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Title:      Below and on Top and Other Stories
Author:     Edward Dyson
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Edition:    1
Language:   English
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Date first posted:          October 2005
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Title:      Below and on Top and Other Stories
Author:     Edward Dyson





CONTENTS

BELOW AND ON TOP
A SABBATH MORN AT WADDY
THE TRUCKER'S DREAM
THE FOSSICKERS
AT THE YARDS
A VISIT TO SCRUBBY GULLY
A GOLDEN SHANTY
HEBE OF GRASSTREE
A ZEALOT IN LABOUR
THE WASHERWOMAN OF JACKER'S FLAT
DEAD MAN'S LOAD
AFTER THE ACCIDENT
MR. AND MRS. SIN FAT
AN INCIDENT AT THE OLD PIONEER
A VAIN SACRIFICE
GLOVER'S LITTLE JOKE
A CHILD OF NATURE
THE WHIM BOY
SPICER'S COURTSHIP
THE CONQUERING BUSH.
THE ELOPEMENT OF MRS. PETERS
ONE NIGHT
HIS BAD LUCK





BELOW AND ON TOP

Chapter I.

THE Peep-o'-Day had been shut down for a long time now. The grand
machinery rusted in the imposing brick engine-house, deserted by all
saving the swallows and Dick, who could just squeeze in through the slit
in the wall where the beam rode, and who did not share the superstitious
fear inspired in his schoolmates by its dim light and silence and
loneliness. The rabbits burrowed and bred under the black boilers and
about the foundations of the towering stack, and a subduing influence
hung around the old mine and touched with reverence the stranger
loitering curiously about its many buildings and piled-up tips.

Over young Dick Haddon the mine exerted a peculiar fascination. Most of
his spare time after school hours and on Saturday afternoons he spent
running at large about the place, washing innumerable prospects in his
old fryingpan at the big dam. He found his way into the locked offices,
and rummaged the blacksmith's shop, the engine-room and boiler-houses;
climbed the lightning-rod on the dizzy, rocking smoke-stack, to the
imminent risk of his precious neck; scrambled over every part of
poppet-legs, brace, and puddling plat, doing monkey on the tie-beams,
with sheer falls of a hundred or two hundred feet inviting him to the
scattered, clean white boulders below; or taking the air up on the
poppet-heads, to the scandal of Brother Bear or Brother Petric or any
other pious brother of the little Waddytown Wesleyan chapel, for all
believed such devilment to be a certain evidence of evil possession.

The mine had always filled the greater part of the boy's life. He
remembered since memory began with him a mighty, smoking, whistling
entity, vomiting unending water, and clattering truck-loads of gravel and
slate, and curious streams of white mullock, fed with big four-horse
waggon-loads of wood that came up the muddy Springs road to the
accompaniment of volleying whip-cracks and gorgeous profanity that seemed
grand and inspiring and filled him with the same large emotions as a tale
of "Arabian Nights" read aloud by his mother before the winter evening
fires.

He remembered, too, that night when he was five years old--ages ago it
seemed to him now--when he crawled from his bed and found his mother, her
white nightdress all dabbled with blood, wailing over his father, lying
silent and motionless upon the kitchen floor, whilst in the grey shadowy
background stood three or four miners, ashen-faced and still, hiding
their mouths behind their smirched felt hats. He knew that the mine had
killed his father, and thought of it as a living thing taking vengeance.
Even now, when he was eleven and almost a man, the illusion was not
dispelled, and sometimes took complete possession of him, especially when
none other was near and the wind played upon the many vast props and legs
of the mine as if they were the strings of a gigantic harp, and crooned
mournful songs amongst the timbers, or when he called through the
openings between the slabs over the pump shaft, and started the voices
whispering in the black, bottomless depths, and the moans and sobs
vibrating faintly in the miles of dripping, dark drives, far below there
in the centre of the world.

Other children came over the common occasionally during the dinner hour,
or on bright afternoons, from the weatherbeaten wooden school in the lazy
town-ship, to slide down the tips or ride on the long arms of the
capstans, breaking their limbs and their heads indiscriminately, and
Dickie resented it as an intrusion. Tinker Smith he didn't mind; the
little dry old fossicker was silent and pipeclayed, and seemed to be part
of the mine and imbued with its spirit. He had always been there, Dick
thought, pottering about amongst the tips, sluicing, puddling, and
cradling, or crooning over his pan at the water's edge.

The mine had another familiar whom Dickie respected--one, indeed, whom he
regarded with a profound reverence as a creature superior to the ordinary
run of mortals, gentler and more angelic than mere, women were, and one
having some wondrous affinity with those sorrowful souls lost in the long
drives, in whose existence he so implicitly believed. This was Sim's
Idiot, the mad woman who came from the bush beyond the township, and
visited the mine by night only--a tall woman, with long, silver-white
hair and a pale young face in which her dark eyes shone with lustre that
lived in no other eyes the boy had ever seen or dreamed of. Knowing no
other form of madness than this, which was ineffably beautiful and
mournful and tender, Dick's mind assimilated the term with his highest
ideas of beauty, purity, and love, and Agnes Brett became an ideal of his
boyish fancy.

Agnes's father, a fairly well-to-do farmer, owned the paddocks where the
youngsters of Waddy went to gather sticks and bark, and where they ran
wild half their time--nesting or hunting meek 'possums or malicious
native cats. She was a widow. Three years ago, twelve months after their
marriage, her husband Simon Brett, was killed with three others in a
drive of the Peep-o'-Day, almost under the house where his wife lay
peacefully sleeping. A blundering, screaming fool took the news to her,
and came near to killing her on the instant. A baby was born, and for
long days the mother was despaired of; but she lived--lived bereft of
reason and possessed with many quaint beliefs about the old mine and the
spirit of her murdered lover; and this girl, who was handsome and ruddy
and commonplace in health and happiness, went home to her parents again a
slim, eerie creature wondrously transformed, with a face superhuman in
its spirituality. Her hair whitened rapidly, and she was silent save when
she spoke of Sim and of the mine that had killed him.

They called her Sim's Idiot, and in the minds of those who had known her
from her infancy and had grown up with her Sim's Idiot soon ceased to be
connected with Agnes Brett; it seemed as if the latter had died, and a
stranger had come amongst them between whom and the woman they had known
there was not a passing resemblance or anything in common.

The name was absurdly inappropriate; but Waddy lacked imagination; in
common with most bush town-ships it had a lamentable poverty of ideas.
Nothing in Agnes's affliction suggested idiocy--indeed, a celestial
intellectuality seemed to sit upon her serene countenance. But Waddy did
not draw fine distinctions, and the name stuck.

One night, shortly after her return to her father's house, Agnes was
missed, and was found an hour or so later standing in the moonlight by
the post and rail fence surrounding the Peep-o'-Day, gazing upon the mine
and calling her husband's name. They led her away, but she came again on
other nights, a statuesque figure, waiting and calling in a penetrating
voice that carried above the clangour of the engines and the churning
roar of the puddlers.

Sometimes she addressed the mine in sweet, plaintive unintelligible
speech, and it was a pathetic yet a thrilling sight to see her thus, when
the furnace yawned and the rolling steam-clouds caught the ruddy glow and
lept like flame, and the  radiance fell upon her for a moment,
glorifying her tall figure, picking it out of the darkness.

At first she was a wonder in Waddytown, and people, when they heard that
Sim's Idiot was out, would walk across from the township, about a quarter
of a mile off, and, gathered in small, nervous groups amongst the
scattered trees, would watch her curiously as long as she remained,
offering abject opinions with the gravity of sages, the women frequently
discerning Sim's spirit beckoning amongst the fleeing steam rack, to
their delicious terror. Waddy presently lost interest, seeing that
nothing happened, and the comings and goings of Sim's Idiot were not
considered worthy of remark. Even her father, who was devoted to her,
ceased to follow her, knowing that no harm would befall, and the
brace-men, hearing her voice, were not thrilled, as at first, with
irritating fears, or induced to take unworkman-like precautions when
moving about the shaft, for the sake of their own wives, who might, some
day, be brought to this.

Whilst the Peep-o'-Day continued working the mad woman ventured no nearer
than the rail fence, but at length, long after the mine was shut down,
and when rust and decay had taken full advantage of the law's delay,
Dickie saw her, one bright night, sitting alone by the pump shaft. Over
the mouth of each of the two winding shafts stood a heavy cage, and the
pump shaft was covered with slabs securely spiked, so that she was in no
danger of falling into either.

The old mine in its most mysterious humours had no terrors for young
Dick. His superstitious beliefs were many, but without terror. Of late he
came often at night, with his horsehair nooses, trapping the rabbits that
bred miraculously about the top workings and fattened on the profuse milk
thistles and the wild corn, and so the sight of Agnes Brett was no
unusual thing to him. But to him she never lost interest; a wonderful
pity for her grew in his heart, and touched his life with a melancholy
utterly at variance with his healthy boyhood and his natural
heartiness--a melancholy that for many weeks gave his brave, busy little
mother much concern about his digestion and othex matters, and led to his
being afflicted with superfluous flannels, and plied with home-brewed
medicines with a camomile basis, all equally atrocious to taste and
smell.

Dick would follow Agnes to the mine, and, creeping near her in the
darkness, would crouch in one of the cages, watching her and listening as
she called the one name down the echoing shaft, and spoke strange mad
words to the mysteries that whispered and flitted below, in a voice so
soft, so piteous in its pleading, that, without comprehending, he found
himself sobbing aloud, and filled with a passionate longing to do
something to help this poor white woman with the starlike eyes, who was
always waiting and praying for the thing that never came. He tried to
understand her, to know what it was she sought, and he grew to believe
that it was in her poor ruined mind that her husband's spirit was
imprisoned with the rest, deep, deep down in the black shaft or the
blacker drives, and that some night he would answer her--perhaps escape
from the powers of darkness again and come up to her and be free and
happy. To Dick it was a rational belief, and he wondered that it evoked
no response.

One night, listening to her supplicating tones, thrilled by their magical
tenderness, he conceived a bright idea. For days and nights it haunted
him, and then resolution came. He would do the thing he had thought upon,
and see if it were not possible to give peace to this fairy woman.

Chapter II.

AFTER school, on the day on which Dick determined upon taking action, he
sauntered into Tinker Smith's vicinity, at the Peep-o'-Day, with his
hands in his pockets, his hat set on the back of his head, and whistling
affectedly. Tinker was somewhat an identity of Waddy, and Dick wanted
information; but there was a matter of a broken shovel to be settled
between him and the old fossicker, and he had to proceed warily. He
selected a strategical position that offered facilities for a hurried
retreat and commenced insinuatingly:

"Any luck t'day, Tink'?"

The old man grunted without looking up from his tub, and Dickie edged off
a bit. He had little faith in Tinker Smith, a little old pipeclayed man
with a ferrety face and ferrety hair and thin dry whiskers. He was full
of surprises, and had a way of falling upon a victim when least expected,
and taking summary vengeance in the most convenient manner that offered
itself, preserving all the time an expressionless face and a calmness
quite contrary to nature. He had clipped Dick with a pick handle, tipped
him head over heels into the dam, and had bitten his ear till it bled,
and the boy had learned the value of eternal vigilance.

"Sim's Idiot was here again lars night," ventured Dickie, after a
strained silence.

Tinker was indifferent.

"Say, Tinker, them Finny kids come here yes'dee. Teddy broke your shovel,
diggin' out a bunny, an' I licked him."

The fossicker turned his dull little eyes doubtingly on the boy, but
continued puddling.

Dickie tried another tack.

"I can lay you onter a bit o' pay dirt if you want it."

Tinker knew the boy sometimes hit upon decent patches of dirt, and had
profited by several of his discoveries. This interested him.

"Where to?" he asked.

"Where to's tellin's," responded Dick.

Tinker churned in his tub with an air of utter obliviousness to anything
beyond, and Dick, suspicious of the symptoms, edged away a few paces.

"See here," he said presently, "you tell me about Sim--her husban', you
know--an' I'll show you the stuff. Got ten grains in two han'fuls
Satterdee."

"S'welp yer bob?"

"True's death."

Tinker was convinced. He ceased puddling, leaned on his shovel, and
commenced awkwardly, and with great labour--conversation was difficult to
him, coherent narrative impossible:

"Well, this here Simon Brett, he was the feller what fought Hoppy Hoffman
up on the pound, eighteen rounds, and licked him, got killed in a fall in
Number 3--him, an' Ryan, an' Bowden, an' Kit Stevens--Collard's shift. I
was platman. Strappin' chap, Sim; alwiz smilin'; he'd work smilin', an'
fight smilin'. Happy sorter man. She was his missus, this idjit."

Dickie wanted further particulars, and, as Tinker had evidently agreed to
an armistice, he abandoned his defences and approached the fossicker.

"But you knew him an' his wife; you went ter their house sometimes,
didn't you? What 'id he call her? How'd he talk when he was bein' lovin'
like? Was they sweethearts long, an' did they walk in the wattle
paddocks, an' sit on the rocks on Bullock Hill?"

Dick had a riotous fancy, and Tinker was as unimaginative as a wombat,
but by dint of close questioning he managed to get out of the old man
much of the information he needed, and after that he waited his
opportunity.

Agnes did not visit the mine for nearly two weeks, and when Dick saw her
again it was too late to effect his purpose; she was already crouched at
the mouth of the shaft. Her face was pressed to one of the narrow
openings, and she wept with a low moaning sound. Dick touched her thin,
pale hand, and spoke to her.

"Who's there, please?" His heartbeat heavily and erratically, and he
trembled, although he did not fear the mad woman in the least.

She arose, and stood regarding him for a moment. The boy pointed to the
shaft.

"Won't he come?" he asked eagerly, but she moved away without appearing
to have heard him, and he followed her slowly, and from the top of the
big gates watched her dark figure across the moonlit flat.

After that he waited for her, and when she came again he was ready. He
hastened to the shaft and pulled away one end of the side slab, having
found some days previously that the spike was loose. Then he squeezed his
body through the opening, and stood in the pump shaft on the topmost rung
of the ladder that ran straight down the wall of the shaft. Grasping the
ladder with his left hand, with the other he dragged the slab--still
secured with one spike--into its place again, and, clinging to the rungs
in the tomb-like silence, he waited.

The mighty black depths seemed to drag at the boy as he stood, drawing
and drawing him down into the abyss at his feet, and, as if irritated at
his bold intrusion, the mysteries muttered and moaned and eddied
impatiently, and an ominous threatening seemed to murmur in the hollow
workings. But the boy was too full of his purpose to give any heed to
these when Agnes came, and he saw the light of her eyes as she bent her
face to the crevice just above his head. He felt her breath upon his
cheek as she called the name of her dead lover, repeating the word again
and again in the mournful chant so familiar to him. There was no
coherency in the words that followed. They sounded like an inarticulate
prayer, instinct with intensest emotion, but softly spoken.

Dick listened for a time, absorbed, and presently, when she seemed
awaiting a reply, he brought his lips close to her face, and whispered a
few words:

"Aggie, dear wife!"

The boy had not anticipated the full effect of his action. A wild cry of
joy rang out upon the night and awakened eddying echoes in the deep
shaft, and the woman flung herself upon the slabs, beating them with her
thin hands, plucking at their edges with long, white fingers, sobbing,
laughing, and calling upon the dead in an ecstasy of madness that
appalled him, and he clung to the ladder, trembling in every limb.

Dick had never before succeeded in winning a reply from the woman. When
he met her at the mine or wandering in the bush, and spoke to her,
feeling that she pleaded for something in that strange language of hers,
and hoping that he might be able to help her, since none of the men and
women of Waddy gave heed to her sorrow, she regarded him with great
unmeaning eyes that did not see; in their gaze he seemed to have no
existence; and if she spoke it was only in the tangled speech of madness.
He expected she would hear and understand the voice in the shaft, and
believe her husband had answered her at last.

It was long ere Dick found courage to speak again, but when Agnes was
silent, save for the faint sobbing that escaped her, he leant back his
head and whispered close to her face, and her hot tears fell upon his
cheek. She did not shriek this time, but babbled a few words, and
finished laughing softly.

Dickie addressed her with expressions of endearment and pet names learned
from the old fossicker, and finding her calm and rapt, he wove quaint
fancies from fairy tales into his talk, as he had planned it, and at
times his words were almost as mad as her own, but he remembered always
to dwell upon visions of joy and beauty. He had escaped from the
desolation of the old mine, and was going up out of the darkness to light
and beatitude, to dwell with the angels in a boyish paradise. The talk
was jumbled; it was spoken in the quaint diction peculiar to bush boys;
but there was a flavour of inspiration in it, and the mad woman clinging
to the slabs above was awakened to some understanding, and laughed a
soft, low laugh, and murmured like a happy child.

At length Dickie was recalled to himself by the numbness of his extended
arms, and the pain throbbing in his neck.

"I'm goin' now," he whispered. "Good-bye, dear wife."

Pressing his face to the slabs where her white face shone faintly, he
kissed her mouth.

She cried out again at the contact--a cry of exultation.

Dick, standing on the ladder, waited till she should leave before
climbing out of the shaft. She remained prone upon the slabs, silent, for
a long time, but at length she talked, talked almost inaudibly, but with
no trace of the anguish that was wont to make her voice like the moaning
of a dumb beast in pain. The boy's limbs ached, and fear began to creep
into his heart. Still he was true to his purpose, and after twenty
minutes, that seemed half a night to him, Agnes arose and moved slowly
away. Dick waited for a few minutes, and then with a great effort,
painful to his stiffened limbs, he shifted the slab aside and drew
himself out of the shaft. He was replacing the long spike, when, looking
up, he saw the mad woman standing erect within a few yards of the shaft,
regarding him fixedly. When he faced her she took a step forward, threw
out her hands, and with a cry that seemed to the boy to echo among the
clouds overhead and in every hollow of the earth, she fell forward upon
the stones and lay still. Dick ran to her, and turned her face to the
moonlight; it was rigid, the half-closed eyes were glazed. He believed
her dead, and fled like'a hunted hare.

Houten and Winter returned with Dick to the mine, and found Agnes as he
had left her. They took her up and carried her to her father's home, the
boy going after, with a quaking heart. Then followed a long illness for
Agnes and a troublous time for little Mrs. Haddon, who became more and
more precautious in the matter of flannel, and doubled the doses of
camomile tea, without effecting any visible improvement in Dick's
condition. The boy had become strangely morbid; he grew pale and thin,
and whilst his mother fretted, imagining him to be the victim of some
wasting disease, he was beset with a fear that Agnes Brett was going to
die, and that he would be her murderer. He kept his secret religiously
within his own breast, and in his spare time he haunted her father's
farm, sometimes venturing to ask after the sick woman, but usually
skulking about as if dreading observation.

At length, to Dick's immeasurable relief, Agnes was reported out of
danger, and Waddy was electrified by the news that Sim's Idiot had
recovered her reason. With the restoration of her health her mind had
been restored, and she was now as she had been before the news of her
husband's death struck her down. Happiness returned to the breast of
Dickie Haddon, but he still kept to himself the story of his escapade at
the mine, waiting for a chance to see Agnes, wondering if she remembered.
When at length he saw her face to face he was sadly disillusioned. She
sat in an easy chair under the verandah at the farmhouse; the beautiful
white hair was done up in a hard, ungainly knot. She looked ordinary--not
at all the gentle, spiritual creature he had known. Dick was vaguely
troubled. He felt that the responsibility of this deplorable change
rested upon his shoulders, and was surprised that no-body seemed to
regret the alteration in Mrs. Brett.

Chapter III.

DICK was as mischievous an imp as the township was afflicted with--and
the boys of Waddy were even more prone than boys of other places to the
evil that is dear to the young heart everywhere; but the other boys did
not take their pranks seriously, as he did. His exuberant fancy invested
his absurdest escapades with a high purpose and a most tremendous
dignity. If he led a moonlight raid upon Jock Summer's pear trees it was
in the character of a mediaeval knight of spotless honour and god-like
beauty, and the purpose was to rescue from an ungainly, gross, and
remorseless baron some fair, distressful damsel. He stole the pears all
the same, and was careful to secure his share of the loot, but for the
time being imagination held sway. To his mates it was all entertaining
make-believe--to Dick Haddon it was all actual, and, as the knight of
old, Thunderbolt the bushranger, or Jacky Jacky, the chief of a
bloodthirsty band of blacks, the boy's romanticism helped largely to keep
the lives of the housewives and housefathers of Waddy from sinking into
an enervating monotony of peaceful dulness.

But Dick had not enlisted the co-operation of the mates who usually
shared in his boyish pranks in this, his most wonderful adventure. For
some time now he had deserted the haunts of his youthful companions, and
there was comparative calm in Waddy. The boys were very well as
subordinate blacks or inferior banditti, but in a matter of pure
sentiment Dick felt instinctively that he could expect no sympathy from
them--they would not understand. The radiant unearthliness of the mad
woman had never appealed to them; they were indifferent to her white
beauty, like that of the shining angels pictured in the Haddon family
bible. They were just plain boys, and the plain boy is perilously near to
the brute at times in the entire absence of motive and thought that
characterizes his cruelties. Dick's fiercest battle was fought with Fod
Carroll, who led an attack with sods on Agnes Brett on the Back Flat, and
Fod, bewildered by the impetuosity of his small enemy, collapsed
miserably in the third round. That fight was long remembered in Waddy; it
created a new respect for Dickie among the boys, and fixed his status as
the natural leader in any matter of common interest in which he chose to
interfere.

There was one boy, indeed, in whom he might have confided--Dolf Belman, a
youngster of about his own age, who provided most of his books and was
his lieutenant in many adventures; but Dick, in his sick unrest, wanted
no companionship. The more he saw of Mrs. Brett--and she rapidly grew
plump and ruddy--the more bitterly he lamented the act of his that had so
altered her. He who had been most anxious to serve her had been the one
to bring about this deplorable change, this transformation of an ethereal
creature into a giggling dairymaid.

One evening Dick Haddon saw Agnes Brett walking with Peter Kiley in the
wattle paddock, and Peter--the long, ungainly son of a long, ungainly
dairyman up the creek--was making awkward and bashful love to Mrs. Brett,
whilst the buxom widow made a great pretence of resisting his elephantine
blandishments, with shrill laughter and coy protestations.

Dickie fled from the sight, filled with bitterness and, seeking the
seclusion of the Peep-o'-Day, blubbered miserably on the slabs over the
pump shaft for twenty minutes.

How would Sim bear it? was a question that now presented itself to his
active mind. Agnes had not been seen near the mine since her
recovery--she never seemed to think of it or of her dead husband now. Did
the spirit imprisoned in the old mine miss her? Was it waiting to hear
her calling again in the early evening hours? The boy's faith was
absolute; he knew that the drives were peopled with the spirits of the
mine's victims, and that his father's ghost, and the chosts of Brett, and
Bowden, and Ryan, and the rest walked the drives, and talked in strange,
low, monotonous voices. He had heard them talking, had distinguished
words, he thought, when all was still. How could he doubt? But he thought
only of Brett, the forsaken husband, the neglected lover, the poor spirit
whom his act had deprived of its only companionship and consolation, and
he spent much time peering down through the cracks and harassing his
young soul with most extravagant conjecture.

The morbid condition induced by these truly preposterous problems was the
occasion of many more doses of camomile tea, extra strong, and Mrs.
Haddon, in her perplexity, called in elderly female experts, who, having
reared large families in spite of all the ills that are the heritage of
youth, believed themselves to be, and were generally believed to be,
capable of diagnosing every ailment and prescribing innumerable
infallible cures. These old women gravely considered Dickie's symptoms,
and suggested many remedies, with most of which he was duly afflicted at
one time or another; but the boy refused to brighten up and resume his
old, healthy, careless, impish courses under the influence of either
pill, potion, plaster, or unction, or the lot together.

Meanwhile, however, Dick had resolved to speak to Mrs. Brett at the first
opportunity. He was curious to know her thoughts on the matter uppermost
in his mind. He had the idea that her present condition of mind and body
was abnormal, and that she might be brought back to her former romantic
state if she were made to understand that the spirit of her dead husband
wandered in the Peep-o'-Day workings and yearned to hear her voice again.

Later the boy saw Mrs. Brett at the Sunday-school anniversary picnic. She
was now ruddy-cheeked and full-breasted. Clad in a tight town-made dress,
and with her wonderful hair dyed a common brown, she was romping with a
shrieking crowd playing kiss-in-the-ring, and a sense of hopelessness
took possession of Dickie as he watched; but presently, when she had
taken a seat on a log apart from the rest, and was fanning herself after
her exertions, he approached her, and straddling the same butt,
commenced, with a boy's abruptness:

"Ain't you never goin' ter the Peep-o'-Day no more?"

Agnes Brett turned upon him, astonished and indignant. Her father had
told her of her doings during the time of her affliction, and she hated
any allusion to that time from the lips of others.

"If you're cheeky, little boy, I'll box your ears for you," she said,
with a threatening gesture.

Dicky did not wince, but sat looking up at her, like a small, red-headed
cherub in rather indifferent health, and Agnes, who was as soft of heart
as any breathing creature, was touched by the wan expression of the
ailing imp.

"Ain't meanin' it fer cheek," said Dick, picking nervously at the bark;
"I jes wanter know."

"Well, I am not going--I am well now--an' you mus' never talk about it."

"Why?" Dick moved nearer. "I say, d' you know me?"

"The boy Haddon."

"Yes, but d' you remember me before you was like this"--he suggested
everything in a gesture--"when you was tall, an' white, an' beautiful?"

"No," she said, "I do not, an'you mus'n't talk about it, don't I tell
you?"

"Say, it was me what did this!"--again he indicated the change with a
motion of the hands, as if it were a deplorable thing.

"Whatever is the boy meanin'?"

"'Twas me what did it. You useter go to the shaft of nights, an' once I
frightened you, an'--an' then it happened."

"What happened?" There was none other within earshot, and Agnes was
curious.

"Everythin' happened. You wanted him to come up outer the mine, an' went
callin', callin' fer him. So once I got into the shaft, and when you
called I spoke like him, and kissed you, an' you cried out. An' then,
when I climbed up again, you saw me, and fell down on the stones. An'
when you was well you was 'like this, an' it was all my fault."

Dick looked utterly woebegone. It had occurred to him that his confession
might provoke trouble, but he was quite unprepared for the demonstration
that followed. Agnes Brett took him unawares, and he found himself caught
up in her strong arms and half smothered in a long, pillowy embrace,
whilst rapturous kisses were rained upon the top of his head. When at
length he escaped, and stood off regarding Agnes resentfully, he was
quite bedewed with her grateful tears.

"Oh! Dickie Haddon!" she gasped. "Oh! Dickie Haddon!" and she could gasp
nothing else but "Oh! Dickie Haddon!" for quite a minute, during which
time her ample bosom was disturbed by most strenuous emotions, and Dickie
stood at a distance ready for flight should she betray any desire to
repeat that overwhelming hug.

"You--you--you dear boy!" stammered Mrs. Brett, when she gained a little
control over her feelings. "It was you who saved me, an' I'll love you
all my life."

Dick fled to the other side of the log to escape a threatened advance.

"Ain't you comin' t' the mine again some o' these nights?" he asked,
doggedly. He could not appreciate her raptures--they were quite uncalled
for, it seemed to him.

"No," she said, "I wouldn't dare. Don't you see I am quite well now. I
only went because I didn't know what I was doin'."

"But Sim! He is down in the drive where he died. He will want you
sometimes. Come an' talk to him, won't you?" he went on, eagerly. "Come
to-night--Just for a little while. I don't think he hears me, an' it mus'
be dreadful lonely below, don't you think, with no one t' talk to ever?"

Agnes regarded the boy curiously for a few moments.

"Come here, an' sit near me," she said. "I want to talk to you about him.
Do you think he is down in the mine--always there?"

"Not himself, jest his ghost."

"You think so because you heard me talkin' to him. Well, that was all
wrong; I went because somethin' was the matter with my head, an' I
fancied strange things. There is no ghost in the mine, an' you must never
say so any more, or you will make me very wretched, an' remind people of
the time when I was"--she dropped her voice to an impressive
whisper--"when I was mad."

"But he is there, I've heard him myself," said Dick, to whom Mrs. Brett's
confessions were only further proof of the completeness of her pitiful
fall from grace, and sweetness, and truth.

A terrified light crept into the woman's eyes, and her cheek paled. She
was intensely superstitious, and the boy's earnestness impressed her; but
at this stage Peter Kiley shambled up and captured Mrs. Brett for his
partner in one of the osculatory games always popular at Waddy picnics,
and Dickie retired into the sapling scrub to indulge in rueful cogitation
and contemplate his great hatred for long Pete Kiley.

"It was a rotten picnic!" was Dick's opinion, as imparted to Dolf next
day.

Chapter IV.

TIME served to soften young Haddon's great regret, but Sim was remembered
still, and the boy's compassion for the poor lonely spirit was a genuine
grief, and, with a dim notion of making all the reparation in his power,
he continued to visit the shaft after nightfall, and would call down the
reverberating mine, or whistle or sing. If he neglected this duty for
three nights running self-reproach attacked him in his bed, and on one
occasion impelled him to get up and dress, while his mother slept, and
creep out of the house to steal away in the moonlight and do his duty by
the wronged ghost.

Then came the news of the approaching marriage of Peter Kiley and Agnes
Brett, and that revived the boy's keenest regrets. His goddess had parted
with her last shred of divinity; and was become the commonest of clay,
and now she betrayed a callousness that was hardly human. It had come to
this: Sim had no one who cared to think of him now but Richard Haddon;
his wife had deserted him, his friends had forgotten him, and amongst all
the ghosts below and on top there was not one so wretched as the ghost of
Agnes's faithful and devoted lover and husband, poor Brett.

One night about a week after the announcement of the betrothal of Pete
and Agnes, Dick and his mate, Dolf Belman, were sitting on the slabs over
the pump shaft at the Peep-o'-Day. Dolf had been artfully inveigled to
the mine under the pretence of assisting Dick to spread traps for the
exceedingly circumspect rabbits that infested the tips, but Dickie had an
ulterior motive, and had cunningly shaped the conversation with that
motive in view. He had talked of the old mine and its murders, and Dolf
was worked up; he crept very close to his mate, and his face glowed
palely in the shadow of the cage.

"Say, Dickie," he murmured, "d'you believe in--you know?" He pointed down
into the shaft.

"Ghosts?" said Dick. "No--o--o! D' you?"

Dolf compressed his lips, and nodded his head slowly.

"Yah, that's rot!" said Dick.

"But don't they say that some of the men what was killed moves about down
there sometimes? An' what's that we hear when we listen very quiet?"

"Dunno, but it ain't no ghosts. Think I ought to know?"

"Why, Dick?"

"Oh," said Dick in a careless tone, "bin down, that's all."

Dolf regarded him with wide-open, wondering eyes.

"What," he murmured, "right down inter the dark?"

Dick nodded.

"All by yerself?"

Again Dick nodded his head. It will be seen that Richard Haddon was not
absolutely truthful. The decalogue was not made for diplomatists.

"Gum!" said Dolf admiringly, "I wouldn't 've."

"Course you wouldn't"--this very casually--"you ain't game."

This was an unfriendly aspersion; Dolf reddened under it.

"Game's you any day!"

"Talk's easy stuff."

"Climbed the smoke stack ez high ez you, Ginger, see!"

"Ginger" was an epithet that usually provoked battle, but just now Dick
was too busy to think of his private honour.

"Pooh! what's climbin' a lightnin' rod. Y'ain't game t' go down the
ladders t' the second level."

"Neither 'r you; don' b'lieve you went down far."

"Don't you? Well if you're so plucky come down with me. I'm on; an' I'll
get the candles an' I'll go first. Now who's game?"

"I am!" said Dolf defiantly.

So it was all arranged for the following night, and Dolf was sworn to
secrecy with the magical rite of the wet and dry finger and the usual
dread incantation, and Dick had secured his object. He wished to go down
into the mine, but although he had not Dolfs fear of the ghosts, a
strange awe, not altogether painful, possessed him at the thought of
meeting Sim alone below in the long drive. With human companionship he
felt that he could dare all, and the longing to investigate was strong
upon him. Even if Sim was not to be seen, the adventure had attractions
apart from his interest in the forlorn ghost. For one thing, boys were
forbidden to go near an open shaft, and to the youthful mind, inquisitive
and acquisitive, what is forbidden is never wholly forbidding. The
weakness of Mother Eve is visited upon her sons, even unto the present
generation.

"What's it like below?" asked Dolf, when the arrangements had been agreed
upon.

"Spiffen!" said Dick with enthusiasm. "It ain't dark, y'know, when the
candles is burnin', an' the drives is just like a pirate's lair."

"My word!" murmured Dick. "An' no spirits ner nothin'!"

"No--o--o! D'yer think spirits 'd be sich fools ez t' stay down there.
Look here, Dolf, we might find some nuggets. We'll be miners, an' I'll be
underground boss, an' this is our mine. That'll be all right."

"My word!" said the other, brightening up, "an' if we get a pound's wo'th
we can join the lib'ry."

Dickie nodded cheerfully, and the boys left the mine, forgetting rabbits
and everything else in the new venture.

On the following evening at about eight o'clock Dick and Dolf crossed the
common together to the mine, and Dick, who was determined that his
companion should have no time for repentance, hastily removed the loose
slab, and let himself down on to the ladder.

"I'll go down a bit, an' then light my candle. Then you come down an'
light yours. We mus'n't let no one see us."

Each boy had half a candle fixed to the front of his hat with a lump of
clay, and Dick had other pieces in his pocket in case of accident. Both
were dressed as nearly like grown miners as they could contrive, and Dick
assumed the authoritative tone and manner of the boss of the shift.

"Now," he said, when Dolf had followed him, and the two stood upon the
iron-runged ladder running perpendicularly down the side of the shaft,
"cling tight to the ladder whatever you do, an' keep yer body close to
it. Come on."

So they started the perilous journey down into the bowels of the earth.
To go up or down three hundred feet of ladders is a wearisome task for a
grown man. To a strong boy, accustomed to climbing, and trusting much to
his sturdy limbs, it is not a matter of great difficulty, and the lads
made good progress. Below them was densest darkness, about them the faint
glow of the candles, above, a pale streak of moonlight, shone the opening
they had made. At occasional intervals there were scanty stagings fixed
across the shaft to facilitate work in connection with the "lifts"--the
pipes up through which water is pumped from a mine--and on these Dickie
and his mate rested. Dick talked to keep his mate's spirits from ebbing,
and his words rang strangely and lingered in the walled shaft.

At length the boys came upon a wide staging filling half the shaft, and
here several of the centres and strong timbers dividing the pump shaft
from the working shaft had been knocked away, and the staging was
continued through to where the mouth of the drive loomed in the feeble
light.

"That's the drive," said Dick. "I don' know what level we're at, but we
mus' be a awful way down. What yer doin?"

Dolf was clinging to his arm, and pointing downwards, too horrified to
speak. Dick peered over the edge of the staging, and saw two white,
ghostly faces glaring up at them out of the blackness, and above the
foreheads of these two faces burned yellow stars. For an instant Dick was
stricken with pulseless fear, then he remembered.

"Water!" he said.

They were looking at their own reflections in the black waters that
filled the rest of the shaft and flooded the lower levels. Dick dropped
some bits of reef and the faces were drawn into gruesome distortions and
bobbed about fantastically in the ripples.

"I say, y' ain't frightened, Dolf, are you?" murmured Dick.

Dolf shook his head, but his face was white, and his teeth chattered
painfully as Dick led the way through the opening in the centres and into
the great drive.

"There ain't no sense in being scared by a feller's own face in the
water, is there, Dolf?" said Dickie.

"N--n--no," said Dolf.

The two small boys stood on the plat peering into the main drive, but
their candles illumined only a few yards before them, and beyond that was
black night.

"Heaps of gold along there, I bet," said Dick.

"My oath!" said Dolf, falteringly.

Dickie took the other's hand.

"Come on," he said, "let's go 'n see. Ain't this grand? Wouldn't the
other fellows be mad if they knew they was out of this?"

Holding hands, the boys pushed forward. The drive was high and wide, and
almost dry, and in a little while Dolf recovered sufficiently to feel
quite an interest in Dickie's exuberant fiction. Their feet made no sound
upon the soft floor of the drive, and gradually Dickie drifted into
silence. He was thinking of Sim, and a great excitement possessed him as
they advanced along the apparently interminable tunnel.

Then, as they turned a curve, with the suddenness of a lime-light picture
flashed upon a screen the two boys saw the apparition of a man start out
of the darkness. The figure stood by the left-hand side of the drive, in
a pale light, the origin of which Dick could not discover. It was dressed
like a miner, and was tall and thin, and the pallid face was thrust
forward in a listening attitude, the mouth open, the eyes staring.

Dolf uttered a choking cry, and fell upon his knees, clinging wildly to
his companion, watching the vision with round, unblinking eyes. Dick had
expected something like this. He was disappointed in details; his idea of
a ghost was quite conventional, and he particularly admired white flowing
draperies; but he was prepared for a spectre of some kind, and as he had
never for a moment thought of the disembodied inhabitants of the old mine
as evil spirits, or anything but sorrowing, suffering victims, the
emotion that now thrilled him had nothing in common with the sickening
terror that prostrated his mate. Besides, the ghost was evidently very
much more afraid of him than he of it; its whole attitude and expression
indicated fear, and it was partly with the hope of reassuring the poor
spirit that Dickie spoke:

"Please, 're you Sim's ghost?"

The ghost did not answer, but maintained its terrified, listening
attitude. Dickie's mouth was parched, but he made another effort, and
adopted a more respectful manner of address.

"Please, are you the ghost of Simon Brett?"

The ghost thought for a moment, and then nodded a slow affirmative;
thought again, and nodded twice.

"Oh, please! oh, please!" whispered Dolf in piteous appeal.

"Who're you, an' what d' yer want?" The ghost seemed to be disguising its
voice.

"I'm Dickie--Richard Haddon." Dick approached a step, but the ghost threw
out its hand with a commanding gesture.

"Don't come no nearer," it said.

Richard Haddon's idea of a ghost was undergoing a process of rapid
reconstruction. He knew that "Don't come no nearer" was a most
ungrammatical expression, and he understood that whatever latitude might
be given mere mortals, ghosts were always expected to be absolutely
correct in speech.

"Are there any more of you?" asked the ghost.

"On'y me an' Alfred Belman," said Dick.

"Oh! ghost, let us go, won't you?" moaned Dolf. "Let us go, an' we'll
never come again--never, never, never!"

"I ain't goin' t' hurt you." said the ghost. "Why d' yer come here?"

"Jist to see," answered Dick.

The ghost seemed very much astonished, and looked at them for some time
as if confronted with a difficult problem. Meanwhile, Dick was thirsting
for information.

"Why d' you stay down here alwiz?" he asked.

"Gotter!" answered the ghost briefly.

"But why?" persisted the mortal.

This was another problem for the ghost, and he gave it due consideration.
Evidently Sim's ghost was a spirit of very limited mental resource. The
explanation was a long time coming. At length he said:

"It's like this, yer see: I mus' stay till someone dies what cares for
me, an' then the spirit of the one what's dead will come an' take me
away."

This was an inspiration. Dickie nodded approvingly; it quite coincided
with his cherished convictions. He knew who the someone must be, and a
thought of the impending marriage flitted across his mind.

"But there ain't nobody t' know, 'r else I'll have t' stay on here fer
ever," continued the ghost in a mournful voice. "P'raps youse two won't
count, 'cause yer sich little fellers, but yer mus' swear solemn never t'
say a word to a livin' soul, 'r I'll lock yer both up in a shoot an' keep
yer fer ever an' ever. Amen."

"We swear! we swear!" moaned Dolf. "Never a word--never a blessed word,
true 's death!"

"I take me oath I'll never speak," said Dick firmly.

"Wha's a good oath t' swear with?" asked the ghost.

Manifestly a satisfactory ghost should have been well up in such things,
but Dick was not disposed to be hypercritical, remembering that at the
best Sim's ghost could have had few opportunities down there of acquiring
experience and enlarging its mind. He readily suggested the familiar
formula much venerated by the boys of Waddy, and the ghost made the two
boys kneel down in the drive, and administered the oath to them very
solemnly and with great deliberation.

"Now," he said, when the ceremony was ended, "d' yer know what'll happen
to the boy what breaks a hoath like that?"

The boys shook their heads dumbly, and Dolf, who had regained his feet,
began to quake.

"Well, I'll tell yer. He'll be haunted. Day an' night he'll be haunted.
Little fiends'll stick forks in him all day, an' a big fiend'll chase him
o' nights. He'll---"

Dolf's shaking limbs refused to support him, and Dick had to hold him up.
He uttered half-stifled cries of terror, and the ghost broke off
suddenly, and regarded the boy anxiously for a few moments.

"That'll on'y happen if yer split, yer know," he said, relenting. "'Cause
if yer split I'll be changed into a bad ghost--a reg'lar out-an'-out bad
un'; an' I'll jest delight in scarin' boys a'most t' death. But you
fellers ain't goin' t' tell anyone," he continued, hastily. "You don'
wanter ruin a poor ghost, I know. You'll be true t' me, won't yer?"

"Fer ever an' ever," said Dick, solemnly.

"That's all right. Then ye'll alwiz have good luck. An' now ain't yer
best be goin'?"

He had been regarding Dolf critically, anxiously, all the time, and he
spoke again as if for his benefit.

"Mind, there ain't no cause to be funky if yer don't blab. 'S long as yer
straight an' square ye've got a ghost what's yer bes' friend, recollec'
that."

Sim's ghost had not moved from the spot on which he stood when they first
saw him, and it seemed to Dick that the light surrounding him shone from
an excavation in the side of the drive. The ghost raised his hand
awkwardly as if asking a blessing, and said:

"So long! Time's up."

Dolf tugged at Dick's arm, and the boys turned away, and hastened down
the drive towards the shaft.

"Remember!" the ghost called after them. "No reason t' be afraid so long
ez yer don't split. Bes' friend!"

The ghost did more: when they had gone a little distance he started after
them, walking gingerly to make no noise, fearing that the knowledge that
he was following would add to the terror that afflicted young Belman.
When he reached the plat the boys were already far up the shaft, and
Dickie's voice could be faintly heard advising and encouraging his mate.

Dolf went first, and he climbed with blind haste. Dick had to hold him to
force him to rest upon the staging.

"Grip hard, an' go slow an' careful, Dolf," was his constant warning. He
had heard that advice given by old miners. "Keep close to the ladder.
There's lots o' time, Dolf. Nothin' t' be afraid of, you know. He's a
jolly good sort, that ghost. Eh--don't you think?"

But Dolf spoke never a word; his face was white and set; when they stood
on the staging his eyes turned up to the light above, and he never ceased
to tremble. It was now that Dick experienced real, cold terror. He feared
that his mate would fall, and if he fell death was certain.

Dolf did not fall. He reached the top safely, and Dick almost lifted him
through the opening, and dragged himself through after, quite exhausted,
and down below the ghost mopped his cold, damp forehead with his sleeve,
and murmured fervently--"Thank God! thank God!"

Dolf Belman remained for a couple of minutes prostrate on the ground, and
then he scrambled to his feet, and started towards home, Dickie walking
by his side, doing all he could to reassure him. At the Belmans' gate
Dickie held his mate for a moment:

"No tellin's, Dolf," he said, anxiously.

Dolf shook his head.

"Not even t' yer mother!"

"No, no, not a word. So help me!--never, never, never!"

Chapter V.

NEXT morning whilst Dick was having breakfast he was startled to see Mrs.
Belman enter the kitchen. She was seeking sympathy and advice. Her boy
had been ill all night, and was "queer" this morning, feverish and wild.
Mrs. Haddon, a round, motherly little woman, had sympathy to spare for
all the troubled in mind and afflicted in body. She advised the use of
camomile tea. Camomile grew everywhere about Waddy, and Mrs. Haddon
recommended it in varying shapes for all ailments. Dickie left the
mothers discussing physics and diseases, and stole away. He was much
concerned about his mate, and a guilty conscience advanced distressing
accusations all day. There was another thing to trouble him--Agnes
Brett's wedding was to be solemnized on the following Tuesday; and in the
meantime Dickie developed a curiosity about marriages and forms of
marriage that taxed his mother's knowledge and patience severely. On
Tuesday Dolf was still very ill, but that fact did not restrain Dick from
creating a most unseemly sensation at the Kiley-Brett wedding. His act
provoked much talk and satisfied the wise-acres of Waddy that all their
former suspicions as to the complete sanity of "that boy Haddon" were
fully justified.

The chapel was crowded for the occasion. The rosy bride was smiling
gaily, and perfectly composed in her abundant orange blossoms and a shiny
silk dress, and the groom, in all the unaccustomed glory of a long-tailed
coat, new lavender trousers, and gloves, faced her, looking confused and
ungainly, and bearing himself like an ill-designed automaton.

Suddenly, at a most impressive point in the service, Dickie moved from
his place, and, taking a prominent position in the aisle, cried in a
loud, clear voice:

"I forbid this marriage!"

A peculiar hush fell upon the chapel, the minister was silenced, and all
eyes turned wonderingly upon the amazing small boy in the aisle. Dick's
recent inquiries and his literary knowledge, gleaned from cheap fiction,
satisfied him that to stop a marriage it was only necessary for somebody
to stand up in the church and forbid the ceremony, and he stood there,
prepared to take all the responsibility.

A little girlish giggling was heard from the back seat, and then a voice
of authority called:

"Put that boy out!"

Brother Spence captured Dickie from the rear, and led him away. Outside
the good brother was strongly moved to administer paternal chastisement,
but, recollecting the character and temper of his captive, delivered only
a stern admonition in choice Cornish, and let him go.

