"The woods are unusually quiet," the stockman said, as we moved along in Indian file. "I never visited here without being provoked at the ceaseless chatter of the parrots, and yet to-day but few are to be heard and none seen. They have become shy, and an explanation would be satisfactory to account for the fact."
As no surmise was made by either of the party, the conversation dropped, and it was not until we were standing over the half charred bones of the bushrangers, which had been pawed around by the fox-like animals of the woods, that we again spoke.
The ashes of the burned hut were still visible, so that its location was defined without trouble, but the great question to be solved was where the treasure lay buried. To determine this we had purchased an excellent pocket compass in Melbourne, and upon taking the bearings we found that the bushrangers were exactly in a south-west direction from where the hut stood.
"Now," said the old stockman, "repeat the exact words of Gulpin, when telling you of the buried money."
"Ten paces in a south—," I replied, promptly.
"Nothing more?" he demanded.
"Not a syllable."
"Then let us set the compass and pace off the distance in a south-west line, and begin digging."
The ten paces were gravely gone through with, and I found that the grass where they terminated bore no indications of having been disturbed. I shook my head and expressed a decided opinion that no ground had been broken there for a year, at the least calculation. Fred was of my opinion, and began to have serious doubts of the truth of the story of Gulpin.
I was still hopeful, and glanced over the opening to see if I could discover signs of the earth having been recently disturbed. While I was thus occupied, Rover was scratching among the bones which were plentifully strewed around, and a sudden thought occurred to me. I consulted the compass, and was glad to find that my surmises were not contrary to the dying confession of Gulpin.
I paced off ten paces in a south-east direction, and the last step brought me exactly in the midst of the bones and ashes of the bushrangers.
I seized a spade and struck it into the ground, and was about to call my companions' attention to the spot, when a sharp report was heard near at hand, in the bushes, and a musket ball whizzed within two inches of my head.
We were all too much accustomed to life in the bush to remain in open ground when an unseen enemy was disposed to exercise his skill on one of us, so that in less than half a second's time we were under cover, and watching with tolerably sharp eyes for the first movement of the man who had attempted to riddle my carcass with his confounded bullet.
For half an hour we waited, and not a leaf stirred. The dog had ranged through the forest, and once, by his peculiar howl, we thought some mishap had befallen him, but beyond a few spots of blood on his nose, he appeared to be quite unharmed, and seemed anxious to again go in search of our enemy.
Fearful that his life would be endangered, I kept him near me, and for another half hour we waited, motionless, in anticipation of an attack, yet none came.
Presently I heard a slight noise behind me, and turning suddenly, with my rifle presented, I found that the muzzle was lodged against the head of the stockman, who had been reconnoitring in the vicinity, and yet so quietly that I was not aware that he had left the bush under which he sought shelter.
"I have examined the bushes carefully, and no signs of a bushranger are to be seen," the old man said, laying the long gun which he was accustomed to use by his side, and brushing off a few specks of dust which had collected on the barrel.
"It is a mystery to me how he disappeared so soon after discharging his gun," I said.
The old man shook his head, and, laying one finger on my arm, whispered,—"Do you believe in spirits?"
"Do you mean this kind?" I asked, drawing a flask of excellent whiskey from my pocket and offering him a drink.
"No, I didn't mean this kind," the stockman said, slowly raising it to his mouth, and I could hear the liquor coursing down his throat in a stream.
"No," he repeated, removing the bottle from his mouth, and drawing a long breath, "I didn't mean these kinds of spirits, because there's no harm in them, and the more a man gets the better he is off. I meant the kind of spirits which wander about the earth, and play tricks upon living men."
"Ah, a sort of ghost, I suppose you mean," I answered.
"Precisely," replied the stockman, mechanically taking the bottle from my hand and again applying it to his lips; "ghosts are the fellows—they do every thing without being seen; and why should not the spirit of Gulpin hover around this spot, and repel all attempts to get at his money?"
"I know of but two reasons," I replied, gently taking the bottle from my friend's hands, for fear that my share of its contents would be very meagre; "in the first place, ghosts usually don't care about money, as they have no use for it in the country in which they spend a large portion of their time."
"That's true," replied the man, making a dive to get the bottle in his possession, but I prevented this, by applying it to my own lips.
"In the next place," I continued, pausing to take breath, "fire, but not fire-arms is furnished to refractory spirits; and if I am any judge of worldly matters, it was a piece of lead that whizzed past my head half an hour ago."
"Then you don't believe that the sound which we considered the report of a gun was produced by evil spirits, who are set here to guard the treasure of Gulpin?"
"It is more likely a bushranger was secreted in the bushes, or behind the trees, and that when he aimed, he intended to make short work of one of us, in hope of frightening the remainder."
"Then give me another drink, and if the scamp wants a muss he can have one, for I'm not going to remain here, broiling under the hot sun, all day."
The old man snatched the flask from my hand, and before I could stop him, had nearly drained it of its contents. I discovered, for the first time, that day, that the stockman was no longer under self-control when he had tasted liquor, and from that period until our acquaintance ceased I never again offered it to him.
I sought to restrain him, but in vain; with a fanatical yell he plunged into the clearing, and waving his long gun over his head, he dared spirit, ghost, or bushranger to meet him on even ground.
There was no response to his challenge, and considering that it was cowardly to let him remain there alone, the rest of us quickly gathered around, and requested him to lie down for a short time.
He repelled us with scorn, at the imputation that he was drunk; and finding that it was impossible to reason with him, we left him digging away as though for life, and throwing the dirt in the form of a parapet.
We separated and scoured the woods within a radius of half a mile, but not a sign of a bushranger could we detect, and somewhat reassured by our search, we returned to the stockman, who was working most industriously, and leaving Smith to remain concealed, and give us warning of the approach of danger, we joined labor with the old man, although not in the same place in which he was at work.
I had reasoned on the subject, and came to the conclusion that if Gulpin had buried his money, he would like to destroy all evidence of its concealment. He and his gang were on friendly terms with Darnley, and the former had piled up the dead bodies, with the evident intention of consuming them with fire, as we had afterwards done, on our second visit.
Now, it struck me as being likely that the spot where the gold was buried would be chosen by a man who was inclined to be superstitious, for the finale of the grand tragedy, and perhaps impressed with the thought that the dead men would guard his treasure securely.
With this conviction, Fred and myself broke ground amidst a heap of ashes, without a thought or care of the invisible guard, and in a few minutes we had excavated a moderate sized hole, and would have continued working, had not Smith interrupted us by pointing to the sun, and advising a respite, owing to the danger of a sun-stroke.
As our hands were somewhat blistered, and we had as yet not discovered the first sign of gold, we readily took his advice, and upon repairing to the spot where the stockman was supposed to be at work, we found that the bottle had proved too much for him. He was lying on his back in the place which he had excavated, with his face exposed to the sun, the shovel clasped tightly in his arms, and his snoring sounded like distant thunder.
It was with some difficulty that we at length aroused him, and got him to the cart, where he was allowed to rest and sleep as long as he pleased, and while he was thus employed, we made another discovery, which set us to wondering.
ROBBERY OF THE CART.—CAPTURE OF STEEL SPRING.
What caused us so much surprise was the fact that during our absence the cart was visited, our provisions overhauled, a portion carried off, and one or two bottles of claret emptied. It was evident that the thief was in too great a hurry to draw the cork, even if he had had a corkscrew, of which there was some doubt; so he had just broken the necks of the bottles on one of the wheels, and then drank to satiety.
Our visitor was no ghost-like character, who could pass through a hole and not feel inconvenienced. According to the quantity of provisions which he had eaten and carried off, he must have possessed a human stomach of remarkable voracity.
It was very evident that we had a thief of extraordinary shrewdness to deal with, and that unless we were a little sharper we should be cheated of our gold and fleeced of our provisions—two reflections not very comforting.
We held a long conference and debated the best way to entrap our opponent, and yet we could reach no conclusion, and were about to provide our dinners, when Rover bounded from the bushes with a piece of cloth in his mouth, which he shook and played with for some time before he would relinquish.
It was the remnant of a blue flannel shirt, and the idea struck me that our visitor had not only taken our provisions, but had stolen a portion of our clothing. I examined the few articles which I had brought and found that my surmise was correct. A pair of pants and a shirt were missing; but I felt glad to think that the exchange had been made, as now I considered that we had our friend on the hip.
I explained to Fred and Smith the manner in which we could track our visitor, and they agreed to assist me in trying the experiment. I called the hound, and laid the remnant of the shirt before him. Thinking that I meant to have a lark with him, he began to tear the flannel and play as formerly, but I touched him with a small switch and he crouched at my feet, and looked up so reproachful and timid that I was almost sorry to think I was obliged to correct him. I steadily persevered until I impressed upon the mind of the hound that he was to follow the one who had worn the shirt, and if there was not scent enough the thief was not to blame, for the article looked as though it had seen service.
At length the dog comprehended me. He trotted to the cart, walked around it once or twice, with his nose close to the ground, and when he had got track of the thief he uttered a low bay of satisfaction, and looked up into my face as much as to say, "shall I go on?"
We caught up our rifles, and leaving the sleeping stockman to continue his nap, we motioned the dog to start, and followed close at his heels.
He led the way along the path until he came to the spot where I imagined I had seen a man disappear, and after snuffing for a moment, the hound trotted on, sometimes leaping over bushes four feet high, a feat which we found not easy of accomplishment, tired as we were, and the heat up to over a hundred in the shade of a forest.
If the animal got two rods in advance of us, a word was sufficient to check him until we came up, when, receiving our praise with an acknowledgment in the shape of a wag of his tail, he would trot on with renewed watchfulness.
