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"Don't provoke him," whispered an officer. "Obey him, and we will do all that we can for your friend."
"Will you allow me to exchange one word with your prisoner?" I asked of Kellum.
"What, not gone yet?" he roared. "Ready," he shouted, addressing his soldiers, "aim," and the word to "fire," was trembling on his lips, when the officers forced us from the presence of the brute, and we heard the cries of the wounded as they were roughly handled by the soldiers, for the purpose of securing them and conveying them to the barracks.
The soldiers were also employed in attending to their own wounded, several of whom had fallen, and while I carefully picked my way through the crowd I stumbled over a prostrate body, which caused us to stop, and see if we could be of any a.s.sistance. I stooped down and placed my hand upon the man's head, and felt his hot blood gush from a wound in his heart. I removed the poor fellow's broad rimmed hat, and saw, to my surprise, that it was Steel Spring.
"Why, it is our old companion," I cried, feeling really sorry at his misfortune. "Help me to lift him up, and we will carry him to the store."
"It's no use," gasped the wounded man. "Got a ball in my breast; all over vid me--sorry I came 'ere--didn't mean to--didn't get pay for this--don't disturb me. I shall die in ten minutes--know it--vill bet all the money I've got that I do--I'm sorry for all my rascalities."
He ceased to speak, and placing his hand upon his breast, groaned as though suffering terrible pain. The blood from his wound flowed on unceasingly.
"Cheer up, old friend," I said, encouragingly. "There is life still left, and we can get you on your feet in a few weeks by the aid of a doctor. We will get a litter, and carry you to the store."
Smith started in search of one, and left Mr. Brown and me to look after the wounded man.
"'Tis werry kind of you, but 'tis no use." Steel Spring whispered. "I've got a load here that vill keep me quiet arter I'm dead. I shan't be able to steal then, 'cos gold vould be of no use to me vere I'm going."
"If you want to save that covey's life, you'd better make him hold his gab, and get him off the ground as soon as possible," an English soldier said, stopping for a moment to examine our old companion's wound, and then pa.s.sing on with as much indifference as it was possible to manifest.
Luckily the litter arrived, and we managed to get Steel Spring on to it, and carried him to the store. There was but little life in him, and that little we tried to retain, and consulted with the best doctor in Ballarat for that purpose. The physician said that the ball would have to be extracted first, when the wound would heal of itself, if nothing in the shape of inflammation intervened, and to prove that he was right, probed the wound, started the bleeding afresh, and in less than an hour after the spy was carried to our store he was a corpse, and the doctor had sent in his bill for medical attendance, and charged in proportion to his ignorance, which was immense.
Leaving Smith to manufacture a coffin out of the spare boards and boxes which the store contained, Mr. Brown and myself started for the head quarters of the commissioner for the purpose of seeking an interview, and obtaining the release of Fred, who, I doubted not, would be set free in the morning, as no charge could be brought against him of a rebellious nature.
We found a guard of soldiers stationed around the house, and an eager and excited crowd was kept at a distance by a line of bayonets. I saw that the miners were anxious to learn if any of their friends were wounded or taken prisoners, yet could obtain no satisfactory information, as all intercourse with those in custody was denied.
"Stand back, sir," cried a sergeant, as Mr. Brown and myself pressed forward for the purpose of reaching the entrance to the building.
"Hullo, Richards! is that you?" Mr. Brown exclaimed, extending his hand.
"Ah, excuse me, sir; I didn't recognize you. Sorry to be obliged to stop you, sir, but have got positive orders to admit only those having business."
"Then we are just the ones to pa.s.s, for we have business of importance with the commissioner."
"Ah, that alters the case. Pa.s.s in, gentlemen;" and as the soldiers lowered their bayonets, we slipped past them, and in a few minutes found ourselves in the ante-room of the commissioner.
"You had better go in alone, for I can be of no service to you,"
whispered Mr. Brown; and I felt the truth of the remark.
