The latter part of Smith's remarks were spoken hurriedly, and in a low tone, for we were close to the unfortunate man when they were uttered, and he feared to be overheard.
I looked at the stockman with singular interest as we approached him. He was, apparently, about fifty years of age, thin and slightly inclined to stoop. His face was strongly marked and peculiar, and at one time he must have passed for an exceedingly good-looking man.
His hair, which was quite white, gave him a venerable appearance; while a long, flowing beard of jet black, combed, and carefully trimmed, reminded me of a distinguished minister that I had once listened to, and whose sermon made an impression upon my mind that has never been effaced.
The stockman retained his defensive attitude, until he recognized the features of Smith, when his gun was rested against the side of the hut, and he once more dropped his head upon his breast, and with folded arms awaited our coming.
"Well!" cried Smith, with assured cheerfulness; "how do you get along nowadays?"
The stockman raised his head, and looked at the questioner as though referring him to his face, with its wrinkles and lines of care, for an answer. A moment after, his head was bowed upon his breast again, and he appeared unconscious that we were present.
"Have you seen Darnley's band lately?" Smith inquired.
"Yes," replied the stockman, still retaining his position.
"Has he visited you within the past few days?" queried Smith.
"Yes," replied the man.
"Ah, his supply of provisions was short," cried Smith, as his eyes sought the flocks as though wondering how many sheep satisfied the bushranger and his gang.
The stockman returned no answer, so we passed him and entered his hut. There were two bedsteads made of hides, a table, two rough chairs, that looked as though introduced during the days of Sir Francis Drake, a few pans hanging against the wall, an old chest with a broken lid and no lock, and these were all the articles of luxury or convenience that graced the cabin of the stockman.
Smith pointed out the spot where Darnley had slept on the night of his visit; and after we had gratified our curiosity, we left the room, and bidding the stockman good-by, started on our return to the team.
The poor man did not reply to our salutation, and after we left the house a number of rods behind, we turned and saw that he was still buried in profound reflection, and that his head was, as usual, resting on his breast.
"Poor fellow!" I muttered; "his unjust sentence has broken his heart."
"He feels the wrong keenly," Smith said. "He has but one wish on earth now; and that is, to see his daughter before he dies."
"He then has children living?" Fred asked.
"Only one, and she was a mere child when he left home. After his misfortunes the girl was placed with a respectable family in Lincolnshire. He has often heard from her—she married a hard-working man, and now has one or two children. The stockman has saved every shilling of his earnings for the last few years, for the purpose of paying their passage to this country, where he thinks the husband can prosper, and where he will have the privilege of seeing his grandchildren grow up around him. Ten months since a hundred pounds were sent for the object he had in view, but during the whole of that time no word has arrived that the money reached its destination."
"A hard case, and one deserving of our warmest sympathy," cried Fred, once more stopping to look at the solitary man, who still stood with folded arms and bowed head, meditating upon his wrongs.
"A kangaroo! a kangaroo!" cried the convict, suddenly, pointing with his hand towards a tall, slim animal, that was standing under a tree, as if to shelter itself from the sun.
We looked at the kangaroo with considerable interest. It was nearly six feet high, when standing upon its hind legs, of a dark red color, with small spots of white upon its breast, while two short arms, or flippers, were dangling from its fore-shoulders, which were narrow and lean, as though, clipper-like, it was intended for speed.
The animal watched our movements narrowly; but as the distance was too great for a rifle shot, we slowly edged towards it with the expectation of getting within range.
Cautiously we crept along the prairie, sometimes partly concealed by tall, rank grass and sweet-scented shrubs, until we were forty rods from the tree under which the kangaroo was sporting.
"Hist!" said Smith, holding up his hand, to command our attention. "The poor brute is a female, and has her young 'uns sporting around her."
A closer scrutiny revealed the presence of two kangaroos, who were playing about their mother, unconscious of all danger. They were of a much lighter color than the old one, and the fur upon their bellies was nearly pure white. For some time we watched them, and then, desirous of obtaining fresh meat for supper, Fred and myself crawled a little nearer.
"Remember our wager," the convict cried, as we moved along on our hands and knees.
Fred nodded in reply, but after we had got a few rods from Smith, the latter suddenly started to his feet and uttered a loud yell.
So rapidly that our eyes could hardly follow their movements, did the young animals run towards their parent and disappear from view; but we had no time to wonder at that, for the mother, after a hasty glance around, and comprehending the danger in which she stood, suddenly sprang from beneath the shelter of the tree, and with the most extraordinary bounds, some of which would measure over thirty feet in a straight line, and nearly ten feet high, was passing us like a streak of lightning, when Fred raised his rifle and fired.
The kangaroo continued her bounds without relaxing her speed; when, thinking that I might be more successful, I also fired.
I heard the convict laugh heartily at our failures; but before his merriment ceased, another gun was discharged, and with a mighty bound the poor brute sprang into the air, alighted on the ground, and, rolling over and over as though even in her death struggle she sought to escape, yielded up her life.
We looked towards the stockman to see if he had discharged his gun. He was leaning on his old musket, and a bright blue smoke was curling over his head. For a moment he seemed to be warmed into life by the excitement of the sport, but before the kangaroo had breathed her last, his head sank upon his breast again, and he appeared no longer to take an interest in the affairs of life.
We hastened to the animal, and wondered at her immense muscular power. Her legs appeared like springs of steel, while a powerful tail, long and bony, was also used to help the animal make those tremendous bounds, which have become proverbial in Australia, and have excited the attention of the most eminent naturalists.
"But where have the young 'uns disappeared?" I asked, after we had sufficiently admired the animal.
"You would hardly think that they are still about her person," Smith said.
We laughed incredulously, but Smith maintained his gravity and persisted in his statement.
"It is an easy matter to settle," said Fred. "Just prove to us the truth of your statement, and we shall be as knowing as yourself."
The convict bent over the body and inserted his hand in a small opening in the belly of the animal that resembled the mouth of a pouch, but which had escaped our attention. He drew forth, as the result of his investigation, a little, struggling kangaroo, that tried to induce Smith to relinquish his grasp by snapping at his hand with its toothless mouth.
While we were admiring the softness of its skin, the second one was dragged to light; but it uttered shrill cries of terror, and endeavored to effect its escape from the rough hands that held it.
"It is as bad as murder, killing the poor brute," cried Fred, indignantly, he having recovered from the mortification of missing the animal.
"And there are no judges upon earth to sentence its murderer," cried a solemn voice.
We looked and found that the stockman had left the shadow of his hut, and was occupied the same way as ourselves, gazing at the carcass of the kangaroo.
"Man is merciless, and God punishes us all in his own good time," the stockman continued, as he listened to the grief of the motherless animals.
"Then why did you take her life?" demanded Fred.
"A man that is wronged seeks to shift his burden so that the load which weighs him down may grow lighter."
The old man, without another expression of sorrow, turned away and walked towards his hut again; while Smith, who was used to such scenes, and therefore had hardened his heart, deliberately commenced skinning the dead brute, and allowed the young ones to escape wherever they chose to run.
That night we supped upon the meat of the kangaroo; and while feasting there was little thought of the sorrow which we experienced at its death.
ADVENTURE WITH A DOG.—THE MURDER IN THE RAVINE.—STORY OF AN OUTRAGED WOMAN.
The flickering light of a fire, around which was seated three men with sunburnt faces and long beard, hardly illuminated the bank of the river sufficiently to distinguish objects ten yards distant. The men were Smith the convict, Fred, and myself. Each of our mouths were graced with dingy pipes, and while we puffed away diligently, our eyes were fixed upon the cheerful blaze, silently watching the ever-changing embers, and meditating upon the events of the day. The wind had gone to sleep with the sun, and the heated air had given place to a coolness that felt doubly refreshing after the scorching which we had undergone on the prairie that forenoon.
The air was still perfumed with the smoke of broiled kangaroo meat, attracting large numbers of a fox-like species of animals, that rarely ventured from the surrounding darkness, into the light of our camp-fire, but skulked in the vicinity, and waited for the time when sleep would overpower us, and allow them free pillage of our larder. Occasionally an impatient one would utter a short bark, as though expressive of his disgust at our watchfulness, and after he had thus given vent to his feelings, slink away into darkness again; but their fiery, eager eyes, could be distinguished as they prowled around and jostled each other while taking counsel.
It was near ten o'clock. We had lapsed into silence, and each one was busy with his own thoughts, perhaps laying plans for the future. From the time that our pipes were lighted not a word had been exchanged, and I was just about knocking the ashes from mine, and proposing a retirement to our blankets beneath the nearest tree, when the prolonged howling of a dog attracted my attention.