We observed that our course led us towards the spot where we had been digging a few minutes before, and as we neared the clearing our watchfulness increased. Not a tree was passed without anxious glances being cast among the branches to see if an enemy lurked there, but nothing in the shape of a man was to be seen.
At length we were within a few steps of the bushes from whence we supposed the gun to have been discharged. Immediately in front of us was a low tree of the balsam species, with branches and leaves so close together that it was impossible to see through the top. The foliage was most dense, and the thought suddenly occurred to me that if a man wished to secrete himself that tree would be the one which he would choose from amongst the thousands within sight. I was not, therefore, greatly surprised when Rover suddenly stopped and exhibited signs of having treed his game.
"The thief is lodged in that tree," shouted Fred, eagerly.
"It is singular that we did not think of examining it before," I remarked, as we sheltered ourselves behind trees, for we had evidence that, whoever he was, he possessed a gun and know how to use it, and therefore we did not wish to needlessly expose our lives to his aim.
Rover acted in a frantic manner. He stood upon his hind legs and sought to get at his enemy, and when finding that he could not, he appealed to us for assistance; and for fear that he should get injured I called him away,—an order which he obeyed most reluctantly.
"Come down from the tree," shouted Fred, "and we will give you quarter and kind treatment."
There was no answer; we listened, but not a movement was to be heard. An old parrot, that was perched high upon a blasted tree, attempted to imitate our cry, but he got no further than the first word, and that appeared to puzzle him so much that he gave up in despair and remained mute with disgust.
"Do you surrender?" he yelled.
Not a word was heard in reply.
"He is like the flying Dutchman," cried Smith, a slight superstitious feeling beginning to creep over him.
"Give him a shot, then, and see if he cannot be brought down," Fred said.
I saw that Smith had no particular relish for the duty, but for fear that we should laugh at him he raised his gun and discharged one barrel.
The leaves flew as though the tree had been struck by a whirlwind. A small branch was cut off by the bullet and fell to the ground; but no sign of an enemy was manifest.
"It's no use," cried Smith, with a lengthened visage. "We might waste all our ammunition and the result would still be the same. It's no human being in that tree."
"We'll see," replied Fred, briefly, and he aimed his rifle near the top of the tree, and fired.
Not near as many leaves fell as at Smith's discharge, but the effect was more astonishing. The tree swayed back and forth as though some one was moving in its centre, and from amidst the dense foliage a voice exclaimed,—
"Blast yer hies, vot is yer doing?"
"Here, Smith," cried Fred, "there is a cockney countryman of yours up there."
"Come down," we roared.
"See ye hanged first, and then I von't," repeated the voice in the tree.
"Then we shall have to send another bullet into the tree to start you."
"If ye don't cut hout of these diggins, yer'll wish that ye had," replied our defiant acquaintance.
"Once for all, will you surrender?" was demanded.
"See ye blasted fust," was returned, in a dogmatical manner.
Fred let fly another bullet into the tree, and this time with remarkable success; for suddenly a singular-looking genius, with wonderful long legs, and those dressed in untanned skins of the kangaroo, hair side out, tumbled from the tree, feet foremost, and with bounds which I thought no human being capable of, sprang over the bushes and attempted to escape, which he no doubt would have done, as we were too much surprised to think of checking his career with a bullet, had not the hound, with a yell of satisfaction, followed in pursuit.
We started as fast as possible for the purpose of preventing the dog from killing the man outright, as we feared he would, but our alarm was groundless; for after a smart run of a quarter of a mile, we found the hound standing over his victim, and exhibiting a wicked set of grinders at every motion which his prisoner made to escape.
"Vot is the meanin' of this 'ere kind of a go?" demanded our prisoner, as we gravely took seats upon fallen trees, and regarded him with great interest.
The fellow was a curiosity, and I have often laughed at the ridiculous appearance which he made upon our first meeting in the woods of Australia.
His long legs and feet were encased in the skins of kangaroos, which accounted for the ease with which he passed through the bushes and left no scent but of the animal, for Rover to follow, and as I had often punished him for chasing kangaroos without permission, it sufficiently explained why the poor dog was so puzzled.
The skins of the animals appeared to have been fitted to the legs and feet of our prisoner while green, and by drying them on his limbs he was then unable to remove them without an hour's washing in water; a process which, by the looks of the fellow, he seemed to have no relish for; the dirt was glued upon his face as though it was warranted to wash, although it's doubtful if he ever tried the experiment; and I may as well observe here that water was his abhorrence, and he never drank it unless he couldn't get something stronger. Upon the back of the scamp was a new blue flannel shirt, which he had stolen from the wagon, leaving his old one in exchange, and by the means of which we had traced him to his resting-place. Around his neck was a silk handkerchief belonging to Smith, and on his head was a skin cap, with a long tail which hung over his shoulders and resembled the brush of a fox.
"Will ye call hoff the hanimal, and let me up?" cried our new acquaintance, casting rueful looks towards us.
"Where did you come from?" asked Fred.
"Vy, didn't you see? I dropped down from the tree."
"Yes, we are aware of that; but how came you in this part of the country alone?"
"How does you know I'se 'lone?" asked the fellow, with such a significant leer that we involuntarily glanced over our shoulders as though expecting a gang of ferocious bushrangers to be within gunshot.
"Answer me," cried Fred, with pretended sternness, placing the muzzle of the rifle against the fellow's heart. "Tell me where you came from, and what you wish in the neighborhood?"
"Vell, I vill, if ye von't hinger my feelings with the cold iron. Take away the gun and I'll do the right thing. 'Pon the 'onor of a gentleman, I will."
We laughed at his last remark, and the fellow joined in with us good naturedly, as though he did not expect to be believed.
"Very well, sit up and tell your story," we said; and calling off the dog, who manifested a great reluctance to obey, we permitted him to take an easier position.
"Vell, the fact of the matter is, I am strolling round 'ere just for the fun of shooting parrots."
"You know that you are lying," Fred said, sternly.
The fellow seemed to think a compliment had been paid him, for he grinned so hard that the dirt actually cracked on his face and peeled off in scales. A motion towards our rifles brought him to his reason.
"Stop that," he cried, "and I'll tell hall."
"Go on," we repeated.
"Vell, then, I s'pose I'm 'ere for the same thing as vot you're here for."
"Well, what is that?" I asked.
"Vy, you know—the hold boy's tin vich he buried afore he vas taken up and dished."
"What do you mean?" I inquired, wishing to see how much he knew.
"O, don't 'tempt to gammon me, 'case I knows by the way that yer does—that yer knows all 'bout the trick. But I say, can't I come in for shooks?"
"Then you know that there is money buried near here?"
"Hof course I does. Didn't I see Jim Gulpin ven he planted it, and didn't I run hoff the next day, and ven I hears that Jim is a goner, and had got into the hands of the beaks, didn't I leave the mines, vere the vork is jolly 'ard, and come 'ere with the intention of raising it, and having a jolly good blow out at Melbourne?"
"Then you have been connected with a gang of bushrangers?" Fred asked.
"Vell, I did use to do the cookin' for 'em, vile they did the robbin'; but then you wouldn't blow on a fellow, would you?"
"What did you make a target of my body for?" I inquired.
"Vell, I vill be plain, and no mistake. I did think that if it killed von of ye, vy the rest vould run, and then I should be left alone to ring the blunt."
"And why did you not continue to fire at us?"
"'Cos I hadn't got any more bullets," was the frank answer; and on examination of his powder pouch, we found such to be the case.
"What have you done with your ammunition?"
"Vell, I had to live on something, so I used to shoot into flocks of parrots; but I've skeered 'em all hoff, I believe."
"And why did you not try to get hold of a sheep? There are plenty of those within five miles of the forest."
"And get pinked by the hold shepherd wid the long gun?" he demanded, with a knowing grin, which showed that he had heard of the skill of the old man with his smooth bore.
"You have confessed that you once belonged to a gang of bushrangers, and you may have been guilty of many crimes. It is a duty which we owe to the government to either hang you, or else deliver you to the police. Which do you prefer?"
"Vell, to tell the plain truth, I don't like neither plan, and I don't b'leeve that you will do it."
"Why?" we asked, astonished at his assurance
"'Cos, then I couldn't help you get the dirt out if you give me up to the police. I'd peach 'bout it," and then you'd have to fork over to the government, and would get nothing for your pains."
"But suppose we should despatch you on the spot?"
"But there's no use s'posing any thing of the kind. 'Mericans don't often kill people in cold blood."
"You know that we are Americans?" we demanded, in astonishment.
"Of course I does. Didn't I 'ear all about ye vile I vas at the mines? Didn't the papers bring hus the news?"
"But how do you know that we are those which the papers mention?"
"'Cos I guess at it, and I don't think I'm a great deal hout of the way."
"And if we consent to spare your life you will consent to lend us your aid in searching for the gold?" I asked. "Won't I? You just try me and see if I don't serve you 'bout right. I'm a regular hout and houter ven I takes a likin' to any one."
"On these conditions we will consent to protect and spare you. But mind, no tricks. The first indications which we discover of your playing us false, shall be your last moment on earth."
"All right," replied the long-legged individual, with a chuckle of delight.
"Now, tell us what your name is," Fred demanded.
"Steel Spring," he answered, with another grin.
"Then, Mr. Steel Spring, as you say that you are a good cook, we will test your truthfulness. Return with us to the cart, and let us see a sample of your skill."
"I'll do that, and you'll say that, however ugly I look, I'm just the feller to sarve as a cook."
Uttering these words in a chanting sort of way, Mr. Steel Spring stretched out his legs with a jerk, which resembled the sudden opening of a jackknife. He stood upon his feet, and then we had an opportunity to see how long and lank he really was; and yet beneath all his withered skin we saw that his muscles were of prodigious size, and that his strength must he astonishing.
We motioned for him to lead the way, and in a few moments we reached the cart, beneath which the old stockman was still snoring.
