The hot winds of Australia, which begin about ten o'clock in the forenoon, swept over the prairie with a blast that felt like the flames of an extensive conflagration, and yet we heeded it not, for our whole thoughts were fixed, like greedy misers, upon the gold which we were soon to acquire, and we speculated what we should do with our wealth, and how expend it.
We urged our panting horses to their utmost speed, and not until the old stockman cried out to us to draw up, or we should exhaust the brutes, did we allow them to take breath.
"There's no use in being in such a hurry," he said, "because we are near the spot, and have all the afternoon to get home."
In fact, even while he was speaking he dismounted near Smith's cart, and we quickly followed his example.
"When I made my escape from the bushrangers, and carried off the gold, I recollected that I had seen a stone near this spot, and that some kind of animal had burrowed under it. The knowledge served me a good turn, for when I gained the edge of the woods I scraped away a little dirt and dropped the bag into the hole. Then I rapidly covered it, and entered the forest again undiscovered."
While he was speaking our eyes had wandered in search of the rock which he was mentioning, and within a rod of us we found it. We hardly waited to hear the conclusion of his words before we had pushed aside the loose dirt, and saw the soiled canvas bag which we had taken from the earth on the day of our capture.
We raised it carefully from its hiding-place, and found that the weight had not diminished. With eager hands we untied the strings, and exposed to our longing eyes the glittering scales of gold dust, mixed with gold coins, sovereigns, and American ten and twenty dollar pieces.
"Well," asked the stockman, "how much do you think you are worth now?"
The old fellow was as cool as an iceberg, and offered a striking contrast to our excitement.
"Twenty thousand dollars," replied Fred, weighing the bag with both hands; and no easy matter he found it to hold the gold at arm's length.
"More than that," replied the stockman, with a smile of gratified pride at our pleasure. "Say thirty thousand, and you will come nearer the mark."
"Five thousand shall go to reward you for your trouble," I said.
"Not a penny will I accept," he answered, quickly and decidedly; "I told you that some time ago. I plead poverty because I did not wish people to consider me rich, and I suppose by that means I have saved my life: for if the marauders of those parts knew me to possess gold, my hut would have been turned inside out, but that it would have been discovered. No, no; keep your money, and may you do good with it."
We mounted our horses again, and hugging the bag of gold to my saddle bow, as though fearful I should meet bushrangers to dispute my right to it at every step, we recrossed the prairie, meeting Smith on the way, to whom we imparted our good fortune, and received his congratulations. By three o'clock the gold was safe under the hearthstone, and then we breathed free, and felt that we indeed owned it.
By six o'clock Smith joined us with his dilapidated cart, when we immediately commenced repairing it, and getting ready for our journey towards Ballarat.
By the ingenious use of tree limbs, we were enabled to repair it sufficiently to carry all of our freight; and after it was loaded on, we ate our supper, and prepared for an early start.
The gold, which we were so glad to obtain possession of, troubled us, however. We did not like to risk its safety with us, for we knew that the population of Ballarat were wild and lawless, and we were rather fearful of losing our treasure, now that we possessed it. We consulted with Smith, and came to the conclusion that the safest place was with the honest old stockman, buried beneath his stone hearth. He readily accepted of the trust, and promised to deliver it only upon a written order, signed by both of us, and with a private mark upon the paper.
With Smith we settled according to what we considered a liberal reward. The honest fellow refused, at first, to accept of any thing, saying that he had only performed his duty, and that he was still in our debt; but we would not listen to such reasoning, and weighed out five thousand dollars, as his share, for losses sustained, and time expended.
After that matter was settled, we retired to sleep, and only awakened to partake of a substantial breakfast, for which, I have always suspected, we were indebted to the kind consideration Smith was held in by Mrs. Becky. At any rate, every thing that we could desire was spread before us; and when we shook hands with the old stockman and his daughter, I observed that Smith held the woman's hand with a firm grasp, as though reluctant to relinquish it.
Our friends waved an adieu, Smith cracked his whip, and sighed, Rover barked joyfully, as he saw preparations for moving, Fred and myself cautioned the stockman, for the last time, to be careful of our gold, and then we were off; and in half an hour's time had shut out the hut behind a miniature hill, the first which we had seen for many days.
For two days we travelled, meeting teams and vehicles of all descriptions, owned by uncouth individuals, who asked us the news from Melbourne, and ridiculed us when we said that we didn't know the price of ale and beer, or what flour was worth per ton.
As we advanced towards the mining district, the road was filled with people flocking that way, while hundreds were on their return to Melbourne or Sydney.
Wan, ghastly looking men were groaning upon the bottom of carts destitute of springs. Others, hardly able to lift their feet, were staggering along for some city where they could receive the attentions of a physician, being too poor to employ one at the mines, and too destitute to ride towards civilization.
Occasionally we saw a poor wretch by the roadside, who had apparently lain down to die, too exhausted to proceed upon his journey; while others hailed us, and begged us, in God's name, for a swallow of wine, or other stimulant, to cheer them on their way.
Long before we reached Ballarat our slender stock of liquors was exhausted, and yet we had not administered to the wants of one half of those who sought aid. Indeed, had we listened to all who begged, our provisions would also have disappeared, and we should have had to trust to our purses to replenish our supply.
Smith was an old campaigner in these regions, and cheeked our generosity, by giving us a few words of advice, which we afterwards found were correct.
On we went, the road growing worse and worse as we advanced, and as the wheels sunk into the deep ruts, I thought the wagon would be shattered to pieces in the struggle to extricate it. Dozens of teams were stuck, and despite the yells and curses of the drivers, the tired cattle refused to move.
Smith's oxen, the freshest and strongest we had seen on the road, were often borrowed to give distressed teamsters a lift, so that our progress was rather slow; and it was not until five o'clock that we entered the town of Ballarat, and passed along the main street, which was graced with huts and tents of rough boards, on each side.
On we went, passing the "Melbourne Saloon," the "Sydney Saloon," the "London Hotel," the "American Hotel," the "Californians' Retreat," and numbers of other tents, decorated with huge letters of black paint, and all setting forth the peculiar merits which each offered to the weary traveller.
At one place, we were told that real London porter could be obtained for ten shillings per bottle; and at another, that XX ale was selling for only one shilling per glass.
Signs innumerable greeted our eyes. Doctors, who informed the public that their charges were only one pound per visit, cash in advance to save trouble; carpenters, who offered to build houses at the cheapest rate; carriers, willing to freight goods to any part of Australia, and would not guarantee a safe delivery—all these were passed by without attracting any attention, although the scene was one of novelty and excitement to us.
We gained a portion of the town that was comparatively clear of tents, and near a stream of water. Here Smith thought we had better stop; and tired, and perhaps homesick, we pitched our tent, and ate our first supper at the mines of Ballarat.
THE BULLY OF BALLARAT.—FRED FIGHTS A DUEL.
Horse stealing is not regarded as a very serious crime, I regret to say, in Australia. There is a certain class of people who make no scruple of borrowing an animal without the owner's consent, and if great objection is made to such a proceeding, a resort to firearms quickly settles the matter, generally to the disadvantage of the remonstrant.
The mines are overrun with ruffians, who have no fear of law, and can only be kept in awe by courage superior to their own. Of this we were quickly made acquainted, as we were considered, by the old residents, green, having but recently arrived, and not yet learned the mysteries of Ballarat.
The first case occurred even before we had finished our supper, and perhaps gave us a better insight into the manners and customs of the miners than we could have otherwise learned for months.
I have already said that Fred and myself rode two fine horses, formerly owned by the police department of Melbourne. The animals, owing to the care which we had taken of them during our journey, were in capital order, and worth full as much money as when we first purchased them.
As we had understood that horseflesh was scarce and dear at the mines, we had determined to hold on to the brutes for a few days, and then, if we liked Ballarat, and were disposed to locate there, we had resolved to sell them, to save expense of keeping—no inconsiderable item, where to turn a horse out to pasture was to lose sight of him forever, and where barley was worth about ten dollars a hundred.
We were leisurely sipping our coffee, after looking to the comfort of the animals, having fed and rubbed them down, and allowed them to drink their fill of water, when a thick-set, black-bearded man, evidently partially intoxicated, came swaggering towards us. He wore a blue flannel shirt, open at the neck, exposing a chest brawny enough for Hercules; and around his waist was a leather belt, such as is worn by sailors on shipboard. In the belt was a long knife on one side, and on the other a pistol of mammoth dimensions; but it looked to me as though more dangerous to the holder than the one who stood before it, for the stock was broken, and the barrel rusty and neglected.
Thus equipped, the ruffian—for we could see that he was a ruffian in every movement and in every line of his animal face—swaggered towards us, nodded to Smith in a patronizing manner, and after a broad stare of half-defiance and half-wonder at Fred and myself,—an act of impertinence of which we took no notice,—he began examining the animals as though he was a connoisseur in horseflesh.
We apparently paid no attention to his movements, and continued discussing our private affairs, and sipping our coffee. Rover, who was sharing our meal, once or twice showed his teeth, and manifested a disposition to commence hostilities; but we silenced him, and thought that we would let the fellow operate for a few moments without remonstrance.
