"Our readers will recollect that the lieutenant-governor promised the miners that the roads between the city and Ballarat should be free of robbers in less than six months. Hardly three months have passed, and we find that his excellency has made good his assertion. He has taken the most active measures to bring to speedy justice the numerous gangs of bushrangers who have preyed upon travellers and escorts, going to and returning from the mines. Already have two of the most formidable robbers in the country fallen, and with them the destruction of their followers. Black Darnley and Jim Gulpin are both dead. They have paid the penalty of their crimes, and the community will thank the government for the active measures which were taken to bring about such a result. Our police department is now in a better state of efficiency than ever known before; and it is the determination, we understand, of the governor to increase its force until he has redeemed his pledge, and made Australia a law-loving and law-abiding country.
"We understand that the two men whose dress and appearance occasioned so many remarks while the procession was moving through our streets yesterday afternoon, are two recruits who are to be added to the police force with the rank of sergeants. They were both born in the United States, but their parents are English, and still claim Great Britain as their homes. We understand that they distinguished themselves gallantly in the conflict which ensued between the bushrangers and the police, and for that reason they are to be rewarded by being taken into our municipal force.
"P.S.—We understand that the men mentioned above were very active at the fire this morning, and that if any property was saved by their efforts the governor should have the credit for the same, for to him belongs the suggestion of allowing the police force to work as firemen, and also giving his consent, that the military should have charge of the engines. We hope the citizens of Melbourne will remember these facts, and know in what light to regard the attacks made upon his excellency by the Argus, whose editor left England for causes which have not yet transpired, although we dare say that communications addressed to the Home office would be promptly answered."
"Well, of all the impudence," laughed Fred. "The puppy should be whipped—and I've a great mind to go and do it"
"I don't see any thing to be enraged at," I replied, coolly. "Because he says that we are to enter the police force, does not make it so; and as for the rest of his remarks, you are too good an American not to think highly of the man for his ingenious effort to create popularity for his favorite office-holder."
Fred smiled as he thought of the freedom of the press in our country, and I heard no more about whipping the unfortunate editor of the Herald.
"Come," cried Smith, who had sat silent during our reading of the papers, "you must be getting ready for your visit to the governor. He receives at three, and dines about six."
"I suppose we shall have to stop and dine with him," said Fred, with a sly wink at me.
"You surely don't think of such a thing?" demanded Smith, with horror depicted upon his face.
"Why, you don't pretend to say that the governor is any better than us poor adventurers?" asked Fred.
Smith struggled a moment with his feelings, as though trying to find a suitable reply in which he should not offend us, and yet not outrage the exalted idea which he entertained respecting his excellency. At length love for us overcame his reverence, and he blubbered out.—"Hang it, you know what I mean—the governor is placed in a high position, but I'd rather have a shake of your hands than fifty men like him. Don't talk to me any more, but get ready to visit him; and if he don't ask you to dinner, all that I can say is, he don't know you as well as I do."
We followed the advice of Smith without a word of remonstrance, and in a short time our long, ragged beards had fallen before the sharp edges of our razors, and after a refreshing bath in a tub, the only bathing-pan we could find in the city, we dressed ourselves in our new clothes, and once more felt that clean linen was more becoming to gentlemen, in spite of its democracy, than blue flannel.
For the first time for many months were our limbs encased in broad-cloth, and our feet denied the privilege of an extended range of sole leather. Smith surveyed us, and rubbed his hands with delight. We had evidently made an impression upon him in our new dresses, and to tell the truth, we felt somewhat vain of it.
Punctual to the hour, we heard some one drive up to the door, and were in a moment greeted by Murden, although at first he did not recognize the two demure looking strangers seated in the room as his late companions.
His grip was none the less hearty, however, and even while he was asking a half dozen different questions concerning us, he hurried us along into a vehicle that somewhat resembled a chaise, although much heavier, and drawn by two horses.
The lieutenant assumed the reins, and away we rattled, the hound bounding by the side of the carriage, and sometimes making playful snaps at the horses' heads, causing the animals to swerve from the middle of the road, much to Murden's disgust and the dog's delight.
"I heard of your doings last night," Murden said, as we rattled towards the government house, causing people to stare in astonishment at the recklessness of our pace. "You did nobly, I am told, and those blasted Jews had ought to come down liberally with their dust, in the shape of a present."
"We were not working in the expectation of reward," Fred began, when the lieutenant cut him short.
"I know all about that, but if those cussed Jews are disposed to give you any thing, don't refuse to accept it, because it would gratify them too much."
Before we had an opportunity to enter into an argument, the carriage was driven, with much parade, up to the door of a substantial, freestone house, before which a number of soldiers were keeping guard, as though there was danger of the governor being run away with by some evil-disposed persons unless there was a show of force.
We were shown through a long entry, or corridor, and ushered into a reception room, plainly furnished, and with only one engraving hanging from the walls. It was a likeness of the queen, in coronation robes, opening parliament.
Half a dozen persons were lounging in the room, awaiting an audience; and as we were the last comers, of course all eyes were directed upon us, and we could read an expression upon their faces, as much as to say, "what in the deuse do they want with the governor?"
Murden nodded carelessly to those present, and when one, more inquisitive than his fellows, took him by the button hole, and, in a whisper, asked him who we were, I heard him say, in reply,—"Hush! don't pretend to look at them, or they will shoot you without mercy. They are Americans, and carry revolvers and bowie knives by the dozen."
The inquirer, rather a small sized man, after that hardly removed his eyes from us, and when word came from the governor that we were to be shown into his room, the little fellow looked after us as though he never expected to see such a sight again, and was determined to improve his opportunity.
We mounted a flight of stairs, broad and imposing, as became a governor's palace, and then the servant, who had us in charge, stopped before an open door, at which was stationed a man in livery. To the latter was given our names, and in a loud voice the fellow repeated them; at the same time he stood aside and allowed us to pass into the presence of his excellency, the lieutenant-governor.
Mr. Latrobe was standing near a window, which overlooked the street, and was conversing with Colonel Hensen, the captain of police, and a number of other gentlemen, whose faces we were not acquainted with.
Colonel Hensen advanced to meet us as we entered, and then, in due form, presented us to the governor.
"God bless me," said his excellency, rubbing his hands as though he had caught cold the night before, and he wished to quicken the circulation of his blood, "God bless me, can it be possible?"
He didn't say what it was that surprised him so much, but I gave a shrewd guess that our change of costume had improved our appearance to such a degree that we should have been passed in the street by our most intimate friends unrecognized.
"Don't be backward in making known your wants," whispered the colonel, while the governor was wringing his hands.
"Both of you, gentlemen, are entitled to my warmest gratitude for the zeal which you displayed last night," the governor at length said, "and I embrace the present opportunity to thank you. God bless me, I wish that all of the emigrants who reach our shores were of the same stamp. We should be more prosperous and happy."
"We trust, for the honor of America, that all who claim our country as their home will never give your excellency cause of uneasiness," Fred said, with a slight how.
"God bless me, I hope not," echoed the governor. "But I have great cares on my mind, great cares; and sometimes I think that I shall have to return to old England, and let some younger man occupy my place."
The governor's suite maintained a profound silence, which struck us as very singular; but then we did not know that a new ruler was on his way to Australia, and that the home government had got most heartily tired of the vacillating policy of Mr. Latrobe, and that the several gentlemen who surrounded him were aware of it, and were all ready to pay court to the rising star, as soon as he set foot ashore at Melbourne.
Finding that no one replied, the governor slowly chafed his hands, and said—
"We owe you another debt of gratitude, I believe, for the gallantry which prompted you to risk your lives, when you joined forces with our police. You intimated that you had some request to make of me, as a reward for your conduct. Pray, let me hear what your petition is, and if it be reasonable, I will grant it."
For the first time did the governor seem to act the part of a ruler. He threw off, as with a violent effort, all of his shuffling and weakness, and stood before us a man. Perhaps the little sympathy which he saw expressed upon the faces of his suite was the cause of his changing.
"If we have been instrumental in freeing your roads of robbers," I said, calmly and distinctly, "it is not because we thirsted for the blood of the unfortunate men, but simply from a desire to pass to and from the mines without molestation. We do not, of course, know in what light the captain of police has reported our conduct, but there are others more deserving than ourselves, and to them should be awarded all the credit, if, indeed, there is any credit in resisting when attacked."
"I think that mention was made concerning two convicts who had displayed considerable bravery, but it had nearly escaped my mind. Do your remarks refer to them?" inquired the governor.
"They do, sir," I said, "and in their behalf do we appear before you to-day, knowing that your excellency will kindly consider all we say, and grant our petition."
"Go on, sir," said the governor, with a wave of his hand that was full of grace and dignity.
"The two convicts who were brought to the notice of your excellency fought with us side by side, and in one engagement, a band of desperate bushrangers were destroyed before the police made their appearance. Black Darnley, the leader of the gang, was killed, and knowing that a large reward was offered for his arrest or death, we thought your excellency would exercise your usual clemency and grant the men a free pardon for their past offences."
"You know not what you ask for," said the governor, hastily, and I thought impatiently; and then in a milder tone he continued: "I am so hampered by the home government that I rarely interfere in such matters, and would much rather some other request were preferred."
"But let your excellency consider. These men have been on tickets of leave for a number of years, and not a word of complaint has been received against them. I believe that I am justified in referring to the captain of police for confirmation of my words."
