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"As for you, sir," the colonel said, turning to me, "you can see your friend after he reaches Melbourne, but not before. He is charged with a serious crime, and those higher in power than myself must deal with him."
I left the apartment, uncertain what to do or where to go. Mr. Brown joined me in the ante-room, but read the result of my mission in my face.
"There's no hope?" he asked.
"None; he goes to Melbourne to-night."
"So much the better," answered Mr. Brown, promptly; "now we shall have a fair chance for his freedom; for great things can sometimes be accomplished in that city."
"But Fred will suffer on the route," I remarked, "and unless he is cared for, will never reach the city alive."
"Don't give yourself any uneasiness on that score," Captain Fitz said, he having heard my last remark; "I will take care that he is treated with as much consideration as the circ.u.mstances will admit of, and see that he wants for nothing."
I uttered a few hurried thanks, and the captain was about to pa.s.s, when I detained him.
"Is there any means by which we can obtain an interview with my friend?"
"I fear not," he answered, in a hesitating manner, which inspired me with some hope.
"Only a few words," I pleaded.
"If the colonel or commissioner should know that I ever listened to the suggestion, there would be a pretty row," muttered the captain, still hesitating.
"But they need not know it," I repeated.
"Come, Captain Fitz, for old acquaintance sake, let us see the young man. No harm will come of it, and you will be doing a good service,"
said Mr. Brown, who knew the officer while quartered at Melbourne.
"Well, I will see what I can do for you; but remember, I shall give you only five minutes."
"That will answer our purpose," I replied.
"Then wait here a few moments, until I report myself ready for the march. The prisoners are being mustered, and preparing for the long tramp, for we have got to get them out of Ballarat before daylight, for fear of an attack and rescue."
He spoke hurriedly, and then entered the commissioner's room, where he remained ten minutes, when he again joined us.
"All right," he whispered; "put on these overcoats and caps--you must pa.s.s for officers, or there will be an end to all attempts at an interview."
We were too glad to comply with the request to waste words, and as soon as we had donned the disguise we followed the captain out of the front door, pa.s.sed double lines of soldiers, still on duty, but resting on their arms, and at length reached a strong building where the prisoners were confined, and where preparations were being made for their removal.
A dozen or twenty soldiers guarded the door; but at the sight of the captain and his uniform, arms were presented, the door was unlocked, and we pa.s.sed into a room thirty feet square, where we found about twenty-five of the most prominent miners, lounging about, talking, and apparently entirely indifferent to their fate. We cast our eyes over the crowd, and soon saw Fred, holding a conversation with a soldier, whom he was endeavoring to bribe to get writing materials, so that he could indite a few lines to us before he left.
"Step this way, my man," I said, disguising my voice, and addressing my friend.
He looked somewhat astonished, but as he could not see my face, he did not know me.
"Well, gentlemen, what is your pleasure?" he asked, as he followed us to the most remote part of the room.
"To see you before you left, and to convince you that we will make every exertion to secure your release," I whispered.
"Ah, Jack," my friend said, squeezing my hand, "I knew that you would not let me leave without making an effort to see me. A thousand thanks for this kindness."
"Don't be discouraged," I continued; "Mr. Brown and myself are going to Melbourne in the morning, and we will use all our influence to get you clear. Is there any thing that you desire?"
"I don't know of any thing, unless you can send me a few clothes, so that I can have a change after reaching the city."
"We will await your arrival, and while we are away, Smith must look after the business."
"Time is up, gentlemen," Captain Fitz said, approaching us.
"One moment, sir.--Have you any gold in your pockets?" I asked.
"A few shilling pieces--nothing more," Fred replied.
"Then take these sovereigns;" and I slipped a dozen into his hand.
"I must again remind you, gentlemen," the captain remarked.
"We are all ready to leave, and have only one more favor to ask. Let us have a moment's conversation with the orderly sergeant, who will have the immediate care of the prisoners."
"There he stands," the captain replied, pointing to a six-footer, who was ironing the men, and who was waiting to handcuff Fred.
The captain smiled to see the eagerness with which I rushed towards the man, and then very wisely turned his back upon us. He suspected what I intended to do.
"You have the immediate charge of the prisoners?" I asked.
"Yes, sir," he replied, with some show of respect, for we wore the overcoats of officers.
"Will you see that my friend there has every comfort that it is possible to obtain on the route?" I asked.
"They must all share alike, sir," he answered.
"But will you promise not to iron him, and accept his word of honor that he will not attempt to run away?" I asked.
"Couldn't think of such a thing, sir. I'm responsible for every man."
"But he is a gentleman, and will keep his word, let what will happen," I pleaded.
Another reproval was springing from his lips, when suddenly his face underwent a remarkable change, and a smile took the place of a frown.
"Fifty more when I meet you in Melbourne, if you strictly comply with my requests," I whispered.
The soldier put his hand into his pocket with wonderful dexterity, and I heard gold c.h.i.n.k as he withdrew it.
"All right, sir--rely upon me. The gentleman shall have my bed and grub, and ride beside me in the ambulance. I must keep an eye on him, you know, 'cos I'm 'sponsible for his safe keeping."
"Watch him as close as you please," I replied, "although I a.s.sure you that he would not escape after he has once pa.s.sed his word for all the gold in the mines of Australia."