"That is so," echoed Smith, approvingly.
We were about to make further inquiries, when, breathless with haste, a miner rushed into our tent.
"In the name of God, Mr. Inspector, come and help me!" he gasped.
"Why, what is the matter, Bill?" Mr. Brown asked, quite coolly.
"It is matter enough. Our mine has caved in, and both Sam and Jack are buried alive! Help me get them out and you shall have a share of the gold they have got on their persons."
"Did I not tell you, no longer ago than yesterday, that you was not shaping your shaft properly?" demanded the inspector, sharply.
"I know that you did, but we thought that we could save a few pounds, and run a little risk," replied the miner, in a humble tone.
"And a pretty mess you have made of it with your meanness. I have a great mind to let you do your own work, and save the lives of your comrades as best you can," and Mr. Brown looked cross.
"Don't say that, sir, when two poor human beings are probably dying. Hadn't you better help them first and scold them afterwards, if alive?" I inquired.
"Your advice is too good to go unheeded," returned Mr. Brown; "Bill, I will go with you at once, and do all in my power to assist you to rescue your comrades."
The miner led the way towards his claim at a brisk trot, and while we followed at his heel's, Mr. Brown explained what we afterwards found often happened at Ballarat. Through neglect to buy staves, or heavy pieces of timber to keep the sides of the shaft from caving in, the poor fellows had been suddenly buried, and it was a question whether they could exist long enough to allow of a force to remove the earth which blocked up the entrance of the shaft.
When we reached the scene of the disaster not more than a dozen people were present, and they did not display any intense affliction at the catastrophe. Five or six were smoking and lounging about, discussing the probabilities of the miners being alive, yet showing no great inclination to commence work and put all doubts to rest.
One miner—an aged man who had worked in the coal mines of Newcastle, England—expressed a decided opinion that both Sam and Jack were alive, and proceeded to demonstrate it by saying that the mine had been worked for some time, and it was probable that the men were at some distance from the shaft when the earth caved in; and when I asked how they could exist without air, he pointed out a large shaft that had fallen in such a manner that it prevented the dirt from filling up a large space, although it appeared to me as though hardly a ray of light could penetrate the crevice.
"If you think the men alive, why do you not commence working for their rescue?" I asked, indignantly.
"Hoot, man, who's to pay me for the time I'd be losing, while helping other folks. It's me own bread and butter I hiv to earn widout running after strange kinds of jobs," answered the old miner, a Scotchman; he was determined to be paid for his labor, and did not believe in charitable deeds unless one of his countrymen was concerned.
"Why, you don't mean to say that you require payment for helping dig out the men buried?" I demanded.
"Hoot, and why not, man? It's mickle a man gets here for his work, that he should be after throwing it awa."
"Is this a fair sample of the charity miners exhibit towards each other?" Fred asked of the inspector.
"I am sorry to say that it is; but this is not unusual; before you leave the mines you will see cases of selfishness that will make you think men have turned brutes, and possess the hearts of stoics," replied Mr. Brown, with a shrug of his shoulders.
"I confess," Fred said, speaking so that those present could hear him, "that I have not lost all feelings of humanity, and that I never turned a deaf ear, or calculated what I should make by assisting a person in distress. The customs of Ballarat may be just, but I must say, that in my humble opinion, they are heartless and cruel."
"Hoot, man," replied the Scotchman; "you are but a boy, and have not been long enough here to understand us. It's little silver or gold ye will git if ye run after other people's business."
The Scotchman relighted his pipe, and was walking towards his tent, when Fred stopped him.
"What shall I pay you per hour for assisting to rescue the miners?" he asked.
"Ah, now man, ye is talking to some purpose, now. What will you give?"
"Two shillings per hour," answered Fred, at a venture.
"Ah, well, I don't mind helping the poor fellows, at that rate. I never could stand distress. But, Misther, ye wouldn't mind paying in advance, I suppose?"
"I will be responsible for your pay," the inspector said, seeing that the man hesitated from fear that he should get cheated, after he had performed his part of the bargain.
The fellow, luckily, had an axe with him, so, without more delay, we lowered him into the shaft, and set him at work shoring up the sides, so that others could work without danger of the earth caving in.
We had just got him employed, when Bill, the man who had first appealed to the inspector for help, again joined us, having been absent in search of friends to lend assistance.
"I can't get a man to aid me," he cried, "unless I promise to pay them for their labor."
"Well, then, you must pay them," briefly rejoined the inspector, who, with coat off, was hard at work cutting timber in proper lengths for shores and supports.
"And ruin myself by so doing," the heartless wretch exclaimed, in a sulky manner, and with the expression of a fiend.
The inspector made no reply, but continued his labor, and without delay we joined him.
"I don't suppose these young fellers would be willin' to allow me two shillin's per hour for workin', would they?" the impudent scamp asked, appealing to the inspector.
"Hark ye, Bill," Mr. Brown said; "if you are not stripped and in that shaft in less than five minutes, I'll not only drive you from the mines, but I'll levy on your property to pay all the expenses of this job. I know where you keep your dust, and can lay my hand on it at any time."
The brute, without a moment's delay, removed his heavy guernsey frock which he wore, and was lowered to a place beside the Scotchman.
By the time we had got fairly at work, we were joined by Smith, who had remained behind to attend to the wants of his cattle, and the honest fellow, without a moment's delay, lent us his powerful aid.
The novelty of seeing three strangers at work endeavoring to save the lives of unfortunate miners, began to attract attention, and we soon found that a large crowd was assembling.
Fred, in his eager and impetuous manner, appealed for volunteers; and he painted the duty that man owes to man in such fine colors, that a dozen or twenty burly fellows presented themselves, and demanded a chance to assist in the benevolent work.
It was a great triumph for us, and so Mr. Brown informed us, for he declared that he had never known the people of Ballarat so liberal before. Just as the old Scotchman was about to leave the shaft for dinner, he requested silence, as he thought he heard the voices of the imprisoned men.
We all listened, and found that he was not mistaken, and the knowledges that I the men were alive was a sufficient incentive to urge us all to renewed exertion.
Men forgot their dinners, and worked as though their own lives depended upon their labors, and without stopping to rest or eat, we continued on until four o'clock, when we raised the poor fellows to the surface of the earth, and found, with joy, that they were as well as could be expected, after so long an imprisonment.
Shouts rent the air, and hundreds of miners rushed towards the shaft to congratulate the rescued men, and amid all the confusion, Fred, Smith, and myself walked off quietly, and sought that rest at our tent which we so much needed.
We were just engaged drinking a pot of coffee, when, to our surprise, all three of the miners, Bill, Sam, and Jack, entered our tent, without ceremony.
"We are not very rich," Sam said, wiping his heated brow, and remaining uncovered while he addressed us, "but we can't let three strangers, who have worked so hard for our deliverance, go unthanked. Bill, here, has told us all about it, and how the d——d Scotchman refused to work unless paid. Don't let the latter affair trouble you, 'cos we've settled with him, and now we want to fix things with you."
"We are already settled with," I answered; "it's pleasure enough to us to know that you are both safe, and for that object we would work as hard again."
"Would you, though?" demanded the speaker, a look of delight overspreading his face. "Well, if I ever see my children or wife again, they shall learn to pray for you, and I would, if I knew how."
"When the shaft caved in," Jack said, "we had just found three nuggets of gold, and even during our extremity, we retained our hold of them. We are not rich, as Sam states, but if you will accept of the nuggets, and keep them as a remembrance of our deliverance, we shall feel thankful."
They laid them down and were gone before we could remonstrate, and just as they left the tent the inspector entered.
"Well," he exclaimed, "what have you decided to do about the store? The patronage of the whole of Ballarat is at your disposal, for, go where I will, I can hear of nothing but the two Americans, who fight duels with one hand and rescue people with the other."
"We have decided," replied Fred.
"That you will commence business?" eagerly inquired the inspector.
"Good!" and without another word the inspector left our tent abruptly, as though he had forgotten some important business.
INCIDENTS IN LIFE AT BALLARAT.
We had hardly recovered from the surprise of the inspector's mysterious disappearance, when our old acquaintances, Charley, the proprietor of the "Californian's Retreat," and "Big Ben," made their appearance, and seated themselves upon boxes in our tent without the formality of being asked. Ben was smoking away desperately at a short pipe, nearly as black as his beard, while Charley, as became the owner of an established business, confined his attention to a cigar which are vulgarly called, in this country, "short sixes," I believe.
"I s'pose you hain't forgot old friends nor nothing?" Charley said, as he carefully laid aside his cigar, to be resumed some other time, while he accepted a pot of coffee at the hands of Smith.
"We have thought of you often since we parted," replied Fred, with a slight flight of imagination.
"Do tell if you have? Well, I declare to man, if you two fellers don't beat all natur, and no mistake. You don't 'pear to make any thing of fighting duels, and then hiring folks to dig other folks out of a mine. I tell Ben, here, ef I had known you had the dust to spare I should have axed you to discount a note for me for sixty days, payable at sight, with interest. You wouldn't want to do any such thing as that, I s'pose? No, I reckoned not."
For the first time we really noticed our countryman's peculiar dialect and manners, and it gave us more pleasure to see a genuine Yankee at the mines of Ballarat than it would had we found a nugget weighing a pound.
"We have but little money, and from appearances I think we shall need all we have brought with us," replied Fred.
"You'd better believe you will," said Ben, with an ominous shake of the head, as though he had passed through the furnace of experience.
"What we came here to see you fellers for," Charley said, after a slight pause, and an exchange wink with Ben, "is to know how you stand in regard to this 'ere mining tax, which is crushing the life blood out of the vitals of us honest working men, and making us think of Bunker Hill and the American Eagle, I can tell you?"
"Really," Fred answered, after a moment's thought, "I am too fresh an arrival at the mines to give an opinion as yet, and I think we shall have to wait and see how grievous the tax is."
