"Your advice shall be taken, although I have but faint hope of succeeding with the men. I can make an attempt, and if I die in seeking to secure the freedom of the miners, it shall never be said that I counselled extreme measures against those who wished to remain neutral."
Again he shook hands with us, and then left the store in a sorrowful and thoughtful mood, as though he felt a foreboding of his coming death, yet determined to yield his life for the benefit of his brother miners.
"There goes a man who is thrusting his head into the lion's mouth, and in less than a week he will meet a traitor's death, or suffer imprisonment for life at the hulks. He has been marked and watched for months, and be assured that the commissioner will not let him escape. Well, it is no business of mine." And Mr. Brown refilled his pipe, and threw his weary form upon a mattress, an example that I was not slow to follow.
It was late in the afternoon when we awoke, refreshed and ready for work, but as business was not very brisk, we walked about the town until supper time.
Mr. Brown and myself strolled towards Gravel Pit Hill, and to our surprise saw a large body of men, armed with rifles, shot guns, and old muskets of the most antique description, going through a dress parade, as military men would call it, although candor compels me to confess that the costumes were not of the most recherche description, as no two were dressed alike, and no two held their guns in the same position.
"What is going on?" I asked of a fellow who stood looking at the scene with open mouth.
"Can't you see for yourselves?" was the prompt reply, and the answer was delivered without deigning to turn his head.
"You might be civil, at any rate," I replied, half a mind to kick him for his impertinence to us.
"Don't come round 'ere bothering me, young men," said the fellow, with a wave of his hand, as though desirous of cutting short the conversation.
I thought that I recognized the voice, although I was not certain. Neither had I seen the fellow's face, except by profile, so I just laid a hand upon his shoulder, gave him a whirl and brought him to the right about face. My suspicions were verified; I stood face to face with my old rascally friend, Steel Spring.
"Why, you scamp, where did you come from?" I asked.
"That's the vay vid the vorld," the fellow said, putting one hand to his eyes as though overcome by the unexpected interview; "a covey tries to be honest, and get a honest livin', but up comes somebody vot has been concerned vid him in the grab line, and insists upon being acquainted. I'll leave this 'ere country, I vill."
"Why, you rascal!" exclaimed the ex-inspector, "I've a good mind to lock you up until you eat humble pie for six weeks to come."
"No, you don't," replied Steel Spring, with a chuckle, "'cos you ain't inspector no more, no how, and you can't lock a covey up, and you know it."
"He has you there, Mr. Brown," I remarked, and it pleased Steel Spring so much that he condescended to regard us with a little more favor.
"If he has," replied Mr. Brown, "I've got him on another tack that would give him trouble. Come, tell us what you are doing here."
"Can't you see?" he answered, impudently. "I'm looking at that awkward squad of miners drilling, and pretty bad vork they make of it."
"But are you in the breaking and entering line, or the pickpocket business?" Mr. Brown asked.
"I don't answer any questions vot reflects on my honor as a gentleman," Steel Spring replied.
"But you can tell us what occasioned you to leave the service of Lieutenant Murden, can't you?" I remarked.
"I could tell, but I don't choose to."
"Very well," was the significant remark of my friend, "I know of a few knucks who are in town, and whom you were the means of burning out a few months since. I am not in the police department at present, and can't harm you, but I will hint to a few friends that you are in town."
We turned, as though about to leave him, but Steel Spring was not desirous of having a horde of desperadoes at his heels, as he inferred that he would have, if he suffered us to leave him displeased. "O, don't quit a covey that vay," he cried, in an abject manner; "I don't vant to 'ave lots of henemies varever I goes, and you knows it."
"Well, then, tell us what made you quit Murden's service?" I asked.
He hesitated for a moment, as though almost resolved to tell a lie, but thought better of it and told the truth.
"Vell, if ye must know, I'll tell ye. There vas a trifling sum of money missed from the police office one day, and I vos suspected. That's all."
"Of course, you took the money, eh?" Mr. Brown remarked.
"I vish that you vouldn't ask me such strange questions. You is enough to confuse any one, I say."
"Did you take the money?" demanded Mr. Brown.
"Vell, yes, I s'pose I did. At leastwise it vas found on me, although how it came in my pocket I don't know," and the fellow chuckled at his falsehood.
"And I suppose Murden told you that he had no further occasion for your services," I remarked.
"I think that he said something of the kind, but I vas so confused that I don't remember all that took place. I know one thing, though, that I ain't forgot."
"Well, what is it?"
"Vy, a slight kicking that I got, and a request never to show my head in Melbourne again;" and the fellow rubbed his person as though it was still sore.
"Now, one question more," Mr. Brown said; "what brought you to this part of the country?"
Steel Spring hesitated for a moment, and then requested us to promise secrecy before he divulged. We readily complied, when he asked us to step one side, and where we could be sure not to be overheard. We withdrew from the stragglers who were loitering about, followed by Steel Spring.
"I've got something to do that pays better than vaiting on Lieutenant Murden," he whispered.
"Is the occupation honest?" I asked.
"If it hadn't been you vouldn't have caught me connected vid it," was the prompt reply.
"That we can tell after we have heard what you are doing. Go on."
"I'm engaged by the commissioner to endeavor to find out the feelings of these misguided men," Steel Spring said, still whispering.
"In other words, you are a spy," I remarked.
"Vell, I don't know about that," he said; "I'se promised to get all the facts that I can hear, and let the commissioner know 'em. If that is vot you call a spy, I s'pose I'm one on 'em."
"And the pay is large, I suppose?"
"Vell, I can find no fault in that line yet. I s'pose that I shall earn my money, no matter 'ow 'igh the wages is."
"Well, I don't envy you, if these rough miners get an inkling of your profession. Look out for them, for they don't understand practical joking," I remarked.
"That for 'em!" ejaculated Steel Spring, snapping his fingers. "I know something that vill take the edge off of 'em, if they show any of their spite."
"That's all talk," I replied.
"Perhaps it is;" and Steel Spring shook his head with mysterious silence.
"Give us the information, and let us see how important it is," Mr. Brown remarked.
