to the influence of the black bottle that I held in my hand, than to our dignified personal appearance. Even the women condescended to welcome us with looks of encouragement, and one of them spanked her baby when it cried, because the wee thing was frightened at strangers.
JOURNEY BACK TO BALLARAT.
"You are, no doubt, strangers in the country?" said Mr. Brown, after we had removed the saddles from our horses' backs, and suffered the animals to roam a short distance from the camp for food.
"Faith, ye may well say that," cried the leading Hibernian, with a good-natured smile.
"Where did you come from?" my friend continued.
"Ireland, sir," was the prompt reply.
"I know that without your telling me. I mean what part of this country. Sydney or Melbourne?"
"Faith, how did ye know we come from Ireland?" queried Pat, with innocent simplicity.
"By your brogue, to be sure," was Mr. Brown's prompt answer.
"Bedad, I never thought of that," grunted the Celt.
"We came from Melbourne, sir," one of the men said, answering Mr. Brown's question, and casting wishful eyes towards the black bottle. "We've been four days on the road, and it's little progress we make at all, bad luck to the horses that won't draw when we want 'em to. It's out of whiskey we got the first day, owing to the swilling of Ned Mulloon, who was drunk as a baste when we left town."
"Faith, it's little chance I had while yer mouth was doing its work, Teddy," cried Ned, with a grin.
"We will make a bargain with you," Mr. Brown said to the men. "Give us a share of your potatoes, and we'll divide the whiskey."
"Done," cried all hands, with remarkable unanimity; and the pot containing the esculents was jerked off the fire and placed at our feet, while we treated all hands, not even excepting the women.
"Well, what is the news at Melbourne?" asked Mr. Brown, while We were satisfying our appetites.
"It's loud talk they have about the miners, and their dislike to pay the tax, glory to God; and the artillerymen were getting ready to march whenever the governor tells 'em to, bad luck to 'em."
"Did you understand at what mines the soldiers are to be stationed?" I asked.
"Yes, I did," replied our informant. "'Tis at Ballarat."
"Then there must have been trouble since our absence," remarked Mr. Brown; "and the sooner we are home the safer will our property be. If we but had fresh horses we could start at once."
"And carry off the whiskey?" demanded the men, with rueful looks.
"No, we would leave it for your use."
"Then long life to yez, and it's prayers ye shall have for fresh horses without delay"
Pat's prayers, if indeed he prayed at all, were of but little avail, for the fresh horses did not come along, and we were compelled to remain inactive until near midnight, when we again saddled our animals, and bade our entertainers farewell. When we left, the company was very patriotic, and songs of Ireland's greatness and England's outrages were hooted loud enough to awaken every one within a radius of two miles. They gave us three cheers when we left, and one of the party, in the excitement, stumbled over the potato pot, and got a dose of hot water on his person that caused him to utter the most frightful cries, which were responded to by shouts of laughter instead of tears of condolement.
"We have accomplished one humane purpose in giving the men the whiskey," Mr. Brown said, as we rode in the direction of Ballarat. "The poor horses will get a few hours' extra rest."
"That is more than the women and children can do," I remarked.
"The women can take care of themselves, I'll warrant you, and if a fight occurs, look after their children at the same time. But touch up your horse. We must reach Ballarat by daylight, for I have no doubt that stirring times are occurring there."
The air was quite cool, and the moon sufficiently bright to show us the right road, so that we wasted no time in searching for it. Not a single person did we meet until just before daylight, when our horses suddenly shied, and an examination revealed the cause. Under a tree by the roadside was a team, and the driver fast asleep, snoring most unmusically, while the oxen were quietly chewing their cuds, chained to a wheel of the cart.
"Let us rouse him, and find out the news from Ballarat," Mr. Brown said.
I made no opposition. My friend approached the sleeping man, and touching him lightly on the shoulder, caused him to look up. The fellow rubbed his eyes, and stared wildly at us for a moment, and then began to beg most piteously.
"I haven't got a single thing about me that's worth stealing," he cried. "If you want my blanket you can have it, but it ain't a very good one."
"I suppose that you take us for bushrangers?" quietly remarked Mr. Brown.
"I certainly do—ain't you?" asked the man, between hope and fear.
"Not quite so far gone as that. All that we desire of you is news, and that you can soon give us without much sacrifice."
"O, is that all? I thought that somebody had been blowing on me," cried the teamster, considerably relieved.