"Ain't that what I told you?" grunted Ben, appealing to Charley.
"You just wait a while, will ye, old feller," remonstrated Charley. "Things is working. I tell ye."
"We shall be happy to listen to you—go on," was all the response Fred returned.
"I s'pose you have all read 'bout the tea tax, a good many years ago, when our revolushinary daddies pitched the darned stuff overboard in Bosting harbor?"
Fred nodded in token of acquiescence.
"Wall, things here is something like the things in them 'ere times, only a darned sight wus. Now, the miners are taxed a putty considerable sum jist for the chance of digging about on this earth, when by nat'ral rights the fellers hadn't, orter pay a cent.
"Sometimes the miner is lucky, and then agin he isn't; but whether he gets a pile or not, he's got to shell over every month, and if he don't come down he gets no license, and can't arn an honest livin'. Now what do you think of such a state of things, hey?"
"Perhaps that the government don't know that you feel that the tax is a burden," Fred answered, evasively.
"O, yes, they do, 'cos we've petitioned a dozen times to have 'em abolish it, but no notice has been taken of our papers. They can't say that the thing was not correct, 'cos I writ one of 'em and headed it with my name, to let 'em know that we Americans still possessed the spirit of our granddaddies."
"Then you had better petition again," remarked Fred, determined to take no part in his schemes at present.
"No, we are tired of that 'ere game, 'cos two can't play at it. What we have got to do is, to say to the Britishers, here, we won't give you another shillin' to save your old crown, and then we shall bring 'em round."
"But what say the Englishmen at Ballarat? Do they refuse or grumble at paying a tax?"
"Of course they do! There isn't an Englisher or a foreigner but Jo ready to say we won't stand the imposition no longer—things is coming to a head, and no mistake."
"And what do you wish us to do?" inquired Fred.
"We want you to jine us, and help stir the boys up so that they'll listen to reason, and stand out like men," replied Charley, and Big Ben grunted his applause at the sentiment.
"But that we are not willing to do at present. We are strangers here, and have paid no tax, nor have we been asked to. We shall not go into the matter blindfolded; therefore, for the present, we must keep aloof from your gatherings and petitions"
Charley sat and listened without interruption.
"Do you know what Australia is?" he asked, in a whisper, dropping his voice as though fearful of being overheard.
Fred replied that he considered it the largest island in the world, and that, if the truth was known, it would not be so well populated as at present.
"That's it," replied Charley, "the largest island in the world. Bigger than all the New England States, and much more valible. Do you understand me?" and the fellow winked violently.
"I can't say that I fully comprehend you. Can't you be a little more explicit?" Fred asked.
"Sartainly. This 'ere island is rich—more gold is exported than from California—immense droves of sheep is scattered all over it, and all kinds of garden stuff will grow in abundance, if only planted. You understand me now, don't you?"
"I am still in the dark,"' replied Fred, trying hard to refrain from a smile at the mention of "garden stuff."
The two visitors again exchanged glances, when Charley sank his voice still lower.
"What do you think of annexation, hey?"
"What, annex Australia to the United States?" we exclaimed, in astonishment.
"Hush! Don't blart it out in that way, 'cos the thing is a secret as yet. We have got to work to bring the thing 'bout, but it can be done."
"And, pray, in what manner?" we asked, somewhat amused to find that even Australia was not safe from the Yankee's covetousness.
"In this 'ere manner. The Britishers feel riled at the idea of paying taxes on mining, and when we tell 'em that in California every body can dig as long as they darn please, without paying a dime, they feel madder than ever. Of course, we don't check that 'ere feeling at all. O, no; we stirs 'em up, and preaches how great a blessing it is to belong to a free and enlightened government like the United States of America."
"Well, go on and explain the whole method."
"I'm coming on as fast as I can. By and by the fellers round here say that we won't pay any more tax, and then the government says you shall, and tell the sogers to collect it; and while they is doing that, some miner resists and is killed, and then we have something to work upon, and, we begin to stir people up by telling 'em how badly we've been treated; and then a soger gets knocked on the head by some lucky accident, and we have a fight with the red coats, and lick 'em, and then war is declared between us, and at it we go for a few months, till we have driven every red coat out of the country, and then declare that it is a republic, and that we'll do as we please."
"Why, this is treason," we exclaimed, amazed at his audacity.
"I know that old Ben Franklin, Geo. Washington, and others were called traitors for talking in the same way during the revolution, but their cause was just and triumphed at last," replied Charley, dogmatically.
"But you don't compare your sufferings and oppression to that which our revolutionary fathers bore, do you?"
"I don't know 'bout that. We is taxed, and so were the old fellers that we read about who fought and died for our benefit, and I think we ain't worthy of the name of Yankees unless we resist all taxes!"
"But suppose that the English government should feel inclined to yield and vacate the island, leaving the people of Australia to make laws for themselves, what course should you pursue?"
"Do?" replied our ardent friend, without a moment's hesitation, "appoint the proper officers, elect a president, and have a senate and house of representatives, jist as they do at Washington."
"And what then?" we inquired.
"Why, after we had got to going we'd send a feller, and I know one who would do first rate, to the United States, and after playing our keerds putty well, we'd agree to annex Australia to the United States, and we'd do it, too, by thunder."
We could hardly retain our countenances long enough to listen to the splendid burst of expectation which Charley had dreamed upon so long, that he really fancied his project was practicable. Conquest first, and annexation afterwards, is the theme upon which Americans harp when in strange lands.
"You don't know the feller that I have in my mind's eye!" Charley said, after a few minutes' silence.
"No, I am not acquainted with any of my countrymen here at Ballarat," Fred replied, with a vacant look.
"The fellow that I know hain't bin here in Ballarat a great while."
"Yes; and though I don't know your name, I reckon you'd do the trick putty neat."
"O," answered Fred, with a smile, "it's me that is to be honored with so delicate a mission, is it? To what am I indebted for the selection?"
"Wall, we want your help to stir the folks up, and no mistake. Me and Ben have been and talked the matter over, and we've agreed to let you have that 'ere office, if you will back us up; Ben is to do a good part of the fighting, and I'm to negotiate."
"We will take your proposition into consideration. But there is one thing that you have forgotten. What offices are my two friends here to get?"
"O, we'll make 'em senators, or somethin' of that sort. They shall be cared for in some way or other."
I could only bow my thanks to the kind gentleman, but before I could reply, the inspector joined us.
"Ah, Ben, you and Charley here," he said, in a careless way. "How does the indignation meetings and the petitions get along?"
"Wall, we have another meetin' to-night, and I think that it will be a rouser. We shall make ourselves heard yet, Mr. Brown."
"I have no doubt that you will, but it will be in a different manner from what you anticipate. Let me advise moderation, or there may be trouble."
"There kin be a muss if we is disregarded, and made to pay for what we don't have," answered Ben, sullenly; and with that shot the Americans left the tent.
"Of all the unreasonable brutes that I ever encountered, the miners of Ballarat appear to be the worst," ejaculated Mr. Brown. "That fellow, Charley, has not worked ten weeks in the mines, and yet he talks as glibly of the evils of taxation as though the government was wringing the last shilling from his possession. He is a pot house wrangler, as we call them in England, and is a positive nuisance at Ballarat"
Mr. Brown appeared to be disgusted with our countryman, for he displayed more temper than we had seen since we had made his acquaintance.
"But the miners have some reason for complaint," I said. "Taxation without representation is wrong, and has occasioned much ill feeling and bloodshed."
"True; but without the present tax, how can government support a police force, and send gold to the cities under the escort of soldiers? How can the hospitals at Sydney and Melbourne, always filled with disabled miners, be kept open, and how can the roads be kept clear of bushrangers? The tax is not unreasonable per month, and yet through its collection see how much government is enabled to do? All goes to the benefit of the miner, and every pound is expended for his protection or comfort. As far as representation in our House of Assembly is concerned, I'm certainly in favor of it; but just show me how we are to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion regarding the number of members Ballarat is entitled to. I've been here ever since the mines were discovered, and I can't tell. To-day there may be fifteen thousand, and to-morrow not ten. People are coming and going continually. They change from mine to mine at every rumor, and I assure you that change is not beneficial to their financial affairs."
"In that case we shall have to do a cash business when we open our store," Fred said, with a smile.
"Of course. It will never do to give credit to strangers. But while speaking of stores, let me inform you that I have made a few arrangements in your behalf. I have secured a fine location for you, and spoken to a man who is desirous of selling a suitable building."
"And the price?" we asked.
"Is reasonable beyond all my expectations. The owner is homesick, and will not haggle about a few pounds."
"Why cannot we look at the store this afternoon, and decide whether we will take it or not? It will save time."
"Come, then; I have no objections."
We followed the inspector through the most thickly-settled part of the town, and at length stopped before a good-sized frame building, with the roof and sides covered with sail cloth and common cotton. The man who called himself the proprietor, was an Englishman, suffering under a severe attack of rheumatism, and therefore inclined to exclaim loudly against the mines, and Ballarat in particular. The few articles which he had in his store were old and unworthy of purchase.
We examined the premises, and found, according to our California experience, that we could take up our quarters there, and with a little trouble, make the building water proof. There was room also for an addition to be made in case it was necessary, and as the place was easy of access, we concluded we could do no better than strike a bargain, and secure the building as soon as possible. This we were the better able to do through a few suggestions which Smith let fall concerning the severity of a wet season, and the danger of rheumatic people remaining at the mines during its continuance.
For a hundred pounds in cash, we were put in complete possession of not only the store, but all it contained, including a very good stove, of a Massachusetts man's make, and sent to Australia on speculation—three or four pots and kettles—a number of cracked dishes, very dirty—weights and scales, both large and small, and which, we afterwards found, were so arranged that the buyer got about two-thirds of what he paid for, while the weights for purchasing gold dust were a little too heavy to accord with strict honesty—barrels containing remnants of articles of not much use to any one, besides other things which we did not make any account of.