"Vell, then, vot do you think of a company of artillery comin' 'ere?"
"Impossible!" I replied; "there's been no artillery ordered here as yet. There's soldiers and policemen enough."
"The commissioner don't think so, for four days ago he sent word to Melbourne for a company to come up and bring their guns vid 'em, and the coveys is already on their vay."
"Then he must have sent despatches that the miners know nothing about," remarked Mr. Brown, in a musing tone.
"Lord bless you, I should 'ope so," returned Steel Spring, with some disdain; "he is von of 'em for doing things up secret like, and vot he don't know ain't vorth knowing."
"This is news of some importance," I whispered to Mr. Brown; "the miners should know it, or they will be cut to pieces."
"We are to remain neutral, you know," Mr. Brown said, suggestively, and I felt that if I interfered I could no longer maintain my character as friend to both parties.
I turned to bribe Steel Spring to give the miners a hint of the approaching company, but that worthy had suddenly disappeared in the crowd, and all efforts to find him were fruitless.
For half an hour we remained upon the ground watching the evolutions of the miners, as they went through various military manoeuvres, and then we returned to the store to find that Smith had arrived during our absence, and had brought with him a large stock of goods, and that he and Fred were hard at work unloading them.
I of course joined them without delay, and by sundown the carts were unloaded, and the oxen secured for the night. We were all glad to see our partner, and innumerable were the questions with which we plied him, both before and after supper, and gladly did he answer them, and then produced for our perusal a pile of newspapers from Yankee land, which were worth more than ten times their weight in gold.
While we were sitting around our rude table, making up accounts and conversing about business, Steel Spring entered the store with as much assurance as a first class customer. Fred and Smith both welcomed him with a few remarks, but Steel Spring seemed somewhat hurried, and declined to be seated. At length he gave me a signal that he wished to communicate something to me in private, and I followed him to the door.
"I thought that I vould come and give ye a bit of news, 'cos ye alvays treated me vell," he said, in a low whisper, and after a careful glance around to see if there were listeners near at hand.
I acknowledged the remark, and he continued:—
"I heerd the commissioner give orders to-night that your 'osses should be seized in the morning for the sogers to ride on, and I think he is doing it out of spite." "But he has no right to touch private property," I remarked.
"Vot does you s'pose he cares for the right? He vill say that they is needed, and that is 'nough. You can't help yourselves, you can't. Vot is the use of talking?"
"But we will talk, and to some purpose," I replied, indignant at the outrage that was to be committed upon us.
"No, don't you say one vord, 'cos it vouldn't help the matter, and he could hinjure you more than the 'osses is vorth. Do you take and sell 'em. Don't you know some covey vot has got the ready tin vould buy 'em?"
"We had an offer this very morning for all three of the animals by the American stage company."
"Vas the hoffer a good one?" asked Steel Spring, in a low voice.
"Yes; all that the animals are worth."
"Then do you go at vonce and get the tin, and tell the coveys that you vant them taken off now—this werry evening. The commissioner von't interfere vid the stage company. He knows better."
I thanked Steel Spring for his information, and then whispered, while I placed some gold coins in his hand,—
"Don't you think that you could contrive to let Captain Ross know something in regard to the artillery company?"
"I s'pose you have some veighty reasons for axing me to do it?" the spy replied.
"So weighty, that ten sovereigns will be given to the man who conveys the information."
"Ten sovereigns," repeated the fellow, slowly, as though considering of the matter; "you don't know how it vould hinjure my conscience to sell the secrets of the commissioner."
"I will make them fifteen, then," I answered.
"That is somethin' like. The vork is done, and no mistake. The captain vill have the information. To-morrow I vill come for the shiners."
He left me suddenly, and stole silently away in the darkness, just as a policeman halted in front of the store and scrutinized the building as though it was a resort for traitors, and he was determined to keep his eye upon our movements. I knew the man, and he knew me, so I stopped to exchange a few words with him.
"How goes the war?" I asked.
The officer glanced hastily around to see if he was watched before he replied,—
"The times are hard, when we have to look after old acquaintances."
"Why, who are you watching for now?" I inquired.
"Why, I hope that your honor won't be offended, but I have got orders to report all who go into the store, and examine all who leave it."
"The commissioner is carrying matters with a high hand," I replied, "but we can afford to submit to some inconvenience, and still disregard his petty malice. Do your duty, and don't be fearful of offending us."
"I'll do what I am compelled to, and no more," was the response; "if the commissioner thinks I'm going to act the spy on your movements he's damnably mistaken, I can tell him."
The officer passed along on his beat, and I rejoined my friends and communicated Steel Spring's information. Every one expressed surprise, and protested against such high-handed proceedings. But we were powerless to resist, for the commissioner was supreme in his authority, and there was no appeal, except through the government at Melbourne.
We resolved, however, to defeat his machinations, and I lost no time in visiting the agent of the stage company, stating that we wished to dispose of our horses, and had the satisfaction of receiving the money for them that evening.
The agent desired that the horses should remain in our possession until morning, but he agreed to assume all the responsibility, and even smiled when I ventured to hint that perhaps the commissioner would visit us at an early hour.
"Give me a bill of sale, signed by your firm," the agent said, "and I will risk all attempts at confiscation."
I did as he requested, and got two or three respectable men to witness my signature, and the delivery of the money, and then I went back to the store and chuckled at the thought of the disappointed commissioner next morning.
We did not retire very early, but sat up with closed doors and darkened windows, and read our papers and talked until long past midnight. Our business affairs were prosperous—we were free from debts of any kind—we had ready money enough on hand to take advantage of the markets, and buy low and sell dear—and to crown all, we had many thousand dollars lying idle in the Melbourne bank, which we could resort to in case of necessity. Our position was good, but a few losses by bad management would have made us as pecuniarily poor as when we reached the country, therefore the little trouble which we had with the commissioner gave us considerable annoyance, for in various ways he could injure us.
We went to bed that night with considerable anxiety on our minds, but with a firm determination that if we were imposed upon we would resist, and even carry our grievances before the governor, if we could obtain redress in no other way. We were anxious for daylight, yet dreaded the disagreeable results which it would bring forth.