The captain bowed, and smiled at my earnestness, and I continued:
"One of them, by honest industry, has accumulated a large property, but the dreadful sentence of the court still clings to him, and if an enemy, actuated by the desire to despoil him of his fortune, should prefer a complaint, he would be arrested and consigned to the hulks, to die perhaps of a broken heart. That is not the proper fate of a gallant man, who has the good of the colony at heart, and is willing to shed his blood in its defence."
"Ask of me any thing but the pardon of the two persons you mention, and I shall be most happy to grant it," replied the governor, after a moment's thought, and a half irresolute glance at Colonel Hensen, as though asking his opinion before deciding.
"We have no other request to make, may it please your excellency," answered Fred, with dignity. "We came to Melbourne expressly to ask for the men's pardon, and as it is not granted, you will allow us to take our leave."
We bowed and stepped towards the door. The governor looked astonished at our independence, and after a moment's whispering with his suite, he recalled us.
"On one condition will I comply with your request," he said, and I saw that the old weakness had returned to his face, and that he was no longer the dignified executive officer.
"We await the proposition," I said.
"Why, the fact is, I have heard such good accounts of both of you, that I am desirous of retaining your services. You are anxious for the full pardon of the two convicts. I will comply with your request provided you enter the police service for five years. The rank of lieutenants will he bestowed on both of you."
"We are under the necessity of declining your intended kindness," replied Fred, ironically, "and as we cannot obtain what we wish without sacrificing our independence, we again take our leave."
I saw a smile of satisfaction beam on the face of the colonel, and I knew that our course met his approval.
"God bless me, what do they want?" asked the governor, in an agony of irresolution, appealing to the colonel.
"They ask for no more than what your excellency should grant," replied the colonel, bluntly.
"But suppose the convicts should commit fresh crimes after I have pardoned them?" asked the governor. "What would the home office say?"
"Point to the good which the men have done, and see if it does not outweigh heavy faults," replied the colonel.
"You are right, and the petition of the young men is granted. Call to-morrow at the office of the secretary, and obtain the documents; at the same time let me inform you that if the home office does not concur in my decision, the pardons are void. I do not anticipate any serious objections, however, when I state the reasons which have governed my conduct."
We thanked his excellency in suitable terms, and were about turning away, when an almost imperceptible movement on the part of Colonel Hensen claimed our attention. Slight as it was, we understood him, and determined to strike while the iron was hot.
"We do not wish to give your excellency unnecessary trouble, but if you would instruct your secretary to furnish the pardons this afternoon, we know of one man who will receive it as the greatest birthday present that can be given him."
"God bless me, is that the case?" cried the governor.
We repeated our statement that Smith's birthday would be celebrated in a becoming manner, if his excellency was disposed to be lenient.
"Then God forbid that I should be the cause of any one's unhappiness. Mr. Secretary, prepare the documents, and I will sign them immediately."
The governor had hardly ceased before the gentleman referred to had left the room. While he was absent a number of questions was asked us concerning our country, and I think a few of our replies surprised not only Mr. Latrobe, but the staff which surrounded him.
"God bless me! it's marvellous to think of. The Americans are a great people, there's no denying it, and I think in time will even equal the parent country."
We did not enter into any argument with those present concerning the relative strength of the two nations, but just as a question was addressed to us regarding our navy, the secretary returned and handed two papers to the governor, who, after a brief glance at their contents, affixed his signature, and handed the documents to us.
"There, I have gratified you, young gentlemen, and now I request a return for my kindness," said the governor, smiling.
"Any thing that your excellency may wish," stammered Fred, hardly knowing what was coming.
"I wish both of you to stop and dine with me to-day, and if you refuse, never ask me for another pardon."
The governor smiled good-humoredly as we hesitated, and before we knew how to frame an excuse we were moving towards the dining-room arm-in-arm with Colonel Hensen and the captain of police.
That dinner will long live in my memory, not only for the good cheer, to which we had long been strangers, but for the social manner in which we were treated by the governor and his guests.
Even the hound, who had received a large share of attention, was permitted to enter the dining-room, and by the manner in which his eyes glistened I thought he appeared to enjoy himself as well as the rest of the company.
DUEL BETWEEN FRED AND AN ENGLISH LIEUTENANT.
Even at this distant day, I think that I have a faint recollection of walking through the streets of Melbourne at a late hour on the afternoon that we dined with the governor—and I also think that we were escorted to our home by Colonel Hensen, and a number of other gentlemen, although who they were I have not the slightest recollection.
It was a late hour the next morning, when we awoke with aching heads and parched throats. Our faithful friend, Smith, was stirring, and by the aroma we knew that a strong dish of coffee had been prepared by his hands, and that it awaited us as soon as we rose—an act which we had no inclination to do; but a sight of his sorrowful face as he spread the table, made me alter my mind.
I slipped on my clothes, and bathed my heated head in cool water just taken from the river, and felt refreshed by the operation; and by the time Fred had gone through with the same process, breakfast was pronounced ready, and down to it we sat with but scant appetites.
"What have you got such a long face on for this morning?" I asked of the stockman, who hardly raised his eyes while he was drinking his coffee.
"Can you ask?" he replied, looking up, and I saw by the expression of his face that he had not slept during the night.
"Can I ask?" I repeated, "to be sure I can. We got a little out of the way last night, but the circumstance is too common to provoke remark in Australia."
"Ah, it was not that I was thinking about. I was considering how unkind the governor has treated me, in not granting me freedom after so many years of good conduct," replied Smith.
"O, is that all?" I cried, with an appearance of indifference. "I thought you were sick, or had heard some bad news."
I saw the poor fellow's face flush at my apparently unkind speech, and I saw an expression of surprise in his blue eyes which cut me to the heart. I sprang from the table, and taking from my coat pocket the two pardons, laid them before him without a word of remark.
His eyes were, the instant he read his name, blinded with tears. He laid his head upon the table, and wept long and bitterly without speaking, and his stout frame shook with the violence of his emotion. We suffered him to continue without interruption; but when he did look up, he grasped our hands, and pressed them convulsively, muttering,—
"At length, O, at length, I'm a free man, and no longer subject to a keeper's nod. I can call my soul and body my own property, and look a policeman in the face without trembling. Ah, blessed liberty, how much I have longed for thee!"
He kissed the pardon—he kissed his name, which was written in a bold hand on the document—and then pressed to his lips the signature of the governor.
"Do you now feel truly happy?" asked Fred.
"I feel so joyous that there is nothing on earth which I crave," replied Smith.
"Then we may ask you to lend us your aid before many days, and I hope that you will not refuse."
"Me refuse? Ask of me the most difficult task and I will do it; for to you do I owe freedom," cried our friend, enthusiastically.
Fred was about to confide to him the secret of the buried treasure, and solicit his aid, when we were interrupted by the entrance of a stranger, dressed in the uniform of an English officer.
"I beg your pardon, sirs," he said, glancing around the hut with a slightly supercilious air at the want of comfort which was plainly manifest, "but I think I have entered the wrong house."
"We cannot tell whether you have or not, until we know what your business is," replied Fred.
"My business has reference to two gentlemen who dined with the governor yesterday, and were conspicuous at the fire night before last," replied the officer, who was a young man, and of prepossessing appearance.
"Then it is very probable we are the parties," said Fred, carelessly. "We dined with the governor yesterday, and we did something towards extinguishing the fire on Collins Street night before last."
"One other question, gentlemen, and I shall be certain. Are you Americans?" demanded the officer.
"We claim the United States as our home, and to the best of our belief, we were born there," I answered, wondering what the fellow was driving at.
"Then you will excuse me for the disagreeable duty which I have taken upon myself. Night before last one of you gentlemen addressed words of an insulting nature to a brother officer. As long as he thought you were beneath the rank of gentlemen he did not choose to notice them, but the governor having recognized you as an equal, my friend feels that he can safely demand satisfaction, or an ample apology for your remark."
"Why," said Fred, with a soft smile, "this looks to me like a challenge."
"It is one," replied the Englishman.
"And I am expected to retract the words which I uttered, or be shot?" asked Fred.
"If you are the gentleman who uttered them, I must reply, yes," answered the officer.
"Well, upon my word. I hardly know what I did say," cried Fred. "Do you recollect?" he added, appealing to me.
I shook my head, and remained silent. I was thinking of the danger my friend was in, and wondering how I could get him out of it.
"I think that my friend had the hilt of his sword in his mouth, and your allusion was to the infantile instinct which prompted him to do so," replied the officer, looking red in the face.
"O," laughed Fred, "did the youngster take offence at my words? Tell him that hereafter I will swear that he was brought up on a bottle.'
"This is no apology, sir," cried the officer, inclined to laugh.
"Isn't it? Well, it's all that I am disposed to give, at present;" and Fred helped himself to a fresh cup of coffee.
"By the way," I continued, "perhaps you have not been to breakfast. Pray be seated, and have a dish of coffee."
The officer hesitated for a moment, but thinking, perhaps, that he could best arrange the affair while sipping coffee, he finally took his seat upon an old box, while Smith helped him to a cracked cup minus a saucer.
"Then there is no way of arranging this little affair, is there?" asked the officer, whom we now understood was Lieutenant Merriam.
"O, yes, there are half a dozen ways," replied Fred, coolly. "In the first place, your friend can withdraw his challenge—"
"Never!" exclaimed the officer, firmly. "We feel too deeply injured."