The marriage ceremony was finished, and the couple departed for a brief
honeymoon; and Dick Haddon spent two moody days, with the poor
consolation of knowing that he had done his best for Sim's ghost. Now the
spirit's only chance of rescue lay in the possibility of there being
somebody else in the world who cared for him. Dolf, they told him, was
getting stronger, but he was not allowed to visit his mate, and there
were hints of a mystery that filled him with suspicion. Could Dolf have
proved false? Would he dare to risk the anger of the spirits by telling
what he knew?

On the Friday night, shortly after dark, Dick encountered quite a crowd
on the common, and his heart sank within him. The people were making for
the Peep-o'-Day, and Brother Tresize, who led the way, carried a long
line and some candles. Dickie was seized by one of the women.

"Here's they boy Haddon!" she cried, dragging her prize along.

Brother Tresize took him by the ear. Mr. Tresize was paid by the company
to look after the mine while it was shut down, and he was conscious of
having neglected his duty, but now he was full of zeal.

"Wha's all this here sinfulness 'bout ghosts in the ole mine, you?" he
asked.

"You le' go 'r I'll kick!" muttered Dick, sullenly.

Brother Tresize shifted his grip to the boy's collar.

"Hows'ever, you're found out, boy, an' I do suppose they p'lice will be
lookin' for 'ee. So come along, you."

Dick went willingly enough. He wondered what was known, and wondered even
more what was going to happen. At the mine other men were standing
about--Pearce, and Minahan, and Houten, and Spence, and Tinker Smith. The
cover was off, and the rope from one of the capstans was rigged over the
pulley-wheel, and hung in the pump shaft.

"He's down beyant all right," said Minahan. "Sure, he ain't shown out
since."

Without further talk, Tresize, Houten, and Minalian equipped themselves
with candles and started down the ladders, Tresize carrying the line in a
coil about his neck. At the same time others commenced paying out the
capstan rope, which travelled slowly down the shaft.

During the long wait that followed the chatter of the women never ceased,
and Dickie gathered that Dolf had told the whole truth about their
journey into the mine. Mrs. Belman carried the information to Brother
Tresize, who set a watch, and to-night a stranger had been seen to come
through the bush and make his way down the ladders. These men had gone
below to take the mysterious intruder red-handed in whatever iniquity he
might be engaged upon, and on top there was much speculation. Some
thought the man must be a criminal escaped from justice--a murderer, no
less--the artistic verities demanded that; others concluded he was mad.
Dickie was questioned, and threatened, and abused, but he shut his lips
tight, and said never a word. He stood there as stubborn, unamiable, and
aggravating a little imp as the women had knowledge of.

At length there was a call from Minahan, half-way up the ladders:

"Hello, on top! Someone ride like blazes fer a docthor!"

The people stared blankly into each other's faces for a moment, a woman
screamed, and then a young man broke away from the crowd, and fled across
the common. There was another call:

"Heave up--man on!"

The men rushed the capstan, and the long arms swept round, but it was
necessarily slow work, and the rope came creeping up out of the black
depths, whilst the crowd, standing about the shaft, watched it in
silence, with grey, expectant faces. There was a good moon, but a lantern
was set at the mouth of the shaft, shedding its feeble light upon the
tardy rope. The demand for a doctor meant something serious, perhaps a
tragedy, and stout, voluble, assertive Mrs. Tresize was subdued, crushed
into meekness. Maybe brother Tresize was the victim.

"Easy there!" a warning call to the men on the capstan, and then the
figure of a man stole up out of the shadows, and the light of the lantern
fell upon it, hanging limply from the rope, to which it was securely
bound. One side of the face was deathly white, the other showed black in
the dim light. About the head was a rough bandage, and from under that
and through the thick hair crept a sluggish flow of blood, dyeing the
whole cheek.

"Phil Houten!" screamed Mrs. Tresize, and then the buildings and the
timbers and tips of the big mine echoed and re-echoed the eerie laughter
of a woman. Two others seized Mrs. Tresize, and patted, and petted and
cajoled her, but she kept up that wild, irrelevant laughter for several
minutes. Meantime they had set the unconscious Houten upon the long grass
near the office, and the other women were gathered about him, each eager
to assist in the work of washing and bandaging. Woman has the keenest
sympathies, and she loves to indulge them.

"Down wid the rope once more!" cried Minahan from the depths, and the
great wooden capstan was reversed, and again the men ran it at their best
speed. Running a capstan is exhausting work, and finds your weak spot
sooner than a whole council of doctors, consequently the best speed was a
slow trot; but the crowd had a diversion in Houten, who continued in an
unconscious condition, and whose head showed several bad wounds.
Evidently the stranger below had made a good fight for it.

Dickie's mind was in volcanic condition, throwing up many theories, but
he clung to his faith in Sim's ghost, and awaited developments. These
people were flying in the face of the supernatural; Houten was there to
teach them what they might expect--no one would heed him.

"Ease her!" cried Tinker Smith, and again a face came up out of the
darkness of the mine, and Dickie started forward. This time the face was
that of the ghost--its eyes fixed on Dick menacingly; and Dick met them
bravely, and he shook his head in answer to the accusation he saw there.

Sim's ghost was also bound and tied to the rope.

"Keep a tight grip av him," said Minahan, who appeared on the surface a
moment later; "he's a tearin', howlin' divil t' fight."

Minahan bore corroborative detail in the shape of a cut forehead, a black
eye, and a shirt torn to rags; and Tresize, who next appeared, had not
escaped without proofs of the prisoner's prowess in combat.

The ghost was bound hand and foot, and strong hands held him, whilst
curious eyes turned upon Tresize.

"Gold stealin'!" said Tresize, with the gratified air of a man who has
big news.

This loosened tongues. It was something to have discovered anything worth
stealing in the old mine.

"Where?" "How?" "Where 'bouts?" Each man had a question.

"Sthruck a dacent patch this side the incline in Number 2," said Minahan.
"Must have known the place. Opened out off the main droive, an' he's bin
workin' there fer weeks. He have a puddlin' tub an' a cradle down there,
an' carried water from the shaft. There's manny a week's work done. Be me
sowl, I believe he have been livin' there!"

Brother Tresize held up a pickle bottle, in which there was much coarse
gold.

"They man have more'n this somewhere for sure."

"Who is he, anyhow?" and the light was thrown upon the scowling face of
the stranger. "What's yer name, mate?"

The ghost replied with vigorous profanity.

"I know him, I reekerlect!" and Tinker Smith thrust a crooked, accusing
finger in the man's face--

"Bill Masters--useter work here 'bout seven year ago. How are yer,
Billy?"

Bill Masters cursed the little fossicker with great spirit, and relapsed
into sullen silence. Then the party took up its wounded and its prisoner,
and carried them to the township, and Dickie followed after, disgusted.
He had forgiven much in this ghost, but a ghost cannot be bound with
cords and carried into captivity by mere mortals. Whatever spirits might
haunt the drives and shoots of the Peep-o'-Day, it was certain that the
ghost he and Dolf had interviewed was a shocking impostor. Dick's latest
romantic illusion fell from him like a garment, and his faith in Sim
perished with the rest. Next day he was back with the boys of Waddy
again, fresh and hungry for devilment.

But there followed the trial of Bill Masters, at which Dick was a
witness, and throughout which everybody had a very great deal to say,
excepting only the man most concerned, and he said nothing. It was shown
that Masters had worked in the Peep-o'-Day, and it was concluded that he
had discovered a patch in the main drive, which followed the gutter. The
patch was hardly more than a sudden widening of the gutter carrying the
gold. He had clayed this over and left it, probably with the connivance
of his mate, and with the idea that some day he might have the
opportunity of working it. The shutting down of the mine gave him that
opportunity. What Bill Masters left of the patch was rich in coarse gold.
What he took out of it was known only to him self; but the miners of
Waddy were satisfied it was enough to recompense him for the five years'
hard labour imposed upon him by the solemn judge.



A SABBATH MORN AT WADDY

SUNDAY-SCROOL was "in" at Waddy. The classes were all in place, and of
the teachers only Brother Spence was absent, strange to say. This was the
first Sunday of the new superintendent's term, always an evil time for
grace, and a season of sulkiness, and bickering, and bad blood. Each
beloved brother coveted the dignity of the office, and those who failed
to get it were consumed with envy and all uncharitableness for many
Sabbaths after. Some deserted the little wooden chapel on the hill till
the natural emotions of prayerful men pent in their bosoms could no
longer be borne, and then they stole back, one by one, and condoned in
hurricanes of exhortation with rain and thunder.

Brother Nehemiah Best occupied the seat of office behind a deal table on
the small platform, under faded floral decorations left since last
anniversary. Rumour declared that Brother Best was unable to write his
own name, and whispered that he spent laborious nights learning the hymns
by heart before he could give them out on Sunday, as witness the fact
that he "read" with equal facility whether the book was straight, or
end-ways, or upside down. Brother Best was thin-voiced, weak in wind, and
resourceless and unconvincing in prayer. No wonder Brother Spence was
disgusted. Brother Spence could write his own name with scarcely more
effort than it cost him to swing the trucks at the Phoenix; his voice
raised in prayer set the loose shingles fairly dancing on the old roof;
and his recitation of "The Drunkard's Doom" had been the chief attraction
on Band of Hope nights for years past. Ernest Spence had not hesitated to
express himself freely at Friday evening's meeting:

"Ay, they Brother Best, he no more fit for pourin' out the spirit, you,
than a blin' kitten. Look at the chest of en!"

"True for en, Ernie!" cried Brother Tresize.

"They old devil, you, he laugh at Best's prayin', sureli. Brother Spence
some tuss, you."

But Brother Spence had left the meeting in a state of righteous
indignation. Yet here were Brothers Tresize, and Tregaskis, and Prator,
and Pearce, and Eddy. True, they all looked grim and unchastened, and
there was an uneasy, shifty feeling in the chapel that inspired boys and
girls, young men and young women, teachers and choir, with great
expectations. Brother Best, in his favourite attitude, with one arm
behind him under his coat tails, his right hand holding the book a yard
from his eyes, his right foot thrust well out, the toe touching the floor
daintily, made his first official announcement:

"We will open they service this mornin' by singing hymn won, nought,
won."

Then, in a nasal sing-song, swinging with a long sweep from toe to heel
and heel to toe, he gave out the first verse and the chorus, ending
unctuously with a smack of the lips at the line:

Thou beautiful, beautiful Poley Star!

Nehemiah was a dairyman, and had a fixed conviction that the poley star
and a poley cow had much in common.

The hymn being sung, the superintendent engaged in prayer, speaking
weakly, with a wearisome repetition of stock phrases, eked out with
laboured groans and random cries.

Brother Tresize could not disguise his cynical disgust, and remained
mute. A prayer to be successful amongst the Wesleans of Waddy must make
the hearers squirm and wriggle upon their knees, and cry aloud. Brothers
and sisters were all happy when moved to wild sobbing, to the utterance
of moans, and groans, and hysterical appeals to heaven, and when impelled
to sustain a sonorous volley by the vigorous use of pocket handkerchiefs;
but that was a spiritual treat that came only once in a while, with the
visit of a specialist, or when the spirit moved Brother Spence or Brother
Tresize to unusual fervor.

The superintendent's prayer did not raise a single qualm; and the boys of
Class II. straggled openly over the forms, pinched each other, and passed
such rubbish as they could collect to Dicky Haddon, the pale, saintly,
ginger-headed boy at the top of the class, who was in honour bound to
drop everything so sent him in amongst the mysteries of the old, yellow,
guttural harmonium, through a convenient crack in the back.

Throughout the service Brother Best, proud of his new office, watched the
scholars diligently, visiting little boys and girls with sudden sharp
raps or twitches of the ear if they dared even to sneeze, but judiciously
overlooking much that was injurious and unbecoming in the bigger boys of
Class II., who had a vicious habit of sullenly kicking elderly shins when
cuffed or wigged for their misdeeds.

The Bible reading, with wonderful, original expositions of the obscure
passages by horny-handed miners, occupied about half an hour, and then
the superintendent stilled the racket and clatter of stowing away the
tattered books with an authoritative hand, and invited Brother Tresize to
pray. If he was great he could be merciful.

Brother Tresize made his preparations with great deliberation, spreading
a handkerchief large enough for a bed-cover to save the knees of his
sacred black-cloth trousers, hitching up the latter to prevent bagging,
and finally loosening his paper collar from the button in front to give
free vent to his emotions--and preserve the collar. Then, the rattling of
feet, the pushing and shoving, the coughing and whispering and sniffing
having subsided, and all being on their knees, Brother Tresize began his
prayer in a soft, low, reverent voice that speedily rose to a reverberant
roar.

"Oh, Gwad, ah! look down upon we here, ah; let the light of Thy
countenance ahluminate, ah, this little corner of Thy vineyard, ah. Oh,
Gwad, ah! be merciful to they sinners what be assembled here, ah; pour
down Thy speerit upon they, ah, make they whole, ah. Oh, Gwad, ah! Thoo
knowest they be some here, ah, that be wallerin' in sin, ah, some that be
hippycrits, ah, some that be cheats, ah, some that be scoffers, an'
misbelievers, an' heathens, oh, Gwad, ah! Have mercy on they people, oh,
Gwad, ah! Show they Thy fires, ah, an' turn they from the wrath, oh,
Loord Gwad, ah!"

Brother Tresize was evidently in fine form this morning; already the
windows were vibrating before the concussions of his tremendous voice,
and the floor bounded under the great blows that punctuated his
sentences. As he went on, the air became electrical, and the spirit moved
amongst the flock. The women felt it first.

"Oh, Gwad, ah!" interjected Mrs. Eddy from her corner.

"Throw up the windies, an' let the speerit in!" sobbed Mrs. Eddy.

Brother Prator blew his nose with a loud report, a touching and helpful
manifestation.

Brother Tresize prayed with every atom of energy he possessed. His
opinion was on record:

"A good prayer Sunday mornin', you, takes it out of en more'n a hard
shift in a hot drive, you."

When his proper momentum was attained he oscillated to and fro between
the floor and the form, swaying back over his heels till his head almost
touched the boards--a gymnastic feat that was the envy of all the
brethren--he shook his clenched fist at the rafters and reached his
highest note. The plunge forward was accompanied by falling tones, and
ended with a blow on the form that made every article of furniture in the
building jump. The perspiration ran in streams down his face and neck;
dry sobs broke from his labouring chest; long strands of his moist,
well-oiled, red hair separated themselves from the flattened mass and
stood out like feelers, to the wild, ungodly delight of Class II.; and
whilst he prayed the brethren and "sistern" kept up a continuous fire of
interjections and heartrending groans.

"They be people here, ah! what is careless of Thy grace; chasten 'em with
fire an' brimstone--chasten 'em, oh, Lord, ah! They be those of uz what
go to be Thy servants, oh, Gwad, ah! an' to do Thy work here below, ah,
what is tried an' found wantin', ah--some do water they milk, oh, Gwad,
ah! an' some do be misleadin' they neighbors' hens to lay away. Smite
they people for Thy glory, oh, Loord, ah!"

A great moaning filled the chapel, and all heads turned towards Brother
Nehemiah Best, kneeling at his chair, with his face buried in his hands,
trembling violently. Nehemiah, two years earlier, had been fined for
watering the milk sold to his town customers; quite recently he had been
thrown into the Phoenix slurry by an unregenerate trucker, who accused
him of beguiling his hens to lay from home. Brother Tresize was wrestling
with the superintendent in prayer, and the excitement rose instantly to
fever heat.

"They what do not as they wad be done by, pursue 'em, ah; smite they with
Thy right hand, oh, Lord Gwad, ah! so they may be turned from they
wickedness, ah. They what have better food to they table for theyselves
than for they children or they wives, ah, they what be filled with
vanity, ah, they what havin' no book-learnin' do deceive Thy people, an'
fill the seats o' the learned, ah, deal with such, oh, Gwad, ah!"

Brother Tresize was now almost frantic with the ecstasy of his zeal. His
exhortation was continued in this strain, and every word was a lance to
prick the cowering superintendent. The women sniffed and sobbed, the men
groaned and cried "Ahmen, ah!" It was a great time for grace.

But suddenly a new voice broke in--a shrill, thin voice, splitting into
that of Brother Tresize like a steam-whistle. Brother Best had assumed
the defensive.

"Oh, Lord, ah!" he cried, "give no ear to they what bears false witness
against they neighbors, to they what backbite, ah, an' slander, ah, an'
bear malice, ah; heed they not, oh, Lord, ah!"

Abel Tresize rose to the occasion. It was a battle. His voice swelled
till it rivalled the roar of the ravening lion; he no longer selected his
words or cared to make himself understood of the people; it was necessary
only to smother Brother Best, to pray him down, and Abel prayed as no man
had ever prayed before at Waddy. A curious crowd--the Irish children, Dan
the Drover, an old shepherd, and a few cattlemen from the Red
Cow--attracted by the great commotion, had assembled in the porch, and
were gazing in open-mouthed, delighted.

Tresize persevered, but Best's shrill, penetrating voice rang out
distinctly above all. Brother Best was transformed, inspired; under the
influence of his great wrath he had waxed eloquent; he smote his enemy
hip and thigh, he heaped coals of fire upon his head, and marshalled St.
Peter and all the angels against him.

The severity of his exertions was telling heavily upon Abel Tresize; he
was dreadfully hoarse, his great hands fell upon the form without
emphasis, he was almost winded, and his legs wobbled under him. He pulled
himself together for another effort, and the cry that he uttered thrilled
every heart, but it quite exhausted him, and he went over backwards,
striking his head upon the floor, and lay in the aisle convulsed in a
fit.

Instantly the chapel became a babel. The teachers ran to Brother Tresize,
and bore him into the open air, the wondering children crowding after,
and left the new superintendent sobbing on his table like a
broken-hearted boy.



THE TRUCKER'S DREAM

"I HAD a divil of a drame last night," said Bart O'Brien, as he crowded
his usual two-pound "plaster" of cold fried bacon and bread into his
crib-bag.

"'Drame,' d'ye call it?" muttered Brown from his bunk. "I thouoht you
had the buckin' fantods; you howled like a madman."

"Be Hiven, I don't wonder thin. I thought I was pumpin' away in the
place below there, whin thim two sets at the bottom av the incline came
away, an' I saw Lane crushed under thim. His dead face was starin' out
av the heap at me, all battered an' bloody, an' ghost-like in the
candle-light. Faith, an' I ain't much amused wid these lone shifts!"

The boys grinned at O'Brien's fears, but Gleeson muttered something
about the manager being "d--d well hanged" for not giving an eye to that
timber, and Gleeson was considered an authority.

Bartholomew O'Brien was a Bungaree native. In Bungaree the natives are
more Milesian than the Irish. Bart had for Father Cassidy a great,
childlike veneration that the ribald stories told of His Reverence by
Bart's sceptical hut-mates could not shake; and his belief in the
wonders and mysteries of his religion and the folklore of his mother's
country was profound. Bartholomew had also ruddy cheeks, and an
unreliable heart.

It was Sunday evening at Waddy, hot and thirst-provoking. His mates were
lounging about in their trousers on the tumbled bunks, but O'Brien was
due on the plat at nine o'clock, and was dressed in his working clothes.
He was a trucker at the Hand-in-Hand, and it was his turn to go below
into the mine and pump the water over the incline at the head of the
main drive on the lower level. Every Sunday night, after the long shift
off, this work had to be done by one of the truckers, so that the face
might be dry for the first night-shift, coming on at one a.m. None of
the boys liked the job--O'Brien hated it. In the presence of a tangible
danger he was as game a fellow as any in the district, but his
superstition--an ineradicable inheritance intensified by early
influences that bring the emotional side of the unlettered believer to
an unhealthy development, and leave to the man the reasoning faculties
of the child--made him little more than an irresponsible idiot when his
imagination ran riot amongst the spooks and wraiths. He had an
extraordinary stock of mottoes, religious and legendary, for warding off
the spirits, and possessed all the portable charms obtainable; but his
faith was not as powerful as his fears, and, in spite of these spiritual
arms and armour, he dreaded to be alone in the murderous old mine with
the ghosts of its many dead.

On going to the bottom level that night, and threading the course of the
long, tortuous main drive, the trucker found the water below the incline
higher than usual. The heavy iron pump stood over a slab-covered well in
a small chamber about ten feet by six, dug in the side of the drive. It
was worked with a back-racking up-and-down stroke, and lifted the water
into pipes, which carried it to the higher ground, whence it drained to
the shaft. The face was quite a thousand yards from the plat; and the
sound from the air-pipe, like the laborious breathing of some gigantic
animal afar off, offered no relief from the oppressive stillness and the
deathly atmosphere of the drive.

It is a trying thing to a man afflicted with the accumulated
superstitions of a hundred generations to be left alone for any time in
the deep, extensive workings of an old mine, every drive, and winze, and
shoot in which has its tale of blood and suffering. Bart O'Brien stuck
his candle to the side of the chamber, and paused to listen. The terror
was already strong upon him: his mouth was dry, and his heart beat like
a plunger, catching his breath at every pulsation. The chamber was deep
enough down and hot enough to suggest its proximity to the flaming home
of all the damned devils in whose existence Bartholomew implicitly
believed. He had done solitary duty several times at the pump, but never
before had his horror of it been so great as to-night. His dream
recurred to him, and he glanced uneasily towards the suspicious sets. He
was a believer in the portents of dreams--he expected something to come
of this one.

Catching at the long handle, Bart began to pump, almost in desperation.
Up and down, up and down--there was relief in action, and he worked
fiercely. The pump had been oiled recently, and ran smoothly and
noiselessly. This irritated him--he wanted hard work, something material
to fight with. And then the "click, clack," would have gone well to the
rhythm of an ancient Irish rhyme which his old mother held to be
infallible in keeping the elves from cows, and which he was wont to
mutter all the time when beset by supernatural enemies.

So hard was the mental battle O'Brien was fighting that bodily pain or
weariness never obtruded. With bent head and tightly-closed eyes he
toiled at the big pump, whilst the perspiration streamed from him and
ran through the folds of his scant clothing. Sometimes the face of
Geordie Lane, corpse-white and bloodstained, as he had seen it in his
dream, thrust itself upon him; then his brows met in cords, his hands
gripped the iron with a force that split his callous fingers, the handle
took a quicker, longer sweep, and the water boiled and foamed into the
wooden gutter in the drive.

Bart worked in this manner till about half-past eleven; then he was
startled by a gurgling, choking sound in the well beneath his feet, and
fell back into one corner of the chamber with an exclamation, his eyes
staring, full of fear.

The pump was drawing air! He had done four hours' hard work in little
over half the time. The drive was dry.

The young man's left arm was rubbed raw from the elbow to the wrist, and
his indurated hands were bleeding profusely from several deep cracks.
Bart gazed at the blood stupidly, and presently found himself listening
again--listening in the profound silence, out of which he heard at
length the distinct patter of footsteps. Small flakes of clay were
falling from the roof of the drive on to the muddy floor, but what
little reasoning power Bart had was lost by this time in a passion of
superstitious fear. He clutched the pump-handle once more, but it rose
and fell loosely, with a clatter, and drew no water.

With nothing for his hands to do, O'Brien was no longer able to control
his thoughts; they ran over the history of the mine--its list of killed.
He recalled the story of Martin's ghost haunting the old balance-shaft,
whilst the spirit of his wife, who died of grief, sought for him after
every shift in the next level. He remembered with startling vividness
Rooke, the braceman, as he looked spread upon the plat-sheets after
falling down five hundred feet of shaft-battered into a horrible mass,
out of which the face stood forth, ghastly white, and unmarked, though
the brain was laid bare as cleanly as by surgeon's saw. Then passed
before his eyes in grisly procession, showing their fearful wounds--Bill
the trucker, killed at No. 5 by a fall; Carter, brained in the shaft;
Praer and Hopkins, smashed in the runaway cage; Moore and German Harry,
blown up in the well when sinking; and Lane, pinched under the shattered
timber right before his eyes there in the drive.

O'Brien was crouching in the corner. No longer understanding that it was
only in a dream he had seen Lane killed, he expected a ghost to start up
before his eyes--a ghost with mangled limbs and a pale, blood-stained
face. He remained thus for some time, fighting the dread as it grew upon
him. At length he started up, and his fear found vent in a yell that
echoed shrilly through the workings. He meant to rush into the drive and
make his way to the shaft, but struck his head against the pump-handle
at the first stride, and was hurled back into the water, which had risen
again to the height of several inches.

The blow and the drenching steadied Bart a little, and he started
pumping once more, with nervous energy. Whilst he worked, the candle
fell from the wall and hissed out in the wet clay. He had no matches. In
a few minutes the pump was drawing wind again, and now O'Brien's
greatest trial began.

The darkness was solid, substantial--the young man felt it weighing upon
him with a pressure as of deep water, and his sense of solitude and awe
was such as might be known by the last, lone man in a waste, sunless
world. At times he crushed his ears with his hands to shut out the
dreadful silence, and then he heard the passing of spirit feet, the
muffled beat of wings, sobbing sounds, and long moans dying away beyond
the distant curves. His treacherous eyes saw fleeting forms and tense,
inhuman faces traced in faint, phosphorescent lines on the dense, black
wall that stood up before him. His agonized fears had now obtained
complete mastery of him, his mind ran in a frenzy from horror to horror,
and an intolerable dread filled his soul with hellish expectations.

He stood transfixed at the back of the chamber, his arms outspread, his
fingers dug knuckle-deep in the sodden reef. His eyes stared as in
death, and his mouth was open wide, the fallen lower jaw jerking
spasmodically. His greatest terror was of the thing he had seen at the
chamber-door--the corpse--face under the splintered timbers. He saw it
now, white as quartz, with clots of blood hiding the eyes; he felt its
presence--it mouthed at him--threatened him.

Out of the darkness and the silence of death came a faint rumbling
sound, like far-off thunder. It swelled and drew nearer. It roared in
the drive, and from the inky blackness, in a pale yellow light, Lane
rose up with a bloody face, and caught at O'Brien.

A minute or two later the men of the night-shift were shocked to meet
Lane rushing back from the face like a maniac, with a dead man in his
truck.

* * * * *

"Thoo's got a bad cut i' tha head thasel,' lad," said the boss of the
shift to Lane, half an hour later.

"Yes," he answered, "I slipped into that crab-hole at the second curve
going up, and knocked my forehead on the truck."



THE FOSSICKERS

THE boy carried under his arm an old, rusty fryingpan, minus the handle.
He was a small, sober-looking boy of about twelve years, with red hair
and plenteous freckles; his big felt hat was tucked in in the approved
style, and dusted with pipe-clay--he had carefully dusted it for the
sake of verisimilitude; his shirt sagged artfully over the top of his
moleskin trousers, which were tied under the knees with the customary
"bowyangs." No detail was missing; the boots were covered with moist
yellow clay, and the trousers were stained with mud from the dam and
rust from the iron puddlers. Dickie was quite a realistic fossicker, a
man of experience, invested with the dignity of labour.

The pan was full of greyish dust, in which were bits of gritty rope-yarn
and many splinters. He sank it in the water of the dam, where stones
were set for a footing, and began puddling the dirt, working with great
care and a due sense of importance. He would have given much to have had
a pipe and real tobacco--a bit of dry root, he felt, would not be equal
to the occasion, he having "struck it"--his last dish realized quite ten
grains.

Dickie puddled slowly, working his hands with the machine-like movement
he had copied so accurately from the men at Pig Creek. He unravelled the
bits of rope, and washed all the grit from them before they were thrown
aside. No spot of clay that could hide a colour was left upon the chips,
and when at length the dirt was completely puddled, he began the more
interesting work of panning off.

Only about half a pint of material was left in the pan--sand and pebbles
and rusty nails. The boy handled this deftly, pawing the stones and
nails and throwing them out between his legs with the skill of an old
hand; and then, shaking and dipping, he washed away the sand, until the
yellow gold began to show through. Taking a little water in the dish he
swirled the contents, and his heart bounded again. A streak of fine
gold, with here and there a coarse speck, ran along the edge of black
sand, and every lap widened the yellow band.

"Gimminy! Sonny, that's good ernuff!"

A little, grizzled, hard-looking old man, splashed with wet clay, was
leaning over Dick, peering excitedly into the dish.

"Must be ten weights there, boy. Where'd yer get the stuff?"

"Find out!" said Dick, sulkily.

It is contrary to strict etiquette and accepted professional usage for
one fossicker to go sneaking around another fossicker when the latter is
panning off; it suggests an encroachment. Dickie filled with resentment.
He shook the gold down, and moved away from the old man.

"Clear rout, can't you?" he growled.

"Only thot I'd show yer 'ow ter pan 'er off," piped the other, with a
poor show of disinterestedness. This was a grievous insult to Dick, who
flattered himself that he could always get a decent prospect out of
Tinker's tailings, and who had been complimented on his art by an
expert. Dickie felt it keenly.

"You jes'scoot--go on!" he said, resentfully. "You want ter find out
where I got this, so's you can collar the stuff, don't you? You sneaked
that patch what I found by the office door, didn't you? 'n got
thirty-bob's worth outer it. I know you!"

"But no one else ain't 'lowed ter fossick roun' this mine but me," said
Tinker. "The right was given ter me by the board uv directors, see!"

"Ger out!" cried the boy, dubiously.

"Didn't they, but? Seehere!"

The old man drew a piece of crumpled paper from his breast--the piece he
had had his tobacco wrapped in.

"See here, here's the blessed deed all draw'd up, an' with the Queen's
signitur in 'er own 'andwritin'."

"Le's see."

The boy reached for the paper, but Tinker restored it hastily to his
breast.

"'Somever," he said, "if you'll lay me on where yer got that dirt I don'
mind lettin' yer wash a few dishes now 'n again. 'R yer on?"

"No, I ain't. My father was killed in this mine, an' I got ez good er
right ez you."

"Oh, very well, young feller me lad! When the mounted p'lice comes
along, I jes' fixes yer up for ten years' 'ard labour, with three
floggin's, fer gold-stealin'."

Dickie looked consternated for a moment, but soon recovered himself
after recollecting that Tinker was always particularly and peculiarly
anxious to avoid the police, and arguing inwardly that those great,
proud men on the polished horses, who pranced through the township once
a month or so, would certainly have nothing to do with a mean, dirty
little hatter like Tinker Smith.

"If you don't gib out I'll climb up ter the wheels an' paste you with
grease," he said, "an' drop rocks in yer puddlin' tub."

Tinker stood, eyeing the boy dispassionately, and clawing his scrubby
beard. "Ten years' 'ard labour, an' three floggin's," he repeated,
musingly.

Dickie had armed himself with a stone, and struck an offensive attitude.
"'R you goin', once?" he said.

"A dirty, dark gaol!" said Tinker, apparently to himself.

"'R you goin', twice?"

"No tucker, no bed, nothin' but lickin's an' leg-irons!"

"'R you goin', fer the third an' last time?"

Tinker moved off slowly, reciting as he went:

"Ten years an' three floggin's! Floggin's with the
cat-o'-nine-tails--cat-o'-nine-tails with bits o' lead on 'em!"

But Dickie was not in the least impressed, and when Tinker had returned
to his tub up the race, set eagerly to work to finish his prospect.
About half an ounce of clean gold was the result, and the sight of it
added to the feverish elation that was in the boy's blood. He had never
washed such a rich dish before. Hundreds and hundreds of dishes he had
taken from all sorts of holes and corners about the old mine, but
hitherto the best result had been a pennyweight or so from a shovelful
of surface dirt dug out just near the office door, where the sweepings
were scattered, and Tinker had promptly confiscated a large area, and
robbed him of his right as discoverer. An unconscionable fossicker was
Tinker, with no respect for the nice observances of the craft and the
unwritten code which forbids one man to take advantaoe of another's
discoveries, to poach his preserves, or encroach upon his "dirt."

But since then Dick had learned to assert himself he had found that
Tinker was not invulnerable, and now he knew that, when perched up by
the great black twin wheels, on the swimming height at the top of the
poppet-legs, he was master of the situation, and commanded the field.
They were by far the highest legs in the country, and the old man never
dared venture further than the brace, not half-way up; so that from his
proud eminence Dick could bombard his foe with lumps of the congealed
tar and grease that flaked the wonderful pulleys, until Tinker was glad
to signal a truce.

Dick washed the gold from his pan into the up-turned bottom of a broken
beer bottle, along with the few grains earned during the afternoon, and,
after hiding it in a rabbit burrow under the bank, hastened up the wide
wooden stair leading to the high brace of the deserted mine. Along by
the machines he set to work on the floor of the puddling plat with an
improvised broom and a scraper, collecting the dust that lay between the
boards into his dish, gathering it with as much care as if it had been
pure gold. Near here had stood one of the sluice-boxes--long since torn
away and burnt for the sake of the gold secreted in its crevices--and
Dick, noticing that the floor was double boarded, was inspired to pull
up the top planks and wash the dust collected underneath and in the
cracks. Fine gold is as insinuating as quicksilver; about an old
alluvial mine you find it in the most unexpected places. Tinker once put
in a good day's work washing the dust from above the Peep-o'-Day
boilers, where the "knock-off" men had hung their clay-covered working
clothes to dry, shift after shift, for many years; and anywhere within a
hundred yards of the mine the colour could be got for the trying.

Tinker had followed Dick to the brace, and stood greedily overlooking
the boy, who was digging dirt out of the cracks with a long, pointed
nail, and deeply absorbed in his work. Tinker drew nearer, his little
red eyes gleaming amongst their wrinkles. He had the reputation of a
miser in Waddy, and certainly gold-dust had fascinations for him that
did not arise wholly from its intrinsic value; but Dickie commanded
respect--his power for mischief was great. Enthroned above, he had often
taken summary and complete vengeance for injustices done him. It was an
occasion for diplomacy.

"Ho, ho, young feller! I've cot yer, have I?" cried the old man. "This
is burglary an' house-breakin'."

Dick Haddon armed himself in defence of his property, and faced his
enemy, glaring defiance.

"Yer in fer it this time right ernough, Mister Haddon. Le's see,"
continued Tinker, eyeing the boy's stick dubiously, "I b'lieve they
hangs fer robbery with vi'lence."

"Don' care!" snorted Dick. "You come near me an' I'll break yer head."

"Look here, Dickie, you don' split on me, an' I won't split on you.
We'll go harves. I works at this end, an' you at that. That's a fair
do."

"No, you don't!" answered Dick, sturdily. "I found this patch, an' I
ain't goin' t'give it up t'no-body."

It was a bad place for a scuffle. All the boards had been stripped from
the plat at the far end, and between the big pine beams supporting the
puddlers, and on which the floor had been laid, was a clear fall of
about eighty feet to the clean white boulders below. But Tinker's
cupidity was aroused; he believed that if the whole of the plat were
stripped as the boy was doing it the dust would yield five or six
ounces, and he was furious at having over-looked the job so long. He
edged towards Dickie cunningly.

"I don't wanter get yer inter quod, 'cause o' yer pore widder mother,"
he said, "but the board o' directors said I wasn't t'allow no one 'round
this mine, an' if yer don't clear I'll have ter go t'town an' 'ave yer
took at once. Dooty's dooty!"

"Who cares?" shouted Dick, valiantly.

"Ger out, blast yer!"

Tinker closed with the lad, and there was a struggle. Dick struck out
blindly with his stick, and it cracked on his enemy's head, and Tinker
went tottering back, with out-thrown arms, over the edge of the floor,
and fell among the beams, clutching wildly at their smooth sides. Dick
saw his blanched face, horrified eyes, and his gaping, toothless mouth
for one moment, and then he disappeared between the beams with a shrill
and terrible cry, echoed by one yet shriller from the lips of the boy.

But Tinker had not fallen. A long nail in the side of one of the beams
had caught in the slack of his capacious trousers at the back, and the
old fossicker hung, head downwards, above the enormous stones, clawing
like a suspended cat, and screaming like a frightened child. His
trousers were far from new, and the nail was old and rust-eaten.

"Tinker, don't wriggle!" cried Dick. "Your trousers!--they'll
tear--they'll tear!"

Instantly Tinker became as rigid as a dead man, but the awful
consciousness that he was slowly slipping out of his clothes redoubled
his terror, and he never ceased to yell.

The boy, lying face downwards on a beam, made an attempt to pull him up
by the shirt, but desisted instantly on perceiving that the effort only
served to jeopardize Tinker's one poor hold. Then Dick was inspired with
a great idea. He ran for the long nail which he had been using, seized
an old tooth from a puddling harrow, and returning to the pendulous
fossicker, drove the spike through the old man's trousers into the beam,
taking in as much material as possible. A shriek of extraordinary vigor
convinced him that he had skewered Tinker's leg to some extent, but it
was no time for nice distinctions.

"Don't wriggle, Tink'!" gasped the boy. "Don't stir a wink 'r you'll
fall outer yer pants. I'm off for help."

Tinker, head downwards and transfixed, with starting eyes glaring upon
the stones far beneath him, where already in imagination he saw his
mangled corpse, answered only with a groan, and Dickie fled along the
puddling plat, across the brace, and down the wooden steps, missing the
last six and landing in a heap with a blinding shock. When he quite
recovered his senses again he found himself tearing across the paddocks
towards the cattle-yards, with a strange feeling in his head and one arm
hanging at his side like a piece of old rope. Over two fences and
through a blackberry hedge, and Dick, white as a sheet, streaked with
blood, ragged, and gasping, burst upon Michael Minahan at the yards.

"Tinker!" panted the boy. "Quick! Quick! Tinker! He's hanging! hanging!
hanging!"

Michael was a man slow of comprehension under ordinary circumstances;
but a glance at Dick and a glance in the direction of his outstretched
finger sent him racing towards the mine, with poor maimed, winded Dickie
toiling gamely in the rear.

Meanwhile Tinker was slipping, slipping through his clothes. His voice
had failed him, and he could only cry with a hoarse, thin treble,
breaking into a poor squeal of mortal fear when a decided slip set him
clutching frantically at the thin air, and convinced him that his end
had come.

When Minahan reached the steps, the fossicker had slipped through his
moleskins, and hung by the feet, moaning piteously. The cords tied below
his knees delayed the great catastrophe. There was still hope. Minahan
mounted the stairs with a rush, three at a bound, and Dickie, prostrate
upon the dam bank, completely exhausted, watched the inverted figure of
Tinker Smith with wide, terrified eyes. Presently a large hand shot down
and grasped one leg, and then to Dickie's mind the world seemed to go
out like a candle. When he knew anything again he was in a white
hospital ward, with his arm in splints and his head in many bandages;
and long before he could use that arm again Tinker had scraped the
puddling plat as clean as a dining table, and, although he told no one,
it yielded seven ounces.



AT THE YARDS

WADDY, in its decadence, lived through two days of every week. The
awakening began late on Sunday night, or in the gloom of Monday morning,
with the sound of phlegmatic cursing--softened and chastened by distance
and the enfolding darkness--the yapping of busy dogs, the pathetic lowing
of weary beasts, the marching of many hoofs, the slow movements of big
flocks and herds on the ironstone road.

On Sunday evening Waddy was a mile-long township facing an apparently
interminable post-and-rail fence and a wide stretch of treeless country
dotted with poppet-legs--a township of some fifty houses, a Sunday-school
and a chapel; grey, weatherboard, rain-washed houses, and an old,
bleached, wooden day-school shored up on either side with stays, but
lurching forward and peering stupidly out of its painted windows with a
ludicrous suggestion of abject drunkenness. On Sunday evening Waddy was
still, silent, and apparently deserted, oppressed by the weight of a
Cousin-Jack Sabbath, but on Monday morning tents and covered carts linked
the scattered houses, camp-fires smoked everywhere, and bearded
cattle-men, making their scant toilet under the decent cover of a
cart-wheel or a rail-fence, enlivened the place with light-hearted
blasphemy and careless snatches of song, whilst flocks of sheep drifted
on the common, fraternizing with the local goats, and mobs of cattle came
slowly down the old toll-road, sniffing at the bare, brown track; the
dust-coloured, sleepy drovers, with sunken heads, nodding on their limp
horses.

Tuesday was sale-day. Monday afternoon was devoted to the yarding of
cattle and the yarding and drafting of innumerable sheep--the former a
comparatively easy and decorous undertaking; the latter a clamorous and
arduous business provocative of disgust, dust, and madness, and inducing
a thirst that afflicts the toiler like a visible disease, making him an
object of pity to all humane beholders. The average bullock is of
incalculable mental density, but he has the virtue of faith, and if you
wish him to go through a gateway he goes in blind confidence; but you may
pack a mob of five or fifty thousand sheep hard against a 10 ft. opening
in a fence, and you may yap yourself hoarse, and beat your trousers to
rags, and your dogs may bark their lungs up, without inducing a single
monumental idiot of the whole flock to venture through.

It is a hot afternoon--it always was a hot afternoon, it seems to me at
this distance--and scores of thousands of sheep are being hauled, and
bullied, and cursed, and cajoled into the yards, and from pen to pen.
There is a decided substratum of sound--the ceaseless, senseless bleating
of sheep, low and unvarying; above this the "yap, yap, yap" of the men
and boys, the sharp barking of the dogs, and the lowing of the cattle in
the high yards beyond. Over all, the dust and the sun--a burning, yellow
sun, and a rolling cloud of powdery dust--and everywhere in the air the
taint of sheep, the pungent smell of the beasts, and the taste of them if
you open your lips to breathe. It is a great time for several of the boys
of Waddy; it means half a day from school and the opportunity of earning
a shilling or two playing at work. Every healthy boy in the township is
ambitious to be a drover, and have a black pipe, a wonderful horse, and a
fabulous dog. Working at the yards is an approach to the ideal, and
confers a dignity obtainable in no other way. To the boys penned in the
stuffy little drunken schoolhouse the others who have a job at the yards
are kings, and objects of an envy unspeakable. They command humble
service, and awe, and admiration always.

With treasured whips, home-made of many fragments, the boys are busy
helping with the drafting and penning of the cattle, or, coated half an
inch deep with yellow dust, they are rushing the sheep up and down,
bleary black patches indicating where their eyes may be, and muddy
circles the probable situation of their mouths. It is hot, hard work,
but, oh! the glory of it, and the pride of walking home with money in
one's pockets, and covered with heaped-up, honourable dirt!

On sale-day the Drovers' Arms is hemmed in with conveyances of all sorts
and sizes, each with a sober horse or two tethered to a wheel, dreaming
with drooped heads under the scorching sun, or patiently foraging for the
last oat in the corner of the feed-box. The heat is the same, so are the
dust and the smells, but the noises of yesterday are supplemented by the
continuous rattle of the auctioneers' voices. Over the simmering stew
sound the voices like the crackling of gum-twigs in an open fire:--

"Fo'rteen T! fo'rteen T! fo'rteen T!
All done eighteen, done eighteen, done eighteen!
Fo'r pounds, I'm bid. Fo'r two six! fo'r two six!
Fo'r two six! Goin'for--two--six!"

There are a few "drunks" sleeping in attitudes of absurd abandon along
M'Mahon's fence, coated with flies; and out on the common, with the whole
waste to themselves, two men, stripped to the buff, are engaging in a
dull, boozy, interminable fight. They have been fighting ineptly for many
hours, and their punctilious observance of the rules of the ring is the
wildest farce; but the comedy is wasted on Waddy, and the drovers are too
busy to give heed.

In the afternoon the cattle begin to move out again and off by the roads
they came, but the babel continues, and the buyers--stout, red, bibulous
men of one pronounced type--follow the auctioneers in knots along the
platforms over the yards. The cattle are not the meek, weary animals of
yesterday; they have been hustled from one yard to another, rushed
around, whipped and prodded, packed into small pens, and cursed and
orated over to the complete loss of their few poor wits, and there is now
a decided note of revolt in the lowing that rises up from the yards like
a lingering curse. In every lot turned out there are one or two beasts
filled with blind, blundering hate; they swing up the road, leading the
mobs, red-eyed and possessed of devils; cords of saliva hang from their
muzzles, and their moaning is ominous, suggesting the vacuous complaining
of a maniac.

The youngsters coming from school keep close to the rail-fence, but they
delight to run deadly risks, and fill the air with the profane shrieks of
the drovers. Often a goaded, homicidal bullock bolts, and then young
hearts are glad. It is wonderful sport to behold that frantic race for
the distant timber--the long, rolling plunge of the bullock, with the
good horse working on his shoulder, and the volleying whip kicking up
dust and hair from his hollow ribs.

The clatter of the auctioneers grows fainter and hoarser, and the
perishing beasts in the pens below toss up their heads like the branches
of wind-blown trees, and push hither and thither ceaselessly with a
pitiful "mooing."

Marks is selling a pen of Bellman's stock in No. 26. The buyers cluster
about him on top of the fence, and bidding is brisk. One bullock, a fine
red beast, has knocked himself about badly; his tail has been torn clean
away, one horn is cracked close to the head, and the thick red blood
oozes out, and blackens rolling sluggishly down the white blaze of his
face. It is a large yard, and there is plenty of room for the brute to
charge, which he does several times, now and then driving blindly into
another bullock, but generally cracking his skull sharply on the great
posts of the fence. Suddenly a portly, helmeted buyer, leaning over to
get a better view, misses his centre of gravity and goes after it, the
whole 16 st. plumping solidly into the slush of the yard below. The red
bullock is at him instantly. The good horn takes Langley in the back of
the trousers, and the drive rips him bare to the collar, leaving him
unmarked, but prone, in a condition of unseemly nudity.