No sooner had the sun shown its hot face than we heard a commotion in front of the store, but we remained seated at our table leisurely eating breakfast, and pretending that we cared but little for the excitement in the street. Presently a police officer put his head in at the door and shouted out,—
"I say, you!"
"Well, what say you?" asked Fred, without moving.
"The commissioner wants to speak to you instantly."
"Well, tell him to come in," I responded.
"He can't; he's 'ossback."
"And we are at breakfast," Fred cried.
"He's in a hurry."
"So are we."
"Will you come?"
"Certainly; after we have finished eating our breakfast."
The fellow uttered an oath, and withdrew his head to report to his superior officer. In a few minutes afterwards we heard the heavy steps of men approaching us, and looking up we saw the dark face of the commissioner, and the bull-dog countenance of Colonel Kellum, who had command of the military in Ballarat.
"Good morning, gentlemen," Fred said, rising, and placing chairs for our visitors.
A brief nod was the only sign of recognition that was returned, but the chairs were not accepted.
"To what are we indebted for this early visit?" Fred asked.
"We have come, sir, for—"
The commissioner had proceeded thus far, when he seemed confused, and stopped. He may have felt that he was about to commit an unjustifiable outrage, and wished the colonel to share half of the responsibility.
"The fact is, sir," the military man exclaimed, most pompously, "we want your horses in the name of the government."
"Our horses, did you say?" Fred asked, with a sweet smile.
"That's what I said, sir," the colonel replied, swelling with bad blood and dignity.
"I think, that you are mistaken, sir, as we are not the owners of any such kind of animals," Fred answered.
"Why, what do you call them, sir?" the colonel cried, triumphantly, pointing to the unconscious brutes, who were eating their provender in the stable which we had built just adjoining the store.
"Those are horses, certainly, sir, but they don't belong to us."
His face was a picture when he replied, it was so gentle, and appeared so bland and courteous, as though he would not offend for the world.
SAME CONTINUED.—DEATH OF ROSS.
"Young man," cried the colonel, his face swelling as though the hot blood would burst through its thin covering, "do you mean to tell me that those animals do not belong to you or your partner?"
"In the first place," answered Fred, with quiet dignity, "my name is Frederick ——, and I desire to be addressed as such in our communications, and not by the ambiguous title of 'young man.' In the next place, as I told you before, we are not the owners of those animals."
"It's a trick to cheat us," muttered the commissioner.
"Did you address a remark to me?" Fred asked, turning to the police officer.
The commissioner declined to reply, but he seemed to feel what he had uttered.
"The animals are wanted, and we shall take them, sir, for the use of the government; for the use of the government, sir, I suppose that you understand," the colonel cried.
"That is something that we have no control over, and are not interested in. I have no doubt that the owner or owners of the animals know how to protect their own property, and will do so."
The commissioner made a signal to his men, and three or four of them started for the stable to remove the animals. Just at that moment the agent of the stage company entered the store, and his presence was never more desirable.
"Hullo," he cried, "what the devil are you doing with my horses, Fred?"
"We are doing nothing with them, but these gentlemen seemed to think that government was in want of them, and therefore are about to confiscate them. I am glad that you have arrived in time to make terms of sale."
"Terms of the devil!" the agent shouted; "here, you, sirs, take those animals back to the stable, or I'll break you finer than a piece of quartz after it has passed through a mill!"
The men stood irresolute, and looked towards their chief.
"We want the animals," the colonel said.
"And will have them," the commissioner exclaimed.
"Gentlemen," said the agent of the stage company, "these animals belong to me; I have paid for them, and have a bill of sale, and the man who dares to detain them does so at his peril."
"Let us see the document," the military man said, after a whispered consultation with the commissioner.
The agent handed the paper to the colonel, and he studied over it carefully.
"Why, this document was signed last night," he exclaimed, with a sour look at Fred.
"What's that got to do with the question?" the agent asked, abruptly.
"Because I believe that it's a d——n trick to cheat the government!" shouted the colonel, boiling over with rage.
"Do you dare address such words to me, sir?" cried Fred.
"Or to me, either?" demanded the agent.
"Your uniform shall be no protection, unless you unsay what you have uttered," Fred continued, advancing in a menacing manner towards the colonel.
"Don't be rash," I whispered, laying a hand on Fred's shoulder; "remember that he is high in rank, and won't meet you."
"But I will post him in every town in Australia, unless he apologizes or fights."
"When the government solicited our company to establish a daily line of stages between Ballarat and Melbourne, we were promised all the assistance that officials could afford, and no interference was to be allowed; I see that the commissioner, and you, Colonel Kellum, are desirous of driving us from the town, and compelling us to abandon our enterprise. I shall take immediate steps to let the government know the reason of our refusal to continue the contract."
The speech of the agent was a telling one on the colonel and commissioner, for they knew that government would never pardon interference with a line that cost so much money to establish, and which was carrying information through the country at an unprecedentedly rapid rate. No wonder they stopped to consider, and changed their fierce aspect for one of conciliation, for they knew that suspension from duty would probably follow a remonstrance from the company.
"If you have bought the horses we have nothing further to say," the commissioner remarked, turning to the agent; "it was a mistake on our part in supposing that they belonged to these gentlemen, whom we are proud to call friends, and to whom we now desire to state that we only proposed to borrow the animals for a short time, and return them after these unhappy troubles."
"If the d——d brutes were not killed," muttered the colonel, sotto voce, and with a look of the most intense hatred.
"Colonel Kellum, you accuse me of acting unfairly in this business, and I desire an explanation," Fred said, the matter still rankling in his mind.
"I have given the only explanation that I shall give, and with that you must rest satisfied," was the reply of the red-faced Briton.
"Then I suppose that you will favor me with a meeting at an early hour?" Fred asked.
"What!" cried the military man, with some surprise, "a colonel in her majesty's army meet a dealer in tea and coffee? You must be mad!"
The red face of the military man grew purple as he thought of the indignity.
"Then I can only suppose that you are a coward, and that even a blow would not induce you to fight. Is that the case, sir?"