"And in the next place, I can refuse to accept it," Fred continued, without noticing the interruption.
"But you will apologize," cried Merriam, eagerly. "Say that you will do that, and I will take my leave."
"Then I shall do no such thing, for we are not often forced into the company of her majesty's officers, and we wish to improve the acquaintance."
The lieutenant looked at Fred as though mentally calculating what kind of a man he was, but in spite of his dignity and bold face, he smiled, and held out his cup for more coffee.
"Then I suppose that you will refer me to a friend with whom I can consult, and settle all preliminary arrangements?" inquired the officer.
"Tell me," asked Fred, for the first time looking serious, "is your friend really in earnest in this matter?"
"I have to inform you that, he is, sir; and that, as his friend, I have promised to see him through the affair with honor," our visitor replied.
"Then I will gratify his lighting propensities, as I do not feel disposed to retract words which, under the circumstances, he should have considered as harmless. Jack, my boy," Fred said, turning to me, "will you settle with this gentleman when the affair shall come off, and act by me the part of a friend?"
I knew the nature of the man too well to try and dissuade him from the duel—the most that I could do was to stand by him and endeavor to turn every thing to his advantage. I gave him the promise he required, when turning to Smith, who had sat at the table a patient listener, during the whole conversation, Fred said—
"Come, Smith, you and I will visit the scene of the fire, and leave them together."
"Now to business," the lieutenant said. "You are the challenged party, and have the right to choose weapons. I have a beautiful pair of pistols at the barracks, which I wish you would make choice of. You will fall in love with them at the first sight."
"Very probable," I replied, coolly; "but if pistols are to settle the quarrel, have a pair of Colt's revolvers which I know will command your admiration. Here are the two instruments," and, as I spoke, I laid them on the table.
"A murderous looking weapon, and not suited for the use of gentlemen at ten paces," Merriam said, handling the revolvers with great respect.
"So I thought," I replied composedly, "and have resolved to have nothing to do with pistols of any kind. They are an unsatisfactory weapon, and a man has got to be a good shot to put a ball just where he pleases at ten paces."
"Ah, then you have concluded to try the sword? A more gentlemanly weapon it would be hard to find. Let swords decide it, then."
I saw a glow of satisfaction upon the face of the lieutenant, and I knew that his principal was an adept in the use of the sword as well as though he had told me in so many words.
"I cannot make choice of the sword," I replied, "because my friend does not understand its use, and therefore the advantage would be all on your side."
"Then pray name what weapon you will fight with," Merriam said, impatiently.
"This is the weapon we will use," I replied, producing, to the astonishment of the officer, my three foot six inch barrel rifle, which, during our absence the day before, Smith had cleaned and polished up thoroughly.
"What is that?" he asked, astonished.
"This," I replied, "is an American rifle, and a very good one it is, I assure you."
"But we cannot fight with only one, and unless another is produced precisely like it, some other weapon will have to be resorted to," cried the officer, with a slight expression of joy.
"I am aware of that," I replied coolly, and to his astonishment I presented him with a fac-simile of the first.
"These rifles," I remarked, "were both made by the same person, and he was instructed to manufacture them without a shade of difference in regard to size or weight. The only method we have of telling them apart is to consult the stocks, where our names are engraved. Examine them attentively, and then select whichever you please. One is as good as the other, and each carries well."
The Englishman stared at the rifles with a countenance blank with dismay. They were weapons which he was entirely unacquainted with, and he felt that the safety of his principal demanded a remonstrance against their use.
"I object to the use of rifles," he said, at length, firmly and decidedly. "My friend is entirely unacquainted with these kind of weapons, and it would be madness on his part to go to the field with such odds against him."
I listened calmly, and with my mind unchanged. I knew that Fred's safety depended upon my selection, and inwardly vowed that if he had got to fight, he should settle the difficulty with his own weapons.
"This quarrel," I remarked, "is not of our seeking. A few words were spoken in jest by my friend, and as soon as spoken were forgotten; and it is probable that even now we should not remember the man we insulted. If my friend has got to fight, he shall be placed upon an equality with his adversary."
"But I do not call this equality," echoed the lieutenant, gazing with looks of dismay at the rifles.
"Neither do I feel disposed to risk my friend's life with swords, a weapon which he knows nothing of," I replied.
"Then perhaps we had better settle the matter satisfactorily without fighting," Mr. Merriam said.
"With all my heart," I cried, with alacrity. "I will meet you half way in any scheme of pacification."
"Then let your friend say that he is sorry for using the words, and send a note to that effect to my principal."
"We can't do that," I replied, after a moment's thought. "But I will tell you what we will do. We will say that during all our travels we never saw a man who could suck a sword hilt so gracefully as your friend."
"Pshaw," cried the Englishman with a grim smile, "don't let us trifle over the matter, it is too serious."
"I know that, and it's the very reason why I wish to settle the quarrel without bloodshed," I answered.
"Then you decline to apologize?" inquired Merriam, after a short pause, during which he helped himself to another cup of coffee.
"Only on the grounds which I have stated," I answered.
"And you still insist upon rifles being used?" continued he.
"A just regard which I have for my friend compels me to say that I cannot conscientiously consent to use any other weapon. At the same time I protest against being called to the field for a few words spoken in jest."
The Englishman slowly sipped his coffee and remained deep in thought, as though there was some matter on his mind in which he wished enlightenment, yet feared to broach the subject. At length he showed his hand, and I saw his move.
"The rifle is extensively used in America, I believe," Merriam said, carelessly.
"In some sections of the country it is a favorite weapon," I replied.
"I have heard much of the rifle shooting in the United States, and have often longed to witness a specimen of the skill of its marksmen. Has your friend seen much service with that weapon?"
"He has lived in a city since he was twelve years of age," I replied, evasively, "and in cities there is not much chance to practise."
"Then he is not a skilful marksman?" cried Merriam, eagerly.
"He is fair," I replied. "In Vermont he would be called only a third-rate marksman."
"And pray, may I ask what you call a first class marksman?"
"A good rifle shot is a man who can hit a shilling piece five times out of six, standing at a distance which requires a telescope to see the money."
"And what is a third-class marksman?" asked the lieutenant, in dismay.
"He can hit the same only twice out of six times," I replied, composedly.
"The devil!" I heard my visitor mutter, between his teeth; but he was too much of an Englishman to retreat, and I fancied that he grew more and more determined when he learned that the odds were against him.
"The only matter that now remains unsettled," the lieutenant said, "is when the affair is to come off. What time do you think you shall be at leisure?"
"At any hour that suits your convenience."
"Would to-morrow morning be too soon?" hinted the officer.
"That time is as well as at a later period."
"And the distance? We must not talk about feet, but how many rods our friends are to be placed apart?" Merriam said.
"I have given the subject a moment's consideration," I replied, "and think that ten rods will be better for your friend than double that distance."
"I shall certainly venture to disagree with you on that point," replied the lieutenant. "I think that twenty rods is full near enough."
"Why, they will hardly be able to distinguish each other so far apart," I said; "but you shall have it as you wish."
"Thank you. Then nothing farther remains but to point out a very beautiful spot where the business can be settled in the most amicable manner. If you will step to the door I think I can show you the field, with not a tree or hill that can line either party on ground. Ah, yes, there it is, away to the right after passing the end of the road, and beyond the white fence. Do you see it?"
I nodded in the affirmative.
"Well, say five in the morning to be on the ground. Does that suit your convenience?"
"Then good-by. By the way, may I ask you to bring the rifles to the ground? I am sorry to trouble you, but in the case you know—"
"I understand. Be under no concern; I will see that the guns are in good condition, and ready for your loading."
"Thank you. Another request I have to make. May I ask that you will not bring a surgeon on the ground, but trust to the regimental one whom we shall have present. You are strangers, and by expressing a desire for a doctor, might communicate an alarm to the police, which would have a tendency to postpone the meeting."
"I thank you for the suggestion, sir," I answered, "and will do as you request; although I frankly tell you, that I hope there will be no occasion for a surgeon to exercise his duties."
"The affair has gone too far to be stopped without blood-letting, I think," replied Merriam, shaking his head, "although with some men I should not yet give up all hope of a pacification."
He shook me warmly by the hand as he took his departure, and I was left alone to meditate on the disagreeable duty which I had assumed for my best friend. I little thought, at the time I was so calmly making the arrangements for the duel, that his adversary, Lieutenant Wattles, had already killed two men, in spite of his youth, and that a more determined duellist did not exist on the island.
I had just mixed a strong glass of punch, and was about to raise it to my lips, for the purpose of looking cheerful when Fred returned, when I heard his voice.
"Ah, that is stealing a march on us, old boy," he shouted, pleasantly. "Here have we been parading the dusty streets of Melbourne, and my eyes, ears, and mouth are filled with dirt and cobble stones. However, we saw nothing of the city, for such clouds of dust filled the air that we had to hire a boy with a lantern to lead us home. Hand me the bottle, for I'm famished for want of a drink."
While he was filling his glass, he ran on, talking about half a dozen subjects, and it was not until Smith asked the result of the interview, that he would be quiet enough to listen to my communication.
"I have arranged every thing," I said. "We are to use the rifles, and meet to-morrow morning early."
"And did you make no attempts at a reconciliation?" demanded Smith, reproachfully.
"Don't answer that question, Jack," Fred said, seriously. "I placed my life and honor in your hands, and I am satisfied that you dealt with me as though I were a brother."