"Who is he?" we asked of Smith.
"The worst man in Ballarat. He is called the bully of the mines, and it is as much as a man's life is worth to anger him. His real name is Pete Burley; he served out his time for breaking a man's head and then robbing him, in London. Say nothing to him, but if he speaks, answer him civilly."
This was all spoken in a tone not above a whisper, and we began to think that the fellow was indeed dangerous, if a man like Smith displayed signs of fear in his presence.
After Mr. Pete had satisfied himself which horse possessed the best bottom, he turned towards us, and condescended to honor us with his attention.
"Is them hosses yourn?" he inquired, with a growl, as though the effort of asking a question was painful.
Fred intimated that they belonged to us, and that he considered them, confidentially, fine animals.
"I want to use this ere one, to-night; where's the saddle and fixins?"
"Let him have the animal," whispered Smith, without raising his eyes; "it's better than having trouble with him."
The advice was intended for our benefit, but the Yankee blood which coursed through Fred's veins was opposed to such an inglorious acquiescence.
"You don't intend to take the animal without asking our consent, do you?" inquired Fred, mildly.
The ruffian actually looked astonished, and for a moment did not reply, so bewildered did he seem.
"Have you told them fellers who I is?" asked Pete, appealing to Smith.
"I don't think that I have," replied Smith, hurriedly; "it's all right, Pete; you can have the horse, if you want him."
"If it's all right, I've no more to say; but if it's not all right, I can make it right, d——d quick," the ruffian said, still looking towards us, as though he should like to see a little opposition, just for the sake of showing us who he really was.
"My friend, here," said Fred, pointing to Smith, "is slightly mistaken in what he says. I own the horse you have selected for a ride, and I have objections against loaning him to strangers. You can't have him."
Fred was as cool as ever I saw him in my life. He reached over to the coffee-pot while he was speaking, and deliberately helped himself to coffee, sweetened it to his fancy, and then drank it, without showing the least agitation.
To my surprise, the ruffian, instead of answering Fred's speech, burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter, which lasted for some minutes.
"If this 'ere ain't jolly!" he said, after recovering his breath; "why, you fools, don't you know me? hain't you ever heard of me afore? I'm Pete Burley, the bully of Ballarat, and can lick any two men in the mines! Bah, greenies, don't be putting on airs afore you've been in this ere town two hours. Where's this hoss's bridle?"
"I have told you once," replied Fred, a small, red spot beginning to appear on each cheek, "that the animal is not at your disposal. We are strangers here, it is true, but we are not disposed to be imposed upon."
"Now, I've half a mind to hammer the whole party till you're black and blue, and then drive you from the mines. Why, you fools, who am I? what do you take me for? am I a fighting man or not?'" roared the ruffian, his eyes beginning to grow bloodshot, and his bloated face livid with rage.
By this time, a large number of idlers began to gather around, and listen to the altercation of words. None of them seemed disposed to interfere, although I saw that the mass were too much under the influence of Bully to say a word in our favor, while half a dozen sycophant curs boldly encouraged him in his course of aggression, and whispered to each other, that we should soon knuckle into "nuggets," when the bully got fairly awakened.
We paid no attention to the crowd, but continued to keep our seats and sip our coffee; but when we saw that Pete was determined to carry off the horse at any rate, we concluded that it was time to interfere in earnest.
The bully had begun to unfasten the halter which held the horse, when Fred and myself rose to our feet. The crowd kept at a respectful distance, for they knew that Bully was a man who did not stop to consider who were for or against him, when in a rage, and that he had been known to discharge a pair of pistols in the midst of a party of friends, if he felt that it was necessary to keep up his reputation for fierceness and decision. Under such circumstances, there is but little cause to wonder why men were not disposed to press forward for the purpose of listening and offering assistance.
As I said before, Pete had begun to untie the halter, and the crowd applauded in approbation of his firmness. He held the strap in one hand, when Fred and myself, followed by Smith at a short distance, reached the spot.
"I have told you once, that you cannot have my horse!" cried Fred, firmly and decidedly; "will you have the extreme goodness to let him alone?"
"Look here, you cussed counter-jumper," roared the bully; "if you utter another word, I'll make you eat the hoss and saddle, and then boot you out of town in the bargain. I'm going to have a ride; so stand aside, and don't interfere with me."
He was walking off with the animal, when Fred laid his hand upon the halter. The ruffian turned suddenly, and aimed a blow at Fred's head that would have crushed his skull, had he not quickly avoided it, and allowed the huge fist to pass within a few inches of his face.
The impetus of the blow turned the bully half round, so that he exactly faced Fred, and for a moment he was off his guard; that opportunity was improved by my friend, who saw his advantage.
Quick as lightning, I saw Fred's right hand raised, and with a "square shoulder hit," such as would have felled an ox, he let it fall full upon Bully's face. I saw the dark blood spurt out from beneath the eye of Pete, and I heard a crunching sound, as though bones were broken; but before I had time to think, the ruffian staggered, swung his arms aloft, and pitched heavily to the earth.
"By G——d, that was a Yankee blow," yelled a rough-looking genius, who had regarded the scene with great composure during the war of words. "Them fellers is Yankees, and my countrymen, and they is going to have fair play if I can get it. Stand back, all of you, and let us have this thing out. Bob," our new ally said, speaking to a friend, "you just run down to the Californe Saloon, and tell the boys a Yankee is in trouble, and needs help; and mind and tell 'um that they needn't stop to draw the charge of their revolvers."
The person addressed as Bob hastened from the spot; but before I could reward our new friend with a word of thanks, Pete, who had lain as if stunned for a few moments, began to show signs of reviving.
"We must look out for his pistol," said our rough friend, stepping from the crowd, and approaching me. "He will be certain to use it if he is not too groggy."
The words were prophetic; for hardly had the fallen man looked around, after rubbing his eye, when the whole transaction appeared to flash upon his mind.
"I have been struck," he yelled, springing to his feet, and stamping the ground in his rage. "Where is the man that dared to lay a hand upon me? Show him to me, and his blood shall run like water."
"Put up your pistol, Pete," said our new friend, laying his hand upon that weapon, which Burley had drawn, and was about to cock. "You begun this 'ere quarrel, and you are not going to use the barkers without giving the other side a chance. Is it a regular stand up and take match that you want, or do you like ten paces better? If you are for fight, you can be accommodated; but the fellow that fires the first shot, without a signal, dies, if there's any virtue in a revolver."
"A fight, a fight," yelled the outsiders, and even while they were cheering, I saw a dozen or twenty brawny-limbed fellows break through the crowd and rush into the ring.
"We just got word from you, Charley, that an American wanted fair play. Who is he?" asked one of the new comers; and by his peculiar dialect, I knew him for a native of old Vermont.
"These two 'Mericans have been pitched into by Pete Burley, 'cos they won't let him have their hoss. I happened 'long and saw the whole of it, and I tell you it was butfully done, and, no mistake. The Yankee give him Jesse, and yet he fetched him only one winder."
"We'll stick by you, and no mistake," cried our generous countryman, standing between the bully and Fred, for fear that the former should do him some harm. "The fellow is a nuisance, and ought to be kicked from the mines, for he makes his living by sponging and stealing."
"Come, Burley," cried the American addressed as Charley, "is it a fair stand up fight that you want, or an exchange of shots? Our countryman will accommodate you with either, I have no doubt."
"I want his blood; d—— him, I'll have his heart out of him," yelled the ruffian, who was also surrounded by a small circle of admirers. "He has struck me, and I want revenge."
"Well, don't cry about it," cried Charley, quite jocular. "I suppose that there will be no trouble in satisfying you. What say? shall I make arrangements for a meeting, so that you can have a pop at each other?" he continued, addressing Fred.
"The fact of it is," Charley said, dropping his voice to a whisper, "the fellow is a bloodthirsty wretch, and has committed more than half a dozen murders, yet they cannot be brought home to him. You have struck him, and he will take your life on the first opportunity. You had better shoot him, and get him out of the way. I will explain the matter to the government inspector, and there will be nothing said about the matter."
"But you forget that the ruffian may shoot me," replied Fred, with a smile.
"Well, the fact of it is, I disremembered that. But I'll tell you what I will do, if you think it will be of any consolation to you. If he hits you, I'll challenge him, and revenge your loss."
"I am much obliged to you, certainly," Fred replied; "but I won't request you to put your life in danger on my account. If you think I am bound to give satisfaction for the blow, please act in connection with my friend as my second."
"We'll arrange it, never fear," Charley said, with great readiness, as though the meeting was one of the most natural things in the world.
Cowards are always fickle, and can be swayed by good or bad success. Those who a few minutes before were silent, or encouraged the English bully in his course, now left his ranks, arrayed themselves upon our side, and many a hand, rough and hard with toil, was stretched out for us to grasp and receive congratulations.
"Faith, Mr. Yankee," whispered a Hibernian to Fred, "ef ye can kill the divil, do so wid all your heart, for a bigger thief never lived. He stole me boots day afore yesterday, and the spalpeen refuses to return 'um."