The colonel smiled with bitter scorn, and turned to leave the store.
"You refuse me an apology, do you?" Fred demanded, springing in front of Kellum, and barring his way to the door.
"Out of my way, grocer," the colonel shouted, with a laugh so insulting that Fred could contain himself no longer. He raised his hand and struck his opponent a light blow across his face.
Kellum swelled until I thought that every vein in his body would burst at the indignity. He muttered a few inaudible words, and then rubbed his forehead as though he did not half comprehend the insult, and wished to recall his scattered senses to know whether it was real.
"Now," said Fred, "you can go. I have repaid you insult for insult, and we are even-handed. If you desire satisfaction for the blow, you know where to find me."
"Yes, I can find you now!" Kellum hissed, with an oath of some magnitude; "you have struck me, and have sold your last pound of tea on earth."
"Look out!" shouted the stage agent; and his words of caution were none too soon, for the colonel drew his sword suddenly, and made a desperate lunge at Fred, which he avoided, and the point of the blade struck against a nail keg, and broke short off.
"A brave man, to refuse to meet a grocery dealer," my friend said, sarcastically; "I hope that the British army is not composed of such noble spirits as you; if it is assassination must be held in repute wherever there is a regiment."
The colonel was too angry to reply, but I thought that he seemed ashamed of his late attempt on the life of my friend, for he sheathed his sword without seeking to again use it.
"You shall hear from me in the course of the day," Kellum said, and without looking to the right or left he marched from the store, mounted his horse, and left our part of the town in peace.
"He is the most unscrupulous colonel in the English army," the agent said, after we had got rid of our unwelcome visitors; "he is feared by his men, and disliked by his officers, and he was never yet quartered in a town without finding cause to quarrel with some of the inhabitants. He has been sent here to crush this rebellion, and unless you shoot him he will do it, even if he has to shed torrents of blood.
"By the way," the agent said, as he turned to leave the store, "the miners must have employed our countrymen to chop wood for them last night, if I might judge from appearances."
"Why, haven't you heard the news?" he asked, in surprise.
"No; what has transpired?"
"Why, the miners are building fortifications on Gravel Pit Hill, and last night the sound of axes was heard from dark until light. A thousand trees were felled and trimmed, and cut into suitable lengths for a palisade, and even now men are at work digging holes in the sand to insert the ends of the timber. The miners mean mischief, and we shall have a hot fight before long."
"But why don't the commissioner interfere, and prevent the men from continuing the work?" I asked.
"That is something that I cannot explain, although I have endeavored to solve the mystery. The miners think that he is frightened, and therefore count on an easy victory."
The agent bade us a good morning, and walked off to attend to his duties.
"Can't you see through this seeming indifference?" asked Mr. Brown; "the commissioner has sent for artillery, and expects the arrival of the company in a day or two at farthest. The palisade will afford but trifling resistance to a twelve pound cannon ball. Besides, there is more glory for the officers if the miners are fortified. Be assured that the commissioner winks at the operations of the disaffected, simply because he can crush them more effectually if cooped up, than displayed upon the plain."
"But if the artillery were cut off and sent back to Melbourne with the loss of their guns, the miners would have the best of the bargain," I suggested.
"By the Lord Harry, I never thought of that," cried Mr. Brown, with enthusiasm; "that would be worth a careful consideration if Ross only could get the idea. I've half a mind to suggest it to him."
While he was speaking Steel Spring entered the store, ostensibly to buy a plug of tobacco, but in reality not to pay for it.
"Well," I whispered, while serving him, "did you convey the information to Ross?"
"Of course," he replied, promptly.
"And what did he say?" I asked.
"That he now knew his friends, and would take measures to prewent the sogers from getting here in a hurry."
I had no time to talk farther with Steel Spring, for he seemed impatient to be gone, so I slyly slipped the money into his hand, and he left the store with a chuckle of such intense delight that a tall policeman near the door asked him where he got his swipes.
Trade was remarkably good that day. There was a steady stream of gold dust pouring in, in exchange for many articles which were usually slow of sale. A large portion of our stock of liquors was sold in bottles and demijohns, and there were many inquiries for powder and lead, but we were not allowed by the authorities to deal in such articles, and even if we had been, we should have declined to sell them under the circumstances, knowing that the ammunition was intended for the especial benefit of the soldiers and police officers, and in the latter force we had many friends.
We closed the store earlier than usual that night, for there was an agitation pervading the working class that showed that the eventful hour was approaching when the miners were to measure their strength with the disciplined soldiers of their country. The red coats were under arms at their barracks, and a man informed me that he had seen each soldier served with ball cartridges, and that afterwards they loaded their guns carefully, as though determined to make every shot tell.
Two or three times during the evening we were on the point of venturing into the streets; but a fear of getting embroiled with the military prevented us.
We heard the heavy tramp of men as they marched through the street, and each moment expected to listen to the roar of musketry. While we were thus expectant, a light rap at the door, and a voice with which we were familiar, attracted our attention.
I unbarred the door and let in Steel Spring.
"Things is vorking," he said, rubbing his hands with glee; "'fore morning we'll 'ave a fight, and I don't care vich vins, I don't."
"How do the miners remain?" I asked; "are they firm?"
"Vell, vot there is of 'em is brave 'nough, but that 'ere Ross has sent avay 'is best men, and let others go 'ome for the night. He vill catch it afore mornin'."
"The man is mad," remarked Mr. Brown. "He should have kept every miner under arms through the night. The commissioner means mischief, I'll warrant."
"Don't he, though!" exclaimed Steel Spring, winking both his eyes violently.
"What are his plans?" I asked.
"Vell, 'tain't hardly right in me to tell 'em," the fellow said, as though he didn't want to reveal all that he knew, although I could see that he was anxious to, "but the commissioner has sent out men to mislead the party vot has gone to stop the artillery, and they vill get on another road and not come back for two or three days. The Yankee chaps vid their rifles 'ave gone vid the green vons, and now the colonel don't care an old button for the rest. An attack vill be made to-night at one o'clock, but don't tell that I said so."