The beast backs away for another drive, shaking his head and uttering his
low, tigerish bellow, the expression of all malevolence; but at the same
moment a figure drops smartly from the platform, and a ragged, smudgy,
red-headed small boy is riding astride the animal's neck, diverting his
attention by battering him over the eyes with an old felt hat. Dicky
Haddon has performed this feat often for his own amusement, to the
amazement of staid and matronly cows, but this is a beast of another
colour, and the trick is done in response to an involuntary heroic
impulse.

The bullock backs about the yard, tossing his head in an effort to be rid
of his mysterious burden, and many hands clutch stout old Langley from
the other pen, and tow him along through the mire to the gate, the bottom
rail of which is high enough from the ground to enable them to pull him
out of danger. Then he is borne away, unnerved and invertebrate. The boy
seizes his opportunity, drops from the bullock and slips under the gate
like a cat. Then he follows Langley, and stands in eager expectance
whilst the damaged grazier is being bundled into his buggy. Really
Langley suffers from nothing more serious than blue funk, but is
oblivious of everything excepting a great craving for neat brandy, and is
driven off without bestowing even a glance on his small preserver.

This base ingratitude inspires the youth with a loathing that can only be
expressed in the choice idiom of the yards, and the disappointed hero,
dancing in the road with his thumb to his nose, yells bitter and profane
insults after Jabez Langley, moneyed man and M.L.A.



A VISIT TO SCRUBBY GULLY

THE men at the mine were anxious to have me visit our magnificent
property. The battery and water-wheel were erected, there were 50 tons of
stone in the hopper, and we only needed water and the blessing of
Providence to start crushing out big weekly dividends. I know now that
there has never been a time within the memory of man when Scrubby Gully
did not want water, and that Scrubby Gully is the one place on earth to
which a discriminating man would betake himself if he wished to avoid all
the blessings of Providence for ever. But that is beside the matter.

I was carefully instructed by letter to take the train to Kanan, coach it
to the Rabbit Trap, take horse from Whalan's to the Cross Roads, ask
someone at Old Poley's on the hill to direct me to Sheep's Eye; from
there strike west on foot, keeping Bugle Point on my right, and "Chin
Whiskers" would meet me at The Crossing. There was no accommodation at
the mine for city visitors, but I was given to understand Mr. Larry Jeans
would be happy to accommodate me at his homestead over the spur.

Casual references to Mr. Jeans in the correspondence gave me the
impression that Jeans was an affluent gentleman of luxurious tastes and a
hospitable disposition, and that a harmless eccentricity led him to
follow agricultural and pastoral pursuits in the vicinity of Scrubby
Gully instead of wasting his time in voluptuous ease in the city.

"Chin Whiskers" met me at The Crossing. "Chin Whiskers" was a meditative
giant who exhausted his mental and physical energies chewing tobacco, and
who bore about his person interesting and obvious evidence of the length
and the severity of the local drought--he was, in fact, the drought
incarnate. The Crossing was a mere indication of a track across a yellow,
rock-strewn indentation between two hills, which indentation, "Chin
Whiskers" informed me, was "The Creek." That did not surprise me, because
I knew that every second country township and district in Australia has a
somewhat similar indentation which it always calls "The Creek." Sometimes
"The Creek" has moist places in it, sometimes it is quite damp for almost
a dozen miles, but more often it is as hard and dry as a brick-kiln. When
the indentation is really wet along its whole length it is invariably
called "The River."

I found the mine; it was a simple horizontal hole bored in a hill. The
battery was there, and the water-wheel. The water-wheel stood
disconsolate beside the dust-strewn creek, and looked as much at home as
a water-wheel might be expected to look in the centre of the sandy wastes
of Sahara. The working shareholders were unaffectedly glad to see me.
They were sapless and drought-stricken, but they assured me, with great
enthusiasm, that they lived in momentary expectation of a tremendous
downfall. Leen had been mending the roof of his hut, he said, in
readiness for the heavy rains which were due before morning. He examined
the sky critically, and expressed a belief that I would be detained on
Scrubby Gully a couple of weeks or so in consequence of the floods.

This spirit of unreasonable hopefulness and trust seemed to be shared by
Cody, and Ellis, and MacMahon. I alone was dubious. The journey up had
worn me out; the dry desolation all around and the flagrant
unprofitableness of our spec. sickened me; but Jeans still remained--the
prodigal Jeans, with his spacious homestead and profuse hospitality. I
was heartfully grateful for Jeans. We met in due course. As I talked with
Leen, a man came wearily down the hill, towing a meagre horse, which in
turn was towing a log. This man delivered his log, unslung his animal,
and approached us, heroically lugging behind him the miserable apology
for a horse--a morbid brute manifestly without a hope or ambition left in
life, and conveying mysteriously to the observer a knowledge of its fixed
and unshakable determination to lie down and die the moment its owner's
attention was otherwise directed. But the proprietor seemed fully alive
to the situation, and never allowed his thoughts to stray entirely from
the horse, but was continually jerking its head up, and addressing
towards it reproaches, expostulations, and curses--curses that had lost
all their vigour and dignity. This man was Jeans, and if I had not seen
his horse I would have said that Jeans was the most hopelessly
heart-broken and utterly used-up animal breathing on the face of the
earth. He was about 40, grey, hollow-cheeked, hollow-chested, bent, and
apathetic with the dreadful apathy that comes of wasted effort, vain
toil, and blasted hopes. Jeans had a face that had forgotten how to smile
and never scowled--a face that took no exercise, but remained set in the
one wooden expression of joyless, passionless indifference to whatever
fate could offer henceforth and forever. My last hopes exploded at the
sight of him.

Mr. Larry Jeans said I was welcome to camp in the spare room "up to" his
place, and added dully that "proberly" his missus could scrape up grub
enough for me "fer a day'r two." "Proberly" did not sound very
encouraging, but I had no option, and, being dead-beat, accepted the
hospitality offered, and followed Mr. Jeans. Larry laboriously hauled his
melancholy horse over a couple of low stony rises, and then we tackled
the scrag end of the range, across which led a vague track that wound in
and out amongst a forest of great rocks, and presented all the
difficulties and dangers of mountaineering without its compensations.
Jeans struggled on with dull patience, and in silence, saving when it was
necessary to divert the old horse from his morbid thoughts, and when he
briefly answered my questions. I gathered from him that the men at the
mine had been expecting rain for four months.

"And what do you think of the chances?" I asked.

"Oh, me, I never expect nothin'. Sometimes things happen. I don't expect
'em, though."

"Things happen--what, for instance?"

"Well, dry spells."

I elicited that pleuro happened, and rabbits, and fires, and "this here
new-fangled fever." But whatever happened Jeans never fluctuated; he had
struck an average of misery, and was bogged in the moral slough. It
seemed as if his sensibilities above a certain capacity had been worn out
by over-work, and refused to feel more than a fixed degree of trouble, so
that whatever might come on top of his present woes, be it fever, or
fire, or death, the man remained in his normal condition of grim apathy
and spiritless obedience to fate.

The "homestead" stood upon the flat timbered country beyond the rise. It
was just what Jeans's homestead might have been expected to be--a low
structure of bark and slabs, with a slab chimney at one end, and a door
in the middle between two canvas "windows." It stood in a small clearing;
just beyond the house stood the skeleton of a shed, upon which, it being
sundown, roosted a few gaunt fowls; a lank cow with one horn was deeply
meditating by the front door. There were signs of bold raids upon the
stubborn bush, pathetic ventures; and great butts lay about in evidence
of much weary but unprofitable work. A dog-leg fence, starting at no
particular point, straddled along in front of the house, and finished
nowhere about a hundred yards off. Not a new fence either, but an old
one, with much dry grass matted amongst the logs--that was the pathos of
it. There had been a brave attempt at a garden, too; but the few fruit
trees that stood had been stripped of the bark, and the hens had made
dust-baths in all the beds. In this dust an army of children were
wallowing--half-clad, bare-footed, dirt-encrusted children, but all hale
and boisterous.

At the door we were met by Mrs. Larry Jeans, and after introducing me as
"him from the city," the master laboured away, dragging his shuffling
horse, and leaving me in the centre of a wondering circle of youngsters
of all sorts and sizes, from two dusty mites not yet properly balanced on
their crooked little legs up to a shock-headed lubberly boy of thirteen,
curiously embossed with large tan freckles, and a tall, gawky girl of the
same age in preposterously short skirts, whom my presence afflicted with
a most painful bashfulness. A peculiarity about Jeans's children that
struck me was the fact that they seemed to run in sets: there was a pair
even for the sticky baby deftly hooked under its mother's left arm,
judging by the petulant wailing to be heard within.

The Jeans's homestead consisted of two compartments. I looked about in
vain for the "spare room," and concluded it must be either the capacious
fire-place or the skeleton shed on which the hens were roosting. The
principal article of kitchen furniture was a long plank table built into
the floor; between it and the wall was a bush-made form, also a fixture.
A few crazy three-legged stools, a safe manufactured from a zinc-lined
case, and an odd assortment of crockery and tin cups, saucers, and plates
piled on slab shelves in one corner, completed the list of "fixings."

Mrs. Larry Jeans was a short, bony, homely woman, very like her
husband--strangely, pathetically like in face and demeanour; similarly
bowed with labour, and with the same air of hopelessness and of accepting
the toils and privations of their miserable existence as an inevitable
lot. She was always working, and always had worked; her hands were hard
and contorted in evidence of it, and her cheek was as brown and as dry as
husks from labouring in the sun.

We had tea and bread and boiled onions and corned beef for tea that
evening--a minimum of beef and a maximum of onions. The last onion crop
had been a comparative success somewhere within half a day's journey of
Scrubby Gully. Tea served to introduce more children; they dangled over
the arms of the unhappy mother, hung to her skirts, sprawled about her
feet, squabbled in the corners, and overran the house. Jeans helped to
feed the brood in his slow, patient way, and after tea he helped to pack
away the younger in little bundles--here, there, and everywhere--where
they slept peacefully, but in great apparent peril, whilst the bigger
kids charged about the room and roared, and fought, and raised a very
pandemonium of their own. Every now and again Mrs. Jeans would lift her
tired head from her sewing or her insatiable twins, and say weakly, "Now,
you Jinny, behave." Or Larry would remark dispassionately, "Hi, you,
Billy!" But otherwise the youngsters raged unchecked, their
broken-spirited parents seeming to regard the noise and worry of them as
the lightest trial in a world of struggling and trouble.

I asked Jeans how many children he thought he had. He didn't seem
certain, but after due deliberation said there might be thirteen in all.
He had probably lost count, for I am certain I tallied fifteen--seven
sets and one odd one.

When the washing-up was done, and half of the family were bedded down,
Larry dragged a tangle of old harness from the other room, and sat for
two hours painfully piecing it up with cord, and his wife sat opposite
him, silent and blank of face, mending one set of rags with another--I
perched upon a stool watching the pair, studying one face after the
other, irritated at length by the sheeplike immobility of both, thinking
it would be a relief if Jeans would suddenly break out and do something
desperate, something to show that he had not, in spite of appearances,
got beyond the possibility of sanguinary revolt; but he worked on
steadily, uncomplainingly, till the boy with the unique freckles came
hurrying in with the intelligence that the old horse was "havin' a fit'r
somethin'." Jeans did not swear. He said "Is he but?" and put aside his
harness, and went out, like a man for whom life has no surprises.

The selector was over an hour struggling with his hypochondriac horse,
whilst I exchanged fragments of conversation with Mrs. Jeans, and went
upon various mental excursions after that spare room. It appeared that
the Jeanses had neighbours. There was another family settled seven miles
up the gully, but Mrs. Jeans informed me that the Dicksons, being quiet
and sort of down-hearted, were not very good company, consequently she
and Jeans rarely visited them. I was indulging in a mental prospect of
the jubilation at a reunion of the down-hearted Dicksons and the gay and
frivolous Jeanses when Larry returned from his struggle with the horse.
He resumed his work upon the harness without any complaint. His remark
that "Them skewball horses is alwis onreasonable" was not spoken in a
carping spirit; it was given as conveying valuable information to a
stranger.

At 11 o'clock my host "s'posed that p'r'aps maybe" I was ready to turn
in. I was, and we went forth together in quest of the spare room. The
room in question proved to be a hastily-constructed lean-to on the far
corner of the house, at the back. Inside, one wall was six feet high and
the other was merely a tree-butt. My bunk was built against the butt, and
between the bunk and the roof there were about eighteen inches of space.
That bunk had not been run up for a fat man. After establishing me in the
spare room Jeans turned to go.

"Best bar the door with a log, case o' the cow," he said. "If she comes
bumpin' round in the night, don't mind. She walks in her sleep moonlight
nights."

It only needed this to convince me that I was usurping the customary
domicile of the meditative cow. The room had been carefully furbished up
and deeply carpeted with scrub ferns. But the cow was not to be denied.

Weary as I was, I got little sleep that night. I had fallen off
comfortably about half an hour after turning in, when I was awakened
again by some commotion in the house. Half a dozen of the children were
blubbering, and I could hear the heavy tread of Larry, and the equally
heavy tread of his wife, moving about the house. Presently both passed by
the lean-to, and away in the direction of the range. For another
half-hour or so there was silence, and then the one-horned cow came along
and tried my door. Failing to open it, she tried the walls and the roof,
but could not break her way in, so she camped under the lee of the
structure, and lowed dismally at intervals till day-break.

When I arose a scantily-attired small boy generously provided me with a
pint pannikin three-parts full of water. The water was for my morning
bath, and the small boy was careful to warn me not to throw it away when
I was through with it. This youngster told me that "Dad, an' mum, an'
Jimmy" had been out all night hunting Steve. Steve, I gathered, was the
one enterprising child in the household, and was in the habit of going
alone upon voyages of exploration along the range, where, being a very
little fellow, he usually lost himself, and provided his parents with a
night's entertainment searching for him in the barren gorges and about
the boulder-strewn spurs of the range. How it happened that he was not
missed till nearly midnight on this occasion I cannot say, unless the
father and mother were really as ignorant of the extent and character of
their family as they appeared to be.

Mrs. Jeans was the first to return, and she brought Steve with her. The
dear child had not been lost, after all. Incensed by some indignity that
had been put upon him during the afternoon, he had "run away from home,"
he said, and slept all night in a wombat's hole about 200 yards from the
house. There his mother found him, returning from her long, weary search.
The incident did not appear to have affected her in any way; she looked
as tired and as heart-sick as on the previous evening, but not more so.

"You know we lost one little one there"--she extended her hand towards
the low, rambling repellent hills--"an' found him dead a week after."

Larry returned half an hour later, and his apathy under the circumstances
was simply appalling.

We had fried onions and bread and tea for breakfast, and immediately the
meal was over Larry, who I imagined would be going to bed for a few
hours, appeared in front of the house leading his deplorable horse. He
was bound for the mine, he said. I put in that day exploring the tunnel,
examining the immovable mill, hunting for specimens in the quartz-tip,
and listening to Leen's cheerful weather prophesies; and Jeans and his
soured quadruped dragged logs to the mine from a patch of timber about a
mile off, which patch the men alluded to largely as The Gum Forest.

Returning to the homestead at sundown we found the children fighting in
the dust and the one-horned cow meditating at the door as on the previous
evening. I fancied I detected in the eye of the cow a look of pathetic
reproach as I passed her. Tea that evening consisted mainly of roast
onions. Jeans felt called upon to apologize because the boys had been
unable to trap a rabbit for my benefit.

"Now'n agen, after a rainy spell, we're 'most afraid the rabbits is
a-goin' to eat us, an' then when we'd like a rabbit-stoo there ain't a
rabbit to be found within twenty mile," said the settler impassively.
"When there is rabbits, there ain't onions," he added as a further
contribution to the curiosities of natural history.

The second night at Scrubby Gully was painfully like the first: Mrs.
Jeans stitched, Mr. Jeans laboured over his tangle of harness, and the
brood rolled and tumbled about the room, raising much dust and creating a
deafening noise, to which Larry and Mary his wife gave little heed. When
a section of the family had been parcelled up and put to sleep, I was
tempted to ask Jeans why he continued to live in that unhallowed,
out-of-the-way corner, and to waste his energies upon a parched and
blasted holding instead of settling somewhere within reach of a market
and beyond the blight of tangible and visible despair that hung over
Scrubby Gully and its vicinity.

"Dunno," said Jeans, without interest, "'pears t'me t'be pretty much as
bad in other places. Evans is the same, so's Calder."

I did not know either Evans or Calder, but I pitied both from the bottom
of my heart. Jeans admitted that he had given up hope of getting the
timber off his land, though he "suspected" he might be able to handle it
somehow "when the boys grew up." He further admitted that he didn't know
"as the land was good for anythin' much" when it was cleared but his
pessimism was proof against all my arguments, and I went sadly to bunk,
leaving the man and his wife working with slow, animal perseverance,
apparently unconscious of the fact that they had not slept a wink for
over thirty hours.

The cow raided my room shortly after midnight. She managed to break down
the door this time, but as her intentions were peaceful, and as it was
preferable rather to have her for a room-mate than to be kept awake by
her pathetic complaints, I made no attempt to evict her, and we both
passed an easy night.

I was up early next morning, but Mr. and Mrs. Jeans were before me. They
were standing together down by the aimless dog-leg fence, and the
hypochondriacal horse lay between them. I walked across, suspecting
further "unreasonableness" on the part of the horse. The animal was dead.

"Old man, how'll you manage to haul those logs in now?" As Mrs. Jeans
said this I fancied I saw flicker in her face for a moment a look of
spiritual agony, a hint of revolt that might manifest itself in tears and
bitter complainings, but it passed in the instant.

Jeans merely shook his head, and answered something indicative of the
complete destruction of his faith in "them skewbald horses."

We had bread and onions for breakfast.

When I last saw Jeans, as I was leaving Scrubby Gully that day, he was
coming down the hill from the direction of the gum forest, struggling in
the blinding heat, with a rope over his shoulder, towing a nine-foot
sluice leg.

We had a letter from Leen yesterday; he says the working shareholders are
hurrying to get the sluice fixed over the wheel, and he (Leen)
anticipates a heavy downfall of rain during the night.



A GOLDEN SHANTY

ABOUT ten years ago, not a day's tramp from Ballarat, set well back from
a dusty track that started nowhere in particular and had no destination
worth mentioning, stood the Shamrock Hotel. It was a low, rambling,
disjointed structure, and bore strong evidence of having been designed by
an amateur artist in a moment of vinous frenzy. It reached out in several
well-defined angles, and had a lean-to building stuck on here and there;
numerous outhouses were dropped down about it promiscuously; its walls
were propped up in places with logs, and its moss-covered shingle roof,
bowed down with the weight of years and a great accumulation of stones,
hoop-iron, jam-tins, broken glassware, and dried 'possum skins, bulged
threateningly, on the verge of utter collapse. The Shamrock was built of
sun-dried bricks, of an unhealthy, bilious tint. Its dirty, shattered
windows were plugged in places with old hats and discarded female
apparel, and draped with green blinds, many of which had broken their
moorings, and hung despondently by one corner. Groups of ungainly fowls
coursed the succulent grasshopper before the bar door; a moody,
distempered goat rubbed her ribs against a shattered trough roughly hewn
from the butt of a tree, and a matronly old sow of spare proportions
wallowed complacently in the dust of the road, surrounded by her
squealing brood.

A battered sign hung out over the door of the Shamrock, informing people
that Michael Doyle was licensed to sell fermented and spirituous liquors,
and that good accommodation could be afforded to both man and beast at
the lowest current rates. But that sign was most unreliable; the man who
applied to be accommodated with anything beyond ardent beverages--liquors
so fiery that they "bit all the way down"--evoked the astonishment of the
proprietor. Bed and board were quite out of the province of the Shamrock.
There was, in fact, only one couch professedly at the disposal of the
weary wayfarer, and this, according to the statement of the few persons
who had ever ventured to try it, seemed stuffed with old boots and
stubble; it was located immediately beneath a hen-roost, which was the
resting-place of a maternal fowl, addicted on occasion to nursing her
chickens upon the tired sleeper's chest. The "turnover" at the Shamrock
was not at all extensive, for, saving an occasional agricultural labourer
who came from "beyant"--which was the versatile host's way of designating
any part within a radius of five miles--to revel in an occasional
"spree," the trade was confined to the passing "cockatoo" farmer, who
invariably arrived on a bony, drooping prad, took a drink, and shuffled
away amid clouds of dust.

The only other dwellings within sight of the Shamrock were a cluster of
frail, ramshackle huts, compiled of slabs, scraps of matting, zinc, and
gunny-bag. These were the habitations of a colony of squalid, gibbering
Chinese fossickers, who herded together like hogs in a crowded pen, as if
they had been restricted to that spot on pain of death, or its
equivalent, a washing.

About a quarter of a mile behind the Shamrock ran, or rather crawled, the
sluggish waters of the Yellow Creek. Once upon a time, when the Shamrock
was first built, the creek was a beautiful limpid rivulet, running
between verdant banks; but an enterprising prospector wandering that way,
and liking the indications, put down a shaft, and bottomed on "the wash"
at twenty feet, getting half an ounce to the dish. A rush set in, and
within twelve months the banks of the creek, for a distance of two miles,
were denuded of their timber, torn up, and covered with unsightly heaps.
The creek had been diverted from its natural course half a dozen times,
and hundreds of diggers, like busy ants, delved into the earth and
covered its surface with red, white, and yellow tips. Then the miners
left almost as suddenly as they had come; the Shamrock, which had
resounded with wild revelry, became as silent as a morgue, and desolation
brooded on the face of the country. When Mr. Michael Doyle, whose
greatest ambition in life had been to become lord of a "pub.," invested
in that lucrative country property, saplings were growing between the
deserted holes of the diggings, and agriculture had superseded the mining
industry in those parts.

Landlord Doyle was of Irish extraction; his stock was so old that
everybody had forgotten where and when it originated, but Mickey was not
proud--he assumed no unnecessary style, and his personal appearance would
not have led you to infer that there had been a king in his family, and
that his paternal progenitor had killed a landlord "wanst." Mickey was a
small, scraggy man, with a mop of grizzled hair and a little red,
humorous face, ever bristling with auburn stubble. His trousers were the
most striking things about him; they were built on the premises, and
always contained enough stuff to make him a full suit and a winter
overcoat. Mrs. Doyle manufactured those pants after plans and
specifications of her own designing, and was mighty proud when Michael
would yank them up into his armpits, and amble round, peering about
discontentedly over the waistband. "They wus th' great savin in weskits,"
she said.

Of late years it had taken all Mr. Doyle's ingenuity to make ends meet.
The tribe of dirty, unkempt urchins who swarmed about the place "took a
power of feedin'," and Mrs. D. herself was "th' big ater." "Ye do be
atin' twinty-four hours a day," her lord was wont to remark, "and thin
yez must get up av noights for more. Whin ye'r not atin' ye'r munchin' a
schnack, bad cess t'ye."

In order to provide the provender for his unreasonably hungry family,
Mickey had been compelled to supplement his takings as a Boniface by
acting alternately as fossicker, charcoal-burner, and "wood-jamber;" but
it came "terrible hard" on the little man, who waxed thinner and thinner,
and sank deeper into his trousers every year. Then, to augment his
troubles, came that pestiferous heathen, the teetotal Chinee. One hot
summer's day he arrived in numbers, like a plague, armed with picks,
shovels, dishes, cradles, and tubs, and with a clatter of tools and a
babble of grotesque gibberish, camped by the creek and refused to go away
again. The awesome solitude of the abandoned diggings was ruthlessly
broken. The deserted field, with its white mounds and decaying
windlass-stands fallen aslant, which had lain like a long-for-gotten
cemetery buried in primeval forest, was now desecrated by the hand of the
Mongol, and the sound of his weird, Oriental oaths. The Chows swarmed
over the spot, tearing open old sores, shovelling old tips, sluicing old
tailings, digging, cradling, puddling, ferreting, into every nook and
cranny.

Mr. Doyle observed the foreign invasion with mingled feelings of
righteous anger and pained solicitude. He had found fossicking by the
creek very handy to fall back upon when the wood-jambing trade was not
brisk; but now that industry was ruined by Chinese competition, and
Michael could only find relief in deep and earnest profanity.

With the pagan influx began the mysterious disappearance of small
valuables from the premises of Michael Doyle, licensed victualler.
Sedate, fluffy old hens, hitherto noted for their strict propriety and
regular hours, would leave the place at dead of night, and return from
their nocturnal rambles never more; stay-at-home sucking-pigs, which had
erstwhile absolutely refused to be driven from the door, corrupted by the
new evil, absented themselves suddenly from the precincts of the
Shamrock, taking with them cooking utensils and various other articles of
small value, and ever afterwards their fate became a matter for
speculation. At last a favourite young porker went, whereupon its lord
and master, resolved to prosecute inquiries, bounced into the Mongolian
camp, and, without any unnecessary preamble, opened the debate.

"Look here, now," he observed, shaking his fist at the group, and
bristling fiercely, "which av ye dhirty haythen furriners cum up to me
house lasht noight and shtole me pig Nancy? Which av ye is it, so't I kin
bate him! ye thavin' hathins?"

The placid Orientals surveyed Mr. Doyle coolly, and innocently smiling,
said, "No savee;" then bandied jests at his expense in their native
tongue, and laughed the little man to scorn. Incensed by the evident
ridicule of the "haythen furriners," and goaded on by the smothered
squeal of a hidden pig, Michael "went for" the nearest Asiatic, and
proceeded to "put a head on him as big as a tank," amid a storm of kicks
and digs from the other Chows. Presently the battle began to go against
the Irish cause; but Mrs. Mickey, making a timely appearance, warded off
the surplus Chinamen by chipping at their skulls with an axe-handle. The
riot was soon quelled, and the two Doyles departed triumphantly, bearing
away a corpulent young pig, and leaving several broken, discouraged
Chinamen to be doctored at the common expense.

After this gladsome little episode the Chinamen held off for a few weeks.
Then they suddenly changed their tactics, and proceeded to cultivate the
friendship of Michael Doyle and his able-bodied wife. They liberally
patronized the Shamrock, and beguiled the licensee with soft but cheerful
conversation; they flattered Mrs. Doyle in seductive pigeon-English, and
endeavoured to ensare the children's young affections with preserved
ginger. Michael regarded these advances with misgiving; he suspected the
Mongolians' intentions were not honourable, but he was not a man to spoil
trade--to drop the substance for the shadow.

This state of affairs had continued for some time before the landlord of
the Shamrock noticed that his new customers made a point of carrying off
a brick every time they visited his caravansary. When leaving, the bland
heathen would cast his discriminating eye around the place, seize upon
one of the sun-dried bricks with which the ground was littered, and steal
away with a nonchalant air--as though it had just occurred to him that
the brick would be a handy thing to keep by him.

The matter puzzled Mr. Doyle sorely; he ruminated over it, but he could
only arrive at the conclusion that it was not advisable to lose custom
for the sake of a few bricks; so the Chinese continued to walk off with
his building material. When asked what they intended to do with the
bricks, they assumed an expression of the most deplorably hopeless
idiocy, and suddenly lost their acquaintance with the "Inglisiman"
tongue. If bricks were mentioned they became as devoid of sense as
wombats, although they seemed extremely intelligent on most other points.
Mickey noticed that there was no building in progress at their camp, also
that there were no bricks to be seen about the domiciles of the pagans,
and he tried to figure out the mystery on a slate, but, on account of his
lamentable ignorance of mathematics, failed to reach the unknown quantity
and elucidate the enigma. He watched the invaders march off with all the
loose bricks that were scattered around, and never once complained; but
when they began to abstract one end of his licensed premises, he felt
himself called upon, as a husband and father, to arise and enter a
protest, which he did, pointing out to the Yellow Agony, in graphic and
forcible language, the gross wickedness of robbing a struggling man of
his house and home, and promising faithfully to "bate" the next lop-eared
Child of the Sun whom he "cot shiftin' a'er a brick."

"Ye dogs! Wud yez shtale me hotel, so't whin me family go insoide they'll
be out in the rain?" he queried, looking hurt and indignant.

The Chinaman said, "No savee." Yet, after this warning, doubtless out of
consideration for the feelings of Mr. Doyle, they went to great pains and
displayed much ingenuity in abstracting bricks without his cognizance.
But Mickey was active; he watched them closely, and whenever he caught a
Chow in the act, a brief and one-sided conflict raged, and a dismantled
Chinaman crawled home with much difficulty.

This violent conduct on the part of the landlord served in time to
entirely alienate the Mongolian custom from the Shamrock, and once more
Mickey and the Chows spake not when they met. Once more, too, promising
young pullets, and other portable valuables, began to go astray, and
still the hole in the wall grew till the after-part of the Shamrock
looked as if it had suffered recent bombardment. The Chinamen came while
Michael slept, and filched his hotel inch by inch. They lost their
natural rest, and ran the gauntlet of Mr. Doyle's stick and his
curse--for the sake of a few bricks. At all hours of the night they crept
through the gloom, and warily stole a bat or two, getting away unnoticed
perhaps, or, mayhap, only disturbing the slumbers of Mrs. Doyle, who was
a very light sleeper for a woman of her size. In the latter case the lady
would awaken her lord by holding his nose--a very effective plan of her
own--and, filled to overflowing with the rage which comes of a midnight
awakening, Mickey would turn out of doors in his shirt to cope with the
marauders, and course them over the paddocks. If he caught a heathen he
laid himself out for five minutes' energetic entertainment, which fully
repaid him for lost rest and missing hens, and left a Chinaman too
heart-sick and sore to steal anything for at least a week. But the
Chinaman's friends would come as usual, and the pillage went on.

Michael Doyle puzzled himself to prostration over this insatiable and
unreasonable hunger for bricks; such an infatuation on the part of men
for cold and unresponsive clay had never before come within the pale of
his experience. Times out of mind he threatened to "have the law on the
yalla blaggards;" but the law was a long way off, and the Celestial
housebreakers continued to elope with scraps of the Shamrock, taking the
proprietor's assaults humbly and as a matter of course.

"Why do ye be shtealing me house?" fiercely queried Mr. Doyle of a
submissive Chow, whom he had taken one night in the act of ambling off
with a brick in either hand.

"Me no steal 'em, no feah--odder feller, him steal em," replied the
quaking pagan.

Mickey was dumb-stricken for the moment by this awful prevarication; but
that did not impair the velocity of his kick--this to his great
subsequent regret, for the Chinaman had stowed a third brick away in his
pants for convenience of transit, and the landlord struck that brick;
then he sat down and repeated aloud all the profanity he knew.

The Chinaman escaped, and had presence of mind enough to retain his
burden of clay.

Month after month the work of devastation went on. Mr. Doyle fixed
ingenious mechanical contrivances about his house, and turned out at
early dawn to see how many Chinamen he had "nailed"--only to find his
spring-traps stolen and his hotel yawning more desperately than ever.
Then Michael could but lift up his voice and swear--nothing else afforded
him any relief.

At last he hit upon a brilliant idea. He commissioned a "cocky" who was
journeying into Ballarat to buy him a dog--the largest, fiercest,
ugliest, hungriest animal the town afforded; and next day a powerful,
ill-tempered canine, almost as big as a pony, and quite as ugly as any
nightmare, was duly installed as guardian and night-watch at the
Shamrock. Right well the good dog performed his duty. On the following
morning he had trophies to show in the shape of a boot, a scrap of blue
dungaree trousers, half a pig-tail, a yellow ear, and a large part of a
partially-shaved scalp; and just then the nocturnal visits ceased. The
Chows spent a week skirmishing round, endeavouring to call the dog off,
but he was neither to be begged, borrowed, nor stolen; he was too
old-fashioned to eat poisoned meat, and he prevented the smallest approach
to familiarity on the part of a Chinaman by snapping off the most
serviceable portions of his vestments, and always fetching a scrap of
heathen along with them.

This, in time, sorely discouraged the patient Children of the Sun, who
drew off to hold congress and give the matter weighty consideration.
After deliberating for some days, the yellow settlement appointed a
deputation to wait upon Mr. Doyle. Mickey saw them coming, and armed
himself with a log and unchained his dog. Mrs. Doyle ranged up alongside,
brandishing her axe-handle, but by humble gestures and a deferential
bearing the Celestial deputation signified a truce. So Michael held his
dog down, and rested on his arms to await developments. The Chinamen
advanced, smiling blandly; they gave Mr. and Mrs. Doyle fraternal
greeting, and squirmed with that wheedling obsequiousness peculiar to
"John" when he has something to gain by it. A pock-marked leper placed
himself in the van as spokesman.

"Nicee day, Missa Doyle," said the moon-faced gentleman, sweetly. Then,
with a sudden expression of great interest, and nodding towards Mrs.
Doyle, "How you sissetah?"

"Foindout! Fwhat yer wantin'?" replied the host of the Shamrock, gruffly;
"t' shtale more bricks, ye crawlin' blaggards?"

"No, no. Me not steal 'em blick--odder feller; he hide 'em; build big
house byem-bye."

"Ye loi, ye screw-faced nayger! I seed ye do it, and if yez don't cut and
run I'll lave the dog loose to feed on yer dhirty carcasses."

The dog tried to reach for his favourite hold, Mickey brandished his log,
and Mrs. Doyle took a fresh grip of her weapon. This demonstration gave
the Chows a cold shiver, and brought them promptly down to business.

"We buy 'em hotel; what for you sell'em--eh?"

"Fwhat! yez buy me hotel? D'ye mane it? Purchis th' primisis and yez can
shtale ivery brick at yer laysure. But ye're joakin'. Whoop! Look ye
here! I'll have th' lot av yez aten up in two minits if yez play yer
Choinase thricks on Michael Doyle."

The Chinamen eagerly protested that they were in earnest, and Mickey gave
them a judicial hearing. For two years he had been in want of a customer
for the Shamrock, and he now hailed the offer of his visitors with secret
delight. After haggling for an hour, during which time the ignorant Hi
Yup of the contorted countenance displayed his usual business tact, a
bargain was struck. The yellow men agreed to give fifty pounds cash for
the Shamrock and all buildings appertaining thereto, and the following
Monday was the day fixed for Michael to journey into Ballarat with a
couple of representative heathens to sign the transfer papers and receive
the cash.

The deputation departed smiling, and when it gave the news of its triumph
to the other denizens of the camp there was a perfect babel of
congratulations in the quaint dialogue of the Mongol. The Chinamen
proceeded to make a night of it in their own outlandish way, indulging
freely in the seductive opium, and holding high carouse over an
extemporized fantan table, proceedings which made it evident that they
thought they were getting to windward of Michael Doyle, licensed
victualler.

Michael, too, was rejoicing with exceeding great joy, and felicitating
himself on being the shrewdest little man who ever left the "ould sod."
He had not hoped to get more than a twenty-pound note for the dilapidated
old humpy, erected on Crown land, and unlikely to stand the wear and tear
of another year. As for the business, it had fallen to zero, and would
not have kept a Chinaman in soap. So Mr. Doyle plumed himself on his
bargain, and expanded till he nearly filled his capacious garments.
Still, he was harassed to know what could possibly have attached the
Chinese so strongly to the Shamrock. They had taken samples from every
part of the establishment, and fully satisfied themselves as to the
quality of the bricks, and now they wanted to buy. It was most peculiar.
Michael "had never seen anything so quare before, savin' wanst whin his
grandfather was a boy."

After the agreement arrived at between the publican and the Chinese, one
or two of the latter hung about the hotel nearly all their time, in
sentinel fashion. The dog was kept on the chain, and lay in the sun in a
state of moody melancholy, narrowly scrutinizing the Mongolians. He was a
strongly anti-Chinese dog, and had been educated to regard the
almond-eyed invader with mistrust and hate; it was repugnant to his
principles to lie low when the heathen was around, and he evinced his
resentment by growling ceaselessly. Sunday dawned. It was a magnificent
morning; but the rattle of the Chinamen's cradles and toms sounded from
the creek as usual. Three or four suave and civil Asiatics, however,
still lingered around the Shamrock, and kept an eye on it in the
interests of all, for the purchase of the hotel was to be a joint-stock
affair. These "Johns" seemed to imagine they had already taken lawful
possession; they sat in the bar most of the time, drinking little, but
always affable and genial. Michael suffered them to stay, for he feared
that any fractiousness on his part might upset the agreement, and that
was a consummation to be avoided above all things. They had told him,
with many tender smiles and much gesticulation, that they intended to
live in the house when it became theirs; but Mr. Doyle was not
interested--his fifty pounds was all he thought of.

Michael was in high spirits that morning; he beamed complacently on all
and sundry, appointed the day as a time of family rejoicing, and in the
excess of his emotion actually slew for dinner a prime young sucking pig,
an extravagant luxury indulged in by the Doyles only on state occasions.
On this particular Sunday the younger members of the Doyle household
gathered round the festive board and waited impatiently for the lifting
of the lid of the camp-oven. There were nine children in all, ranging in
years from fourteen downwards--"foine, shtrappin' childer, wid th' clear
brain," said the prejudiced Michael. The round, juicy sticker was at last
placed upon the table. Mrs. Doyle stood prepared to administer her
department--serving the vegetables to her hungry brood--and, armed with a
formidable knife and fork, Michael, enveloped in savoury steam, hovered
over the pig.

But there was one function yet to be performed--a function which came as
regularly as Sunday's dinner itself. Never, for years, had the
housefather failed to touch up a certain prodigious knife on one
particular hard yellow brick in the wall by the door, preparatory to
carving the Sunday's meat. Mickey examined the edge of his weapon
critically, and found it unsatisfactory. The knife was nearly ground
through to the backbone; another "touch-up" and it must surely collapse,
but, in view of his changed circumstances, Mr. Doyle felt that he might
take the risk. The brick, too, was worn an inch deep. A few sharp strokes
from Mickey's vigorous right arm were all that was required; but, alas!
the knife snapped whereupon Mr. Doyle swore at the brick, as if holding
it immediately responsible for the mishap, and stabbed at it fiercely
with the broken carver.

"Howly Moses! Fwhats that?"

The brick fell to pieces, and there, embedded in the wall, gleaming in
the sunbeam, was a nugget of yellow gold. With feverish haste Mickey tore
the brick from its bedding, and smashed the gold-bearing fragment on the
hearth. The nugget was a little beauty, smooth, round, and four ounces to
a grain.

The sucking pig froze and stiffened in its fat, the "taters" and the
cabbage stood neglected on the dishes. The truth had dawned upon Michael,
and, whilst the sound of a spirited debate in musical Chinese echoed from
the bar, his family were gathered around him, open-mouthed, and Mickey
was industriously, but quietly, pounding the sun-dried brick in a
digger's mortar. Two bricks, one from either end of the Shamrock, were
pulverized, and Michael panned off the dirt in a tub of water which stood
in the kitchen. Result: seven grains of waterworn gold. Until now Michael
had worked dumbly, in a fit of nervous excitement; now he started up,
bristling like a hedgehog.

"Let loose th' dog, Mary Melinda Doyle!" he howled, and, uttering a
mighty whoop, he bounded into the bar to dust those Chinamen off his
premises. "Gerrout!" he screamed--"Gerrout av me primises, ye thavin'
crawlers!" And he frolicked with the astounded Mongolians like a tornado
in full blast, thumping at a shaven occiput whenever one showed out of
the struggling crowd. The Chinamen left; they found the dog waiting for
them outside, and he encouraged them to greater haste. Like startled
fawns the heathens fled, and Mr. Doyle followed them, howling:

"Buy the Shamrock, wud yez! Robbers! Thaves! Fitch back th' soide o' me
house, or Oi'll have th' law onto yez all."

The damaged escapees communicated the intelligence of their overthrow to
their brethren on the creek, and the news carried consternation, and
deep, dark woe to the pagans, who clustered together and ruefully
discussed the situation. Mr. Doyle was wildly jubilant. His joy was only
tinctured with a spice of bitterness, the result of knowing that the
"haythens" had got away with a few hundreds of his precious bricks. He
tried to figure out the amount of gold his hotel must contain, but again
his ignorance of arithmetic tripped him up, and already in imagination
Michael Doyle, licensed victualler, was a millionaire and a J.P.

The Shamrock was really a treasure-house. The dirt of which the bricks
were composed had been taken from the banks of the Yellow Creek, years
before the outbreak of the rush, by an eccentric German who had settled
on that sylvan spot. The German died, and his grotesque structure passed
into other hands. Time went on, and then came the rush. The banks of the
creek were found to be charged with gold for miles, but never for a
moment did it occur to anybody that the clumsy old building by the track,
now converted into a hotel, was composed of the same rich dirt; never
till years after, when by accident one of the Mongolian fossickers
discovered grains of gold in a few bats he had taken to use as hobs. The
intelligence was conveyed to his fellows; they got more bricks and more
gold--hence the robbery of Mr. Doyle's building material and the anxiety
of the Mongolians to buy the Shamrock. Before nightfall Michael summoned
half-a-dozen men from "beyant," to help him in protecting his hotel from
a possible Chinese invasion. Other bricks were crushed and yielded
splendid prospects. The Shamrock's small stock of liquor was drunk, and
everybody became hilarious. On the Sunday night, under cover of the
darkness, the Chows made a sudden sally on the Shamrock, hoping to get
away with plunder. They were violently received, however; they got no
bricks, and returned to their camp broken and disconsolate.

Next day the work of demolition was begun. Drays were backed up against
the Shamrock, and load by load the precious bricks were carted away to a
neighbouring battery. The Chinamen slouched about, watching greedily, but
their now half-hearted attempts at interference met with painful
reprisal. Mr. Doyle sent his family and furniture to Ballarat, and in a
week there was not a vestige left to mark the spot where once the
Shamrock flourished. Every scrap of its walls went through the mill, and
the sum of one thousand nine hundred and eighty-three pounds sterling was
cleared out of the ruins of the hostelry. Mr. Doyle is now a man of some
standing in Victoria, and as a highly respected J.P. has often been
pleased to inform a Chinaman that it was "foive pound or a month."



HEBE OF GRASSTREE

A CHANGE had come over the spirit of Grasstree; there was a false note in
the gaiety of the men up from Ramrod Flat, and the young fellows in the
pastoral interest around on the Black Cockatoo, when they foregathered in
Cleever's bar, discovered an un-accustomed awkwardness and restraint in
their attitudes towards each other. With miners and bushmen alike
confidence had given place to suspicion, and good-fellowship to an
all-round surliness.

For a time the men could not account even to themselves for this strange
alteration; an attempt was made to make the climate responsible, and a
few insisted that it was something in the drink, but certainly all had
become "sudden and quick in quarrel"--hats went down and hands went up on
the slightest provocation. Men whose ordinary work-a-day friendship had
previously heightened to brotherly love under the warming influence of
alcohol now became profane and bitter in drink, and short arguments
terminated with a rush and a collision in the bar. Little differences
that might previously have been settled by mutual concessions were now
nursed and coddled till they grew into hot enmities, and even Foster and
Brierly, once the best of mates, were camping apart and each working a
lone hand at Goat Creek.

Eventually Hefty Maconochie was generally recognized as the disturbing
element at the Grasstree, but, by tacit agreement, that fact was not
publicly admitted. Possibly a delicate and chivalrous consideration for
"Miss Mack's" sensibilities inspired this polite reticence, but perhaps
it chiefly arose from the shamefacedness of her worshippers. The man
out-back, secretive in most things personal, will admit any weakness or
wickedness ere confessing to the pangs of unrequited passion. Hence when
Hetty was particularly affable to Stacey on Monday evening in the bar,
and allowed Riverton to monopolize her smiles on Tuesday evening,
Riverton and Stacey fought a desperate and bloody battle on the Wednesday
afternoon to decide the ownership of a one-eyed dog which was the local
head depot for fleas, and which really belonged to a third man, who,
being public-spirited, waived his claim rather than spoil sport. Riverton
won the dog.

Of course Miss Maconochie was quite conscious that she had introduced a
new element into the relationship of things at the Grasstree, but,
although exultant in the knowledge that the men were contending with
animal ferocity for her favour, she appeared always quite oblivious, and
was genial or distant with the discrimination of a conscientious
barmaid.

Miss Mack had been sent to the Travellers' Rest from a Melbourne labour
office in response to Cleever's order, which specified "a strapping girl,
not more than 26, to work and assist in bar." Hetty was "strapping," and
certainly not more than 26; five feet seven, straight as a lath, strong,
ruddy-cheeked, and possessing a marvellous efflorescence of glorious red
hair as fine as spun silk, coruscant, throwing little subtle tendrils
down about her ears, her temples, and her long white neck. There are many
female Samsons. But Hetty's power was not wholly in her hair; her
strength was peculiarly attractive to the men; her every action suggested
strength--strength underlying a womanly softness and roundness. She often
served in the bar on warm evenings with her sleeves rolled well above her
shapely elbows, and then Cleever's patrons felt it was worth the price of
the drink to see "Mack" reach up for the bottle. She draped lightly for
comfort, and blushed to find it fame. The average woman who puts on much
to make herself attractive does not realize that half the art is in
taking off. Hetty was innocent of coquetry when she divested herself of
superfluous drapery, but she could not remain long ignorant of the
advantages she enjoyed from her emancipation. Then her laugh helped to
ensure success--it was a generous laugh, full of suggestive music, and
discovered new attractions in her large, handsome mouth. Such a laugh is
honeyed flattery for the man who provokes it, and, as Hetty was proud of
her fine white teeth, no man's joke was altogether a failure in Cleever's
bar.