"He licked me last week," said another, in an under tone, "and if you think you can afford to beat him for a pound, I'll give it, readily."
"When you aim at him, be sure to fire a second afore the word is given," cried another new, but not very conscientious friend. "It's a trick the bully is up to, and it's that way he treated poor Billy Hanes, who accused him of stealing his dust. Do as I bid you, and you'll be all right."
"We've fixed it," cried California Charley, as he was called by the crowd, interrupting the confidential advice which Fred was receiving. "We have concluded to let Burley have a shot to heal his wounded honor, as he calls his black eye. A devilish bad looking peeper he has got, and a stunning blow you must have given him to have produced such an effect."
"When is it to come off?" I asked, almost trembling for Fred.
"We have decided that it shall take place immediately, 'cos it would be cruel to disappoint the crowd assembled. They expect a duel, and we must gratify them. If you are successful, you will be the most popular man in Ballarat, and there is no knowing what is in store for you."
"What weapons are we to use?" Fred asked.
"Revolvers, to be sure. I've promised to let the fellow use mine for the sake of placing him on an equality with you. I see that you have a revolver, so that I know you will be able to shoot better with it than a strange pistol. But remember, we have no fooling about the affair. I never stand second for a man unless he tries to win, and I should hate to think that you were foolish enough to throw away your fire. Do you kill him the first time, or he will kill you."
Fred thanked our countryman for his advice, and for a moment we conferred together apart.
"The same directions which I gave you when I was compelled to fight my first duel, will answer for this," Fred said. "If any thing should happen, don't let me be buried near this place. Carry my body to the old convict's hut, and let me be interred there by the side of the stream."
I promised, although there were tears in my eyes and a choking sensation in my throat, as I did so.
"Don't give way to any weakness, here," Fred whispered. "Remember that the eyes of a thousand people are upon us. Let them see that we possess the true Yankee grit."
He squeezed my hand as he spoke, and the next instant I was restored to my usual calmness, as far as the prying eyes which were fastened upon us could discover.
"Am I to be kept waiting all day for the young feller to say his prayers?" roared the bully, who began to grow impatient for blood.
"Don't let him call again," said Charley; "if he does, the people will think we are rather backward to meet him. Sympathy is now all on our side, and we must not lose it."
"I am ready," replied Fred, after a brief inspection of his revolver.
"That's right—are you certain that those caps are not damp? Do you want any thing? Can I do any thing for you?"
With these questions, and half a dozen others in the same breath, which Charley asked as rapidly as though there was not a moment to spare, Fred was conducted near his adversary, who uttered an exclamation when he saw him, that was intended for an intimidation.
"Where shall I hit the d——d Yankee?" he cried, brandishing his pistol. "I'll pepper him just where you tell me to, and afterwards we'll drink his speedy passage to—"
The balance of the exclamation was so shocking that his only friend checked him by asking if his pistol was well loaded.
"It's loaded well enough to kill that d——d pup. I say, what a joke it will be! I kill a d——d Yankee with a Yankee's pistol. I suppose they want to thin the breed off."
The bully's words, instead of intimidating Fred, had a contrary effect, for I saw by his eyes that his mind was made up, and all feeling of compassion was banished from his bosom.
"You're to stand off twenty paces," Charley said, speaking to Fred; "I had some thoughts of making the distance less, but I was afraid to trust you so near, considering that you are a new beginne ..."
Fred glanced at me and smiled. The Californian little, thought that he was acting as second to a man whose reputation as a hunter of bushrangers was the theme of every miner's discourse, and that the newspapers of Australia had spread our fame all over the island.
"You need not fear that I shall disgrace your patronage," Fred said. "I have seen an enemy's front before to-day."
"Gad, I begin to think that you have," Charley cried, noticing that his man displayed no sign of tremulousness.
"Stand one side, gentlemen," cried the Californian. "Our men are going to fire."
"Let me get in front of them—that's the safest place," roared out some joker.
"It's pluck the Yankee is," cried our Hibernian friend. "See, he don't look a bit like running away."
"Five to one that Burley hits at the first fire," cried a sporting man.
"Done," yelled the Irishman. "How much does ye wish to come down?"
"Five pound to two that neither is killed at the first fire," roared another.
"Make it mortally wounded, and Jim's your customer," replied an anxious miner, producing his small bag of gold to cover the stake.
"I'll go this nugget that the Yankee hits his man at the first fire," cried one fellow, holding up a lump of virgin gold as large as a hen's egg.
"I'll take it—I'll take it," a number of voices replied, and straight-way there was a rush towards him.
"Jim," cried our bully opponent, "do you go into the crowd and take a few bets on my account, as I am in want of money, and after I've killed this young sprig of insolence, I intend to go on a spree. Take all the odds offered."
I saw no one accept of the mission, so I concluded that the ruffian's words were merely intended as capital for the crowd, accessions to which were constantly increasing.
"Come," said Fred, speaking to Charley; "let us have this concluded as soon as possible, or the whole town of Ballarat will be here to witness it."
"That is just what. I want," replied our new-found friend, with great coolness. "If you are fortunate enough to kill the bully,—and I am sure I hope you will be,—every one who sees him fall will swear that the fight was a beautiful one, and that every thing was perfectly fair and just; 'while those who did not, will vow that murder has been committed, and urge the commissioner to arrest you. It's a great satisfaction sometimes to see a duel, and it's only right and proper that as many as possible should be gratified with the sport."
"But it appears to me that the population of the town is all here now," remonstrated Fred.
"There's where you are mistaken," replied Charley; "the news has hardly reached the miners in the shafts, and that class of people will feel deeply grieved unless they are among the spectators."
"There comes a gang of men," I said, calling the Californian's attention to thirty or forty, who, to judge by soiled garments, had just come from the bowels of the earth.
"Yes, there are some of the underground miners, and a rough set they are. Will you hurry up?" Charley shouted, "or are we to wait here all night?"
"Why weren't we called afore?" asked one of the party. "This don't look like the old style of doing things, I must say."
"I got word to you as quick as I could, and what more can I do? It's all owing to me that you got an invite at all. This young feller don't know our customs, and wanted to bang away afore any one was here," replied my assistant second.
"Did you tell him how we managed things?" asked the leading miner, gravely, as though a breach of etiquette had been committed of the rudest kind.
"Of course I did," replied Charley, with alacrity. "You don't think I'd forget my duty?"
"And what answer did the young feller make?" inquired the miner, as though a great deal was attached to Fred's reply.
"He said that he was ready to comply with the customs of Ballarat, and that he would wait a fortnight, if necessary, to allow the shaft miners to get out to see the fun."
"He said that, did he?" asked the spokesman, nodding his head with pleasure.
"Of course he did; and let me tell you he is one of 'em," Charley exclaimed, with enthusiasm.
"I believe ye, and the fight can go on without any further delay, after I've filled my pipe and lighted it."
We watched the miner as he slowly cut his tobacco and stuffed it into his pipe, and then, with great deliberation, sheltered it with his hands while he lighted it with a match.
"Now I'm comfortable—let the fight go on."
As soon as the miner, who appeared to have great authority over the crowd, uttered these words, there was a scattering on every side to get out of range of the bullets. The people fell back and left the two principals with their seconds in a double line, which extended for some distance.
"Let us shake hands again," said Fred, as the two men were brought into position. "You, too, Smith, are entitled to my thanks, and a farewell."
"Don't say that—God knows I did all that I could to keep you apart."
"I know that you did," replied Fred, with a smile; "but we have no time to talk of such matters. Stand one side, for I see the crowd and my opponent are impatient to smell blood."
Smith fell back, and I slowly and reluctantly followed him.
"Gentlemen," cried the Californian, taking his station about midway between the principals, "you are to fire when I say 'fire,' and not before. The man who discharges his pistol before the word is given shall get the contents of half a dozen different revolvers."
This piece of intelligence appeared to disconcert Burley, for he whispered to his second, and they glanced suspiciously towards the crowd.
"There'll be no firing afore the time at this fight," I heard the man say who had requested us to be on the watch for the bully.
"Now, then, gentlemen, are you ready?" asked Charley.
"Ready for half an hour past, 'cos I've got to be at old Steve's at eight o'clock," returned Burley.
The crowd cheered him for his spunk, as they termed it, and when Fred only bowed to the question, and pulled his hat a little more over his eyes, the Californian's party applauded.
"Now, then, remember what I told you. Are you ready?"
Both men cocked their pistols, and aimed as though they meant mischief.
"Fire!" thundered the Californian.
I heard a bullet whiz past me, and I saw that Fred stood firm upon his legs, and then I had just time to look towards the bully to see him give a spring upward and fall heavily upon his face. The earth fairly shook as he struck it.
BALLARAT CUSTOMS, AFTER A DUEL.
A wild cheer, whether of joy or rage I could not tell, burst from the crowd as Burley fell. The vacant space which had been kept clear for duelling was filled at once by a struggling mass of people, all pressing towards the fallen bully to learn the result of his injuries.
Amidst all the confusion and struggling, our California friends managed to keep close to us, as though to afford protection in case we were molested by adherents of Burley. But no one appeared to assail us, while hundreds rushed up and shook our hands, and congratulated us on the result of the fight.