We did not promise a compliance with his request, and after a liberal drink of whiskey Steel Spring left us to plot mischief, and to steal whatever he could lay his hands on during the melee.
We held a short counsel, and then resolved that, as the time was near at hand when the attack was contemplated, we would risk our lives in witnessing it, and, if possible, render some assistance to the injured, whether miners or soldiers. We locked up our gold in the safe, and then started for Gravel Pit Hill. The streets were silent and deserted. Not a policeman wearing a blue coat was to be seen until we entered the square where the palisades were erected, and there we found about five hundred men drawn up in line, silent and immovable, their muskets gleaming by the starlight, awaiting but the order to open a volley upon the poor fellows who were cooped up behind the timber, full of pluck, yet hardly prepared to meet so many disciplined men, and hoping that only a menace was intended.
"Who comes there?" shouted a sentry, as we approached.
"Friends," I replied.
"Well, friends, stand back and keep out of sight, or you'll lose the number of your mess," the soldier added, jocosely.
We had no desire for such a calamity, and therefore retired to another part of the hill, and managed to secrete ourselves from observation by keeping within the shadow of a friendly tree.
We had not been in our position more than fifteen minutes when we heard a clash of arms, and the sound of many feet in motion. The soldiers were formed in two columns, and were rushing with headlong speed towards the palisades.
The movement was so sudden that the miners were entirely unprepared. Many of them were asleep, and others had laid their guns aside, and were at work strengthening the fortifications when the soldiers commenced the attack. A number of the bravest raised a shout and discharged their muskets at the approaching columns, but the soldiers did not falter. They answered the cheer of the miners with a yell, at the sound of which many of the young men became panic-stricken, threw down their arms, and fled for their lives.
Amid the uproar I could hear the loud voice of Ross urging his men to stand to their posts firmly and fight to the last, and a few obeyed, and poured straggling volleys upon the red coats. Occasionally I could hear the sharp crack of the American rifle, and I felt sorry to think that my countrymen were fighting against men who would show them no mercy if victory perched upon the banner of the government officials.
Cheer after cheer both parties gave, and then there was heard the sound of axes and the placing of scaling ladders, as the soldiers gained the palisades.
"On them, bullies!" shouted a voice, which I recognized as Colonel Kellum's; "show the d——d rebels no quarter! Kill, kill, kill!"
The soldiers had got their blood up, and responded to the barbarous orders with a yell like famished tigers on the scent of blood. The timbers were torn away, and in rushed the disciplined men, firing volley after volley upon all who met their view. We could hear the groans of the wounded, and shrieks of the dying, until at last the firing ceased for the want of victims, many having made their escape.
"Do you surrender?" we heard the colonel shout; and although we could not see whom he addressed, we suspected that Ross and his boldest adherents were making a stand in the enclosure.
"Let us try and save them," cried Fred; and without listening to our warning, he started towards the palisade, followed close by Mr. Brown, Smith, and myself.
The soldiers took but little notice of us, thinking that we were government officials; so we worked our way by them until we reached the spot where Colonel Kellum was standing, surrounded by his officers.
"Do the d——d rebels surrender?" the colonel repeated, just as we could witness the proceedings.
"Here's the leader of 'em, sir, that says he will," cried two or three soldiers, escorting Ross towards the colonel.
"The leader, hey! Bring him here," was the command.
Ross walked firmly towards his conqueror, and stopped when within a few paces.
"Are you the leader of these ragamuffins?" demanded Kellum, arrogantly.
"I was the leader of the miners, sir," Ross replied, firmly.
"You own it, do you? Hand me your gun."
Ross complied with the command.
"Is it loaded?" the colonel asked.
"Yes, sir," was the brief response.
"Then I will discharge it for you," the military despot said.
He cocked the piece, placed it within two feet of the Canadian's breast, and fired. The unhappy man sprang into the air, threw his arms wildly over his head, and fell a corpse, a bullet having entered his heart.
ARREST OF FRED.—TRIP TO MELBOURNE, AND ITS RESULTS.
There was a cry of horror at the atrocity of the deed; not from any of the officers who were present, but from the soldiers, who were not used to warfare of that description.
"O, cowardly deed," cried Fred, who could not prevent giving expression to his feelings.
"Ha! what was that?" roared the colonel, turning towards us.
I endeavored to drag Fred from the scene, but he resisted my efforts stoutly.
"I say that to shoot a prisoner in cold blood is murder, and none but a base coward would resort to such an act," cried Fred, raising his voice. "Secure that man," roared the colonel; but not a soldier stirred to enforce the order.
"In the name of God, make your escape," whispered Mr. Brown; but Fred disdained to fly.
"Will no one obey me?" roared the colonel, turning to his officers. "Do you refuse to do your duty? By G——, I'll break every man in the regiment, unless you are a little more prompt. Arrest that man, sirs, and bring him before me," he continued, turning to his officers.
They obeyed, but unwillingly, and moved so slowly that Fred could easily have escaped had he been so disposed. I sought to urge him to dodge behind the soldiers, but he sternly refused; and when the officers surrounded him, he walked with a firm step towards the tyrant, and without suffering a hand to be laid upon his shoulder.
"You find fault with the method which I resort to to punish rebellion, do you?" demanded the colonel, with a savage laugh.
"If it was with my last breath, I would protest against so cowardly an outrage," replied Fred, with all the contempt that he could assume.
"Hullo! I know that voice," cried Kellum, starting forward, and pulling Fred's cap from his face. "D——n me, if I didn't think so," he continued. "You are the grocer that dared to raise your hand against me yesterday morning. Iron him, and away with him to the barracks."
"For what crime, sir?" I asked, starting forward.
"For rebellion," shouted the colonel. "He has dared to interfere with the army of Her Majesty, while suppressing treason."
"He came here to assist the wounded, and had no intention of interfering with the soldiers," I said.
"Away with you, or I'll lock you up, and send you to Melbourne for trial, with your partymen. Go."
"Don't provoke him," whispered an officer. "Obey him, and we will do all that we can for your friend."
"Will you allow me to exchange one word with your prisoner?" I asked of Kellum.