I looked towards Smith for an explanation, but found that he was as much puzzled as myself, and was holding his pipe in one hand, while his head was bent in the direction of the sound, as though waiting for a repetition before he ventured to express an opinion.
Again did the mournful sound ring across the prairie, and this time it seemed nearer than when first heard. I thought I knew the bay, and could have sworn that the animal was a staghound, and a full-blooded brute at that. I had seen none of the breed since I had arrived in Australia, and I thought it singular to find one at such a distance from Melbourne.
"What is that hound baying for at this time of night?" I asked of the convict, who still remained speechless.
"Are you sure that it is a hound?" Smith inquired.
"Quite positive. There he goes again. The brute has treed some animal, and is informing his master of its whereabouts," I replied, listening to see in what direction the sound proceeded from.
"You are wrong there," cried Fred. "The dog is evidently coming this way, and perhaps has started a kangaroo. If it comes within sight I'll try it, even if I miss as I did this afternoon."
Fred laid his hand upon his rifle which was lying by his side, and tried to peer into the darkness, but a moment's experiment convinced him of the folly of his thought, and he laid the gun down again.
"I've never heard a sound like that since I left old England," the convict said, as the baying continued, and grew nearer at each repetition.
We all three felt an anxiety that we tried to conceal from each other. The loneliness of our location, and the uncertainty of meeting with friends in that part of the country, the frequent robberies that had of late been committed, and the daring of the bushrangers, were all ample cause for vigilance on our part; and perhaps we suspected that the dog was used by some gang to discover the presence of travellers, and expedite the work of pillage.
Nearer and nearer did the hound approach, and we had just time to snatch our rifles from the ground, and start to our feet, when the animal sprang into our narrow circle, and with subdued bays seemed to claim our notice.
"Give him a wide berth," shouted the convict, swinging his sharp axe over his head as though in readiness to bring it down upon the skull of the dog if he showed signs of hostility. "Keep clear of the brute," he continued, "for he may be mad."
The hound, a noble animal, with long, wiry limbs, and heavy jaws, around which drops of foam were hanging, instead of shrinking from the uplifted arm of the convict, seemed to measure the danger in which he stood at a glance, and before we could interfere, or the heavy axe descend, sprang full at the throat of Smith, and such was the impetuosity and suddenness of the attack that the convict was borne to the ground, and for a moment was at the mercy of the dog.
Fred and myself raised our rifles simultaneously, but before we brought them to bear, the animal had quit his grip and began craunching some bones which were lying near the fire, tearing the meat which adhered to them in the most ravenous manner, and exhibiting all the signs of starvation.
"Don't fire," shouted Smith, struggling to his feet. "Don't fire; you see the poor brute is nearly starved."
We still held our rifles ready, however, and were half inclined to use them; but, as we looked at the dog, and saw how greedily he was devouring his food, we concluded to wait and see what he would do after he had satisfied his appetite.
"The dog is rather quick and spiteful," cried Smith, rubbing his throat and adjusting his shirt collar, which had been somewhat disarranged. "It served me right for threatening him, when it's evident that he has sought us peaceably."
The convict, instead of harboring malice, cut large pieces of flesh from the body of the kangaroo and fed him. He greedily devoured all that was offered, and wagged his long, rat-like tail in satisfaction. When, however, he had nearly demolished one fore-quarter of our prize, he walked a short distance from the fire and renewed his howling, commencing on a low key, and gradually ascending, until the yells could have been heard for miles.
"What is the matter with the brute?" asked Smith, turning to Fred and myself, who were too perplexed to answer the inquiry; and, before we could speak again, the hound walked slowly back to the fire, looked piteously into our faces, and, strolling out into the darkness, commenced baying as loud as ever.
Three several times did the intelligent animal seek to induce us to follow him, without our comprehending his meaning; but when it was evident that such was his desire, grave questions arose as to the expediency of our doing so. We thought that possibly it was a trick to induce us to leave our baggage so that the owners of the dog would have an unrestricted opportunity to plunder the cart. Such things had happened before, and why not again?
We glanced suspiciously at the hound as he stood near the fire, looking at our faces and appearing to understand every word that was said on the subject; indeed, when Smith stated, during the conversation, that he would not on any account leave his wagon, the brute uttered a howl as though he despaired of success, and turned all of his attention to Fred and myself.
"Let us follow him," cried my friend, grasping his rifle as though he feared nothing with that in his hand.
The dog, as soon as Fred had uttered the words, crouched at his feet and licked his shoes, while a low bark testified to his joy.
I looked towards Smith for advice and guidance in the matter. He was musing on the subject, but when he saw that we only waited for his decision, he shouldered his axe, and nodded his head.
"Let us follow the brute," he cried. "We may be the means of saving life, and, perhaps, much suffering. Lead the way, good dog, and take us to your master."
The hound sprang from his crouching position at Fred's feet, and started on a dog-trot along the road that led towards Melbourne. In a few minutes, despite our exertions to keep pace with him, he was out of sight; but we followed along the course which he had started, and after a short time he returned to our sides, wagging his tail, and apparently urging us to increase our speed.
A dozen times did he disappear in like manner, yet never for any length of period; and after we had walked nearly three miles, the animal abandoned the beaten track and continued across the prairie.
"I don't want to go a great ways in this direction," muttered the convict, glancing around, and trying to pierce the darkness.
"Why not?" I asked.
"Because, a few miles farther and we shall be near the forest which I spoke to you about. It is infested with men better seen at a distance or not at all."
In spite of Smith's fears, however, we tramped on quarter of an hour longer, and then, by the uneasy movements of the dog, concluded that we were not far from our destination.
Suddenly the animal sprang forward with a bay of warning, and disappeared as if by magic. The next moment we were upon the steep bank of a gulch, nearly thirty feet deep; and had not the actions of the dog rendered us careful, we should have plunged headlong upon its rocky bed.
For a moment, we remained motionless, hardly daring to move, for fear that one false step would lead us to our ruin; but, after listening for a while, we heard the dog as he reached the bottom of the ravine, and then we determined to follow at all hazards.
With careful steps we worked our way down the steep bank, and after half an hour's toil found ourselves at the bottom. The hound was waiting for us, and testified his impatience by a deep bay. The instant, however, that we joined him, he became silent, and trotted on as before.
Suddenly a groan, but a few feet from us, caused us to halt, and hastily look around. But a short distance from us were the indistinct outlines of a cart, and near the vehicle was the hound, busily occupied in lapping something that was lying upon the ground.
Another groan, and we moved towards the individual that seemed in such deep distress. By the bright starlight, but which hardly penetrated the gulch, we saw the form of a woman extended upon the rough rocks, while near her lay the body of a man motionless.
"Here is work for us," cried Smith, all his genuine feeling returning; and he threw his heavy axe aside, and in a twinkling had the woman's head upon his knee, and was pouring down her throat a potion from a black bottle which he carried in his pocket.
"Look to the man," he cried, assuming the leadership at once; and in obedience to orders I knelt beside him, and placed my hand upon his heart. He was cold, and his heart was motionless. As I withdrew my hand, I felt that my fingers were moist and sticky. I tried to discover what adhered to them, but the darkness was too great.
"Give me the matches, Smith," I said, quickly. "We will strike a light, and investigate this affair."
A large quantity of drift wood was lying on the bed of the gulch, and well dried by the hot summer's sun. I cut a few shavings, and a bright fire was soon under headway, and cast its ruddy glare upon the group collected around the cart, which was broken in half a dozen different places, and had, apparently, been thrown from the banks above.
As soon as sufficient fuel was added, we turned our attention to the woman whose head Smith was holding. Her eyes were closed, and her teeth clinched like those of a person in a fit. There was not a vestige of any color in her face, while her garments appeared as though they had experienced rough usage, and were torn in a dozen different places. In spite of the strong decoction which Smith had poured down her throat, she did not revive, or appear to comprehend what was said to her; and after rubbing her hands for a while, and finding that it did no good, I devoted a few moments to an examination of the body of the man.
I now comprehended the meaning of the sticky substance which adhered to my hand, for upon his breast were two large, ragged wounds, either of which was sufficient to let out the life of a man, and from each had oozed his blood until it had congealed in large lumps, and was held, bag-like, by his thick flannel shirt.
"There has been murder committed here," I cried, holding up my hands, stained with the vital fluid of the dead man.
"There has been more than murder," replied Fred, in a low tone. "There has been violence offered to a woman."
"Impossible," I cried, with a shudder at the thought.
"Look and convince yourself, then," Fred said, seizing a burning brand and holding it so that the light was thrown upon the face and body of the insensible woman.