"It's well ye did it, by gar," cried our Hibernian acquaintance; "niver fear but ye is all right now. I'll fight for ye, mind, for faith, I've won a nugget on ye."
"Take your men off the ground, Charley," said the stout miner, who appeared to exercise such unlimited control over the crowd. "Take 'em off, and if they is wanted we know where to find 'em."
In obedience to this mandate we were forced off the ground towards our tent, and when we reached it we did not have to wait long for news. Indeed, we found some trouble in keeping people out, for crowds were wishing to get a sight of the man who tamed the bully of Ballarat; and had not our California friends reported that Fred was slightly wounded and desired time to have his hurts attended to, I verily believe he would have been paraded round the town on the shoulders of his enthusiastic admirers. While we were speculating on the result of the duel, and Fred was congratulating himself on getting off so cheap, Charley rushed in.
"Well, how much injured is Burley?" I asked.
"He is pretty badly hurt, but I reckon he'll get over it. The shot hit him on the hip, and if ever he does get well he'll be troubled in walking, I should think."
"Then there is a prospect of his recovering?" demanded Fred, anxiously.
"Well, I should think there was a right smart chance of his getting on his pins in the course of time. It's hard killing such ugly customers, you know."
"I am thankful that he will not die by my hand," replied Fred, with his whole heart.
"Well, it's just as one fancies, you know. Now I shouldn't have thought it a great crime had the old scamp been peppered right through the heart. But, how's this?"
The eyes of Charley wandered around the tent as though he saw something that excited his suspicions. We looked at him with astonishment.
"It ain't the way the miners have been accustomed to be treated, and I'm sorry that I had any thing to do with the duel, 'cos I'll be blamed," Charley said, shaking his head, and looking as mournful as though he had just heard of the death of his grandfather.
"Will you be kind enough to tell us what you disapprove of," asked Fred, anxiously.
"Well, I hope that I'll be acquitted of all blame, and I want you to say so when the influential miners make their appearance," our new acquaintance said, still shaking his head and muttering to himself.
"Pray, what do you mean?" repeated Fred, beginning to feel a little nervous and a little angry at the same time.
"Well, I suppose you know something 'bout the customs of the miners, don't you?" Charley asked.
"I know nothing about your customs or laws, for I've been in Ballarat only two hours, and yet I've fought a duel and eaten supper, work enough for one man," Fred said.
"I forgive you," cried Charley, seizing our hands and shaking them in a sudden burst of friendship.' "Say no more—I forgive you."
"For Heaven's sake, what have I done that deserves forgiveness on your part?" demanded Fred.
"Why, didn't you know that on occasions like these 'ere the survivor of a duel is expected to have a few refreshments set out in his tent, and that all the principal men of Ballarat will be here to take a drink?"
"I certainly was not acquainted with such an understanding, and I don't think that even my friend Smith, here, who has made many trips to Melbourne and the mines, ever heard of it," replied Fred.
Smith shook his head to intimate that he was in blissful ignorance, and just then one of the Californians, who acted as doorkeeper, put his head into the tent and shouted,—"They're coming, Charley; are you ready for 'em?"
"You see," our friend said, with great coolness, "that something to drink is expected, and yet we have nothing to offer. What are we to do?"
"What have you been accustomed to do?" interrogated Fred, beginning to think that he had fallen among queer people, his countrymen included.
"Well, a gallon or two of gin, or the same amount of brandy, has always been considered as about right. It all depends on a man's circumstances. Now, you," and Charley fixed his eyes with great earnestness upon Fred's form while speaking, "I calculate, is worth something considerably handsome, and can afford to treat the boys pretty liberal."
"Is any thing more customary?" asked Fred, with a slight sneer.
"Well sometimes, when it's a pretty bad case, I've known a feller to come down liberally with beer; but of course you can do as you please about that. They sell first rate at the Californe saloon—new tap, just arrived," and Charley's eyes sparkled at the prospect of getting a drink.
"Then, perhaps, as I and my friend are strangers here, you will do me the pleasure of acting as master of ceremonies, and order what you think fit."
"But you'll pay for the fixens, you know," our friend said, with true Yankee sagacity; and as he spoke he watched narrowly to see if the money was forthcoming to back up the request.
"Certainly," answered Fred, with a melancholy smile at the prospect before him. He drew from his pocket a number of gold pieces and handed them to Charley, who clutched them with avidity.
"I say, Bob," our California friend exclaimed, running to the entrance of the tent; "it's all right. Tell the folks to wait, and we'll have something to wet their whistles. He's come down handsomely, and no mistake."
"Any orders?" asked the fellow addressed as Bob.
"Yes, indeed; go down to my place and tell my partner that we'll be there in a few minutes, and that we intend to drink him dry afore morning."
"A pleasant prospect," I muttered, in an undertone, to Fred. "It seems that the fellow is proprietor of a saloon, and is determined that we shall pay him for his trouble by drinking all that he has got."
Charley intimated that he would show us the way, but Fred held back.
"Why can't you drink your ale without my presence?" he asked, impatiently.
"'Cos we don't approve of haristocracy here in Ballarat, and it would make the miners think that you didn't want to 'sociate with 'em. It wouldn't do."
"But if you should tell them that I am slightly injured, and need rest, wouldn't that have some effect?" Fred inquired, driven almost to desperation.
"Well, the only effect it would have you'd be obliged to receive the folks in your tent, and perhaps that would not be agreeable. But you can do jist as you please, remember. I've been at Ballarat for six months, and I should think I know'd the ideas and habits of the miners purty well."
"For Heaven's sake, let us go to your place without delay, and get through with the business. I've half a mind to turn my back upon Ballarat to-morrow," cried Fred.
"You won't do that, I reckon, while there's so much of the root of all evil in the ground. Why, I s'pose you come up here to get rich, and you is going jist the right way to work to do it. To-morrow you'll be the most popular man in the mines, and there's no telling what the boys may do for you. Perhaps send you a delegate to the governor-general, to ask him to clip off the taxes which we have to pay for digging gold. I tell you there's a brilliant future before you, so come along."
We could not resist such a plea, and, followed by about half a thousand miners, teamsters, and idlers, we gained the saloon owned by our friend, which proved to be the much vaunted "Californian Retreat."
The saloon was made of sail cloth, not exactly in the form of a tent, for a slight frame was visible of a square order, and to the joist was the cloth tacked. A few rough boards, evidently taken from boxes, formed the bar, or counter, and half a dozen shelves were nailed up behind it, composed of the same material.
On the shelves were a dozen or more black bottles, and three cracked tumblers stood upon the bar ready to use. A pitcher of water, that almost steamed with heat, was arrayed before the tumblers; but that, I imagine, was intended as an ornament, and not for use, for I did not observe, while I was at the mines, a man make use of such liquid to qualify his liquor. The merchants of Melbourne and the carriers of freight between the city and the mines saved them the trouble.
In the rear part of the saloon was a good sized Yankee stove, black with dirt, and rust, the accumulation of many days' cooking, during which fried pork was the staple article; and it was evident that the presiding genius of the cuisine department had been regardless of how much fat was spilled, and how much dirt his patrons consumed.
Three or four berths, near the stove, shaped like those found in the steerage of a ship, completes a description of every thing in the Californian Retreat worthy of notice. In one of the berths I noticed a man who appeared to be very sick, for he hardly opened his eyes when the crowd which followed us to the saloon rushed in in a disorderly manner.
"Well," said our friend Charley, rubbing his hands with an air of great satisfaction, and glancing around his premises, "this looks snug, don't it?"
"Very," I answered, rather dryly.
"You won't find in all Ballarat a saloon that can begin to compare with this in point of neatness, and a supply of all the luxuries of the season. Our liquors are first rate, and no mistake; and although we is out of cigars, we have got some of the juiciest nigger-head that you ever seed."
The miner, who appeared to exercise such sway over his comrades, edged his way through the crowd.
"I came here," he said, "thinking that the duel feller had axed us to wet our whistles, but it 'pears that I am mistaken."
The speaker, now that I had time to study his countenance and appearance, I found was a man nearly six feet, six inches high, broad across the shoulders, with a face massive and determined, yet not wanting indications of good nature.
"Don't be in such a stew, Ben," cried Charley, rushing towards him, and preventing his leaving the saloon. "The thing is all right. The dueller feller pays for all, and we're only waiting for my partner to roll in a keg of some of the slickest Yankee whiskey that was ever made in York State, I tell you."
"Is that so?" asked stout Ben, as he was called, and his face appeared to express satisfaction at the news. "That is r-e-l-i-a-b-l-e, I s'pose, Charley?" "My word for it, Ben. But come and shake hands with Burley's tamer, and encourage the youngster with your patronage."
The giant, drew the back of his hand across his mouth as though it was watering for the whiskey, but after a slight urging, the second time he suffered Charley to conduct him to the corner of the saloon, where Fred, Smith, and myself were standing, receiving congratulations from all who wanted a drink of liquor free of cost.
"This is the chap, Ben," Charley said, nodding towards Fred, and that was all the introduction which was deemed necessary.