"How are matters at Ballarat?" I demanded. "Bad as bad can be," replied the stranger promptly. "The devil has taken possession of the miners, and they refuse to pay gold taxes to the government. The latter don't want to yield, and there will be a fight or I'm much mistaken. I don't want to hurry you, but if you want to be counted in, you'd better be moving, or the whole matter will be decided before you arrive."
"I'll bet a wager that you are a Yankee," Mr. Brown remarked, and I thought I detected the man's cuteness before my friend spoke.
"I take the bet," was the prompt reply. "Put the money in my hands."
Mr. Brown's money was not forthcoming, at which the stranger sneered.
"I s'posed that I had picked up a man who wanted a chance to make a few dimes, but you don't seem inclined to come to time. Here's my specie, and there's more where that came from."
"Never mind the wager," I said; "you don't belong to the New England States, I'll take my oath, so you can't catch us in that trap."
"That's so," replied the teamster, with a chuckle; "but what makes you think so?"
"In the first place, you haven't the accent of a genuine Yankee," I replied; "and in the next place, a Yankee would not have exposed a single dollar until he was certain of the company that he was in. Am I right?"
"Hang me if you ain't, stranger," cried the teamster, in a burst of generous enthusiasm. "If you ain't a Yankee, there ain't one in the country."
I pleaded guilty to the charge, and got a warm shake of the hand for my nationality's sake.
"I ain't a Yankee, that's a fact," my new acquaintance said; "but I belong to Yankee land, and that's honor enough, by thunder. I'm an Ohio boy, and just looking round the world to see how it's made afore I settle on dad's farm, and tie up for life. If I can pick up a few dimes afore I go back so much the better, and if I don't it won't break my heart."
We talked with our new acquaintance for near half an hour for the purpose of breathing our horses, and picking up all the news that had transpired during our absence. I gave him some good advice, and informed him that sleeping in his cart while travelling was not the safest plan that he could adopt, and after a few moments' reasoning he seemed to think so himself. We bade him good night, and resumed our journey, and just as day was breaking we drew up our tired horses before the store, which looked unchanged since our absence. All was quiet and still in the neighborhood, but we observed that an unusually large number of police were on duty in the streets, and that many of them were strangers, and eyed us with suspicious looks, as though not certain which party we belonged to.
"I'll hold the horses while you rap Fred up," Mr. Brown said, dismounting.
I was too impatient to see my friend to need a second bidding. I applied my foot to the door, and gave a thundering kick, that made two or three suspicious policemen, who had followed us closely, imagine we were starving for something to eat.
Hardly had I touched the door, when a hoarse growl showed me that Rover was still alive and capable of doing active duty. I heard the hound spring from his sleeping place, cross the floor, and throw his solid form against the door with a subdued yell, which, after a moment's snuffing changed from rage to joy. He uttered cry after cry of welcome, yet still Fred did not seem to take the hint. At length I heard him shuffling along the floor in his slippers, and presently he inquired,—
"A friend," I replied, disguising my voice as much as possible.
"What is wanting?" he asked.
"A cup of coffee and something to eat," I replied.
"You can get neither here. Go to one of the coffee-houses."
"But suppose we want to trade?" I asked.
"Then come during trading hours," was the brief rejoinder.
"O, don't stand there talking all day, but let us in," cried Mr. Brown, who, like all Englishmen, couldn't bear to joke on an empty stomach.
"Is that you, Jack?" Fred demanded, eagerly.
"Of course it is," cried Mr. Brown, impatiently.
The heavy bar was removed with remarkable rapidity, and the next instant the door was thrown open, and the best friend that I possessed in the world was shaking my hand and patting me on the back, as though I was an infant strangling with lacteal fluid, while Rover circled around us, and made the air vocal with his joyous barks, until anxious to distinguish himself, and perhaps thinking that Mr. Brown was not getting his share of the reception, he suddenly welcomed that gentleman with a slight nip on the seat of his pantaloons, that caused him to utter a fierce oath, and to rub the place with remarkable vigor.
"Come in, come in," cried Fred, "or we shall have all the green police of Ballarat around us, thinking a manifestation is going on. I see three of the fellows peering around corners as though uncertain whether to regard us as madmen or conspirators."
We followed him into the store and closed the door; and while Fred was busy in lighting lamps, for the store was dark inside, he chatted as though his tongue had had a fast for a month, and was now making up for lost time.
"I had near about given you up for dead, and next week should have left the store in charge of Smith and started in search of you. What detained you so long, and couldn't you send me a few words?"