"What, not gone yet?" he roared. "Ready," he shouted, addressing his soldiers, "aim," and the word to "fire," was trembling on his lips, when the officers forced us from the presence of the brute, and we heard the cries of the wounded as they were roughly handled by the soldiers, for the purpose of securing them and conveying them to the barracks.
The soldiers were also employed in attending to their own wounded, several of whom had fallen, and while I carefully picked my way through the crowd I stumbled over a prostrate body, which caused us to stop, and see if we could be of any assistance. I stooped down and placed my hand upon the man's head, and felt his hot blood gush from a wound in his heart. I removed the poor fellow's broad rimmed hat, and saw, to my surprise, that it was Steel Spring.
"Why, it is our old companion," I cried, feeling really sorry at his misfortune. "Help me to lift him up, and we will carry him to the store."
"It's no use," gasped the wounded man. "Got a ball in my breast; all over vid me—sorry I came 'ere—didn't mean to—didn't get pay for this—don't disturb me. I shall die in ten minutes—know it—vill bet all the money I've got that I do—I'm sorry for all my rascalities."
He ceased to speak, and placing his hand upon his breast, groaned as though suffering terrible pain. The blood from his wound flowed on unceasingly.
"Cheer up, old friend," I said, encouragingly. "There is life still left, and we can get you on your feet in a few weeks by the aid of a doctor. We will get a litter, and carry you to the store."
Smith started in search of one, and left Mr. Brown and me to look after the wounded man.
"'Tis werry kind of you, but 'tis no use." Steel Spring whispered. "I've got a load here that vill keep me quiet arter I'm dead. I shan't be able to steal then, 'cos gold vould be of no use to me vere I'm going."
"If you want to save that covey's life, you'd better make him hold his gab, and get him off the ground as soon as possible," an English soldier said, stopping for a moment to examine our old companion's wound, and then passing on with as much indifference as it was possible to manifest.
Luckily the litter arrived, and we managed to get Steel Spring on to it, and carried him to the store. There was but little life in him, and that little we tried to retain, and consulted with the best doctor in Ballarat for that purpose. The physician said that the ball would have to be extracted first, when the wound would heal of itself, if nothing in the shape of inflammation intervened, and to prove that he was right, probed the wound, started the bleeding afresh, and in less than an hour after the spy was carried to our store he was a corpse, and the doctor had sent in his bill for medical attendance, and charged in proportion to his ignorance, which was immense.
Leaving Smith to manufacture a coffin out of the spare boards and boxes which the store contained, Mr. Brown and myself started for the head quarters of the commissioner for the purpose of seeking an interview, and obtaining the release of Fred, who, I doubted not, would be set free in the morning, as no charge could be brought against him of a rebellious nature.
We found a guard of soldiers stationed around the house, and an eager and excited crowd was kept at a distance by a line of bayonets. I saw that the miners were anxious to learn if any of their friends were wounded or taken prisoners, yet could obtain no satisfactory information, as all intercourse with those in custody was denied.
"Stand back, sir," cried a sergeant, as Mr. Brown and myself pressed forward for the purpose of reaching the entrance to the building.
"Hullo, Richards! is that you?" Mr. Brown exclaimed, extending his hand.
"Ah, excuse me, sir; I didn't recognize you. Sorry to be obliged to stop you, sir, but have got positive orders to admit only those having business."
"Then we are just the ones to pass, for we have business of importance with the commissioner."
"Ah, that alters the case. Pass in, gentlemen;" and as the soldiers lowered their bayonets, we slipped past them, and in a few minutes found ourselves in the ante-room of the commissioner.
"You had better go in alone, for I can be of no service to you," whispered Mr. Brown; and I felt the truth of the remark.
I boldly followed an officer into the commissioner's room, and soon found myself in the presence of Kellum, the commissioner, and half a dozen captains and lieutenants.
"I tell you, that every dog of them should be shot, and then you'll hear no more of taxes and rebellion. That's the way I'd punish treason, and it will be effectual. We should have no more meetings and political speeches by men who don't know what they are ranting about. We have got the rebels at our feet. Let us trample upon them."
"It will not do," replied the commissioner, mildly, with his usual crafty calculation. "The home government will hear of the matter, and rake us over the coals for it. Besides, the newspapers would raise a prodigious row, and then Parliament will have to appoint a commissioner of inquiry. No, no; I've thought the matter over carefully, and I'm convinced that we should get awfully blackballed if we shoot the rascals, although"—and he smiled and rubbed his hands with glee—"I should like the sport."
"Say but the word, and in fifteen minutes every dog of them shall be dead," cried the colonel, who, having tasted blood, wished for more.
"No, no; let us send them to Melbourne, where a long imprisonment and low diet will be the fate of each."
The colonel was about to make some observation, when an officer touched his elbow, and called his attention to me.
"Hullo, by G——d, sir, how long have you been in this room?" he roared.
"I should judge about five minutes," I replied, calmly.
"And your business here?" he demanded, fiercely; and I saw that he had not forgotten the blow which Fred dealt him the day before.
"My business is not with you, sir, but with this gentleman," I replied, turning to the commissioner.
"Well, transact it, and be off. If that sergeant admits another grocer, I'll hang him before morning."
I did not notice the sneer, but turned towards the commissioner, upon whom I hoped to make a favorable impression.
"I have called, sir, to see if I could not make arrangements for the release of my friend, who was taken into custody to-night, and who is innocent of any connection with this rebellion."
"What arrangement do you wish to make?" the commissioner asked.
"I will give bonds to a large amount for his appearance at any time that you may appoint."
"Why, the grocer thinks that he is in a court of law," the colonel said, with a most insulting sneer.
"No, sir," I replied, "I thought that I was in the presence of gentlemen."
"None of your insolence here," the bully roared, not liking the smile which he saw upon the faces of his officers.
"Insolence is but a poor weapon to gain a cause, and a gentleman should never use it unless to rebuke presumption," I replied.
"We cannot take the bail that you offer," the commissioner said. "Your partner was arrested for giving vent to treasonable expressions, and after he was taken into custody, on his person was found a dangerous weapon, in the shape of a revolver."