We made a bargain that we should take possession of the premises on the next day, and after taking a bill of sale of the articles purchased, with the bold signature of Mr. Brown as a witness of the transaction, we returned to our tent, and thought that our labors for the day were over. In this, we were unhappily disappointed, for, to our extreme amusement, a dozen or twenty persons were seated in the vicinity of our temporary home, and a more wretched, woe-begone set I never saw in my life.
"Hullo! what is the meaning of this?" I asked in surprise, as I surveyed the crowd.
"We've come to be doctored by you," said an Irishman, exposing his hand, wrapped in a dirty bandage.
"But there is some mistake here. You have applied to the wrong man," I replied.
"No mistake, yer honor," answered a sturdy, good-looking, bronzed fellow, with a military air and a military salute; "we've heard of yer honors, and we know that ye can do us good without wringing the last shilling from us, like those blood-sucking sawbones."
"They take us for physicians," muttered Fred, in astonishment.
"You are mistaken," replied Mr. Brown; "they are poor devils, who cannot afford to employ a surgeon, so come to you to get their wounds dressed. If you have any knowledge of cuts and bruises, assist them, and you will be no loser by it."
The advice was good, but the idea of our prescribing and dressing all the wounds of the poor of Ballarat was something that we had not bargained for.
"You see, your honor, I got an ugly cut on my hand with a shovel, a few days since, and, somehow, I don't think that it's doing very well," the military man said, exposing his right hand, which looked in a horrible condition.
"You should ask the advice of a physician," I said, after a brief inspection of the poor fellow's injury; "inflammation has set in, and you will have trouble, unless the cut is attended to."
"I know that, yer honor; but it's little the doctors around here care for me, unless I visit 'em with a gold piece in my hand. I've paid six pound already, and I think I'm getting worse very fast."
I could not help pitying the poor fellow, he was such a sample of manly strength, and bore himself like a true soldier. He had been discharged from the British army, at the expiration of his time, and was in hopes of making money enough to go home and live in peace with his parents.
All this I learned after a few minutes' conversation; and when I saw that he regarded us as superior in medical intelligence to the few practising surgeons at Ballarat, and all on account of our being Americans, I could not find it in my heart to turn away from him. He had touched the right spot in our national character, and perhaps we felt a little vain, and a desire that his expectations should be fulfilled.
"Your honor is going to do something for us?" the soldier said, and he read the expression of my face correctly.
With none too much confidence in my own skill, I determined to undertake his cure, and at work Fred and myself went, I taking the soldier and he the Irishman.
For the information of those who may be disposed to question my skill, I will state that I first washed the wound in tepid water, using castile soap to cleanse the parts, and that after a patient process, I covered the cut with salvo, such as we had brought from Boston, and then bound it up with clean bandages, and gave him strict orders not to remove the cloths, or to use his hand in working. Other directions, concerning diet, I administered, and made my patient promise to keep them, and after I had concluded, I was obliged to attend another, and out of charity, Fred and myself were kept working until near sundown.
"That is the best day's work that you ever performed," the inspector said, as the last patient took his departure, profuse in his thanks. "Before this time to-morrow, the skill of the American doctors, as they will insist upon calling you, will be so magnified, that there is no disease that they will not insist you can cure. Two branches of business are now offered you—that of a professional gentleman, and the more plebeian one of a storekeeper."
"The latter, by all means," replied Fred, with a laugh at the idea of our having M.D. added to our names.
"Don't make sport over that which may yield a large income," the inspector said, seriously; "I have seen injuries dressed in a worse manner than those this afternoon."
"Perhaps," I rejoined, thinking that he was disposed to make game of us.
"I am honest in my expression, and to prove it so, how many regular surgeons or physicians do you think there are at Ballarat?"
"Ten," I answered, at a venture.
"One is the actual count; the balance are quacks, or else apothecaries' apprentices, escaped from indentures, who find a rich field in humbugging the unwary."
"Well, let them operate," returned Fred; "we will not enter into competition with them at present. But come in and eat supper with us, for we have many things to talk about."
"I accept the invitation with more pleasure than you are aware of, because the exquisite flavor of the pickled salmon that I ate for breakfast is still lingering in my mouth, and I long for another taste."
We humored our friend by complying with his hint, and after we had finished our tea, we lighted our pipes, talked business, and broached a subject to Smith, which we had entertained ever since we had decided to go into business.
Our proposition to Smith was, that he should form one of a partnership, to be conducted under the firm of Frank, Jack, & Smith. The latter was to attend to the freighting and buying in Melbourne, while we would do the trading and selling at Ballarat. We agreed to put in three thousand dollars each, and we were to value Smith's team and animals, and allow a fair price for them, and then he was to make up with cash enough to bring his capital equal to ours.
There were many things which we had to say that we did not like to discuss before the inspector, so that when he arose to go, we felt thankful. We then drew up articles of partnership, and gave Smith an order to get the gold which we had stored at the old stockman's, and to take a certain portion of it to buy goods, and deposit the remainder to our order in the Melbourne Bank. After our business was completed, the night was far advanced; and with bright anticipations for the future, we retired to our hard beds, and dreamed of home and happiness.
ATTEMPT OF THE HOUSEBREAKER.—ATTACK BY THE SNAKE.
I confess that it is somewhat startling to awaken a few minutes before sunrise, and see a dozen rough, gaunt, ragged men, standing near the entrance of one's tent, and to hear them whisper in a low tone, as though they intended murder, or robbery at least; and it was with the latter impression that I sprung from my couch, revolver in hand.
"What is the meaning of all this?" I asked, rubbing my eyes, not being thoroughly awakened.
"Ah, yer honor is awaken, is ye?" inquired a familiar voice; and upon closer inspection, I found that our Irish friend, whose hand Fred had dressed the succeeding evening, was one of our visitors.
"Ah, it's you, is it?" I asked, hastily concealing my revolver. "What has sent you here so early?"
"Faith, it's yer honor that may well ax that. It's a beautiful night's rest I had, yer honor, and I couldn't rest without coming and telling yer honor of it. It's painless is my hand, and it's all owing to the doctoring, I know, glory to God; and it's a few friends of mine I've brought wid me, whom I hope yer honors will look at for my sake, and long life to yer honors' ginerosity."
"Well, this is cool, certainly," I said, in a low whisper to Fred. "What are we to do? We can't afford to devote all our nights and mornings to practising on the philanthropic style."
"We must make the best of our bargain, at present If we should turn them away, people would say that we possessed no feeling, and as likely as not we should get insulted in some manner or other during the first drunken fray that occurred near our new place of business. As we have begun, so must we finish."
I concluded that Fred's advice was far the best, and without another complaint, I assisted him to go through with our new patients. As usual, they left, profuse in their thanks, but no substantial token of their appreciation was deposited with us.
There was one thing that we found we were running short of, and that was salve; and we saw, perhaps with some tokens of satisfaction, that when that was ended, our career of doctoring would also terminate.
After breakfast, Smith yoked up his team, and moved our tent and worldly goods to the new house which we had purchased the day before. The man from whom we had bought it was all packed up and ready to start for Melbourne that very day, and when he found that Smith was going on the same journey, he engaged a passage, and expressed, in heartfelt thanks, his joy at the prospect of his soon leaving Ballarat forever.
"I 'ope," he said, in cockney dialect, "that I never shall be obliged to earn my living in a country vare the spiders are as big as a 'at, and as savage as a bull dog—vare snakes crawl into bed vith yer, and drive yer out—and vare the inhabitants had rather tell a lie than the truth. I'm going 'ome to Hingland, and those vot vant gold may come 'ere and dig it if they please, for all I care."
Our parting with the honest fellow who had been our companion for so many days, and who had shared with us so many adventures, was of a sorrowful nature, and it seemed as though all that we held dear on the island was lost to us. Even Smith tried hard to conceal his grief, and I saw moisture in his eyes as he turned towards his rattle, after receiving our instructions for the last time, and started on his long journey.
The team was just disappearing from view, when his passenger, who, owing to his rheumatism and a light freight, was allowed to ride, struggled to his feet, and gave us a parting salutation.
"Look out for the snakes," he yelled; "they is apt to enter the 'ouse during the night and if you value your dog you'd better tie him on to the roof, or he'll be swal—"
The balance of the wretch's remark was lost in the distance, but we knew its meaning, and almost wished the same might befall the late proprietor of the building, before he reached Melbourne.
Our feelings were not very lively during the day, yet we went to work and made many improvements in our future home, and even got hold of a few boards,—remnants of boxes,—which we nailed on the roof; and by purchase and favor, were enabled to complete it in the course of a week, so that by spreading tarred sail cloth upon the boards, we flattered ourselves that we should be comparatively protected from the heavy rain storms which comprise the winter months.
We cleaned out our store, and arranged the few articles which we owned, and got ready for commencing business when Smith returned. Then we began painting a huge sign on strong sail cloth, and acting on the inspector's suggestion, called our place the "International Store."
By night time we were thoroughly tired, and were ready to thank fortune that our usual number of patients was not present to demand our professional aid. The inspector dropped in to see us for a short time, after supper; but he did not stop long, as a large meeting of the miners was to take place that night, and he expected quite a stir would be made in regard to the mining tax. We were therefore left alone to pass the night, and after an inspection of the horses, and finding that they were doing well, we "turned in," as the sailors say, and slept soundly for three or four hours, when I was awakened by a low growl from Rover, who was lying at my feet.
I started at the sound, and listened, but could discover no cause for alarm. Still, I saw that the hound was restless, and through the darkness observed that his eyes burned like coals of fire, and that he appeared to be watching for further signs of danger.