STEEL SPRING'S HISTORY
Steel Spring made no idle boast when he said he was famous as a cook. In a shorter space of time than I conceived possible, he had built a fire, boiled water, and made an excellent dish of coffee, and then spreading our provisions under the shade of a tree, he informed us that our dinners were ready.
By this time Hardum, the stockman, was awake, and repentant, as most men usually are after a drinking bout. He seemed surprised that we had made an addition to our company during his snoring hours, but he was too proud, or too much ashamed, to ask any questions concerning the mystery.
As for Steel Spring, I observed that that amiable, long-legged individual eyed the stockman rather narrowly, as though he expected a few words of reproach, or something worse; but in this he was mistaken; for Hardum contented himself with expressing surprise at the length of his pedal extremities, and wanted to know if he was not sired by a kangaroo—an expression which our new acquaintance laughed at, as he wished to conciliate the old man.
As the sun poured down with scorching severity, and two hours would elapse before we could venture to return to our work without fear of being sun struck, we lighted our pipes, and stretched our forms beneath the shade of a gum tree, leisurely watched the smoke of the fragrant tobacco as it curled over our heads.
For a long time we smoked in silence, until at length Fred grew weary of the monotonous stillness, and wishing to add a slight stock of information to our store, exclaimed,—"Steel Spring," and he regarded that wonderful being with a knowing glance, "you have a history. All men have histories, and I know that you are not exempt from the common lot."
"Well, I don't deny that I've seen a thing or two in my life, and that it has been an eventful one," he answered.
"Then," said Fred, refilling his pipe, and composing himself in an easier attitude, "you will be kind enough to tell it for our entertainment."
"I'll villingly do that, sir, if you'll promise not to go to sleep."
"We can give no pledges," replied Fred, with a grin. "Whether we go to sleep or keep awake remains with the historian to decide."
"Veil, then, I'll do my best," and Steel Spring crossed his right leg, as though it had helped him on many occasions.
I will relate his account of his life, although I shall leave his cockney expressions out, as much of it may mar the beauty and humor of the recital. I don't vouch for the truth of what he told us, and, in fact, I don't believe that Steel Spring himself meant that we should. However, he always swore that he spoke the truth, and, in lack of evidence, we were bound to believe him.
"I was born twenty-six years ago, in the vicinity of Belgrave Square, London, and as the locality was an aristocratic one, I need not mention that my parents were wealthy, and circulated in the highest circles in the kingdom. There was great rejoicing when I came into the world, and I have been told that Parliament adjourned in honor of the event."
"I wish to ask if the narrative is to consist of lies?" inquired Fred.
The fellow grinned as though he had been complimented, and without replying, continued,—"I was sent to Eton when I grew old enough, and all that money could do was expended towards completing my education. Latin and Greek, however, are languages which I was never able to master, and it's owing to my dislike to them that I am now here. I will explain the reason, so that you may not interrupt me with expressions of astonishment. I was destined, when only ten years of age, to succeed the ambassador to Greece, an uncle of mine, who was full of years and honors, and wished to retire on half pay, like an invalid soldier or gouty bishop. You will see the reason why I was supplied with Greek roots, until I thought my brain would turn in digging them. But tasks and whippings were in vain. The more I was beaten the less I learned, and the upshot of the matter was that I was sent home, and then kicked out of doors by an indignant father, who swore in good English that if my head was only as long in proportion as my legs, I should have comprehended the dead languages in less than a month.
"Alas! how little do parents understand the feelings which animate the bosom of their offspring. I who was—"
"Quit your moralizing, and drive on with your story," growled Fred.
"All right, sir," replied Steel Spring, not the least disconcerted.
"I had, when kicked from the home of which I was destined to be the ornament, only a half crown in my pocket—smuggled there by an indulgent mother, who dreaded her husband's wrath. I knew that the money would purchase me a rasher of bacon and half a dozen pots of half-and-half, but that would not support me forever, you know, and it was necessary that I should stir these stumps which my heartless father had ridiculed.
"With this idea I exchanged my elegant suit of black clothes which I was wearing, and dressed myself in others of a less attractive nature; and I will also state that I received a half crown from the Hebrew with whom I traded—a piece of generosity on his part as unexpected as any thing I ever met in this world.
"After I had made the exchange I hardly knew myself, and I thought with joy that if my father's heart relented, he would not be able to discover me in the disguise which I wore. In fact, it was perfect; and for the purpose of testing it, I went to Hyde Park, and stood near the ring, and as the noble lords and ladies passed me—those, I mean, with whom I was on visiting terms—it made my heart swell to think that they did not even deign to look at me."
"I have no doubt of it," said Smith, dryly; and the fact of his being an Englishman made him appreciate the story of Steel Spring the more.
"I quitted Hyde Park, and to preserve my spirits I went to a public house, and drank a full quart of beer—a feat which I had often performed, but never with such good will. The proprietor of the house noticed the ready manner in which I emptied his pewter, and then surveying my legs, judged, very rightly, that I would make an excellent pot boy. He hinted at his want of assistance, and made me an offer of a crown a week, and the privilege of drinking the slops left in the pots. He did not have to make the proposal twice; I accepted without delay, donned a white apron, and the intended ambassador to the classic land of song and ruins went to work supplying workmen with beer and pipes. No one, to have looked at me in the bar room, would have mistrusted my noble birth, and I have often thought of the singular freaks of fortune. Some are raised by the magic wand, and others are depressed. How little did the nobility, as they gazed on my fair face, when an infant, think that the object of their admiration would one day become—"
"Will you go on with the story, and drop the nobility?" demanded Fred.
"With the greatest pleasure, because I bear them no love, they having dropped me at an early age. At that public house all of my misfortunes commenced; and, singularly enough, I had no serious suspicions, until I was arrested and lodged in prison, that the proprietor of the concern was a dealer in counterfeit silver. I had often observed that all the change that came from the bar was new, and looked as though fresh from the mint, but I didn't dream that it was counterfeit; and when a police officer nabbed me, and searched my pockets, and exhibited a few bad shillings, I thought I should die with shame, for I little suspected that I was the medium through which the money was circulated.
"I protested my innocence, but the wretches said that my appearance was not in my favor, and that my sweet face was certain to lead me to the gallows; and faith, I was afraid that it had, yet my pride did not permit me to send for my parents and the nobility, a word from whom would have set me free."
"Steer clear of the nobility, if you please," cried Fred.
"All right, sir; well, would you believe it, the villains had the audacity to arraign me before the beak, when I pleaded not guilty, and dared them to the proof.
"I have a faint recollection that my defiance availed me but little, for I was brought in guilty; and when the old beak sentenced me to transportation for twenty years, he took occasion to say that I was the worst looking prisoner he had seen for many years. I thought, even then, how much respect he would feel, were he but aware that I was connected with the nobility—"
"Never mind the nobility," broke in Fred.
"I don't intend to, hereafter, as I think that I am better off without their acquaintance. Well, in a few days I was put on board of a ship, with a number of other distinguished gentlemen, and I started on my long voyage to Australia.
"Jim Gulpin was one of the passengers, and I early made his acquaintance, and won his friendship by a few acts of kindness, which distinguished strangers should always extend to each other. In fact, I became so useful to the officers of the ship that I was installed as an assistant cook; and when I was obliged to part with them, owing to the pressing solicitations of the wretch who has the charge of the hulks at Hobson's Bay, I don't think that there was a dry eye on board, from the captain to my illustrious commander, the chief cook.
"Owing to good recommendations, I was set at work doing scullion's duty at the hulks—a situation which I filled to the satisfaction not only of myself, but to the officers who had charge of me. I got plenty to eat, for I looked out for that, and I think that I should have served out my time with great contentment had I not learned that my old friend Gulpin had made his escape, but not until he had done for one of his keepers. A sudden desire to travel possessed me; I longed to see the world, to be free, and accumulate wealth so that I could return to London, and astonish the nobility and my hard-hearted parents.
"I watched my chance, and one day when I was on a visit to Melbourne for the purpose of carrying a bundle for one of the keepers, I thought I would begin my travels; so I started on a dog trot, in a direction opposite from the hulks, and when a pistol was discharged at my fine form, it had the effect of quickening my pace materially. Finding that the shot had no effect, the keeper ran after me; but what chance do you suppose he had with me, the possessor of such a pair of legs? In five minutes I had run him out of sight, but after I got outside of the city I did not lessen my speed, for I recollected that there was a mounted police force in Melbourne, and that they had a fancy for scouring the country in search of escaped convicts.
"With nothing to eat, excepting what I was enabled to steal—I don't mean steal—but then I didn't pay for such as I got, because I had no money in my pocket—I managed to subsist, and by skulking in the woods during daylight, and travelling at night, I struggled on, undetected.
"I used to visit encampments, and load myself with every thing that I considered necessary for my happiness, and by such means I soon was enabled to dispense with my convict suit, which was calculated to attract more attention than was desirable.
"A number of miners must have been greatly astonished, upon awakening in the morning, to find that most of their stores were gone, and perhaps they attributed their disappearance to magic. If they did they were wrong, for I hold myself personally responsible, and intend some day to settle for all that I took, and I will not only pay interest, but principal also. Can any thing be more honorable?"
"But how are you to know whom to settle with?" demanded Fred.
"That is none of my business," replied Steel Spring, with a cunning leer. "It is sufficient for me to know that I am ready to settle when the bills are presented, and I don't consider that I am bound to hunt all over the world for the purpose of finding my creditors."
"Your ideas are certainly original, and deserving of consideration," returned Fred, amused at the fellow's impudence. "But finish your history."