I boldly followed an officer into the commissioner's room, and soon found myself in the presence of Kellum, the commissioner, and half a dozen captains and lieutenants.
"I tell you, that every dog of them should be shot, and then you'll hear no more of taxes and rebellion. That's the way I'd punish treason, and it will be effectual. We should have no more meetings and political speeches by men who don't know what they are ranting about. We have got the rebels at our feet. Let us trample upon them."
"It will not do," replied the commissioner, mildly, with his usual crafty calculation. "The home government will hear of the matter, and rake us over the coals for it. Besides, the newspapers would raise a prodigious row, and then Parliament will have to appoint a commissioner of inquiry. No, no; I've thought the matter over carefully, and I'm convinced that we should get awfully blackballed if we shoot the rascals, although"--and he smiled and rubbed his hands with glee--"I should like the sport."
"Say but the word, and in fifteen minutes every dog of them shall be dead," cried the colonel, who, having tasted blood, wished for more.
"No, no; let us send them to Melbourne, where a long imprisonment and low diet will be the fate of each."
The colonel was about to make some observation, when an officer touched his elbow, and called his attention to me.
"Hullo, by G----d, sir, how long have you been in this room?" he roared.
"I should judge about five minutes," I replied, calmly.
"And your business here?" he demanded, fiercely; and I saw that he had not forgotten the blow which Fred dealt him the day before.
"My business is not with you, sir, but with this gentleman," I replied, turning to the commissioner.
"Well, transact it, and be off. If that sergeant admits another grocer, I'll hang him before morning."
I did not notice the sneer, but turned towards the commissioner, upon whom I hoped to make a favorable impression.
"I have called, sir, to see if I could not make arrangements for the release of my friend, who was taken into custody to-night, and who is innocent of any connection with this rebellion."
"What arrangement do you wish to make?" the commissioner asked.
"I will give bonds to a large amount for his appearance at any time that you may appoint."
"Why, the grocer thinks that he is in a court of law," the colonel said, with a most insulting sneer.
"No, sir," I replied, "I thought that I was in the presence of gentlemen."
"None of your insolence here," the bully roared, not liking the smile which he saw upon the faces of his officers.
"Insolence is but a poor weapon to gain a cause, and a gentleman should never use it unless to rebuke presumption," I replied.
"We cannot take the bail that you offer," the commissioner said. "Your partner was arrested for giving vent to treasonable expressions, and after he was taken into custody, on his person was found a dangerous weapon, in the shape of a revolver."
"Don't say that the pistol was dangerous to any one but himself," the colonel cried. "I dare say that if he had attempted to shoot any one, he would not have known how."
"There is where you do the gentleman an injustice," an officer remarked.
"If you did not think him dangerous, you should have met after the scene in our store," I said, addressing the colonel, and alluding to the blow which Fred had struck him.
"I am not accustomed to meet every pauper that presents himself for battle. I don't wish to place him on a level with myself, and therefore will wait until he proves himself a gentleman."
"There is where you are mistaken, colonel," said a young gentleman dressed in the uniform of a captain. "I had the pleasure of meeting both of these gentlemen at a levee of the governor's, and I know that he spoke very highly of them, and offered to reward them with lucrative positions for their services in destroying two or three bands of bushrangers, who had long been a terror to travellers. It does not require a patent of n.o.bility to make them gentlemen."
"Why, Captain Fitz, you had better offer to defend the prisoner, you speak so warmly in his behalf," sneered the colonel.
"I am not a lawyer, sir, although if I am called upon to give my testimony, I think that I shall say what I please regarding the slaughter of twenty-two miners, whose only crime was protesting against an unjust tax."
"Say what you please, and welcome; but while you are under my command you must obey my orders or else stand the chances of a court-martial. I don't think that the miners agree with you," the military despot continued, after a moment's consultation with the commissioner; "I desire that you take command of the escort which is about to start for Melbourne with the prisoners. You will lose not a moment, but report yourself ready in an hour's time."
"I do not require even a moment's time," replied the young man; "I am ready now, and am only too anxious to start."