Thinking that the noise of some brawler had disturbed him, I again lay down; but as I did so the dog uttered another low growl, and crept near my face, as though fearful of something that was invisible to my eyes. I patted his neck, and to my surprise I found he was trembling as I had never known him before. He crouched close to me, and seemed almost inclined to desert me; but I soon calmed him, although, for the life of me, I could not understand why he should appear so frightened.
For a few minutes I sat upright and listened attentively, but not a sound rewarded me for my patience. I heard Fred breathing heavily a few feet from me, but I disliked to awaken him, as I knew that he was very tired when he went to sleep, and as yet I had seen nothing that warranted me in disturbing him. I was just about to speak to the dog in an angry tone, when he suddenly uttered a sharp yelp, and I heard a slight rustling within a few feet of me.
It was a peculiar sound, and startled me. It was not like the heavy or light tread of man, but it seemed as though some substance was being drawn across the floor at a cautious rate. Again it stopped, and all was still; I held the dog firmly by the collar, but he trembled so violently that I began to partake of his fear, and no longer delayed in awakening Fred.
I reached over, and placed my hand upon my comrade's face, and the touch awoke him instantly.
"Hist!" I whispered; "don't speak above your breath for your life. There is some person in the room!"
I could feel my friend place his hand upon his trusty revolver, and I knew that he was prepared for action. I shifted my position so that I could got beside him, and then, armed in a similar manner, I awaited further developments.
"What has disturbed you?" he asked, in a whisper that would have been inarticulate two paces from us.
"I can't imagine. Even Rover has taken fright; and for the first time; see how he trembles," I responded.
"Get your matches all ready, and when we wish a light we will have one without delay. Hark! What was that?"
We both listened attentively. Not ten feet from us, we could hear a movement that now sounded as though a man was crawling upon his stomach. Carefully he appeared to work his way along, stopping every few seconds, as though uncertain whether to advance or recede; and it seemed as though we could hear our night visitor breathe during his pauses.
We did not wish to use our pistols, for we did not know but that the former proprietor of the store was in the habit of giving lodgings to miners, who were not acquainted with the change of ownership; but we made up our minds that we would guard against such interruption of our slumbers in future.
"We had better ask what he wants," whispered Fred, "and then we will light a candle and examine him."
"Go ahead; your lungs are the strongest," I answered, in an audible tone.
At the sound of my voice, the slow, slimy movement upon the floor ceased, and the visitor appeared to be listening.
"Who goes there?" demanded Fred, with a voice slightly tremulous. It appeared to me that I could hear a slight breathing near, but I was not sure. The slow moving or creeping across the floor had ceased; we listened for a repetition of it.
"Are you a friend or foe?" Fred asked.
There was no response for a moment, and then the slow, cautious movement began again.
"Strike a light," whispered Fred, "and let us see what this means."
Among the effects which we had found in the store was a large lamp for burning alcohol; this Fred had cleansed and trimmed the day before, and filled with spirits of turpentine, for the purpose of using it in cooking. I knew where it was placed; so I crept carefully along on my hands and knees, and suddenly lighted it with a lucifer. As the huge wick took fire, I hastily glanced over my shoulder, for fear that an assassin should strike a blow before I could be on my guard.
A startling yell from Fred caused me to spring to my feet, and as I did so, a long, dark object flashed before my eyes, and narrowly missed my head. The next instant my yell of terror was added to Fred's, for in the middle of the floor, with waving tail, and eyes that blazed like coals of fire, was a monstrous snake of a jet black hue; the huge mouth of the reptile was thrown open to its widest extent, and was armed with fangs an inch in length!
For a short time after my cry of terror, I remained silent, not daring to move, for fear that the reptile, who appeared to be debating which of us to attack first, should make a spring, and encircle me in his dreadful folds, and crush out my life before I could utter a prayer.
Even to this day I can remember how I trembled, and how weak my knee joints appeared to grow; and even now, I fancy I can see the slimy, gleaming monster examine first me, and then the flickering flame of the lamp, as though only astonishment at the illumination kept him at a distance.
I did not for a moment lose sight of that powerful, waving tail, or the glowing eyes, although I thought I would give all the world to be miles from the spot.
I had heard of the monstrous size that black snakes acquired in Australia, but I had regarded the stories as travellers' yarns, and only got up to intimidate new comers. Now that I was satisfied of the truth of the accounts, I could have wished that an earthquake would swallow the reptile, so that it but left me secure.
I glanced hastily towards Fred. He was seated on his bed, as startled and surprised as myself, but I thought that I saw his hand move slowly towards his revolver, and I prayed that his eyes would not deceive him when he fired.
Rover had disappeared, but I could hear his loud bay outside of the building, and I hoped that it would attract attention, and that assistance would reach us before it was too late.
Still that fearful and muscular tail waved and played in the air, as though undecided where to strike.
For a moment I removed my eyes from the bright orbs before me, and to my surprise, I saw a quantity of old canvas, stowed in a corner where we had left it the day before, begin to move. The snake was apparently attracted by the same object, and moved its body slightly to get a better view. I thought, with horror, that perhaps it was the mate of the reptile, and that Fred and myself would furnish a meal for each. Still, I watched the canvas and the movements of the snake closely. The former was gradually and carefully unrolled, and then, to my surprise, I saw the head of a man thrust cautiously out, as though to discover the cause of the recent noise, and why a lamp was burning at that hour of the night.
The snake saw the man's head as quick as myself—at least, I judged that it did by its motions; for the huge mouth expanded wider than before, and a long, forked tongue darted back and forth, as though longing for something to gorge. The tail of the reptile also waved more gently, as though uncertain where to strike.
To my surprise, the man who was concealed in the canvas appeared to pay no attention to our hideous visitor, for he pushed aside the cloth that covered him, and seemed desirous of either investigating the contents of our money-pouches, or else making his escape from the building.
He was an ugly-looking fellow, as seen by the flickering of our lamp, and had I been unarmed, I should have cared but little about meeting him in the dark; under the present circumstances I almost welcomed him as a friend, and would willingly have given him a few hundred pounds, if, when he left us, he could carry our shiny visitor along with him.
We watched both the man and the snake with an unflagging attention. The former, to my surprise, did not appear to observe the danger that he was in, and I could only account for it when I saw that his eyes were watching my movements, as though fearful that a well-directed shot was to punish him for his intrusion.
The fellow was well armed, I could perceive, for a pair of pistols was stuck in his belt, and a long, glittering knife reposed near them. Once I saw him make a movement with one of his hands towards his belt, as though anxious to try the chances of a shot in my direction, but he apparently altered his mind, and arose to his feet.
I hastily glanced towards the snake; the movement of its long tail ceased, and the reptile coiled itself up as though to escape observation, but the fire of its eyes burned as brightly as ever, and the long fangs were exhibited, as though determined to bite something before long.
Still the stranger did not appear to observe the dangerous position that he was in, for he seemed too much occupied with scrutinizing Fred and myself to attend to objects in his immediate vicinity. Our silence must have struck him with wonder, for after a while he spoke.
"Darn it!" he exclaimed, pettishly, "why don't some of you hail a feller? or are you all struck with a Spanish mildew?"
We returned no answer.
The snake appeared to be as much interested as ourselves, and hardly a motion of his black, glistening skin could I observe; but his eyes seemed to emit sparks of fire, so brilliantly did they blaze.
"You can't hail a convoy, hey?" demanded the stranger, in a contemptuous tone; "has my appearance put a stopper on your tongues, or what is the matter?"
We still remained silent, awaiting the finale of so singular a meeting. "You can talk glib enough when you get with old Brown, and other police fellows, after having shot down the best man in the mines—you know who I mean—and I tell you that he is a better man than either of you two lubbers, squatting there, with faces whiter than a ship's main royal! You know the feller I mean—Pete Burley; he never trembled when a feller hailed him."
We let the ruffian—for his last words convinced me: that he had visited us for no good—go on.
The snake had, inch by inch, moved its location, and was partly concealed from the sight of Burley's friend by a barrel. The light, also, was not shed over that portion of the floor, and while every movement of the monster was distinctly revealed to me, the ruffian could not, without stepping towards us, observe it.
"I s'pose you fellers want to know why I am here," the ruffian asked, with a sneer.
I tried to reply, but I could not; my eyes were fastened upon the glowing orbs of the snake, and it seemed to me that if I spoke, he would spring towards me.
"I'll tell ye why I am here, and how I got in. I want to revenge the injury which you have inflicted upon my friend Burley, and I also want to get a few pounds to pay me for the trouble I have taken in his behalf; so just heave ahead and shell out the shiners, and then we'll spin a yarn 'bout other affairs. Interest first, and then satisfaction."
I heard every word that the villain uttered, but if he had drawn a pistol, and offered to have shot me where I stood, I could not have moved a hand in my behalf. I struggled to overcome the feeling, but it was in vain; the glistening, restless eyes of the snake were on me, and seemed to dance with triumph at their thraldom. The tail was motionless now, as though awaking the result of the conversation.
I wondered that Fred did not come to my relief; but the longer that I looked, the less I thought on the subject, and after a while I began to really enjoy my situation, and to feel surprised that I had considered the monster so terrible. I felt a strange desire to move forward, and fondle the snake, and the eyes that at first seemed so hideous now looked like glittering stones of inestimable value. The black, slimy skin appeared to be of burnished gold, and I thought that if I could but touch it, I should be enriched forever.
Even in my stupor I could hear the loud barking of Rover, on the outside of the building, and it passed through my mind, like an electric shock, that he was uttering a howl for my death. But, like a flash, the bitter feeling that I experienced passed away, and I no longer regretted that I was to die; in fact, I felt rather rejoiced that I was so soon to end my troubles, and it appeared that I had got but a step to move forward, and I should be surrounded with all the pleasures of paradise.
"Why, what is the matter with you two lubbers?" I heard the ruffian ask, the few minutes' silence that had prevailed having startled him; "darn yer eyes, can't one of ye speak, and say that you'll come down with the shiners?"