"I am happy to know you," said "Fred, grasping n hand that was about the size of a shoulder of mutton, and twice as hard and nubby.
"You did putty well with Burley, and I am glad of it," Ben replied, shutting his fist and compressing Fred's bind for what he intended as a gentle squeeze—but I could see by my friend's face that he would be very glad when it was relinquished.
"A fine shot you made of it, sir," Ben said, not noticing that he had inflicted a large amount of pain.
"Is the poor fellow badly hurt?" asked Fred.
"Well, he's got an ugly hole in him, and it's hard hunting—the sawbones will have to find the lead."
"I hope that, he will live," repeated Fred. "I did not seek his life, and I should be sorry to think that an act of mine sent him from the world with all his sins unrepented of."
"Never you mind about that," replied Ben. "If a feller wants to take your heart out, you've got the right to say to that feller, you don't come it; and if the feller still persists, you is bound to act on the defensive, and either lick him or kill him, I don't care which. I jinerally lick 'em."
As I glanced at the sturdy limbs of the giant miner I thought that he would be apt to meet but few men who would not prefer the shooting to the licking.
"You often have trouble here in Ballarat?" Fred asked.
"Well, no, I can't say that I see much of it. Sometimes the fellers make a rumpus, but they generally let me alone, and that's all I ax of 'em. But whar's that 'ere licker we's to have? 'Pears to me it's rather slow in getting 'long."
"Here it comes," shouted Charley, bustling around the crowded room, if, indeed, room it could be called. "I had to wait for it to be unloaded, Ben, 'cos it arrived only an hour or two ago from Sydney."
"You say it's the real New York first proof whiskey, do ye?" asked Ben, holding a tumbler two thirds full of the stuff up to the light, and scanning its color with a critical eye.
"The real thing, and no mistake. It's just sich as you used to git when chopping away down in the backwoods of Maine," replied Charley.
We then discovered, what we had all along suspected, that the miner was an American, and belonged in the Eastern State.
"Come, ain't you fellers a goin' to drink with us? That ain't exactly the thing, you know. There ain't no aristocracy in these parts. Every feller is tree and equal, as the old Constitution of the States says."
We could not withstand Ben's pressing intimation that we were to consider ourselves no better than others present, and after waiting five minutes for a chance at a glass, we managed to swallow a few mouthfuls of the vile stuff.
"That's the ticket!" he cried, when he saw that we were disposed to follow his example; "nothing like good whiskey to keep a man all right, at the mines. I don't drink much myself, but I've no objections to other people taking a nip now and then."
As he spoke, he held out his glass for another nip, and the attentive Charley, with an eye to his profits, quickly filled it.
"I give you," said Ben, appealing to the crowd for silence—for most of the miners had grown talkative, under the influence of their drink—"I give you a toast. Here's to the tax, and d—— the man that wouldn't d—— it!"
The toast was received with yells of applause, and even when the confusion was at its height, I noticed a small, dark-complexioned man, wearing a blue frock coat with brass buttons, but with no other insignia of office or authority, enter the room.
His presence was not noticed by the crowd, which still continued its revels, until the new comer approached us, when a death-like silence crept over the assembly.
"Good evening, gentlemen," said the dark man, addressing Fred and myself in a courteous manner; "I belive that you are recent arrivals?"
"Not more than three hours since," I replied, returning his salutation.
"I believe you have stated the hours correctly," he returned, dryly; "we live fast, here in Ballarat, yet I think you have outstripped us by your activity."
"No one can regret the circumstance which has taken place more than myself," replied Fred.
"Perhaps not," answered the dark man with a grim smile; and while he was speaking, I noticed that those in the saloon edged towards us for the purpose of hearing our conversation.
"The quarrel was occasioned by a dispute about horses, I believe?" the little man said.
"You are correct in your suppositions," returned Fred.
"Will you be kind enough to inform me how those animals came in your possession?" interrogated the stranger.
"I don't know what business it is of yours," returned Fred, with some asperity; "but as we seek to disguise nothing, I will frankly inform you that we purchased the horses and paid for them."
"A likely story, truly; I never yet knew the police of Melbourne to sell their spare horses."
At these words, we saw that the crowd looked at each other suspiciously, and appeared to regard us as being guilty of some serious crime.
"When you show us your authority for asking questions, we will explain matters." I replied, after a moment's hesitation.
"Perhaps you will explain before it suits your convenience," the little man said, ironically; "I heard of the quarrel and the duel which one of you has been engaged in, and while investigating, I took occasion to look at the horses which you rode. You will imagine that I was surprised to discover that each animal had upon his hind quarter the private mark of the police of Melbourne. I repeat, sir, that the authorities of that city are not in the habit of selling horses to adventurers."
The little man spoke confidently, and glanced around the crowd to see if his words were having an effect upon his audience. Thinking that he would complete our humiliation, he continued:—
"Our worthy miners here at Ballarat, have sometimes been put to great trouble by losing the dust which they have sent to the cities, and I think that I am right in demanding, in their name, a strict account of all suspicious people who visit us."
This was a shrewd bit of acting on the part of the little man, for he instantly carried all the miners with him. Hardly one present but had suffered at the hands of the bushrangers, and was anxious to avenge his loss.
"Let the fellers show who they is," the crowd began to murmur; and even our former friend, Charley, I observed, joined in the cry, while Ben remained silent, and drank two more glasses of whiskey during the tumult.
"It is evident that you suspect us of being bushrangers," observed Fred, coolly.
"I certainly think that you are," returned the little man, bluntly; "and it is a matter of surprise to me that I see you in the company of a man who has, during his trading at the mines, borne a good character."
This was a hard dig at Smith, and he sought to explain, but Fred checked him.
"If we should prove to you that we are honest men, I suppose that you would be willing to make an ample apology for the manner in which you have addressed us?" Fred said.
The little man smiled sarcastically, and intimated that he should be most happy.
"Then," Fred exclaimed, drawing a paper from his pocket and handing it to the little man, "you will please to read that, and see if you are acquainted with the signatures."
The stranger called for a candle, for it was nearly dark, and by its light began perusing the document.
"What is this?" he muttered; "a bill of sale of two horses, formerly owned by the police of Melbourne, to Messrs. Frank —— and James ——, signed by Hansen, the captain of police, and Murden, lieutenant. Can it be possible? Yes, it must be; I understand it all."
The little man threw himself upon us, grasped each of our hands, and to the intense astonishment of all present, began shaking them as though he was working a pump.
"How could I be so mistaken?" he asked. "I really thought; but, pshaw, my suspicions were so absurd."
"What's the row?" demanded big Ben, who began to feel the effects of the chemical whiskey.
"There is no row, only I am happy to say that I made a mistake in my man," the little person said.
"What, ain't they men, after all?" shouted Ben; "if they ain't men, they must be wimmin, and that's all the better; if one of 'urn wants a husbin' I'm the feller for her!"
"Their past conduct don't prove that they are women!" cried the little man. "They are the two Americans who are known all over the island as bushranger hunters. We have all read an account of their doings in the Melbourne papers, and we welcome them to the mines, and hope that they will be as successful here as they have been elsewhere."
"The devil they is; why, I thought when I seen that ere feller stand up to be shot at, that he had smelled gunpowder afore. Give us your hands, my chickens! Cuss me, if ye ain't an honor to the States!"
We hardly dared trust our hands within Ben's grip, yet when we did so, we were delightfully surprised to find that he was reasonable.
"Well, I allers said that they was all right!" cried Charley, who turned with the tide; "the instant I seed 'um insulted, I knew that I should be on the right side. You wouldn't like to pay for the whiskey which has been drunk, would you?" he asked, in an undertone.
Fred put a number of gold coins in his hand, but whether our sponging friend was overpaid, or whether the money fell short, I never knew, as I saw the little man give him a glance that was very expressive of his disapprobation, and with an ashamed look, the fellow slunk back to his whiskey cask.
"Come, gentlemen," said the little man; "this is no place for tired travellers. Let us retire, and leave the crowd to drink themselves drunk."
We followed his advice, and in a few minutes had left the dissipated miners to their revels.
ARRIVAL AT BALLARAT.—MR. BROWN'S STORY.
We walked slowly along the main street of Ballarat, and chatted with our new friend on a variety of subjects. He appeared to be well informed on mining, and shrugged his shoulders when we intimated that our intention was to get rich by delving in the earth, and bringing its riches to light.
"By the way," our new acquaintance said, "it is a little singular that Murden did not give you a letter to me. He knows that I am stationed here, and that I would do all in my power to assist his friends."
I suddenly recollected, that just before we left Melbourne, Murden did scribble off a letter, and hand it to me, with a remark, that perhaps it might be useful to us. I had forgotten the circumstance, but I knew where the note was, and I determined to hunt it up as soon as I returned to my tent.
"I have a letter from the lieutenant," I said; "but if I am not mistaken, it is addressed to a Mr. Brown, although where Mr. Brown is to be found is more than I can tell."
The little man laughed in a quiet manner, as though he did not wish to commit himself by being too jovial.
"I think that you have hit upon the right one," he said, "for my name is Brown."