"Don't say that the pistol was dangerous to any one but himself," the colonel cried. "I dare say that if he had attempted to shoot any one, he would not have known how."
"There is where you do the gentleman an injustice," an officer remarked.
"If you did not think him dangerous, you should have met after the scene in our store," I said, addressing the colonel, and alluding to the blow which Fred had struck him.
"I am not accustomed to meet every pauper that presents himself for battle. I don't wish to place him on a level with myself, and therefore will wait until he proves himself a gentleman."
"There is where you are mistaken, colonel," said a young gentleman dressed in the uniform of a captain. "I had the pleasure of meeting both of these gentlemen at a levee of the governor's, and I know that he spoke very highly of them, and offered to reward them with lucrative positions for their services in destroying two or three bands of bushrangers, who had long been a terror to travellers. It does not require a patent of nobility to make them gentlemen."
"Why, Captain Fitz, you had better offer to defend the prisoner, you speak so warmly in his behalf," sneered the colonel.
"I am not a lawyer, sir, although if I am called upon to give my testimony, I think that I shall say what I please regarding the slaughter of twenty-two miners, whose only crime was protesting against an unjust tax."
"Say what you please, and welcome; but while you are under my command you must obey my orders or else stand the chances of a court-martial. I don't think that the miners agree with you," the military despot continued, after a moment's consultation with the commissioner; "I desire that you take command of the escort which is about to start for Melbourne with the prisoners. You will lose not a moment, but report yourself ready in an hour's time."
"I do not require even a moment's time," replied the young man; "I am ready now, and am only too anxious to start."
"As for you, sir," the colonel said, turning to me, "you can see your friend after he reaches Melbourne, but not before. He is charged with a serious crime, and those higher in power than myself must deal with him."
I left the apartment, uncertain what to do or where to go. Mr. Brown joined me in the ante-room, but read the result of my mission in my face.
"There's no hope?" he asked.
"None; he goes to Melbourne to-night."
"So much the better," answered Mr. Brown, promptly; "now we shall have a fair chance for his freedom; for great things can sometimes be accomplished in that city."
"But Fred will suffer on the route," I remarked, "and unless he is cared for, will never reach the city alive."
"Don't give yourself any uneasiness on that score," Captain Fitz said, he having heard my last remark; "I will take care that he is treated with as much consideration as the circumstances will admit of, and see that he wants for nothing."
I uttered a few hurried thanks, and the captain was about to pass, when I detained him.
"Is there any means by which we can obtain an interview with my friend?" I asked.
"I fear not," he answered, in a hesitating manner, which inspired me with some hope.
"Only a few words," I pleaded.
"If the colonel or commissioner should know that I ever listened to the suggestion, there would be a pretty row," muttered the captain, still hesitating.
"But they need not know it," I repeated.
"Come, Captain Fitz, for old acquaintance sake, let us see the young man. No harm will come of it, and you will be doing a good service," said Mr. Brown, who knew the officer while quartered at Melbourne.
"Well, I will see what I can do for you; but remember, I shall give you only five minutes."
"That will answer our purpose," I replied.
"Then wait here a few moments, until I report myself ready for the march. The prisoners are being mustered, and preparing for the long tramp, for we have got to get them out of Ballarat before daylight, for fear of an attack and rescue."
He spoke hurriedly, and then entered the commissioner's room, where he remained ten minutes, when he again joined us.
"All right," he whispered; "put on these overcoats and caps—you must pass for officers, or there will be an end to all attempts at an interview."
We were too glad to comply with the request to waste words, and as soon as we had donned the disguise we followed the captain out of the front door, passed double lines of soldiers, still on duty, but resting on their arms, and at length reached a strong building where the prisoners were confined, and where preparations were being made for their removal.
A dozen or twenty soldiers guarded the door; but at the sight of the captain and his uniform, arms were presented, the door was unlocked, and we passed into a room thirty feet square, where we found about twenty-five of the most prominent miners, lounging about, talking, and apparently entirely indifferent to their fate. We cast our eyes over the crowd, and soon saw Fred, holding a conversation with a soldier, whom he was endeavoring to bribe to get writing materials, so that he could indite a few lines to us before he left.
"Step this way, my man," I said, disguising my voice, and addressing my friend.
He looked somewhat astonished, but as he could not see my face, he did not know me.
"Well, gentlemen, what is your pleasure?" he asked, as he followed us to the most remote part of the room.
"To see you before you left, and to convince you that we will make every exertion to secure your release," I whispered.
"Ah, Jack," my friend said, squeezing my hand, "I knew that you would not let me leave without making an effort to see me. A thousand thanks for this kindness."
"Don't be discouraged," I continued; "Mr. Brown and myself are going to Melbourne in the morning, and we will use all our influence to get you clear. Is there any thing that you desire?"
"I don't know of any thing, unless you can send me a few clothes, so that I can have a change after reaching the city."
"We will await your arrival, and while we are away, Smith must look after the business."
"Time is up, gentlemen," Captain Fitz said, approaching us.
"One moment, sir.—Have you any gold in your pockets?" I asked.
"A few shilling pieces—nothing more," Fred replied.
"Then take these sovereigns;" and I slipped a dozen into his hand.
"I must again remind you, gentlemen," the captain remarked.
"We are all ready to leave, and have only one more favor to ask. Let us have a moment's conversation with the orderly sergeant, who will have the immediate care of the prisoners."
"There he stands," the captain replied, pointing to a six-footer, who was ironing the men, and who was waiting to handcuff Fred.
The captain smiled to see the eagerness with which I rushed towards the man, and then very wisely turned his back upon us. He suspected what I intended to do.
"You have the immediate charge of the prisoners?" I asked.
"Yes, sir," he replied, with some show of respect, for we wore the overcoats of officers.
"Will you see that my friend there has every comfort that it is possible to obtain on the route?" I asked.
"They must all share alike, sir," he answered.
"But will you promise not to iron him, and accept his word of honor that he will not attempt to run away?" I asked.
"Couldn't think of such a thing, sir. I'm responsible for every man."