"By such honorable means I was enabled to work my way along, striving to reach the mines, where I expected to earn an independence, when one day I fell in with a few notorious characters called bushrangers. The villains searched me, expecting to find gold, thinking that a gentleman of my respectable appearance must be loaded with wealth; but for the honor of mankind I am glad to say that they didn't get so much as a shilling piece.
"The robbers, intensely disgusted, swore that I must go with them, as their captain wanted a cook; and although I insisted that I was not qualified for the station which they intended to elevate me to, they only replied that I must either be hanged or work. I need not tell you which I preferred.
"When I was taken prisoner I had a large supply of provisions on my back, and they asked me why I hadn't stolen more while my hand was in. In vain I protested that I was innocent of crime. I was laughed at and marched off towards this forest, when their renowned captain was introduced to me, and who should he prove to be but my old friend, Jim Gulpin.
"Of course, I was at home at once, and for many months I shared the meals and confidence of my illustrious commander; but at length getting dissatisfied with my share of the prize money, I procured a dishonorable discharge, and went off to the mines in the night time, where I managed to subsist by my honesty."
"You mean," replied Smith, "that you were afraid of being dishonest, as the miners have a summary method of disposing of thieves."
Steel Spring grinned, as though he didn't wish to gainsay the truth of the remark.
"But about the buried money. You have said nothing about that," I observed.
"I knew that there was money buried there, because one day Gulpin sent his gang away on an expedition, and then started me after a sheep, (no offence to the old shepherd.) I thought something was up, so instead of hurrying to do his bidding I skulked around until he thought I was out of the way, and then I saw him dig a hole and put a bag into the earth and cover it up, and try and make the place appear as though it had not been disturbed. I smelt a rat, but never let on that I knew any thing of the matter, and it was not until I heard that Jim and Darnley's gangs were destroyed that I thought I would visit my old haunts and endeavor to get rich at once. I have been in the neighborhood a week, skulking about to see if any other person was lurking near for the same object as myself, and you may imagine my surprise when I saw four men marching up to take possession of that which I considered my own."
"Do you still entertain the same opinion?" I inquired.
"My opinion since I have entered your service is your opinion, for you are four and I'm one;" and Steel Spring, with a contented look, knocked the ashes from his pipe, and gathered up the remains of our dinner and placed them in the cart with wonderful despatch.
"We will trust you," said Fred, after scanning the man's face; "but if you serve us a trick we shall remember it."
"You will find it for your interest to do so," was the composed reply, and bidding him follow, we took our rifles and led the way towards the buried treasure.
FINDING OF THE TREASURE.
By the time we reached the scene of our gold digging operations the greater portion of the heat of the day was passed, and we felt refreshed and ready to commence work with a will. Steel Spring, who had promised his valuable aid in searching for the treasure, in consideration that we would befriend him and save his neck from the grasp of the police, had led the way with immense strides, and a confident air that inspired us with renewed hope and bright anticipations of success.
Upon reaching the ground we found that our shovels and picks were undisturbed, and it was evident that no visitor had intruded during our lengthy absence.
"Come, Steel Spring," I said, addressing that worthy personage, "point out the right spot for us to dig, and then we will go to work without delay."
"But I can't do that vithout some calculation and study. All great hengineers has to investigate before vorking, and I'm no exception to the rule."
"Why, you miserable scamp," cried Fred, angrily, "didn't you say that you could lead us to the very spot where the treasure was buried?"
"Vell, vot if I did? Can't a man make 'stakes—and vouldn't you 'ave said that you knew something, if a rifle vos placed agin your brains, and a feller threatened to blow 'em hout?"
"Then you mean to say that you have imposed upon us?' I asked, coolly, seeing that Fred was likely to get into a passion.
"No, I don't say that, 'cos tain't so; and I should but tell a lie if I spoke in that way. A falsehood is an abomination vich I can't stand, and I was never guilty of one," answered the fellow, with a grin which proved how well he liked to stretch the truth.
"Explain your meaning," said Fred, "or I will hang you on a gum tree, and use you as a scarecrow." "Vell, didn't I tell you I saw the money buried from a distance? You don't s'pose that I would be very near when Jim Gulpin was doing secret things, does you?"
I made no answer, and he continued,—
"I took good care to be hoff so far that he couldn't even smell me, 'cos I knew that if I had but vinked once vithin ten rods he would have seen me, and then vot would 'ave been the consequence?"
Fred replied that he supposed he would have been kicked in a summary manner, and he was not sure but he deserved it.
"Had it only been kicking I could 'ave taken it very comfortably and thought nothing of it—but no, sir, it would have been nothing of the kind. It would 'ave been after this fashion."
He made an expressive motion with his hand across his throat, and judging from the habits and antecedents of the illustrious bushranger, there is but little doubt that he did wisely in placing a great distance between them.
"Well, point out the spot which you think contains the money," I said.
"Vell, I can do that, although I'm not to be 'bused and deprived of my supper if I don't happen to hit right."
"You shall be treated according to your merits," cried Smith, who had listened patiently to his woes, and was amused at his impudence.
"Vell, if I is treated according to my merits it's all I vants, 'cos I'se certain to get 'nuff to heat and drink without vorking very hard—and vot can a gemman 'spect more in this vorld?"
We returned no answer to his suggestion, and finding that we were disposed to be serious, and not likely to stand any more of his nonsense, he requested permission to occupy the same place where he had secreted himself when the bushranger buried his gold; and while one of us walked over the clearing he thought he could tell when we reached the exact spot. He gave as a reason that he had taken the bearings of the place by a tree which stood on a line with the bushranger while digging.
We gratified his humor, but to prevent trickery Fred was despatched to watch his movements and prevent escape. Steel Spring vowed and protested that he meant honestly by us; but he was too notorious a liar to be believed, and when he found that we would not trust him, he appeared to be highly pleased, and considered it a proof of his sagacity and cunning.
We watched them as they walked to the spot which Steel Spring indicated—a distance of nearly a quarter of a mile from the clearing; and when the fellow announced that he was ready for the test, I slowly passed over such portions of the ground as I thought contained the money.
Three or four times did I pass over the ashes where the bodies of the dead bushrangers were burned, and yet I heard no indications from Steel Spring. At last I set my compass, and walked in an exact south-eastern direction, about ten paces from the location of the hut, and within a dozen feet of the hole which we had already dug.
"Stop," said the long-legged biped, "don't move for your life! Vait till I comes—you've hit it for a farding."
With springs which caused Rover to howl with jealousy, the fellow bounded over the bushes towards us, and in a minute's time was beside me.
"Give me the shovel!" he cried, in an excited manner. "I is certain that you is standing on the place."
"Here is a shovel," said Smith, with a wink of mischief at us; "let us see how soon you can bring the dust in sight."
"It won't take me long, I can tell you," replied Steel Spring, throwing out a few shovels full and then pausing to rest, as though a new thought had entered his long head.
"Dig away," yelled Smith, who was wielding a pickaxe with great effort.
"I was thinkin' how much better I could direct than work," said the cunning fellow, too lazy to dig.
"Then stand aside and give me the shovel," cried Fred, impatiently.
Steel Spring willingly relinquished it, and pretending that he felt exceedingly nervous and faint, he squatted down upon the ground and watched with eager eyes every particle of dirt that was thrown from the hole.
Before we got fairly to work the sun had set, and the shades of night began to be thrown upon the dark forest of gum trees by which we were surrounded. We had wasted so much time talking and listening to Steel Spring, that the afternoon had passed away almost imperceptibly. To be caught in the woods over night was a joke which we did not care about indulging in, and we made strenuous exertions to complete our task before darkness had entirely set in.
Already had we piled up a large mound of earth, and excavated a hole big enough to bury an ox, and yet nothing was to be seen of the treasure; and as each additional shovel full of dirt was thrown up I began to grow discouraged, and felt that I had been deceived, and almost cursed the folly which led me to believe in the dying declaration of the bushranger.
"I don't see any use in digging here," said Smith, pausing, and wiping the perspiration from his heated brow; "the dirt we are removing now has not been disturbed since the formation of the island. If there is any gold dust buried in this clearing, we must search in another direction."
"But haven't I told you that you was in the right spot?" ejaculated Steel Spring.
"Keep your advice for those who ask it," returned Smith, bluntly, want of success having made him cross.
"Vell, haven't you all been haxing me, and don't I tell vere the money is? If you 'spect to get it, you must vork."
"Then take hold of this pickaxe, and see how you like it. Jump into the hole without a word, or I'll help you with my heavy hand!" cried Smith, somewhat irritated.
Steel Spring would have hesitated, but a glance at the face of his opponent decided him, and, with many a groan, he entered the hole and commenced working.
The rest of us discussed the propriety of suspending labor until morning, as the evening was so far advanced that it was impossible to see half a dozen yards from our faces. Fred and myself were opposed to cessation, as we knew that we were in a dangerous part of the country, and how soon we should be interrupted by gangs of bushrangers it was hard to tell. The forest was full of outlaws—desperate men, who would shed blood freely for the sake of gold or revenge, and should we be surprised, there was no possibility of escape.
Under these circumstances, we urged that we had better work that night, dark as it was, than remain there two or three days, and expose our lives needlessly.
During the time that we were debating the question, Steel Spring was apparently busy at work, although I noticed that he paid considerable attention to what was going on, and listened to every word uttered with an interest that appeared unaccountable. I thought it was from curiosity, and did not call any one's attention to it; but when I suggested that a small fire should be made, so that its light would enable us to work to more purpose, to my surprise he urged the advantage of the scheme, and was clamorous for the privilege of tending it.
The project was dismissed as soon as formed, for I recollected that the light of a fire would attract visitors that we were not anxious to see.
As a last resort, however, we resolved to go over the whole ground, and endeavor to detect the spot, by discovering if the earth had been recently removed.