I grasped his extended hand, and for a few moments we sat thus, without exchanging a word, both buried in thought and conjuring up reminiscences of the past, when a few months before we had left Boston to search for gold in California, and then, actuated by a spirit of adventure, had emigrated to Australia, still cherishing the hope of returning home with riches and with honor.
"I shall write a few letters to-day, Jack," Fred said, at length. "One of them will be addressed to you, and if any thing should happen you will find full directions how to dispose of the few things which I own."
"Let me meet the man," blubbered Smith. "I'm of no account, and if killed, shan't be missed, while both of you have something to live for."
"It cannot be," replied Fred. "I insulted the gentleman, and to me alone does he look for redress. God knows I do not desire the man's blood, and still hope that I shall not be forced to spill it."
"At least promise that I may accompany you to the field?" Smith said.
His request was readily complied with; but all day long Smith's face seemed as though he had lost his only friends.
The day wore away slowly. We dined with Murden, and chatted gayly about old times, and congratulated him on an addition which had been made to his pay, owing to the capture of bushrangers which had been effected by his command. We hardly touched our lips to the wine which he freely circulated; and at an early hour took our leave, much to his surprise, and without his suspecting the business which was to occupy our attention in the morning.
We went to bed early, leaving Smith to wake us at a suitable hour in the morning, which he promised to do, as he declared he felt too nervous to sleep. Sure enough, daylight was just stealing along the eastern horizon when we were called and found a steaming pot of hot coffee upon the table, which the careful stockman had prepared for us previous to our leaving for the field.
We drank our coffee in solemn silence, and then started for the rendezvous, Smith carrying the rifles and ammunition, and uttering comments at every step at the folly of our proceedings. Just as we locked the door, the old cracked bell upon the church, near the villa of our friend, struck the hour of four. Finding that we had plenty of time, we walked along quite leisurely, meeting only a few people, and those longshoremen, who were hurrying to their work on the quays, and fearful of being late.
No one paid any attention to us, for the carrying of arms in Melbourne was common in those days; and so without remark we gained the crossing, and then continuing on for a short distance, entered an open space, far enough from the road to escape observation, and there awaited our adversaries.
We did not have to wait long. A carriage containing three persons stopped within gunshot of where we stood, and presently we saw Merriam and his friend, and a short, fat gentleman in an undress uniform, carrying a small box under his arm, advance towards us.
Lieutenants Wattles and Merriam were smoking, and appeared perfectly cool and unconcerned regarding the result. We heard the old gentleman, whom we presumed to be the surgeon, remonstrating at something that did not appear to please him, and from what we could overhear, we found that he disapproved of the use of cigars at so early an hour in the morning.
"Ah, the divil, smile, will ye, at what I say, but it's poor Harris, of the thirty-sixth, who had cause to regret it. A finer officer the queen never had; and yet he would disarrange his nerves by the use of tobacco at an early hour in the morning, and what was the consequence? Killed at ten paces by a fellow who hardly ever saw a pistol before. Its truth I'm spaking, and ye well know it."
The doctor's companions did not pay much attention to his remarks, for they continued to smoke perfectly unconcerned, and while they were advancing slowly towards us we could hear the Irish surgeon lecturing them for their want of generalship.
"It's a pretty mess ye're in now, and the devil thank ye. The young fellows are on the ground afore us, and that don't look like fear, and by the same token, they have got their murderous-looking instruments with them. Bad luck to it, couldn't ye manage somewhat differently than to want to fight two Americans, who were born wid rifles in their hands."
Wattles made a reply, but it was too low and indistinct for us to hear, and the next moment the party were within speaking distance.
The principals raised their caps and then walked one side, while Merriam and myself shook hands, and then I was introduced to the surgeon, Doctor Michael O'Haraty, a genuine specimen of an Irish gentleman.
"We arranged the distance yesterday, and there is nothing to be settled but who shall give the word," Merriam said.
"Don't let that bother your brains, for I'll do that without, the asking. Ah, it's many a signal I've given, and sometimes they've bin fatal ones, too," the doctor said.
I agreed to that, and then calling Smith, I desired Merriam to make choice of the rifle which he liked best. He was some time selecting, but at length hit upon mine, thus leaving Fred at liberty to use his own weapon.
"I use the same size balls that you do," I said, selecting one from some half a dozen that Smith held in his hand.
I carefully loaded Fred's rifle, and offered to assist Merriam, but he declined; and even when I told him that he had got a third more powder than was necessary, he did not heed my advice, and perhaps I was glad that he did not.
"Now, thin," cried the doctor, "do you take hold of this tape line, my man, and we'll measure off twenty rods in a jiffey."
Smith, who was appealed to, did as he was directed, and in a short time we had our men stationed and waiting for a signal which I longed for, yet dreaded.
Fred looked a shade paler, but he was as firm as a rock; and when I shook hands with him and handed him his rifle, I could not discover the least tremor of nerves, or any unusual agitation.
"If I should fall," Fred said, once more shaking me by the hand, "you will find in the letter which is directed to you, full instructions how to dispose of my effects. God bless you, Jack; I never loved you half as well as I do now."
I brushed away a tear, and with a voice choked by emotion asked if there was any thing which he wished to say before the word was given.
"I did think," he replied, examining his adversary's bearing, "that I would fire over his head; but I see that he is bent on mischief, and is determined to kill me, if possible. Under the circumstances I think that I shall do no great wrong if I touch him slightly."
"Do as you please," I replied, stepping back, and joining the doctor, who held a white handkerchief in one hand and his snuffbox in the other.
"Let me speak to Mr. Fred before you give the signal?" asked Smith.
"Not a word, my man," returned the doctor, regaling his nose with a pinch of snuff, and scanning the bearing of the men with evident delight.
"It's beautiful they look," murmured the doctor, in a low tone, and then elevating his voice, he continued, "the signal will be 'one, two, three,' and then, the dropping of this handkerchief. Mind, gentlemen, and reserve your fire until you see the handkerchief lave my hand. Now, thin, are ye ready?"
Wattles and Fred braced themselves as though expecting a shock, drew their caps a little more over their eyes, and signified that they were.
"One!" cried the doctor, in a loud voice.
The duellists brought their rifles to their shoulders, fully cocked.
"Two!" exclaimed the doctor.
The rifles were levelled, and eager eyes glanced along the tubes.
For a second after the word was spoken the doctor held the white handkerchief aloft; but as it slowly fell towards the ground, there was but one report, so closely did they fire together.
I had not taken my eyes from Fred, and to my joy I saw that he did not move. I glanced towards Wattles. He had dropped his rifle and was rubbing his right arm, which hung down powerless by his side.
"By the mass," cried the doctor, grabbing his box of instruments and running towards his brother officer, "the Americans have got the best of this fight, as I knew they would with their d——d rifles. But, by Saint Patrick, it was illegantly done, and that I'll stick to as long as I live."
PREPARATIONS FOR THE SEARCH FOR GULPIN'S BURIED TREASURES.
I started to congratulate Fred, but, quick as were my movements, I found that Smith had taken the lead, and was shaking hands with him at a tremendous rate.
"Are you injured?" I asked, running my eye over his form to see if I could discover any signs of blood.
"No, thank Heaven, I have escaped; although my adversary's bullet whizzed close over my head," replied Fred.
"I knew that he was overcharging the rifle when loading it," I cried, delighted to think that Merriam had done so.
"It was the means, perhaps, of saving my life, for the fellow aimed with good intentions, and I saw by the expression of his face that he was bound to hit me if possible."
"Well, since you are safe, I'll run and see how your adversary is doing," I said, glancing towards the doctor, who, with coat off, was kneeling on the ground, and wiping away blood with a cloth which he had taken from his mysterious box.
"Do so," replied Fred, "and if I can be of any assistance, let me know; I have no enmity against the man, and should really like to shake hands with him before parting."
I ran to the spot where Wattles was lying on the ground, and found him looking very pale and weak. Merriam and the doctor had ripped off the sleeve of his coat, and torn off the arm of his shirt; and while one was making bandages, the other was cleaning a ragged looking wound, just above the elbow of the right arm.
"If I can be of any service, doctor, I will assist you," I said, in a half-hesitating way, for I feared that they might consider it an intrusion.
"Sarvice, my dear boy?" echoed the doctor, stopping to look up for a moment from his work. "Of course ye can be of sarvice. Stoop down here and lind me a helpin' hand by straightening out the arm a bit, so that I can see if the bones are smashed, or only one broken."
I readily complied with the request, and the doctor continued,—"There's no raison in the world for ye to be inemies now. Your friend has had a pop at the lieutenant here, and, I'm sorry to say, he's got the worse of it, although it's about time, for Wattles has been mighty lucky in these things, and was hardly ever hit afore."
Here the wounded man opened his eyes, and uttered a suppressed groan; whether at the recollection of his numerous duels, or because the doctor wrenched his arm, is more than I can tell.
"Ah, man, don't groan, for it's only a broken arm ye have; but I'll tell ye privately that it's yer life it would have been, had the American been disposed to take it, for a divil a fear but he put the bullet jist where he intended. I saw, the instant he raised the rifle, that it was only a flesh wound he wished, and that he didn't know whether to pop ye on the right or left arm. Here, swallow that, and see if it don't put the life into ye, and make ye open yer eyes and sing psalms."