I could hear the loud breathing of Fred, and I thought that he was trying to answer, but if he did attempt it, the effort was a failure, and the words died in his throat unuttered.
I do not know how long I stood thus silent and motionless, but it seemed to me hours; and each moment I could feel that I was growing weaker and weaker, and more strongly urged forward in the direction of the snake. And then the tail of the monster, which had lain dormant for some time, began to exhibit signs of life, and to form graceful curves in the air, as though enjoying a mighty triumph, or beckoning other monsters to come forward and witness the result of an interview with the lords of the creation.
"Blast your picturs!" exclaimed the ruffian, and I heard him move as though he intended to come towards us.
I could not withdraw my gaze from the snake, and if I should live a thousand years, I never could hope to witness such a gorgeous display as the eyes of the monster exhibited when the sound of footsteps disturbed the silence of the room. Showers of gold, silver, and precious stones, all mingled together, and exhibited by gas light, would be but a poor comparison, when contrasted with the splendor that I thought I observed in the serpent's eyes.
I heard the ruffian take one, two, three steps towards us, and I heard him utter an oath at our apparent indifference, and then, like a flash of lightning, I saw the tail of the snake gleam through the air, and encircle, coil after coil, the stout body of the midnight robber!
I heard a sudden exclamation of horror; a fearful imprecation escaped the lips of the ruffian, and then the wonderful spell, which had bound me for I know not how long, was dissipated, and weak and trembling, I staggered back, and sank upon the floor, too much exhausted to escape from the building, and too much overcome with horror, at the struggle going on before me, to offer aid.
DEATH OF THE BURGLAR BY THE SNAKE.
The struggle that was going on in our room did not prevent me—as I lay upon the floor, too exhausted and faint to assist the ruffian who called himself Pete Hurley's friend—from glancing towards Fred, to see how he fared. He appeared to be in the same condition as myself, and was lying upon his side, almost motionless; but his eyes were riveted upon the horrible contortions of the snake, as the ruffian, a powerfully built man, strove to tear off the coils which bound him with fetters that were like steel.
The man's cries and oaths were fierce, but uttered in a gasping tone, as though his very life was being pressed out. Three coils were around him, and each moment I thought that I could see them gradually tighten, but still the resistance of the victim was none the less powerful.
He grasped the snake around the body, and strove, with his powerful hands, to make it yield its death hug; but his efforts seemed to have no more effect than if he had clinched a bar of iron, or a young sapling. Around they went—the snake with his head upon the floor, his eyes flashing fire, and his mouth expanding, and tongue darting back and forth, and seeming to enjoy the night's adventure as one that was unexpected as well as gratifying.
I saw the ruffian make desperate attempts to reach his knife, which was in his belt; but the coils around him prevented, and in their extremity they turned and staggered around the store, upsetting barrels and boxes, yet all the time I saw that the reptile had the advantage, and could, with a slight exertion of strength, drive his antagonist whither he pleased.
I was as much fascinated with the fight, as I had been with the eyes of the snake, and did not move hand or foot to assist the robber. Even if a shot would have put an end to the combat, I did not dare to fire it, for fear of killing the man; and as for approaching to use our knives, the bare thought was enough to cause a shudder, for the snake managed to keep his head towards us, and with expanded mouth and glistening lungs, appeared to warn us that the fight was a fair one, and that he would brook no interference.
At length I saw the struggling wretch grasp the tail of the reptile with one hand, and seek to unwind the folds that bound him. As well might he have attempted to bend or loosen bars of iron, for with a slight effort the snake freed that portion of his body, and raising his head, hissed, as though with scorn, at the effort of the poor mortal.
The ruffian was not daunted, although a fierce imprecation escaped his lips, as the animal raised his head, and seemed disposed to accomplish the destruction of his antagonist without further delay.
Again did he struggle to get at his knife, and this time, owing to a slight relaxation of the coils around his body, he was successful. I saw the glittering steel flourished in the air, and I saw by the sudden contraction of the serpent's folds, that it was aware that a battle of life and death was now to take place between them.
"Die, d—— you—die," yelled the man, cutting with his knife at various parts of the snake's body.
I saw the hot blood spirt from the wounds, and cover the floor, and I saw that the snake's eyes grew more brilliant than ever, and that he was gradually bringing his head on a level with the face of his antagonist, as though to bite and disfigure his countenance.
Again the keen knife descended, and this time struck deep, for the wounded animal, with a convulsive spring, overturned the ruffian, and together they rolled upon the floor.
I could hear the hard breathing of the man, and I could tell every time that his knife struck home, by a peculiar hiss that escaped the snake. It was like the sudden escape of steam.
"We must now lend some assistance to the poor wretch," said Fred, suddenly starting to his feet, knife in hand. "Do you hold the light, so that I can see where to strike."
"Help me or I die," yelled the ruffian, whose strength began to fail; and he called none too soon, for in spite of his desperate efforts with his knife, the monster had struck one blow, with his fangs, upon his face, and was about to repeat it, as we drew near, light in hand.
The snake raised its head, and shook it menacingly, us we approached. The huge mouth opened, and the quivering tongue darted back and forth, as though warning us not to interfere with what did not concern us; but in spite of its threatening attitude, Fred directed a blow at its head, and the keen steel made a large wound near the reptile's neck.
The hot blood gushed from the wound in torrents; a few drops fell upon my hand, and burned the flesh as though seared with a heated iron.
I saw that the folds of the serpent were gradually relaxing, as though tired of the unequal contest, and the sight gave us renewed courage. Again and again did Fred flesh his steel, and each blow that was struck told upon the life of the monster, and at last, with a convulsive shudder, the tail was uncoiled, straightened out, and with a long-drawn sigh the snake expired.
We did not delay a moment, but went to the assistance of the wounded man. He was covered with blood and slime, and a frightful wound was upon his face, where the fangs of the reptile had struck. He was breathing, but very faintly; so we lost not a moment in placing to his mouth a cup of wine that we fortunately had saved from our supply obtained at Melbourne. The liquor seemed to revive him, for he opened his eyes, and made a desperate effort to speak.
"How fares it with you?" asked Fred.
"The d——d snake has made a finish of me, I believe," he gasped, placing one hand upon his side, as though the effort to speak had caused excruciating pain in that region of his body. "Blast his pictur, how he hugged me!"
"Take another drink of wine," returned Fred, "and then rest until morning, and we will see what can be done for you."
"By morning, mates, I shall be at rest—never fear. A man can't have his heart squeezed into his mouth, and hope to live. But I'm darn glad that I killed the black scoundrel. He'll never purcel another sailor with his bloody tail."
"Let us make an examination, and see how much you are wounded," I said, proceeding to strip off his shirt.
"Avast there, shipmate," he cried, in a more feeble voice; "I'm going fast, so don't disturb me."
"But there may be hope—we will run for a physician."
"Of what use would the old sawbones be? Haven't I already been tortured enough? Besides, I've no money to pay for a visit."
"We will attend to that part of the duty," rejoined Fred.
"You will?" demanded the wounded man, in astonishment.
"To be sure."
"Well, all I've got to say is, I'm sorry that I attempted to revenge old Burley's wrongs, and if I could live he might fight for himself—I wouldn't."
"Did the man you call Burley hire you to redress his fancied wrongs?" Fred asked.
"He told me that you both had money, and that if I was a mind to, I could make myself rich, and pay you up for his wound in the hip."
"I'm going," he gasped, at length, "and I feel sorry for my past crimes. Do you believe that there is a hell where sinners burn forever and ever? Forgive me. I should have murdered you both had it not been for that d——d snake. I crept under the canvas while you were at supper, and while waiting for you to retire, I fell asleep. I am glad that I didn't kill—. D—— the sn——"
There was a gasping in the man's throat, and with a slight struggle his breath departed, and his soul flew up to God to be judged, and treated according to the crimes which were recorded against his name.
"What's to be done?" asked Fred, when he found that the robber's heart ceased to beat.
"We can do nothing until daylight. Let us go back to bed and try and sleep."
"And wake up and find a snake for a bedfellow? No, I feel that I shall not sleep again for a month. I am almost ready to declare that I will not stop another day at Ballarat, or in Australia. We have met with nothing but dangers since our landing, and it seems that on each occasion our lives have been spared as by a miracle."
"I can feel only too grateful that they are spared, without questioning the means," I replied. "Whether a gracious Providence, or our shrewdness, has prevented us from being food for worms, is a subject we will not discuss."
"But I feel tired of this kind of life," Fred said, as he seated himself upon his bed and looked around the floor, covered with blood, and the bodies of the huge snake and the dead man. "A few weeks ago there was nothing that I liked so well as an adventure, but now I am surfeited, and would fain enjoy a respite. A few weeks of inactivity would not come amiss, for ever since we have been on the island we have seen nothing, heard of nothing, but blood. I am sick of it."
"Well?" I inquired, anxiously.
"I will adhere to the vow that I took before leaving California. We swore then never to desert each other, either in sickness or in health. Until you are content to leave Australia, I remain. That is settled upon."
We shook hands, and bound the bargain, and as we did so, the light that had wavered and flickered, and revealed the desperate fight, between the robber and the snake, suddenly died out, and left us in darkness.
And then we heard gentle steps upon the floor, and a snuffing, as though some animal was pawing over the bodies, and while we were listening to discover who our new visitor was, I felt something cold touch my hand, and I started in alarm; but my fears quickly vanished, for I found that Rover had recovered from his fright, and had come back in search of his master. The poor dog! I could not blame him for deserting us, considering the character of our late visitor.
The brute curled down beside us, and sat and listened to our conversation through the night, but during that period his ears were raised as though waiting a repetition of the sound that had alarmed him hours before.