Upon her neck was a large, discolored spot, and a near examination revealed the impression of finger-nails, as though she had been seized with no gentle hand, and choked, until forced to yield compliance to unholy wishes and desires.
Upon both sides of a neck that retained traces of beauty, although bearing the impression of the sun's burning rays, were the dark marks to be seen; and the hand that had left its impression was none of the smallest, nor its grip the weakest, as we could readily see.
The hound had crouched close to us, and watched with wary eyes our movements. Often did he rise and lick the face of the insensible woman, and after uttering a howl of grief, retire to his resting place, to mourn in secret for his loss.
"Force more of the liquor down her throat," cried Fred, who was rubbing a hand that appeared accustomed to toil, for its palm was hard and broad.
Smith once more brought his bottle into requisition, and forcing apart the teeth, emptied a portion of its contents into her mouth. Whether the chafing began to have its effect, or the liquor was uncommonly strong, is a matter of doubt; but at any rate she strangled as though she would never recover her breath, and ended by opening a pair of very frightened blue eyes.
She raised her head from Smith's knee, glanced hurriedly and with frightened looks first at Fred and then at myself, and before we were aware of her intentions, sprang to her feet, and with loud shrieks sought to escape. Before she had taken half a dozen steps, however, Smith's stout arms were thrown around her, and he was calling to her in gentle words to listen to reason, and to look upon him as a friend—that he would protect her, and help avenge her injuries.
Part of his words were lost during the momentary struggle which occurred between them; but when her strength failed, and she sank exhausted and panting into his arms, for the first time she appeared to comprehend that we were not bushrangers, but human beings and friends.
"Compose yourself," cried Smith, as gently as though he held an infant in his arms. "See, even your dog is satisfied that we mean no harm; he led us to this place, or you would have perished before morning. Tell us what has happened, and how we can assist you."
"Where is my husband?" she asked, after a moment's silence, during which her wild eyes wandered from face to face, as though seeking to verify the truth of his words.
We returned no answer, and she repeated the question, though in a louder tone, and appeared to doubt us because we kept silent.
"My husband! where is my husband?" she shrieked; and as she turned her restless eyes towards the cart, she suddenly appeared to comprehend every thing.
"He is dead—he is dead," she cried, starting to her feet, in spite of the gentle restraint which Smith sought to impose upon her.
She saw the body of the man who had been murdered, and with a loud cry she fell upon it, laid her head upon its cold bosom, and sobbed as though her heart would break. We did not interrupt her grief, but the faithful dog lay down beside her, and added his subdued howls to her tears; and when she mourned the loudest, he would lick her hands and face, and seek to comfort her with his love.
We heaped up fuel on the fire, and waited patiently for the time when the woman would exhaust her grief, and give us some account of the proceedings by which she and hers had suffered.
While Smith and Fred remained near the fire, they examined the cart to see if it contained any thing that would be useful to the unfortunate woman in her present hour of grief. There were a few culinary utensils, besides a thin mattress and blankets—all thrown in promiscuously, as though the load had been ransacked and rifled of every thing that was valuable, and the remainder not considered worth taking away.
The night wore on, and light would soon herald the approach of day. It was necessary that we should return to our camp, and look after our effects; for who could tell how long they would he safe unless guarded by a display of rifles? Besides, the cattle needed looking after, and collecting, or they would be likely to stray back towards Melbourne and get mixed with the wild animals which belonged to some of the numerous stockmen on the road. Or the bushrangers might take a fancy for a change of diet, and prefer beef to mutton; and in this case they would not be likely to ask the permission of the owner of the animals, unless he was stronger-handed than the robbers.
I saw Smith glance uneasily along the ravine, and edge towards the woman as though he wished to cheer her in her affliction, and yet explain about the large amount of property which he had left unprotected. As her sobs had somewhat subsided, worn out by the violence of her emotions, she appeared more calm; he made the attempt, and kneeling beside her spoke,—
"We are strangers," he said, taking her sunburnt hand between his rough palms, and looking at her as tenderly as though she had been his sister; "we are strangers, but there is not a man present but will shed his blood in your defence; and while we have strength there is no fear of your suffering. Have confidence in us, and explain how this dreadful affair happened."
He waited patiently for an answer, but some few minutes passed before she could repress her sobs, which commenced anew at the sound of his voice. At length she raised her head, brushed back the heavy masses of hair which partly screened her face, and with an uncertain voice replied,—
"I thank you for your offers of assistance, and accept them; for what can I do alone in this desert without friends? My troubles are so unexpected that if I do not appear grateful, attribute it to a want of realization of the dreadful scenes through which I have passed since yesterday. My husband—"
She threw herself upon his corpse again, and for a while her grief recommenced with all its former violence. Smith soothed and comforted her, and gradually was enabled to draw all the facts connected with the murder from her unwilling lips.
"It is ten days since we arrived at Melbourne," she went on to say; "my husband thought that we had better leave our two children at the city with some friends, who were passengers in the same ship with ourselves, until he had settled upon what occupation he should pursue. He had a strong desire to try his luck at the mines, and as we had a little money left after reaching this country, he invested it in buying a cart and horse, and a few articles which were needed on the route. I was very reluctant to part with my children, but I now perceive that it was for the best; for it is probable that the little dears would have shared the fate of their father, had they travelled with us. The chief object of our visit to this country, however, was not so much a desire for wealth, as the thought of meeting a parent whom I have been separated from since I was a child."
She paused for a moment, and buried her face in her hands, as though reluctant to proceed. Smith and I exchanged glances of surprise, while the woman continued her rambling story.
"I am almost ashamed to say that my father was transported to Australia for life; but he was innocent of the charge against him, and it has since been made manifest; but government refuse to give him his liberty, and he is still a convict."
"What was the charge upon which he was convicted?" asked Smith, with breathless anxiety.
The woman hung her head and remained silent; and Smith was obliged to repeat his question before he obtained an answer. His pertinacity seemed cruel, but he had an object in view.
"He was charged with the death of my mother," she answered, her voice stifled with tears.
"And your name before you were married was—"
"It is the same," muttered Smith; but instead of revealing the good news to her, he waited to hear the balance of her history since leaving Melbourne. A few soothing words, and she continued,—
"Ten months since we had letters from my father, strongly urging us to come to him, as he thought my husband would make a better living here than in England. We were the more inclined to follow his advice, as the letters contained drafts for money to help us pay our passage, which we otherwise should not have been enabled to have done."
"Tell us about your journey since leaving the city," cried Smith, "for we already know your history before that period."
She looked surprised, and continued,—
"Father wrote us that he was tending a flock of sheep on the road leading to Ballarat, and that he could not leave his station even for a day; but we were to write him if we intended coming, and he would have a friend on the lookout for us. We answered his letter, saying that we should embark on board of the first ship that sailed for Australia; but when we reached port we found none to welcome us; and it was only after diligent inquiries that we learned where he was located. Yesterday, about noon, we thought that we must be near his home; and on inquiring of a man that we met, he said that he knew him well, and would conduct us to his hut. By his advice, we left the road which we had travelled for four days, and struck across the prairie. I did not like the appearance of our guide, and expressed my fears to my husband; but he laughed at me, and placed implicit confidence in all that the stranger said."
"What sort of looking man was your guide?" asked Smith.
"A dark-featured man, with long black beard, tall, and strongly framed. Upon his forehead was a large scar, that looked as though recently inflicted. I noticed him particularly, because I mistrusted him the instant he offered to act as our guide."
"It was Black Darnley," cried Smith, in reply to my interrogation; "the villain—he shall yet suffer for his treachery."
"That was the name by which his companions addressed him," cried the woman, who overheard Smith's remark.
The convict encouraged her to continue her narrative, and motioned Fred and myself to remain silent.
"He led us to the bank of this ravine, and said that we must here abandon our team, and walk a few miles to father's hut. My husband refused to follow his advice in that respect, and while Darnley was urging him to do so, our dog, which had faithfully remained with us since we left England, started in pursuit of a strange animal that bounded along the prairie faster than the hound could run. We all became interested in the chase, and when we lost sight of dog and animal, I looked up and found five rough men close beside me. I started with surprise; but before my husband could say a word, or use the gun which he carried, Darnley discharged a pistol full at his breast, and he fell dead. I remember nothing more, or, if I do, I pray to God that I may soon forget it, or else join my husband in heaven. Were I childless, I would dash my head against these rough stones, and so end my days."
As she finished her story, she bowed her head upon her husband's cold bosom, and her tears flowed fast and freely, while her frame shook as though she was laboring under an attack of ague.