Then, not waiting for us to answer, he continued:—
"I began to think that you had fallen victims to the bushrangers, for they are very bold lately, and more than one gang has ventured near the city with impunity, while the troubles are continuing. The commissioner has been asked to despatch a force against them, but he has declined, on the ground that he can't spare the men."
"Then troubles continue to exist?" I asked.
"Never more serious than at present; and I expect that open war will be declared every day. The miners have flatly refused to pay their thirty shillings per month for mining, and government insists that they shall. Neither party feel like retreating from its position, although I candidly believe that if a good man was at the head of affairs this difficulty would be settled in twenty-four hours, and in a way satisfactory to the government and the miners."
Even while Fred was entertaining us with news he was busily engaged in starting a fire in the stove for the purpose of preparing our breakfast.
"It is too late to hope to escape bloodshed," Fred continued, "unless concessions are made on the part of the government, which are not looked for. I am informed that the commissioner sends despatches to the governor-general every day, in which he represents the miners as on the point of yielding, and that energy and firmness are alone required to subdue them to his wishes, and prevent further outbreaks. You see how shamefully he is misleading the government, for there are not two hundred men in Ballarat, exclusive of the police force, but who will fight against the tax."
"How is it known that the commissioner sends such despatches?" I asked.
"Why, to tell you the truth," said Fred, sinking his voice to a whisper, "a party of men ambushed the courier day before yesterday, and rifled his despatches. The letters contained a request for more men and plenty of ammunition, and a hope to have the rebels suing for mercy in less than two weeks."
"And how are our countrymen acting?" I asked.
"They are not so backward as I could wish," replied Fred; "for they should remember that we are on a foreign soil, and that an active part is not required of us. But few can withstand the flattery that has been brought to bear upon them, and as a general thing they are all arrayed with the miners. Their rifles are wanted, and dreadful havoc they will make if blows are exchanged."
"And you have taken no part in the question as yet?" Mr. Brown asked.
"No; although offers in abundance have been made by government agents and the leaders in the revolutionary movement. We have too many thousand dollars at stake to trifle with public affairs, although if—"
Fred paused while pouring out the coffee, and looked hard at Mr. Brown.
"Go on," said that gentleman. "Treat me as though I was a countryman and a brother."
"If the people were about to enter upon a struggle for liberty and independence, I would not mind sacrificing all the property that I possess to help secure so desirable a blessing. But the word liberty is never mentioned. It is only a question of money, and therefore I shall stand aloof."
"By the way, how has business been while we were absent?" I asked.
"Never better. The sales have been large and the profits good. We are out of many things, but Smith should be along this afternoon, and he will supply the deficiency. Now tell me of your trip. Of course you didn't find the buried treasure, and you have returned a little poorer than when you went away."
"That depends upon the estimation in which you hold this kind of coin," I replied, emptying my pockets upon the table, and throwing down a good sized bag of gold dust.
Fred opened his eyes in astonishment.
"Do you mean to tell me that you have been successful?" he asked.
"As far as getting the gold is concerned we have; but if you ask us if we have had smooth sailing during our cruise, I shall tell you that it has been rough, and at times extremely tempestuous. Especially did we find it so when the rascally bushrangers attempted to smoke us out, and also when we threw them off the trail by means of a first class ghost."
"A ghost!" replied Fred, looking first at Mr. Brown and then at me, as though we were quizzing him.
"Yes, he was a first class ghost, and no mistake," replied Mr. Brown, without moving a muscle of his face.
"Bah!" ejaculated Fred, with disdain.
"This is the very expression that we used when we were satisfied that the ghost was disposed to help us," I replied.
"Will you explain yourselves, or must I resort to extremities?" Fred exclaimed.
"Well, put the money in the safe, and then we will light our pipes, and repeat the history of our journey."
Fred hastened to comply, and while we were in the act of filling the store with tobacco smoke, we heard a commotion in front of our door, and the next instant the police commissioner entered without the formality of knocking.
"Excuse me, gentlemen," he said, "for my early visit, but I have weighty matters on hand, and have no time to lose."
We offered him a chair, but he declined the courtesy. We saw that he was ill at ease in the presence of the ex-inspector, and we rather enjoyed it than otherwise. As for Mr. Brown, he smoked his pipe with most admirable nonchalance, and appeared unconscious of the presence of his enemy.