The doctor emptied a teaspoonful of cordial into the wounded man's mouth, and its strength must have been very beneficial, for he opened his eyes, a healthy color came to his face, and he spoke without any painful effort.
"Ah, a divil a fear is there of ye now, and if I can save the arm, ye'll be at it again in less than six months," muttered the doctor, as he applied a balm to the wound, and then covered it with lint.
"There is no fear of that, is there, doctor?" asked Wattles, who was a youngster not more than twenty-two years of age.
"I'll do all that I can; but rifle bullets are different intirely than pistol balls. It's many's the good wound I've cured made by the latter, and well ye knows it, Wattles; but who'd have suspected ye of fighting with murdering rifles?"
The young officer made no reply, and the doctor, tearing a piece of linen cloth into strips about two inches wide, continued working and talking at the same time.
The bandages were all tied on, and Smith had been sent after the driver of the carriage to tell him to bring his vehicle as near as possible, so that the wounded man could enter without exerting himself to walk. While we were waiting, Wattles looked at me, and a grim smile crossed his face, as he said,—
"Your friend is in luck to-day, sir."
"If you think that he considers it luck because you are wounded, you are mistaken," I replied.
"He had the advantage in the use of a weapon with which he is accustomed, and therefore I did not expect a favorable result. Had we used pistols, he would now be occupying my place."
"Ah, have done with your boasting, lieutenant, and think no more of the quarrel. Ye challenged the gentleman, and he accepted and chose his weapons; and it's mighty lucky ye may think yourself to get off with life, for he could have killed ye as easily as a kangaroo. It's myself that knows he could have done it," said the surgeon, warmly.
"Is that so?" asked Wattles, turning to me for confirmation.
"He could have killed you, had he been so disposed, even at twice the distance," I replied.
The lieutenant looked sober and thoughtful for a moment, when, thinking to make an impression, and get him to drop the quarrel forever, I continued,—
"My friend did contemplate firing over your head, and would have done so had not your looks convinced him that you intended mischief."
"By the Lord, I aimed for a vital part, but am glad that I missed my object. Ask your friend to shake hands with me. From all accounts I'm convinced that he is a gentleman to cherish and know."
"Ah, Wattles, divil fear ye but yer heart is in the right place, afther all," cried the doctor, delighted at the proposed reconciliation.
I told Fred the request of his adversary, and without a moment's hesitation he joined the group, and extended his hand to the wounded man.
"You have got the best of me, sir," Wattles said, faintly, his pain beginning to grow excessive.
"I trust that it is a mere gun-shot wound, and that you will soon be well," replied Fred.
"I don't know—I don't know," moaned the lieutenant. "It seems as though the doctor would kill me with his cursed probing and punching. Half of it is unnecessary, I believe."
"Do you hear that?" cried O'Haraty, appealing to us, in astonishment. "It's like an infant I've treated him, and now ye see how he abuses me."
"Excuse me, doctor," replied the lieutenant, faintly, "but I hardly know what I am saying, I feel so weak. Get me into the carriage as quick as possible, and take me to the barracks where I can be quiet."
"We'll do that, Wattles; but it's a great pity that you don't know who your friends are. Come along with yer carriage, ye blackguard, and don't stop there looking behind ye, as though ye were a light-house."
The latter portion of the doctor's remarks was addressed to the driver of the vehicle, who, instead of paying any attention to the words of O'Haraty, was gazing, with an anxious glance, towards the city.
"What is the spalpeen looking at?" demanded the doctor, angrily. "Come here with the horses, and waste no more time."
"I see a cloud, as though a party of horse was galloping this way, and kicking up a dust. I'm suspicious that it's the police, and divil a bit do I want to be put into limbo for being concerned in the duel," cried the driver, making preparations to turn his horses.
"Are ye certain that it's the police?" demanded O'Haraty, eagerly.
"Yes, I'm certain; for now I can see over the bushes, and distinguish their blue coats. Every one for himself, and the devil take the hindmost. I'm off, sure."
The fellow turned his animals' heads, and started towards the opening, but a loud threat from O'Haraty caused him to stop for a moment—and only for a moment.
"Curse ye for a cowardly villain!" yellen the doctor. "If yer don't stop this instant, I'll drive a piece of cold lead through yer thick skull."
He drew from his breast pocket a rifle pistol as he spoke, and aimed it at the runaway.
The driver looked over his shoulder, and seemed half inclined to obey, but the sound of approaching horses stirred him into life. He struck his animals a smart blow with his whip, and they sprang forward; but as they did so, the doctor raised his pistol, sighted hastily, and fired.
The fellow's hat fell to the ground, and with a yell of triumph at his lucky escape, the driver continued on, and in a few minutes would have been beyond reach; but just at that instant my noble dog—the hound which I had left under lock and key at Smith's house—bounded towards me and covered my face with his kisses.
A lucky thought occurred to me; I glanced at Wattles, and saw that he had fainted from exhaustion and pain, and that it was certain death for him to be exposed to the hot rays of the sun for any length of time, so I determined to save him at any hazard.
"Here, Rover," I said, calling to the dog, and pointing to the retreating carriage, "seize him, good dog—seize him," I shouted.
The animal did not hesitate for an instant. With a mighty bound he cleared over twenty feet of the distance which separated him from the object which I had called his attention to, and almost before I could think, he seized the near horse by the throat, and brought him heavily to the ground. The driver rose from his seat and plied his whip with desperate energy, in hopes of beating the dog off, but such was the agility of Rover that not a blow reached him, and while his attention was thus occupied, O'Haraty stole forward, grasped the man by the leg, dragged him to the ground, and commenced to beat him unmercifully, mingling his blows with such exclamations as—
"Lave us, would ye?" May the divil saze ye, ye mane thief of the world. Whin I hired ye to tend us and behave like a dacent man, ye up and cuts, jist because me friend gets a scratch on his arm."
"The police are coming," roared the fellow, rendered desperate by his beating.
"Let them come, if they will, but ye shan't go," cried the doctor, sitting astride of his fallen foe and glancing at Fred and I in triumph, while the perspiration streamed down his face in torrents.
"I saw the police trotting down the road," yelled the fallen man.
"Who calls the police?" cried a deep-toned voice near at hand.
I knew the speaker well, although I confess that it started me to hear him so unexpectedly, and looking up I saw that Murden sat on his horse, a few paces off, calmly surveying the strange group before him. At a short distance were six of his men, also mounted and drawn up in line awaiting their chief's solution of the difficulty.
"I think that my presence is needed here if you intend to murder that fellow, doctor," Murden said, good naturedly, addressing O'Haraty, who kept his position, looking somewhat foolish at being caught.
"The mane scamp," began the doctor, when Murden checked him.
"What, is the cause of the gathering, and why do I find an officer of her majesty, lying on the ground wounded and insensible?"
"Why, the fact of it is, Mr. Officer," Merriam began, but apparently afraid of the consequences, he stopped and looked hard towards the doctor, as though asking him to take up the answer and carry it through in the best manner possible.
"O, the divils," roared the doctor, rising from his seat, much to the relief of the driver, who apparently thanked God that he was rid of such an incumbrance.
"O, the spalpeens," continued O'Haraty, shaking his fist at an imaginary enemy a long distance off. "O, if there is law to be had in the land we'll pursue ye wid not only the police force, but the whole army, and then we'll see if ye are so bold."
"What is the matter, doctor?" asked Murden, who I thought suspected what had taken place, and was disposed to overlook it, yet not a word of recognition had he bestowed upon Fred and myself, so we kept in the background.
"Matter?" yelled the doctor, apparently desperately angry; "why, here's me friends and myself out for a bit of a walk and to kill a kangaroo or two, when a party of sneaking bushrangers ups and fires at us, and down tumbles Wattles, shot in the arm quite nately. It's chase we gave to the villains, but run they did, and when we came back we found that this scamp was disposed to escape to Melbourne and lave us to foot it back to the city."
"Indeed! Pray which way did they go?" asked Murden, not moving a muscle of his face.
"Over the hill, there. Ride quick, and I think it's prisoners they'll be in no time," cried the doctor.
"Did you count how many there were?" asked the police officer.
"Count them? How the divil could we, there were so many?" replied O'Haraty.
"O, then if the bushrangers were in such force, it's surprising they should run from only six men. I thought better of their courage," and a sarcastic smile stole over Murden's face as he watched the doctor's companion.
"Well, well," stammered O'Haraty, "if ye had heard us shout, ye would have thought we could have frightened the divil himself."
"Well, whether Wattles was wounded by a bushranger or a companion, it will do him no good to remain here in the hot sun. Place him carefully into the carriage and drive to the barracks. I'll follow shortly, and continue my investigation of this mysterious affair."
Murden spoke like one accustomed to be obeyed. The driver of the carriage, who hardly moved two steps without keeping his eyes on the dog—the animal appearing to have some strong antipathy against him—readily lent his aid, and with Smith's assistance the wounded lieutenant was propped up on a seat, and the doctor stowed his corpulent person alongside of him.
"Why did you not tell me of this yesterday?" asked Murden, beckoning to me, and whispering in a low tone.
"Because we were fearful that you would interrupt the proceedings," I replied.
"I certainly should have done so. Are you aware that Wattles is a most experienced and successful duellist? That he has been out half a dozen times, and always came off without so much as a scratch?"
"No, I was not aware that such is the case," I answered.