"Listen to me," said Smith, at length, laying his hand upon her arm to attract her attention: "we have a long journey before us, and time is precious; but we will lose a day for the purpose of restoring you to your father. Trust me, I know him, and if you think you can walk a few miles, a few hours from now will see you in his arms."
"I am strong now," she said, rising, as though the news had given her new life.
"Then lean on me, and I will assist you up this bank. Courage—remember you live for your children and parent now."
As Smith offered his strong arm, she accepted it; but a sudden thought took possession of her mind, and she quitted his side and once more threw herself upon the body of her husband.
"I cannot leave him," she shrieked, clasping her arms around his neck, and pressing her head upon his bosom. "He has been my only friend for years; he did not despise me when he knew that my parent was a convict; he has loved me, and is the father of my children. Let me remain with him, and die upon his breast."
"This is madness," Fred cried, impatiently.
"Hush," said Smith. "Consider what the poor thing has suffered, and treat her gently as a sister."
The stout convict, whose heart had been strongly touched by her story and deep love, raised her in his arms, soothed her, spoke words of comfort to her, and promised if she would but leave the spot, that the body of her husband should soon follow her, and be buried in a Christian-like manner.
She listened like one who did not comprehend his meaning, and all the time that he was talking, her eyes were fixed upon the pale face of her husband, as though she expected each moment to hear his voice, and see him start to his feet, and open his arms for her protection.
With gentle force we urged her away from the distressing sight, and when, after long labor, we had gained the bank of the ravine, we found that the poor woman was nearly unconscious, and hardly capable of moving.
"Where now?" I asked of Smith, as we carried her along.
"To the hut of Ogleton," he cried; "and then, if I mistake not, we shall have work before us."
"What kind of work?" asked Fred, who was carrying the rifles, and the sharp axe of the convict.
"The work of revenge," cried Smith, solemnly.
"I am ready for it," exclaimed Fred, brandishing his rifle; "God only grant us all strength to perform it."
And as we staggered along the prairie with our burden, the dark clouds in the east broke away, and revealed the glowing tints of the rising sun; and a hundred bright-plumed birds darted through the air, awakening the solitude of that vast plain with their shrill calls, and each cry seemed to say, "Revenge! revenge!"
BLACK DARNLEY'S VILLANY.—THE CONVICT STOCKMAN.
A brighter sun never shone upon the barren plains and fertile valleys of Australia, than that which appeared above the horizon on the morning after the murder and deed of violence committed by Black Darnley and his gang of bushrangers. Our party had not closed their eyes in sleep during the night, yet not one of us felt the least fatigue or desire to rest, until the woman, who was under our protection, had been placed beneath the shelter of her father's roof, humble as it was, and removed from all society and scenes of civilization.
As we supported the unhappy woman towards the habitation of the convict, and spoke words of encouragement which fell upon listless ears, we thought of a parent's love, and how strong it must exist in the heart of that old man, who had grown morose under his wrongs, yet still clung to the recollection of his child, and fancied her a girl, instead of a full-grown woman, and the mother of a family.
We had no doubt that her reception by her father would be warm; but we dreaded to know how he would deport himself upon the news of the harsh treatment which she had received being explained to him. He was represented to us by Smith as a man of quick passions—bold and fearless, or he would never have accepted the situation to which he was attached—surrounded, as he was, with dangerous neighbors—convicts, who cared no more about shedding the blood of a man than they did for the lamb which they slaughtered when hungry—wild beasts, who prowled around the fields at night, and skulked near during the day, and who, if urged by starvation, would attack the shepherds, provided they interposed between them and their prey.
This was the kind of man that was to be told that his daughter had suffered at the hands of men whom he had spoken with weekly for months, and who respected him only because they knew him to be no coward, and a convict like themselves.
Our walk across the prairie was slow and laborious. We were compelled to govern our pace with that of the woman, and as she was half-dead with grief, and insensible to our words of encouragement, we concluded to let her cry without hindrance on our part, and only hoped that our wagon might escape pillage during our long absence.
It was about nine o'clock when we reached the place where we were camped the night before. The wagon remained where we had left it; but it needed no tongue to tell that it had been visited, while we were away, and that a portion of the load was removed. Boxes of goods were overturned, and tops wrenched off, bales were cut open, and their contents scattered upon the ground; and, upon a near examination, we found that the impudent robbers had used our dishes to feast from, and that there were still smoking brands upon the fire where they had boiled their coffee, as though they knew we should be absent all night, and had plenty of time to enjoy themselves before our return.
For a few minutes, after Smith had seen the havoc which the bushrangers had made with his cargo, he seemed to need as much comforting as the unfortunate female under his charge. But he was a man, and had seen too much of the world's trials to get discouraged, so he proceeded to gather up his goods in the most philosophical manner, although an occasional oath did escape him as he missed some article of value which he knew could not be replaced except in Melbourne.
While Smith was occupied with his cargo Fred and myself proceeded to cook breakfast, a meal which we stood very much in need of, considering the labors of the night; but before we did so, our female friend was placed upon blankets and screened from the hot sun. She refused all offers of nourishment, and would not drink even a cup of strong tea which we proffered her. Coffee, we unfortunately had none, as the bushrangers had taken a fancy to the few pounds which were on the cart, and carried it with them, rejecting with seeming contempt the green leaves of China, of which there was a large box undisturbed.
Even the flesh of the kangaroo which we had hung upon the limb of a tree was saved; but our store of salt pork was gone, also the few vegetables, worth almost their weight in gold at the mines, which had been treasured until we should arrive at our destination.
Fred uttered a curse when he found that there was not a single potato left; but, after he had vented his displeasure, he applied his energies to the matter before him with all his usual determination.
Fred's clothing and my own, contained in one small canvas bag, was gone, and we stood in all that we owned. That did not distress us, however, for we were not likely to go into society where a change of dress was expected, but we did growl when we found that the scamps had carried off all our powder, excepting what our flasks contained.
"Whose work is this?" asked Fred, who was broiling a piece of kangaroo on a stick, and in a very artistic manner, for the purpose of tempting the poor woman's appetite.
Smith, to whom the question was addressed, straightened his stout form, and held up a number of flannel shirts, which he was taking to the mines on a venture. They had been cut with knives in the most wanton manner, and hardly a square inch had escaped.
"There is evidence enough of the perpetrator," replied Smith, pointing to the holes.
"Well, who is he?" cried Fred, sprinkling a little salt upon the burning flesh.
"There is but one gang of bushrangers in these parts who inflict wanton injury upon the goods of carriers. That gang is Darnley's!"
"And yet you pardoned him once when he was in your power," I said.
"True; and had I been here my cargo would have escaped molestation. He little thought that he was injuring me. I will do him the justice of saying that."
"He and his gang should be swept from the face of the earth," cried Fred, who, having cooked and seasoned the meat to his satisfaction, now approached the woman, who was lying upon a blanket, apparently unconscious of what was going on around her.
He had but uttered the words when she started to her feet, grasped his arm with a vehemence utterly at variance with her previous docility, and exclaimed,—
"You are right, Kill the monster! Kill him, for he is unfit to live. Kill him, for he has wronged an unprotected woman, and committed outrages that will condemn him to eternal punishment in the next world."
She released her grasp of Fred and fell to the ground, where she sat rocking her body to and fro, uttering moans of anguish. But she no longer shed tears, and her eyes looked wild and threatening, as though her troubles had affected her reason.
"Who talks of killing?" cried a deep voice. "That is God's prerogative, not man's nor vain woman's."
We started, and turning saw that the convict stockman had approached us unawares, and was leaning on his long gun, keenly scanning the features of the unfortunate woman.
"There are some crimes which God designs man to punish," answered Smith, desisting from his occupation of gathering up his traps. "I think that the scoundrels who robbed my team deserve hanging, and I don't want to wait until they are dead to know that they are receiving punishment in the next world."
"The world to come is one of darkness to us mortals, and who can pierce its blackness. But God has promised light, and behold the angel of the Lord will reveal all things, for so sayeth the Book of all books."
"I don't know what you mean," replied Smith, who had listened attentively to the wild, rambling speech of the convict without comprehending its import; "but this I do know, that I would mash the heads of the bushrangers who robbed my cart, if they were within the reach of my axe."
"Trust in God for vengeance, for to him does it belong," exclaimed the convict, drawing a dirty looking and well-thumbed Testament from his pocket, and turning over leaf after leaf as though seeking for a particular chapter.
"We must get him to put up his book, or he'll read from now till sundown," cried Smith, with visible alarm at the idea of being compelled to listen.
"Here is an unfortunate woman that needs your assistance," said Smith, laying a hand upon the old man's arm, and calling his attention to his child.