"I saw you move your hand towards your revolver," I said, addressing Fred; "why did you not use it before the snake attacked the poor fellow?"
"Because, while looking at the monster, a feeling came over me that I cannot at this moment account for. I had regarded the snake with the utmost dread and abhorrence, until all at once I thought that I did not appear to look upon him with the same disgust, and the longer that I gazed, the more fascinated I became, and I could not have harmed the reptile, had my life depended upon my actions."
It was singular, but his feelings were the same that I had experienced, and I refer the matter to scientific gentlemen, and desire them to solve the question. Can a black snake, by the aid of lamp light, fascinate two men, separated a distance of three yards, so that they lose all mastery over their actions, and are impelled, by a power that appears uncontrollable, to approach an object that they most dread on earth?
It seems a strange story, yet it is a true one: I will give the dimensions of the reptile, so that the public may know that it was no puny monster. Its length was exactly thirteen feet, five inches and a quarter, and its circumference was thirteen inches and a half. The snake was of the Diamond species, and grows quite large in Australia. I have heard of even larger ones being destroyed, but I thank fortune that I never met them during my residence. Their bites are not of a poisonous nature, but their fangs are so large and strong that they inflict an awkward wound; and in one case, when a miner was bitten, all efforts to stop the flow of blood were futile, and the poor fellow bled to death.
This occurred at Ballarat, soon after we located in that cheerful place, and Fred and myself were both sent for to investigate the case. We judged that the fangs of the snake had struck an artery, and this supposition, I have, since my return to this country, found to be correct.
There is quite a number of species of the serpent tribe in Australia, whose bite is death; but there is one kind, of a bright orange color, with a dark ring around the neck, that is very venomous. I once saw a miner bitten by one, and in defiance of all exertions that were made to save his life, the poor fellow died in less than an hour. We cauterized the wound with a hot iron, and at the same time compelled him to swallow huge draughts of raw whiskey; but to no purpose. In twenty minutes after he was bitten, the miner began to swell—in half an hour he could not swallow another drop of liquor, although what he had taken apparently had no effect upon him. In three quarters of an hour he was speechless, and in fifty-five minutes he was dead. That was quick work for the poison, and proves that the snakes of Australia are more venomous than the rattlesnake of America. Luckily, the orange colored snakes are not numerous, and I only saw three during my residence on the island, and I suffer no compunctions of conscience when I acknowledge that I assisted to kill them.
But the saddest part of the story connected with the miner's death remains to be told. After he was dead, no one would go near him, or assist to give the body a decent burial. Fred offered a handsome sum to any one who would do so, but all declined, until an American, whose heart was not contaminated by bad influence, gathered pieces of boards and made a coffin, and then assisted us to dig a grave on the hill-side, where we deposited the remains of the unfortunate man, to take his last rest.
Fred and I sat in the dark, conversing in a low tone, and starting at every sound, expecting to hear the slimy crawling of another snake; but in this we were disappointed, and happily so. As soon as daylight appeared, we started towards the hut of the inspector, situated at no great distance from our so-called store. Mr. Brown was asleep when we called, and it was with some difficulty that we aroused him.
"Hullo!" he exclaimed, at length, raising his head from his hard couch, and rubbing his eyes; "what's the matter? The store hasn't burned down, has it, and destroyed all the stock in trade?"
"Worse than that," returned Fred.
"Then a great misfortune must have occurred. What is it? If I can assist in any thing, I'll get up; if not, I'm going to sleep an hour or two longer. The miners had a meeting last evening, and what with bad rum and long resolutions, they kept me pretty busy until an hour since."
"Then make up your mind that you'll have no more sleep until our business is finished. Come, get up and take breakfast with us," Fred rejoined.
"That invitation is sufficient to make a hungry man forget sleep for a week. I'm with you."
The inspector gave himself a shake, and was dressed and ready to accompany us. He left word with one of his men, who was on duty, where he could be found in case he was wanted, and then declared that he was ready.
As we walked along, we told him of the visit that we had received the night before, and he listened without any expression of astonishment. When we reached the store things remained as we had left them, with blood scattered over the floor, and on the overturned boxes and barrels, while nearly side by side were the bodies of the snake and the robber.
Mr. Brown stooped down and examined the face of the corpse for a few minutes attentively.
"I knew that fellow would come to some bad end," the inspector said, "for he was a friend of Burley's, and many a robbery have they committed together, that never came to light."
"You might have cautioned us against him," remarked Fred.
"So I might, had I but known he was in Ballarat. I have not seen or heard of the fellow before for two months, and I thought that he was either shot or hanged, as he certainly should have been a year ago. He must have arrived here yesterday afternoon, and Burley told him that you had money, and that he could make a good thing in avenging his injuries and stealing your gold. I am glad to say that he was caught in his own trap, and I shall always cherish the name of a diamond snake for the good that one of them has done in ridding us of a ruffian who would have robbed his mother, and beat her in the bargain."
"But the snake—what do you think of that?" we asked.
"I have seen larger ones, though I will quiet your fears by saying not in this part of Australia. They are not so dangerous as they look, and seldom attack a man unless frightened into the encounter. A few miles from Ballarat is a colony of the same kind of reptiles, and it's something of a curiosity to see the monsters squirming about during a pleasant forenoon."
"Have you seen them often?" asked Fred.
"O, yes, I have seen them a dozen times, perhaps." "We have nothing of importance to attend to, for a few days, and would like to visit the colony. Will you go with us?"
"Willingly," replied the inspector. "Appoint your day."
"Say to-morrow forenoon. Our horses will feel better for the jaunt, and so shall we," Fred said.
"To-morrow forenoon we will go; and now, before we take breakfast, let us get rid of these encumbrances."
He pointed to the bodies on the floor, and while we were wondering what we should do with them, the inspector called a policeman, and directed him to find a cart and carry them off, and for all that we know to the contrary, they were both buried in the same grave. At any rate, the skin of the snake, which we had requested as a trophy, was returned to us, and by the aid of a quantity of arsenic, we were enabled to preserve it, and send it to Murden as a sample of one of the staple articles of the mines.
As soon as the bodies were removed, we went to work and cleaned our store, and then prepared breakfast, and I am happy to be able to record it, that the horrors of the night had no sensible effect upon our appetites.
VISIT TO SNAKES' PARADISE.
We spent the day in idleness, for the adventures of the preceding night were too harrowing to allow our minds to become settled on any kind of work. It is true that we had many questions to answer, and that numerous visitors thronged our store from sunrise until dark; but after repeating our story to our friend Charley, he took upon himself the important situation of narrator of the snake's doings, and by that means we were entirely relieved of a disagreeable duty.
Our California friend—never a great stickler for truth—embellished his version of the affair in such glowing colors, and set forth the courage that we had displayed in the fight in such a guise that we really began to think that our conduct was not so very tame, after all, and that we were worthy of the congratulations showered upon us by the admiring miners, who vowed that when our stock of goods was in, we were the men for their money.
At length, however, the last visitor had taken his departure, with the exception of Charley. He hung around, as though he had some important duty yet unperformed, but what it was we were at a loss to know until he disclosed it.
"We did pretty well, didn't we?" he asked, taking a seat by our rickety supper table.
"In getting the crowd off? Yes, we feel much obliged to you," Fred rejoined.
"O, tain't that. I mean 'bout making the fellers believe all I told um." "Why, I must say that I think you disregarded the truth slightly, in your account of the adventures."
"O, I know that I did; but don't you see that it was all 'cos I wanted to make ye popular with the masses, and one of these days you'll get elevated to pay for it. I knew that you fellers was frightened to death when you seed the snake, but of course I wasn't going to say so, 'cos if I had, it would have sp'ilt all. O, no; I know'd better than all that, by a long chalk. Putty good coffee this, ain't it?"
We were silent with astonishment and admiration at his matchless impudence.
"Perhaps you will be good enough to let us know how you knew we were frightened?" Fred asked, coolly.
"Certainly—'cos I met one of the same darned things, and I run like the devil. Fact, although you may not believe it. I don't fight snakes, if I can get clear of um."
The man's answer was so characteristic of human nature, that we could but smile at the honest expression, and were not disposed to quarrel with him for giving vent to the same feeling that would have actuated us in another encounter.
"I s'pose you won't mind coming down an ounce for the service I've rendered you to-day," Charley said, after a pause.
"For what service?" I demanded, in astonishment.
"O, for making you popular, that's all," he repeated.
"Look here, my friend," Fred said; "it seems to me that you think we are two log-rolling politicians, anxious to turn every thing of an exciting nature to an advantage. In this you are disappointed. We are here to get money, and not to get office."
"Well, ain't I here to make money, too? so where's the difference between us? You open a store; I sell rum, and starve boarders, and electioneer, so that you can have a great run of custom, and yet you ain't willing to pay a man a fair sum for his work. Wall, if I ain't almost riddy to forswear my kintry and turn Turk. It's too aggravating—it is."
Our friend looked as though he was a martyr to friendship, yet I saw that he was only acting in a systematic manner, to excite our sympathies, and procure the reward that he anticipated.
"Here is the money," Fred said, after a moment's hesitancy, handing a Spanish doubloon to the cute Yankee, who clutched at it like a hungry shark.
"All right," he replied, pocketing the gold with a chuckle.
"And now, before you go, we wish to say one word," Fred remarked, calmly, yet firmly. "Ever since we have been at Ballarat, you have contrived a number of ways to swindle us of our money. What you have received we don't wish back into our pockets: but we do give you warning that hereafter, if you interfere in our affairs, we shall take the liberty of administering a sound kicking to that portion of your anatomy made to be kicked. We hope that you understand us with distinctness, and that we shall not be called upon to put into execution our threat. Good day."
The fellow sneaked from the store like a petty thief caught in the act, and during our residence at the mines, he always declared that he didn't think much of aristocrats taking the bread out of the mouths of honest workmen, and that for his part, he should like to know from what part of New England we came.