There were other young women in and about the Grasstree--two or three in
the township, and settlers' and farmers' daughters judiciously
distributed over the district; but, although these had been courted, it
was in a temperate and bloodless manner. These girls were not slow in
concluding that Miss Maconochie was a person of extraordinary deceit and
peculiar morals. But Hetty was by no means a designing woman. Saving a
year spent in domestic service in an extremely Methodist household in
Melbourne, her knowledge of men and manners had been gathered in the bush
township where she was born and bred. Her morals were particularly
healthy; it was soon understood by Cleever's customers that "Mack" knew
how to take care of herself--an understanding that detracted not from the
zest of the pursuit.

After the morbid propriety of that Methodist household, Hetty revelled in
the unrestraint and comparative brilliancy of life at the Travellers'
Rest. Cleever was a widower, and not at all exacting, and in the bar of
evenings the girl received at least a specious show of respect
sufficiently gratifying to a young woman of her intellectual limitations.

The first battle fell about between Stacey and one of the Devoys. Both
had been dangling over the bar, chatting and larking with Hetty for an
hour or so, when Stacey's glass was upset in a bit of horse-play, and
Stacey, receiving its contents over his shirt-front, became a butt and an
object of derision to all in the bar. "Mack" laughed aloud, and flashed
her white teeth in the lamp-light, and Devoy laughed too, and Stacey's
blood grew hot, and he longed for slaughter. His opportunity came when
the girl left the bar a minute later. He confronted Devoy:

"Damn you, Devoy, you did that on purpose!"

It was entirely an accident, but neither was in any humour for
explanations. Devoy felt it was beneath him to excuse or parley; he
blurted much defiant profanity.

"What if I did! Why don't you drink up your liquor like a man!"

He was cut short by a swinging, open-hand blow. Then thud, thud, thud,
thud--four quick blows, two and two, with a sound as of a teamster
banging the ribs of his bogged horses with a shovel--and Stacey and Devoy
were fighting with the ferocity of tigers at mating-time.

Hetty returned to the bar to see the first blow struck, and now, leaning
over the counter, with sparkling eyes, glowing cheeks, and heaving breast
she watched the fight. There was none of the impassivity of the lolling
tigress in her attitude: she burned with excitement; she clenched her own
hands, and bruised her knuckles on the boards; she followed each swift,
cutting blow, and uttered inarticulate cries of wonder.

The men fought without science, fought with the brutality of powerful
men, wounding with every blow, but feeling nothing in their heat and
fury. A ring of onlookers circled round them, and outside this ring
danced Cleever--"Fighting" Cleever--with his "peacemaker," a
wicked-looking "waddy," eager to get in a blow and stun one of the
combatants, for the peace of Devil's End and the credit of the house.

The fight was not settled in Cleever's bar. Two or three rounds served to
exhaust the blind fury of the combatants, and then mutual friends
interceded, and a formal meeting was arranged for next day. A two hours'
struggle in Haddon's grass paddock on the following afternoon ended in
the defeat of Stacey, and that night Devoy appeared before Hetty
Maconochie, bruised, bandaged, and badly hacked about, but big with
victory. The fight was not discussed, but the girl quite understood, and
the conquering hero rejoiced in her luminous smile, and was sullenly
given the pride of place by his companions, who tacitly admitted this
right to the victor for the time being.

After that fistic battles were daily occurrences at Devil's End.
Callaghan, the solitary constable of the district, made a gallant attempt
to cope with the press of business, but after an exhausting week yielded
to public opinion and was officially blind and deaf when the battle-cries
were heard at the Travellers' Rest. Presently every second man in the
district possessed black eyes, split lips, or a swollen ear, or all these
things, and the local chemist did a roaring trade in court-plaster and
Friar's balsam. The men fought on the slightest provocation, or with no
obvious provocation at all; arguments on religion or politics invariably
ended in bloodshed; mates in the drives below disagreed as to the proper
locality for a "shot," and came blaspheming up the shafts to "settle it"
in a "mill;" the boys at "Old Burgoo's" fought viciously to maintain
their superiority as horsemen and shearers, and always the victorious
pugilist turned up at Cleever's, in all the glory of his wounds and
bruises, to invite the admiration of the creamy-skinned goddess with the
brown eyes.

Grasstree had discovered Hetty Maconochie. Previously she had received a
reasonable amount of attention from the men with whom she was thrown in
contact, but Grasstree had made her a sensation--a craze. She gloried and
revelled in her success, and the sense of pride and power it gave her.
Thinking over it through the day, she laughed with rapturous delight, and
felt like a queen amongst her pans. Cleever did well these times: there
were no tee-totallers left in and about Grasstree, and the Travellers'
Rest had absorbed all the business of the district. Being in love with
Hetty himself, Cleever made an effort to dispense with her help in the
bar, and excited an instantaneous revolt.

"Fetch out the girl," was the general demand. "You don't think we've
travelled down here to be served by a splay-mouthed Dutchman!"

Cleever was a Swede; but Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Belgians, Germans,
Austrians, and men of Holland are all Dutchmen out-back. Other foreigners
are invariably Frenchmen. If Hetty was not produced on demand there was
no more drinking, but much disorder and many accidents, and the
proprietor was always compelled to yield. Cleever fought with the rest.
He fought without science or discrimination, and nobody took any
satisfaction from an encounter with the "Dutchman." He never knew when he
was beaten, and had a ridiculous and disconcerting way of resuming the
battle, without word or warning, a day, a week, or a month after being
egregiously whipped. Being a foreigner, he did not allow any absurd
sentiment to interfere with his manner of fighting, and repudiated
British prejudices and British reverence for rule and precedent, and
fought with all his weapons--fists, nails, teeth, and feet. There was no
credit in beating Cleever; he couldn't fight, but he was always willing
to try, and, although he was considered wildly humorous in his tantrums,
his opponents rarely escaped an injury of some kind or another before the
battle was ended.

After much indiscriminate fighting, in the course of a couple of months
it was understood and admitted without argument that the final must be
contested by Riverton and Devoy. Both were unbeaten, and each would have
done battle with a raging lion for the love of Hetty Maconochie. Cleever
alone, of all the whipped candidates, refused to abandon his hopes of
winning his handsome Hebe, and was quite willing to "take on" the two
last aspirants one after the other or both together. The other men of
Grasstree, and Ramrod Flat, and Grecian Bend admitted themselves "out of
it," and it was quite understood that the winner of the Riverton-Devoy
contest had only to step up and take possession of the prize. This view
had never been questioned; Hetty's keen interest in the many battles, and
her evident delight in the knowledge that she was the prize in the
greatest competition that had ever shaken an Australian bush township out
of its habitual quietude and lethargy, were taken as indicating her
acquiescence. Certainly both Devoy and Riverton took it for granted that
the best man of the two was destined to marry the belle of Grasstree.

The great fight came off on a beautiful pitch under Grecian Bend on a
Tuesday morning, and half the male population of the district was there
to see. Devoy and Riverton fought because the latter had ventured before
witnesses to assert his disbelief in the story of Devoy's great shooting
exploit--a wonderful narrative, never before questioned at Grasstree. The
fight was long and stubborn. Both men were young, strong, hardened with
toil, active, game as peccaries, six-foot and a bit, and fighting for an
issue that seemed dear as dear life.

They fought bare-knuckled and stripped to the buff. There was no sparring
and no vain display; every blow cut or bruised; and during the first
half-dozen rounds the great toughened, knubbly fists were going like
sledge-hammers about a busy forge. After that it was a brutal exhibition
of butchery and endurance. Blood ran freely, dyeing the combatants and
darkening the grass. The faces of the fighters became unrecognizable, and
after the 13th round neither could see. By this time half the spectators
had sickened and turned away, and awaited the end at a distance. Devoy
was knocked clean out in the 19th round, and then Riverton was carried
away across three saplings, a bruised and battered champion, limp as a
wet shirt, but triumphant, and feeling drunk--happily, jubilantly drunk.

Riverton would have much liked to drag himself to the Travellers' Arms
that night, but it was impossible. He was helpless next night, and on the
following morning his bunk still held him captive. But on Friday night,
with the assistance of his mate, he conveyed his battered carcass into
Cleever's bar. A woeful spectacle was the champion of Grasstree, but his
wounds were glorious. About a dozen men sat in the bar. Cleever was in
attendance. The hero called for drinks all round.

"Where's Mack?" he asked authoritatively.

The publican had evaded this query from others for two days in order to
produce a good effect when the champion appeared to claim her. He
lingered over the answer now as he served the drinks.

"She haf went by dot city for der honeymoons," he said composedly.

"Wha-at!" Riverton sprawled upon the counter, and his bruised face went
livid.

"Vile you vos fight mit Devoy, she haf ride away in der coach to marry
anodder feller."

"Marry! marry! Who--who is he?"

"Tommy Haynes."

"Haynes!" Riverton stood upright, looking around upon his companions, but
saw only blank faces.

Tommy Haynes was the successful storekeeper of Grasstree, a small boyish
man of 24, slight and fair, with curls and a complexion. He would easily
have stood upright under Hetty's extended arm. Whilst others fought and
suffered Haynes courted--courted pluckily, with kisses and caresses and
pretty presents--courted and conquered. "Haynes!" repeated Riverton, with
a lingering, bitter imprecation, "that--that worm. By the Lord! when they
come back I'll put him over my knee and spank him before her face."

But they were two months coming, and long before their return Riverton
had thought better of it.



A ZEALOT IN LABOUR

THE creek was hacked and mangled out of all semblance to a sylvan
rivulet.

The ruin effected looked like the work of many men. The muddy, yellow
stream had been diverted from its course several times within half a
mile, and all along the banks were torn down, great cuttings made, piles
of gravel heaped up, dams built, and races dug. But the ravisher was
there--a lone man, gouging his way into a bank at the head of the flat
where it met the hill, looking a mere midge amongst the destruction he
had wrought with his two good hands.

"Humpy" Bannon was puny and weazened and old; he had a hump between his
shoulders, and no intelligence to speak of, but he had the spirit of a
little red ant, magnified to suit his size. He loved labour, and he had
chosen Grim Creek as his vineyard. From a miner's point of view Bannon
was the discoverer of Grim Creek. He it was who prospected it and found
gold in it, and he was exceedingly proud of his field, although it was a
starvation hole at the best, and rewarded him for his tremendous
labours--digging, shovelling, puddling, cradling, wading in water, and
grubbing in sludge--with a few wretched pennyweights where ounces would
have been poor pay. But Humpy never thought of leaving. Wet days and fine
found him, smeared with clays of many colours, struggling in a wet shaft
or delving at the banks, full of enthusiasm, without resource, without
horse sense, but all grit.

"Leave the creek?" he would say in answer to the advice of casual
visitors. "Why, where'd I go ter?"

"Well, there's some good gold gettin' at Black Cap, an' I hear about
somethin' worth prospectin' ten miles out by Double-U Hill."

"No fear! you don't catch me leavin' the creek. Why, some o' them minin'
sharks from the city would be down here an'jump the claim afore I'd bin
gone a week."

"Jump this show, Humpy! Why, there is not gold enough in a mile of it to
buy a peanut."

Bannon couldn't restrain his temper when the creek--his creek--was
disparaged, and at this point always became incoherent between
extravagant predictions as to the fabulous richness of the wash he was
going to cut presently and insulting reflections upon the intelligence of
the maligner, and he would fall to working again more fiercely than ever,
jigging his old head the while, and chummering bitterly.

How he did graft! Little, and skinny, and aged, and ill-fed as he was, he
cheerfully faced mountains of labour, and wore them down by sheer
pertinacity--shifted them by faith and works. What wonders of toil can
one determined man perform in a year! To know you must see the man
struggling amongst the evidences of it, with the work of his hands piled
up about him, and the man's sole master must be a belief, sane or
otherwise.

Humpy's faith in Grim Creek was transcendent. That the creek gave him no
justification mattered not a scrap. He lived in a little bark hut,
comfortless as a mia-mia, on nothing in particular; he dressed at work in
a worn shirt, patched extravagantly, and deplorable trousers and boots,
and he wound lengths of sugee about his shins. His hat, a battered boxer,
a gift from a sympathetic selector, had a big hole fore and aft--driven
to extremes, he had once run a handle through it, and used it for a ladle
when cradling--and the whole costume was cemented and frescoed with the
grit and clay of the unspeakable creek.

The old man never had a mate--he never wanted one. He designed all sorts
of hare-brained, unworkable contrivances in the shape of dumb-waiters,
and cranks, and feed-pipes, and sluices, to overcome the difficulties
that hamper a lone hand, but through disappointments and dangers and
endless tribulation he struggled on, and turned up regularly every
Saturday afternoon at the log store on the Piper road with his pathetic
little packet of gold and his long familiar story of the good day that
was coming for Grim Creek and the surrounding district when he finally
"got on to it."

A few of the farmers and selectors in the district, thinking that
possibly, by reason of an unlooked-for contingency, Humpy might some day
"get on to it" and boom the place a bit, helped with gifts of food and
old clothes that to him were as good as new. One or two, from pure
wooden-headed good nature, visited him at times, especially on Sundays,
and sat with him in the sun or in his smoky hut, and let him talk to them
by the hour about his creek. Next to grafting in the creek like a tiger,
nothing pleased Humpy better than to prattle about his work, and invent,
and lie, and rhapsodize to a sympathetic audience.

Tom Hughes was the old digger's best friend. He had secured a selection
in the locality of Grim Creek within the last six months, built a hut
upon it, and settled down to take life as easily as a selector can who
observes the covenants. Hughes was a hatter--a big, hairy man, physically
slow, mentally alert, with a golden faculty of extracting amusement out
of anything and everything, from the capers of his waddling terrier pup
or the solicitude of a motherly hen to the foibles of his fellows. Hughes
enjoyed Humpy Bannon enormously. He cultivated him. He would sit and
study him by the hour, ponderous and apparently as grave as a fat frog
between meals, but with a soul full of laughter. Humpy reminded him of an
ant that he had once seen attempt to shift Mount Macedon. The ant thought
the mount obstructed its view, or felt that it had a call; anyhow, Tom
kept track of the insect for a week and neglected his duties to watch
progress, and when he left the ant was still going strongly. Now, here
was this other midge ripping up the face of nature and tearing at the
bowels of the earth after something he didn't really want and wouldn't
know how to appreciate. Wifeless, childless, without a taste superior to
mutton and bread or an aspiration above the puddling tub, and with very
few years of life before him, he worked from daylight to dusk, moving
mountains, and grew radiant describing the treasure he must win some day.
Yet ten shillings a week would have satisfied his needs, twelve would
have embarrassed him with riches.

Walking along the creek one day Hughes came upon the old man clambering
out of a prospecting hole on a rise. He was dripping wet, and coated with
mud; clay was in his hair and his ears, and the dirty water ran from him
as he stood. Humpy was too busy for conversation; he seized the windlass
handle and began hauling with terrific energy. There were two buckets on
the rope--one a kerosene tin, the other an ordinary water bucket. Humpy
landed and emptied these, and then, lowering the rope into the shaft
again, began to fish about. Presently he hooked another bucket and
brought it to the surface. After fishing once more he landed a nail keg.
Then he proceeded to let himself down again, sliding on the rope.

"What's the little game, old man?" asked Hughes as the dripping head
disappeared.

"After a bit o' wash here. Tremenjis rich, I think," answered Bannon up
the shaft.

"But it's too wet; you'll never be able to bottom, workin' her alone."

"Bet I will, though!"

Further comment was deferred by the pit-pit of the old man's pick in the
wet hole. Tom Hughes hooked the nail keg, and put in an hour or so at the
windlass, and was rewarded later with Humpy's confidence. As usual, the
little man was on the eve of a discovery that was going to revolutionize
the district, and bring a big town humming about their ears on Grim Creek
in less than no time. Hughes was a better miner than old Bannon, and
thought the latter was fighting after a vain thing, but he offered no
advice, understanding that it would be wasted, and remembering that it
was Humpy's policy to go and find out for himself at whatever cost of
sweat and patience.

Humpy did bottom that hole, and scraped up a prospect that promised about
ten "weights" to the load to a sanguine man, but the water was up within
three feet of the surface next morning, and eight hours' vigorous baling
had no appreciable effect. The claim could not be worked without a
diving-suit and apparatus.

So Humpy went apart and thought. He wasted little time in speculation,
and presently took a bee-line from his shaft to the foot of the rise, 250
yards off, and commenced an open cutting. His idea was to carry this
narrow cutting into the hill on a level as long as he could throw the
dirt, and then, when the sides became too high, to tunnel to the shaft,
and so drain the ground he wished to work. This represented about a
year's labour to an average man working decent hours and in moderation.
It was an utterly fatuous and foolhardy undertaking; as far as it was
possible to judge, the ground would not pay for the working, let alone
compensate for this gigantic "dead horse;" but Bannon did not
calculate--he worked. On the occasion of Hughes's next visit he found
Humpy pegging away industriously in his cutting. He had covered a good
distance in the shallow ground.

"Well, old party, what're you coursin' after now?" asked Tom.

Humpy explained between blows.

"Gee-rusalem, but you do lick 'ell an' all!"

Tom proceeded to explain the difficulties of the job, and the
ridiculousness of it; but the digger's under-hand pick was going busily
all the time, and at last Hughes seated himself upon a log and overlooked
the toiler in silent enjoyment of his wonderful courage, his
dunderheadedness, and the comical little ape-like figure and quaint
tricks and turns of the man. Humpy persisted, and in the weeks wore by
his cutting extended and deepened, and at length he was forced to take on
another contract. It was necessary to get the water away. He felled
trees, and split palings, and laid down a box drain all along the
cutting--a wonderful drain, representing much time and trouble. He
timbered his job where timber was needed, and continued as before eating
his way into the hill, and as he progressed his pride in his work
increased. The cutting was trim and true; Humpy bestowed the most loving
care upon it, and Tom Hughes brought all the strangers he came across to
inspect and admire it as the one spectacle of Grim Creek, and to gaze
upon Humpy and wonder over him. And whilst Tom stood aloft eulogizing the
digger with something of the air of a showman, and amiably explaining his
humours and eccentricities for the pleasure of these strangers, Humpy
hammered away eagerly on the job below.

"He ain't got common-sense about minin'," Hughes would say; "have you,
old man?"

Humpy, with his pick driven to the eye in the wall before him, would turn
up his puckered, tanned, hairy face with the aspect of a venerable
mandril, and damn his friend--hide, bones, and soul--as the selector went
on:--

"But in a tunnel or a drive he'd work any man I ever knew stone-blind
inside a week. Wouldn't you, Humpy?"

More profanity from below.

"See, he's built for it. Them shoulders was built fer pokin' round in low
black drives an' muddy tunnels, but he's wasted fer want of horse sense.
He's a blessed steam-engine whirling away like blazes, but doin' nothin'
that matters a hang. Look at him! He's the only man in Australia that
likes work--he'd rather be workin' than drinkin'--an' he's only happy
when he's clayed up to the ears and sweatin' quarts."

Sometimes a visitor dropped Humpy a half-crown or a shilling, and often a
settler or farmer gave him help; but for all that he was compelled to
leave his cutting now and again and go fossicking in the creek for a
pennyweight or two, and then he was given over to a great discontent.
Whilst he was working in the cutting it preserved its spick-and-span
appearance; when he was away dead leaves accumulated in it, and
Monaghan's sheep sometimes destroyed the symmetry of its edges, and that
affected Humpy as dirt and litter about a room irritate a good housewife.

But as time passed the great work progressed, and at length the tunnel
had been opened out, and was being driven towards the shaft. It was the
most elegant of tunnels, with a beautiful entrance, and carefully squared
throughout, and it went in and in until at length, when Humpy was within
a week of his goal, there came jangling up the creek one day a mounted
policeman. The officer of the law examined Bannon's hut carefully, and
tossed things about and turned the place upside down with the placid
insolence with which power endows most men; and then he rode to Humpy's
cutting, called the little man into the light of day, handcuffed him, and
led him off.

The charge was sheep-stealing. There was no doubt of Bannon's guilt: one
skin with the brand on it was found doing service as a rug on his bunk
another, quite fresh, was tacked up in his shed; and the best part of a
fine lamb was rescued from his pickling-tub, and produced in court. The
spirit of the early squatter still survives in the particular and express
abomination of sheep-stealing manifested by our virtuous and humane
judges. The sentence was two years.

Tom Hughes tried hard to preserve Humpy's cutting from destruction, and
kept a careful eye on his hut, but, walking down the creek one day twenty
months later, he came upon the little old digger standing surveying the
ruins of his great work. The sides of the cutting had tumbled in, the
tunnel was down, and the drained ground was worked out. Humpy was
smaller-looking and more shrunken, and ten years seemed to have been
added to his age; he was bent nearly double, and was bleached a deadly
dough-colour; his limbs trembled as he stood, and he snivelled miserably
like a boy. No greeting passed between the two men.

"'Twas three fellers from Melbourne done it," said Hughes, indicating the
cuttings.

"Damn 'em!" snapped Bannon.

"I tried hard to stop 'em," continued the selector. "I explained it was
your job; I argued, an' pleaded, an' preached, but 'twasn't no good."

Tom had also fought the intruders, singly and in a bunch, and had been
severely manhandled for his kindness and consideration, but he did not
explain this.

"Hows'mever, Wasn't worth a cuss," he added eagerly. "They skursly
knocked out tucker, an' only hung on jest from pure villainy."

This was a lie: the young men had done fairly well out of Humpy's claim,
and had taken to town with them when they left sufficient gold to run a
month-long "bender" of the most virulent and dazzling description.

"Damn 'em!" said Humpy again.

"Better track up to yer hut, old man," Hughes said. "You'll find it in
order. You can spell-oh till you pick up a bit, an' then you can get down
to graft. You'll be all right, you know."

"Yes, yes," grasped Bannon with a feeble return of his old fire, "there's
somethin' above the fork I'm goin' after. I'll have to turn the creek.
B'lieve there's some ten-ounce stuff there."

Hughes had to lead him to his hut, and attend to him for a few days, but
presently Humpy was out and about again, with pick and shovel, pottering
weakly here and there. Once Tom found him struggling to clean out the old
cutting. By-and-by he started making great raids upon the hills, digging
aimless holes, and throwing up heaps of dirt anywhere. Two or three times
he was discovered lying helplessly by his work. At length the same
policeman came trotting up the gully again, and once more Humpy Bannon
was led away. This time he did not come back. He finished his days
performing extraordinary feats of labour with a little wooden shovel at
Yarra Bend Lunatic Asylum, destroyed in mind and body by eighteen months
of comparative peace and rest and comfort in Her Majesty's gaol.



THE WASHERWOMAN OF JACKER'S FLAT

THE extreme disparity in the number of male and female denizens of
Jacker's Flat was a source of sore discontent to the former. That
refining influence which fair women are said to exert over rude mankind
was a long-felt want, as, out of a population of twelve hundred and odd,
only nine were of the feminine gender. Four of the ladies were mated--a
reverential regard for beautiful truth forbids us saying married--and
stultified the glorifying womanly attribute to a great extent by
persisting in a course of intemperance, and rarely appearing abroad
excepting under the stimulus of rum. Deduct from the five of the softer
sex who remain unallied, so to speak, three under the age of six, and
that the malcontent of the men was a rational grievance becomes patent to
the meanest understanding. It has been said that where women and children
are few, men of affectionate natures lavish their surplus sentiment on
the lower animals. This characteristic did not prevail on the
Flat--indeed, experience has taught us that there, as elsewhere, men so
circumstanced invariably cleave to the intoxicating cup and abandon
themselves to the seductive wiles of euchre, crib, and Yankee-grab.

The few dogs of the camp were loan and debilitated, of a furtive habit,
and noted for their agility in dodging missiles; the cats were unkempt
and fearful, and much disposed to abandon civilization for the joys of a
wild, free life on Mount Miamia; but there was not a pack of cards or a
dice box on that flat that did not bear unmistakable traces of good
handling and long attention, and "Monkey Bill," otherwise Mr. William
Monk, the local publican, had no just cause to complain that the
worshippers at the shrine of the god set up in his temple--"The Pick and
Barrow"--were wanting in numbers or in religious zeal. However, these
joys are vain and meagre substitutes for the companionship of lovely
woman, and small wonder that the sign-board hung out before the new tent
down the creek should excite pleasurable anticipations in the susceptible
breasts of the local bachelors. The sign itself, apart from its terseness
and the originality of its orthography, was not an object of the deepest
interest--it was merely the bottom of a candle-box, on which had been
inscribed with a ball of blue, in large, irregular capitals that
staggered across the board at independent angles, two words--"WASHING
DID." Nor was the eloquent message which this laconic advertisement was
intended to convey calculated to carry any great amount of satisfaction
to the masculine soul, for, if truth must prevail, the negligent diggers
seldom had any washing to be "did," as many of them, reckless in the
pride of big yields, simply abandoned a "rig-out" when once its
appearance called very loudly for soap and water. Others acknowledged but
one limit to the time an article might be retained in wear without
washing, and that was regulated by the durability of the garment in
question. Economy commended this latter usage, and it was most popular.
No, the sign had a deeper, a more sacred import to the lone diggers; it
announced a very welcome addition to the one-sided population, and
signified--A WOMAN. What style and condition of woman she would prove was
the subject of earnest speculation in Monkey Bill's canvas bar on the
evening following the first appearance of the placard.

"I hope t'goodness she ain't hitched," moodily remarked a long, angular
man with a phenomenal growth of red hair and whiskers, who was revelling
in the luxury of twist tobacco and raw brandy--a combination which seemed
to suit his taste, as the "quid" was never removed to make way for the
liquor, each pull at the pannikin being preceded, however, by mechanical
and voluminous expectoration. The observation was greeted with derisive
laughter.

"Anyhow, you won't stand a show, Bender; I'll bet a cabbage-tree you're
the ugliest man from Home!" observed Dick Treen, with refreshing candour.

"You've got no luck, old Frightful. Don't forget the time when you smiled
at Martin's daughter on Bendigo and caused her horse to bolt."

"I don't, I don't, Dick," said Bender, as calmly as if he had been paid a
flowery compliment; "I ain't built to please horses--and asses; but
ladies is different--some of them takes to ugliness!"

And the speaker resumed his mastication with an air of supreme
complacence, and passed his hand feelingly over his nose, which organ had
been badly battered by a blow from a shovel in an encounter with a
"jumper" at Deadman's Rush in '52, and afforded no contrast to his
natural facial deformities, which were many and various.

"For my part, I'd rather she were married," observed a tall, rather
handsome young fellow, conspicuous by reason of his immaculate rig-out,
who was sitting on a bush table. "Young, you know, and married to a
beautiful youth like Bender!"

"Well, supposin' her boss does happen t' be anythin' like Joe Bender?"
replied that gentleman, evidently nettled by the other's sneer.
"Supposin' he is; if he ever catches you sneakin' round his tent he'll
knock yer stiff for a condemned crawler! That's what Joe Bender 'ud do,
me Honourable John, an' you'd best make a note of it, case y' forget!"

The Honourable John laughed lightly, and turning his back on the group,
entered into conversation with a digger who was drinking alone in the
shadowy part of the tent. In common with every other man on the Flat, he
believed that it was not advisable to go too far with Mr. Bender, who
(like every other man with a broken nose) had quite a reputation as a
"slogger." He was known to have knocked out Black Anderson after a
tightly-contested battle of twenty-seven rounds at Specimen Hill one
Sunday afternoon, and was, although rather proud of his unique ugliness,
prepared to instantly resent any derisive levity, especially if it
emanated from a person like the Honourable John, whose well-greased
Wellingtons, careful shave, and neatly arranged curls earned the contempt
of four-fifths of the miners.

John Blake could not have been more scrupulous about the set of his
Crimean shirt, the arrangement of his silk sash and tie, or the curl of
his moustache had the township boasted a large assortment of fair maids
instead of being limited to so meagre a female population. With the few
women at hand, however, he was on the very best of terms. "I'm of good
family, and a gentleman, by G--!" was his stock boast. The community
accepted the statement in good faith, and dignified him with the title of
"Honourable."

The man who was drinking alone in the dark corner was Mr. Stephen Bacon.
It was a peculiarity of Mr. Bacon's that when he was drinking, in which
agreeable recreation he passed most of his spare time, he loved to sit in
the shanty, as far out of sight as possible, and drink alone--a
particularly detestable characteristic in the eyes of the average digger.
Mr. Bacon was a widower of three years' standing, and he drank, it was
stated, to drown the grief occasioned by the loss of his wife. What
terrible woe gnawed at his vitals and gave rise to an insatiable thirst
for brandy previous to the demise of that lamented lady was never known,
but that it was intense and irrevocable is proven by the knowledge that
Stephen's unremitting but ineffectual endeavours to drown some secret
sorrow in large quantities of ardent spirit had been the main factor in
bringing his still young but broken-hearted spouse to her grave. After
that sad event Mr. Bacon was able to start afresh and found his thirst on
a tangible grievance. As an evidence of the enormous quantity of alcohol
a settled sorrow can withstand, it may be mentioned that Steve Bacon had
not exhaled a breath untainted with brandy for many years. He and "Mite"
Power had "struck it" in a hole below the bend, but Monkey Bill "cleaned
him out" pretty effectually before each sluicing-day came round. Every
night saw him in the shanty, where he would sit and absorb grog till his
hair became moist and clung to his temples in clammy rings, and the
perspiration oozed from his forehead in large beads. At this stage he was
wont to weep great tears of fusel-oil, and call upon his dead wife in
lugubrious tones, or chummer over his sorrow with drunken dolorousness,
till he was warned off by the forcible curses of the company, or
unceremoniously ejected by a disgusted digger--whereupon he would stagger
to his canvas residence and reassert his manliness by knocking his only
child down and kicking her for falling.

Cecilia Bacon, known on the Flat as "Cis," was about seventeen, slight
and pale, with very fair hair, and large, frightened eyes of a light-blue
tint. Her whole bearing was one of excessive timidity. Of a shrinking,
retiring disposition, imagining herself a burden to her besotted sire,
since the death of her mother her life had been a joyless one. She was
not an interesting girl, never associated with the other females of the
camp, and thought she had but one friend in the world--the Honourable
John. He was very kind; he overcame her bashfulness, walked and talked
with her, and being interested in the daughter was gracious to the
father. Often and again had that sallow, fragile, awkward girl stolen
into the shanty after midnight to guide the eccentric footsteps of her
drunken parent to his tent, fearing he might stray into some abandoned
hole and break his worthless neck if left to come home alone, and almost
as often had she been heartily kicked for her pains.

The fair lady whose condescension in shedding the lustre of her charms on
Jacker's flat had awakened tender anticipations in the breasts of the
forlorn bachelors of that encampment by her preliminary announcement made
her first public appearance on the following evening at Monk's hostelry.
The usual brilliant assemblage was gathered together in the "bar" of that
elegant establishment, engaged in the usual convivial pursuits, when
universal attention was suddenly withdrawn from cards, dice, and brandy
by the entrance of a stranger.

An apparition would not have been more startling. A coarse skirt alone
betokened the stranger's sex; she wore a man's black slouch hat, which
bore palpable traces of having seen long service "below," and was trimmed
with a narrow leather belt; she smoked a highly-coloured meerschaum pipe,
the bouquet of which eloquently testified its strength; she had on a
short guernsey buttoned up the front like a coat, whose sleeves, rolled
to the elbow, betrayed an arm that might have graced a navvy; her hair
was cropped short, and bristled almost six feet from the floor. Fleshy,
broad-shouldered, and straight as a sapling, her hands thrust into the
pockets on either side of her skirt with an air of aggressive manliness,
the new washerwoman strolled into the room and up to the counter, coolly
oblivious of the impression she had created. In a strong, masculine voice
she ordered "stout." Mr. Monk could scarcely express his sorrow--he had
no stout--didn't keep it.

The lady calmly anathematized his eyes, cleverly lumped his soul, shanty,
and immediate relatives in a brief but comprehensive curse, and "made it
gin."

The gin was satisfactory. Then she replaced her pipe, after throwing off
the "nobbler" with scientific abruptness, thrust her hands into her side
pockets once more, and, lounging against the counter in a devil-may-care,
intensely mannish attitude, boldly surveyed the company. Everything about
the woman bespoke her manly sentiments. Those skirt-pockets were a brazen
plagiarism of the refuges for idle hands in the nether habiliments of the
lords of creation, and her upper lip bore unmistakable traces of an
earnest endeavour to grow a moustache; even her distorted nose seemed to
suggest the pugnacious male.

Monkey Bill's patrons were astounded; they gazed at the washerwoman and
at each other in grave surprise, and continued playing their hands with
unwonted solemnity. Bender alone seemed capable of grasping the
situation, and, after concluding the game in which he was engaged, left
his seat and advanced to the new-comer with outstretched hand.

"Brummy Peters!"

"What! Bender?"

"That same."

"Well, I'm--!"

After a hearty, hail-fellow-well-met sort of greeting, Bender ventured
the query:

"Well, Brummy, how's things?"

To which the lady replied that things were very slow indeed, emphasizing
the assertion with an ejaculation only admissible in the pulpit, and
informed Bender, in a casual way, that Peters was no more. Mr. Bender did
not seem to think himself called upon to exhibit very violent grief over
this sad intelligence; he merely remarked:

"You and Peters weren't spliced, were you?"

One might think the palpable indelicacy of this question would have
affected the lady to anger; but no, it touched only her pride.

"Spliced!" she ejaculated, and all the scorn she felt for that feminine
weakness was apparent in her voice. "Devil a fear! We just chummed in."

Further conversation revealed the fact that the late Mr. Peters, whilst
under the influence of blended liquors, had fallen into a puddling
machine at Bendigo, a lamentable accident which was only made apparent
some time later, when bones, buttons, boots, and other distinguishing
features turned up in the sluice-boxes. Mr. Peters's chum, who had been
accorded her mate's surname and sobriquet as a humble tribute to her
superior manliness, was then thrown upon her own resources--and here she
was at Monkey Bill's bar.

Mr. Bender introduced the latest acquisition to the assembled gentlemen
as "Brummy Peters," insinuating, with some judicious profanity, that she
was a splendid fellow, and had vanquished a reputable pugilist in her
time. After which the lady took a hand at crib, and succeeded in winning
several pounds, and establishing her reputation as "a good sort of a
chap" before the night was spent.

Three months passed by, and Jacker's Flat still maintained its not
over-numerous population. The yields, though good enough to keep its
pioneers hanging on, were not sufficiently exciting to attract strangers
from a distance, and if few had departed less had arrived. Amongst the
former was the Honorable John--that gentleman, "by G--," having furled
his tent by night and silently stolen away, without taking the trouble to
afford his numerous creditors an opportunity of bidding him a fond
farewell. Brummy Peters, by which inelegant appellation the Amazonian
laundress became generally known, was a frequent visitor at Monkey Bill's
establishment where she placidly puffed at her meerschaum, dashed off an
occasional brandy, called down dire eternal penalties on the urbane host
for omitting stout from his stock-in-trade, and engaged in various games
of cards and Yankee-grab with so natural an air of manly bravado that her
chosen associates at length quite overcame the diffidence that the
presence of a woman had occasioned, and comported themselves with their
accustomed easy freedom, no longer pausing to select their oaths with an
eye to gentility or style, or being deterred by gallantry from raising a
row when all didn't seem fair, square, and aboveboard a the card-table.
In fact, since Brummy acted as bottle-holder for Treen, when he and
Barney Ryan settled their little difference in a fifteen-round mill, and
displayed her signal ability to fulfil that honourable and responsible
office, the men had quite disburdened their minds of the impression that
she was a woman, and now looked upon her as one of themselves, a
compliment for which she was duly grateful. Certainly, Bender was
frequently chaffed about his intimacy with Brummy, between him and whom
there existed a friendship; but the inferences of these jokes were so
preposterous, and the jokers themselves were palpably so cognizant of the
absurdity, that Mr. Bender received the chaff with the best grace. Mrs.
Peters did not consort with the others of her sex at the camp, but in the
unwholesome-looking daughter of Mr. Stephen Bacon she displayed a sort of
fraternal interest, which moved her to tow that lugubrious inebriate from
the shanty to his tent on divers occasions in a manner at once
unceremonious and emphatic.

The washerwoman had adorned the locality with her rather massive charms
for the space of about ten months, when one dark night, deterred by the
rain from making her usual visit to the "Pick and Barrow," as she sat on
an inverted tub in her cosy tent, her hands deep in her side-pockets, her
back against the bunk, her feet thrust out towards the fire that raged up
the small sod chimney, and the inevitable meerschaum in her lips (manly
even in her solitude), a light, quick step was heard without, the flap of
the tent was drawn aside, and Cecilia Bacon, whiter, more wretchedly
wobegone and desolate-looking a thousand times than was her wont--and she
was white and wobegone at her best--staggered into the tent. Her head was
bare, her thin flaxen hair, sopping wet, clung to her face and neck; and
the rain dripped from the poor skirt that was drawn up to shield a tiny
object feebly wailing at her breast.

Brummy started up, her beloved meerschaum, the object of a year's tender
solicitude, fell, unheeded, and was broken on the clay floor. She caught
the reeling girl in her arms, and laid her on the bunk, tenderly took the
babe from the wet skirt, wrapped dry things of her own about the feeble
atom of humanity, and laid it on a possum rug by the fire. After which
she turned her attention to the young woman, and without a word commenced
to divest her of her soddened garments and dry her reeking hair. Brummy
was a woman now, with all a good woman's gentleness, compassion, and
quick perception. She showed neither surprise nor curiosity, but
proceeded quietly and quickly with her work, and when the girl, revived
by the warmth and the spirit that was forced between her lips, began to
moan and cry, she soothed her with pitiful words in a soft, low voice
that proved how vain had been the long years of wild, rough life and
harsh associations to embitter the soul within.

Cecilia's story was soon told. The Honourable John was the father of her
child. He had deserted her without a consideration, without a word. After
the birth, fearful of meeting her father, she had left her tent,
intending to crawl to the creek and drown herself and her child; but when
the black waters lay at her feet she had not the courage to take the
leap, and, after wandering about the bush in the wind and rain,
distracted with misery and fear, she sought the washerwoman's tent.
"Because," she said, "you saved me from him when you could." And,
starting up, she continued wildly: "He will kill me! I am sure of it! My
father will kill me when he knows!"

"No, no," murmured the woman, compassionately don't you fear. "I will
watch you."

"You do not know him," hoarsely whispered the young mother. "You do not
know how terrible he is at times. He has threatened me with a pick over
and over. He will do it now. Hadn't I far better have gone into the creek
with my baby? My blood would not have been on my father's head then, but
on his--its father's. Father is drinking again, and he will kill me!"

"Hush! hush! and rest now. If you can, go back to your tent early in the
morning. Your father is drinking; he will notice nothing--tell him
nothing. Leave your baby with me; I will care for it. Nobody will kill
me!" And Mrs. Peters squared her great shoulders, and thrust her hands
into her pockets, with her old assumption of manliness. "No one will kill
me, I think!"

The habitue's of the "Pick and Barrow" were astounded, mystified, amazed,
and virtuously indignant when on the night following the incidents
related above Dick Treen entered Monk's bar with the intelligence that
"Brummy Peters had got a kid!"

The shock conveyed by the news was general, and confounded the miners.
They gazed open-mouthed and dumb. A hurt and resentful feeling succeeded.
They had been imposed upon--their confidence had been outraged. To think
that Brummy Peters, who had overawed them with her muscle and manly
assurance and hoodwinked them with side-pockets and a billycock hat, was
as frail as the frailest of her sex--a weak, wayward woman after all! It
was a violation of all their finest sentiments. "And she threw me,
Cumberland and Durham style, best three out of five!" murmured a small
Geordie in a bated whisper, only now feeling the full force of his
degradation. Strangely enough, all eyes focussed on Mr. Joseph Bender,
who blushed like a school-girl under the concerted gaze, and toyed
uneasily with his dislocated nose.

Gradually the look of consternation on the faces of the assemblage gave
place to a broad grin, which presently extended to a wild guffaw, and
thirty accusing fingers were pointed at the now furious Bender.

"Here, look here, you fellers!" he roared, dashing his glass upon the
floor and drawing his sleeves back from his great, knotted fist. "This is
too thunderin' stiff, y' know! The first man ez says I've anythin' t' do
with that youngster 'll get smashed! Now, notice!"

Nobody spoke, but everybody laughed, and the accusing fingers still
pointed. Mr. Bender lingered for a moment on the point of running amok
and wreaking his vengeance on all and sundry, but thought better of it,
pulled his hat over his eyes, and strode out, his soul a prey to angry
passions and the pangs of injured innocence.

Mrs. Peters fed the child by artificial means; she procured a
cunningly-designed bottle and tubes, and went regularly to the station
homestead, at the foot of Miamia, for milk. The diggers regarded this
conduct with an unfavourable eye; they supposed it to be another display
of anti-feminine sentiment, and nothing that Brummy might do now could
make them forget that she was a woman--she had forfeited all her rights
as a man and a brother irretrievably. She visited the shanty
occasionally, and endeavoured to maintain her old footing, but the men
preserved a studied coolness, and Curly Hunt even went so far as to
suggest that she be summarily ejected, but that perky little individual
was brought to a sudden repentance by being knocked over a bench and
thrown bodily through the calico window by the ireful washerwoman.

Brummy appeared to be very fond of the child, but Bender was frequently
accused of displaying a criminal lack of parental affection. Since the
arrival of the little stranger the demeanour of this gentleman had
undergone a painful change. He had grown moody and furtive; the banter of
his companions drove him furious; to be regarded as the father of
Brummy's child was bitter gall. Given any other woman, and he might have
accepted the imputation with some complacency, but Brummy--Brummy Peters,
with her side-pockets, ready fist, and strong meerschaum--it was too
much. He determined to vindicate his character and clear his name of the
tender impeachment at any cost. With this object in view he developed
amateur-detective proclivities, and kept a zealous eye on the laundry.

The baby was just a month old when one night the homely Mr. Bender burst
into the "Pick and Barrow" (which, by the way, he had avoided of late),
his face radiant, and the ejaculation of an ancient philosopher on his
lips.

"Eureka! I've struck it, boys!" he cried triumphantly.

"What?--the reef?" exclaimed the men with one voice--there having been
some prospecting for a reef on the high ground.

"Reef be d---! No; proofs that you fellers 're a lot of blamed asses as
've been barkin' up th' wrong tree!" The representation of a lot of asses
barking up a tree was certainly not a strikingly felicitous illustration,
but Bender was too excited to be precise in small matters. He continued:

"See here, with all yer infernal cleverness, that kid ain't Brummy's
after all."

"Not Brummy's!"--and great excitement. "No, 'taint. It's his daughter's!"

But, despite Bender's circumspection, Mr. Bacon had heard, and he
advanced into the light, the big tears stealing down his cheeks and his
favourite look of unutterable woe overspreading his bloated face.

"Whose child did you say, Mr. Bender, sir?" he queried, in tones of deep
bathos.

"Nobody's! Go to blazes, snufflebuster! This ain't no business of yours."

Stephen Bacon retired again to his shades to indulge his lachrymose
propensities and sorrow over his brandy, and Bender related in a low
voice how by keeping an eye on Brummy's establishment, noting Cis's
frequent visits, and putting this and that together, he had arrived at
the conclusion that was to prove him innocent of the delicate peccadillo
insinuated against him.

Mr. Bacon's settled sorrow was very distressing that night, and he was
subsequently ejected amidst a shower of tears, dolefully calling upon his
late lamented wife to come back and comfort his declining years; but that
lady, doubtless retaining a lively remembrance of the weight of his fist
and the force of his foot, failed to respond.

Next morning being Sunday, an off day, quite a number of the miners, who
were indulging in a game of quoits, and others who were sunning
themselves and smoking on the grass, indolent and uninterested
spectators, were disturbed by sounds of a row at the tent of their
laundress, and as the public interest of the Flat centred for the time in
that domicile, the loungers leisurely arose, the contestants dropped
their quoits, and all strolled across to the tent. Mrs. Peters was
standing with her back to the entrance, her lips were tightly compressed,
and there was an awed, sorrowful expression in her face that the men had
never seen there before. She held the baby in her arms, in quite a
matronly fashion, and calmly faced Mr. Stephen Bacon, who was bordering
on sobriety, and whose settled sorrow was subordinated for the time to
unreasoning rage.

"You've got my girl here!" he yelled, gracefully turning the sentence
with several euphonious curses, and brandishing the pick-handle he held
in his hand.

"Yes," replied Mrs. Peters, quietly; "she's in the tent."

"Well, I want her. D--n you! I want her. I've 'eard your little game. Its
all up! She got away from me last night, but I'll have her now!"

"She got further away than you think, Steve Bacon; but you can have
her."

"You don't want t' see no girl with that in yer fist," said Bender, who
had come up with the others, snatching the pick-handle from his grasp.
"And you want t' be carm, y' know, 'cause if you hurt yer girl when I'm
near I'll spread y' out quick."

"He can't hurt her," added Brummy. "Come in. Don't go away, boys; she'd
like to see y' all. Jest come up and look in."

The men who had turned away, thinking the girl would doubly feel her
shame if upbraided in their presence, startled by the tone in which the
request was made, went back. Brummy held the flap of the tent aside, and
they all looked in.

"Great God! Dead!"

Yes, the pale, slight, awkward girl, scarcely paler in death, her large,
light-blue eyes fixed with the frightened expression that had
characterized them in life, lay dead upon Brummy's bunk, and from the
spare flaxen hair, and the long thin hand, and the points of her
clothing, hanging over the side, pools of water had dripped to the floor.

"Yes, she's dead!" said Mrs. Peters, the tears on her lashes belying her
harsh tones. "Drowned! I found her body in the shallow water near the
bank when I went to the dam this morning. This is your work, Joe Bender."

"No! No! For the Lord's sake don't say that!"