"Does she need spiritual assistance, or only food for the body? Her looks are like those of a person who has been suffering."
"She has suffered much within twenty-four hours, and her only friend now is that dog that keeps so close to her."
"Let her be comforted," the convict cried, approaching her; "if her sorrow is ever so deep, it can be healed."
He closed his book as he spoke and approached his child, who sat with downcast eyes, and apparently unconscious of his presence.
"Daughter," he began; but at the sound of his voice so near, she raised her eyes hastily, and on her face could be seen the emotions and struggles to recollect where she had before heard his tones. She pressed her hand to her forehead as though forcing memory to reveal its secret, but suddenly the truth was revealed to her.
"Father," she cried, starting to her feet, and throwing her arms around that white-headed man's neck, venerable before his time. "Father! O God, is it you?"
She laid her aching head upon his bosom, and, with her arms around his neck, shed tears as freely as she did the day that she was separated from him, as she thought, forever.
The convict staggered back, and would have fallen, had not Fred's strong arm supported him. He glanced from face to face as though trying to read the meaning of the surprise, and then he turned his looks upon his daughter.
"Mary," he cried, after pushing the hair from her forehead, "can it, indeed, be my child—has the little girl whom I left in England grown to be a woman!"
He held her close in his embrace as though he feared that something would happen to prevent his seeing her again. He kissed the tears from her cheeks, and begged her to be calm, and to tell him about her voyage, and lastly to speak about her husband and children.
Her sobs were her only response. He grew impatient at her refusal to answer his interrogations, and then suspicions of foul play entered his imagination.
"There has been some wrong done you," he cried, appealing to his daughter.
She answered with tears and moans.
"Speak, and tell me who has dared to injure you," he cried vehemently. "Was it your husband?"
His brow grew threatening and black, as he put the question.
There was no reply, but his daughter clung to his neck with a more convulsive grasp, as though she feared to lose her parent also.
He glanced from Smith to Fred, and from the latter to myself, as though debating whether we were the guilty party.
"Tell me," he cried, lifting her head from his shoulder, and seeking to get a glimpse of her face, "who has wronged you?"
There was no response. He placed her gently upon the blankets, and then with a face that was livid with rage, grasped his musket which had fallen to the ground.
"Which of you has dared to do this?" he asked, and the ominous click of the lock of the gun proved that he was in earnest, and that all of his worst passions were aroused.
No one answered. I looked towards Smith, expecting to hear him explain every thing; but, to my surprise, he was silent; evidently too much astonished at the unexpected turn which the affair had assumed, to speak.
My look was misconstrued by the indignant convict, for before I could speak, the long gun was levelled at the breast of Smith, and in another moment all his hopes and fears would have been at an end, had not his child started up and rushed towards him.
"Not him!" she shouted, wildly. "O God, not him!"
He dropped the muzzle of his gun, but his fierce eyes still glared from Fred to me.
"Which of these two?"
He indicated us with a motion of the hand that held the gun, and looked in his child's face for confirmation.
"Neither, father—so help me Heaven, neither. Without the aid of these friends I should have perished."
He dropped the muzzle of the gun, and each of us felt thankful as he did so, for we had witnessed the accuracy of his aim the day before, and while the muzzle of the musket was pointed towards us, one of our lives was not worth insuring.
"You are tired and distressed," the convict said, addressing his daughter with a degree of tenderness that I thought wonderful after his late outbreak.
"My head," she murmured, "feels as though it would burst; while my heart is broken already."
"Rest a while, until I confer with your new-found friends, and then you shall accompany me to my home. It is a hut, but it is all I have to shelter you."
It was singular to witness how soon the recluse had once more become an active man of the world, and for a while forgotten his Bible and religious fanaticism.
"Tell me all that has happened," the convict said, motioning for us three to follow him a short distance from his daughter, so that our conversation could not be overheard by her.
Smith related the strange visit of the hound, and his leading us to the scene of the murder—our finding his child in an insensible condition—the story of her wrongs, and our surprise at finding that she was in search of him. He listened with clinched teeth, and only interrupted the narrative with groans of rage and anguish. When he knew all, we waited to see what course he would pursue.
To our surprise, he did not speak, but turned away as though about to seek his home.
"Stay one moment," cried Smith, laying his hand upon his shoulder.
"Well," cried the convict, impatiently.
"What do you propose to do?" we asked.
"Are you Americans, and ask that question?" he demanded.
"You think of seeking Black Darnley?" Smith continued.
"You shall not," cried Smith, with sudden energy. "You are no match for him and his gang."
"My daughter's injury must be avenged. I go alone to consummate it."
"Stay until to-morrow, and we will accompany you," Fred and myself cried with one accord.
The convict hesitated for a moment, then suddenly extended his hands, and while he wrung ours, promised a compliance. The next instant he had lifted his daughter in his arms, and was walking with the burden towards his hut.
We saw no more of him until towards night, and then he was in front of the hut cleaning his long, heavy musket.
AN EXPEDITION.—A FIGHT WITH BUSHRANGERS.—DEATH OF BLACK DARNLEY.
"I don't like the expedition," said Smith, pettishly, as he saw Fred and myself examining our powder-flasks and counting bullets.
"Then stay here and await our return," cried Fred, bluntly, looking up from his work.
Smith moved uneasily, muttered something in an under tone, felt the edge of his constant companion, a heavy axe, and then replied,—
"If you two harum-scarum youngsters are determined to get your throats cut, I don't see but that I shall have to be near at hand. But I tell you it is bad business, and none but crazy men would think of penetrating that dark forest in search of bushrangers."
"You wouldn't let that old man go alone, would you?" we asked.
"No; but then—"
He stopped a moment, as though to collect his thoughts, and pettishly exclaimed,—
"D—— it, you are going in search of the worst gang on the island. Black Darnley is equal to all three of us in a personal encounter."
"But suppose we kept him at bay, and tried the effect of rifle shot?" I asked, holding up a short, heavy, instrument, carrying about twenty-five to a pound.
"The rifle looks like a true one, and I know that you boys can shoot, but suppose that you didn't get the chance?"
"Then we must trust to luck," answered Fred, coolly.
"I'm no great hand at bush-fighting," replied Smith; "but we have joined our fortunes for a trip to the mines, and I'm not the man to desert you at the time of need."
"Then you'll go?" we asked.
"Yes; if I get killed it matters not much."
In half an hour we were ready; each man carried a small knapsack, containing a few cakes of bread and the remains of the kangaroo, while Smith provided himself with a small bottle, the contents of which he kept a profound secret.
Not knowing whether we should ever be fortunate enough to return and claim the few articles of property that belonged to us, Fred and myself paused for a moment to bid them farewell.
Standing in the doorway of the stockman's hut, we saw the form of his injured daughter watching us on our tramp. She remained motionless' until we turned to continue our march, and then she waved a blood-red handkerchief as though bidding us remember her injuries and avenge them.
Right before us, at a distance of five miles, was a dark line of trees, extending for many leagues along the horizon. In the depths of that forest few white men had ever penetrated. Once, a dozen of the police of Melbourne attempted to break up a gang of bushrangers who sheltered themselves upon the edge of this wild region. On the alarm being given, the villains discharged a volley at the officers and then fled. Five of the police were killed or wounded, but the remainder, nothing daunted, started in pursuit. They got separated amidst the thickets, and but one man returned alive to Melbourne. The remainder either got lost and starved to death, or else were killed by the bushrangers. After that, government was content to offer large rewards for the apprehension of the escaped convicts, but the police did not care to venture a second time into their dread abode.
I have mentioned these circumstances to show that the undertaking upon which we had embarked was one of no ordinary kind; that there was much peril and little honor to be gained in an encounter with half a dozen desperate men, who knew that their lives depended upon the stout resistance which they should offer, and of course would fight to the death.
If we did look sharply to the loading of our rifles, and felt the long bowie knives that we carried at our waist to find whether the blades worked easily in their sheaths, it was because we expected to use them, and knew that our only hope to return alive was by a prompt employment of the deadly weapons when an encounter took place.
It was near nine o'clock when we halted upon the outskirts of the dark forest. Hardly a ray of the hot sun penetrated the woods; all was gloomy and silent. Occasionally a parrot upon the borders of the forest uttered a shrill scream, and then spreading its gaudy wings sought shelter upon the bough of a tall tree, from whence it could watch our movements without danger.
The hound, which we had taken with us, ran with his nose close to the ground, sometimes moving within a few feet of the trees, and then starting off, scouring the prairie in his search, but always returning, until he suddenly stopped before what seemed a dense thicket. During all the time that he had been upon the scent not a cry had escaped him; indeed, he seemed to realize that silence was our only safety, and acted accordingly.