"The fact of the matter is, gentlemen," the commissioner went on to say, "government has need of all its friends at the present time, for misguided men are plotting against its stability. The silly things will be crushed in the end; but our great desire is to make such a show of strength that no blood will be shed. Humanity dictates such a course, and I think that it will meet the approval of the governor and his advisers."
"Go on, sir," remarked Fred, seeing that the commissioner paused, as though uncertain what to say next.
"I thought of requesting you two gentlemen to volunteer your services as my aids, and if you comply, I will see that government is informed of the fact, and that you receive some substantial reward."
"In making the request I suppose that you think we shall be the means of enlisting a large portion of the American population of Ballarat into the service of the crown?"
The commissioner acknowledged, after some hesitancy, that such was his calculation.
"We shall have to decline your flattering offer," Fred said, firmly. "We have no desire to incur the hatred of the miners of Ballarat by appearing as oppressors. If you proposed an expedition against bushrangers we should be happy to comply with your wishes. As it is, we cannot."
The commissioner did not say a single word. He bowed rather stiffly, and then turned and left the store, and the next moment we heard him urging his horse through the street as though he was in a hurry to reach a certain point without loss of time.
STEEL SPRING IN THE FIELD.—ATTEMPT OF THE COMMISSIONER TO CONFISCATE OUR HORSES.
"I don't want to be severe in my language," Mr. Brown said, as he listened to the receding steps of the commissioner, "but in my opinion a more thorough d——d scoundrel don't exist than that same commissioner, who just set a trap for you, and caught nothing."
"In that opinion I will agree most heartily," replied Fred; "he imagines that we possess some influence over our countrymen, and he wished, by a little flattery, and a lucrative position, to attach us to his party. We will have nothing to do with the quarrel, but endeavor to take care of our property and our lives by keeping out of the fight, if, unfortunately, there is one."
While Fred was speaking, a smart, intelligent man, named Ross, who was regarded as the head of the rebellious movement, entered the store.
"I have made an early call," he said, "but not for the purpose of trading. The fact of it is, I heard it reported last night—in what manner is of little consequence—that you, gentlemen, were to be offered an official position under the commissioner. I chanced to see that gentleman when he left your premises, a few minutes since, and I thought that there might be color for the rumor. It is for the miners' interest and your own that the report should be contradicted, or else confirmed. I come to you as a friend, to ask which side you espouse. If you think that the miners are wrong, do not hesitate to say so, for I may then be enabled to render you some assistance, not by advice alone, but in a practical manner."
"If we thought your party was wrong, be assured that we should say so without equivocation," replied Fred; "we do not wish to take part in the struggle that is about to take place, and rest satisfied that we shall not, unless obliged to defend our property. If the commissioner has made a proposition to us—and I don't say that he has—be assured that we have not accepted it, and would not under any consideration whatever. If a similar offer was made by your party, it would meet with the same consideration. We are Americans, and strangers to the soil, and if we can remain neutral we shall. Our countrymen are their own masters, and can do as they please. If our advice was asked, we should tell them to keep to work, and out of harm's way. Is our position explicit enough?"
"I am satisfied, and will so state to those with whom I am connected," Mr. Ross replied, offering his hand in token of his friendship; "I must say there was some talk of the rash and ignorant, last night, to set fire to your store. I managed, by conciliating measures, to induce them to postpone all action until I was satisfied that you were with the government in feeling."
"If that is the manner in which the struggle is to be carried on," remarked Fred, "be assured that you will fail in your endeavors to obtain justice. No cause ever yet prospered where the torch of an incendiary was invoked to burn and destroy wantonly. Hearts that sympathize with you now would soon become alienated, and turn to the government for protection."
"I feel the force of your remarks," replied Mr. Ross, in a sorrowful tone, "and I am aware that they are just; but what can I do? I am considered at the head of the dissatisfied miners, yet I have no more real control over them than I have over you at this moment. They are undisciplined, and fierce as young bears anxious for a taste of blood. If I counsel honorable resistance, I am laughed at; if I request moderation, I am accused of cowardice. What can I do with such men as these?"
"We cannot advise, for our advice would not be taken," replied Fred; "but if I was placed in your position I know what I should do."
"Name it," said Ross, eagerly.
"Enforce discipline, or resign," was the reply.
"But the miners refuse to drill, or to be governed by military laws."
"Then let them look to themselves, and tell them so boldly. My word for it, that will bring them to reason, for where can they find another leader that commands the confidence that you do? Remember, with a mob, a very few words sways them for bad or good. Try the good, and await the result."