We spent the day, as I said before, in idleness, yet we did not forget that we had an appointment with the inspector, the next morning. Our horses were in fine condition and anxious for a run, and as we rubbed them down and fed them the night before we were to start; they appeared to know that a journey was contemplated, and whinnied with joy.
As there was to be a monster meeting of the miners, that night, to consider what action should be taken in regard to the mining tax, we determined to be present—not for the purpose of taking any part in the deliberations of the people—but to see how such matters were conducted in Australia.
We therefore left Rover to attend to the horses, and prevent their being stolen while absent, and about eight o'clock we joined the throng of miners flocking towards the place designated for the meeting.
It was an out-door affair, and about one thousand people were present, and a rougher looking set of men I never saw in my life. All nations were there. Even a number of Chinamen, who couldn't understand ten words of English, and knew not what they shouted for, were in the crowd, wooden shoes, pig-tails and all. Manillamen, with long black hair, white teeth, and dark skins, and murderous looking knives by their sides, were present, and jabbered in the Mestisa tongue, which no one understood but themselves. Then there were Lascars, Arabs, and other countrymen, known by their peculiar dress and talk, and loud above the tumult could be heard the oaths uttered in good old Saxon, or else with a brogue that showed that the Gem of the Ocean had its representatives, who, as usual, were ready for a drink or a fight, but preferred the latter.
The chairman of the meeting was a Scotchman, who occupied a conspicuous position on a bank of earth, overlooking the audience, and who, fortunately being blessed with strong lungs, shouted, "Order, order," whenever the miners grew too quarrelsome, or had more than two fights going on at the same time.
An Irishman, whose clothes might have been bought at a second hand dealer's for a very moderate sum—for they were rent in various places, and no attempt had been made to patch them—was the first speaker, and he howled in the most approved manner, and even our political friends might have taken a lesson from him. He had not spoken two minutes before he denounced England as the worst nation upon the face of the earth, and considered Englishmen as lions and brutes, while Irishmen were every thing that was amiable and intelligent.
He was about to declare that an Irishman could lick a dozen Britons, when an indignant Englishman planted a blow upon his nose that knocked him headlong from the box on which he was standing.
The chairman called order, but did not appear surprised at the turn which things had taken.
The next speaker was a Scotch miner, who declared that he was no slave, and was not afraid to let the Governor General of Australia know it. He thought that if there was an Eden in this world, that Scotland would have to be visited to find it. He declared that he had rather live in his native country, and subsist upon oatmeal porridge, than remain in Australia and dig gold, and that the reason he paid a mining tax, was because he wanted to encourage the English to continue their outrages.
The next speaker was our late friend Charley. He alluded to the American Eagle, touched on Bunker Hill, eulogized the Declaration of Independence, admired the Revolution, and then artfully proceeded to depicture the prosperity that Australia would be likely to enjoy, if separated from the mother country, and become a republic. Then, he said, taxation would be equal, and money would not be wrung from the hard-working miners to support governors and other officials in luxury. While Mr. Charley was shouting with all his might, and trying to infuse a little of his own warmth into his hearers, a little, decrepit old man, with long, gray hair and shabby clothes, edged towards us, as though to enter into conversation.
"Well, I don't know but the man is right," the old man said, after listening a few minutes in silence. His dialect was broad Yorkshire, and we mentally concluded that he belonged in that part of England.
"There's a great dale in havin' independence, and all that. What d'ye think about it?"
The interrogation was addressed so pointedly that there was no chance to escape without an answer; but we had lived too long in foreign countries to commit ourselves on any question that was likely to cause us trouble.
"We have not given the subject a thought to-day. When we have made up our minds, we will let you know," returned Fred.
"Well, that is singular," the old man returned; "I always supposed that ye 'Mericans was riddy to declare that yer own country was the best. But don't ye think that Australia would make a great addition to the States?"
"We don't care to talk on the subject," rejoined Fred, shortly, seeing that a number of miners began to gather around, to listen to the discussion.
"That is capital," whispered a voice that we knew; "I am glad to see that you take no interest in the knave's fancies."
We felt a strong pressure on our arms, as though the speaker would have added other tokens of his approval, had he dared, and before we could recover from our surprise, the little old man was edging his way into the thickest of the crowd.
"Did you suspect him?" whispered Fred.
"No, he altered his voice too much. We owe Mr. Brown a trick for the one he has just played on us."
In fact, the little old man with the Yorkshire accent was no other than Mr. Inspector Brown, who was disguised so perfectly, that we should not have recognized him, even in broad daylight.
He was mingling with the crowd, and "spotting" the most turbulent, for the purpose of refusing to grant them a license, when next they applied. He went upon the principle that a few agitators were sufficient to corrupt the morals of all the miners in Ballarat, and to get them to leave for other parts was Mr. Brown's whole study.
We did not wait to hear more of Charley's harangue, for we were too tired to enjoy his artful attempts to excite the miners in opposition to the government.
The night passed off without any incident worthy of notice, and by daylight we were astir, and preparing for our expedition.
Shortly after sunrise the inspector joined us, mounted on a very fair horse, but not equal to the nags that we owned.
We were off without delay—leaving Rover to tend the store—although we did not forget to examine our revolvers before we started, for the inspector hinted that there might be such a thing as meeting a bushranger who would feel disposed to borrow our horses, or take our lives, just as his fancy seemed to lead him.
"How did the meeting terminate, last night?" I asked, after we had got clear of the town, and were ascending a high hill, at a slow pace.
"O, after your precious countryman got through with his great annexation speech, there was quite a brisk fight between half-a-dozen of the men present, and then the meeting broke up in a row. No arrests were made, for if I had offered to take any one into custody, I should have been ill-treated, and raised a tumult that could not have easily been suppressed. I bide my time, and think of the day when government will have a force here sufficient to resist all attacks."
We laughed at Mr. Brown's tirade against our countryman, and then joked him on the cleverness of his disguise, and promised to pay him in his own coin. He dared us to the experiment, and we mentally promised that we would keep our word.
For almost two hours we continued our journey, sometimes passing through deep valleys, which, in winter months, were green with verdure, but now were dry and parched for the want of moisture; and sometimes ascending high hills, from the summits of which we could command a view of the country for many miles in extent.
Not a soul had we met since leaving the borders of the town, and with the exception of one or two animals, game appeared to be very scarce.
"How much farther have we to go for a sight of the 'Snakes' Paradise'?" Fred inquired.
"Only about a mile. At the foot of the hill the den is located, unless the reptiles have changed their quarters since I was here last."
The inspector pointed with his whip to the spot indicated, and for a few minutes we drew rein and admired the scenery.
At our feet was a deep valley, which, in the winter season, received the washings of the mountains that completely surrounded it, and the soil evidently retained the water for some time, for we could see where it had settled or evaporated, and we asked ourselves the question,—
"Did the snakes take up their quarters in the valley for the purpose of being near fresh water for about nine months in the year?"
Mr. Brown only shook his head, and said that he was not versed in "snakeology," but thought that if the reptiles remained in the valley, it was a sign that they liked to take a drink occasionally, and proposed that we should descend.
We assented, but before we did so, we took another survey of the scene before us. As I said before, the valley was surrounded by hills, and the only outlet was by means of a ragged ravine, through which the water had forced its way, and extended to another plain about half a mile distant The hills opposite to us were nearly perpendicular, and their summit could only be gained by immense exertion on the part of a person on foot. The only places where horses could escape, or leave the valley, was by means of the ravine, or the path we were about to descend.
I have been thus particular in describing the locality of Snakes' Paradise, as we named it, because we met with an incident there, which I shall relate in another chapter.
We were obliged to dismount from our animals, when half-way down the mountain, for we found that the trail was very insecure, and that a proper regard for our necks demanded a descent on foot. The horses, freed from our encumbrance, got along very well, and much faster than when guided by reins; but we found that, as we neared the foot of the hill, the animals manifested considerable reluctance to proceeding farther, and that some energy was required to prevent their retracing their steps up the ascent.
At length, however, we readied even ground, and again mounted our restive animals, and led by the inspector, approached a mound of earth, about fifteen or twenty feet high, and eight or ten feet in circumference. It was in the form of a pyramid, and resembled the work of man more than nature, and I turned to the inspector for an explanation.
"What motive could a man have for forming earth in that shape?" I asked.
"That was never built by human beings, but by insects, more industrious than the lords of creation. That pyramid of earth was once the home of millions of black ants, and by them alone was it raised."
I had heard of the wonderful industry of the ants of Australia, but this was the first time that I ever saw their works. I felt curious to examine one of their homes, and touched my horse for the purpose of riding nearer. To my surprise the animal refused to move in the direction that I wished, and the more I urged, the less inclined he was to obey. I was not disposed to give up the contest, and was making preparations to continue with more vigor, when Mr. Brown stopped me.
"It's useless," he said, "to try and get the horses nearer the pyramid. They scent danger before we are aware of its presence. If you wish to inspect the place you must dismount."
"But why should the animals be afraid of ants?" Fred asked.
"They are not afraid of ants," replied the inspector, dryly, "but they are afraid of snakes."
"But we can see no snakes, although you told us that their den was near the foot of the mountain."
"What does that look like?" asked Mr. Brown, pointing to a dark object that was slowly creeping from an opening in the pyramid.
We saw at once that the object was a snake, such as we had encountered at the store, and we watched his languid movements with some curiosity. The reptile had no sooner drawn his body from the mound than another snake of the same species poked his head out, and after surveying us for a few seconds with an appearance of considerable curiosity, he, too, quitted the pyramid, and stretched his long body in the hot sand, as though it was grateful to his slimy skin.