"You told her story at Monkey Bill's last night--he heard you. That
snivelling cur was a devil to her. She said he would kill her if he ever
knew--he intended to last night, but she got away and took the job off
his hands."

Steve Bacon, shocked by the unexpected sight, had fallen into a crouching
position in the corner. He straightened himself now.

"And her child?" he muttered, pointing towards the dead girl.

"He is mine. She gave him to me, and I will keep him." And the muscular
arms of the washerwoman folded the tiny mite closer to her breast.

On the Monday evening following Brummy Peters was waited on by a
deputation. A very respectful deputation it was, and wished "to signerfy
that the fellers all voted her a brick, an' hoped how she'd pocket that
trifle to help her with the youngster, an' say nothin'." That trifle was
a roll of notes of all sorts and sizes surrounding a five-ounce nugget,
the biggest ever found on the rush, and the contribution of the Geordie.
Mrs. Peters, in responding, accepted the gift, and said she knew "the
boys was real grit," and promised to make a man of the little chap on her
bosom if she could.



DEAD MAN'S LOAD

IT was bright and cosy within the pile-getters' hut; outside the night
was wet and stormy, and the wind piped a deep, mournful organ tone in the
gnarled and stunted gums on the hill-side. The three young men had
finished tea, and washed up and squared up--that is to say, Dayton had
stowed the bread and butter and the remains of the salt beef in the
kerosene box that served them as a larder, M'Gill had dipped the tin
plates in hot water and wiped them carefully on a superannuated white
shirt, and Woodhead had raised a tremendous dust under a pretence of
sweeping out the hut with a broom extemporized from a bundle of scrub
ferns; for it was the first principle of their association that every man
should "do his whack" in the matter of attendance to domestic duties.

"Too thunderin' wet to go down to the camp, an' too blessed windy to
climb up to Scrubby's," said Dayton, who was curing himself of an
extraordinary habit of profanity for a wager, and found the task of
filling in the blanks rather a trial. "I s'pose cut-throat's our little
dart," he continued, producing an overworked euchre pack.

M'Gill was fighting his way into a stubborn oil-skin coat that crackled
like tin armour.

"Not cut-throat to-night, boys," he said; "I'm going up the gully a
spell."

"Where bound, Mack?" queried Dayton, with quick suspicion. The
young men had discovered a pretty girl at Scrubby Scanlan's settlement,
two miles off, and each thought he had an exclusive right to the
friendship and hospitality of Scanlan and the smiles of his handsome,
hard-working, and very sensible eldest daughter.

M'Gill smiled.

"Not there, old man," he said. "I promised 'The Identity' I'd give him a
look in to-night."

"Well, you ought!" with great derision. "What d'ye want foolin' after
that evil old beast? If he was well to-morrer he'd bang you on the head
for half a quid. That's my straight say-so. I'll be sworn he shook our
crosscut; an' here you are, dancin' attendance same 's if he was clear
white!"

"The poor devil is as harmless as a baby," said M'Gill. "Anyhow, I can't
leave a sick man to take his chances in that miserable hole up there."

Joe M'Gill went out amidst a rush of wind and rain, and left his mates to
their game and the comfort of their warm, watertight hut.

"Off his bloomin' chump!" commented Dayton emphatically, slapping down
the cards.

The philosophical Woodhead, who was smoking placidly, looked up and cut.

"Joe's all right," he drawled. "Always had a weakness for sick things.
I've seen him take more trouble with a lame dog than most men would over
a poor relation. Besides, the old man is real bad, and if Mack didn't
give an eye to him I expect I would have to do it myself. I'm awfully
soft-hearted that way, and I like to see other fellows looking after the
poor and the sick--it saves me the trouble."

Meanwhile M'Gill was boring his way through the storm towards a point of
light showing fitfully amongst the thick, supple saplings that rolled
like a sea in a gale. "The Identity's" hut stood at the head of the
gully, in the centre of a small clearing. It was sheltered on one side by
the abrupt rise of Emu Hill, and exposed on the other (saving for the
intervention of the leafy young peppermints, the growth of recent years)
to the fierce winds that seemed to gather the rains into the narrow
confines of the gully, and drive them pounding up its whole length, in
eddying torrents, to be thrown back in tumbling yellow floods from the
invulnerable side of Emu Hill.

Peter Shaw, variously known as "The Identity," "The Hermit," "Blue
Peter," and "Old Shaw," was a veteran fossicker, a reticent, gruff man,
whose almost complete isolation had recently been broken by the
appearance in the locality of Brown's Patch of a few parties of
sleeper-cutters and pile-getters, driven thitherward by the approach of
the railway to Bunyip.

Peter was living in the same chock-and-log hut at the head of Grasshopper
Gully when the first selector settled in the district, and when the
reputation of Brown's Patch as an alluvial field had already faded and
been forgotten, and when the fact that the creek, and the hill, and the
gully had once rattled and rung with the clatter of cradle and
puddling-tub, pick and shovel, and windlass-barrel was unknown to all
within the jurisdiction of the Bunyip Shire Council, with the exception
of old Shaw. Even now Peter's settled neighbours were few and far
between, and until the arrival of the timber-getters his beloved
seclusion was but rarely disturbed by man, woman, or child. He lived,
according to the common belief, on the vegetables he grew, eked out with
the supplies he brought from Bunyip at long intervals--supplies bought
with the price of the few "weights" of gold won by fossicking patiently
and laboriously up and down the creek and in the many little blind
gullies running into Emu Hill.

Of course "The Identity" was talked about. Whenever two or more selectors
were met together Peter's character and habits were sure, sooner or
later, to come under discussion, and as he was one of the the stock
themes of the local fabulist, the history attached to him did not lack
romantic interest. He was generally credited with having stolen
everything that went missing in the district, and, amongst the women at
least, there was a profound belief that he and "the old devil" were on
excellent terms and exchanged visits frequently; but for all the
attention Shaw gave these people they might have been merely stumps or
stones by the way.

M'Gill pulled the catch of the old man's door, and entered without
knocking. The remains of a big log were smouldering in the wide sod
chimney, and a slush lamp, manufactured from a sardine tin, guttered on
the bush table, filling the hut with a villainous smoke. On a narrow
bunk, face downward, lay the half-clad figure of a man. "The Identity"
lifted himself upon his hands as the door clanged to, and turned a
haggard face, surrounded by a scrub of iron-grey hair, towards the
intruder. His eyes brightened as he recognized Joe.

"Good on you! Good on you!" he gasped, extending a shaky hand. "I was
hopin' you'd come."

Joe threw open his oilskin, and drew a couple of small parcels from his
shirt.

"Here you are, old party," he said; "I've brought you some stuff for beef
tea, and a bottle of medicine." Shaw took the bottle in his hand and
examined it. It contained a patent medicine then very popular with
bushmen as an infallible remedy for all the physical ills that man is
heir to, from cuts to consumption.

"It's too late, my boy," he said, "I'm a done man; but a dose might ease
me a bit if it's hot enough--gimme a dose."

Joe poured out a quantity of the medicine into a pannikin, and held it
towards him; but the sick man clutched his hand, and a sudden excitement
lit up his deathly face as he whispered:

"Did you do the other thing what I told you?"

M'Gill nodded.

"Put your pegs in an' make your application fer the lease all correct an'
accordin' to law?"

"Yes, yes, just as you told me. Now drink!"

Shaw drained off his medicine, but retained his grip on Joe's arm.

"Certain you didn't let on to no one?" he asked, with a look half
suspicious, half cunning in his eyes--"no p'lice, no doctors--eh?"

"Not a soul; I always keep my word. But for all that I think you should
have a doctor."

"No, no, no!" cried the old man, with fierce energy; "no doctors--no
p'lice! I'm peggin' out--don't I know it?--an' I won't have doctors, damn
em! Can't you let a man die his own way?"

"Right you are," said Joe, soothingly; "you'll buck up again, though,
when you get outside a pint or two of this."

M'Gill threw the wood in the fireplace together, and set about preparing
the beef tea, and Shaw, who had relapsed into his former position, face
downwards upon the bunk, watched every movement with one alert eye.
Presently he spoke again.

"I said I'd tell you the whole yarn t'-night, Joe."

"Not to-night, Peter, you're not equal to it--wait till you are
stronger."

"Stronger! stronger!" The fossicker had started up again, and was glaring
angrily. "Wait till I'm dead an' dumb, you mean. No, it mus' be t'-night.
One of the chaps up at the camp'll be knockin' together a coffin fer me
t'-morrer."

M'Gill admitted to himself, as he looked into the brilliant, deep-set
eyes of the man, and saw the grisly configuration of the skull standing
out under the stark yellow skin of his face, that nothing was more
probable. Shaw looked like a man face to face with death, sustained only
by the feverish excitement that blazed in his restless eyes and
manifested itself in the uneasy motions of his wasted hands. The young
man offered him a pannikin of the beef tea, but Peter put it aside after
trying a couple of mouthfuls.

"No, I can't take it, boy," he said, "I can't take nothin', I don't want
nothin', only to tell you all before I cave in. Sit here on the edge of
the bunk. I'll hold you so you can't go till I'm through. Wait--go round
the hut, see no one's listenin'."

M'Gill, to please him, did as he was directed, and then resumed his
position by the side of the bunk.

"Joe," said "The Identity," "you come here to help me, an' you've took a
lot of trouble with me, 'cause you're a good sort, an' can't help it,
like; but you don't like me. I could see you didn't like me--you
suspicioned me from the first, eh--didn't you?"

This was quite true, but the young man returned no answer. There had
never been anything about Peter Shaw to invite affection; in health he
was sullen, covert, and uncanny, and in sickness evil-tempered and
childish in his wants, and, more particularly, in his fears.

"I knew it--I knew it!" he continued, "but because you are a good sort,
an' because I must out with this load here, here!"--he struck his breast
feebly with his hand--"I'm goin'to tell you somethin' that'll make a rich
man of you, Joseph M'Gill."

Clutching Joe's sleeve with his bony fingers, he went on with his story,
speaking in quick undertones, with a sort of insane energy that sustained
him to the end.

"I came to this district twenty odd years ago, my lad. Brown had just
struck the surfacin' down the gully by the creek, an' we called the rush
Brown's Patch. Two days after campin' I picked up my mate Harry
Foote--Stumpy Foote we named him 'cause he was bumble-footed. He was a
dog, a mean hound, but he didn't look it, an' he was a good miner. We
went to work on the alluvial, an' did fairly, but we both had a great
idea about a good reef in these hills. All the indications pointed to it,
an' presently we slung the wash an' started prospectin'. We trenched, an'
travelled, an' trenched fer weeks without strikin' an ounce of quartz,
an' Stumpy got full of it; but I grew more certain about that lode, an'
hung on. So we agreed that he'd go back to the alluvial again, an' I'd
keep on peggin'away after the reef, an' we'd be mates whatever turned up.
Well, we kep' this up fer a long time, me trustin' Stumpy all the time,
an' intendin' t' do the square thing by him when I lobbed on the lode, as
I was sure I would. I worked like a fiend. I was mad fer gold then. I
hadn't been out on'y a few years, an' strikin' it lucky meant everythin'
t' me; meant--But no matter, that ain't anythin' t' do with the story.
You wouldn't understand how I felt if I told you, an' I believe I don't
understand meself now. Stumpy did poorly, or told me as much. I got
barely enough as my share to pay tucker bills, but he kep' workin' away,
sluicin' the surfacin' down along the creek--a patch he had hit on
himself."

"One night I returned to the tent unexpected. Foote had told me the week
afore that he was goin' to roll up his swag an' skip, an' I'd bin out on
those hills beyond Scanlan's ever since. A light was burnin' inside, an'
Stumpy didn't hear me till I'd thrown back the flap of the tent. He was
leanin' over the table, an' he looked up at me sudden, an' his face went
milky white. Well it might--I caught him in the act of sweepin' a pile of
gold into a canvas bag. A pile--a heap--hundreds of ounces it looked t'
me--hundreds of ounces in coarse nuggets an' rich specimens. The cur
fumbled it in his hurry t' get it out of sight, an' spilled some of the
finer stuff on the floor."

"I went mad at the sight of all that gold, an' at the thought of the
dirty trick he'd served me. I didn't speak, but jes' grabbed him so, by
the neck, an' dragged him outer the tent. I don't think I meant murder--I
don't know what I meant, but there was a pick handle leanin' agen the sod
chimbley, an' I took it in my right hand. He opened his mouth to yell,
an' I hit him once--jes' once--an' he went over like a wet shirt. I
waited fer him to get up, but he didn't move agen, an' when I come t'
look at him he was dead. The paper-skulled, chicken-hearted cur, he was
dead!

"I didn't funk--I didn't lose my head fer a second. I was never cooler in
my life; my brain was clear, but I saw on'y one thing at a time--on'y one
thing, an' I acted on it. After dousin' the light in the tent, I took
Stumpy up on my shoulder, an' carried him over the hill to the slope
furthest from the camp.

"'Twas a clear, moonlight night, bright enough t' read Bible print by,
but the sides of Emu Hill was well timbered, an' the saplin's was thick
as scrub, so I was not likely t' be seen. I dropped the body in a small
clear space amongst a thick patch of scrub on that spur above the soda
spring. There was a good depth of soft vegetable soil there--a beautiful
quiet place fer a grave.

"Then I went back t' the tent, careless like, case anyone should chance
along; but the camp was a good step down the creek from our tent, an' I
never met a soul. Stumpy had his swag ready fer rollin' up--he meant to
cut and leave me. I took up his things an' a pick an' shovel, an' trudged
back t' the body. It lay sprawlin' in the shadder of the scrub, jest as
I'd dropped it, one hand reachin' out into the light clawin'the grass;
but I on'y thought of my job, an' I set t' work t'dig his grave at once.

"I worked quietly--the pick made no noise in that soft ground--but I
worked hard. I meant t' bury him deep, an' bury him well. A neat hole I
made him, seven by two, an' as plumb as a prospectin' shaft. As I dug an'
shovelled--quite cool in my mind, fer all the body was spread out there
behind me in the shadder--my thoughts went wanderin' over my bad luck,
an' the idea that Stumpy had been on good gold, an' meant to rob me of my
fair half, made me vicious, an' I belted in hard an'fast.

"I had her down 'bout three foot, an' reckoned that'd nearly do. I was
squarin' up the end when my pick struck agen somethin' that made it ring.
I dug away a bit around that somethin', a sudden excitement growin' in
me, an' makin' me ferget I was diggin' a grave--a grave fer a murdered
man. Down in the west corner of the hole I saw the white gleam of quartz.
Stoopin', I lit a match to examine it. By the Lord, Joe! I'd struck
it--struck it thick an' rich!"

Old Peter's agitation became so intense at this stage that Joe was
compelled to put his arms about his attenuated form, and hold him on the
bunk.

"See that fire, boy?" he gasped, pointing an uncertain hand, and glaring
as if in a frenzy. "Well, it was like that--the live embers, the glowin'
red gold in it! Rich! It seemed all gold. I'd struck the cap of the reef,
an' I went a'most mad with joy at the sight of the beautiful, beautiful
gold. I staggered back agen the other end of the hole, starin' at the
reef. I was goin' t' yell an' dance, thinkin' of nothin' but my lovely
luck, when I half turned, an' caught a glimpse of Stumpy's white, dead
face glowerin' et me in the moonlight, an' I funked fer the first time.
The shadder had crep' back, leavin' jest his face showin', an' there it
was, with a spark in each of its big eyes, mouthin' at me--grinnin'
horribly!

"I went dead cold, my legs broke under me. All of a sudden I was
dreadfully afraid. Then I thought: 'Pete, this is a hangin' match--Pete,
they're after you. What's the good of a golden reef to a hanged man?' I
crawled out of the hole, wantin' t' run, but It's devilish eyes followed
me. Oh! I crawled like a worm, crazy with fear--sick with it! The findin'
the gold there in his grave seemed a damned trick of his an' the devil's
t'spite me--t' make me mad. I seemed t' know then, while the horror was
on me, what it all meant--thet I'd cursed meself fer ever--thet, good
luck or bad luck, fer the future 'twas all the same t' me.

"But I was strong enough t' bury him. I turned his face down, an' dragged
the body along, an' flung it into the hole on top of the reef; and when
it was out of sight, under a foot or so of dirt, I began t' feel stronger
an' braver, an' t' reason a bit. I would bury him beautifully there, I
said to meself, an' wait, an' some time I would dig him up again, and
hide him far enough away, an' then I could work the reef, an' by-an' bye
go home to--to--go home a rich man!

"I did bury him, an' then crawled back t' the tent, an' tried t' sleep,
but couldn't. At daylight I was back at the grave again, smoothin' it
with my fingers, rakin' dry leaves, an' grass, an' bark over it t' hide
every trace, shiverin' in my boots all the time. They reckoned me a brave
man once. I'd done some things that made men think me game. But I've been
a cur ever since the night I killed my mate--a coward in the night an' in
the day, before men and before devils.

"Durin' the day I managed to go down among the men an' make inquiries
'bout Stumpy. None of the chaps seemed surprised t' hear he was not
around, an' one or two hinted pretty straight thet I wasn't likely t' see
him agen--thet he'd been doin' pretty well down the creek, an' had
cleared with the gold to do me outer my share.

"Joe, I never dared t' touch Stumpy's grave from thet day t' this. Fer
five years small parties was workin' about the creek off an' on, an' I
kep' tellin' meself that when they'd all gone some day I'd shift Stumpy's
bones. Then the Chows came fossickin', an' time went on, an' as it passed
I grew more an' more of a coward. Once or twice there's bin prospectin'
parties out here after the reef, an' I think I was stark crazy while they
was about. The fear of them strikin' the lode used t' drive me wild, an'
I grew t' hate every man who come near Emu Hill, an' gradually to loathe
the sight of human bein's. I shifted up here t' be further from the
grave, an' 'cause I'd got luny notions that Stumpy was walkin' about o'
nights.

"There was on'y a hundred ounces or so in my mate's bag, after all. It'd
looked five times ez much t' me. It's buried in the ground jest under the
head of my bunk. Onst I sold a few ounces of it in et the township, but
it was coarse stuff, an' the news got 'round, an' the next thing I knew
there was another small rush along the creek, an' diggers was pokin'
about everywhere. That frightened me again. If the reef was struck
Stumpy's bones would be found, an' they'd hang me, sure ez death. Half a
dozen men lived at Wombat who'd remember my mate's disappearance, an'
there was things I'd buried with Stumpy that'd make his bones known. So I
buried the gold, an' never tried t' sell another colour of it.

"Since then I've had scores of chances of shiftin' them bones, but I
wasn't the man t' do it, an' then I begun t' find thet I didn't want
to--thet I didn't want the gold--thet I didn't want any of the things
thet I'd wanted like mad before. But I didn't go away. I was chained
here, an' I always thought thet some day someone would find Stumpy, an' I
would be wanted, an' all these years I've dreaded it, an' waited fer it,
an' hated, an' suffered, an' here I am, an' there, out on the hill, are
Stumpy's bones, an' the gold--the beautiful yellow gold! It's yours,
Joe--all yours. I leave it to you! You know the spot. I planted that
stunted bluegum, with the limb thet turns down to the ground, right on
the top of the grave the mornin' after I buried him. You'll find his
bones in among its roots."

"The Identity" sank back on his bed, cold and exhausted.

"You'll bury them bones decent, Joe?" he murmured in a voice that had
suddenly grown faint.

"Yes, Peter," replied M'Gill, in whose mind the story had created both
amazement and doubt.

"An' you've got the lease, Joe, sure?"

"I've applied for it--the ground is secured."

"Yes, yes, an' you'll stick by me while I last, eh--you won't go? An' no
p'lice, mind--no p'lice!"

It was already daylight when Joe M'Gill awakened his mates stumbling into
the hut.

"Old Shaw is dead," he explained to the indignant Dayton. "You might
dress, Jack, and go and stay by him, for decency's sake, while I have a
few hours' sleep. And, Woodhead, you must go to Bunyip and bring the
police. They will have to take charge of the body."

M'Gill and his mates found the skeleton of Foote exactly as Peter Shaw
had said they would, and the grinning skull rested upon the cap of the
golden reef that was eventually known as "Dead Man's Lode," and which,
before twelve months went by, had enriched the three young men, and had
yielded small fortunes to many dozens beside.



AFTER THE ACCIDENT

ONE man sat upon a heap of broken reef near the face, with his broad
palms supporting his chin. His thin, hollow cheeks showed, between the
out-spread fingers, a sickly yellow in the candle-light. One candle in a
spiked holder burned against the side of the drive. Two billies and two
full crib-bags hung near on dog-hooks driven in an upright leg, and at
the man's feet lay a couple of picks and a shovel. Kyley sat with his
back to the face, staring with glowing, vindictive eyes into the gathered
gloom down the drive, where the passage to the shaft was choked to the
roof with splintered timber and fallen mullock, and where the head of a
second man was dimly visible. Only the head and shoulders of this other
were free; the rest of his body was hidden under the debris. The second
man was thrown face downwards; across his back, pinning his arms, lay the
great cap-piece, which alone seemed heavy enough to have crushed the life
out of him. Beyond this the tumbled reef and splintered slabs were piled
to the roof.

But the buried miner was not dead. The tough red-gum log, forced down by
the mighty pressure, had ploughed its way diagonally down the side of the
drive, and pinched him to the floor, stopping when the pressure of
another inch must have been followed by certain and speedy death. A stout
iron truck was jammed under the log beside him, torn and doubled like a
cardboard box. The young man could lift his chin a few inches from the
floor of the drive, and turn his face from one side to the other, but was
incapable of any other movement.

Presently he spoke. His voice came with an effort, and sounded feebly
shrill, like that of a very old man.

"Dick, Dick! in the name o' God, speak, man! D'ye think there's a chance
fer us?"

Dick Kyley dropped his hands, and there was an expression of grim
satisfaction in his gaunt face as he replied deliberately--"There's a
chance for me, William."

The buried man lifted his clay-smirched face, startled by the other's
tone, and gazed eagerly at his mate, and continued gazing for fully a
minute, puzzled and frightened by the incongruous levity in the face that
confronted him. Then, the position becoming painful, he dropped his cheek
in the wet clay again.

"What d'ye mean?" he asked anxiously. "Why only fer you?"

"Because, William, I don't think you've got a dog's Show."

The reply was without a trace of sympathy; there was, in fact, a touch of
malicious banter in the mincing tone of the "William." William Hether had
never been anything but "Hether" or "Bill" to his shift-mate before.

Again Hether looked anxiously into Kyley's face. Its cadaverous hollows
were filled with dark shadows, and the high-lights brought out the
salient features in a grotesque caricature that struck Hether as simply
fiendish. He turned from the sight, with a new horror in his heart.

"This ain't no time to fool a man, Dick," he said humbly. "How can there
be any chance fer you if I ain't in it?"

Kyley arose, plucked the candle from the wall, and advancing close to his
mate held the flame low down and showed him a small pool of water
gathered upon the floor within 18 inches of his face.

"That's why," he said.

Hether understood, and a cry broke from his lips.

"Keep it back, Dick!" he gasped.

"William," said Kyley, calmly replacing the candle and resuming his
former position on the reef, "you're a fool. That water's coming in from
the face, as usual. The fall has dammed the gutters, and it can't get
away; consequently, in less'n five hours the pool will be above your
ears. And you know what that means."

"But you can build a dam around me. Get the shovel-quick! Make a dam with
that loose reef an' the clay off the floor. Dick, Dick! give us a chance,
for God's sake, man!"

Hether stopped short, staring at the other, who sat calmly regarding him.
Presently he spoke again in a quavering whisper:

"You won't see a man drown without lendin' a hand t' help him?"

"No, I won't see it," replied Kyley, "because I'm goin' to douse this
light. A candle burns up the air, an' I'll want all there is here, I
reckon, before the boys reach me."

Driven almost wild with terror, a terror occasioned no less by the grim
significance of Kyley's leering countenance and the brutality of the
words than by the horrors of his position, Hether began to plead
piteously, with tears and moanings. The pain of broken bones and the
sickness of exhaustion had quite unmanned "Big Bill Hether;" but his
agony did not touch the heart of Kyley, who seemed to have forgotten that
death also threatened him in the delight that the young man's sufferings
awakened within his breast.

"Why've you rounded 'on me, Dick? What've I done--what 've I ever done?"
moaned the helpless man.

"I'm not goin' to lift a finger to keep you out of hell," answered the
other, "because of her, William--because of Hannah."

Bill turned his face to the light again, and once more he stared at
Kyley, sharply, inquiringly, reading ever line of his fateful
countenance. Then a groan of despair broke from him.

"I'll go away, Kyley," he said--"true's Christ, if we get out I'll go
away, an' you'll never hear of me again. Only make a dam. Quick, man,
quick--it's comin'! God! this is worse than murder. Dick---"

The water, having filled the depression at the side of the drive, was now
running down and forming a pool in the hollow under Hether's chin.

Kyley turned and blew out the candle. For a long time Hether continued to
supplicate in the darkness, and Kyley, leaning comfortably against the
face, heard the thin voice, weakening to an almost inarticulate whisper,
beseeching by all that is good on earth and holy in heaven for a little
grace--another poor chance of life--and answered never a word. By a
painful effort the young man continued to keep his mouth above the
gathering water, but gradually the torture that afflicted his extended
neck became unendurable, and now in his last extremity he railed at Kyley
as a murderer, and abused him with curses in weak, childish tones that
were nevertheless pregnant with passion, and sounded distinctly and with
terrifying emphasis in that black chamber of death.

Suddenly there was silence. Dick Kyley listened, and presently heard a
bubbling sound in the water. That ceased, and all was still. He felt now
that his vengeance was complete--that Hether was dead, and at that moment
the fierce emotions of resentment and revenge--hunger that had possessed
and upheld him departed in a breath, and left him weak and cowed. His
limbs trembled, and beads of perspiration gathered about the roots of his
hair and rolled coldly upon his brow and cheeks. He was thinking, too, of
his own wretched case. He heard, fitfully, a distant drumming, the sound
of timber being driven home, and knew that the rescue parties were
working as hard as men may work, but whether theirs would be a job of
hours or days he could not tell, and already he fancied he detected some
taint of vitiation in the air.

Dick Kyley, sitting alone in the blackness of his prison, waiting for
salvation or death, was soon the victim of an ungovernable fear, a
supernatural terror entirely new to him, and the more awful for its
novelty. From the moment he believed Hether dead he began to fear him. He
strove with all the energy of his strong sense to drive him from his
thoughts, but do what he might his mind would revert to the dread
subject, and his eyes turn, staring intently into the darkness, where at
times they seemed to detect a yet blacker form in the pitch-black night
that filled the drive--the shape of the dead man's head. The horror grew,
and with it an agonizing conviction that Hether's dead face was staring
at him with dead but seeing eyes. Imagination had pictured the pallid
cheeks stained with blood and clay, and the wide, accusing eyes, till the
vision became a reality to him. Tortured beyond endurance, Kyley fumbled
in his pocket and found a match, which he struck upon the shovel blade.
As the light filled the chamber a groan of relief broke from the miner's
labouring breast. Only the back of Hether's head was visible; his face
was sunk to the temple in the water. Dick extinguished the match--his
last--and sat down again, only to struggle with another relay of horrors
that presently arose against him.

William Hether still lived. He had discovered that by taking a deep
breath and sinking his face till the forehead rested upon the clay he was
enabled to allay the pain in his neck and to continue the struggle. He
persisted in this course, noiselessly, for the sound of the rescuers at
work had filled him with a glorious hope, and with that hope had come a
fear that Kyley might be moved to murder him if he thought his rescue
possible.

So another hour fled. The water in the drive, which had now found a broad
level, continued to rise slowly. Kyley had lost the power of appreciating
time, and sat huddled against the wall, distraught with fear and despair.
Hether's face was haunting him again, standing forth visibly, threatening
and awful in the tomb-like darkness. His mad fancy stretched every hour
of his imprisonment into a long day, and he believed that it was his fate
to be stifled by the foul gases from his mate's decomposing corpse. Even
now the taint was in his nostrils. Although he was listening all the time
with agonized intensity, he no longer heard the hammering of the miners
beyond; his mind was too full of its unspeakable fear--he awaited the
attack of the inhuman thing that his irresponsible faculties had
fashioned out of the impenetrable gloom at the end of his narrow prison.
At this crisis Hether called again, in a piercing voice, full of the
supreme terror:--

"Help! help! Kyley, you murderer! fiend devil---"

At the first sound of the voice, Kyley sprang back against the end of the
drive, and shrieked, with all the power of his lungs, again and again;
and there he remained, crouched down, pressing his face into the gravel,
clutching his ears, shivering and moaning.

Three hours later the rescuers broke through, and found Hether under the
fall, with his head in a pool of water, dead, and Kyley squatting at the
face, babbling of spectres and devils.

It is still Mr. Richard Kyley's quaint belief that he is a conspicuous
figure in hell.



MR. AND MRS. SIN FAT

MR. Sin Fat arrived in Australia in the year of grace 1870, a poor and
friendless man. He entered the great city of Melbourne, a stranger in a
strange country, possessed only of a blue dungaree suit that had served
him long and faithfully in his distant home, ninepence in coppers, and as
much of his fatherland spread over his surface and deposited in the
cracks and crannies of his gaunt person as he could conveniently carry.

Sin Fat was not tall and athletic, nor fair to look upon--in truth, he
was stunted, and as plain of face as the pottery gods that he had learned
to revere at his good mother's knee. His complexion was so distraught by
an uncongenial climate that it possessed less bloom and beauty than the
inside of a sun-dried lambskin; his features were turned and twisted and
pulled awry till they resembled excrescences and indentations on a
pie-melon, and his lank, lean limbs were mute evidence of a life of
privation and toil. In point of fact, Sin Fat was so ungainly and so
sparing of personal attractions at this period of his existence that his
homely visage soon became the theme of popular comment, and "ugly as Sin"
is an aphorism which will survive as long as the English language is
spoken.

The humble immigrant paid no poll-tax; he was a duly certified subject of
Her Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, towards whose throne and person he
possessed an ardent and undying affection, as he told the Customs officer
in mutilated English and accents tremulous and low. For Sin was by nature
bashful and conciliatory, his tones were unctuous, and his humble
carriage excited the derision of a distempered and woe-worn dog which had
its habitat amongst the lumber on the wharf--a vagrant, craven mongrel,
that lived in a perpetual state of cringe, yet which assumed something of
dignity in the presence of a still meaner creature, and boldly pursued
Sin Fat as he ambled away, and assailed him in the rearmost parts of his
frame. But the lowly foreigner continued on his road with downcast eyes
and an expression of religious meekness, till, as if guided by instinct
or the power of affinity, he slunk into that nest of pestilence between
Little Bourke and Lonsdale streets, and was lost amongst the hordes which
there do congregate.

Fifteen years ago the Chinese Camp at Ballarat East was a large and
populous suburb. Thousands of prosperous, but unkempt and wasted,
disciples of Confucius lodged in a nest of tottering, vermin-ravaged,
smoke-begrimed hovels, of which no independent hog would accept a
protracted tenure. The area extending from the main road to back beyond
the old Llanberris was almost covered with the broken-backed tenements of
squalid, immoral heathens, who followed various light and remunerative
callings--peddling tea, gimcrack fancy goods, and moonstruck fish;
fossicking on the Yarrowee and Black Hill flats; or prowling round with a
pair of shabby baskets strung on a stick, collecting rags, bones, and
bottles, or any movable items of intrinsic value which could be reached
through the fence when the proprietor's attention was otherwise engaged,
and each and all supplementing their income by deeply-planned nocturnal
raids on distant poultry yards, fruit farms, wood-heaps, or sluice-boxes.
A couple of serpentine streets, inhabited by grimy pagans, still remain,
but the majority of the Chows have migrated to other diggings, some have
returned to the homes of their childhood, and some have gone to heaven.
The staggering shanties which still remain are a good sample of the sties
that littered the flat in '73--decrepid dens, reaching away in all
directions for something to lean against, indented on one side, bulged on
the other--compiled of logs, stones, palings flattened tins and battered
pans, and roofed with sugar-mats. The common Chinaman glories in these
little snug cries. When by some chance he becomes possessed of a home
with a respectable exterior he straightway hews a hole in the roof,
boards up the windows with borrowed planks, and disfigures the front with
scraps of tin and old battens--whether in accordance with a perverted
taste or out of a guileful desire to mislead the tax-assessor is beyond
Caucasian comprehension.

It was evening, after a day hot enough to blister the ear of an elephant.
Sin Fat's work was done, and he jogged homewards along a little
side-street in Ballarat East. He bore the orthodox Chinese baskets, a
pair which had evidently been in active business for some considerable
time, and, judging from the hooked stick in his hand and the grateful
aroma of old bones and such things which clung to him like a brother, Sin
was following the calling of a "Rag John." S. Fat, as we now see him with
the eye of faith, is physically much improved since he landed in
Australia; he does not appear to have missed meals so regularly of late,
and his predatory success has lent him an air of confidence and
self-esteem, though he smiles with his old deference and still clings
with superstitious awe to the dirt of his fatherland, now cemented by
grit of Australian origin.

Our hero has disposed of his day's collection of rags and rottenness,
gleaned from the gutters and rubbish-heaps of the city, at a local
marine-store, and he now hies him to his humble home and merited repose.
But he is not lost to a sense of duty; his ever-watchful eye is open to
detect an opportunity, however trifling, of increasing his diurnal
income, and when he espies a goose, obese and matronly, making frantic
endeavours to squeeze her portly form through a small aperture in a
fowl-house behind a private residence, his soul is instantly fired with a
desire to possess her--to call her his own, if only for a few hours.

Sin is a man of action; dropping his baskets, and casting aside all
reserve, he enters the yard, and in a moment the well-conditioned bird is
in his power. Tucking her under his arm, and stifling her noisy clamours,
he turns to vacate the premises; but, alas for his circumspection, the
door of the residence opens, and a fat woman, with a baby dangling over
one arm, comes out to swear at a neighbour's boy who is throwing stones
at a cat on her roof. She has not noticed the enterprising Mongol, but
"he who hesitates is lost," and Sin's native wit serves him well.
Advancing boldly to the stout female, smiling obsequiously the while, and
covering the brands and birth-marks of the goose with his jerkin, he
blandly queries:

"Buy em goose, missee? Welly good, welly fat."

"Naw!" snaps the woman, eyeing him suspiciously.

"Muchee fine goose, welly fat!" persists Sin, coyly smiling.

"Don't want it; go away!"

"All li; some odder day, eh?" So Sin retreats, still smiling, and as he
trots on his way congratulates himself, gibbering aloud in his rapture.

Sin had a bijou villa, built in his spare time from plans and
specifications of his own making, and composed of old palings gleaned
from neighbouring fences on moonless nights, and multitudinous other
scraps and patches which were within the reach of a poor Chinee. The
residence was a very comfortable one for summer wear; it had openings to
catch the breeze from every point of the compass, and if the rain did
come in at the roof--well, it ran out at the sides again. Standing at the
front door one commanded an excellent view of a creek, embedded in whose
thick yellow clay lay the decomposing remains of many domestic fauna. The
house was within two minutes' walk of a fantan-table and a Joss-house; it
abutted on a stagnant pool, and received the balmy westerly breeze as it
bounced off a candle-factory. Our hero was content with these few
advantages for the time being, but by steady industry and frugality he
hoped one day to run a gambling-hell of his own, and move in the best
Celestial society in imported wooden boots. Sin was ambitious.

Sin Fat parted with his feathered prize to an epicurean fellow-countryman
at a high figure before he reached his humble home. He knew that, had he
not done so, Mrs. Sin Fat would have seized the earliest opportunity of
converting the bird into square gin. Mrs. Fat was possessed of a
deplorable habit of thus transmuting all kinds of personal property into
liquor, in consequence of which it was part of her industrious husband's
policy to carefully place all articles readily saleable beyond her reach.

It was dark before Mr. Fat reached his own roof-tree. He groped his way
into the parlour, which was also kitchen, bedroom, drawingroom, and
outhouse, and lit a candle (candles were another of Mrs. Fat's
extravagances). The glare awoke a woman who was sleeping, sprawling
amongst a few filthy rags on a low bunk at one end of the hut. She lifted
herself on her hands, and gazed at the Chinaman with stupid, drunken
eyes. A great shock of unkempt black hair fell about her sallow face,
which, despite the ravages of drink, and that faint, strange Mongolian
look which surely comes to the woman who consorts with Chinamen, still
possessed something of beauty. Under earlier and more favourable
circumstances her eyes had been full, dark, and luminous. Her features
were well cut, the nose somewhat aquiline, the mouth large and sensual. A
virago surely, with the temper of fifty devils--a woman abandoned to the
filth and utter loathsomeness of a Chinese camp. About thirty-four years
of age, tall, round with the unnatural obesity of a heavy drinker,
intensely hating all about her--aye, and hating herself worse than all as
she wallowed in the very dregs and slime of the social system--such was
Mrs. Sin Fat.

"Home again, sweetheart!" she muttered, "home again to your true love, my
tall, beautiful--Bah, you ugly thief! Get out or I'll brain you!" And a
list of profane ejaculations was smothered as she fell with her face
amongst the rags once more, clutching vacantly for the empty bottle
wherewith to assault her submissive husband.

This was Sin's only weakness--this she-fiend, from whose bursts of
passion he had often to fly for his life. He had found her one cold, wet
night, stretched in the mud at the door of his hovel, and had taken her
in. She was haggard, ragged, and so fearfully emaciated that the men
turned from her with wry expressions, and this seemed her last chance.
She and Sin Fat "got married." She was possessed of one husband already,
a portly Melbourne mechanic, but she had left him and her child years
before--left him because he was a "fat old fool," an opinion based on the
fact that he did not kick her down and jump on her with his working boots
when she flew into a tantrum. Other men had done this since, and she
respected them. Sin fed her up, dressed her well, and then she left him,
only to return again, worn with debauchery, to be dressed and fed, and to
"clear" once more. She repeated this course several times, and her
dutiful lord always received her with open arms; but at length an idea
occurred to Sin: he refused to provide fine clothes, and then she stayed
with him, and made merry by occasionally cracking his head with a
gin-bottle--an empty bottle, of course, for she would rather that her
dear lord should escape correction altogether than waste a "nobbler" of
her favourite nectar. Sin bore his cross patiently, but it was not
affection entirely that restrained him from dropping something unhealthy
into her gin. We have said that he was ambitious; he had many plans, and
this woman could dress well and ape the lady. He foresaw the time when
she would be useful to him.

Sin had no intention of remaining a toiler and moiler all his life. He
had done well in the rag-and-bone business, but it was laborious, and our
hero had gentlemanly instincts--he wanted to acquire riches and fatty
tissue without expending any more of the sweat of his brow than was
absolutely necessary, and he but waited to increase his available capital
before embarking in business. By a dispensation of Providence, the
fulfilment of his laudable ambition was brought about earlier than he
expected.

Midnight. The white moon floated low in the eastern sky, and thrust her
sheeny beams like sword-blades through the crazy walls of Sin Fat's home.
A tall, willowy cat, with swan-like neck and attenuated frame, bestrode
the ridge-pole, and stood black against the pallid orb of night, and
lifting up her voice recited her woes to the listening spheres in accents
wild and weird. All else was still. The camp lay like a cluster of
islands in a lake of light. Sin's sleep was calm and childlike, and his
wife had ceased to toss and breathe half-uttered curses in his deaf ear.
The moon rose higher and higher, and the long black shadows slowly folded
towards their base. Suddenly and stealthily the ground opened like a
yawning giant; Sin Fat's villa trembled, tottered, and sank quietly into
the black abyss, and where it had stood gaped a deep, dark pit--and a
dusty cat, with a broken tail and a coat of many colours, tearing madly
across the battery sands, seemed to be the only creature that quite
realized the extent of the catastrophe. The Chinese camp at Ballarat is
situated chiefly over "old ground." The country has been worked so
thoroughly that sections of the earth's crust often settle down abruptly
into the caverns below, accompanied by sundry Mongolian residences, to
the exceeding discomfort of their greasy inhabitants.

At break of day the squalid denizens of the camp gathered about the
chasm, at the bottom of which lay Mr. and Mrs. Sin Fat buried in the
ruins. The Chows appointed a chairman, and discussed the situation with
characteristic clamour and gesticulation, finally resolving by a large
majority to call in white men to undertake the rescue. When there is work
to be done which entails the probability of a broken head or the
unearthing of a corpse, the heathen Chinee is sure to have a sore hand or
an important engagement at some distance. White men came, and Mr. and
Mrs. Sin Fat were fossicked out of the debris, full of dust, old nails,
and wooden splinters, but not much the worse for their premature
interment. Mrs. Fat thanked her rescuers, as she was hauled up through
the roof of the hut, with a few well-chosen objurgations, terminating
with a heartfelt wish that they might be instantly consigned to a region
where frost and snow are unknown.

Sin stood on the brink of the aperture for some time after the
thoughtless herd had dispersed, dolefully surveying the fragments of his
late home. His mind was made up at last--he would not build again, he
would go into business.

The year 1876 A.D. Little Bourke-street, Melbourne, Sunday morning. On
both sides of the narrow thoroughfare were groups of sleek-looking
Chinese, arrayed in imported clothes, their hands buried in their long
sleeves, debating politics and theology, or more likely cavilling at the
absurdly low price of "cabbagee" and "gleen pea," the conversation
occasionally eliciting a shrewd ejaculation from a dun-coloured
philosopher a hundred yards off, or from a hoary, half-dressed pagan at a
third-story window. They were a fat, comfortable-looking lot, and they
aired their Sunday best on a fine Sabbath "allee same Eulopean." In front
of a smoky little shop, possessed of only one window, in which a roast
fowl, beautifully browned and highly polished, hung suspended by a
string, and served as a roost for half the flies in the lane, was
congregated a particularly verbose and noisy crowd, attracted evidently
by the brilliant conversational powers of one of their number--a short
but enormously fat "John," who leaned in the doorway. His stoutness was
phenomenal; it would not have discredited the treatment of those wily men
who prepare prize hogs for agricultural shows. Layers of blubber bulged
about his eyes, leaving only two conical slits for him to peer through;
his cheeks sagged below his great double chin, and his mighty neck rolled
almost on to his shoulders, and vibrated like jelly with every movement.
But his corporation was his greatest pride--it was the envy and
admiration of all his friends; it jutted out, bold and precipitous, and
seemed to defy the world. This Celestial phenomenon was dressed in the
very latest Chinese style; gorgeous silks of many colours bedizened his
capacious person; his feet were encased in the richest stub-toed wooden
shoes; his hat was a brilliant building direct from the Flowery Land, and
his proud tail swept the floor. A dandy dude was he--a heavy swell from
home--oily and clean, looking as if he had been well scraped and polished
with a greasy rag. He was jolly; his smiles went from his ears to his
toes like ripples on a lake, and succeeded each other like winking--in
fact, he was brimful of a wild sort of Chinese humour. We have read that
the Chinese delight in punning; this man must have been the king of
Mongolian punsters, judging from the merriment his every remark was wont
to evoke. He was brimming with irony, sarcasm, and sparkling repartee. A
white man could never grasp his witticisms; after translation they
sounded much like childish nonsense, but anyone who listened to him would
feel confident that he was a comical dog all the same.

In compliance with a suggestion from the portly host, the Chows streamed
after him through the dark, dirty "shop" into a long, low room on the
left, where were a number of tables covered with matting. Seating himself
at the head of one of these, and producing the "tools," the fat man
prepared to preside over the game, his small eyes twinkling keenly enough
now from out of the depths of his head; and soon all were enthralled in
the mysteries of fan-tan. The Chinaman, stoical under all other
circumstances, gambles like a fiend; these men were soon worked into a
delirium of excitement, but the fat Mongolian was always cool, and whilst
the sums of money before the players fluctuated, his increased steadily,
surely.

A sign over the door of the little smoky shop translated into English
implied that Sin Fat, Chinese cook, lived and plied his trade within, and
was prepared to fulfil all orders with promptitude. That sign was a bold
and brazen lie. Sin Fat was no cook, and the burnished fowl which hung in
the window was only a "blind"--a window-blind, so to speak--intended to
beguile "him foolee white feller." Sin Fat ran a gambling-hell and
something worse. Sin had attained his ambition; while making flesh he was
also making money rapidly. Our hero, the poor broken Chow who had landed
in the city not many years before without a shilling or a change of
raiment, had, by patient industry and steadfastness of purpose, acquired
an extensive business and a quantity of capital at interest. The colonial
climate agreed with him, and he had many friends. When Constable Mahoney,
Sergeant Mulduckie, or Private O'Brien met him they greeted him like a
brother; they winked knowingly, dug him jocularly in the ribs, and
insinuated that he was a sly dog. These zealous guardians of public
property and morality had mastered the art which was necessary to every
"mimber av the foorce" who would have his bank-book and little terrace in
the suburbs--the art of not seeing too much.

Beyond the little shop adorned with the pendant fowl, stretched to the
right and left till the back premises of the houses in the block seemed
to be absorbed, were numerous small rooms--cabins reeking with the
nauseating odour of opium and pollution and Chinamen, and always clouded
with smoke. There was no order, no design, in the building of these
cribs; big rooms had been portioned off and holes cut in partitions
recklessly. You groped through the place, and might find your way, to
your great surprise, into two or three filthy lanes at the back, right or
left. The curious European, on a voyage of discovery, saw in these rooms,
through the clouds of choking, evil-smelling opium fumes, debilitated
Chinamen, with animalized faces, floating to hell in the midst of visions
of heaven; lank, skinny coolies, Indians, and other vile Asiatics; and,
worst of all, European girls, corrupt below anything else in nature,
excepting only the ghouls they consorted with. Girls of sixteen, decoyed
in at the front door by the sheen of silk and the jingle of gold,
percolating through that terrible den, to be finally cast out amongst the
slime and rottenness of the lanes--abject wrecks, with nothing of
humanity left within them, and hardly the semblance without.