"Then you shall have the note," I replied; "but I should never have thought of looking for the one that it is addressed to."
"O, yes you would," he replied, confidently.
"Why do you think so?" I asked.
"Because you will hear my name mentioned oftener at Ballarat than any other."
"And pray, may we he so bold as to ask what your position is, that gives you so great a notoriety?"
"Ask? To be sure you may," returned the little man; "I am the police inspector of Ballarat, and my name is James Brown, very much at your service."
"We have mingled with the police so much since we have been in Australia, that we almost consider ourselves as belonging to the department. We are therefore sorry that we were not introduced to your notice under better auspices," Fred said.
"O, you alluded to that shooting affair to-night. That did not amount to much, although I must say that I wish you had killed the bully, for he has given me more trouble than any other man at the mines. He is as desperate a scoundrel as ever went unhanged, and had he been killed outright, there are few who would mourn his fate."
"That may be true, yet I have always a great repugnance to shedding human blood," replied Fred, in a sorrowful tone.
Mr. Inspector Brown stopped for a moment, as though surprised by the answer.
"I had the same kind of feeling once, yet it is many years since. A long residence in Australia has blunted all my finer sensibilities, and I have witnessed so much crime and cruelty, that I am unmoved now, even when a poor wretch is gasping forth his last words. I have often thought that I would give all the gold that the mines of Australia yield if I was but young again, and possessed the same sympathizing heart that I did once."
By this time we had reached our tent, and our approach was challenged by a deep bay from Rover, whom we had left to guard our baggage.
"A splendid animal," remarked the inspector, as he sought to lay his hand upon Rover's head; but the dog resented the liberty, and growled menacingly.
"He deserves all your praise," I replied, pleased at the conduct of the brute, and doubly pleased to hear a deserved tribute to his ability.
"If you ever feel disposed to part with him," the inspector hinted, "I will not haggle about his price."
"I will never sell him," I answered.
"Where did you obtain him, for I see that he is of English breed?" asked Inspector Brown.
We entered the tent, where we found Smith, who had preceded us from the Californian's Retreat, and, after finding a seat for Mr. Brown, we related the manner in which Rover had started us by his deep bays, on the night of our first encampment by the hut of the old convict.
"And Black Darnley—when you met him, did the dog appear to recognize him as the author of the murder?" asked the inspector, who appeared deeply interested in our narrative.
I related the scene in the forest, when the bold outlaw yielded up his life to satisfy the vengeance of an enraged father; and when I had concluded, the little, dark man's eyes gleamed as though he had taken part in the battle.
"How I should liked to have been with you!" he exclaimed; "I can imagine your feelings, as you crept through the forest, and awoke the bushrangers with the crack of your rifles. No wonder the governor-general wished to secure your services in the police force."
"How did you learn that?" I asked, astonished at his knowledge.
"A friend at Melbourne wrote to me to that effect, and also sent me newspapers containing your exploits. The last brush that you had with Murden was more exciting than any other that you ever engaged in."
"How did you know that we had been so engaged?" asked Fred.
"By rumor. A team reached this place this evening, and the driver reports that he met Murden fifty miles from Melbourne, with eight or ten bushrangers as prisoners. From one of the police he gained his information that two Americans were participants in the fight. Of course I arrived at the conclusion that both of you were present. Come, tell me all about it."
"On condition that you relate one or two of your life adventures," Fred said.
Fred commenced from the time when we began our search for gold, (although he wisely omitted all mention of finding any,) and recounted the surprise, and our capture—the rescue by Murden—the fight—the attempt of the bushrangers to burn us by firing the woods—an escape, and promise to Steel Spring, (at the mention of whose name Mr. Brown smiled, as though acquainted with the reputation of the treacherous wretch,) if he would guide us to the retreat of Nosey—the fulfilment of his promise, and the death of the bushranger chief, and the capture of his gang.
"A splendid, stirring time you had of it," said Mr. Brown, rubbing his sinewy hands as though he liked to work, and was impatient to think that he had not been there.
"But you," Fred said, "must have seen many rough times during your long service at the mines."
"My fights have been more with single men, or at least, not over three at a time. You were speaking of Black Darnley, and the manner in which he met his fate. I never encountered him but once, and then he slipped through my fingers; and whether the fellow concluded that we pressed him too hard, or thought that better opportunities for stealing existed near the forest, I can't say; but, at any rate, I never heard of his being nearer Ballarat than twenty-five miles after we met."
"If not too much trouble, please relate an account of it," I said.
The little man glanced at his watch, and saw that the hour was still early, and after asking our permission to light his pipe, which we readily accorded, and joined him with pleasure in the same agreeable occupation, he began:—
"I think it was about three months since, when a party of three miners, who had accumulated a considerable amount of treasure by working in these mines, concluded that they would sell out their claim and return to Sydney, and from thence take ship to England, where they belonged. For the sake of saving the small percentage that government charges on sending gold dust to Melbourne, or Sydney, under the escort of soldiers, the miners concluded that they would guarantee its safety.
"I explained to them that they were running a great risk, as I had heard that Darnley was in the neighborhood; but they only laughed at my warnings, and pointed to their long knives and smooth-bored guns, and intimated that the bushranger must be a bold man who dared to ask them to stand and deliver.
"If I had not often heard such boasts, perhaps I might have been deceived; but I knew many men, both brave and daring, who had quailed at the sight of an armed bushranger, so I put no confidence in the stories of what they intended to do in case of an attack. I considered it my duty to warn them once more, and when that failed, I let them leave the mines without further remonstrance.
"I think that it was the third day after the miner's departure, that I was sitting in my office, making out a few records that were to be sent to Melbourne, when, to my surprise, one of the pig-headed follows presented himself before me. I should hardly have known him, he was so changed. His feet were bare and bleeding, his clothes were torn into shreds, and his whole appearance of the most abject and wretched description.
"I asked a few questions, but for a long time my visitor could not answer me, so overcome was he with grief. He shed tears, upbraided himself for his obstinacy, and refused to be comforted. At length, by the aid of a few glasses of stimulants, I was enabled to learn his story. It was as I had half supposed.
"About twenty-five miles from Ballarat, a singular looking genius had joined them, and requested permission to travel in their company. He manifested so much fear of robbers, and told about his aristocratic relatives, and the large amount of money on his person, that a ready assent was given to his request."
"It must have been Steel Spring," I said.
The little man nodded his head in token of assent, and continued:—
"At noon, on the day that Steel Spring joined the party, a halt was proposed, under the shade of a gum tree that stood near the road. The miners, tired with the long walk, readily consented, and after partaking of their humble fare, Steel Spring produced a bottle, and invited all to join him in a friendly drink. He did not have to ask twice, and although no suspicions were entertained by the miners, the relater of the transaction told me that he noticed that Steel Spring's sups at the flask were short, and not at all frequent.
"The treacherous scamp, after he had won their confidence by relating some incidents connected with his early life, began to examine the guns which the miners carried; and after he had finished, and when the men were about ready to commence their journey, a stout, dark-faced, ferocious-looking man appeared before them. He soon made known his intentions, for in his belt he carried a pair of pistols, and at his shoulder, with glistening eyes glancing along the barrel, sighting the first one that offered to stir, was a heavy gun, with a bore like a blunderbuss.
"For a few seconds they stood thus, not a word being spoken, when suddenly Steel Spring, with a pretended cry of terror, threw himself at the feet of the stranger and shouted for mercy. It was a trick of his, and well he played his part; yet the miners did take up their guns, but found that the priming had been removed by Steel Spring while they were drinking his liquor.
"The instant the poor fellows made a motion towards repriming, the bushranger discharged his gun, and one fell. The other two, struck with awe at the sight of their comrade's blood, turned and fled—but a pistol shot brought down one of them, while, by good fortune, the third escaped, and brought to me a narrative of his sufferings.
"He had lost all of his hard earnings, for the gold dust was in their knapsacks, and left behind, a prize to Black Darnley. The survivor begged of me, nay, entreated, and promised half that he had lost if I would only recover his wealth. In fact, he appeared to be much more anxious to get his gold than avenge the death of his comrades; and amidst all his grief, he had the impudence to ask me if I did not consider that he was entitled to the wealth of his partners in case I recovered it. I was almost tempted to turn him out of my room, but I thought that it would do no good; I recollected that I had a public duty to perform, and I made preparations for an immediate departure. I took with me but three men, stout fellows whom I knew I could rely upon, and whose courage had been tested in a dozen fights.
"We armed ourselves with pistols and rifles, and mounting the fastest horses that we could command, started for the scene of robbery, in hope of tracking the villains to their retreat, and bringing them to speedy justice. We reached the tree, near where the murders had been committed, but no bodies were in sight. A short distance from the road, however, was a long line of dried weeds and rank grass, and as I observed a number of birds of prey sailing over the place, I concluded that I should find the remains of the men there. I was not disappointed.
"The bodies had been dragged out of sight of the road, and then rifled of every thing of value. I did not stop to give the poor fellows burial then, because every moment was of importance; but after we had concluded the expedition, my men returned and covered them with earth, and placed a rude cross at their heads.