"The dog has found the trail of the bushrangers," the convict said, suddenly halting, and waiting for the rest of us to join him.
"The dog is keen on the scent, and acts as though trained to track runaways," cried Smith, resting his heavy axe upon the ground, and rubbing his shoulder where the skin was nearly worn off by friction.
The animal bounded towards us, wagged his tail, looked into our faces with his knowing eyes, and then trotted slowly back to the thicket before which he had halted in the first place.
"Don't let us stand here all day under this broiling sun," cried Fred, impatiently. "If we are to search for bushrangers, let's begin and get through with the job as soon as possible."
"There is no haste," cried the aged convict, in a tone of reproach. "Our success depends upon the degree of caution that we employ. Our object is to surprise the party we are in pursuit of, and not let them surprise us."
"O, I understand," replied Fred, indifferently; "something of the Indian style of warfare, hey? Well, we are somewhat used to that, and can follow a trail as well as any amateur hunters in the country."
The convict made no reply, but examined the priming of his gun, tightened the sash which he wore around his waist, and then, briefly surveying the little party, as though calculating on the relative strength of each man, he moved forward.
We gained the thicket, where the dog was awaiting us. No entrance through the dense undergrowth met our view; and had we not known that the dog came from a breed of hounds that never deceive, we should have deemed it impossible for human beings to have entered the forest in that direction.
For some time we examined the premises to find an opening; but none appearing, Smith swung his axe over his head and let its sharp edge strike the bushes, intending to cut a passage. As if by magic the boughs gave way, and we discovered an opening which bore the appearance of having been frequently used.
A brief examination convinced us of the fact. The branches of young trees and the tops of the bushes were so interlaced that no one would have suspected that an entrance into the forest was possible in that quarter. It proved to us that we were near the encampment of bushrangers, but whether the party we were in pursuit of, was more than we could tell.
We motioned to the hound to lead the way, and the noble animal, after a brief examination of the ground, trotted slowly forward.
Our steps were taken with caution, for we wished to come upon the outlaws unexpectedly.
For ten minutes we continued our silent march, the dog leading the way with unwavering instinct, avoiding the thickets and dense growth of trees,—hardly noticing the small wild animals of the hare species that ran before his very nose,—until he suddenly stopped and looked into our faces, as much as to say, "Now, pray be cautious."
"Hist!" cried the convict, who led the way, holding up his finger. "I smell smoke."
"And I can see it," replied Fred, pointing to an opening in the trees nearly a quarter of a mile distant.
We all strained our eyes in the direction that Fred indicated, and I no longer doubted that we were in the vicinity of an encampment, although neither Smith nor the convict was ready to testify that they saw signs of fire.
"I call my eyes as clear and keen as most any one's," Smith said; "but if you can see smoke it's more than I can do."
"My eyes are not so good as they were twenty years back, and I trust more to the scent than the sight. Now I can smell smoke, but see none," the aged convict said, inhaling his breath as though trying to distinguish from what direction it came.
"You Englishmen have never lived in one of our American forests, or you would be better acquainted with the appearance of smoke when it came from a fire that has long been neglected and is about dying out. I will wager a pound of good rifle powder that in yonder clearing we shall find a camp of bushrangers, and that the smoke which we see comes from the fire they made when they returned from their nocturnal excursion last night."
"You may be right," the convict said, in a musing tone. "If we are," he continued, "in close proximity to those we seek, what do you advise?"
"I would advise a seperation of forces—let Jack and myself approach the encampment in one direction, while you and Smith can steal towards it from another. There are many reasons why we should act in this manner, and you do not need my advice to be convinced of its force."
"May the God of battles aid us," muttered the convict, sotto voce, as though fearful we should catch his words and fears. "I see," he continued, "the force of your reasoning. When you are ready for the attack, discharge your rifles, and mind and not waste a single shot."
The convict stalked on as he ceased speaking, following the lead of the dog. We were about to start in a different direction, but still verging towards the smoke, when we were detained by a few words from Smith.
"Remember, boys," he hurriedly whispered, "that if any thing occurs, you are to take charge of my property and remit the sale of it to my mother. She is somewhere, in London, I believe. Take care of yourselves, and remember that it was not I that proposed this confounded excursion."
He squeezed our hands as he spoke, and the next minute we lost sight of his burly form as he followed in the wake of the convict.
Still keeping the smoke in view, Fred and myself struck off in another direction. We carefully picked our way through the forest, hardly making noise enough to alarm the numerous birds that were perched upon the trees, in the deep shade, to avoid the heat of the sun. Not a dry stick was trodden upon to send forth its crackling sound—not a bough was brushed past rudely for fear its waving top should give an alarm. Silently we stole along, and were, as we thought, near the camp. We crept upon our hands and knees until we came in sight of an open space, and then upon the first glance we knew that we were close to a gang of bushrangers.
In the middle of the clearing was a low hut, covered with the hides of bullocks, which were nailed on shingle fashion, for the purpose of excluding rain. The logs did not fit very snugly together on the sides of the cabin, and grass was crowded into the chinks, although in some places it had been pushed out as for the purpose of enabling those within to take a survey of the different approaches to the hut. A fire was smoking before the door, looking as though it had been kindled many hours before and allowed to die out for want of fuel.
The only other sign of life was a grass hammock, which swung from the branch of a tree, not more than four feet from the ground, and which appeared to contain some person who was sleeping. For ten minutes after we reached our allotted station we waited for Smith and the convict to gain a position and give the signal for an attack.
There were no signs of them, and we began to fear that they had strayed from the right path, when a small kangaroo dog walked lazily from the cabin and stood near the door, as though debating whether he should return and finish his nap or exercise in the open air. He was not long in making up his mind, for his keen scent detected something in the atmosphere that was not right; and where we were lying we could see his sharp eyes glance suspiciously around, and saw the stiff hair upon his back rise as though getting ready to meet the danger that was near at hand.
There was suddenly a bay—a loud, angry bark, and then the hound which had belonged to the murdered man bounded into the enclosure and fastened his strong teeth into the neck of the dog, the latter hardly offering battle so sudden was the onslaught.
There was a yelp of pain as the hound shook the smaller animal in his strong jaws, and that cry raised an alarm that brought half a dozen men, with long red and black beards, and repulsive faces, to the door of the hut.
We saw their look of surprise as their eyes alighted upon the fighting dogs—we saw them glance hastily around, and raise their guns, which they carried in their hands, as though to get ready for a sudden attack; and while we were in a state of uncertainty, and almost ready to commence the fight, a tall, powerful-built man, with heavy beard and long hair, rolled from the hammock in which he had been swinging, and rushed towards the yelping brutes.
"Whose dog is that?" he shouted, "and why do you stand there like a pack of fools, allowing them to make noise enough to wake the whole forest? We shall have the beaks upon us if this continues;" and as he spoke, he raised the branch of a tree which was lying near the fire, and lifting it as easily as a common man would a walking stick, he struck at the hound, who still held the kangaroo dog by the throat, and growled at his slightest movement as though he feared that one of the parties concerned in his master's murder would escape.
I held my breath while the huge club was suspended in the air, wielded, I knew full well, by the strong arms of Black Darnley. Twice I raised my rifle to my shoulder; and thought to interpose against what I considered certain death to the brute, but a fear that Smith and the convict were not at their stations prevented me.
I almost shouted a warning to the dog as the club descended, but my fears were vain; for the animal sprang aside, and the stick fell heavily upon the sharp-nosed dog of the bushrangers. He gave one yell, and was crushed into a shapeless mass.
The ruffian uttered an oath of rage; but before he could renew the attack the hound flew full at him, and fastened his long fangs into Darnley's throat. The latter staggered back, surprised at the sudden attack, but only for an instant. His stout hands were quickly raised, and then his grasp encompassed the dog's throat so tightly that his eyes nearly started from their sockets, and he was glad to unclinch his teeth, and gasp for breath.
Full at arm's length did Darnley hold the animal, and we could see a grim smile steal over his face as he thought of the pain he was inflicting. The gang started forward to assist the ruffian, but with an oath he bade them keep back and let him alone. I feared the dog's life was short, and determined to save it, but I was anticipated.
I heard the sharp crack of Fred's rifle close by my side, and following the direction of his aim, I saw Darnley loosen his hold of the dog, stagger back, press one hand upon his side as though he felt a sudden pain; but still he kept his feet, and waved to his gang encouragement, while his voice exclaimed,—
"The beaks are upon us, d——n 'em; show no quarter or mercy; fight till you die, or you'll all be hanged."