We no longer placed confidence in the story of Steel Spring, yet we thought it better to keep him at work in the hole, which was now even with his neck, than permit him to mingle with us in the dark, for somehow, we began to have strange suspicions that he was not dealing fairly by us.
Luckily, the sky was cloudless, and the stars shone with uncommon brilliancy, as though the constellations wished to afford us every facility for carrying our designs into effect.
The clearing was sufficiently large to enable the light to penetrate the open space, and with no other guide, we commenced striking our shovels and picks into the earth, in hopes of reaching the right spot.
I still clung to the idea that the money was buried under the ashes of the burned bushrangers, and with this impression, carefully scraped them aside, and felt with the point of my shovel, until I touched earth which I considered had been disturbed.
I said nothing to my companions, but worked diligently for a few minutes, until I became convinced that the ground had been moved at no distant day.
Wishing to be convinced that I was on a track which corresponded with the last words of Gulpin, I set the compass, and by the light of a match, noted its bearing.
The place where I had been at work bore in a south-west direction, and on pacing off the distance where the hut stood, I found it to be exactly ten paces.
"Hurrah, boys!" I shouted, commencing work with renewed energy, "I think that I have discovered the spot!"
My comrades hurried to my side, and all of us concentrated our energies upon that particular spot, and none worked harder than the aged convict, who appeared, since his recovery from the effects of too intense an application to my flask, to be desirous of making amends for his weakness.
"You are not vorking in the right place!" shouted Steel Spring, from his excavation, stopping his labors to watch our movements; "you will find nothing there, I gives you varning. Come and hassist me, and we shall find all the gold!"
"Cease your cries," said Smith, sternly; "do you wish to bring a band of bushrangers upon us in this lonely spot, where they can murder us without opposition?"
"There's no fear of 'um," retorted the fellow, raising his voice to an unnecessary pitch; "but listen to my varning—you'll find not a bit of gold there."
We paid no attention to his words, but worked with energy, and while Smith examined with his hands every shovelful of dirt that was thrown out, so that we should not miss any thing, Fred and myself dug along the edges of the ground, carefully, yet rapidly.
Still Steel Spring persisted in calling to us that we were wasting time, and that we should find nothing; and just as he echoed his words for the third or fourth time, my shovel struck upon some tough substance. Breathless with hope, I stooped and felt of it with my hands, and to my joy I discovered a small canvas bag, which appeared to be stuffed with a heavy substance, for I found some trouble in lifting it.
"I have found it!" I cried, so excited that I could hardly stand; "here—feel of it, lift it, and see if its contents are not gold!"
I was about handing the bag to Fred, when a wild, shrill scream, apparently proceeding from our very midst, was heard, startling us by its unnatural character.
Fred dropped the bag, and sprang for his rifle, which was lying near him, ready for use, while Smith and the stockman appeared paralyzed with terror.
"For God's sake what noise was that?" asked the stockman.
Before we could reply, we heard an answering yell, which appeared to be distant about a quarter of a mile, while near at hand, the rustling of the bushes showed that either an enemy or a wild beast was regarding our movements.
"Who goes there?" cried Fred, bringing his rifle to his shoulder.
There was no reply, but I thought I detected a chuckling laugh which sounded familiar. Before I could interpose, Fred had fired at the moving bushes, and for a brief second the clearing was lighted up with the flash of his rifle. I glanced towards the hole in which Steel Spring had been at work; it was empty; that notorious liar and singular genius had made himself scarce.
Hardly had the echo of the rifle died away, before another yell, more searching and protracted than the first, again started our party, for it seemed to proceed from a tree not more than a rod distant; even the hound appeared disconcerted at the noise, and seemed undecided whether to attack or wait for more decided manifestations.
"God be with us," cried the stockman, suddenly grasping his long-barrelled gun; "let us make the best of our way from the forest, or by morning we shall not be alive."
"Of what are you afraid?" demanded Fred. "A wolf cannot harm you, and at the worst, a wildcat or two are no match for us well-armed men."
"There are no wolves on the island, and wildcats are unknown," replied the stockman, calmly.
"Then name the animals which produced those screams," cried Fred.
"I wish that they were animals," rejoined the stockman, "for then there would be hope for us miserable sinners. The screams which we have heard are produced by men bent upon destruction."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that we have been duped by Steel Spring to reveal the burial place of the treasure, and that now, in answer to his signal, a band of murderers are already enclosing us in their meshes, and in a few minutes, unless we act with promptness and prudence, we shall be in their power."
"We will sell our lives dearly, at all events," muttered Fred, "and sooner than their blood-stained hands shall grasp this gold, we will lose it forever."
Again we heard a chuckling laugh amid the bushes, and angry at the imposition of the long-legged scamp, I raised my rifle, and guided by the noise, let drive its contents. A yell of agony, such as is often uttered by a wounded man, met our ears, and I rejoiced to think that I had punished his treachery.
"God be merciful to him a sinner," exclaimed the pious old stockman.
"You have punished him for his tricks," said Fred; but almost before he had finished the sentence, a scream of sardonic laughter, in a different direction, proved that he was uninjured.
Again did we hear shrill, prolonged yells from several parts of the forest, and from their distinctness we knew that the bands of bushrangers, or whoever were the utterers, were gradually closing in upon us, and to stay where we were for half an hour was certain destruction.
The light was not sufficient to see each other's faces, but I had but little doubt, from the manner in which my friends grasped their weapons and examined their contents, that they were determined to sell their lives as dearly as possible.
"I am an old man," sighed the stockman, "and of little use on earth, and were I but certain that my child would be cared for, feel that I should be content to die."
"Die?" repeated Fred, cheerfully; "your sight is still good, and your hand does not tremble. A bushranger at forty rods is as good as slain when you draw a bead on him, and yet you talk of yielding up your life because we have been caught in a trap by a crafty spy."
"Man's destiny is like—"
"Spare your proverbs," exclaimed Fred, impatiently, "until we are in a place of safety. I feel like making my way out of these woods as fast as possible, and if I have got to cut through a line of robbers I shall leave my mark before completing the job."
"Then let us lose no time," Smith said, speaking after a profound silence. "I can hear the devils calling to each other as they make their way through the forest, and if we wait for their arrival we shall be hemmed in on every point."
Even while Smith was speaking, we could hear the calls of Steel Spring, repeated in rapid succession, as though urging his comrades to renewed exertion. I raised the heavy bag of gold to my shoulder, and away we went, tramping through the bushes, stumbling over decayed trees, and bumping heavily against growing ones. Every few minutes we halted and listened attentively; yet strange to say, not a sound was to be heard except quick breathing and beating of hearts. The stillness seemed worse than the noise, for during the latter we were enabled to define the position of our opponents, and knew that they were at arm's length; but now, when every thing was quiet around us, we knew not but our next step might bring us under their fire, and then farewell to life and fortune.
"Forward," whispered Fred; and on we struggled, the forest apparently growing more dense at every step, and at length we seemed so surrounded with impenetrable thickets that we were obliged to halt and consult as to the best route to the team, which we were anxious to reach.
Suddenly the cracking of a twig beneath the foot of a man who appeared to be making his way in the direction from which we came, started us. Rover uttered a short growl, and would have sprung upon him, but Fred held the brute with hands of iron and whispered a word of caution, and then the dog became mute as stone.
The invisible robber continued on his way towards the clearing, passing so near us that it seemed as though we might have touched him, had we been so disposed. He evidently was on the lookout for our party, for he would stop and listen attentively, and then proceed with careful and certain steps.
We waited until he was beyond hearing, and then extricated ourselves from the thicket and continued our course. For more than two hours we toiled and worked, until at length we saw an opening through the trees. With eager but careful steps we moved towards it, thinking that the worst part of our expedition was over, and I was just about to throw the gold to the earth and thank God for our escape, when I looked up and saw that we were at the very point from whence we started—that we were standing on the edge of the clearing, and that directly in front of us were twenty or thirty bushrangers, with levelled muskets, evidently taking our bearing with great familiarity.
CAPTURE OF ALL HANDS, BY THE BUSHRANGERS.
There was no time to retreat, had we been so disposed; and though Fred's rifle flew to his shoulder with the quickness of thought, he apparently considered it better policy not to commence hostilities until the bushrangers showed their disposition.
Fighting was not to be thought of; for who would think of taking part in a struggle when eighteen or twenty guns were aimed, and ready to be discharged upon the least sign of resistance.
There was one thing which I had the presence of mind to do. I stepped quietly behind the stockman and Smith, and dropped the bag of gold amidst a thicket of bushes, and I inwardly prayed that whatever might be our fate, the robbers would not get sight of the treasure.
"Do you surrender?" asked a voice; and following the bushranger's words, we could hear the ominous clink of the muskets as they were brought to their shoulders.
"What promises do you make us?" replied Fred, undaunted.
"What do you wish us to promise?" continued the bushranger.
"Our lives and arms."
"Our promises are easily broken. Why do you request mercy at the hands of bushrangers?"
"Because, in this case, if we do not obtain your most solemn pledge that our lives shall be spared, we will die with our rifles in our hands. I need not tell you that when we aim, we do so with the intention to kill."
The bushrangers whispered together for a few minutes, and from their eagerness we could see that a large majority of the men were in favor of complying with Fred's request. Once or twice we heard the word "gold" mentioned, as though that was the chief theme of their discussion. Presently the whispering ceased, and the man who appeared to be the leader of the band again spoke:—
"I have talked with my men, and they are willing to comply with your desire, provided you will deliver to us the gold which you found buried in this clearing."
"As for the gold," returned Fred, "we dropped it some time ago, and you are welcome to it if it can be found."
"Then lay down your arms and step towards us. We are not to be taken by surprise, having heard of your Yankee tricks."