Mrs. Sin Fat was well and hearty; she had fine clothes galore, and no
longer thought of deserting her dear lord--perhaps because she saw that
he was not now so very anxious to prevent it. A great assistance in the
business was the tall, dark woman, who could "put on style;" she clung to
her old love--the gin-bottle--and frequently worked up a small cyclone,
an hysterical fit peculiarly her own, which militated against the
prosperity of the house by suspending business for the time being. In
these moments she called herself many vile and unladylike names, bit her
arms, tore her hair, spat upon her lord, and spurned him with something
heavy and hard, even going to the extent of hurling bottles and other
dangerous projectiles at the shaven heads of the best customers. This was
unpleasant, but Sin condescended to overlook it when she sallied forth in
fine raiment, with a thick veil concealing half her face, to wander in
the public parks and gardens, and enter into conversation with young
girls who were airing babies, or reading romances in the shade. She
talked with them so sweetly (one at a time always) about babies, birds,
or flowers; but she was at her best when describing with poetic fervour
gorgeous dresses, all bespangled and glittering, or dwelling upon hats
that were dreams of loveliness. She was always making appointments with
these girls, and gradually, deftly leading them by a golden thread, she
drew them into the shop of Sin Fat the cook, and the sign over the door
might well have read:--"Abandon all hope ye who enter here!" Mrs. Fat was
not always successful; but one success condoned for fifty failures. Sin
Fat's trade was so extensive that he was enabled to give other women
commissions in this line; none of them, however, succeeded so well as his
wife.

Two years rolled by, and Sin Fat's business increased and multiplied in
every branch. A polished fowl still hung in the little window, and the
green and golden sign published the same old lie. Sin was even jollier
and more rotund; he was looked up to as a Chow among Chows. His capital
at interest had grown apace, and he fondly dreamed of selling out and
returning home to the Flowery Land, there to buy a Celestial C.M.G-ship,
and lord it as a representative Australian. His wife by this time was a
source of grave uneasiness to him; her temper had intensified, she had
grown hypochondriacal, and refused for months to tout for the business.
Her bursts of passion were terrible to contemplate, and Sin Fat, Esq.,
had now attained a station so exalted that to be seen evading the wrath
of a tall female armed with a poker or a bottle compromised his dignity.
He felt that it was time to assert his authority.

One day Sin, as head of the firm, was overjoyed at the advent of a new
victim. The decoy in this case was a loudly dressed young woman who
shortly before had developed marvellous ability in that line. The new
girl was aged about seventeen, tall, dark, and thin, but handsome--the
spoilt daughter of a weak parent. She had been caught with the golden
cord, and the hook had been baited with her own vanity. A few hours after
her advent he was seated with her in the one room of the place which had
any pretensions to cleanliness and attractions. It was draped and hung
about with all kinds of ridiculous, highly-coloured Chinese gew-gaws, and
fairly furnished. This was the bower into which all novices were first
introduced; when they left it they had received their initial lesson in
the hard course of misery just entered upon. Sin was introducing this
girl to her first pipe of opium--that devil's drug and Chinaman's
greatest ally. The obese Confucian prattled to her in tender tones, like
the jolly old gallant he was, and the girl, half-stretched upon a sort of
settee, laughed and joked with the boldness of an old hand.

Suddenly the door opened and Mrs. Sin Fat entered. She had come to
inspect the strange girl for the first time. She looked wild and uncanny
enough as she stepped over the threshold, but when her eyes encountered
the face of the new-comer her countenance became horrifying.

"Great---!" she whispered, supporting her shivering limbs against the
door. The exclamation was not blasphemous--for a wonder--it was half a
prayer, half the expression of strong inward agony. Then a fierce
determination seemed to strengthen every muscle and sinew in her tall
frame; she strode into the room, dashed the pipe from the girl's hands,
and, seizing her by the arms with a force that made the bones crack, she
said hoarsely:

"Who are you, my fine miss? Your name? What's your name? You need not
scream, Jessie Hill. You see I know you. I have watched you from a
distance for years. So your tender-hearted father has let you drift this
way, as he did me. He is too kind for devils like us. You go out of
this--back to your father! Do you hear me? You go now, and if you ever
come here again I'll stab you to death! Remember, I swear I will watch
for you, and if you come here again I will kill you on the spot! They
told you you would have rich dresses, handsome admirers, pockets full of
gold, didn't they? They have lied, as they lied to the miserable wretches
who have gone before you. There is no finery here--nothing but filth and
misery and degradation. Come here again, and I will throw your dead body
into the gutter. Now, go!"

But the girl had fainted, and no wonder, for the woman gripped her like a
vice, and her face was as frightful as a nightmare. Mrs. Sin Fat ran out
for water; when she returned her husband had locked the outer door and
placed the key in his pocket. She rushed at him in a fury, but checked
herself with her hands in the air.

"That girl has got to go!" she hissed.

"No savee," muttered Sin, putting on a bolder front than ever he had
dared to do before.

"I tell you she shall go; she is my daughter, my child!"

"Nosavee! Stay here all a same." And he crossed into another room. Sin
had paid his agent a big commission on this girl, and was determined not
to lose her. Besides, he had taken a fancy to her himself; he would
rather have lost the mother than the daughter. Mrs. Sin Fat did not storm
and rage, but turned away with a calmness that was unnatural, and
presently followed Sin into the room, and came close to him, concealing
one hand in the folds of her dress.

"That girl," she said, calmly; "is she to go?"

"No, no! Go yourself---"

These memorable words were the last ever spoken by the great, the
prosperous Sin Fat. A knife flashed before his eyes, and was driven to
the hilt in his side. He fell forward with only a groan, and the fall
forced the heavy handle of the weapon still deeper between his ribs. Mrs.
Sin Fat, coolly removing the keys from his pocket, went out, followed by
a little stream of bright blood, which ran along the floor under the
closed door, as if to keep watch upon her, and entered the room where she
had left the new girl--her own daughter, as the fates would have it. The
new girl was sitting gazing about her, frightened and confused.

"Here, come with me," said the woman, seizing her roughly by the arm;
"come with me, and see the delightful life you will have of it in this
house!" She led the girl through the vile den, showed her all its
abominations, and at last pushed her into one of the filthy alleys.
"Here," she said, "you would be thrown out in a few months' time, a
degraded wretch. A fine, gay life, eh? Now go, and be a good woman if you
can. So help me Heaven, if you ever come back I will kill you. Remember
that, night and day!"

The girl hurried away, full of horror and fear, but saved and her mother
followed her at a distance. Sin Fat was found, and duly inquested. A
verdict of murder was returned, and a warrant issued for Mrs. Sin Fat,
but she was never caught. Only one man ever cast eyes on her again. A
week after the murder a stoical old ferryman was working his lumbering
craft across the river late one night, when something struck the prow,
turned slowly round, and quietly drifted with the dark waters. It was a
body. It turned over after the contact with the boat, and the man saw a
white, bleached face in the moonlight, surrounded by a mass of black
hair, which formed a sombre halo. The ferryman looked after it curiously
for a time, then resumed his rowing, muttering:

"Only a body! Well, I don't want t' be mixed up in no inkwests."



AN INCIDENT AT THE OLD PIONEER

MANAGER M'Fie had seen the 12 o'clock shift below, and now, tired and
disgusted, he kicked off his wet things, and "turned in." Manager M'Fie's
hut was quite a salubrious summer residence, but the rain had already
picked holes in the bark roof. An iron bucket suspended above the head of
the bunk caught the tiny stream that would otherwise have dribbled upon
his pillow, an oil-skin coat turned the drops that rained upon the foot
of the bed into a miniature river meandering along the hard clay floor,
and the darkness was made musical by the tinkling sound of drops falling
into tin dishes placed here and there about the hut to catch them. Mack
curled down amongst the blankets under his great 'possum rug, swore a
prayer or two, and endeavoured to give himself up to sweet forgetfulness
of his "danged roomertism," the fact that she was pinching out--"she"
being the reef--and his many other managerial troubles.

Outside the night was pitch dark, and the rain raced by in successive
charges, driven by the howling wind that caught and tore the gusts of
phosphorescent steam above the engine-house at the mine, and sent the
fragments streaming and curling away amongst the complaining trees like
maddened wraiths. The driver in the well-lighted, rain-tight engine-house
whistled contentedly over his work, and the battery boys, under
comfortable shelter, rather delighted in the storm, the howling of which
could be heard even above the thunder of the stampers; but the
unfortunate braceman, crouching in the lee of one of the poppet-legs
beneath the misty yellow glow of his lantern, cold, soddened, and more
than half afraid of the tempest, that shook the brace vigorously under
its bare poles, muffled the chattering of his teeth with a big quid, and
heartily envied the facemen in the warm stopes and drives below.

Sleep was long coming to the weary "skipper;" he lay awake for hours,
feeling the rheumatism like rats gnawing in his old bones, and swearing
quietly but with the emphasis of a devout "Geordie." At length, whilst
listening intently for the four o'clock whistle, oblivion fell upon him,
and a deep organ note mingled with the tinkling of the raindrops in the
scattered tins.

Mack imagined he had not slept twenty minutes when he was roughly
awakened. He felt himself being energetically shaken, and heard a voice
with a decided note of terror in it mixed up with the march, march, march
of the rain and the long shrill cries of the wind in the dead gums. A
shower of water rained upon his face from wet oilskins as he turned, and
the voice of Tom White called again:--

"For God's sake, boss, tumble up! The 'big blow' has caved in, and the
old shaft is choked with reef."

The manager was out on the sloppy floor in a moment, groping for his
clothes.

"An' Brierly, Brierly--D---n it all, man! what about Brierly?" he gasped.

"He is trapped like a rat."

"Lord, Lord!" groaned M'Fie, "an' there hasn't been a man near the cursed
hole for months before to-night."

Mack discovered the matches, but they were like mush in his hand, and he
was compelled to tear his way into his clothes in the darkness. Presently
he rushed after White towards the mine. The whistle was piping piteously
against the storm, which still thundered in the gully.

A hasty examination served to inform the manager of the extent of the
disaster, which troubled him all the more for the fact that it was not
quite unforeseen and might have been avoided. About forty yards from the
working shaft of the Old Pioneer mine was another and a smaller shaft,
one that had been sunk by the discoverers of the reef. At the lower-most
level of the latter hole the two shafts were connected by means of a
drive for the purpose of improving the air in the workings. Within about
fifty feet of the surface the original workers had opened out and struck
a big blow of quartz, the very richest of the lode, and in taking out the
stone had excavated a great irregular chamber, reaching in places to
within twenty feet of the surface. This chamber they eventually stowed
full of loose reef from the lower workings, with the dual object of
saving hauling and holding up the ground. It was a bad job from a miner's
point of view, but when a small independent party is on rich stuff that
is not expected to hold out the members rarely waste time on fancy
mining. Long since the surface over the excavation had settled down,
leaving a large hollow place. To-night the great pressure of the many
tons of earth, combined with the force exerted by the swelling of the
reef, caused by the moisture that percolated through, had crushed out the
timbers that walled up the mouth of the old drive, and sent the broken
reef pouring into the pit, like the waters of a cataract, filling eighty
feet of shaft in the winking of an eye.

If this were all the accident might not have been very serious, but at 12
o'clock M'Fie had sent Bill Brierly to put in a shift in a small drive
leading from the air-shaft towards the Old Pioneer, and about thirty feet
from the bottom of the former. Scarcely any work had been done in this
drive since it was opened out, and now the shaft was choked, and Brierly
was penned in that tiny chamber, with air enough, Mack reckoned, to last
a man five hours, provided he had sense enough to put out his candles,
and sit and wait for death in the dark--a hair-bleaching, marrow-freezing
experience men say who have so sat and waited.

"Stop the battery!" roared M'Fie, after his cursory inspection. "Send the
boys to knock up the men at the Piper an' up at Mother Murty's. They'll
never hear that penny whistle agin this wind. White, you take Harry an'
Bricky an' a couple of others when they come, an' rig a win'las over the
air-shaft, an' pull reef till all's blue! Ben, go below--I expect Evans
an' Castro are already on the job. Chuck it down the winze, stow it
anywhere, an' work--work like fiends. If we don't get at Brierly inside
five hours I'm a done man, an' so is he!"

The manager remained on top a few minutes longer, giving orders to the
brace-man and the engine-driver, and then went below with a couple of
volunteers who had come out of the black bush, half-dressed and puffing
like engines. In No. 3, which drive ran into the old shaft, three silent
men, stripped to their flannels, reeking in the faint, ghostly light of
the candles, worked desperately upon the broken reef that had gushed into
the drive.

M'Fie and the others "took a hand," more men came down in the next cage,
and the next, and next, and presently wherever there was room for a man
to plant a shovel or push a truck a man was toiling with the magnificent
energy with which the meanest miner is endowed when the life of a mate is
at stake. On the brace three or four men handled the trucks as the cages
leapt to the landing. The engine throbbed, groaned, and strained like a
living thing, and the eager volunteers, stoking vigorously, kept steam up
to a dangerous pressure, while the safety-valve fairly shrieked under it.
At the mouth of the air-shaft a brawny contingent whirled the windlass,
pulling dirt from the top of the heap below, where two men toiled like
heroes. Six or seven others, waiting to relieve exhausted mates, gathered
in the red glow before the boilers, and talked of the imprisoned man in
low voices and with a newborn respect, telling all the best they knew of
him; and two or three frightened, curious women, with shawls drawn over
their heads, peered with white faces out of the surrounding darkness.

At daybreak the struggle was still going on with undiminished zeal, and
every handy place that would hold a truck of dirt was choked with reef,
and the cages sprang up with the full trucks or rattled down with the
"empties" swiftly, and with scarcely a pause.

Manager M'Fie worked with the best of them. Drenched with perspiration,
bruised and cut by pieces of falling reef, he faced the mass of dirt in
the old shaft, careless of danger and ignorant of fatigue. As fast as the
reef was shovelled away more rolled into the drive out of the shaft, but
at length Mack uttered a sharp exclamation of joy and pointed to a dark
open space showing below the cap-piece of the first set. Enlarging this
with a few strokes of the shovel, he seized a candle and examined the
shaft beyond; then, staggering back in the drive, bellowed a cheer that
was caught up by the men and echoed on the brace.

The unexpected had happened. The choked pit was a ladder-shaft; a stout
ladder, well stayed, ran up the side of the shaft, past the drive in
which Brierly was immured; between it and the slabs lining the shaft was
a space about 18 in. wide; large lumps of reef had jammed between the
rungs, and now, right up the side to the mouth of the drive, was a clear
passage, large enough to admit of the escape of a slight man like
Brierly.

"Steady lads--easy does it!" said Mack, as the men attacked the reef
again. "A wrong stroke might bring the stuff down again. Clear a way, an
let's see what can be done."

Mack put his head into the shaft and called, but no answer came back. He
called louder, again and again. Still there was no reply, and the old
manager turned away, and looked meaningly into the blank faces of the
men, and his own cheeks were grey with dread.

"I'll chance it, boss!"

A young fellow stepped forward--a trucker, a boy merely--with a plain,
strong face and glowing eyes, luminous with resolution.

"No, no, lad! it might mean death."

But young Stevens pushed by the extended arm and seized the ladder.
Somebody stuck a lighted candle on his hat with a scrap of moist clay,
and he went up the shaft on the under side of the ladder, climbing
gingerly, conscious that the least vibration might bring the reef rushing
in upon him. Mack watched him from below, and no man spoke a word. The
boy reached the drive, paused only a moment, and started down again. Half
a minute later he was dragged from the ladder by M'Fie's eager hands, and
the same instant the reef rushed in, and filled up the place where he had
been, and poured into the drive with a vibrant roar like thunder.

Stevens stood with his back to one of the legs for a moment, a
superstitious fear transfiguring his face, his limbs trembling painfully.

"He is not there!" he gasped in a choked voice.

"Not there?"

The boy shook his head.

"Then," murmured M'Fie, "he is there;" and he pointed towards the
filled-in shaft with a despairing gesture. "He must have made a rush for
the ladder when she started to run, and he's under the reef. It's all UP,
boys!"

Something like a groan broke from the lips of the men, but they seized
their shovels and went to work again--all but one man. Graham turned away
and walked towards the working shaft. He went up on the cage, and in less
than five minutes returned and drew M'Fie aside. He whispered a few words
in the manager's ear, and Mack followed him with an amazed look in his
face. The two men got on the cage, and Graham pulled the knocker,
signalling to the engine-driver to drop them at No. 2.

Graham led the way along No. 2, in which drive no work had been done for
some months, and presently stopped and threw the light of his candle full
upon the recumbent form of a man sleeping heavily upon a few slabs, his
head pillowed on his arm. Mack turned the face towards the light, and
beheld Bill Brierly, the supposed dead man. Graham, and M'Fie stared at
each other for a moment. Graham grinned feebly but Mack breathed a mighty
oath. Brierly's tea-flask lay near. The manager picked it up and brought
it to his nose.

"Drunk!" he ejaculated, kicking the sleeping miner.

"As a jackass," responded Graham, tersely.

Ten minutes later the brace-man called to the men below to knock off and
come up.

"We have got Brierly. He is alive!" he cried.

The men rushed the cages, cheering, and wondering. On top a circle of
disgusted miners stood round Bill Brierly, who lay sprawling on the floor
before the boilers, grinning inanely in his drunken sleep. The truth was
told in constrained whispers. Brierly was probably "half-screwed" when he
went on at 12; he had made his way to No. 2, the driest and warmest drive
in the mine, early in the shift, taking his flask of rum with him, and
intending, no doubt, to "do a comfortable loaf" up there; and there he
had lain, stupidly drunk, throughout those dreadful hours of anxiety and
toil. The men thought of their long struggle and their wasted sympathies,
of the reef piled everywhere about the workings, yesterday so orderly and
correct, and each man glanced into his neighbour's face, but none spoke;
no one even ventured to swear, and they could not laugh--the situation
was too tremendous for any form of expression of which they were capable.

One by one the worn-out miners dragged themselves away towards their huts
and houses, but M'Fie remained, sitting on a log, glowering at the
drunken man, his mind full of the choked winzes and drives below, and of
young Stevens cheek by jowl with death on the buried ladder.

"Ain't you going to turn in, boss?" someone asked.

"No," he said, angrily. "No. I'm goin' to sit here till Bill Brierly
sobers up, an' then, by thunder, I'm goin' to kick him from here to the
Piper, an' back again!"

"But, man, this is better than having to fish him from under the reef."

"I dunno, I dunno!" snarled Mack, striking his knee fiercely with his
great gnarled fist, "but I must kick that man or blow up!"



A VAIN SACRIFICE

"A BIG fire down on the flat!"

It was after midnight. Petersen, Manly, Collier, and Grigg had been
playing euchre for the last five hours, and drinking Cody's hand-made,
chain-lightning whisky. They were heavy-eyed and heavy-headed, and did
not seem to realize the significance of the shout for a few moments. Then
they placed their cards carefully on the table, face downwards, and filed
out, blundering along the passage to the hotel verandah.

A fierce red glow burned against the western sky, and far down amongst
the black gum-trees a tongue of flame danced in the darkness.

Petersen, his tall form steadied against the verandah post, gazed for a
moment, and the heaviness passed out of his eyes, succeeded by a keen
interest, the flush in his handsome bearded face, induced by the heat of
the room and the poisonous liquor he had drunk, died out, and his cheeks
became ashen-grey in the dim light reflected from the bar window.
Suddenly a cry burst from his lips:

"It is my house! Oh, God, my wife!"

He sprang off in the darkness, and rushed at full speed along the rough
track leading down the hill in the direction of the fire, and his friends
followed swiftly on his heels.

Petersen had only become even a moderately good customer to Cupid Cody,
the preternaturally ugly landlord of the Wallaby Arms, and patentee and
sole proprietor of the Gehenna brand of whisky, within the last three
months; but of late he had been a very frequent visitor at the hotel, and
had developed an appetite for Cupid's noxious liquors and a fondness for
euchre which Mr. Cody was not slow to encourage.

Bert was a native of the Pea Creek district, and after living a sober and
industrious life to take suddenly to vitriolic whisky and combative
euchre parties two years after marriage was to excite curiosity and
comment. The comment was not complimentary to Mrs. Bert. His few
scattered neighbours seemed to find a sneaking satisfaction in the belief
that Petersen was not happy in his married life. This, they contended,
was only in accord with the fitness of things. In the first place young
Petersen had gone to town for his wife, an action that was considered
extremely unneighbourly, and was accepted as a reflection upon the
marriageable young maidens of Pea Creek and district. In the second place
Mrs. Petersen had shown no disposition to "make up to" her neighbours'
wives and daughters, and consequently had the reputation of being "stuck
up," and that is a sin unpardonable amongst bush people, to whom
sociability means so much.

Bert's married life had not been the happiest. The girl he loved and the
girl he married was quite unsuited to the life his wife was called upon
to lead. She was a small, fair, town-bred girl, fond of gaiety and
admiration, and used to little work and much amusement. He had won her in
his best clothes, in the course of occasional trips to the city, and he
took her to his home out in the silent bush, where the nearest neighbour
was a quarter of a mile off, and then a big, plain, motherly person, with
a great contempt for "Sunday clothes," and few ideas above the dairy.

Lately Mary's discontent had shown itself in petulant outbursts, in fits
of the sulks, and a callous indifference to her husband's feelings, She
grew to despise Petersen in his coloured moleskins and heavy boots. Bert
fought against it good-humouredly, striving to make her life pleasant,
and to retain her affection, but latterly her temper had driven him
almost to despair, and as he still loved her he preferred the savage
delights of Cody's bar parlour to the childish querulousness of the
disappointed woman and her eternal twitching at his heartstrings.

Petersen's house was quite two miles from the Wallaby Arms, and
throughout the long race the fear that had sprung into the man's soul
never left him for a second. A conviction that his wife was in the
burning house possessed him, and endowed him with extraordinary speed and
strength.

He had left his wife at five o'clock in the afternoon, suffering from the
headache that seemed to have become perpetual, and that filled his house
with wailing, and called down upon his head tearful reproaches without
reason and without end.

"What can I do?" he had asked, helplessly.

"At least you can go away," she answered, with fierce petulance.

When Petersen reached his burning home two or three men were running
about hopelessly with buckets of water, and two pale-faced women stood
before the house, watching it burn, stupid with fear. To these Bert
appealed:

"My wife! where is she?"

The women shook their heads dumbly, and one pointed a long, trembling
hand towards the leaping flames.

"No, no, no!" the husband cried, and he called his wife's name again and
again, running wildly from place to place. The men had seen nothing of
Mrs. Petersen--they believed she was in the house.

Distracted with fear and grief, Bert rushed once round the home, seeking
amongst the saplings, crying his wife's name in a voice pregnant with
pain and apprehension, and then the watchers saw him stop at the front
and survey the burning house for a moment. The fire had now seized upon
every part of the building, and threw up great tongues of flame against
the black sky. Only for a second he stood, and then they saw him dash at
the door and drive it in with his shoulder, and presently he disappeared
amidst the flames and smoke.

The people who had now collected about the burning house drew closer and
gazed into the flames, speechless and pale with terror. The moments
dragged by, and they waited, the great fear growing upon them as the
walls trembled, and the long, spiral flames were flung higher and higher
into the windless night. Still they waited, scarcely breathing. The
suspense became intolerable. Men looked into each other's eyes with
fearful meaning, and dry tongues passed over drier lips. At length an
overwrought woman shrieked aloud, and sank upon her knees, hiding her
face in the folds of her dress. And then the roof was seen to rise
upwards and outwards, the whole building vibrated, and, with a roaring
and hissing of flames, collapsed into a glowing ruin, from which the
sparks rose in clouds, and about which the flames ran and curled like
great serpents.

The watchers knew now that Bert Petersen would never come forth again.
The women sobbed, crouching on the ground. The men, white-faced and dumb,
stood gazing stupidly into the fire, paralyzed by the sense of their
impotence.

Not till Ragan, the mounted constable from Magpie, arrived did they find
tongue, and as the tale was told Ragan's face grew grey under its
accustomed bronze.

"Was burned trying to rescue his wife, you say?" he murmured.

"It was a mad attempt," said the now sobered Collier.

"'Twas," continued the constable in a harsh voice; "for his wife wasn't
there."

"Not there!"

"She's eloped with young Arthur Grey, the dude at the post-office, damn
her. They cleared out from Magpie together on the up train!"



GLOVER'S LITTLE JOKE

"AIN'T she a dainty bit o' stuff?" The senior member of the firm of Slack
and Samson, quartz-miners, Mount Moliagul, Victoria, sat on the
windlass-handle, with his elbows on his knees and his sharp, angular jaw
in his palms, and gazed with a mournful regret after the trim little
figure in cool and tasteful print sailing through the saplings under a
great spread of straw hat that fanned the air like the wings of a bird as
she buoyantly stepped along. "She's immense, don't you think, Bill?"

"Spiffin!" responded the junior partner, with gloomy enthusiasm.

"Got a fine eye," continued the senior member, envious and meditative.

"Rippin' golden hair!"

"An' teeth. Say, Glover's luck's in."

"My oath!"

The senior partner got up, stretched his ridiculously long limbs, sighed
heavily, and incontinently slid below, using the paid-out rope as a
medium. The junior partner sighed with greater intensity as he caught the
last dove-like flutter between the trees, and stationed himself at the
windlass for an hour's pulling combined with grave meditation.

Lucy Davis was nobody in particular to the firm of Slack and Samson. The
emotions excited in the honest souls of the partners when that charming
young creature smiled up at them in passing, from out the grateful shade
under the wide brim of her sun-hat, were felt in a like manner by the
majority of the single men on the lead every time Miss Lucy's natty
summer dresses came flitting through the bushes, and might be defined as
a momentary discontent with their own loneliness, and a vague hope that
fate might some day bestow upon them just such another little mate as
Lucy Davis. These emotions were, however, combined with a sense of
personal ill-treatment, for it was felt that the prize was not bestowed
with discrimination in this instance.

Fate, however, has few like Miss Lucy in stock; the supply is small and
the demand unlimited. She was nineteen, below the average height, fair,
with a glorious burden of bright chestnut hair, which, despite her
impatient efforts to brush it down smooth, in accordance with the
prevailing style, would persist in running up in soft, regular ripples
again almost immediately, to the great satisfaction of all beholders. She
had large, shy blue eyes, with long lashes, and arched brows two shades
darker than her hair. It is, perhaps, after all, a waste of effort to
attempt to describe a face--we may say this feature is thus, and that is
so and so, and every reader will picture a different countenance--but
Miss Lucy's was perfection glorified. It had that light that seems to
invite protection, and which proud, arrogant man so appreciates in the
woman he loves. Her figure was slight but well rounded, there was a touch
of native dignity in her walk, and her natural gaiety was demurely
restrained by a due appreciation of the enormous responsibilities of a
young lady of nineteen who had to keep house--no, tent--for father.

Miss Lucy wended her way along the brow of the hill towards the head of
the lead until she reached the claim of Messrs. Davis and Glover. Here
she seated herself on the reef, under the shade of the "win'sa'l" that
hung limply in the shaft, and, producing materials from her basket,
proceeded to knit a stocking to a merry tune, sung very softly, whilst
the strokes of picks drummed faintly in the bowels of the earth below,
and the rosellas, swinging, head downwards from the boughs of an adjacent
white gum and burying their heads in the abundant blossom, murmured an
occasional twitter of gluttonous satisfaction. The belle of Mount
Moliagul had not been knitting many minutes before a spasmodic jerking of
the windlass rope caused her to drive her needles at express speed and
assume a deceitful air of pre-occupation. The oscillations of the rope
became shorter and quicker, and presently a hairy arm came into view; it
was followed by a hairy face, and a small, bright man of about 45, with
splashes of clay on his face and in his whiskers, and alternate patches
of clay and candle-grease pretty well all over him, drew himself up
quietly and seated himself on the edge of the shaft; he watched the young
lady for a few moments, and marked with apparent satisfaction the
delicate briar-rose pink of her cheek, and the little moist curls upon
her brow and about her small ears. Miss Lucy's preoccupation was now very
intense indeed.

"'Ello, ugly!" said the small, bright man. "You here?"

"'Ello, dad! that you?" Lucy was surprised.

"That's me; s'pose you expected someone better, eh?"

"Someone better, dad! There's no one better on this lead. Goin' t' pull
dirt?"

"No; goin' over to Buckley's forge t' point these picks." Davis had now
landed several used-up tools.

"There ain't much haulin' t' do, Loo. Th' durned reef's ez hard ez iron;
if she don't make fresh we'll have t' do some shootin'. When I come back
I'll send George up t' get th' water out, though; I suspect that'll do
you."

Miss Loo insisted that she was not particularly anxious to have George on
the surface, but her loving parent was incredulous, and retreated,
grinning in an old-fashioned way. It would have been difficult for the
young lady to explain exactly how she felt towards Mr. George Glover. She
was going to marry him, she believed, and had never entertained any
serious objection to the arrangement. He was a fine big fellow,
good-looking enough, young enough, steady enough, and suitable enough for
a miner's daughter; he had been her father's mate for two years, and she
liked him. They had associated a good deal during their acquaintance, had
taken long walks together, and there was a tacit understanding that they
were to be husband and wife "some day." George had never taken her in his
arms, and said--"I love you--be my wife;" he was not that kind of young
man. He was a heavy sort of fellow, physically and intellectually; he
thought that when a man visited a girl frequently and they strolled
together and were civil to each other for a certain length of time they
naturally meant matrimony, and there was no necessity for any excitement
about the matter. He was immensely pleased with the state of affairs, but
he was unworthy of his luck--it is ridiculous to waste champagne on a man
who would be as well pleased with beer. Mr. Glover could not appreciate
the pretty, piquant damsel whom fortune was about to lavish on him as she
deserved.

"Halloa! on top there!"

"Be-e-low!"

"Er yer goin' t' send down that blessed pick, or must I stick here an'
freeze?"

This was Mr. Glover; he was in a bad temper evidently. Her father had
forgotten the pick, but she could send it down easily enough. It was a
simple matter to fasten the pick on the rope; she had seen it done times
out of mind, and knew how perfectly well.

"Hi, hi" she responded in her father's voice.

There was a sharp pick by the windlass-stand--that must be the one; in a
few seconds it was on the rope.

"Look up, below!"

She gave the rope a pull and the windlass revolved rapidly, but, to the
great horror of the girl, the pick had no sooner swung into the shaft
than it keeled right over and slipped out of the hitch. There was a whiz,
followed by a cry and a splash, and then silence. In that second of time
every vestige of colour had fled from Lucy's face. She fell on her knees
and peered wildly down into the darkness below.

"George!" Something in her throat choked the cry, and it was only a harsh
whisper.

"George! George!" Her voice had broken its bonds now and was shrill and
agonized.

"Speak, George! dear George, why don't you answer me?"

Not a whisper came back, and the girl arose to her feet again and gazed
towards the other claims along the load with desperate eyes. Her face was
strangely transformed by the agony of fear that possessed her--it looked
old and drawn. The thought that flashed upon her was that the pick had
struck her lover as he waited to receive it at the mouth of the drive;
the well-boards were off, and he would assuredly be driven into the water
by the blow, so that if he were not already dead, he would drown before
assistance came. Her mind was made up in an instant; there were no men on
the surface at the other mines, and there was no time to call them up.
She had a horror of the dark, echoing shafts, but that was forgotten now.
She paid out the rope with desperate energy, and when that was done
seized it with her small hands and started down as she had often seen the
men do. Her feet slipped mechanically into the toe-holes on either side
of the narrow shaft, and no touch of fear, no thought of her danger,
entered her soul. There were rough sets of timber at various distances
upon which she might have rested, but she did not pause for an instant.
Down, down, with a numbed body and a mind so confused that she scarcely
realized what she was doing, and at length her feet struck upon a slab
that had been thrown across the well, and she stood upright, her eyes yet
blinded by the sudden transition from the bright sunlight.

"Jerusalem! Loo!"

She could now dimly discern a dark figure moving in the drive before her.
The exclamation of amazement was followed by a roar of laughter that
lasted nearly a minute and shocked the girl terribly. She was leaning
against the side of the shaft, trembling in every limb, and from the tips
of her lacerated fingers large drops of blood fell into the water.

"You--you were not hurt, then?" she contrived to whisper.

"Hurt, no! I thought I'd scare you. But who'd a-thought you'd have the
pluck to come down! By thunder, it's rich!" And again he laughed
immoderately.

She could comprehend at last. He was safe, he had played a brutal joke
upon her, and that coarse merriment was the reward of her action. She
despised him for it. The revulsion of feeling left her weak and sick.

"Be quick," she said; "you must pull me up. I can't breathe here!"

"I didn't reckon on you comin' down, you know," he said apologetically,
struck by the peculiar tone of her voice.

"I must go on top!"

He hooked the hide bag on the rope, showed her how to ride by placing one
foot in the bag and steadying herself with the other, and then hastened
up the shaft.

"Look up, below!"

She felt the rope tighten, and was drawn up again towards the surface.
Her father returned whilst Glover was at the windlass, and he was now
kneeling at the mouth of the hole, peering anxiously down at the set
white face slowly rising out of the subterranean gloom.

"Quicker, man!" gasped the father, something in that face striking a
thrill of horror through his frame.

"Quicker, for the love of heaven! Almighty God!" Davis clutched madly at
the bleeding hands, but they slipped down the rope from under his
fingers, the girl sank back, the windlass whizzed, and she was gone.

She was still breathing when they brought her broken form to the surface,
but on the following afternoon she died.



A CHILD OF NATURE

A FEW years ago the peaceful solitude of a sequestered locality near the
north coast of Tasmania was abruptly violated by the sudden eruption of a
small but extremely lively mining township. A couple of enterprising
youths pottering about the surface a few months earlier in pursuit of
nothing more valuable than wallabies or "devils" became deeply interested
in the unexpected discovery of a very promising-looking outcrop of
quartz. The direct result of this interesting circumstance was an
immediate and enthusiastic trend of public feeling towards that retired
locality, and a speedy pressure of population along the line of reef. A
startling transformation ensued; with wonderful alacrity "pubs." and
poppet-legs sprang upon the scene, the forest trees fell back, and huts,
and tents, and paling stores took their places; the rattle of trucks, the
clang of knockers, the heavy beat of batteries, and the united clamour of
a dozen whistles buried their echoes in the surrounding bush; and beer,
and rum, and politics, and policemen abounded, in conjunction with other
enervating evidences of civilization.

Among the early arrivals on Lefroy was a long, bony, weather-beaten man
with a large and varied experience of goldfields, culled in his
wanderings hither and thither across Australia from one diggings to
another. Mr. Barney Brown, in common with most nomads of his class, was
extremely resentful of authority, and much disliked managers and
captains of shifts, preferring the freedom of action and liberty of
speech that are the privileges of the man who is his own boss. These
independent sentiments led him to turn his attention to the shallow
alluvial along the creek, which hitherto had been little heeded. Having
procured a miner's right, and chummed in with a congenial soul, Barney
marked out a claim in a promising locality, and before sundown had the
pleasure of bottoming on wash 18 inches thick and giving pennyweight
prospects. The panning-off of the first dish was eagerly supervised by
several unattached diggers, and the immediate result was a rush on the
postmaster for "rights," and a promiscuous pegging-out of claims. With a
soft, pipe-clay "bottom," a foot and a half of rich stuff, easily
shifted, and an unlimited supply of Cascade beer in an adjacent "pub.,"
the mates took things extremely easy, and cheerfully surveyed the
certainty of a little pile when their holding should peg out.

Mr. Brown was thirty-eight years of age, and, as previously intimated,
long and loose; he had pale ginger hair and whiskers, and a mild air of
self-deprecation and pensive bashfulness, which, however, was very
delusive, and tended to decoy facetious strangers to their own undoing,
as he was prepared to maintain his standing against "anything that
walked on end," and to resent an infringement of his rights by the
prompt and judicious application of a pair of fists of enormous size and
fortified with horny encrustations like horse-warts; and the placid
urbanity with which he undertook to knock the incautious party out of
his boots, and fulfilled the obligation, was a matter of the deepest
interest to the men of Lefroy. But Mr. Brown's most pronounced feature
was his implacable distrust of unmarried women. A spiteful treatise on
the girl of the period, written by some acrimonious philosopher,
combined with an extremely unpleasant legal experience with a red-haired
young female who had become convinced that he ought to marry, despite
his belief to the contrary, and who established her opinion in a court
of law, obtaining considerable of his savings as a recompense for the
loss of his name, had served to inspire him with a wholesome dread of
the sex early in his career, and observation and deduction only
intensified his sense of the malignity of Woman. He entertained a hazy
notion that every single girl with whom he came in contact had
intentions the reverse of honourable, that she harboured a deep-laid
scheme either to inveigle him into a state of bondage or rob him by
legal process, so he regarded the sex with an eye of doubt, and held
himself severely aloof.

Mr. Brown's hut-mates did not share his unseemly prejudice; they
appreciated the young woman as an admirable institution, and beheld her
with adoration, and gave way to such weaknesses as white shirts and
hair-oil in pursuit of her. Barney strove eloquently to convert them,
and feelingly indicated the error of their ways, and foretold breach of
promise cases and conjugal infelicity; but they heeded him not, and he
held his way alone. He felt that in Lefroy he had reasons to be
especially watchful of the common enemy, his bright prospects and the
abounding zeal of the local damsels necessitating every precaution in
protection of the rights of man. Divers susceptible young females cast
large languishing eyes upon the unprepossessing Brown, and, remembering
the rapidity with which his capital in the little wooden bank attached
to a local grocery was swelling, strove, by dint of gorgeous raiment and
captivating smiles, to overcome his stoical reserve; but Barney gave
them every discouragement, and always forsook them for the society of
the bar or the billiard-room at the earliest opportunity.

One Saturday afternoon, Barney and two chums, armed to the teeth with
supplies, ammunition, and guns, departed into the bush, intending to
travel a few miles back and spend the Sunday in kangaroo and duck
shooting. They had excellent sport, and were homeward bound, well laden
with the spoil of the chase, late on the Sunday afternoon, when Barney,
who was in the lead, had his attention attracted by a moving body that
disappeared behind a tree immediately after catching his eye. Supposing
it to be a wallaby, and intent on having another shot, Mr. Brown dropped
his load and advanced warily to the encounter. When well within
distance, he took advantage of the first glimpse of the animal to shoot.
Horror! a human being rolled into view, and immediately sprang to its
feet. Barney was almost paralyzed with terror. The figure was that of a
girl of about nineteen--the wildest-looking girl and the tallest he had
seen. She was bare-headed and bare-footed, and clad in a rag of a jacket
and an abbreviated skirt that was rapidly yielding to the ravages of
time. For a few moments the uncanny creature, wild-eyed and trembling,
surveyed her assailant, then turned and fled with the speed of a deer.
About a hundred yards off she stopped again and looked back like a
curious animal, but, when Barney moved to advance, she turned and rushed
away, regardless of his cries. To follow would have been useless--she
was soon lost to view amongst the saplings. On the tree and on the grass
where the girl had stood there were traces of blood.

"I reckon I'll be jugged for this lot!" groaned Barney.

His mates had no opinion to offer, they had only capacity for intense
amazement. They were eight miles from the township and had never heard
of a dweller in those wilds. The only feasible solution of the
phenomenon that presented itself was embodied in the supposition that
the bush was haunted by a stray female who had escaped in her early
childhood and been missing ever since.

The story was received with derisive incredulity at Lefroy, but on the
Monday afternoon following the strict veracity of Mr. Brown and his
chums was established to the satisfaction of the inhabitants, and at the
same time the mystery of their adventure was much abated. Twice a week a
large, hairy savage used to come crawling out of the leafy solitudes,
laboriously hauling on a rope to which was attached a screwed and bony
quadruped which had the consummate audacity to pretend to be a horse,
and to which in turn was attached an antiquated shay. This bucolic
curiosity used to tow his out-of-date animal round the town, peddling
butter, eggs, and vegetables. He was big-boned, skinny, and of uncertain
age, having apparently been sun-dried at a late stage of his existence,
or preserved for immortality by the action of smoke or some other
curative process; he was solemnly taciturn and uninviting, and nobody
troubled him with questions. Nobody seemed to know anything about him;
when he had completed his circuit, he shuffled off amongst the trees and
darkness enveloped him.

On the afternoon mentioned Mr. Brown was greatly concerned on observing
this strange specimen desert his conveyance on the track and bear down
upon him with every demonstration of excitement; he roared with bovine
ferocity, and brandished a whip, which our hero was distressed to
observe was loaded. He and the astonished digger clashed and clinched at
the mouth of the shaft, there was a brief struggle, a wild upheaval of
pipeclay, a dull thud, and when the dust rolled by, Mr. Brown was
revealed astride his fallen foe, who still foamed and roared in
inarticulate rage.

Barney's first thought was to send for whisky, and when the potent drug
arrived, he, with the assistance of a couple of friends, administered a
large dose to the intemperate hawker by force of arms. This treatment
was repeated several times, the patient taking to his medicine very
kindly when he caught its flavour, and when it had calmed his angry
passions he graciously explained that he had heard Barney was the man
who shot his daughter, and he had intended, in the heat of his feelings,
to exact summary vengeance, but now he was prepared to accept
explanations. Satisfactory explanations were forthcoming, and the
pedlar, who introduced himself as Abram Tooey, under the exhilarating
influence of the grateful liquor, developed a spirit of festive
geniality little to be expected in one so ancient, and departed, after
inviting the boys out to his farm, leading his beast of burden in a
reckless and erratic manner, and enthusiastically carolling a
bacchanalian ditty long out of favour.

Mr. Brown and his friends were filled with an exceeding great curiosity
regarding the agricultural recluse and his wild, untutored daughter. A
man from George Town was found who knew that old Tooey had been settled
on a few hundred acres somewhere down near the sea for over fifteen
years, and that before the outbreak of the diggings he used to journey
into George Town at stated intervals for supplies; but as to his family,
he knew nothing about any daughter--never heard or supposed he had any.
This only further excited Barney's inquisitiveness, and he determined to
visit the eccentric Tooey and have another interview with the wild
woman. A desire to ascertain if the girl had been much hurt, Abram's
invitation, and a bottle of whisky, he thought, would be excuses enough.
He had no apprehensions about visiting an unconventional young lady who
ran bare-footed in such a skirt, showed manifest dread of his sex, and
had been reared beyond the degrading influence of fashion-plates and the
ways and wiles of civilized woman.

True to his determination, Barney, with his mate, Croaker, set out in
search of the Tooey homestead on the next Sunday. They followed the
track of the old shay, and after a walk of about two hours and a half
discerned the slab establishment they were seeking. As they drew near
they were attracted by the spectacle of Miss Tooey sitting on a log
fence, sunning herself, but that young lady no sooner caught sight of
their advancing figures than she rolled promiscuously off her perch, and
cut across the paddock, showing wonderful action and phenomenal speed;
and they saw her a few minutes later surveying them with great curiosity
from fancied security in the fork of a tree. Mr. Tooey did not manifest
any great delight at the sight of his visitors, and asked them in with a
look of sulky suspicion; but a glimpse of the whisky-bottle improved his
temper, and a few nips served to impart a genial conviviality and make
him rather communicative.

The residence was a miserable hovel, furnished with a suite hand-made by
an amateur and fashioned from saplings principally. A smoked old woman
of most uncouth appearance arose in speechless amazement from a
three-legged stool as they entered, and drifted furtively from the room.
This was Mrs. Tooey, as her lord indicated with a nod and a growl. When
the whisky had paved the way, the diggers ventured a few interrogations.
They were gratified to hear that "Mur Jane wasn't hit bad"--merely a
trifle of half-a-dozen pellets through the fleshy part of the arm.

"Ain't she a sort of retirin' young woman?" ventured Croaker.

"D--d if I've noticed much," replied her interesting parent slowly.
Then, with the air of a man imparting an important truth, he added:
"She's a wonder t' eat."

"She skipped from us 's if we was goin' t'shoot agen 's we come along,"
continued Croaker. "Seems to me she's bashful."

"Maybe, p'raps, she is a bit backard," said Mr. Tooey, rattling his
pannikin as a delicate intimation that it was empty. "She hasn't seen a
young fellow since she was five year old, an' I suppose she's got a
notion they're given to shootin' that way."

Here Abram afforded his guests a sketch of his career, from which they
gathered that for 15 years his wife and daughter had been drifting into
savagery in that wretched hole, not having seen half-a-dozon strange
faces in the whole of the time.

"Towns ain't no places for girls," said Mr. Tooey in conclusion, "where
they're allus wantin' boots an' dimunds an' tooth-powders. Girls comes
dear in towns."

This sentiment Barney seemed prepared to endorse, but Croaker denounced
it with great vigour, asserting that it was an injustice to keep a girl
from communion with her kind, and advising Abram to let his daughter
visit Lefroy and obtain some polish.

"I don't see as Mur Jane wants polish," observed Mr. Tooey, with some
paternal pride; "she'll cut scrub with the best of 'em, I bet, an' there
ain't her equal at milkin'."

These things were all very well, said Croaker, but it was against nature
to see a girl running away from a young man as if he was a cannibal with
a large appetite. A girl in her natural state should display a proper
leaning towards young men, and rejoice in them.