Another and another followed in slow succession, until we counted no less than twenty black snakes, none of them less than thirteen feet long, and from ten to fifteen inches in circumference. They appeared to be as playful as puppies, and rolled over and over each other in their gambols; but at the least movement on our part their sport ceased, and they seemed to form themselves in hostile array as though to repel an attack. Then their mouths opened and their huge fangs were exposed, glistening in the sun, as though anxious to try their strength upon our bodies.
It was with some difficulty that we could get our horses to face the monsters, and even with all our exertions the animals would suddenly start, as though anxious to quit so loathsome a sight.
"Do ants and snakes live peaceably together in Australia?" I asked of the inspector.
"By no means. They are continually at war, but the insects struggle with desperate valor to maintain their homestead against their assailants; but in the end they have to retire and build another pyramid, where they live until a fresh colony of snakes appear and drive them forth wanderers once more. The fight, however, lasts nearly a week before the insects acknowledge defeat, and if, during that time, the snakes wound each other in trying to free their bodies of the ants, it is a great triumph for the latter, for they fasten upon the wound, and all the twisting and squirming of the reptiles cannot dislodge them. For days they fatten upon their victim, until at length the slight wound becomes a sore of great magnitude, and never heals. Mortification at length ensues, and the death of the snake is then certain. You can see that if the insects are weak and insignificant, nature teaches them a method of avenging their wrongs, and they are not slow to adopt it."
As we found that it was impossible to get our horses to approach the nest of reptiles, we got the inspector to hold them while Fred and myself advanced, revolvers in hand, to get a nearer view of the squirming monsters. They instantly arrayed themselves in a compact mass, and with flashing eyes and erect heads watched our motions. Every few seconds they would utter a hiss, that sounded like an expression of displeasure in a theatre during some bad piece of acting. We advanced to within ten rods of them, and then halted and surveyed them at leisure.
"I should like to try the effects of a shot," Fred said, glancing at the snakes and then at his revolver.
"Fire away," I replied, as anxious for the fun as himself.
In spite of a warning cry from Mr. Brown, Fred discharged his revolver, and the hall struck in the mass of squirming bodies. I saw one huge monster tear himself loose from the others, and wind his body into knots, and beat the ground with rage with his tapered tail, while his hot blood dyed the ground as it gushed forth during his contortions.
"Try another," said Fred, enjoying his own shot.
I also fired, and the same result followed. The wounded snake either struggled, or else was forced from the mass, and the same bold front was kept up by the others. The hissing, if possible, was a little louder, and the eyes of those uninjured flashed brighter, but the mass did not move forward, or recede from our attack; and it was not until we had each discharged five barrels of our revolvers that a movement, as though determined to revenge their loss, was made.
FLIGHT FROM THE SNAKES.—ATTACKED BY THE BUSHRANGERS.
Slowly, but in a compact form, did the snakes creep forward, hissing, and expanding their huge mouths, and darting out their forked tongues, which quivered like a million of grasshoppers strung upon steel wires, and exposed to a strong breeze.
"Come back, you—." The rest of the sentence was inarticulate, but I think it sounded like "fools."
We glanced at the inspector, and found that he was in full retreat with the horses, evidently being disposed to be on the safe side.
"Let us give them one more shot, and be off," said Fred.
He was about to carry his words into effect, when a thought suddenly struck me, and I lowered my revolver.
"Fred," I said, "did you put your powder flask in your pocket?"
"No, for I supposed that you did," he replied.
"Then let me advise you to reserve your fire, for we have but one shot each, and it is a long way to camp."
I had hardly delivered the caution, when we found that it was full time to beat a retreat. The snakes, still showing signs of anger, had crept to within ten yards of us, and I thought, from a hasty observation, that they were preparing to separate, and make a spring.
"Now, then, for a run!" cried Fred; and we turned our backs upon our enemies, and started towards the horses as fast as our legs could carry us.
I glanced over my shoulder to see what action the snakes were taking, and to my horror I found that they had separated, and were pursuing us with inconceivable rapidity. Their huge heads were raised about eighteen inches from the ground, and their wide mouths were expanded as though grinning at our flight.
"Run faster," yelled the inspector, who was watching the novel race, seated on his horse.
We tried to obey, but found that we were putting our best energies to the work, and therefore could not increase our pace. It seemed to me that I was shod with lead, my feet felt so heavy.
"Run, run, run!" yelled the inspector, endeavoring to urge the horses towards us; but the brutes resisted with all their might, and he was obliged to relinquish the attempt.
I again looked over my shoulder, and saw that we did not increase the distance between us and our loathsome foes, but I felt a little hope at the thought of their not gaining on us. Ten rods more, and we should he within range of the inspector's revolver, and perhaps he could check the snakes' pursuit.
Even while these thoughts passed through my brain, I saw one of the most active of our pursuers suddenly stop, raise one half of his long body from the ground, in an upright direction, and then spring forward, at least twenty feet, and far in advance of his competitors. Two more such springs, and we would be enfolded in his embrace. Again he raised his black, shining form, and was about to repeat the attempt, when we heard the sharp crack of Mr. Brown's revolver.
To my joy, I saw that the inspector's aim was true, for the reptile, just as he was about to repeat his spring, was struck by the ball, and rolled over and over, lashing the ground with his tail, and causing his companions to suddenly stop, as though desirous of seeing what the matter was.
It is very certain that Fred and myself did not stop to learn what conclusion the snakes came to; in less than a minute after the shot was fired, we were beside our horses and mounted.
"Well, of all the fellows for getting into scrapes, you two are the worst!" cried the inspector, with an air of vexation; "didn't you know that those cussed black devils could run faster than a man?"
"This is the first that we ever heard about it," rejoined Fred, completely at his ease.
"Well, now that I have told you, let us be getting clear of the clan, for there is no knowing how soon the varmints may recommence another pursuit," and the inspector turned his horse's head, as though he was determined to remain no longer in such a dangerous neighborhood.
"Don't be in such a hurry," said Fred; "we have an inclination towards natural history, and now is a good time to take lessons. I want to see if the snakes will follow a man on horseback as readily as when he is on foot."
"Are you determined to get choked to death by those dark scamps?" demanded Mr. Brown, with a stare of amazement.
"By no means; we want to prevent others from suffering such a death, and therefore feel that we have a mission for killing all that we can with safety. There's ten or twelve of them left. Lend me your revolver, for mine has but one charge in it."
Fred held out his hand to receive the weapon, and Mr. Brown, hardly knowing whether he was joking or not, complied with his request.
The snakes were holding a consultation over the body of the last one killed, and therefore paid but little attention to Fred, as he urged his unwilling horse within shooting distance. I remained by the side of Mr. Brown, and watched his operations.
At the first discharge of his revolver the consultation was broken up, and after hissing their displeasure, the reptiles commenced slowly retreating to their den; but every few seconds they would stop, face him, and then another discharge would start them into full flight.
As they neared the pyramid—what there was left of them—their speed increased, until it seemed to be a race as to which should get under cover first. But the most surprising circumstance was the uninjured ones refusing to allow a maimed one to enter, and every time that it persisted in its attempt, the others fought him desperately.
That was something that I could not account for; but Mr. Brown said that the reptiles were only imitating human beings in their treatment of a comrade, and that as long as a snake was well, and able to fight, the main body were willing to use him; but after he was wounded and wanted shelter, there was a conspiracy to kick him out of their comfortable quarters.
Fred returned with but one barrel of the revolver loaded, and that he saved because the inspector was in the same condition as ourselves, having left his powder and ball at Ballarat.
"Now, then, let us return," Mr. Brown said; "you have shed blood enough for one day, I hope."
The words had hardly passed his lips, when, upon the top of the mountain that we had descended two hours before, I saw the forms of five or six men stealing along the trail, as though desirous of gaining the cover of a number of trees, for the purpose of watching our movements.
I pointed them out to the inspector, and he stopped and examined them through a pocket spy-glass which he usually carried when he left town.
"Well, are they friends or foes?" asked Fred.
The inspector made no reply until the men were lost to view beneath the branches of the trees.
"Are you sure," he asked, "that you left your powder and lead at Ballarat?"
"Quite sure—why do you ask?"
"Because, unfortunately, there are six as great rascals as ever went unhung on the hill, and they mean mischief, I'll swear."
The inspector put up his glass, and examined his nearly-emptied revolver with a rueful look.
"If the blasted snakes had not wasted our powder there would be some show for us," he continued, "because, luckily, the scamps are armed with pistols only."
"But we have three shots," cried Fred, his blood beginning to dance through his veins at the prospect of a struggle; "I will guarantee that every discharge brings down a bird, and as for the remainder, why, we will meet them single-handed."
"I like to hear you talk in that strain, but the odds are against us. We have a long hill to ascend, and should have to leave our horses behind, and that I can't think of. The bushrangers, I suppose, desire the animals for the purpose of escaping to some other portion of the country, and even at the risk of running from a fight, we must disappoint them. No, no; it would be madness attacking six men with empty revolvers, when they have the choice of ground."
The inspector returned his revolver to his belt, and once more examined the spot where the robbers had gone into ambush.
"Yes, they are watching our every motion, and I can see one fellow standing near the trunk of the first tree on our right examining his pistols attentively. Now he looks towards us, and points with his hand in the direction of the ravine. It is our only chance." He closed the glass abruptly and put spurs to his horse, calling upon us to follow him without a moment's delay. We suspected Mr. Brown's intentions, but did not consider the danger so imminent as he imagined. We therefore galloped along at a moderate pace, and allowed the inspector to take the lead.
"Faster, faster," he shouted, looking over his shoulder to see if we kept up with him.
"What is your hurry?" cried Fred, with a provoking degree of coolness.
"Because there is need of it," Mr. Brown answered, reining his animal in for the purpose of allowing us to get alongside of him. "Those bushrangers have noted the road we have taken, and will seek to cut off our retreat. Our only safety now lies in getting through the ravine before they can gain a position to fire at us. Ah, I thought so. Look there."