He staggered towards the hut as he spoke, but in trying to keep his balance, removed his hand from his side. A torrent of blood gushed forth, and dyed the ground a scarlet hue; he strove to keep upon his feet, but his strength was ebbing fast, and with a reel and lurch, like some strong ship before foundering, he fell to the ground, never to rise again.
His gang had rushed into the hut upon the first discharge, leaving their leader alone, unsupported; but as he fell, they issued forth, each armed with muskets and long pistols, and a profusion of knives.
"Fire," whispered Fred, as he hastily loaded his rifle.
I disliked the idea of shedding blood, and hesitated; but before Fred had driven his rifle ball home there was a discharge opposite to us, and another bushranger fell bleeding to the ground.
They raised a startling yell for vengeance, and rushed towards the spot where the smoke was ascending from the discharged musket. Before they had reached half way across the clearing, Fred and myself poured in our deadly fire, and two more of the escaped convicts fell mortally wounded.
They were then seized with a panic, and separating, each one seemed determined to seek safety in flight; but before they gained the shelter of the woods our revolvers were brought into requisition, and one more ravisher was made to bite the dust.
"May the God of Israel give us strength to kill them," shouted the convict, bursting through the thick bushes with his long gun in hand, and his white hair streaming over his shoulders.
"No mercy to the scoundrels," cried Smith, waving his heavy axe over his head, and advancing at a run in pursuit.
That cry came near being his last; for one of the bushrangers, seeing that he had no gun, suddenly turned in his flight, and raising his musket, presented it full at the broad breast of Smith. The latter did not falter or dodge, but rushed towards the robber with uplifted axe, uttering, as he advanced, a wild cry that startled me, it was so loud and shrill, and sounded like the last yell of a dying man in agony.
I feared to see the villain discharge his musket, for I knew that Smith was so near that he could not well be missed. I would have shot the fellow myself, but my rifle was empty; still thinking to save him, I ran hastily towards the parties; but before I had advanced ten steps I saw the bushranger's musket flash in the pan, but no report followed. His gun had missed fire.
Throwing down the weapon with an oath, the ruffian drew a long knife; but before he had an opportunity to use it the heavy axe descended upon his unprotected head, and crashing through skull and brains, it clove him to the chine.
With no groan or word he fell; and when I reached the side of Smith there was not another bushranger left to battle with. We were masters of the field, and not one of us had received a wound.
"Let us praise God for this victory," cried the aged convict, removing his apology for a hat, and casting his eyes heavenward.
"Humph," grunted Smith; "we'd better make preparations for quitting these woods, instead of praying, according to my fancy."
"To Him alone belongs the praise for this day's work—for this mighty triumph," cried the old man, whose religious feelings were all awakened by the carnage.
"I don't dispute that the Lord lent his aid, but to my mind, if it hadn't been for these two Americans, he'd deserted us in the hour of need. Two good rifle shots are a great help towards obtaining a victory," exclaimed Smith, wiping his axe of the crimson gore which still adhered to it, and glancing around the clearing, as though he expected there might be more bushrangers starting up to offer battle at any moment.
"The Almighty is powerful, and can crush at his pleasure."
"We all know that," cried Smith, impatiently, "but to my mind it's better to examine yonder hut, and then make our way back to the team as fast as possible, for there's no knowing how soon we may have a new gang to contend with."
His advice appeared so reasonable that we instantly prepared to follow it; but first we stopped by the side of Black Darnley, and examined to see whether he was dead. The rifle ball had made sure work, having passed through his left side in the direction of his heart, and made its exit below the ribs opposite. On the dark face of the dead man was a look of defiance, as though even in his death-struggle he had tried to gain his feet, and to face his enemies with his latest breath.
I removed the pistols which he wore in his belt, and as no one presented a better claim for them than Fred and myself, I divided with him; and during our long sojourn in Australia, he kept one, and I the other. He still clings to his, while I have deposited mine in the office of the American Union, as a sort of memento of times long past.
A visit to the hut was next paid, and there, heaped up in a corner, we not only found the goods which were stolen from Smith's cart, but numerous other articles; and while we were sorting them, I kicked aside some dirt, and saw a flat stone. Curiosity prompted me to move it, and underneath was a hoard of gold dust, gold coins, silver dollars, and English shillings and half crowns, the whole amounting to about two thousand pounds.
Without stopping to divide it, we gathered it up with the most convenient articles for carrying away, and then setting fire to the hut, left it blazing, knowing full well that those of the gang who escaped would return before long with reenforcements, and that our lives were not worth much if we were taken by surprise.
We gained the open prairie, and without stopping to rest, continued our march, until we reached the hut of the convict stockman. The daughter of the latter came out to us, and as she laid her hand upon her father's arm, she whispered,—
"Is he dead?"
He nodded his head, and then I saw a gleam of satisfaction cross her face, as she thought of her injuries, and the prompt manner in which they had been avenged.
THE STOCKMAN'S DAUGHTER.—MOUNTED POLICE OF MELBOURNE.
The day after our return from the excursion in pursuit of bushrangers, the cattle were yoked together, and had been attached to the cart for an hour, before the convict issued from his hut.
Twice had Smith cracked his long whip, each time crushing large green flies that had alighted on the flank of the nearest ox, and yet the lash so lightly fell that not a hair of the animal was ruffled, or a particle of pain inflicted. I never understood the science of using a whip until I learned it upon the plains of Australia, and saw stockmen, with one wave of their weapon, cut chips of hide and quivering flesh from the panting sides of frightened or contrary cattle.
As the convict advanced to meet us, Smith rose from his seat with an expression of gratitude at the prospect of soon being enabled to move.
"Well," said Smith, speaking first, "you see we are ready to start, yet we could not go without bidding you good-by."
"I have much to thank you for," he said, his eyes cast to the ground as though fearful of looking up and exposing the weakness which oozed from them, and wet his long gray beard. "My child thanks you all for the promptness with which you have revenged her wrongs; and to these two Americans she says, that her prayers shall ever ascend for your safe return to your country, and that happiness may await you when you have rejoined the friends of your childhood."
"Can we bid her farewell, at parting?" asked Fred.
"If you wish it, yes," answered the convict: "but I have prayed with her all night, and have besought the Lord to strengthen her heart under this load of affliction. She is calm now, and when you speak do not allude to her bereavement, or recall yesterday's bloody tragedy."
As he ceased speaking, he returned to the hut, and emerged leading the widow. Her looks were much changed since we had seen her the day before. Weeping and fasting, and sleepless nights, and above all, the thoughts of her husband's sudden death, had so preyed upon her spirits that she seemed like another person.
"Here are the two Americans, child, who wish to bid you farewell," her father said, when he saw that she was disposed to pay no attention to us.
Twice did he speak before she comprehended him; and after she had placed her hands to her head, as though to recall a recollection of our features, a faint look of recognition came over her face, and her leaden eyes were lighted up with some such expression as we had seen the day before, when she asked if Black Darnley was dead.
"You are sure that he is dead?" she asked in a low whisper, seizing Fred by the arm, and gazing into his blank-looking face.
"Whom do you mean?" Fred inquired, evading her question.
"You know; Black Darnley,—the wretch who killed my husband, and injured me. You look like him; but your face is not so black, and your hair is lighter. But you may have changed it for the purpose of deceiving and wronging me again. Ah, the more I look at you the firmer am I convinced that you are the wretch."
She pushed his arm away, and turned with flashing eyes upon her parent, speaking vehemently,—
"You told me that Darnley was dead, and that my injuries were avenged; and yet you see him standing before you alive, and insulting me with infamous propositions. Have I no friend here to protect me?"
"We are all your friends," I replied, in a soothing tone.
"It is false! There is not a man here, or Black Darnley would not live to see another sun. Men, indeed? Ha, ha! my husband possesses more spirit than a dozen of you."
She folded her arms, and rocked her body to and fro, shaking her head, and muttering incoherent sentences, with her eyes fixed upon the ground intently, as though trying, amid the dirt, to discover the blood of her destroyer.
Poor Fred, who looked about as much like Black Darnley as the man in the moon, turned slightly red with mortification; and to this hour, an allusion to his wonderful likeness to the celebrated bushranger is sure to bring on a fit of the sulks that will last a day or two.
Fred retired as soon as he found that his presence irritated the unhappy woman, who, it was very evident, was slightly deranged by her accumulation of trouble.
"We are all friends here," I said, at length, "and are willing to do your bidding. See, here is your father; and do you think he would stand unmoved in the presence of a man who had wronged you. You must surely recollect my face. Look at me closely."
"Ah, I do remember you now," she cried.