"But he is a gentleman, and will keep his word, let what will happen," I pleaded.
Another reproval was springing from his lips, when suddenly his face underwent a remarkable change, and a smile took the place of a frown.
"Fifty more when I meet you in Melbourne, if you strictly comply with my requests," I whispered.
The soldier put his hand into his pocket with wonderful dexterity, and I heard gold chink as he withdrew it.
"All right, sir—rely upon me. The gentleman shall have my bed and grub, and ride beside me in the ambulance. I must keep an eye on him, you know, 'cos I'm 'sponsible for his safe keeping."
"Watch him as close as you please," I replied, "although I assure you that he would not escape after he has once passed his word for all the gold in the mines of Australia."
"Them's the kind of coveys I likes," responded the soldier. "He shan't feel the touch of the irons, and shall fare like a grenadier. But you won't forget the other fifty."
I assured the man that the money should be forthcoming; and just then the shrill notes of a trumpet were heard outside, followed by the roll of a drum.
"You must leave instantly," cried Captain Fitz, hurriedly. "The prisoners are about to be led out."
We rushed towards Fred, gave him a hearty shake of our hands, whispered a few words of encouragement, and then were compelled to leave the building.
"Pass this way, gentlemen," the captain said; "I'll escort you through the lines, as you might find some difficulty in answering the sentry's challenges."
We followed the kind-hearted officer, and were soon outside the lines, when we thanked him for his kindness.
"Some other time we will talk of the matter," he answered. "I must now hasten back to my command; but one word before we part. Don't think that all British officers resemble Colonel Kellum. Now, I will thank you for the overcoats, or my brother officers will scold worse than a dragoon. Adieu. We shall meet in Melbourne."
He disappeared in the darkness, and we walked silently to the store, where we found Smith, who was so overcome by the arrest of Fred that he had drank six or seven glasses of whiskey, and announced his intention of continuing to imbibe until he was lost to all reason. A few words of comfort, however, and an announcement that we should leave for Melbourne in the morning, and require him to look after the store until our return, sobered him, and he vowed not to touch another glass of spirits until Fred was released.
Mr. Brown promised to accompany me, and before morning we packed up our clothes, and at daylight we were on our way in the stage, rolling along at the rate of ten miles an hour; and in two days after leaving the mines we were in Melbourne, and closeted with Murden, who proved himself our friend in adversity, as he was in prosperity.
"I will do all that I can," he said, after listening to our story. "The commissioner has so magnified matters that the governor and council really think a most formidable insurrection has occurred, and that he has displayed great power in putting it down. To make the affair as complicated as possible, the governor seems to think that the Americans were at the head of the conspiracy, and have urged the English on to action. I, of course, know better, and will endeavor to have him put right on the subject."
Murden appointed an interview in the afternoon, and then left us to lay our case before a few of the most influential members of the council, while we visited old acquaintances, and explained to Smith's wife, who was living in a very pleasant house in the city, the reason why her husband would not return for a week or two. The lady was heartily glad to see me, and at her request Mr. Brown and myself took up our quarters in her house during our stay in the city.
In the afternoon we called on Murden, and found that he had accomplished his object. The governor, on his representations, had ordered a discharge to be immediately made out, and sealed by the broad seal of the colony, and intimated that a most thorough investigation should be instituted regarding the conduct of both the commissioner and Colonel Kellum at Ballarat.
"And now to conclude a long story," said Murden, "here is a discharge which states that your friend was unjustly arrested, and that he be released from custody, no matter under whose jurisdiction he may be, forthwith. His excellency also bade me state that he should be pleased to see you before your departure from the city, and requests Mr. Inspector Brown to repair to Ballarat and report for duty."
"Ah, Murden," Mr. Brown exclaimed, "I am indebted to you for this re-appointment."
"I thought that I might as well kill two birds with one stone, as the saying is, and faith I've done it. But I see that both of you are impatient to leave my pleasant company, which is ungrateful; but I overlook it with Christian meekness. You can't go though until you have dined with me, and then called to thank his excellency."
The proposition was accepted, and after dining with the lieutenant we visited the palace, and were most heartily greeted by the governor and his council, and at their request we explained our views at considerable length in relation to the affairs of Ballarat and the mining tax, and the means by which future troubles could be avoided. We were listened to with attention, and I sincerely believe that what we uttered that day did considerable towards inducing the government to abolish all excepting a mere nominal tax, and to once more restore order in the mines.
After leaving the palace we engaged seats in the stage, and that night were rolling towards Ballarat, with the expectation of meeting the military not more than thirty miles from Melbourne, and we were correct in our supposition, for just at daylight the driver stopped, and pointed out the company just striking their tents and getting ready for their morning march. We induced the driver to await our return, and to the extreme surprise of Captain Fitz we presented ourselves, and requested the release of Fred, and after a brief examination of the document the captain complied with our demand.
Our meeting with Fred was of a joyous description, but we had but little time to waste in explanations. The driver was impatient, and the soldiers ready to march. I had but time to reward the sergeant for his kindness, and to assure Fred's fellow-prisoners that I would use all the exertion that I could to obtain their pardons, when the rolling drum gave the signal for moving, and in a few minutes the military were lost to view in a cloud of dust.
But I must here draw my long narrative to a close, not because we did not afterwards meet with adventures worthy to be recounted, but because a lengthy absence from the country precludes the idea of further continuing the series of sketches, which I am glad to find have found favor in the eyes of the public.
For the satisfaction of the reader, I will state that for three years we remained in Australia, and then when we left that country it was with a solid conviction that we had been repaid for our toil and trouble, our sufferings and pleasures.
Before I bid farewell to my readers, I will state that the miners who were arrested and marched to Melbourne were all discharged, and that after the mining tax was reduced, all further trouble ceased.
In many instances, in the course of the narrative, I have used fictitious names; but the reader will pardon me when I state that most of those introduced are still alive, and employed by the Australian government, and it would hardly be right to expose their good or bad actions to the world. With these few words I am happy to inform the reader that my sketches are, for the present, brought to an end, but I hope at some future time to resume them, and publish a second series of "Adventures in Australia."