"We had better trust to darkness and our guns," muttered the old stockman; but his warning was too late, for Fred advanced towards the bushrangers and placed his rifle in their hands, and with a sigh I followed his example.
"Come!" shouted the leader, his voice growing harsher as the disarming proceeded—"there are two more of 'em; hurry up, and don't keep us waiting too long."
"I make the third," said Smith, handing in his double barrelled gun.
"Ha, driver, are you here?" laughed the ruffian, as his eyes fell upon Smith's burly form. "You had better have stuck to the teaming business than digging up dead men's gold—I think you would have found it more profitable and less dangerous."
"There is where we differ in opinion, Sam Nosey," replied Smith, quite coolly. "I work at any kind of business where I think I can make an honest shilling, and don't see but this expedition comes under the head of regular trade. At the edge of the wood you will find my team and two pair of good oxen, with a bottle of brandy such as you have not tasted for many a day."
"You mean that I would have found things as you describe, an hour or two ago; but the fact is, my men were hungry; so two of your cattle were knocked in the head, and a right jolly feed we had, I assure you."
"I wish they had been so tough that their flesh would have choked you," was the unsatisfactory exclamation of the stout-hearted Smith.
"Your wish is unkind, considering the favor which we intend to show you," sneered the bushranger captain.
Smith uttered an oath, and I thought, that in spite of the number around us, he would make a push for freedom; but after glancing around and seeing that his intention was anticipated, and that the crowd had enclosed us in a circle, he gave up the idea.
"There is one prisoner missing—where is he?" demanded the chief, abruptly.
"There's no other to be seen," cried half a dozen voices.
"Fools! why do you talk in that way? The old stockman is one of the party, for I saw him not more than five minutes ago. Bring him out of the bushes and let us see if his hair has grown any whiter since the time he shot at me for killing a lamb. I have an account to settle with him."
"He has made his escape, for no one is to be seen," cried the men, after searching for a few minutes.
"It can't be, for only a moment ago I saw him mumbling prayers and hoping that his life would be spared. Fire the pile of brush, call in the scouts, and let me hear their report."
As the chief spoke, a huge pile of brush was fired, which illuminated the open space and cast a bright glare upon the faces of those present. Involuntarily, I looked at the person of the man who appeared to hold such despotic sway over his followers, and I shuddered while I gazed, for a more horrible face I never saw, except in my dreams.
His cheeks were seared until the flesh appeared livid and raw, and I expected to see blood trickle from the half-healed wounds. His eyes were large and glaring, being entirely unprotected by eyelashes, and as for eyebrows, they seemed to be eaten away and destroyed. The fellow's nose, however, was the most disgusting part of his face; for the nasal organ was entirely gone, and nothing was to be seen excepting two small holes which led to the chambers of the head.
I understood the reason that he was nicknamed Nosey, without asking a question, but it was not until some days after that I learned how he came to be so badly disfigured.
Charles Bowen, alias Nosey, was sentenced to transportation for twenty-five years for appropriating about ten thousand pounds to his own use by means of a forged will. He was a man of a good education, and withal shrewd and unscrupulous; but sharp as he was, it did not prevent his getting convicted and sentenced—and from the time that he stepped foot on board of the transport he began his career of defying officers and all wholesome discipline.
One day he attacked an assistant surgeon, who was attached to the vessel, and the doctor repelled him by hurling a bottle of oil of vitriol at his head. Bowen closed his eyes when he saw that the liquid was about to strike his face, and by resolutely keeping them closed until the powerful acid was cleaned from his flesh, managed to save them, and then the surgeons of the ship commenced and arrested the progress of the vitriol, and preserved his life; but not until the fellow's nose was entirely gone, and his eyebrows and cheeks nearly eaten away.
A more hideous-looking wretch, as he stood by the blazing pile of brush, I never saw; and it appeared to me that he gloried in his deformity, for he rolled his glaring eyes at me, and chuckled immensely when he saw that I regarded him rather closely.
"The stockman has given us the go-by," said one of the gang, returning from his pursuit of the old convict.
"Have you examined every bush and tree between this and the prairie?" asked the chief.
"As well as we can in the darkness," was the answer.
"Return to the woods, and don't allow a space as large as a man's body to escape inspection. Away with you—our triumph is not complete without the head of the old shepherd."
"I can find nothing of the gold," said a voice that I had heard before, and looking up I saw our treacherous companion, Steel Spring.
The fellow regarded me with a sly grin, and winked his eye as he pointed to the deep hole where he had labored when we discovered the treasure.
A frightful expression came over the robber's face as he heard the report. His staring eyes seemed to become injected with blood, and the scars on his countenance turned to a more livid hue.
"Where have you secreted the gold?" he asked, with a voice trembling with passion.
"What gold?" I demanded, indifferently.
"The gold which Jim Gulpin buried here. You know what I mean; and let me tell you that a civil and correct answer will stand your friend, just at this time. You have no police to fall back upon, and if I but give the word, your lives are not worth a farthing."
"It is true, we were after the gold, but what evidence have you that we found it?" I demanded.
"The evidence of the man who has been on your track ever since you entered the forest—saw you remove the sack, and then saw you attempt to escape with your plunder. Come here, Steel Spring."
The long, lank, lying wretch came at the call of his commander, and with a gracious nod towards us, stood ready to answer any questions.
"At what time did you give the signal, Steel Spring?"
"The hinstant that I sees they had got the money. I didn't know vether you had returned from the trip vich you vas to make, but I vas determined to try the signal agreed upon, and to my great joy, I heard you hanswer the first time I calls."
"And you saw them remove the sack?" demanded the chief.
"Yes, hindeed I did; and 'cos I calls to you, these fellows fires at me, but they vas not quick enough for Steel Spring."
"You hear what my man says; you were seen to take the gold. Yield it to us, and go, and the devil go with you, for all I care; but deprive us of it, and to-morrow's sun shall not see you alive."
Fred, Smith, and myself held a whispered conversation for a few minutes, and concluded that it was better to give up the money and save our lives, and trust to chance to recover the treasure.
"Have you decided?" asked the chief, his voice growing more rough at each moment's delay. "We have."
"Enough; lead us to the spot where it is secreted."
"You have but a few steps to go," I said, as I motioned for the bushrangers to stand one side and allow me to approach the spot where I had dropped the bag.
"Let him pass!" exclaimed the robber; and, obedient to his word, the gang stepped aside, but closed in upon me, so that I had no chance to escape, even had I been so disposed.
"You will find the gold there," I said, pointing to the spot where I had dropped the sack.
Half a dozen arms were thrust eagerly forth, and searched amidst the rank grass and stunted bushes. Suddenly, one of the men uttered an exclamation and sprang back, holding aloft his hand, upon a finger of which was fastened a deadly snake, of a pale orange hue, with a fine ring of black around its neck.
With oaths, and cries of terror, the robbers sought to escape from the vicinity of their companion, who, with yells such as I thought no mortal man capable of uttering, endeavored to unfasten the firm grip of the adder's teeth.
We could have escaped at that time, and no one would have thought of pursuit, so busy were the gang in regarding the contortions of the wretch, who rushed wildly back and forth, begging, cursing, and praying in one breath.
Once I thought of starting alone, after vainly endeavoring to attract the attention of Fred and Smith; but I considered how cowardly it would be to desert my friends, and banished the idea, unless we could all go together.
"Will no one save me?" shrieked the wretch, running first to one and then another of his comrades; but as fast as he approached them, they would retreat, and hurl imprecations at his head for seeking to bring destruction upon themselves.
"Curse you all for a pack of cowards!" he yelled; "may you all die by the hands of a hangman! Will no one save me? Will no one relieve me of this cursed snake?"
"Hold your hand still, for a moment," cried Fred, suddenly starting forward, and picking up a bowie knife, which one of the men had dropped in his terror.
The poor fellow sought to obey, but his fright was too great; and as the adder curled its tail over his arm, without relinquishing its hold, he endeavored to shake it off, and succeeded so far as the tail was concerned, but the jaws were too firmly clinched to be made to let go so easily.
Fred's eye was quick, and his hand steady, and as the snake hung full length, pendent from the finger, he struck at it with the knife and severed it in two parts. The tail fell to the ground and wound itself into knots, but the jaws did not relinquish their hold until the last drop of blood had drained from the trunk, when, with an expiring gasp, the teeth were unlocked, and the robber's finger was free.
Stout-hearted as the fellow undoubtedly was, he no sooner saw that the reptile was dead than he fell to the ground in a fit. Foam issued from his mouth, and by the light of the fire I saw that the poison was already performing its work, and that it was mixing with his blood and coursing through his veins with the speed of thought. His face grew black and commenced swelling rapidly, and all the medical science in the world would have been unable to give him an hour's life.
"Can you do any thing for him?" asked the chief, turning to us.
We replied in the negative.
"Then let him die where he is, and one of you take a torch and find the money. Be careful; there may be more snakes in the grass."
The men obeyed the heartless speech, and forsook the writhing wretch to look for the gold.
"There is nothing here!" they cried, in chorus.
"I put the bag there but a moment ago," I replied.
"You lie!" roared the chief; "you are deceiving us, and think to escape with life, and pocket your stealing. I tell you, if the money is not forthcoming, I'll hang you like dogs. Tie them up and lash them to a tree; I will give them a short time to think the matter over."
The robbers threw themselves upon us and bound our arms, in spite of resistance, and with an expedition that proved they were experts in the matter; we were then fastened to trees, and taunted with our instrumentality in destroying the gangs of Darnley and Gulpin.
Luckily, Fred and myself were fastened to the same tree, so that we could condole with each other in our misfortunes. This was the hardest situation in which we had ever been placed, and yet we felt no fear of immediate death, although we knew that an injudicious word would seal our doom without a moment's delay.
"Where can the money have gone to?" whispered Fred.