Mr. Tooey was in a pliable frame of mind, and it required little
argument to induce him to bring his daughter in--just to convince her
that young men were not dangerous, or liable to shoot at any moment, and
to break her in to them, like. Abram went out, they heard him calling
"Mur Jane!" and presently he returned, dragging his lank, awkward
daughter after him, and he placed her, bashful and trembling, before her
visitors, her long, unkempt red hair falling about a very uninteresting
face, and her large eyes full of guileless shyness. Barney ventured an
apology and an inquiry after her wounded arm, but elicited no response,
and Mary Jane, as soon as released, darted behind the door, and surveyed
the visitors wonderingly through a crack for a short time, after which
she watched her opportunity to escape again into the paddock, and when
the young men were leaving she followed them for half a mile at a
respectful distance, and then watched them out of sight from the boughs
of a peppermint tree.

Mr. Brown was peculiarly interested in "Mur Jane." It was a fascinating
experience to him, this contact with a young woman who beheld him with
awe and fled from him in fear and trembling. He visited the Tooey
homestead again. He went often, and in time the timorous daughter of the
house became somewhat reconciled to the innovation, and no longer fled
at his approach, but would sit in the room, looking extremely ungainly
on the low bush stool, surveying the visitor with steadfast attention,
and giving way to giggling paroxysms of bashful confusion whenever he
caught her eye or addressed towards her the most trivial remark. The
spectacle of the child of nature posed there in various acute angles,
breathlessly regarding him as if he were something out of a menagerie,
was a novel one, and the situation was extremely gratifying to his
feelings as a man and a lord of creation. Hitherto he had found the
female element demonstrative and inclined to "boss the job;" pert little
misses in short frocks always overawed him with their aggressive conceit
and airy nonchalance; in the presence of "young ladies," despite his six
feet of muscular manhood, he dwindled into insignificance, and felt meek
and constrained, whilst they prattled cheerfully and maintained a
superior mental calm. With "Mur Jane" the position was reversed; she
plainly acknowledged him a greater being, and did humble homage to his
majesty. Thus his dignity as a man was restored, and he fully
appreciated the sense of authority he enjoyed in her company. Besides,
Miss Tooey, being untutored in the deep deceits that communion with her
kind alone could engender, was not likely to attach undue importance to
his visits or concoct matrimonial schemes or deep designs for damages
for breach of promise. Truth to tell, Barney--despite his innate
bashfulness--harboured more than an average fondness for the other sex
in the secret recesses of his being, and his dread of connubial bondage
was only apparently implacable. Meanwhile, his comparative ease in the
presence of Miss Tooey rested partly on his inability to accept that
large, uncouth young lady, with her native timorousness, tanned face,
wild hair, and palpable muscles, as of the same order as those dainty,
designing, self-sufficient damsels who flourish in towns and hamlets.

A friendship cemented by whisky grew up between Messrs. Tooey and Brown.
Abram's gloomy taciturnity almost faded away before the warmth and
congeniality of Barney's "Old Scotch," and Mr. Brown's Sunday afternoon
visits came to be regarded as a welcome break in the dull monotony of
"tending" cows and going to bed, then getting up and "tending" cows
again. Very soon "Mur Jane" displayed a burning desire to appear to
better advantage before the visitor. This intuitive weakness first took
form in the shape of a large, battered brass locket which the
unsophisticated creature hung about her neck on a piece of braid;
subsequently a monstrosity of millinery, a bonnet of fearful ugliness
and great of antiquity, was unearthed from the dust of ages; a
moth-eaten skirt, which was a relic of Mr. Tooey's late lamented
maternal grandparent, and might have had some pretension to style a
century ago, was next turned to account; a faded ribbon, a large
artificial flower of an unknown species, and a lot of other ancient
finery followed, all of which grandeur Miss Tooey paraded with
undisguised rapture and innocent artlessness, to the great distress of
her parent, who upbraided her extravagance and warned her to be careful
of "that 'ere hat," which, he averred, her mother was married in, and
cost four and eightpence--"besides the linin'." Barney beheld Mary
Jane's assumption of style with an unfavourable eye; he regarded the
outrageous bonnet particularly as a wicked frivolity, and as an evidence
that Miss Tooey was animated by vanities entirely unaccountable in a
young lady reared in the wilderness beyond the insidious influence of
her sex. At about this time, too, Mary Jane, without abating her
giggling and wriggling, and her timorous diffidence, began to assume an
air of having a vested interest in the visitor, which assumption of
proprietorship gave rise to painful conjecture in the mind of Mr. Brown,
and caused him to have serious doubts and misgivings about the
advisability of continuing his visits to the Tooey homestead. Whilst yet
doubting he was one Sunday morning assisted to a decision by the conduct
of his hut-mates. These facetious gentlemen had long amused themselves
with ironical conjectures regarding Brown's intentions in pursuing the
rude, untutored Tooey, and remarks more or less sarcastic anent his
pronounced antipathy to matrimony. On the Sunday morning in question,
assuming unconsciousness of the subject of their observations, they
indulged in sotto voce soliloquies and interesting speculations
regarding hypothetical nuptials in which Mr. Brown and Miss Mary Jane
Tooey, eldest and only daughter of Abram Tooey, Esq., of Piper,
Tasmania, figured conspicuously in conjunction with an imaginary parson.
The bride's trousseau was minutely if inelegantly described, and Home
and Victorian papers were earnestly requested to "please copy." Croaker,
in a deep mental abstraction, was heard to observe that it was
understood the happy man intended augmenting his collection with a
three-legged duck and a two-headed wombat and opening a menagerie of
living curiosities. Barney could not stand much of this badinage; he
uplifted himself in his bunk, swore at his mates collectively and in
turn and visited Tooey's no more.

A few weeks went by and Abram passed no remarks; he made his usually
bi-weekly visits, dragging after him his bow-legged and cross-eyed horse
and back-dated shay, remained as saturnine as of yore, and gave no
indications of having noticed Barney's neglect. One fine morning,
however, the people of Lefroy were astonished to see Mr. Tooey emerging
from the trees hauling his horse more desperately than was his wont,
whilst the shay swayed dangerously under the additional burden of a
long, fantastically-dressed female disguised in a scoop-shaped bonnet.
Near Brown's claim the apparition dismounted, and Barney, who was on top
pulling wash, was distressed on recognising "Mur Jane" in the awful tile
her mother had handed down to posterity and the worm-eaten skirt that
had been in the family nearly a century, and displaying the battered
brass locket and the artificial flower to the best advantage. He was
much more concerned to see her advance hesitatingly towards him, coyly
chewing the faded ribbon and grinning her old grin of shy distress. She
mounted the tip and stood there, looking supremely absurd, and giggling
vacantly in response to his salutations, whilst he felt that a sudden
attack of something fatal would be a relief from the strain he was
undergoing. Old Tooey had gone on his round and left "Mur Jane" to keep
Barney company, and all the men "on top" had taken up commanding
positions to enjoy the interview, and the men from below were swarming
to the surface like startled ants, in evident anticipation of
entertainment. Barney maintained his stand for five minutes, then Miss
Tooey's painful diffidence in a public place, her bonnet, and those dumb
but appreciative spectators, became too many for him, and he deserted
the windlass and fled ignominiously off the field.

After that Miss Tooey often visited the township with her parched sire,
and, while he pushed his business, she sought out Mr. Brown, and
blighted him with her bonnet and her abashed giggle. She descended on
him at unexpected moments, and stared aimlessly at him, and followed him
purposelessly, till he was laughed and chaffed to the verge of insanity,
and fought two men every day in desperate endeavours to relieve his
feelings. Mary Jane looked him up two or three times during the week,
and visited the hut on Sundays. She would seek him in the bars and
billiard-rooms and other public places, and afflict him with her pensive
baby stare and her maidenly confusion, till the homage that had once
been a source of gratification to him became the bane of his existence.

At length an expedient occurred to Mr. Brown. He decided to remain
below, and would have slept below had "Mur Jane" rendered that course
necessary. On Sunday the sight of Miss Tooey's aggravating smile was the
signal for him to bolt for the claim, and he would sit away in a drive
till sundown, playing Yankee-grab with himself, or earnestly speculating
on the outrageousness of women in every walk of life. Of course this
brought more ridicule on his devoted head, but it secured his object,
and very soon after Miss Tooey's visits ceased.

A short time later Barney was looking quite cheerful once more, and
resting placidly under the assurance that he had seen the last of Mary
Jane, and was not likely to be again haunted by her ungainly person or
troubled by obtrusive attentions, when one day, as he and his mates were
sitting at dinner, a digger who had been up to Launceston bounced in
with an air of great importance and a mission that would admit of no
delay.

"Say, Brown," gasped the intruder, "hev you seen Tooey's girl lately?"

Barney arose, sadly, slowly, but with a determined purpose; he crossed
over the hut, and running the knuckle end of his large fist along the
digger's jaw with a suggestive gesture he said:

"Now, Spooner, that game's stale--it's worked out and hung up, an' if
there's anythin' more said I'm goin' to start a fight."

"No larks, Barney; 'pon me soul I was jest askin' you. Ain't ye,
though?" continued the excited Spooner in apologetic tones.

"Naw. Don't want to."

"I have."

"Don't care a hang."

"By thunder, you do though. She's up town--I saw her. Up town in a big
bustle and a fashionable hat that high, takin' out proceedin's fer a
breach of promise."

Barney's fork stopped half-way to his lips (he had resumed his seat),
his mouth remained open for a moment, then he made a desperate gulp at
the atmosphere, swallowed nothing with great difficulty, and whispered
earnestly:

"Against who did you say, Spooner?"

"Agin you."

That was enough. Barney wanted no more dinner; he laid down his knife
and fork, took up his hat, and went out. Presently he returned, and
thrust his pale face in at the door.

"You're sure it's a breach of promise and agin me, Spooner, are ye?" he
queried.

Spooner was sure, and Barney retreated again. He went to the local bank
and drew his money, then he sought the hut again and rolled up his swag
without a word. That done, he remarked tersely:

"I'm off, boys, tip us yer fist."

"What! goin' right away?" gasped Croaker.

"My eye. Goin' to catch the boat at the Heads and get right out of this.
So long!"

They tried to persuade him there was stuff enough in his claim to see
him through the suit, and that "Mur Jane" had no case, but he was
determined. "I tried it once before," he said. "Breaches of promise is
h---."

And he went.



THE WHIM BOY

SHE has sprung upon a corner of the rough table in the chock-and-log hut
that is her new home, and sits swinging a small, bare, brown foot and
pleading with a big sun-tanned woman industriously churning at a wash-tub
just without the door of the hut.

"Are you on, Aunt Jem?" she queries, eagerly pressing a matter that has
been long in debate. "I think it's spiffin'. I could manage that ole
black horse what you talk about, King Billy, easy as winkin'. Usen't I
drive et the Parker's Miners, anyhow, when the boys'd let me?"

"You could drive right enough; 'tain't that," answered Aunt Jem in a
deep, manly voice, assumed, like most of her mannish attributes, for so
long that at length it had become natural to her. "There's the night
shifts"--Aunt Jem paused, grimacing inhumanly over the wringing of a
crimean shirt--"an' besides, it's breakin' the law, I'm thinkin'."

"But the law won't know--nobody won't know, 'ceptin' you an' me. An',
then, think uv the thirty-five bob a fortnight, seventeen an' six a
week--what lux'ries we could buy fer dad with that!"

This triumphant assertion of the advantages of the proposition was not
without its effect upon Aunt Jem. She ceased work to muse, and she
pensively scratched her chin the while. Aunt Jem's chin was not innocent
of a certain vagrant stubble, and Aunt Jem's breath was suggestive of
tobacco. Aunt Jem was large of limb and muscular and masculine. She had
fought her own battle and taken excellent care of herself in the "early
days;" she had roughed it at Ballarat, Bendigo, Blanket Flat, Eaglehawk,
Fiery Creek--in fact, on most of the Victorian diggings in the "fifties"
and "sixties;" she had washed dirt as well as clothes, and still boasted
herself as expert on a sluice-box with the fork as any man living. In
short, this worthy woman had faced the world "like a man" for twenty odd
years, and at fifty-four was little disposed to set up any sentimental
bounds to woman's sphere.

"Are you quite certain no one knows you're here?" she asked, after a few
moments' cogitation.

"Sure's death," replied the girl with enthusiasm. "Ain't been away from
the hut further'n them saplin's there since I landed on the mine. Ain't
seen a soul, bar you."

"The people down et the township might 've noticed us come through in the
coach, then agen they mightn't. Anyhow, there're not likely to come
pokin' round here. By thunder, we'll do it."

The girl bounced off the table, danced about the room in a paroxysm of
delight, and performed an extraordinary feat of tumbling, finishing in a
huddled heap on the bunk.

Kitty Bennet was the only child of Mat Bennet, a digger whose luck was
always out--a man who had dug and delved his way through Victoria--north,
south, east, and west--without unearthing more gold than sufficed to
provide the necessaries of life from year's end to year's end. Mat
married late, and his wife died soon after Kitty's birth, leaving her
child to the affectionate but not very discriminating care of its nomadic
father. Aunt Jemima "lent a hand" in bringing up the girl, "for natural
love and affection," as the lawyers put it; but, as the aunt's ideas of
conventional refinement had suffered much in the course of long
familiarity with, and acquiescence in, the rough and ready customs of
society in the camps and about the diggings, it may easily be understood
that Kitty's exuberant character was neither tamed nor toned by her fond
maternal aunt, and the girl "had her fling," whether sharing her father's
tents on some alluvial field, or living with Aunt Jem in whichever part
of the wilderness that massive relation happened to be situated for the
time being.

A week or so previous to the opening of our story Bennet was stricken
down by the fossicker's bane, rheumatic fever, and compelled to go into
the hospital at Sale. His sister Jemima had recently accepted an
honourable and responsible position on a mine in a comparatively new
reefing district, in the hills about twenty miles beyond Bruthen, where
she officiated as housekeeper for the manager, in consideration of which
service she received fifteen shillings a week and the use of a
"furnished" hut standing on the company's lease, a wage she increased by
washing for the men working on the Old Identity. Here Kitty found herself
on the third day following her father's, departure to the hospital.

Shortly after making the resolution recorded, Aunt Jem wrung out the last
article in her tub, and half an hour later she departed for the township
on the grocer's waggon. This meant a walk back of eleven miles "by
moonlight alone," but Jem was superior to all feminine weaknesses, and
too thorough a bush-woman to let a trifle like that trouble her. She
returned in due time, bearing a bundle under her arm--returned over Camel
Hill, having left the track and cut through the bush to save the long
turn round.

Next morning Spence, the manager of the Old Identity, was bailed up at
the dam by a bright-eyed, brown-faced boy, with closely-cropped hair, an
intelligent if not particularly clean countenance, and an air of complete
assurance.

"Say, boss, can you give us a job?"

The old miner looked down with surprise and amusement at his diminutive
petitioner.

"Tendin' ducks?" he queried with a grin.

"Naw!" (with sublime contempt) "drivin' the whim."

"And who are you anyhow, cherub?"

"Name's Christopher Bennet, called Kit. That's my Aunt Jem over to the
log hut, an' I want a job bad."

"Too small."

"You bet I ain't! I'll 'tend whim with any kid round here. Used to drive
onst. Give 's a show, will you, please?"

"Well," said Spence reflectively, "we do want a boy; the lads we've got
are workin' long shifts, and boys are scarce articles here. What's yer
age?"

"Sixteen," answered Kit without a blush (she looked fourteen). "Aunt Jem
brought me up from Bairnsdale, knowin' you wanted a boy, an' if you don't
put me on--well, you'll lose a ringer on a whim, that's all."

Spence grinned.

"Your cheek has outgrown you, sonny," he said, "but you're spry. Go on
with the afternoon shift."

"With the old black horse, King Billy?"

"Yes; he's the quietest an' best edjikated. Take him."

"Oh, boss, you're a brick! What screw--seventeen an' six?"

"A quid a week."

"That's great. My colonial! I am erbliged."

The boy set his hat further back upon his handsome head, thrust his hands
deeply into the pockets of his new "moles," and swaggered on to the
brace. He presently engaged the braceman in conversation on mining
matters generally, and the Old Identity in particular. He desired to know
the depth of the mine, the nature, the extent, and the "lay" of the lode,
whether "she" was wet or dry, the quality of the air below, and the
character of the explosives used. These questions were asked with the
freedom of an interested party and the air of an expert, and with a
quaint use of miners' slang that pleased the braceman immensely.

With the ready faith of youth Kit conceived an immediate liking for the
braceman, who was a young man of about nineteen, tall, strongly built,
and clean limbed, with the easy but decisive movements of an athlete. His
well-tanned face expressed a lively intelligence and betrayed his kindly
disposition and his geniality at a glance.

"What's your monicker, mate?" asked Kit after five minutes' aquaintance.

"Charley Coleman, alias 'Professor.'"

"Professor?"

"Yes," apologetically; "you see, I play the fiddle a bit."

This explanation appeared to be quite satisfactory.

"Wish I was on with you, 'Professor,'" continued Kit; "you're jest my
sort. What kinder bloke's on the brace my shift?"

"Faith, he's a sweet mahn; he'll be a father to you, so he will."
Coleman's whim boy, Tim Canty, offered this information. Tim was a
large-headed, big-footed youth, with wonderfully wild hair, and great,
obtrusive yellow freckles--a Bungaree-bred boy, blessed with the intense
brogue of his father.

"Go on!" ejaculated Kit, who detected the sarcasm.

"Sure, yes," continued Tim, "he'll barrack the life out av yiz. He bosses
the byes like he owned the bloomin' mine--makes 'em yank all the timber
fer him, an' truck the mullock, an' shovel the quartz. We calls him 'The
Bunyip.' Be the holy, he's ez ugly ez sin, an' he shwears an' curses
loike fifty bullockies in a bog."

Kit blew a long, melancholy whistle. "That is tough," he murmured.

"You'll be all right," Coleman broke in consolingly. "Stick to your whim,
and be as deaf as a stump when he begins to rip out. There is more bellow
than anything else in 'The Bunyip.'"

"S'pose I'll pull through," said the boy, brightening up.

The prospect of having an ill-tempered, lazy bully for a mate did not
serve to dampen the youngster's enthusiasm, and after going over the
mine, scrutinizing the whim with the eye of an authority, and
enlightening Tim on the points and merits of the big, sleepy roan horse
trudging solemnly round and round the ring, he walked across to the hut
to communicate his news to Aunt Jem, bearing himself with a gravity that
became a worker with a grave responsibility and twenty shillings a week.

Kit found, when he went on with the 4 o'clock shift, that Tim Canty had
not over-coloured the unlovable characteristics of "The Bunyip." The
man's name was Pope; he was large and unwieldly, and common report
credited him with an uncompromising antipathy to water, whether applied
externally or taken as a beverage--a report which was wholly
substantiated by his general appearance, and the vinous flavour of the
atmosphere in his vicinity. Mr. Pope walked with the attitude of a
gorilla, which amiable animal he also somewhat resembled in his habitual
expression. His long arms swung loosely from his narrow shoulders, his
face was nearly covered with short red hair, and his small eyes peered
out through the slits where his puffed cheeks and bushy brows almost met.
"The Bunyip" was said to possess great strength, but he never exerted his
powers. He was naturally a tired man, and loved to "doss" upon the reef,
or to sit, propped against one of the poppet-legs, smoking like a
furnace, whilst the whim boy did his work. This, of course, during the
night shifts or such times as the boss happened to be absent from the
mine. He also enjoyed a local reputation as a pugilist of extraordinary
staying powers and surprising science, till Welsh Harry, a man of little
more than half his weight and with none of his bluster, whipped him to a
standstill in a nine-round "mill" after he had been convicted of carrying
superfluous cards in his shirt front one night in M'Cubbin's humpy.

Pope's antipathy to exertion induced him to look with no favourable eye
upon Kit. He wanted a strong boy, and one big enough to be trusted to
land the bucket when bailing was going on, whilst he dozed on the chaff
bags by the fire through the long, cold nights.

Kit, radiant with pride, led King Billy on to the whim-ring at 4 o'clock,
relieved Tim, and harnessed the black horse in the iron bow, and "The
Bunyip" scowled down upon him from the brace.

"Say, youngster," he said presently, "who sent you round here?"

"Boss," replied Kit shortly.

"An' ev I gotter nuss yer?"

"Let the boy down easy," interjected Charley Coleman, who was forcing his
crib-bag under the billy-lid, preparatory to leaving. "He's a smart
little chap, and will pull through all right if you don't scare the heart
out of him."

"Nice he'll look humpin' a cap-piece," growled Pope.

"I reckon you're paid to haul the timber," said Charley, with a laugh.
"Anyhow, if you don't get along I'll be agreeable to exchange boys."

"Well," responded 'The Bunyip,' "I'll soon be shut of this infant; that's
a comfort."

True to his character, Pope lost no opportunity of making the work
unpleasant for the boy. He bullied, cursed, and complained incessantly;
but Kit affected to disregard his ill-humours, and whistled or sang with
provoking complacence throughout, attending strictly to his fair share of
the work the while.

The whim is only used on the Australian gold mines after the windlass and
the "whip" have been abandoned, and before the proprietors feel justified
in placing costly machinery upon a claim. It is simply an elevated drum
around which the rope that hauls the buckets--one on each end--up and
down the shaft is wound. The whim is turned by a horse harnessed under a
crossbeam, and travelling in a circle below. The horses soon become so
accustomed to the work that they will go through all the necessary
evolutions when spoken to, and "back up," "turn," "pay out," or "take up
slack" as the order is given. Kit's charge, King Billy, was, as Manager
Spence expressed it, "edjikated;" he had worked in a whim for years, and
performed his task with machine-like regularity. The "demnition grind"
had become so much part of his nature that when turned out in the paddock
'tween shifts or during his "long shift off"--from Saturday morning till
Monday afternoon--the old horse would doze at times, and suddenly start
off as if in a dream, ambling round and round on an imaginary ring, till
Kit rushed forth, and drove him back to his pasture by pelting him with
sticks and clods of earth. King Billy was as intelligent and docile as he
was industrious, and soon accepted Kit as his best friend, came to know
the boy's footstep and the sound of his voice, and would greet him with
clumsy but unmistakable demonstrations of goodwill whenever he
approached. All of which was a pride and delight to Kit, and his work at
the mine would have been a continual pleasure were it not for the
unamiable qualities of "The Bunyip," complaints of whose behaviour were
often made in the chock-and-log hut, and received by Aunt Jem with many
expressions of enmity, and such demonstrations of a craving for vengeance
as might have made Mr. Pope a little more reasonable in his conduct had
he been there to see and hear. It was one of Aunt Jem's manly boasts that
she could "use her hands" when occasion required, and strike a blow the
weight of which she told in pounds and ounces with unwomanly pride;
besides, she had something of "a record," and stories of her pugilistic
efforts in her own defence had enlivened more than one mining camp in the
past.

"I'll go along an' lay that man out one o' these fine days!" cried Aunt
Jem after an unusually bitter complaint of Pope's cruelty, and she struck
an attitude, and sparred at the hut door with her big, strong hands,
looking really capable of fulfilling her threat.

"That 'd jest serve him right," said Kit, with thoughtful gravity.
"Only," and he squared his small shoulders, "it'd make me look a baby
before the men, havin' a woman fightin' fer me. Best let's wear him out."

Matters remained in this unsatisfactory state for several weeks, when at
length Pope's desire to be rid of the boy was satisfied, but not without
a disagreeable experience on his own part. "The Bunyip" was suffering the
results of loss of sleep and of money at a card party at M'Cubbin's
sly-grog shanty on the previous night, and his native unpleasantness was
much aggravated in consequence, and he naturally sought to relieve his
feelings on his whim boy, Kit being the only person near who was forced
to put up with his nastiness. Throughout the morning he had vented all
his choicest expletives on Kit's devoted head, and had harassed him at
his work, without, however, producing any apparent effect, and now,
galled beyond bearing by the boy's seeming cheerful imperturbability, he
was bent upon taking satisfaction "out of his hide." Kit was well aware
of the man's intention, and contrived to elude him for some time, but was
captured at last.

"I'll teach ye t' give yer elders lip!" said Pope, shaking him by the
neck.

"Never guv no lip," protested Kit breathlessly.

"Oh, didn't you but. Take that."

"An' you take that, you great cur!"

Pope received a heavy blow on the jaw that sent him sprawling off the
whim-ring.

"Hit someone yer size--hit me!"

It was Aunt Jem; she stood in a scientific position, her sleeves rolled
back, her powerful brown arms steaming from the wash-tub.

"Hit me, why don't yer?"

Pope staggered to his feet, mad with rage, and made a rush at his
assailant, but another arm interfered, and put him back. Charley Coleman,
who happened to be on the mine, and who had seen the rise of the quarrel,
stepped in, and took Kit's cause upon his own broad shoulders, rather to
Aunt Jem's disgust.

"Stand back, Pope," said the young man. "You deserved all you got. You
have no right to knock the boy about."

Furious at the thought of being overthrown by a woman, and galled out of
bearing by the laughter of the surfaceman, Pope swore a great oath and
plunged at Coleman like a wild beast.

Kit saw the men meet, saw blood flow, and heard the heavy thuds of their
quick blows, and then shut out the dreadful sight in the folds of his
aunt's skirt. When he looked again, Pope lay on his back in the dust, his
face badly cut and bruised. Three men held him, but he did not seem
anxious to get up on his feet again. Charley was standing near, waiting;
he was not marked, but all the amiability had gone from his handsome
face, which was fierce and drawn with an ugly scowl.

The manager had now arrived upon the scene.

"What's all this?" he asked.

Half a dozen voices offered an explanation.

"You see, sir," said Charley when they had done, "Pope doesn't like the
boy, and doesn't treat him fair. Suppose you change Kit on to my shift;
I'd be glad to have him."

"Anythin' for a quiet life," growled Spence, scowling at "The Bunyip."
"And see here, Pope, next time you feel like makin' a disturbance on this
mine you'd best trot up to the office and draw your money."

The braceman did not answer, but slouched up to his place, wiping the
blood from his mouth.

"I'll mark you for this, Coleman," he said to Charley a few minutes
later, with a black frown. Charley laughed.

"Don't do anything foolish, old man," he said.

So Kit and Tim Canty changed shifts, much to the latter's disgust, and
Kit worked for the future under "Professor," between him and whom a warm
friendship now existed. Kit was grateful to Charley for many kindnesses,
and Coleman liked the boy, and found pleasure in his characteristic
whimsicalities and his joyous nature.

The Old Identity claim was situated between two precipitous and
heavily-timbered hills. The magnificent white gums on the side of Mount
Mooney towered away above the whim in evergreen luxuriance, and across
Brandy Creek, whose peculiar red waters rippled in the willow-like shade
of the silver gums, Camel Hill arose in impassive grandeur and shut out
the southern sky. On a clearing at the foot of Mount Mooney, about a
quarter of a mile from the mine, stood the stringybark huts of the
miners, and higher up the more pretentious weatherboard skillion of the
manager looked painfully out of place and a sad blot on the primitive
grandeur of the range.

In the beautiful summer days, when the gully was sweet with the fragrance
of the gum blossom and the heavy perfume of the wild musk; when the
parrots, the "keets," and gorgeously-plumaged blue mountains and rosellas
chattered and whistled amongst the honey-laden bloom, Kit, like a true
child of the bush, reflected its spirit of light and joy, and darted
hither and thither, with the mercurial gaiety of health and youth,
mimicking the calls and tunes of the birds with marvellous fidelity, or
singing till the gorges echoed back his song in a bewildering chorus, But
there were times during the long night shifts when the ghostly moonlight
flooded the gully, and the mountain lowered above them dark and
forbidding, with the black pall of bush upon it; when only the faint
rumble of the small battery up the creek, or the cry of a lone mopoke far
up the range, broke the solemn stillness, and then the whim boy sat by
his mate on the brace, awed into reverence, and called softly to the
shadowy horse moving noiselessly on the bark-strewn ring below.

Charley's conquest over "The Bunyip" served to intensify the great
admiration Kit had for him, and the feeling increased with acquaintance.
The young braceman had read a good deal of lighter literature, and the
stories he could tell and the knowledge he was able to impart indicated
to Kit, whose acquaintance with "the three R's" was very superficial, an
amount of learning that was positively stupendous.

Kit asserted Charley's superiority over all other men wibh the placid
assurance of simple faith, and frequently expressed surprise that he
didn't go down to Melbourne and own a big hotel. To own a big hotel was,
to Kit's mind, the pinnacle of greatness and magnificence.

But there were times when the whim boy became strangely reserved, even
diffident, towards his mate, when he would sit for hours silently and
dreamily upon the cross-beam, swinging his bare, sun-browned feet,
regarding Charley occasionally with a shy glance as he circled by. These
fits of abstraction were so foreign to the boy's real nature that they
puzzled the braceman not a little.

"What's the matter, Kit?" he asked one day, after an hour's silence.
"Sick?"

"Naw," replied Kit, blushing a little. "I was jest thinkin'."

"About what?"

"Everythin' like. Say, 'Professor,' did you ever have a sweetheart?" The
question was asked with a timorous reluctance so peculiar in Kit that
Coleman laughed aloud.

"Well, I suppose I've had a dozen or so, all told."

"But I mean a reg'lar one--real M'Ginnis, you know!"

"No; I was never particularly serious!"

"Oh!" said Kit, and relapsed into meditation again.

"What a peculiar kid it is," was Charley Coleman's mental comment.

On Sunday nights it was necessary for the brace-man and whim boy due on
the 12 o'clock shift for the coming week to be at work an hour or so
earlier than the rest of the hands in order to bale the water out of the
drive in readiness for the men going below. The Old Identity was a
comparatively dry mine. Kit and Charley went on to do this duty one
particular night for the third time since their association as mates. It
was a beautiful, bright night, and the boy was in excellent spirits, but,
to his surprise, found his mate little disposed to respond to his
merriment. Coleman was looking pale and depressed and feeling, as he told
Kit, "a bit off." The boy expressed his concern, and was silent in
sympathy with his friend.

They had been at work about an hour; Kit was riding on the beam,
directing his horse mechanically, and musing, with a thoughtful face. He
and Charley were as yet the only people on the mine; it being still
Sunday, the battery by the creek had not started crushing, and the night
was unusually still. Not a sound broke the silence except the creaking of
the king-post and the muffled tramp of the old horse. The candle in the
lantern dangling from the poppet-legs over the brace burned with a pale,
golden glow in the clear, white light of the moon, and the shadow of the
whim cast upon the pipeclay below looked to the meditative Kit like a
great-headed giant, tirelessly and vacuously throwing out his long arms
and folding them again as the beam revolved. Suddenly the quiet was
broken by the sound of angry voices near at hand. The boy sprang from his
seat, and turning saw "The Bunyip" on the brace. Pope had been drinking;
his face was an angry red and stamped with malignancy. He threatened
Coleman, brandishing his gorilla-like arms, and cursing hoarsely.

"Keep off, madman!" cried Charley, "or one of us will be down the shaft."

"What d' yer think I'm here for, damn you?" spluttered the drunkard.

Pope struck at the young man, and they closed. They struggled for a brief
moment, and then Coleman's legs went from under him on the wet surface,
and the next instant he had disappeared, and Kit heard the splash as his
body struck the water in the shaft below.

For a short time 'The Bunyip' stood staring, then he turned, and
staggered down the tip, and went blundering through the thick undergrowth
along the toot of the mount.

Kit was at the mouth of the shaft in a second, peering into the dark
depths. He called twice, but no answer came back to him. Then an
appreciation of the situation flashed upon him. If Charley were not
killed by the fall, without help he must drown in the well. It remained
for him to act. Whilst busying himself he called for help, but there was
no man within hearing. The long, iron-rimmed canvas bucket lay empty in
the shoot; Kit seized it, and threw it into the open shaft.

"Back up!" he called in a firm voice, and the old horse backed till the
top of the bucket was level with the surface.

Snatching the lantern from its hook, the boy took his stand upon the rim
of the baling bucket, holding the rope with one arm, and calling to the
horse--

"Get up, Billy!"

The next instant Kit was travelling down the shaft, steadying himself in
the descent by touching the dripping slabs and centres with one foot
every now and again. His idea was to save his mate if possible. He knew
that King Billy would continue round the ring till the up bucket appeared
above the surface, and then would come to a stand, and remain perfectly
still--would go to sleep probably. The whim boy thought that if he could
get hold of Charley in the water, by clinging to the rope, he might be
able to support him until the night shift came on.

Down, down he went, the black slabs lining the shaft dancing up past his
eyes in a seemingly endless procession, and the water raining upon him in
great drops, stinging his cheeks and ears like stones. Splash! There came
a rush of ill-smelling, brackish water into his ears and throat, and Kit
was plunged into the well and carried down into the black depths. Even
now the boy retained his presence of mind, and when he came to the
surface again, gasping and kicking, no thought of his own danger entered
his head--his object was still vividly before him. The rope was now
stationary. He clutched it, and, drawing his head well out of the water,
felt about the shaft with his feet, and, to his great joy, presently
touched something that yielded to the light pressure. Reaching out, he
grasped an arm and drew it towards him, and presently held the head of
the braceman upon his shoulder. He was surprised to find it so easy to
bear up such a big fellow.

Now it occurred to the boy that perhaps his efforts were in vain, and
that in all probability Coleman had been battered to death against the
timbers of the shaft ere he struck the water. He placed his ear against
the cold lips of the unconscious man and listened, but could not detect
the faintest respiration. He called Charley's name, and screamed with a
sudden terror, feeling something warm flowing on his hand. But the
momentary fear was followed by a feeling of childish contrition, and he
touched the wet cheek near him with his lips.

Several times Kit cried out, thinking he heard foot-steps on top, but no
answer came down the black shaft. Looking upwards, far, far away he saw a
large star glittering in the sky, and the sight of it gave him hope;
there was a sense of companionship in it. Time abides with us in our
trouble. The men were a long time coming. Kit felt that he had been in
the cold water half an hour at least when it really was not ten minutes
since he was riding comfortably on the whim-beam. The head upon his
shoulder dragged heavier and heavier as the moments crept by, and the
small hand clutching the 5-in. rope ached with an intolerable pain.

In a flash, at the moment his candle was extinguished, Kit had seen that
the water was only about an inch above the flat sheet on the plat in the
drive. He knew that if he could only get on to the plat there would be a
better chance of his holding out till the men came. He acted upon the
idea at once. Driving himself with his feet from the opposite side of the
shaft, he suddenly let go the rope and succeeded in clutching the
sole-piece. He had some difficulty in dragging himself into the drive
whilst still holding his mate, but he managed it. Once safe in the drive
Kit made an effort to pull his mate to the plat, but found himself too
weak. Sitting with his back against the frame and his legs hanging in the
water, the boy clasped Coleman under the arms, clutching his jumper at
the back, and held on with the determination of a hero.

The drive was filled with a dense darkness; strange, low sounds echoed
along its length. The water chilled Kit's limbs, and pains were darting
in his back and up and down his arms--pains that presently settled into
an abiding torture; but he clung to Coleman, and waited. Burns and Harvey
were the facemen on the night shift. It seemed as if they would never
come. Two or three times the whim boy tried to cry out, but his voice was
very weak and whistled in his burning throat. A dread that perhaps the
miners were off on the spree flashed upon his mind, and he muttered a
little prayer, a very little prayer, disjointed and irrelevant in its
wording, but potent with Him to whom only the heart speaks.

The boy's strength was leaving him, the pains in his back increased, and
his arms felt as if being dragged from his shoulders. He spoke to his
mate in piteous whispers, implored an answer, and wept; but his
determination never failed nor flagged. At length he heard someone
stirring on the brace, and his heart gave a great bound.

"Hello, below there!"

A hoarse gasp broke in Kit's throat--he could not answer. And now all his
limbs were trembling violently, and the agony of the strain was
intensified with every second. Why didn't they come down? What were they
doing?

A long time seemed to elapse before he heard the bucket surge out of the
well, and the water splashing down as it was borne quickly up the shaft.
Kit made another effort, but his muscles failed to respond, and he could
only cling to Charley's form with frozen, tortured hands as it slipped,
inch by inch, down deeper into the black waters.

Now came Kit's greatest trial, the last terrible moments of waiting. He
knew when the bucket reached the surface and when it started down again
by the plunging of the other bailer into the water in the next
compartment, which was not open to the drive, and the splashing of the
falling water as it drew out again. But what long, wearing moments those
were. How slowly the old horse crept round the whim-ring. Charley was
sinking, sinking all the time, and Kit felt himself going down too,
powerless to resist the weight that drew him, but ready to die rather
than release his hold.

There came a flash of light, and Harvey's candle showed him the drawn
face of the whim boy, chalk white against the blackness of the drive,
with wide, gleaming eyes and tightly-set teeth.

Kit knew nothing after the apparition of the face-man until he recovered
consciousness in his aunt's hut at midday. His limbs were aching, and
there was a strange bewilderment in his brain, but as that passed away he
recalled the incidents of the adventure in the shaft, and wondered how
Coleman had fared. He was about to call for Aunt Jem, when he heard the
voice of Spence, the manager.

"Coleman's head's knocked about a bit, an' he's had a bad soakin', but
he'll be round agen in a few days, right ez rain. How's the youngster,
missus?"

"Sleepin' like a lamb," came the reply in Aunt Jem's strong voice. "He
ain't none the worse that I can see." A happy smile played about Kit's
lips when he heard the good news of "The Professor's" escape, and he
turned his face to the wall, and soon slept again.

During Monday and the whole of the next day the miners from the Old
Identity, and men working at the New Chum and other mines further up and
down the gully, who had heard of the lad's extraordinary action, called
to inquire after him, and to express their admiration to Aunt Jem. Most
of them asked to be allowed to have a peep at Kit as he lay upon his
bunk, looking very small for so great a hero, and rather white and
shamefaced.

The trooper from the township and a party of miners were out scouring the
bush in pursuit of "The Bunyip," who had not been seen since the Sunday
night.

On Wednesday morning Charley Coleman limped to the door of the hut, where
Aunt Jem was up to her elbows in the foaming suds, as usual. Charley's
head was swathed in an unnecessarily large and very unworkmanlike
bandage, the handiwork of an amateur surgeon, and he was still pale and
weak.

"Feelin' O.K. agen, ole man?" cried Aunt Jem, in a hail-fellow tone of
voice.

"Shickery here," answered Charley, touching his legs, "and I've got a
head on me, but otherwise pretty correct, thanks. S'pose I can see the
boy?"

Aunt Jem's head went down over the tub, and she churned up the water with
unwonted energy.

"Yes," she said, "I reckon you can; he's there waitin'." She pointed
within.

Charley entered the hut, and saw only a little girl sitting on a
camp-stool by the wide fireplace. She stood up to meet him. She was
decidedly a handsome little girl of about sixteen, he thought; rather
pale, with short hair that curled crisply over her small head, and with
large, shy eyes. The braceman gazed at her wonderingly, and not without
some youthful diffidence. It seemed that he should have known the girl,
and yet he did not remember having seen her before.

"Beg pardon, miss," said the braceman; "I've called to see Kit."

The extraordinary little girl clasped her hands over her face, and then
buried both hands and face in the pillow on Aunt Jem's bunk. Presently
she peeped out with one eye at Charley standing awkwardly in the middle
of the hut.

"I'm Kit," said a smothered voice from the depths of the pillow.

"What!" Charley strode to the side of the bunk, half-guessing the truth,
and wild with astonishment. "What is the meaning of this, then?" He
touched her skirt.

"Oh! 'Professor,' I was a girl all the time!"

"Kit a girl! Jerusalem!" Coleman dropped his hat. "My whim boy a girl!"
He collapsed, overcome with amazement, and sat on the stool, dumbfounded,
glaring at the back of Kitty's head, which alone was visible above the
pillow.

After a minute or so Charley arose and turned the girl's face towards him.

"Let me see you, Kit."

But Kitty covered her burning cheeks and her eyes with her hands, and
tears oozed through her fingers.

"I can't, Charley; I'm ashamed."

"Kit a girl!" repeated the young man in a low voice. "You are Kit, and
you did all the men have told me--you went down the shaft, and rescued me
from death? How was it possible?"

"I just went down and caught hold of you," murmured Kitty vaguely.

"I don't understand it all, Kit," Charley continued, taking her hand in
his, "but you have saved my life, and you must be the bravest girl that
ever lived. I can't say anything, but 'Thanks, thanks!' and that seems
mean and little. I feel a fool, but I'm just full of gratitude, Kit."

"I'm glad I done it--so glad!"

Kitty was transformed; a few weeks earlier the idea of assuming boys'
clothes and taking a job on the whim afforded her only delight; now she
could not think of what she had done without a blush, and mention of it
covered her with confusion. She had a suddenly-developed sense of
propriety, of which the neat shoes and the stockings she now wore were an
eloquent confession. There was coquetry, too, in the pretty ribbons at
her throat and the flower in her hair. Nothing would ever again induce
Kitty Bennet to ape the boy.

Aunt Jem was proud in her manly way of Kitty's bravery, but could not
understand that the fact of her proving to be a girl should cause
anything more than a passing surprise. No harm had been done by the
masquerade; it was a good joke, played out, that was all. This sense of
the matter induced her to leave Coleman to discover the truth for
himself; to have prepared him for it would have been to spoil a humorous
situation, and Aunt Jem was a bigoted humorist.

Pope was found, four days after Coleman's fall, lying at the foot of some
high, precipitous rocks on the side of Camel Hill. He was quite dead, and
this was held to be very considerate of him by the men of the Old
Identity.

Charley and Kit have since married, but of late years Mrs. Charley has
developed so keen a sense of propriety that the affair of the Old
Identity is strictly tabooed in her family circle.



SPICER'S COURTSHIP

SPICER was a selector. Why he chose to be a selector rather than enjoy
comparative ease and affluence as a corporation day labourer or a
wharf-hand or navvy is inexplicable. He had taken to the wilderness,
built his smart bark hut in the centre of an apparently impenetrable
forest, and was now actively engaged eating his way out again. Along the
bank of the trickling creek he had cleared an acre or so where a few
fruit trees flourished and a methodical little vegetable garden looked
green and encouraging. Dick Spicer was a methodical man; what he did he
did well, and he was always doing. Dick was small, and he looked puny
lifting his pigmy axe to those mighty gums, and patiently hewing
splinters out of the compact bush. Having little or nothing to say to his
scattered neighbours, he exchanged small talk with his hens, and favoured
Griffin, the low-comedy dog-of-all-work, with his opinion of things.

Mr. Spicer was a bachelor, approaching 50, wiry, leathery, deliberative,
and very diffident in company. But, despite his apparent uneasiness when
chance threw him into the society of females, Dick was looking about for
a wife. The stillness of the long evenings and the solitary Sundays
implanted a great yearning for the companionship of a good wife in his
lonely heart. In looking about the selector's view was very limited.
There was not an unmarried woman of suitable years within a radius of
twelve miles. Of all the approachable females, he admired Mrs. Clinton
the most, and his only hope lay in the fact that Clinton was in feeble
health and reported to be sustaining life precariously with one lung.

Clinton held a block about a mile up the creek, and Spicer paid him
occasional abrupt and unceremonious visits there. Sometimes he would lean
against a door-jamb, with not more than his head inside, and pass a few
remarks relative to nothing in particular, in an irresponsible sort of
way; but more frequently he just stood about outside, and criticised the
poultry in audible soliloquy, or reflected aloud upon Clinton's
ridiculous notions about dairy work and vegetable-growing. However, he
always displayed a proper neighbourly concern in inquiring after
Clinton's health before leaving.

"Y'ain't feelin' no better, I s'pose?" he would ask, with an appearance
of anxious interest that quite touched the sick man.

Clinton was always feeling "pretty bad." He said as much in his dull,
heavy manner, and Dick would go off to indulge in contemplation, and
consult his dog.

Spicer did not wish Clinton to die, he did not want to hurry him up; he
was a patient, dispassionate man, and the possibility of his neighbour's
early demise entered into his calculations merely as a probable
circumstance which, however regrettable, could not reasonably be
overlooked.

Clinton substantiated predictions, and obligingly died within a
reasonable time, and Dick rode solemnly in the funeral cortege, behind
the drays, on a lame cart-horse borrowed from Canty for the occasion.

After the funeral he looked in upon the widow and, feeling inspired to
say something consolatory and encouraging, expressed his belief that she
wouldn't mourn much about Peter.

"'Tain't worth while," he said.

Dick's command of language was only sufficient to enable him to say the
thing he meant once in a dozen tries, and on this occasion he was
conscious the moment he had spoken that the sentiment expressed was
hardly appropriate to the occasion. Before he could frame an apology the
disconsolate widow attacked him with a spear-grass broom and stormed him
out of the house. He walked home thoughtfully, afflicted with a
nettle-rash and a vague idea that perhaps he had not made an altogether
satisfactory beginning.

But Spicer was not cast down. He had resolved upon a plan of courtship,
and the object of his first manoeuvre was to break his intentions gently
to the widow. This he thought to accomplish by hanging round the house a
good deal. He would haunt her selection in the cool of the evening, or,
in his more audacious moments, perch himself on the chock-and-log fence
running by the side of the house, and whistle an unmelodious and windy
jig, which was intended to convey some idea of his airy nonchalance and
peace of mind.

It was a long time before Dick progressed from the fence to the
wood-heap, and meanwhile the widow had not seemed to pay any particular
attention to his movements. He sometimes addressed her with a portentous
truth bearing upon the dieting of laying hens, or the proper handling of
cows, or the medical treatment of ailing chickens; but usually satisfied
himself with a significant grin and a queer twist of the head that was
his idea of sheer playfulness and waggery. The neighbours came to notice
him over-looking the selection or perched on the fence supervising the
weather and things generally, and predicted that there would be "a
marryin'" up the creek presently.