"He is all that I tell you, and if I had suspected that a duel was to come off between Fred and the soldier, I should have had both of them arrested and locked up, and kept them until they were ready to swear that they would not lift their hands against each other."
"And then Fred and myself would have been imputed as informers, and a stain would have rested on our reputations, and we should no longer have been considered fit company for gentlemen." "That does not necessarily follow," answered Murden. "No one who knows you both can call you aught but brave men."
"But did we not dine with you after we had received the challenge? We made no secret of our going—hundreds saw us enter your house, and hundreds saw us depart. Had we but lisped a word of our intended doings, it would have been said that we visited you on purpose. Come, look at the matter in a sensible light, and you will take a different view of the affair."
Murden shook his head as if he considered it not only a breach of the law but a breach of friendship to fight a duel without his knowledge; and he intended to reply, but the doctor poked his jolly looking face from the window of the carriage, and bade us good-by, and requested the pleasure of our company to dinner on the next day.
"And do you come too, Murden. I've a few bottles of the rale Irish whiskey, and better cannot be found in the world, and if ye come I'll brew a jug of punch that'll make ye think ye are in paradise after drinking a few tumblers. Good-by, boys, and, Murden, keep a sharp look out for the bushrangers."
The driver started his horses, and for a few minutes after the carriage had left the field we could hear the mellow voice of the doctor laughing at the idea of his quizzing the police lieutenant with his story about bushrangers.
"Come and breakfast with us," I said, turning to Murden. "We cannot celebrate the escape of our friend Fred in a more appropriate manner."
"Agreed," he cried; and then turning to his men, he said, "return to the station and report that Lieutenant Wattles was severely injured this morning by the accidental discharge of his rifle while hunting kangaroos. If I am wanted you know where to find me."
"Pray, how came you on the road so early?" I asked Murden.
"Because I got wind that there was trouble between you and Wattles. One of my men overheard Fred's remark, the other night, and then he saw Merriam leaving your house, and putting all and all together—the fact that your party were early on the road, and Wattles being seen in a carriage—he considered it of sufficient importance to report to me, which he did an hour too late this morning, while I was dreaming of bushrangers and prize money."
"But how did you find us, and how came the dog loose?" I inquired.
"That is a secret, but I don't mind telling you. I rode to your house and tried the door. It was locked, but I heard the hound making an awful howling within; so I just fitted a key to the lock, and opened the door, and was nearly knocked down by the dog, who thought his master had returned. However, Rover, after his disappointment, received me with a wag of his tail, and then, after snuffing around for a moment, started in a trot towards the field we have just left. We followed close to his tail, and then the trot became a gallop—the gallop a run, and to save our distance we drew our reins, and jogged along, keeping a good lookout on both sides of the road; but I believe that we should have missed you had not the report of your pistol given us token of your whereabouts."
Chatting thus in an old familiar manner, we reached "Smith's villa," as we called it, and prepared for breakfast, a meal we were ready to enjoy, as our early rising had sharpened our appetites.
"By the way," cried Murden, suddenly, "your portion of the money due for the capture and death of the bushrangers will be paid whenever you are disposed to call for it."
"How much does it amount to?" I asked.
"Why, for you three, I think near two thousand pounds. That of course includes Black Darnley and his gang."
"Most ten thousand dollars!" cried Fred, surprised at the large amount.
"I wish, with all my heart, it was twice the sum. Join me, and in less than two months we will have a bill against the treasurer which will cause him to look wild."
"We can't spend our time hunting men," replied Fred, "when there is so much gold in the earth that we have only to dig to obtain it. As to the rewards which are offered for captured bushrangers, I must own that I feel none too willing to accept that which is due to me, without striving to earn more. It looks to me as though we were only butchers and dealers in human blood."
"If we were the only ones who ever accepted of rewards for murderers and thieves, I might be induced to respect your conscientious scruples," replied Murden, with a laugh. "But as it has been the custom from time immemorial for rewards to be offered for shedders of human blood, and many men whose respectability cannot be questioned have received rewards for services so rendered, I think that I shall pocket my share, and consider all three of you very weak and spleeny not to do the same."
Murden swallowed his coffee with a dogmatical air, as though his arguments were unanswerable, and shortly took his leave, after making us promise to breakfast with him the next day, and go and draw the money which was awaiting our orders.
We studied over the subject for some time after Murden had gone, and hardly knew how to proceed. Smith was consulted, and was willing to abide by our decision, at the same time he did not scruple to inform us that his last trip, owing to the treatment his cargo had received from the bushrangers, was a most disastrous one; but still he had a few thousand pounds which he could place his hand upon, and should commence purchasing another load immediately, as every day lost was money out of pocket. We then considered it a fitting time to speak to the stockman about the business we were desirous of entering upon. We told him of the confession of Jim Gulpin, and the determination to which we had come to search for the buried treasure.
He listened attentively, and then pledged his word to aid us with all of his ability. He would make no bargain concerning his team and labor, but agreed to let his promised reward depend upon the success with which we met. If nothing was found, we would continue on our way to the mines, and were welcome to his labor and time. If we succeeded we might give him what we pleased.
We closed with him immediately, and contributed money to buy provisions and luxuries which we never dreamed of buying on our first passage. Smith was also directed to purchase a tent for our use, shovels and pickaxes, and three or four boxes of claret—a perfect luxury in a warm climate—and a number of articles which we desired for a residence in the mines.
We also wanted three good saddle horses, but found that our funds would be greatly reduced by the purchase, and after a short debate we determined in council that necessity compelled us to accept of the money paid for the capture of the bushrangers, and after that question was decided we felt that a great load was removed from our minds, and that we began to look upon it as a mere matter of business.
DEPARTURE FROM MELBOURNE.—FIGHT WITH THE NATIVES.
During the following week we were busy, visiting; dining with one, and supping with another, yet we were obliged to decline many pressing invitations, and offered as an excuse, our speedy departure for the mines.
Through the kindness of Murden, we were enabled to purchase three excellent horses, saddles, &c., which belonged to the police department.
The animals were just what we wanted, for they were quick in their actions, and had been taught to stand motionless while firing guns or pistols from their backs. We were enabled to buy them, owing to a surplus of horses which the department owned, and had no use for.
Our hardest task was when, on the evening of the seventh day after Fred had met the officer in mortal combat, Smith yoked his oxen, attached them to a moderately filled cart, and declared he was ready for a start.
Murden, Wattles, Merriam, Doctor O'Haraty, and a dozen others, whose acquaintance we had cultivated during our brief residence in Melbourne, were assembled at "Smith's villa," and came to say farewell.
"You heard the word, gentlemen," said Fred; "our leader says that he is ready, and we must not detain him. We wish to place twenty-five miles between us and Melbourne before morning, and to do so requires an early start. The next time we meet, I hope that our days will not be limited. In the mean time, if any one present should visit Ballarat, don't fail to make our tent his home."
"Ballarat be blessed!" growled O'Haraty; "the idea of two dacent, sinsible people digging for gold, when there's so much can be had without work."
"I have only my left hand to offer you," said Wattles, presenting it to Fred, "but my grasp is as friendly and sincere as though both were free."
"Your arm is improving?" inquired Fred, who had not seen his adversary before, since the morning of the meeting.
"Thanks to the doctor, and your kindness in not aiming at a more vulnerable part, I shall soon be well. Do we separate as friends?"
"I say yes, with all my heart," cried Fred, eagerly.
Some one locked the door of "Smith's villa," and handed him the key, and then once more bidding good-by, the oxen were started, and in company with Murden, we soon reached the outskirts of the city.
It was past dusk when our friend, the police lieutenant, drew rein, and decided to return to the city. We allowed Smith to continue on, while we stopped and chatted for a few moments.
Murden appeared sad at parting, and more than once he declared that he wished he was to accompany us, for now that we were to leave him, he should have no one who would enter into his adventures with the same degree of interest which we had shown.
"There is one question which we wish to ask, Murden," I said, a few minutes before he left us.
"Name it," he replied.
"How many of the bushrangers whom we captured have been condemned to death?"
"Why do you ask?" he inquired.
"Because you know that we have not been able to obtain any information on the subject. A select few were admitted to see them; but they had no formal trial, that I am aware of."
"You are right, they had no formal trial, and they did not deserve one. The examination was secret, and even now not more than fifty people in Melbourne know that the bushrangers are dangling by their necks in the prison yard.
"All?" I cried, surprised at the secrecy which had been maintained.
"Not a man is now alive. They rightly merited their fate, for their careers were stained with cruel crimes; and may God forgive them, for man would not."
Murden wrung our hands, and the next instant he was galloping swiftly towards Melbourne.
We resumed our journey, feeling somewhat saddened by the intelligence which we had received; yet we felt that we had only done our duty in assisting in the arrest of the robbers, and with this conviction, we tried to banish the thoughts of their death.
We soon overtook Smith, who was mounted like ourselves, and through the night we jogged along by his side, relieving the loneliness of the journey with stories and reminiscences of our other expeditions.
It was just about daylight, on the morning of the fifth day from Melbourne, and we were pressing the oxen to their utmost to reach a camping ground before sunrise, when Rover, who had been jogging far in advance of us, stopped suddenly before a thick clump of bushes, which extended some ways along the roadside, and with an angry howl, remained regarding some object which was concealed from our sight.