"We examined attentively for a trail to show the direction that the robbers had taken, and luckily found it without difficulty. It led in a direct course towards Sydney, and it was evident that Darnley intended to cross the country for about fifty miles, and then strike for the common road, so that he could get provisions or water from those who happened to be passing.
"I studied on the matter for a few minutes, and wondered why they should choose such an extraordinary course; at last I came to the conclusion that the murderers were really bound for Sydney, and that they had an object in view, and were determined to get there as soon as possible—or why should they go over a mountainous country, when they might have kept the woods?
"The course which they had evidently taken was many miles shorter than the usual route, but a road that a horse could not travel.
"I suddenly recollected, while my men were following the trail for the purpose of seeing if my surmise's were correct, that the miners had deposited in the Sydney bank about a thousand pounds, and that it was subject to their order. Their certificates of deposit must have been upon their persons when murdered, and Darnley would not scruple to boldly present himself at the bank, or else send Steel Spring to secure the money. I reasoned in that manner, and then concluded to act as though my surmises were facts.
"I recalled the men, and we started towards Sydney without a moment's delay. I knew that both robbers were fast travellers, but I calculated that I could reach the point at which they would strike the Sydney road as soon, if not sooner, than they did.
"In this I was disappointed; for although we rode all night, and only stopped long enough to recruit the strength of our animals, yet when I made an inquiry of a party bound for Ballarat, I found that two men, who stated that they were from the mines, had purchased provisions and water from them, and then continued on their course, as though they had not a moment to lose. It was noon when the information was given, and the murderers were seen at daylight. They had ten hours the start of us, but, nothing daunted, we pushed on, making inquiries of those whom we met, yet not a word of news could be obtained. I did not wonder much at that, for I knew that Darnley would avoid the high road as much as it was possible, and only strike it to obtain provisions. I also knew that he would conduct himself in a discreet manner, for fear of starting an alarm; and that he would forego all thoughts of pillage for the sake of carrying through the business which he had undertaken.
"Hoping to reach Sydney before him, I pressed on night and day, and only stopped long enough to recruit our animals when there was a prospect of their breaking down. On the forenoon of the fourth day after leaving Ballarat we entered Sydney, and rode direct to the bank. I inquired if the murdered men had money deposited there, and found that they had, and that no attempt to draw the same had been made. With a brief caution to the cashier not to pay out the amount, and to arrest any one who asked for it, I mounted my force on fresh horses and again sought the road on which I expected Darnley.
"I did not report myself to the police of Sydney, for I was determined to win all the honor, or sustain all the disgrace, of an encounter with Darnley. Perhaps afterwards I felt sorry that I had not obtained assistance, but I never acknowledged it to those in authority. I made an excuse that was considered sufficient for my course, and there the matter rested.
"About twelve o'clock on the day that we reached Sydney, we discovered our men trudging along the road, disguised in a manner that at first almost deceived me, and I called myself well acquainted with the persons of Darnley and Steel Spring. I allowed them to get within a few feet of us, when I suddenly called upon them to stop. Up to this time it was evident that neither suspected us, but upon my speaking, I saw Darnley's hand thrust into his bosom, and I knew what he was searching for.
"'You are our prisoners,' I said, covering the person of Darnley with a pistol that I had never known to fail me.
"'You are mistaken in your men,' he answered, edging away from my horse.
"'It's no mistake," I replied; "I arrest you, Black Darnley, for the murder of two miners.'
"Still keeping my eyes upon the bushranger, and suffering my men to attend to Steel Spring, who cowed as though overwhelmed by despair, I disengaged one foot from the stirrup, and was just about dismounting, when I saw the villain draw a pistol and aim at me. He was so quick that I had no time to defend myself; but his rapid movement started the horse, and he shied just enough to save me and receive the contents of the pistol.
"The poor brute bounded and dashed against my companions, overturning two of them, and nearly unhorsing the other; and while I was picking myself up from the road, where I had been thrown, I heard a hoarse laugh, and saw Darnley and Steel Spring bounding over a fence that enclosed a number of acres of growing grain.
"Frantic with rage, I sighted them with my pistol, but the cap alone exploded; and before I could draw another, the murderers were out of sight. I looked towards my companions, to ask why they did not use their weapons, and I found that two of them were just picking themselves up from the middle of the road, and the third was going towards Sydney at a rapid rate, and in despite of his utmost exertions to stop the animal upon which he was mounted.
"I shouted to the men to follow me, but only one obeyed; the other had broken an arm in his fall, and was groaning over it piteously. We sprang over the fence and followed the trail through the grain, each step leading us away from the city and assistance, but I thought not of that. My whole desire was to grapple with the villains, and either capture them or end their career. I encouraged my companion to keep up with me in the pursuit; but I was either fleeter of foot, or else he sadly lagged behind, for after ten minutes running I was left alone.
"I knew that it would be useless to return to the city and ask for assistance, and in fact, to tell the truth, I didn't want to be laughed at, as I knew that I should be after telling my story. So on I went, running with all my might after two men, either of whom was a match for me in a fair hand to hand fight.
"At length I caught sight of the murderers, and I redoubled my speed; and as I ran I placed fresh caps upon my pistols, and prayed that they would not disappoint me in my extremity. The villains saw me close at their heels, but they did not stop, supposing, of course, that I was backed by my men. Once or twice I saw Darnley look over his shoulder as though calculating the distance between us, so that I was not much surprised when he stopped suddenly, and aimed his undischarged pistol at my head.
"That act stopped me in double quick time, for I had heard accounts of Darnley's proficiency with the pistol, and I thought I would exchange shots with him instead of coming to close quarters.
"I think that I owe my life to the speed with which Darnley had been running, and I am certain he escaped from the same cause, for when I raised my pistol I could hardly hold it in a straight line. We fired both at the same time. I felt something strike my side that appeared to burn like a coal of fire, and when I put my hand to the spot it was soon covered with blood.
"I staggered and fell; but even as I did so, I looked towards the bushranger to see if my shot had taken effect, I heard him exclaim,—
"'Hang him, he's hit me on the shoulder. I'll murder him for it!'
"'And get kotched by the beaks vile doing so!' rejoined Steel Spring, who appeared more anxious for flight than for blood.
"I remember seeing the ruffian start towards me, and then all was a blank until I awoke in the hospital at Sydney, where, by the way, I was obliged to stay for two weeks before I could get the physician's consent to let me return to Ballarat, and nearly three more passed before I was a well man."
"Did Darnley strike you after you fell?" asked Fred.
"He had no time, as I was afterwards informed. Just as he advanced towards me, the fellow I had outstripped appeared in sight, and the bushranger evidently thought that it was better to beat a retreat."
"And the gold, did you recover that?"
"Not a penny's worth, with the exception of that in the bank on deposit. I found out the relatives of the men murdered, and sent it to them, and very glad they were to get it."
"And the miner who escaped—where is he?"
"Here in Ballarat, a dissipated, shiftless wretch. The loss of his gold ruined him, for he has not had ambition enough to do a day's work since."
"Is the inspector here?" cried a man, thrusting his head into the tent just as Mr. Brown had concluded.
"Yes; what is wanting?" the little man asked.
"There's a big fight at the 'Pig and Whistle' saloon, sir, and it's pistols they is using, sure," replied the visitor.
"I wish they would enact the part of the Kilkenny cats," replied the inspector, as he rose to bid us good night, "for as sure as night comes a fight occurs at that den. Gentlemen, I shall see you in the morning, and if I can be of any service to you pray don't scruple to ask for it."
The inspector shook hands with us, and then turned to the fellow who had brought the news.
"Run to the Whistle and tell them I'm coming, and those not killed by the time I arrive shall be hanged without judge or jury."
"Yes, sir," replied the person addressed, and off he started to carry the message, while the inspector followed more slowly.
We saw that our animals were safe, and then left them in charge of Rover, while we retired to get a night's rest—something that we really stood in need of.
FINDING OF A 110 LB. NUGGET.—CAVING IN OF A MINE.
We had hardly dressed ourselves and made our scanty toilet the morning after our arrival, when the inspector made his appearance, looking none the worse for the tumult which summoned him away the night before.
"You are stirring early," he said, warming his hands by a fire which Smith had started for the purpose of getting breakfast; "I expected to find you sleeping off your fatigue, for men with nothing to do generally like to lie abed mornings."
"Late sleeping will not earn the fortune that we expect to get," replied Fred.
"So you still think of sinking a shaft here, do you?" inquired the inspector, with a grave smile.
"Of course, such is our intention at present, if we can get a license for mining."
"The license is obtained easily enough—government is very happy to receive ten shillings per month for the privilege of allowing a man to try his luck," the inspector answered, with an attempt at a laugh.
"Then if you will oblige us by getting a license, we will commence operations to-day," Fred answered.
"Why, you are in a hurry," Mr. Brown replied, seating himself composedly, and lighting a pipe which he carried in a small box in his pocket.
"Wouldn't you advise us to commence mining?" I asked.
"To answer you frankly, I would not, because I know that you can do better than by spending your days under ground, and emerge at night to find that you are killing both mind and body."