"That's right," I said, encouragingly. "I thought you would know the man you had leaned upon and talked with on the night—"
Before I had a chance to finish my remarks, with a wild, mad cry, she sprang forward, and, with a movement like lightning, drew my bowie knife, which was stuck in a belt around my waist, and had not Smith intercepted the blow I should not now be writing sketches about my adventures.
In spite of his interference, however, the knife, sharp as a razor and ground to a point like a needle, fell upon my unprotected forehead and opened a gash two inches long, almost penetrating the brain. The hot blood blinded me for a moment as it gushed from the wound. I staggered back from the unexpected attack, but before the mad woman had an opportunity to repeat the blow, my faithful friend was by my side, and had wrenched the steel from her hand.
"Ha, ha!" she shrieked; "blood!—blood!—his blood flows freely, and I avenge my own wrongs. Look at him bleed!—'twas my hand that struck him, and now he'll die like a dog. I triumph—I—I—"
She could say no more, but fell back in convulsions. Smith caught her in his strong arms, and was about to bear her into the house, when he was interrupted by what appeared like so many apparitions.
Mounted upon strong, well-trained horses, were a dozen of the mounted police of Melbourne, who, during our interview with the convict's daughter, had stolen upon us unperceived, and had formed a circle in which we were the centre, to prevent an escape had we been so disposed. So quiet had they ridden, that it seemed as though they had sprung from the ground at the command of some genii of the lamp.
We did not form a very prepossessing group, and, at first, much less suspicious people than police officers would have imagined that something was wrong.
"Hello!" cried the man who appeared to command the squad, riding towards us; "what have we here—a wounded man and a dead woman. Whose work is this?"
"We can explain this to those having authority to ask," cried Fred, carelessly throwing his rifle across his arm; yet it was done in such a manner that the officer reined his horse back several paces, and shouted,—
"Ready with your carbines, men!—we have fallen upon a gang of bushrangers."
I heard the ominous click of the locks of the guns, and cleared the blood from my eyes to get a view of our assailants.
"We are no bushrangers," shouted Smith, starting forward and fronting the officer. "You should know my face, lieutenant," he continued, to the man in command.
"Ah, Smith, is it you?" the lieutenant said, in a sort of patronizing way, and riding forward. "Put up your guns, men; we are not among bushrangers, I think." And in obedience to his command, the men slung the carbines at their backs, and rode forward.
"What is the matter with that fellow?" the officer of police asked, pointing to me.
"He was just injured by a knife, sir, in the hands of this woman, who has lost her reason," answered Smith, in the most obsequious manner.
"Lost her reason, hey," said the lieutenant, carelessly. "Then she has no business here; or rather I should say that no persons of sense would be here if they could help it."
The mounted troop laughed, as in duty bound, and even Smith suffered his features to relax in token of appreciation of the officer's facetiousness.
"Where are you two fellows from?" inquired the lieutenant, turning towards Fred and myself abruptly.
By this time I had bound up my head with a handkerchief, and wiped some of the blood from my face. The wound had nearly ceased bleeding, thanks to some lint which I always carried about me.
"Are you talking to me?" asked Fred, in a careless tone.
"To whom else?—speak!" cried the officer, impatiently.
"Perhaps you would not know where the place is located, even if I told you its name," replied Fred, with provoking indifference.
"I am the best judge of that," answered the lieutenant, turning red in the face.
"O, you are?" Fred laughed.
Smith, who had acted in a nervous manner ever since the conversation commenced, approached and whispered in Fred's ear,—
"Speak civilly to him, or he may take you to Melbourne."
This, instead of having the desired effect on Fred, only rendered him the more impudent; for he didn't relish being called "fellow," even if he had on a flannel shirt.
"Will you tell me where you belong?" demanded the officer, angrily.
"Have you ever heard of such a place as Boston?" Fred asked.
"Yes—it is in England."
"Not the Boston that I mean," Fred exclaimed, drawing up his form to its full height. "I mean Boston near Bunker Hill."
A sudden change came over the lieutenant's face. The dark frown passed away, and a smile crossed his sunburnt countenance.
"You are Americans?" he asked, with an air of politeness.
"We claim that land as our home," Fred answered.
"I might have guessed as much, for you both carry an emblem of your country."
He pointed to our rifles and smiled. We saw that he was disposed to be rational, and therefore laid aside our reserve.
"There are but few of our people," I said, "but know how to handle these weapons; and it's rare that they venture into an unknown country without one for a companion."
"I think so; for I have met a number of Americans in Australia, and yet every one clings to his rifle. But, while we are talking, the woman is suffering. Maurice, assist to take her into the hut, and open a vein if you think it necessary."
The man addressed as Maurice gave his bridle to a companion and dismounted. The convict and the stranger raised her in their arms, and removed the unfortunate beneath the rude roof, where at least she could be screened from the sun.
"Well, Smith, what is there new in these parts?" inquired the lieutenant, carelessly. "Seen any thing of Black Darnley and his gang, lately? I understand that you have been seen conversing with him a number of times recently. Take care—I give you fair warning; if I report you, your ticket of leave is withdrawn."
"But you wouldn't do that?" cried Smith, his face showing the alarm which he felt at the threat.
"I don't know but that it will be my duty to do so before long," cried the officer, shaking his head like a petty tyrant, who wished to inspire fear.
"I have been two days on the road," he continued, "searching for his gang. If you can give me any information, Smith, that is of real value, why, perhaps—"
"But I can give information," cried Smith, who, awed by the great man's presence, appeared to have forgotten all about the death of Darnley.
"Ah! of the scamp's gang?" the officer asked, with eagerness.
"Where are they?" demanded the lieutenant, leading Smith one side.
"Six of them are dead—and with them, Black Darnley," cried Smith.
"You are trifling with me," said the officer, sternly.
"No—upon my word; but ask the Americans, they will tell you all."
"Is it so?" asked the policeman, turning towards us with an air entirely changed from that with which he had first addressed us.
We confirmed the report, and gave the particulars.
He listened to us with astonishment; and yet his wonder was not unmixed with admiration. I saw him try to suppress that feeling, but it would find vent, John Bull like, and with an oath he exclaimed,—
"By G——! you Americans are a wonderful people. You seek adventures with as much gusto as a knight-errant of the olden times. If I had a dozen such as you two under my charge, I'd soon free this neighborhood of bushrangers."
"There would be but one difficulty," answered Fred, with a laugh.
"And pray what is that?" asked the lieutenant.
"Why, Yankees have a great desire to lead, instead of being led."
He drew us one side, so that his men could not overhear his remarks, and said,—
"Of course you knew that a large reward was offered for the death of Darnley and his gang."
We reiterated our ignorance, and the officer looked at us in astonishment.
"Then let me give you joy—for you have completed one of the best day's work that you ever began. Give me the proof that Darnley and his gang are dead, and I will put you in the way of obtaining the reward."
"We did not sell our rifles for gold," replied Fred, "but to assist an old man to revenge his daughter's injuries. If you can serve Smith and the old convict, we will willingly forego all thoughts of a reward."
In a few words we stated the case, and put him in possession of the facts relative to our taking up arms. He listened to us patiently, and when we had finished, said,—
"If you can give convincing proof that the gang of bushrangers has been broken up, I can certainly promise you a free, unconditional pardon for Smith and the stockman. But I must first see the bodies of the dead men, and have your certificate of the gallantry of the parties named."
"How can we manage that?" we asked.
"By delaying your journey, and accompanying me to the spot."
Fred and myself consulted for a moment and agreed to do so. A day or a week was nothing to us, if Smith could be made a free man. We called to him:—
"Smith," said Fred, "do you wish a pardon from government?"
The poor fellow flushed red in the face, and then the blood receded and left his cheeks pallid as death.
"If you wish a free and unconditional pardon, you must go with us back to the haunts of Darnley," Fred said.
The tears started to his eyes with delight, and for a moment he was incapable of motion; but in another second he bounded to the side of the cattle, and with nervous fingers was unhitching the yokes and turning the brutes loose upon the wide prairies, to feed upon the rank grasses which abounded on the sides of the stream.
DESPERATE DEEDS OF TWO CONVICTS.—LIEUT. MURDEN'S STORY.
The sun was pouring down with Australian brilliancy and power, but we cared but little for the heat, if we could gain the scene of the battle before a gang of bushrangers reached the spot, and concealed the bodies. It was, therefore, with considerable uneasiness that we saw the lieutenant of police coolly dismount from his horse, throw the bridle to one of his men, with directions to remove the saddles from the animals, and let them drink their fill at the stream, and afterwards be allowed to graze on the rank grass.