"I know not," I replied; "you saw me throw it amidst the bushes, and yet, now, it cannot be found."
"One of the gang must have watched our movements, and, during the confusion, moved the bag to another place."
As Fred ceased speaking, the dying man, who was lying at our feet, raised his head, and sought to get up; the effort was unsuccessful, and, with a groan of agony, he fell back and called in feeble tones for water.
"Water," he cried; "for the love of mercy, give me a drink of water; I feel as though I was burning to death. My mouth is parched, and my tongue swollen to an unnatural size."
"Give him a drink, one of you," grunted the chief. "It's probably the last one he will ever ask for."
"Don't say that," exclaimed the snake-bitten man, struggling to rise. "I am not going to die just yet, I can tell you. I have not half revenged myself upon those who injured me."
"Live, and be hanged, if you can," retorted the chief, coolly, seating himself upon a log, and lighting his pipe; "I don't hinder you from getting well, do I?"
"No, no. Nosey, I know that you would rather assist me," said the man, with a faint attempt at a smile, but it was soon banished from his face, and then he again sought to rise, but without success.
The poison was spreading swiftly through his veins, and we could almost see his body swell, so rapidly was it bloating him. He had unbuttoned the wristbands and collar of his shirt, for the pain was too great to keep them fastened; and as he lay at our feet a spectacle too dreadful to be looked upon without pity, we wished that we had the means to save a life that had been passed regardless of laws or man.
"If one of you fellers are acquainted with a prayer or two, p'raps it would be well to mutter it over the poor devil, so that his soul may not be snatched by the evil one as soon as it leaves his body," said a bushranger of grim aspect, speaking to Fred and myself.
"I will willingly do all that I can to comfort the dying man," I replied; "but first I want my arms untied, so that I can hear his last words."
"Well, that's only asking for a reasonable thing, and hang me if I won't risk it," replied the grizzly robber, proceeding to untie my hands.
"Hullo," shouted the chief, "what are you about?"
"I'm going to let this feller confess Ben, 'cos I believe he's half priest or parson, and I think it's hard if a man can't have a little religion occasionally."
"Tie the prisoner up again," said Nosey, sternly, laying his hand carelessly upon a pistol which was stuck in his belt.
"Shan't do any thing of the kind," replied the robber, firmly. "Old Ben is going to die, and he wants religion before he starts. I'm not the one to refuse him."
"Once more I tell you to make the prisoner fast to the tree," cried Nosey, drawing the pistol and cocking it.
"Look a-here—is that your game?" demanded the humane robber; "let me tell you that you had better put up the barker, 'cos I've got one that can speak when it's told to."
The old bushranger drew a pistol and held it in his hand for a moment, and then, turning to his companions, said,—
"You ain't going to see me shot 'cos I want to 'friend as good a man as was ever transported? How do we know how soon we may want a prayer or two to help fix things up in the other world."
"Let him have the prayers," muttered the gang, with one accord. "What harm can they do?"
Thus backed up, the old robber, who had formerly been a sailor, continued to unbind my hands, while Nosey replaced his pistol without further remonstrance.
I knelt by the side of the dying man, but he was past consciousness, and no longer appeared to heed what was going on around. His tongue had swollen to such an extent that his jaws were open to their fullest width, and it was impossible to close them. His eyes were set and nearly concealed in their sockets, so rapidly had his face bloated from the effects of the poisonous virus that was coursing through his veins.
I spoke to him, but he did not heed me, and in answer to the robbers' questions, I predicted his speedy death. They received the news with great coolness, and fell back to their old occupation of smoking pipes, leaving me alone with the body.
For a few minutes I sat there endeavoring to relieve the poor fellow's sufferings by welting his lips with water, and while I was thus engaged I was startled by hearing a slight rustling in the bushes; I looked up, thinking that the companion of the dead snake was about to visit us in search of its mate, and as I did so, I caught a glimpse of the wrinkled face of the stockman. I did not start or manifest symptoms of surprise, for I had lived too long in a country where Indians were my nearest neighbors to allow such an emotion to be observed. I continued my occupation, therefore, and while I kept my eyes on the hiding-place of the convict, I did not neglect to note the movements of the bushrangers, who were grouped around the fire, and wholly unsuspicious of the presence of their most deadly enemy.
"Hist!" said the stockman, after successfully imitating the singing of a cricket to attract my attention.
I turned my head towards him, but I still pretended to be busy attending to the wants of the dying man.
"Cut Smith and your friend loose, and then stand ready to aid us in striking a blow. Be cautious, and not a word."
I was left in wonder, for the head disappeared so quietly, it was only by a slight rustling of dried leaves that I knew the stockman was working his form through the bushes to rejoin whomever he had enlisted to assist him.
I puzzled my head for a few minutes, trying to think who was near at hand, but it was in vain; and I at length concluded that a passing train of miners had volunteered, under a promise of a large reward, which now I had not the means of paying. I tried to invent excuses for the purpose of approaching Fred, and at length I hit upon a plan.
"I think," I said, speaking to the old sailor, "that I might relieve the man's sufferings were I to bleed him."
"Go ahead, then, matey," he answered, with a nod of his head.
"Let me see," I said, feeling in my pockets; "I believe that my friend has my lancet. Will you get it, or shall I?"
"Get it," he replied, mechanically, not even taking his pipe from his mouth to answer.
I had carefully secreted a knife which I had found upon the person of the bushranger, and with it I cut Fred's bonds, whispering words of caution as I did so.
"I haven't got the lancet," cried Fred, with a sudden shake, as though to prevent me from searching his pockets. "You know that I gave it to Smith."
"I'm sure that you didn't," Smith said, surprised at Fred's assertion. Before he could utter further remonstrance I had severed his bonds and repeated my words of caution.
"Are you ready?" I heard a voice whisper close behind me.
I glanced to the spot where the rifles were lying, and then surveyed the bushrangers, as they lay stretched out before the fire, perfectly unconscious that we were plotting their destruction.
"All ready," I responded, making a signal to Fred to be on the alert.
"Stoop down a little," was the whispered injunction. I obeyed the order, and no sooner did I bow my head than the bushes appeared to be illuminated with a sheet of flame. A roar of musketry that seemed to shake the forest followed the flash, and over my head I could hear the bullets whiz as they sped on their errand of death.
OPPORTUNE ARRIVAL OF LIEUTENANT MURDEN AND HIS FORCE, ROUT OF THE BUSHRANGERS.
I heard a wild yell, such as men utter when taken by surprise—I heard groans and curses, and then, loud above all, arose a cheer which could only have proceeded from men who had some great matter at stake, and were determined to fight to the last for victory.
Through the smoke, which slowly drifted over the clearing, I saw half a dozen robbers spring to their feet and fall headlong, like logs, to the ground, and by the light of the still blazing fire I observed the astonishment depicted upon the faces of the bushrangers as they looked in the direction from whence the discharge proceeded, and stumbled over each other on their way towards the spot where their arms were stacked.
All this I observed in a few seconds' time, but before I could start to my feet, wondering who were the attacking party, I heard the voice of the old convict, shrill and wild, shout out a quotation from the Bible, and conclude with one of his semi-religious, fanatical expressions.
"May the God of my fathers," he exclaimed, "forgive me for killing the devils, but I couldn't help it."
"Charge, men!" cried a manly voice that I thought I knew.
A wild cheer arose that shook the very forest, and through the bushes came the regular tramp of disciplined men. I caught sight of the old familiar blue uniform, and one glance at the leader of the force was sufficient. I saw my old friend, Lieutenant Murden, and a strong squad of Melbourne police at his back.
I sprang to my feet and cheered lustily, and then grasped the first weapon that I could find, and joined their ranks. I saw that Fred and Smith were with me, and like eagles we swept down upon our prey.
A hasty discharge greeted us, and one man fell badly wounded, but we had no time to pause to administer to his relief. On we rushed where the bushrangers were endeavoring to make a stand, and were calling upon each other to fight to the last. Even Nosey was evidently determined to sustain his great reputation and die facing his enemies; but as we advanced upon a run we delivered our fire and tumbled over two or three others, and that, with the complete surprise which had been gained over them, completed their confusion. They broke, and dashed into the woods, but not before half of their number was placed hors du combat, and amidst them, stretched upon the ground bleeding from two bad wounds, was the old sailor who had released me.
"No mercy—kill the accursed dogs," roared the stockman, swinging his long gun over his head, and dashing after a young fellow who had fought desperately, but now sought to escape.
"Come back," shouted Murden, in a voice of thunder. "Venture beyond the edge of this clearing, and your life is not worth a sixpence. The bushrangers know every turn of the woods, and are already in ambush, waiting for victims. Extinguish that fire, men, as soon as possible, and don't too many of you venture near it until it is smothered."
"You are the last man that I expected to see to-night, Murden," I said, grasping his hand with a pressure that expressed my gratitude at his arrival.
"Well, to tell you the truth," he replied, "I must say that three hours ago I had no idea of shaking hands with old friends. But let me station the men to prevent a surprise, for I shall have to stop here all night, as the risk is too great trying to reach the prairie until morning, and then we will compare notes. I see that you are well, and that is all that I care about now. Even Smith has not lost an ounce of flesh since our last meeting."
"I may not have lost flesh, but my worriment of mind for the last few hours has been awful," replied the teamster, with a grin of satisfaction at his escape.
"A few hours' sleep will restore you," cried the lieutenant, pleasantly.
By this time the police had extinguished the fire, which was burning too brightly for safety. The half-consumed logs were thrown aside to smoulder and die out, and dirt thrown upon the coals to extinguish their brightness.
"Maurice," called the lieutenant, speaking to his old orderly, "station four men at different quarters, and tell them to give an alarm if they but hear a stick move. The bushrangers have not gone far, I warrant you, and perhaps they will beat up our quarters before morning."