"Why do you speak of working under ground?" I inquired. "Is not mining the same here as in California?"
"Bless your heart"—and Mr. Inspector Brown smiled at my ignorance—"don't you know that at Ballarat a shaft has to be sunk many feet below the surface of the earth, and after you have reached the layer of dirt in which the gold is found, you are obliged to work upon your hands and knees, and excavate for many feet in different directions, until at last you break in upon some other miner's claim, and are compelled to retreat and sink a new shaft?"
This was all news to us, or if we had heard of it before we had not given the subject any attention. A new light broke in upon us, and we began to consider.
"Breakfast is all ready," said Smith, just at that moment.
We had brought a few luxuries with us from Melbourne that were unknown at the mines, and I saw the eyes of the inspector sparkle as he snuffed the perfume of the fried potatoes and warm chocolate.
"Will you join us, Mr. Brown?" I asked, extending an invitation that I knew he was dying to receive. "We have not much to ask you to share, but such as it is you are welcome to." "Well," he answered, "really, I don't know as I feel like eating at so early an hour, but—"
Smith opened a hermetically sealed tin canister, which he had been warming in a pot of hot water, and the steam of fresh salmon greeted our olfactory nerves.
"What!" cried the inspector, with a look of astonishment, "you don't mean to say that you have got preserved salmon for breakfast?"
"If you will really honor us with your presence at breakfast you shall he convinced of the fact," Fred answered, politely.
"Say no more; I'd stop if all Ballarat was at loggerheads."
We were soon seated upon such articles as were handy, and after the first cravings of our appetites were satisfied, we renewed the subject of mining.
"All the miners," Fred remarked, "are not obliged to work so deep beneath the surface."
"If they do not, their chance of finding gold is exceedingly slim," replied the inspector. "I have known stout, lazy fellows pick around on the surface of the earth for weeks, and not earn enough to find themselves in food. To be successful a shaft has to be sunk."
"And yet, according to your own showing, gold is not always struck by such a method."
"True, and I can easily explain why it is so. Mining is like a lottery—where one draws a prize, hundreds lose. We might dig deep into the earth where we are seated, and it would surprise no one if we took out gold by the pound; and yet no one would think of laughing if we did not earn our salt. The case would be so common that no notice would be taken of it." We sat and listened to the inspector's words in silence, and began to think that we had better have remained in Melbourne and entered into business of a more substantial nature.
"I know of a dozen cases," the inspector continued, "where not even enough gold has been found by industrious men, who have sunk shafts, to make a ring for the finger; and yet not one rod from the place where such poor success was encountered others have grown rich, and left Ballarat well satisfied with their labor."
"But we have certainly read of men taking a nugget from these mines weighing over a hundred pounds," I said.
"And the account that you read was perfectly correct. I remember the circumstance well. It was soon after my recovery from the wound inflicted at the hands of Black Darnley. A man rushed into my tent one afternoon with his eyes apparently starting from their sockets, and his whole appearance that of a crazy man. He was breathless and speechless for a few minutes, but I at length obtained information that two miners had come across a nugget of gold so large that half a dozen men were unable to lift it from the shaft. I hurried to the spot, and as I went along hundreds of people were flocking to the scene. The news spread like fire upon a prairie. Saloons and rooms were deserted—miners crawled from their shafts—sick men forgot their ailments—even gamblers desisted from playing for a short time, in their anxiety to look at the largest lump of gold that had ever been discovered.
"When I reached the opening of the shaft I found many hundred people present, and fresh arrivals were joining the crowd every moment. I organized a force, and drove the excited throng from the opening of the mine, for I feared that the chambers which had been excavated would not stand the pressure, and that those above and below would be buried alive.
"After I had succeeded in my efforts, we set to work and raised the mighty nugget to the surface, but instead of its weighing two or three hundred pounds, it weighed one hundred and ten. But it was a splendid lump of gold, almost entirely free from quartz and dirt, and of rare fineness and purity.. The finders were overjoyed, as well they might be, and guarded their treasure with great care until they saw it safe in the custody of the government agent. A gentleman from Melbourne, who was on a visit to the mines for the purpose of collecting rare specimens of gold, offered the lucky finders four thousand pounds for the nugget, but they got an idea into their heads that it was worth more, and declined."
"And was that the largest nugget ever found?" I asked.
"As far as my knowledge is concerned. At the other mines I have heard that immense pieces have been found, but I consider the rumor as exaggerated."
"You would be greatly surprised if we should happen to discover a piece worth as much," I remarked.
"I think I should," answered the inspector, dryly, slowly filling his pipe, and apparently dilating on the subject mentally.
"Well, we will not pledge ourselves to make such a strike as the one you have related, but we will guarantee to get more gold than two thirds of the miners at Ballarat," Fred said, confidently.
The inspector shook his head.
"You don't know the kind of work that you will have to undertake," he said. "In the first place, you have got either to buy a claim, or begin digging at some spot where no one would think, unless a new arrival looking for gold. All the dirt that you wanted to work out would have to be carried to the water, and you can see that our lakes and rivers are not very extensive.
"We will imagine that you have resolved to commence operations, and that a suitable spot has been selected. After a day's digging, you will find, that to prevent the earth from caving in and burying you up, timber is wanting. You make application, and find that to buy staves and planks will cost you as much as a small house in the States. Even a few cracked branches are valued at the rate of five or ten shillings per stick, and you can calculate how much the cost would be after sinking a shaft a hundred or two hundred feet, to say nothing of the chamber work."
We began to comprehend that mining was rather difficult and uncertain work.
"Then, according to your showing, the best thing that we can do, is to pack up our traps and return to Melbourne," Fred said, after a long pause.
"By no means; you are not going to start so soon, I hope," the inspector replied.
"We see but little use of remaining here and wasting our means on an uncertainty," I answered.
"Have patience, my lads," replied the inspector, softly; "are there no other ways of making money besides mining?"
"What do you mean?" I asked, with a suspicious glance.
The inspector laughed, and slowly refilled his pipe.
"I don't propose to rob the specie train, or to waylay travellers. I think that money can be made in an honest manner, and without working very hard."
"But how? Show us the modus operandi."
"I will, with great pleasure. Make an agreement with your companion here, Smith, and let him return to Melbourne and load two teams with goods, such as I will give you a hint to buy. By the time he returns, you can have a store or large tent to receive them. Paint on a huge piece of canvas that you have fresh goods from England and the United States, and call your place the 'International Store." It will sound well, and half of the fellows here won't know what it means, and of course they will patronize you for the purpose of finding out."
"But where is the capital to come from?" I asked, thinking that I would test his friendship by pretending that we had but little money at our command.
"A thousand pounds will be enough; I will recommend you to dealers in Melbourne who will be glad to give you three months' credit," the inspector answered, promptly.
"That may be true, but a thousand pounds is a large sum of money, and where are we to find it?" I asked.
"Why, I have five hundred pounds that I don't want to use, and I am so certain that what I recommend will succeed, that you are welcome to it without interest for a twelvemonth."
Mr. Brown seemed so sincere and honest that we were compelled to shake hands with him in token of our appreciation of his offer.
"We are comparatively strangers to you," Fred said. "How dare you to offer to trust us with money, when you don't know but we may deceive you?"
"Because I have met a number of Americans here at Ballarat, and I never knew one to do a dishonest action, no matter how hard he strove to make money. But what makes me feel positive in this case that I shan't lose my funds, is the honesty expressed in your faces."
"Pray spare our blushes, Mr. Brown," Fred said, laughing, "for we have not met with so much praise since we have been in Australia."
"Then you have been thrown in contact with rogues, who didn't give honest men their due. But speak; is my offer accepted?"
"We will consider on it, and let you know how we feel disposed, in the course of the day. But of one thing rest assured. We shall not call upon you for money, as we can manage to raise enough of our own to commence business."
Mr. Inspector Brown looked disappointed, and seemed to think that we had been playing with him.
"We only plead poverty to see if you would lend us your powerful assistance," Fred said. "If we should conclude to follow your advice, we will be sure and ask aid from you if we require it."
"Well, on such conditions I forgive the little trick you have played upon me; and now I will explain more fully the idea that I entertain regarding my money-making scheme. You must set Smith at work, in company with another driver or freighter, and let them bring such articles as will find a ready market. A stock must be laid in, sufficient to last nearly all winter, for during the wet season the roads are next to impassable, and provisions go up like a rocket, only they forget to fall until good weather begins, and freighting gets brisk."
"But what articles are best for the market of Ballarat?" I inquired, beginning to grow interested in the inspector's scheme, in spite of myself.
"Smith can tell you as well as I, but I may as well answer the question while my tongue is loose. Flour is our great staple here, and is selling at a large profit on Melbourne prices. Let Smith, or some one that he may select, watch the potato market closely, and often great bargains may be picked up. Ship bread is also paying a big profit, while pork and rice can be made to cover all expense of freighting other articles. Pickles and vinegar, and even preserved meats, sell well, and, in fact, more money is gained by selling luxuries than dispensing more substantial articles. A large stock of tea, coffee, and liquids of all kinds, will enable you to open the most extensive store in Ballarat"