I called the animal, but he refused to move, and I began to suspect that some kind of beast was concealed among the brush, and that he was too formidable for the dog to attack alone. With this view, Fred and myself unslung our rifles and examined the caps, and rode slowly forward. We were not more than ten rods from the hound when we saw a spear whiz past him, and enter the bushes on the other side of the road. We then knew what was concealed; but whether the purpose was hostile or friendly, we did not have an opportunity to ask, for we had barely time to call the dog from such a dangerous locality, when another spear passed near our heads.
"Turn back!" shouted Smith, who was jogging on with the cattle, a few rods distant, and saw the whole transaction. "Turn back," he continued, "or you are dead men."
We wheeled our horses and galloped from a place where nothing but spear heads were to be seen, for we did not like the idea of fighting people who ran no risk.
When we joined Smith, we found that he had turned his oxen, and was driving them at full speed towards an open plain half a mile distant.
"Are you going back to Melbourne?" asked Fred.
"I am going to gain yonder plain as fast as possible," the stockman cried, casting an uneasy glance over his shoulder, as though fearful of pursuit.
"For what reason?" we asked.
"Because I've no idea of risking my life by running an ambush, where, no doubt, twenty or thirty natives are stationed, determined to kill the first one who passes."
"I thought they were harmless," I replied.
"So they are, when they choose to be; but it's very probable that miners have been committing outrages upon their women, and now they are determined to revenge their injuries upon us. Keep your eyes upon the bushes, and don't mind me if you see signs of their following. Escape to the open plain, and trust to me to join you. Once there, we can hold fifty of them at bay."
"Do you think we are so cowardly as to desert a comrade?" demanded Fred. "Let them attack us if they will, but we will stick to you and the team as long as life remains."
"I expected the answer," cried Smith, applying his long whip to the sides of the reeking cattle, and starting them into a run. "But if you will not save yourselves, at least take care of the oxen and let me cover the retreat."
"Do you think they will dare to follow us?" I asked.
"Here is your answer," cried the stockman; and as he spoke a slim poled spear whistled within an inch of my head, and passed out of sight, far to the other side of the road.
"And here goes my reply," exclaimed Fred, who held his rifle in his hand ready for use.
He raised it, and hardly took time to sight a naked, black body, which was visible for a moment before he fired.
A yell of bodily pain followed the explosion, and for a moment we could hear a great commotion among the bushes, and then all was still.
"Help me to urge the cattle forward," shouted Smith. "Now is our time to escape, while the devils are with the wounded imp."
We were about to comply, when a club, about three feet long, flew over our heads, touched the ground in advance of the cattle, bounded from the earth, and came towards us with undiminished velocity.
"Look out for their boomerangs," shouted Smith, and we dodged our heads in time to save them from a blow that would have unhorsed us.
That was the first time we made the acquaintance of the most skilful weapon in use by the natives. They throw the boomerang with unerring precision, and had we not heard of the manner of its working, and been apprised of the necessity of avoiding its flight, by the warning voice of Smith, one of us would have made a meal for an Australian native that morning.
The boomerang is a piece of hard wood about three feet long, slightly curved in the form of a bow; and when a native wishes to strike an object, he does not throw his weapon directly at it, but from it, and by some unexplained principle of retrogradation, the boomerang touches the ground, and then flies with great force directly at whatever it is aimed. I have seen the natives exhibit their proficiency a hundred different times—and the more I saw of the game, the more I became bewildered at the science displayed.
We did not stop to fight an unseen enemy, but continued our headlong course, and at length had the pleasure of reaching an open space where we could wait the approach of those disposed to attack us, although whether they would venture to make a demonstration on the plain was uncertain.
Smith, however, was determined to be prepared for the worst. He unyoked his cattle, but instead of turning them loose, when they soon would have fallen a prey to the rapacious appetites of the natives, he grouped them around the cart, and chained them, to prevent their flight in case of an attack. By this method they served as a shield to us, and did not interfere with our rifle practice.
We had no sooner got our arrangements completed, than a dozen or twenty of the filthy-looking wretches—naked, with the exception of a mat around their hips—appeared at the edge of the bushes, and seemed to survey our disposition of the order of battle. Two or three of them, self-elected leaders, apparently wished for an immediate assault; but we could see that the proposition met with no approval from the mass, and the motions were made towards the men, as though to wait until night time.
"We shall have a sleepless night, and must be prepared for the black devils' mischief," Smith said, surveying the force and comprehending their meaning.
"Do they often attack teams?" we asked of Smith, who, now that his cattle were safe, had regained all of his cuteness and colloquial powers.
"During all my freighting to the mines, this is only the second time the scamps have manifested hostility. Once I got clear by giving them an ox, and thought I got off quite cheap at that. But this time they appear to be serious; and if we get clear with a whole skin, may think ourselves lucky. Some team ahead of us must have trespassed on their rights in an outrageous manner to render them as rebellious as they are."
"I have a great mind to try the range of my rifle," Fred said. "I think that I can send a ball into their midst, and make them scatter to the bushes, instead of standing there and quarrelling among themselves."
Smith measured the distance with his eye and shook his head.
"It's over a half mile," he said, "and I never yet saw the shooting iron that could do damage at such a distance."
"Then look at one for the first time;" and as Fred spoke, he sighted a native, who appeared desirous of making an immediate attack, for he was gesticulating in the most absurd manner, and shaking his long spear at us as though trying to get at close quarters, where he could do instant execution.
The act of Fred was observed, and a yell of defiance greeted his hostile attitude. Before it had died away, the sharp report of the rifle drowned their shrill screams, and then the conspicuous native, who had flourished his spear so threateningly, threw up his arms, and with a most unearthly yell, fell to the ground.
In an instant not a native, with the exception of the wounded one, was to be seen, and a stranger would hardly have supposed that the clump of bushes near us contained a couple of dozen human beings, who were watching every motion which we made, and speculating as to the best mode of putting us to death, and sharing the goods and provisions loaded upon the cart.
"An American rifle forever," shouted Smith, who suspended his work of getting out a water keg, containing eighteen or twenty gallons, which he had taken the precaution to fill with water and place upon the cart, so that his animals and companions need not suffer with thirst during the long stretch across the prairies.
"A few more such shots as that and the black devils will retire in disgust, and we shall have the road free," Smith continued, with an admiring look at his American friend.
"There is no use in wasting our powder by firing at random, and until the natives show themselves I shall rest, so as to be able to keep my eyes open to-night."
Under the shadow of the cart Fred spread his blanket, and after assisting Smith to water the cattle, and taking a good drink myself, I joined him, and left Rover and the stockman to keep guard.
We slept until dark, and, upon awakening, found that Smith had joined us, and left the whole responsibility of giving warning, if the natives approached, to the dog. The latter, however, was worth a dozen men for such a purpose, and we commended Smith for his sagacity in securing rest before the time arrived when we knew that demonstration would be made against our encampment.
We gathered some dried grass and made a fire, sufficient to boil a teakettle, and then deliberately prepared a dish of coffee, not knowing but that it would be our last. After we had concluded our supper we examined our rifles and revolvers, found them in good order, and then carefully reviewing the animals so that it was impossible for them to get loose without cutting their fastenings, we took up our positions at an equal distance apart, and in a circle outside of the cattle.
Rover placed himself by my side, and looked into my face as much as to say that he understood all that was going on, and hoped that he was to be trusted with any important business which might come before us.
The night wore slowly away. Sleep we did not, for the insects were so troublesome that it seemed as though we inhaled them at every breath. They filled the air and dashed their dry wings in our faces while flitting over our heads, and their eternal buzzing was like the murmuring of a distant waterfall.
I judged that it was near two o'clock, and at the period when sleep is the strongest, that my attention became riveted upon the singular movements of some animal which appeared to be feeding upon the withered grass which covered the plain. Sometimes it moved near enough to allow me to almost discern what it was, and then it would recede and be lost from sight for a few minutes, to again appear and approach nearer than at first.
Rover appeared to be as deeply interested in the animal as myself, for his eyes glowed like balls of fire as he watched the movements of the strange nondescript, and appeared to wonder why I did not tell him to investigate the matter instead of sitting there with staring eyes.
Presently a second and then a third animal came in sight, and their movements were like that of the first. Slowly and in an irregular line they approached me, halting every two or three seconds as though feeding upon the grass, which was rank and tasteless, and at length I came to the conclusion that they were animals peculiar to Australia, and such as I had not seen before.
"Smith," I said, calling to that worthy man, who, I thought, was nodding in a mysterious manner.
"Well," he answered, rubbing his eyes and trying to appear as though he had not thought of sleeping on his post.
"What kind of animals are these within a rod of the camp, feeding so quietly?"
When I spoke and pointed to them, I was astonished to find that, during the short time my attention was occupied, half a dozen others were in sight, but they were no longer feeding—they appeared to be surprised at the sound of a human voice, and were listening attentively.
"Why, hang it, man, do you mean to say that you don't know a kangaroo when you see one?" and Smith laughed at my greenness.
"Do you mean to say that those are kangaroos?" I demanded.
"Of course they are; see that fellow sitting on his tail near you. He is almost as large as a native, and were it not for showing the black devils our position I would knock him over, and we would have fresh steaks for breakfast."
"But I supposed that the kangaroo was a very wild animal," Fred said, joining in the conversation.
"So they are; but in the night time I have known them to mingle with horses and not leave until daylight. They appear to have a remarkable attachment for horses; and a man riding over a prairie can approach them within a few rods without exciting suspicions."