"Yes, sir," promptly replied the policeman.
"How many of our force are wounded?" the officer asked.
"Sam, sir, has got a shot in his thigh, and the blood flows pretty fast from the wound. I have tied it up as well as possible."
"I will go and attend on him, and see what can be done for his relief;" and the lieutenant started at a brisk pace towards where the injured man was lying.
"Well, Sam, how do you feel?" inquired Murden.
"Weak from the loss of blood, sir, but I think that I shall get over it."
"Get over it?" repeated Murden, in pretended surprise, "of course you will. I don't want to lose the best fighting man that I have got in my troop. When we get back to Melbourne you can go into hospital quarters if you wish to, but not for any length of time. I cannot spare you many weeks, Sam."
"I'm glad to hear it, sir," replied the policeman, in a tone of voice that showed how pleased he was. "Did you see how I brought the fellow down who was aiming at us?"
"Of course I did. I knew the instant you sighted him that he was a dead robber. But don't talk any more. I will have a torch lighted, even if it brings the devils upon us, and by its light I will bind up your wound so that you will feel quite nicely by morning."
One of the men brought a lighted limb of a gum tree, and by it Murden examined the wound, which seemed quite severe, although he did not say so. After he had applied some balsam which he carried in a case in his pocket, he re-bound the leg, and then ordered the torch to be extinguished.
"The poor fellow cannot live until morning," whispered Murden, as we walked one side. "The main artery of his leg is cut, and he is slowly bleeding to death."
"What are we to do with these wounded men, sir?" asked Maurice, after he had stationed the guard.
"What can we do with them? We have neither wine, nor water, nor medicine to bestow. But not to let them think we are cruel, call the wounded and find out how many there are, and tell them that in the morning we will attend to their wants, as far as we are able."
"Where is the old stockman?" I asked, not recollecting seeing him since the fight was over.
Word was passed for him, but every one declared that he had not been seen since the moment when Murden recalled him from the pursuit of the rangers.
"Let him go," said the officer; "he is perfectly able to take care of himself, and I have no doubt that he has a project in his head."
"But how in the name of humanity did he manage to find you at such a favorable moment?"
"That is easily explained," Murden replied. "I left Melbourne two days since in pursuit of a man who has been committing murder in the city. He started for the Ballarat diggings, and I have been on his trail until this noon, when I lost it, and had good reason to believe that he had cut across the country, intending to join a gang of bushrangers, secreted in the forest. I thought that I should get information from the old stockman; so I concluded to ride to his hut.
"To my surprise I saw that your horses were confined in the cattle pen, and after frightening the old fellow's daughter almost to death, I learned from her that you had been gone for two days on some kind of treasure seeking, in which her father was to take the lead and point out the money. I feared that, you had got caught in some kind of a trap, set by the frequenters of these woods; so I determined, as I was no longer on the trail of the murderer, to take a look at your operations, and, if possible, lend a hand in getting the gold."
Murden laughed when he spoke of the treasure, and we almost feared that he suspected us of keeping the secret from him.
"But where did you meet the stockman?" we asked.
"I am coming to the point of my narrative. We halted barely long enough to water the animals, and get something to eat—in the latter, let me assure you, the woman was pleased to lend her aid, and supplied us with meat enough to feed a regiment; and when I told her that we did not need so much, she begged that we would take what we did not want to her father and Mr. Smith."
"To whom?" we asked, astonished.
"To Mr. Smith," replied Murden, gravely.
"Ho, ho, Smith!" we cried, "you have, it seems, been making a conquest, and now, for the first time, we are to hear of it."
"I assure you," stammered Smith, "I had no idea that—"
"How long has it been going on, Smith?" we cried.
"There is nothing in it, I assure you; I never said much to her, any way, and what few compliments I have paid her, are in fact—"
"Intended to mean nothing. Very well, Mr. Smith, I shall take care to put the lady on her guard, the next time I see her," said Murden, pretending to be serious.
"No, don't do that," cried Smith in alarm, "because I don't know but I shall marry her, yet."
"Ah, if that is the case, I'll not interfere on any account. But remember, I'm to be asked to the wedding."
"I'll not forget," Smith said; and after that affair was satisfactorily concluded, Murden went on with his story.
"I accepted of her offering, and agreed to convey a portion of a baked lamb to her friend Mr. Smith, and I am bound to say that neither of you gentlemen was mentioned in connection with the affair. It was near dark, when we replaced our saddles upon our animals, and started across the prairie, but before we were half way to the woods, the last glimmer of twilight had faded out, and we were obliged to continue our journey by guess work, for no beaten trail leads across the plain.
"When we were within a mile or two of the secret path, I saw an object that looked to me like a kangaroo, on the prairie, so swiftly did it run. Not feeling perfectly convinced that such was the case, I called my men's attention to it, and one, who has sharper eyes than the rest of us, declared that what I took to be an animal, was a good-sized man, who appeared to be making the best of his way across the plain.
"I started in pursuit, and called once or twice to him to stop, but not until I had nearly rode him down, did he come to a stand still, and to my surprise, I found that I had come very near ending the days of the old stockman.
"A few questions and a few answers were all that I required to understand the case. I instantly mounted the old fellow behind one of my men, and at a gallop I dashed towards the woods, which I had no sooner gained, than I sent three of my men back to the hut with the horses, and ordered them not to come near us until after sunrise in the morning.
"Here commenced the most difficult part of our undertaking, as we deemed it best to take the robbers by surprise, and exterminate the gang, if possible. The old stockman undertook to pilot us through the woods, and the manner in which we crept to within a few feet of you without making any noise, shows that he performed his part with great success.
"The large number of bushrangers assembled, astonished me. I found that my force contained only one half as many as they did, yet I had no idea of not attacking. Desperate as I knew the robbers were, I thought they would yield upon being taken by surprise. My expectations were not disappointed; they did fly, and left one half of their force upon the ground."
"We thank you, heartily, for the trouble and danger which you experienced in saving our lives, for I have serious doubts whether to-morrow would have seen us alive," Fred said, shaking hands with Murden, at the conclusion of the latter's account.
"Say no more, my dear boy, for I know that you would have come to my assistance as soon as I did to yours. But about this treasure; I see that you have been digging; have you found any thing yet?"
Before we had time to answer that question, Maurice called the officer's attention, and relieved us of a reply.
"If you please, sir, there's a dog out here at the edge of the clearing, and he's got a bushranger down, and has had him there ever since they run for their lives. The animal won't let one of us come near him, and threatens the throat of the robber, every time he offers to move. I can't tell, in the dark, what kind of a dog he is, but I think it's the one the gentlemen own."
"Poor Rover, I have missed him for an hour or two. Let us go and see whom he has taken as prisoner," I said.
We followed Maurice to the spot, and found Rover standing sentry over a prisoner, whose slightest motion caused a growl of warning. I called off the dog, and ordered the fellow to get up, so that we could see who he was.
"Vell, of all the games that I ever seed, this is a beater!" cried a man whose voice was familiar to me.
"Ah, Mr. Steel Spring," said Fred, seizing the individual by the collar; "we have you in our power again."
"Vell, if I haint thankful to think that I've hescaped from them ere villains, and got into decent company again. I 'ave trembled at the profanity of the brutes, and feared for my life ever since I've been with 'em."
"Do you think, you long-legged wretch, that you can impose upon us for the second time? Do you suppose that after betraying us into the hands of your companions you are to be spared?" we demanded, indignantly.
"Vell, 'ere's a go. All through my life I 'ave been suspected vithout cause. Fust, I'm cast hoff by my hungrateful parents, and left to seek my living, and artervords I'm made a fool of, and gets transported, and now the very coves vot I thought friends, turns agin me. Vot a vorld this is!"
"Why, you hypocritical rascal, did you not first deceive us by saying that there were no bands of bushrangers in the woods, and while we were digging did you not raise an alarm which brought upon us Nosey and all of his gang?"
"Ha, ha!" roared Steel Spring; "vot a funny man that Nosey is! so handsome, too!"
"You rascal, you will laugh differently in a few minutes. Lieutenant, let him be tied to a tree, and give him a few dozen across his bare back."
"No, don't do that," cried the fellow, in some alarm. "I never could stand a flogging, and my proud spirit vill break if I get's one."
"Tie him up, Maurice," said Murden, coolly. "I recollect the fellow, and a bigger decoy rogue does not exist in the country. He will lie by the rule of three, and then retract all that he has said, without the least regard for himself or others. I have heard of him a number of times, and now think that I shall live to see him punished."
"I 'opes you vill live a thousand years, lieutenant, but I also 'opes you'll not joke over my misfortunes. I've 'elped the gentlemen, and now I'm to be punished for it."
"Tie him up, Maurice, and use your sword belt over his back until I tell you to stop," repeated Murden. "I owe him a flogging for the manner in which he sent me on a wrong scent once."
'"On my vord ov 'onor, sir, I didn't do so on purpose. I afterwards found that I vas wrong, and run after you to put you right, but you'd gone, and I couldn't find you."
"Lies will not answer your purpose, you long-legged scamp. I'll flog you now, and then carry you to Melbourne in triumph."
The fellow uttered a dozen excuses, but they did not avail him, and in spite of his resistance two or three of the men dragged him to a tree, and fastened his hands with their sword belts. Steel Spring called on all the saints to prove that he was innocent of trickery, and when the strong arm of Maurice, wielding a stout belt, descended upon his shoulders, his entreaties were pitiful.
"That's blow number one," cried Murden. "Go on, Maurice."
"Stop—for God's sake, stop," he yelled. "I vill tell all that I know, and more too, if you will let me go."
"Who killed and robbed those two miners on their way to Melbourne this spring?" asked the officer, motioning the policeman to suspend his punishment.