I was listening attentively to Smith, but still I kept an eye on our visitors, and noticed that they gradually lessened their distance between us, and were so near that they could not fail to note our positions.
"Do kangaroos usually carry spears in their paws?" I asked of Smith, in a whisper.
"What do you mean?" he demanded.
"I mean that instead of animals we have natives to deal with, and in another moment our throats would have been cut by the sly scamps."
I snatched up my rifle, and hardly waiting to place it at my shoulder, fired.
The kangaroo, alias a native sewed up in a skin, sprang towards me, but with a yell of agony fell dead at my feet.
I seized my revolver, but before I could use it Fred's rifle and Smith's double-barrelled gun answered my lead, and two more natives were bleeding upon the field.
The smoke slowly drifted past, but no more live kangaroos were to be seen.
I looked for Rover, but he had disappeared during the firing, and he did not return for ten minutes, when by his panting I knew that he had pursued the natives to the bushes, but what other damage he had done the latter only knew.
"We shall rest in peace for the remainder of the night," Smith said, "that is, provided any one can get rest with so many blasted bugs buzzing in the air. The natives will not make a second attack upon us, you may be assured."
Smith's words were found to be correct, for, when daylight appeared, a flag of truce was sent to our camp, and an old native demanded permission to remove the bodies of his fallen friends. We gave a willing consent on condition that we were allowed to pass on our way without further molestation; and after accepting our terms, we detained the old fellow as a hostage until we were safe from their ambush, when we dismissed him with a number of presents, and he returned to his camp apparently delighted at his treatment.
We urged our cattle to their utmost exertions, and at sundown we were in sight of the old convict's hut, and in close proximity to the buried gold.
ARRIVAL AT THE OLD STOCKMAN'S HUT.—MYSTERIOUS INTERRUPTIONS DURING THE HUNT.
As we drew near the hut which had withstood so hot an assault from the gang of Jim Gulpin, we saw that its proprietor was seated before his door, busily engaged in reading a book, in which he appeared deeply interested, for he never raised his eyes until Rover, who recognized him, thrust his cold nose on his hand and demanded a welcome.
The old man looked surprised, dropped his book, and then apparently comprehended that we must be near, for he glanced eagerly round, and when his eyes fell upon Smith, he started towards us at a brisk pace, and in a few minutes the two were shaking hands like friends who had been separated for months and years.
"But where are your companions? Where are the two generous Americans who fought so bravely when I revenged my daughter's injuries? demanded the old man, who did not recognize us, dressed as we were in a respectable-looking thin suit of clothes, and with our beards shaven off.
"O," answered Smith, carelessly, "they became infatuated with the pleasures of Melbourne, and have remained behind."
"And our pardons?" asked the stockman, after a moment's silence, during which we could see that he was struggling for fortitude and composure.
"Here," exclaimed Fred, "a free and unconditional pardon is granted to convict No. 2921, subject only to the approval of the Home office, for distinguishing himself in an encounter with a gang of desperate bushrangers."
The old man knew his voice, and tears, which he had before suppressed, now flowed freely. He grasped Fred's hands and pressed them convulsively, and then fell upon me and nearly smothered me with his embrace.
"Read it again," he cried, handing the pardon to Fred. "Let me once more be assured that I am a free man."
Fred complied with his request, and was about to inquire concerning his daughter, when she made her appearance at the door of the hut, and appeared to be slightly astonished at seeing her father conversing with strangers.
"Come here, Becky," he cried, "I have news for you—great news."
Followed by the hound, who had sought her out a few moments before, she came to meet us; and being a more acute observer than her parent, she readily recognized us in spite of our change of costume.
"Here, Becky," cried the old man, with childish eagerness, "read that document that his excellency the governor has sent me. I am a free man, Becky—a free man, and can travel to any part of the island, and not a soldier or police officer can harm me, or lay the weight of his hand upon me, and ask why I leave my flocks without permission. I shall yet be rich, and instead of tending sheep I will own them, and have shepherds who will look to me for orders. I'll not be known as the shepherd convict, but the rich landed proprietor. O, I will show you, Becky, if it pleases God, how I will work, and you shall be a lady, and no longer dress in cheap stuff, but wear silks, and be waited upon. I know a thing or two which you little suspect."
"I am contented as I am, if I can but be near you, father," she answered, trying to check the old man's sudden energy.
"I know, I know; but we must bide our time, and remain poor for the present, Becky—only for the present."
"Perhaps our visitors would like supper," the young woman suggested, in hopes of turning the conversation.
"By all means; they shall have the best that we can give," replied the stockman, emerging from his deep reverie, and playing the host to perfection. "Cook them the hind quarter of the lamb I killed to-day, and add whatever else you may have in the house."
"But we object to that," said Fred. "We did not come here to rob you of your provisions, and while we have a full supply will not trespass upon your store. It is you whom we invite to share our supper. Recollect we are just from Melbourne, and have a rare quality of tea in our cart which we want you and your daughter to test."
"There surely can be no harm in accepting of your offer," replied the old man, musingly. "When I am rich, it will of course be a different thing—then you can partake of my hospitality."
"If we proposed to you to help us to wealth, what answer should you return?" Fred asked of the convict.
"The answer of a grateful, honest man. Show me that the means to get the wealth are honest, and I will work without complaining, for months, and when you are satisfied with your share of worldly goods, I will seek to get mine," returned the old man, promptly.
"Then we ask your aid for the space of a few days. In yonder forest, a treasure is buried, and we expect that some work is required to find it. Will you aid us?"
"With all my heart," replied the stockman, without a moment's hesitation. "I am under too great an obligation to you, gentlemen, to refuse assistance in so small a matter. When shall we start?"
"To-morrow morning, at daylight. Time is precious to us until we find the treasure."
"I hope you will not be disappointed in your search," returned the old man, apparently restored to his usual clear-headedness with the prospect of something to do. "A secret like Gulpin's must have been known or suspected by others beside his band. For a few days past I have seen strange men wandering around the edge of the wood, although they did not appear to be regular bushrangers. They may have the same object in view as yourselves, but without your knowledge of the locality of the gold.
"If they are bushrangers we will fight them, but if honest people in search of the treasure, we will laugh at them for their pains, and ridicule them for their trouble," the old man continued. "I see that Smith and my daughter have managed to get something to eat. Suppose we have supper first, and discuss the best means of accomplishing your ends afterwards?"
"By the way, we forget to tell you that your share of money, for the capture of bushrangers, is awaiting your order," Fred said, during supper, speaking to the stockman.
"I feel content with the paper which contains my pardon, and think that I am amply rewarded. I desire nothing more from government."
Finding that the subject was distasteful to the old man, we said no more, but after the table was cleared away, we lighted our pipes and planned the business which was to occupy us early the next morning. Our arrangements were soon completed and agreed upon. We readily came to the conclusion to unload all of our baggage excepting what we should want while absent; and instead of taking eight oxen, we concluded to take only four, as that number could be provided for much easier than all of them. We also concluded to leave our horses, and let the old man's daughter keep her eyes on them during the day, and confine them in the enclosure which was used for herding sheep during the night.
With this idea, we began making our preparations for an early start. Our shovels and pickaxes were articles which we should want in digging, and three days' provisions were also placed upon the cart, together with our bedding and mosquito bars to prevent the insects from eating us alive during our sleeping hours.
Our rifles were also examined, and at length satisfied that we were ready for an early start, we bid our host and daughter good night and retired to our usual sleeping place, under the cart, with Rover at our feet, ready to give notice of the slightest appearance of danger.
It was still dark when the stockman aroused us, but a pale light in the eastern heavens showed that day would soon break. Although we were tired with our long journey, yet we did not stand a second call, and in an hour's time after being aroused, we had despatched our hastily cooked breakfast, and were on the road and urging the cattle towards the dark and sombre appearing woods where the gang of Black Darnley had been signally defeated.
It was about eight o'clock when we reached the place where we had entered formerly. Every thing appeared as we had left it. The forest path seemed to have been untrodden since the day when we had made a funeral pile of the remains of the bushrangers, yet there was one peculiarity that struck me as rather odd—the entire absence of parrots, whose croakings used to attract our attention, and whose plumage, gaudy and varied, commanded our admiration.
While Smith unyoked the cattle and chained them to a tree, under which a good supply of grass was to be had, I took my rifle, and calling to Rover, started towards the bushrangers' camp, or rather where it had stood before we had given it to the flames.
I had not walked ten rods before I thought I saw the figure of a man glide from behind a tree and disappear in a thicket of brush. I stopped, and with rifle on the cock, waited for his re-appearance; but as I heard nothing from him, I concluded that I would beat up his quarters before the rest of my party came along.
I examined the thicket, and to my surprise, found that it was composed of a species of brier, with long, needle-like thorns upon every twig, and that the idea of a man's passing through it, unless dressed in armor, was impossible, as he would have been punctured in every pore, and would have shed blood at every step. I did not like to think that I had been subjected to an optical delusion, and so I continued on for a short distance, but could find no trail, although I observed that Rover snuffled around in an unusual manner, and appeared uneasy.
"Hullo," cried Fred, who had now entered the woods with the rest of the party, "what are you doing away from the path?"
I returned a trivial answer, and joined them in their walk towards the clearing; yet I felt as though I had not done my duty, and examined the mysterious disappearance of the shadow which I saw, with sufficient attention. A fear of ridicule and a dread of wasting time alone prevented me from speaking.