Presently! Spicer did nothing hastily, nothing to lead anybody to believe
that he had not all eternity to come and go on. He never considered the
flight of time, and had made many calculations that carried him on to the
end of the next century without discovering any incongruity.

He did arrive at the wood-heap eventually, though. Mrs. Clinton's boy
John was too young to wield an axe with any effect, and one afternoon
Dick lounged over to the logs, took up the axe, and examined it with an
air of abstraction. He weighed it carefully in his hand, and satisfied
his curiosity by trying it on a log. When he had chopped about half a ton
of wood he appeared satisfied that it was a pretty good axe. That evening
he chuckled all the way up the creek, and all the time it took to prepare
his tea, and towards bed-time confided to Griffin, with more chuckles,
his opinion that it was "'bout's good's done."

"She can't go back on that," he said with assurance.

But Spicer lingered at this stage for a long time; he cut all the wood
the widow needed, and did other little things about the selection, and
often sat on the fence, as usual, and gradually grew to be quite at home
there. The widow accepted his services now as a matter of course, and
though she was often betrayed into expressions of great impatience, Dick
remained oblivious, and worked out his courtship in his own ponderous
way.

His next step towards strengthening his position was when he took it upon
himself to put several palings on the roof of Mrs. Clinton's house. This
was a decided advance, and when the buxom little woman thanked him, his
odd screw of the face and sidelong nod clearly conveyed the impression
that he was beginning to regard himself as a "perfect devil amongst the
women." There was more chuckling that evening, and further confidences
for the dog. After this Spicer ceased working seriously on his own
selection, and slowly extended his sphere at the widow's. He did some
gardening, and repaired the fences, and dictated improvements, but it was
not till eighteen months after Clinton's death that he made his great
stroke. It was on Sunday afternoon that Dick discovered Mrs. Clinton in
hot pursuit of the boy John, with one shoe in her hand and one on her
foot. John was in active rebellion, and yelling his contempt for the
maternal authority. Spicer rose to the occasion. He secured boy John,
took off his belt, and proceeded to strap the unfilial youth--to give him
a grave, judicious, and fatherly larruping--under the eye of his mother.
Then the selector drew off to consider and weigh the important step he
had taken, with the result that, half an hour after, he hung his head in
at the kitchen door, and said abruptly:

"Treaser, when's it to be?"

"Meanin' which?" asked the unconscious widow.

"Meanin' marryin'."

The widow thought for a moment, and said, just as if she were
contemplating the sale of a few eggs:

"This day month'll suit me."

"Done," said Spicer.

Then he felt called upon to make some kind of a demonstration, and edged
up to Mrs. Clinton in a fidgeting sort of way, and when near enough made
as if to kiss her, paused half-way in doubt, and then didn't.

"The man's a fool," said the stout little widow composedly.

They were married though, under conditions of great secrecy, at the
parson's house in the township, with the blinds down. It was with great
difficulty Dick was convinced of the necessity of witnesses.



THE CONQUERING BUSH.

NED "picked up" his wife in Sydney. He had come down for a spell in town,
and to relieve himself of the distress of riches--to melt the cheque
accumulated slowly in toil and loneliness on a big station in the North.
He was a stockrider, a slow, still man naturally, but easily moved by
drink. When he first reached town he seemed to have with him some of the
atmosphere of silence and desolation that surrounded him during the long
months back there on the run. Ned was about thirty-four, and looked
forty. He was tall and raw-boned, and that air of settled melancholy,
which is the certain result of a solitary bush life, suggested some
romantic sorrow to Mrs. Black's sentimental daughter.

Darton, taught wisdom by experience, had on this occasion taken lodgings
in a suburban private house. Mrs. Black's home was very small, but her
daughter was her only child, and they found room for a "gentleman
boarder."

Janet Black was a pleasant-faced, happy-hearted girl of twenty. She liked
the new boarder from the start, she acknowledged to herself afterwards,
but when by some fortunate chance he happened to be on hand to drag a
half-blind and half-witted old woman from beneath the very hoofs of a
runaway horse, somewhat at the risk of his own neck, she was enraptured,
and in the enthusiasm of the moment she kissed the hand of the abashed
hero, and left a tear glittering on the hard brown knuckles.

This was a week after Ned Darton's arrival in Sydney.

Ned went straight to his room and sat perfectly still, and with even more
than his usual gravity watched the tear fade away from the back of his
hand. Either Janet's little demonstration of artless feeling had awakened
suggestions of some glorious possibility in Ned's heart, or he desired to
exercise economy for a change; he suddenly became very judicious in the
selection of his drinks, and only took enough whisky to dispel his native
moodiness and taciturnity and make him rather a pleasant acquisition to
Mrs. Black's limited family circle.

When Ned Darton returned to his pastoral duties in the murmuring wilds,
he took Janet Black with him as his wife. That was their honeymoon.

Darton did not pause to consider the possible results of the change he
was introducing into the life of his bride--few men would. Janet was
vivacious, and her heart yearned towards humanity. She was bright,
cheerful, and impressionable. The bush is sad, heavy, despairing;
delightful for a month, perhaps, but terrible for a year.

As she travelled towards her new home the young wife was effervescent
with joy, aglow with health, childishly jubilant over numberless plans
and projects; she returned to Sydney before the expiration of a year, a
stranger to her mother in appearance and in spirit. She seemed taller
now, her cheeks were thin, and her face had a new expression. She brought
with her some of the brooding desolation of the bush--even in the turmoil
of the city she seemed lost in the immensity of the wilderness. She
answered her mother's every question without a smile. She had nothing to
complain of: Ned was a very good husband and very kind. She found the
bush lonesome at first, but soon got used to it, and she didn't mind now.
She was quite sure she was used to it, and she never objected to
returning.

A baby was born, and Mrs. Darton went back with her husband to their hut
by the creek on the great run, to the companionship of bears, birds,
'possums, kangaroos, and the eternal trees. She hugged her baby on her
breast, and rejoiced that the little mite would give her something more
to do and something to think of that would keep the awful ring of the
myriad locusts out of her ears.

Man and wife settled down to their choking existence again as before,
without comment. Ned was used to the bush--he had lived in it all his
life--and though its influence was powerful upon him he knew it not. He
was necessarily away from home a good deal, and when at home he was not
companionable, in the sense that city dwellers know. Two bushmen will sit
together by the fire for hours, smoking and mute, enjoying each other's
society; "in mute discourse" two bushmen will ride for twenty miles
through the most desolate or the most fruitful region. People who have
lived in crowds want talk, laughter, and song. Ned loved his wife, but he
neither talked, laughed, nor sang.

Summer came. The babe at Mrs. Darton's breast looked out on the world of
trees with wide, unblinking, solemn eyes, and never smiled.

"Ned," said Janet, one bright, moonlight night, "do you know that that
'possum in the big blue gum is crazy? She has two joeys, and she has gone
mad."

Janet spent a lot of her time sitting in the shade of the hut on a
candle-box, gazing into her baby's large, still eyes, listening to the
noises of the bush, and the babe too seemed to listen, and the mother
fancied that their senses blended, and they both would some day hear
something awful above the crooning of the insects and the chattering of
the parrots. Sometimes she would start out of these humours with a
shriek, feeling that the relentless trees which had been bending over and
pressing down so long were crushing her at last beneath their weight.

Presently she became satisfied that the laughing jackasses were mad. She
had long suspected it. Why else should they flock together in the dim
evening and fill the bush with their crazy laughter? Why else should they
sit so grave and still at other times, thinking and grieving?

Yes, she was soon quite convinced that the animals and birds, even the
insects that surrounded her, were mad, hopelessly mad, all of them. The
country was now burnt brown, and the hills ached in the great heat, and
the ghostly mirage floated in the hollows. In the day-time the birds and
beasts merely chummered and muttered querulously from the deepest shades,
but in the dusk of evening they raved and shrieked, and filled the
ominous bush with mad laughter and fantastic wailings.

It was at this time that Darton became impressed by the peculiar manner
of his wife, and a great awe stole over him as he watched her gazing into
her baby's eyes with that strange look of frightened conjecture. He
suddenly became very communicative; he talked a lot, and laughed, and
strove to be merry, with an indefinable chill at his heart. He failed to
interest his wife; she was absorbed in a terrible thought. The bush was
peopled with mad things--the wide wilderness of trees, and the dull, dead
grass, and the cowering hills instilled into every living thing that came
under the influence of their ineffable gloom a madness of melancholy. The
bears were mad, the 'possums, the shrieking cockatoos, the dull grey
laughing jackasses with their devilish cackling, and the ugly
yellow-throated lizards that panted at her from the rocks--all were mad.
How, then, could her babe hope to escape the influence of the mighty bush
and the great white plains beyond, with their heavy atmosphere of despair
pressing down upon his defenceless head? Would he not presently escape
from her arms, and turn and hiss at her from the grass like a vicious
snake; or climb the trees, and, like a bear, cling in day-long torpor
from a limb; or, worst of all, join the grey birds on the big dead gum,
and mock at her sorrow with empty, joyless laughter?

These were the fears that oppressed Janet as she watched her sad, silent
baby at her breast. They grew upon her and strengthened day by day, and
one afternoon they became an agonizing conviction. She had been alone
with the dumb child for two days, and she sat beside the hut door and
watched the evening shadows thicken, with a shadow in her eyes that was
more terrible than blackest night, and when a solitary mopoke began
calling from the Bald Hill, and the jackasses set up a weird chorus of
laughter, she rose, and clasping her baby tighter to her breast, and
leaning over it to shield it from the surrounding evils, she hurried
towards the creek.

Janet was not in the hut when Ned returned home half an hour later.
Attracted by the howling of his dog, he hastened to the waterhole under
the great rock, and there in the shallow water he found the bodies of his
wife and child and the dull grey birds were laughing insanely overhead.



THE ELOPEMENT OF MRS. PETERS

SIMON PETERS, irreverently called "The Apostle," returned to the railway
camp late on Sunday night, and found his tent topsy-turvy and his
"missus" gone. On the paling table, weighted with a piece of cheese, was
a scrap of sugar-paper, on which was written in Fan's dog-leg hand:

"I'm sik. I'm goin' to cleer."

Sim swore a muffled oath under his abundant moustache, and looked around
upon the unwonted disorder. The blue blanket and the rug had been
stripped from their bunk; the spare, rough furniture of the big tent lay
about in confusion; and amongst the grey ashes in the wide sod fireplace
was a bunch of reddish hair. Peters fished this out, and examined it with
as much astonishment as the phlegmatic, even-tempered navvy was capable
of feeling. It was his wife's hair, and had evidently been hacked off in
a hurry, regardless of effect. Piled on the bush stool against the wall
were Mrs. Peters's clothes. Nothing of hers that Peters could recall was
missing; even the big quondong ear-rings, of which she was so proud, were
thrown upon the floor. Her hat was on the bed, and her boots were under
the table.

Still clutching the mop of hair in his hand, Sim backed solemnly and
soberly on to a seat, and sat for a few minutes gravely weighing the
evidence. Obviously Fanny had gone off clad only in a blue blanket or a
'possum rug. This was most extraordinary, even for Fanny, but there was
some satisfaction in it, since it should not be difficult to trace a
white woman so attired.

Presently Peters arose and went forth to prosecute inquiries. On
Saturday, before departing for Dunolly, he had asked Rolley's wife to
keep an eye on the missus. As he approached the gaffer's tent, however,
he heard a woman's voice raised in shrill vituperation, and recognised
Mrs. Rolley's strident contralto.

"My poor mother that's in heaven knew you, you---. She always said you
was a---."

And poor Rolley was inundated with a torrent of his own choice
blasphemies. Simon Peters knew by experience that when Mrs. Rolley
dragged her sainted mother into little domestic differences, she was at
least two days gone in drink, and quite incapable of recollecting
anything beyond Rolley's shortcomings, so he turned away with a sigh, and
carried his quest into the camp. Half an hour later he returned to his
tent and resumed his thoughtful attitude on the stool. He had secured one
piece of evidence that seemed to throw a good deal of light on the
situation. Late on Saturday night someone had broken into Curly Hunter's
tent and stolen therefrom a grey tweed suit, a black felt hat, and a pair
of light blucher boots. Peters, putting this and that together slowly and
with great mental effort, concluded that Curly Hunter and Fanny were
about the same height. He recollected, too, the explanation his wife
offered when he discovered her back to be seamed and lined with scars.

"Dad done it," said Fanny. "Poor old dad, he was always lickin' me."

"But," gasped Peters, filled with a sudden itch to beat the throat of his
deceased father-in-law, "you don't mean to say the cowardly brute lashed
you like that!"

"Didn't he?" replied she, laughing lightly. "He used to rope me up to the
cow-bail an' hammer me with a horsewhip. Once when I set the grass on
fire, an' burned the stable an' the dairy; another time when I broke
Grasshopper's neck, ridin' him over Coleman's chock-an'-log fence; an'
agen when I dressed up in Tom's clothes, took a swag, and got a job
pickin'-up in M'Kinley's shed."

Early on Monday morning Peters had an interview with Curly Hunter. Hunter
was sympathetic, and readily sold Sim the stolen things at a modest
valuation, promising at the same time to observe a friendly reticence in
the matter; but, for all that, two hours later everybody in the camp knew
that Mrs. Peters had run off, and that "The Apostle" was away hunting for
her. The general opinion, freely and profanely expressed, was that Simon
Peters was a superlative idiot. It was agreed that Peters would have
exhibited common-sense by sitting still under the bereavement, and
casually thanking Providence for the "let off." Since Mrs. Peters started
a couple of ramshackle waggons down the gradient, and nearly smashed up
Ryan's gang, the camp had suddenly grown weary of her "monkey tricks."

Mrs. Simon Peters was a woman of twenty-six, ten or twelve years younger
than her husband, more comely, more decent, and more presentable in every
way than the other wives of the camp. She did not get drunk in the
bedroom end of Wingy Lee's shanty on pay nights, did not use the
picturesque idiom of the gangers in ordinary conversation, and in some
respects had been a good mate to Peters. But it must be admitted that the
camp had further justification in doubting the complete sanity of Simon
Peters's wife. She had an eerie expression that was quaintly accented by
keen, twinkling, black eyes in combination with light red hair and rather
pale brows; and she was possessed of a spirit of mischief that led her
into the wildest extravagances. Her devilment was that of an ungovernable
school-boy, without his preposterous sense of humour. An uncontrollable
yearning for excitement impelled her to the strangest actions. She had
another peculiar characteristic, not unknown to the camp, in her apparent
insensibility to physical pain. Peters had been astounded by the fact
that a burn, a cut, a scald, or a blow provoked no complainings from his
wife and scarcely any regard. This indifference extended to the
sufferings of others. After the blasting accident in the North cutting,
Fanny, of all the women in the camp, was the only one who had the nerve
to approach the mangled body of poor M'Intyre, and she placidly worked
over the shocking mass, still instinct with life, when the strongest men
turned sick at the sight of it.

Sim made no effort to understand his wife, which was well, as he was only
an average man, and she was past finding out. He concluded that her
extraordinary conduct was just the natural unreasonableness and
contrariness of women "coming out strong," and made the best of the
situation in which he found himself. Being an average man, Sim was a
superior navvy; he only got drunk on big occasions, and, drunk or sober,
treated his wife with indulgent fondness, and occasionally Fanny seemed
fond of him in return; but then she had been very warmly attached to that
father who used to bail her up in the cowshed and lash her with a
horsewhip in the hope of converting her to sweet reasonableness.

On the Monday morning Peters first went up the road, seeking his wife,
but no one at White's had seen a slim young fellow in a grey suit pass
that way, so he tried down the road, with better success. Clark, at the
Travellers' Rest, had seen "just sich a feller" as Sim described.

"They had a drink here Sunday, an' left, making for Moliagul, it seemed
t' me," said Clark.

"They?" queried Peters.

"Yes. There was two of 'em. The big feller shouted. A brown-faced chap,
with a black moustache, an' a deep cut in his chin, here."

Simon's grip made a dent in the pewter he held, and a grey hue crept over
his cheeks and into his lips. Never before had he doubted his wife in
this way; never through all her mad escapades had he had reason to
question her fealty as a wife till now. Peters remembered the man
distinctly; he had seen him about the camp, looking for work. The
peculiar cleft chin would serve to identify him amongst ten thousand.
Striding along the road the fugitives had taken, the navvy recollected
hearing Fanny speaking enthusiastically of the tall, brown stranger as a
fine man, and the grey in his cheek deepened to the colour of ashes, and
his jaw hardened meaningly. His quest had suddenly assumed a terrible
significance, and that fierce pallor and grim rigidity of the jaw never
left him until its end.

Peters heard of them again in the afternoon, but got off the trail
towards evening, and it was not till late on the following day that he
picked up the scent. Then he talked with a farmer who had seen them.

"They slep' in an old hut up in my grass paddock las' night," said the
man, "an' went up the road at about seven this mornin'."

"Did both men sleep in the hut?" asked Peters.

"To be sure!"

Sim continued his journey, steadily, and with apparent unconcern, but
cherishing an immovable determination to kill the brown-faced man the
moment they met.

Early on the Wednesday morning Peters came up with the runaway. An old
man watering a horse at a small creek told him, in answer to his
inquiries:

"A tall chap, with a divided chin--name of Sandler, ain't it? He's here.
I let him a bit of ringin'. That's his axe you hear up the paddock."

Following the ring of the axe, Peters soon came upon his man. Sandler
stopped working as he approached, and turned towards him, resting on the
handle of his axe. Sim walked to within a couple of yards of the
stranger, and threw off the light swag he carried.

"You infernal hound!" he said; "where is my wife?"

Sandler started up in extreme amazement. "Keep off!" he cried. "What the
devil do I know about your wife?"

Peters rushed at him with the fury of a brute, and the two men exchanged
heavy blows. Then they closed, and wrestled for a moment, but Simon's
rage lent him a strength that was irresistible, and presently the other
man was sent down with stunning force. As he attempted to rise, shaken
and almost breathless, Peters, who had seized the axe, struck him once
with the head of it, and Sandler fell back again and lay perfectly still,
with a long, gaping wound over his left eye, from which the blood poured
through his hair upon the new chips and the yellow grass. When Peters
looked up his wife stood facing him. She wore blucher boots, a pair of
grey trousers, and a man's shirt, and carried an axe. She gazed
composedly at the fallen man.

"What have you done, Sim?" she asked.

"You ran away with that man?" He pointed at Sandler.

She nodded her head.

"He did not know I was a woman," she said.



ONE NIGHT

THE bush a few minutes since turbulent with the calls of a myriad antic
birds and the raucous cries of 'possums and monkey-bears, homing in the
great gums, was suddenly seized with a grave-like stillness and the
silence of a desert--a silence that rang in the ears with monotonous
reverberations, and saddened and awed the spirit with a sense of
loneliness and isolation. The solitary swagman, camped in a small
clearing overhung high above by the clustering boughs of the giant trees,
to shake off the awe that came creeping into his heart, roused himself
from his reverie and broke out into the refrain of a familiar diggers'
song, with a feeling almost of defiance. The unwonted sound provoked
guttural murmurs and whispers of protestation from the creatures in the
tree-tops, and caused mysterious shufflings in the undergrowth. A far-off
dingo answered back with a long, low, mournful cry, and the chorus
returned to the singer in such startling echoes that he presently ceased
his song and fell to smoking again and gazing at the flames curling about
the blackened billy on the fire at his feet.

The camper's face, ruddy in the glow of the fire, was evenly featured and
attractive, impressed with a thoughtful gravity in place of the
good-humoured bravado which was so common a characteristic in the faces
of diggers in the days of Fiery Creek, Dunolly, Jim Crow, Adelaide Lead,
Tarrangower, and Ballarat, when gold was plentiful and no man despaired
of fortune. Lying near was his unrolled swag. A damper baked in the white
ash before the fire. Fred Cadden's luck as a miner had been good on the
whole. Although he had never "struck it rich" as richness was understood
in those auriferous times, he had followed the rushes for three years,
ever since his arrival in Australia, without once losing credit at the
stores or finding himself short of an ounce or two to go and come on, and
an occasional patch of wash good for several ounces to the tub had
enabled him to mail large sums to his patient little mother at Home.

A vision of the wistful face of that mother peered into his eyes out of
the glowing logs as his thoughts reverted to England and to her. She was
the only parent he had known; he was her only child, and his affection
for her had much of a daughter's tenderness. They had lived an exclusive
life together. As a boy he had often wondered at this; but he understood
later, and the story his mother told him on his twenty-first birthday was
quite as influential in determining him to visit Australia as the
thrilling rumours that came around the world of virgin gold glittering in
the running streams and yellow nuggets glowing on the hill-sides in the
far-off land. He went, hoping to win fortune from the creeks and gravel
beds, but also on a mission--a mission his mother could not oppose,
although in parting with him she parted with all that was dear to her in
life.

"Go, my boy," she said, "but if you fail you must come home again in
three years. If you succeed I will come to you."

He promised faithfully, and now the three years had expired, and his
mission was a failure, and he was returning. He and Paul Lahffe, his
mate, had done well at Clunes, and had parted there, Paul turning his
face toward a new field in the north, and Fred travelling south towards
Geelong, where he intended taking passage on the next homeward-bound
vessel. The belt about his waist was so loaded with gold that it had
proved a trying burden throughout his long day's tramp, but the fact that
his quest had never since his arrival in Australia seemed to have the
remotest chance of being realised filled him with discontent.

The lugubrious cry of a mopoke near at hand, breaking suddenly in upon
the silence, recalled the young man to a sense of his position, and the
fact that the billy was boiling. He lifted the utensil from the fire,
threw a handful of tea into the water, and set it to brew. Then he seated
himself upon the log again and looked around him into the heavy shadows
gathered about the big boles of the gums, and up at their towering,
plume-like tops, and shrugged his shoulders, with a muttered exclamation
of dissatisfaction. Fred was by this time familiar with the bush by
night, and knew all its uncanny voices and its more uncanny moods of
silence, but he had never been alone in the mighty heart of it as he was
now. His thoughts turned instinctively to the many stories he had heard
of shepherds out back on immense runs being driven to madness by the
solitude and the weird mystery of the bush; of prospectors on the
desolate ranges losing all their desire for human fellowship, and
becoming taciturn recluses, powerless to shake off the influence of the
funereal and desolate forest.

Cadden turned with an effort from these unpleasant thoughts, and gave his
attention to his meal again. He had walked fifteen miles since noon, and
was uncommonly hungry. Drawing the nicely browned damper from among the
ashes, Fred was about to turn to his swag for the other materials for his
tea, when he uttered an exclamation of surprise and sprang back a step,
dropping the steaming bread in his amazement. A stranger stood facing him
within the circle of light cast by the camp fire--a tall, sinewy man of
about fifty, dressed in a cabbage-tree hat, a blue Crimean shirt, cord
trousers, and Wellington boots. The stranger stood with his right hand
thrust lightly in his pocket, and his left toying with the point of his
long iron-grey beard, and he smiled broadly under the profusion of hair
on his weather-tanned face at the young man's consternation.

"Night, mate!" he said.

"Good-night," responded Fred, recovering himself.

"You jumped up like a ghost."

"Don't grow ghosts in Australia, my boy," said the other, still smiling.
"Reckon you're something of a new chum."

"If three years' hard digging from Buninyong to Bendigo count for
anything, I am not a new chum. But where have you sprung from, mate?"
Fred felt somewhat uneasy under the other's close scrutiny, and regretted
that his revolver was out of reach, in the folds of his swag.

"Name's Coburn," answered the man who had the curtness and assurance of
an old hand--"makin' for Ballarat."

"Your swag?" queried Fred, suspiciously.

"Got none. Thought to strike old Copper-top Egan's shanty to-night, but
my horse fell lame. He's hung up down by the creek. Saw your fire, and
suspected you would be good enough for a smoke, a pannikin of tea, and a
feed--eh?"

"Of course," said Fred, drawing forth his plug, and tossing it towards
the stranger. To refuse the hospitalities of the camp to a traveller
would be to outrage an honoured tradition of the country. Besides, the
young man was quite reassured by the smiling countenance and easy
demeanour of his guest, and was secretly glad of company.

"I was just going to have tea myself," he continued, "and to such as
there is you are welcome."

Coburn nodded his thanks, and young Cadden resumed his preparations for
the meal. A gridiron extemporized from a scrap of fencing wire was
brought into requisition, and presently the miner was busy grilling
chops, with a facility born of experience; and whilst he busied himself
in this manner his companion stood opposite, leisurely chipping at the
tobacco, and keenly scrutinising him from under the wide brim of the
well-seasoned hat he wore.

"Bought them up at Pablo's at noon and hawked them along in my billy, but
they are as fresh as paint," said Fred, indicating the chops.

The young man looked up as he spoke, and encountered the six black pips
of a long revolver pointing at him across the fire, and two stern eyes
beyond, burning with a feline lustre.

"Bail up," commanded Coburn.

Fred's impulse was to spring for his swag, but at the first stride a
bullet clipped through the shoulder of his jumper, bruising the flesh and
bringing him up standing.

"Stir a peg and I'll drop the next six inches lower," the stranger said,
coolly, but with convincing emphasis. "Now that's sensible, and to
convince you of the wisdom of standing just so, I don't mind mentioning
that I am Jack Hogan--the notorious Hogan, you know, alias Peetree, alias
Lone Hand, alias Coburn, et cetera, et cetera."

Fred Cadden started and flushed, and his eyes turned involuntarily
towards the spot where his revolver lay. Coburn noticed the glance, and
smiled.

"Heard of Hogan, I see," he said. "Met some of my cripples, perhaps."

Fred had heard of Hogan, notorious as Lone Hand, a bushranger of great
audacity, whose exploits with the revolver were told of in a hundred
stories by more or less appreciative diggers; a cool, cunning scoundrel
who prided himself on never taking life, but who, when necessity arose,
disabled an enemy with a bullet as expertly as a surgeon might with a
lancet. This sobriquet had been given him by reason of the fact that he
had neither mates nor confidants, which also to a great extent accounted
for his success in having eluded the mounted police for over five years.
An exaggerated courtesy towards women, and occasional acts of liberality
towards hard-up diggers, combined with an avowed and demonstrated
vindictiveness towards the "lordly squatter" and all officialdom, served
to win Lone Hand the admiration and respect of the majority of the rough
diggers--honourable men, most of them, in their own dealings, but
bitterly hating law that was made manifest to them only in license
hunting and extortion. Cadden faced Hogan's revolver, firm lipped, and
with kindling eyes. He had no admiration for the gold robber, and the
mention of his name only fired the young man with a resolve to sell his
life dearly and warily, but, if it must be, to lose it rather than to be
the meek victim of the desperado of Murdering Flat and Fryer's Creek.

"Any shootin' irons?" queried Hogan.

Cadden gave no answer, and the outlaw, holding his revolver ready for
instantaneous service, walked towards the swag. He shook out the rug, and
discovered a revolver, which he thrust in his belt.

"Now," he said, "hand over that gold-belt under the slack of your
jumper."

The blood burned in Fred's cheeks, and his eyes flashed, but he made no
movement, and as he gazed a devilish vindictiveness grew in the eyes
opposing his, and the finger on the revolver that gleamed between them
moved with vital significance.

"I don't like your damned airs, mate," Hogan continued. "I will have to
maim you before I can take that belt myself. Will you hand it over, or be
left here with a bullet in your carcase to run your chances with the
bull-ants?"

It would have been madness to have defied Hogan further under the
circumstances. Fred unbuckled the belt, and threw it towards him. Lone
Hand picked it from the ground, and weighed it in his hand, and laughed
grimly.

"Devilish heavy, my boy," he said. "You ought to be thankful to be rid of
it."

Hogan buckled the belt about his own waist; but during the operation
never lifted his keen eye from the alert figure of the young man.

"Now," he said, blandly, "S'pose we have tea? Hang it all, mate, those
chops are burning."

He seized the gridiron and assumed the duties of cook, turning the chops
with the muzzle of his revolver, and keeping the fire between himself and
his victim, whom he continued watching closely all the time.

"Come," he went on, "don't be so cursed unsociable! Hand out the plates.
Take the pannikin yourself, I can drink from the billy lid. I'll pay for
my tea--there's nothing dirty mean about Lone Hand."

He opened the mouth of the belt, and drew forth a couple of coarse pieces
of gold, and threw them towards Cadden.

"There," he said, "that's liberal pay for a little mutton and damper."

Hogan, confident in his great strength, and in the fact that Fred was
unarmed, rejoiced in this bravado, and Fred, perceiving that his only
chance lay in humouring him, picked the gold from the ground, and brought
forward a couple of tin plates.

"Very good--you have the whip hand to-night," he said; "some day the
positions may be reversed."

"If they ever are, mate, and you are the man to do it, skin me like a
bandicoot, and I won't whine a whimper."

Hogan divided the chops, and for a time the men ate without exchanging a
word, both seated upon the ground, Fred watchful, and eager for his
opportunity, Hogan, apparently indifferent, but wide awake, and alive in
every nerve with the instinctive alertness and caution of a long-hunted
man.

"Going to Melbourne for a spree, eh?" he asked presently.

"No, I intended shipping for England."

"Then I've done you a good turn. Go back on your tracks, young man; take
Cobb and Co. for Eaglehawk or Castlemaine--they're panning out thousands
of ounces there daily. Or rob fat old Macarthur, of Black Boy, of one of
those blood colts of his, have grit, and go prospecting in other men's
pockets. I invite competition."

"It's a madman's trade," said Fred. "Anxiety till the end, and then--a
hempen comforter."

"It is glorious," cried Hogan fierely--"a vindication--a sweet and
lasting vengeance!" Fred was surprised at the quick change in the man;
his sardonic humor had passed, and his face twitched and his eyes burned
with a sudden malevolence. This was the opportunity for which the digger
had been waiting. Whilst still sitting upon the ground he had drawn his
legs into the best position for a spring. Leaning forward upon his hands,
with a pretence of lifting a burning twig for his pipe, Fred bounded with
a tremendous effort right over the fire. Hogan fumbled his revolver in
the attempt to discharge it, and the next instant the two men were
writhing upon the grass, with interlocked limbs and set, stern faces,
fighting for life.

The miner was young and athletic, possessing all the reserve power of a
vigorous constitution unimpaired by any excesses. He had worked just hard
enough of late years to toughen the sinews and develop his muscles to
their greatest capacity. But the older man was bigger, his strength was
talked of as something extraordinary, his frame was of iron, and he had
learned many cunning tricks in a dreadful school. Fred clung desperately
to his pistol hand, and so, panting and straining every thew, the men
fought like tigers, but noiselessly, under the brooding trees. Several
times their legs scattered the embers of the fire, and once Hogan's hair
flamed and singed his cheek, but they wrestled on, regardless of
everything besides. At length a slip, a turn of luck, gave Cadden a brief
ascendancy. His right hand grasped his enemy's throat, with his left he
pinned his pistol hand to the ground; fighting still, he strove to plant
his knee upon the outlaw's breast; but at that instant a shot was heard.
Fred's grip relaxed and he pitched forward on his face by Hogan's side,
and his extended hands dug at the yielding turf.

The bushranger's first action when he felt himself free was to dart for
the cover of the nearest tree. The shot had not been fired by him.
Presently he heard another shot, followed by four more in rapid
succession. And then he understood. The revolver he had taken from Fred's
swag and thrust in his belt, had in the course of the struggle been
jerked into the fire, and the heat had discharged the cartridges. It was
a bullet from one of these that had struck Cadden. Hogan knelt by the
side of the young man, and turned his face to the light, and an
exclamation broke from his lips.

"My God! man, is it as bad as that?"

He had witnessed the approach of dissolution too often to be mistaken
now, and the sight of the handsome boyish face drawn with agony, and
already ashen from the touch of death, and the dim eyes gazing into his
own with dreadful fixity, flooded his soul with a great compassion.--"I
didn't shoot, mate!" he cried, "so help me heaven, 'twasn't." He stopped
short, and with a face as ghastly as that of the dying man, glared for a
moment at a photograph that had fallen from the inside pocket of Cadden's
jumper. He took up the card with a trembling hand, and gazed upon the
pictured face, that of a young man. Under the picture were written the
words, "To Mary, from Paul." Hogan was now beset by an uncontrollable
emotion. He drew the likeness before Fred's face.

"Where did you get this? What is he to you? For the love of God, answer
me--answer me!"

During Hogan's examination of the picture a strange, eager light had
grown in Fred's eyes, overcoming for a moment the filmy dulness of death,
and the bushranger's agitation seemed to awaken a kindred feeling in his
own breast.

"Speak, speak, man!" gasped Lone Hand.

Cadden's lips moved, he raised his body a little from the sustaining arm,
a few broken, whispered words fell from his lips, and then his head
dropped heavily back, every muscle relaxed, he breathed a sigh, and was
dead. One distinct word only reached Rogan's ear:

"Father!"

Dazed and astounded, the bushranger knelt beside the dead man, gazing
upon the grey face, and through his tense lips issued the names of God
and Christ with incoherent reiteration, instinct with spiritual agony.
Presently, moved by a kind of frenzy, he arose and darted towards
Cadden's swag, and bent over it, throwing its contents right and left
till he discovered a small packet of papers. Crouching by the fire, he
tore open the packet, and referred to the signatures in the letters it
contained. "Your loving mother, Mary Cadden," was signed to each missive,
and each signature wrung from Hogan's heart the same low, moaning cry:

"My wife! my wife!"

A paragraph of one letter he started to read:

"Oh! my boy, I too have heard dreadful stories of what men have become
who escaped from those horrible, horrible prisons. It is a difficult task,
but if it should yet succeed, and you find him, whatever he may be, my
darling, remember he was an innocent man, unjustly sentenced. Only the
undying conviction of your mother, who knew him best, and loved him,
can be offered in proof of this; but that will suffice for you. I have
read with such pain as I may never tell of strong, true, proud-spirited
men being converted into fiends, fired only with a raging hate against
society, and a thirst for vengeance upon their oppressors by the inhuman
cruelties and the nameless degradations of the convict system; and,
I confess, when, after hearing of his escape, the long years went by
without bringing me word of him, that I feared the worst. A consciousness
of his own degradation alone would have kept him silent so long if he
still lives. But if you find him in evil ways, do not forget what turned
him to evil, and be kind to him--love him for my sake. Nothing could
make him so bad but that we could reclaim him, dear, you and I."

Hogan (for we will still give him that name) ceased reading, and pressed
the paper to his lips, and falling upon his face in the grass, grovelled
there in a passion of remorse and despair. In a few moments he crept to
the side of the dead man, and gazed long and earnestly upon the rigid
features, gazed till his eyes filled with unaccustomed tears, and then
the fierce, revengeful man, whose hand for years had been against his
fellows, and whose heart had acknowledged no tender sentiment, but had
nurtured a devilish cynicism and a religion of hate, wept, and sobbed,
and pleaded, and protested over the body, with the hysterical and
unreasoning anguish of a weak woman.

The storm of feeling passed, and Hogan arose. He unbuckled the gold-belt
from his waist and fastened it about Fred Cadden's body. Then he placed
the letters and the likeness in the pocket of Fred's jumper, turned
without allowing himself another glance and rushed from the spot, and a
minute later he swept by, riding his big, spirited horse with mad
recklessness along the ill-defined track, where the trees reached out
their treacherous limbs to dash the unwary rider from his saddle.

The moon rose and passed, the camp-fire flickered to a few red embers,
and Fred Cadden lay, cold and stark, staring with unseeing, glassy eyes,
up at the grey heavens as the day broke, and the bush rang with the
chattering, the shrieks and whistlings of newly-awakened beasts and
birds. Then the outlaw came again, limping painfully, dragging himself
from tree to tree. There was blood upon his hands, and his pallid cheeks
were streaked with blood, and blood dripped from the point of his long
beard.

An immense 'guana hung its hideous head over a log and eyed the body
curiously. Hogan scared it away with a fierce oath, and fell on his knees
by the side of the dead man. All night he had ridden aimlessly,
furiously, inviting death at every stride, his soul a tumult of
fragmentary thoughts and memories that scourged him with hell's torments.
Two hours before dawn he had left his horse, huddled in a heap under the
butt of a fallen tree, with a broken neck, and, mangled and torn himself,
he had tottered and crawled back to the camp, inspired with a wild hope.
Perhaps a spark of life remained--perchance in his amazement and horror
he had mistaken a fainting fit for death. That hope fled with his first
touch upon Fred's rigid cheek, and Hogan raised himself upon his knees,
clinging to the dead hand, and drew his revolver from his belt.

"Not my bullet, my boy," he murmured. "Thank God for that!"

He placed his revolver to his breast and fired. He remained rigid for a
moment, and then his body was flung forward across the body of his son,
and a thin line of smoke from the smouldering spot on his shirt directly
over his heart, rose up between them and circled in the still air.



HIS BAD LUCK

THE lovers were not animated by any romantic appreciation of the
picturesque in selecting the western slope of Magpie Hill for their
meeting place. The trysting spot possessed one advantage--it was
secluded. Since the Macdougals had given up their search for the reef,
believed to exist in the locality, as a bad job, they were never led in
that direction by inclination, and rarely by duty. The coarse grass
growing sparingly in the hard, hungry soil seldom enticed the cattle from
the flats near the river. On the hill-side the gums grew straggling and
strangely contorted, and only a few clumps of drooping, stunted saplings
relieved the dull brown expanse of surface with a touch of bright green,
and offered anything like shelter from the penetrating rays of the fierce
summer sun now glinting upon the motionless leaves and weaving an
ebullient mirage far down in the dry bed of Spooner's Creek.

Harry Grey waited at the foot of the hill, evidently in no very gracious
humour; with his hands thrust deeply into his pockets, and his back set
against a tree, he gazed gloomily at his feet, propped out before him,
seeking a satisfactory solution of the difficulty he had in hand, and
which for the last nineteen hours, sleeping and waking, had defied his
not particularly ingenious mind. His boots suggested nothing, and time
was pressing. The girl might come at any moment, and his diplomacy was
equal to no better line of action than the bald and brutal truth. Any
fool can tell the simple truth. What the young man wanted was a lie that
would "fill the bill" and at the same time save him the indignity of a
confession of his own weakness. Open confession is good for the soul, but
when one's confessor is a pretty young woman, with a reserve of native
dignity, to whom a fellow has sworn eternal constancy a thousand times,
and undying devotion as often again, and the confession is a cruel
renunciation of her affection and her fealty, one is so far lost to the
teachings of his youth as to be willing to give all his moral copybook
maxims for a really serviceable deceit.

Harry groaned dismally, and vented his feelings on his horse, but
Eaglehawk, accustomed to these impassioned addresses, and stung out of
all patience by the voracious flies, continued to paw up the dirt and
lash out viciously with his heels, regardless of his owner's ill-humour
and his objurgations.

When the young man heard the rattle of a horse's hoofs above on the ridge
he abandoned all thoughts of subterfuge, and resolved to make a virtue of
necessity. He would be candid--he would give a plain statement of the
case. They must separate and endeavour to forget each other; family
reasons, &c., rendered it imperative. An air of melancholy, tempered with
firmness, was necessary to the explanation. Harry assumed such an air,
and awaited the ordeal, but as the sound of the hoof-beats drew nearer
his firmness melted into trepidation and his melancholy dwindled into a
pitiful shamefacedness, for beneath the veneer of sophistry with which he
had tried to delude his better self there was a consciousness of the
paltry nature of the part he was playing, and a still small voice told
him that selfishness and not filial affection prompted his action.

Comet came over the hill at a rattling gallop, clearing the logs and
stumps and clumps of scrub in his long, swinging stride, and his mistress
sat him with the ease of a bush-bred girl, to whom a good horse is one of
the necessities of life, and with a grace rarely seen in bush or town.

"Whoa, boy!"

Vic brought the nag up standing within a few feet of her lover, and
dropped lightly to the ground before he could offer assistance.

No wonder the young man shrank from the idea of offending Victoria
Macdougal. The distressing nature of his task came home to him with an
increase of bitterness as she stood there, smiling coyly, and curtseying
with mock dignity. She looked prettier than ever to-day; her cheeks
glowed like newly-blown brier roses after rain, and her beautiful hair
clung in exquisite little curls about her white brow and her dainty pink
ears. He noted, with a great regret at his heart, the elegance of her
slim figure in the light, well-fitting habit she wore. Her lips were even
more tempting than usual, too, and he thought, sighing, that her fine
eyes had assumed a brighter blue, but were gentler withal. She was sweet
and inviting, but he did not kiss her. He leaned against the tree more
determinedly, and ruefully congratulated himself upon his strength of
mind.

Victoria missed the customary salutation, and noted Harry's reticence,
and her manner changed at once. She also could be cold and careless.

"Good afternoon, Mister Grey." They might have met for the first time at
the show ball last week.

"Good afternoon, Vic."

Harry felt supremely uncomfortable, and tugged at Eaglehawk's rein and
bullied the horse in a poor endeavour to hide his discomposure, and to
avoid looking into her beautiful, inquisitive eyes. Harry is a tall,
strong fellow, spoken of by most of his male friends as a good fellow
(usually with a superfluous adjective, be it regretfully recorded) with
an ordinarily well-developed sense of honour, but lacking the moral
stamina to act up to it in all cases. He is the first son of old "Jock"
Grey, of Wombat. Grey, of Wombat, is a successful farmer and breeder in
so large a way as almost to merit the dignity of being included amongst
Victoria's "squatocracy."

Vic is the daughter of George Macdougal, a farmer in a smaller way, and
not a good farmer at that. He and his big athletic sons are imbued with
the digger's passion, and devote more time to prospecting up and down the
creek and trenching for the reef than to the prosaic work of cutting
scrub, ring-barking, fencing, and putting down crops. A Jew from the city
has been seen wandering over their land, and there is much talk amongst
the widely scattered neighbours of mortgages and liens on stock.

After kicking at a tuft of grass, with a brave show of unconcern, for a
few awkward moments, and trying hard to control his nerves and his ideas,
Harry became desperate.

"Vic," he blurted, "I'm going to make you hate me!"

"Hate you, Harry?" There is much concern in her face now. "You frighten
me. You look serious enough to have all the mounted police in the colony
on your track," she continued, with a pathetic assumption of raillery.
"Have you been bank-breaking or cattle-stealing? Well, sir, don't you see
how impatient I am?"

He hung Eaglehawk up to the tree, and, pointing to a log by a clump of
saplings, said:

"Hadn't you better sit in the shade?"

He made this arrangement cunningly, that he might stand behind her whilst
telling his story. He was afraid of the sudden unveiling of that deeper
light in her eyes, which had flashed forth at times to his great
discomfort.

Vic turned to obey him, and, sitting upon the log, with a stick she had
picked from the ground she played nervously amongst the stony soil at her
feet, and Harry Grey stood behind her and faltered through his
explanation.

"Vic, I have to give you up. We must meet no more, but just forget all
this--this foolishness that has been between us. You know that our
fathers are bad friends. Dad expects me to marry Mary Lalor up at
Gumleaf, and he has heard of my meetings with you. Sandy Martin dropped
to it and reported it to the boss, who tackled me about it yesterday, and
I up and told him we were sweethearts, and that I had asked you to marry
me. Then dad tore round and went on like a dingo in a snap-trap; said I
must drop fooling, or go and punch cattle for my tucker for the rest of
my days. He swore that if I did not cut this--this--you know, I could
give up all thoughts of working in with him, or of ever owning a shilling
of his or an acre of Wombat land. And he means it. I didn't reckon on the
old man cutting up rusty about it, but he is real mad, and as he's got
the whip-hand of me I had to cry small, and promise him I'd ride across
for the last time to-day and square matters up like. We must part for
good and all, Vic."

The young woman's face paled, and her head bent lower, but she did not
speak; she still played nervously amongst the dead leaves and stones with
her stick, and struggled bravely to stifle the sobs that rose in her
throat.

"It isn't that dad has any objection to you, Vic--Miss Macdougal," added
the young man, clumsily, "or doesn't think you good enough for me, or
anything like that; but Wombat needs more cash than he can command to
work it properly, and your people are too poor, you know."

The girl started as the last words fell from his lips, but gave no answer
for a minute or more. Drawing the dirt and dead leaves back over the
small hole she had made in the ground, she dropped the stick, and then,
turning her white face towards him, repeated--

"Too poor?"

Harry flushed a deeper red, and looked fixedly from the eyes that turned
upon him full of bitter reproach.

"Yes," he muttered, "too poor. I hope you won't feel cut up, and that
you'll soon forget."

"I may not soon forget, but I shall not feel our parting much. I never
knew you till now, Harry."

He was going on to explain or excuse his conduct in a feeble way, but she
gave him no attention.

Comet, who, throughout the interview, had been fighting the flies at a
little distance, came in answer to the call of his mistress, and she
sprang lightly to the saddle from the log, disdaining Harry's proffered
assistance.

"Have you nothing to say?" he asked miserably, as she gathered up the
reins.

"What need I say? Your father has settled the matter."

The young man winced, and he gazed gloomily after her as she put her
horse at the brush fence, and rode at a dangerous pace along the foot of
the hill, till her figure was lost to his view beyond the bend. Then he
mounted Eaglehawk, and that game little animal broke his record for seven
miles in the run to Wombat.

Miss Victoria did not ride straight home; she pulled up and dismounted by
a patch of young wattles, about a mile and a half from the
trysting-place, and in a familiar shaded nook indulged in a long reverie,
ending in tears, and then took herself severely to task, and scolded
herself into a proper state of dignity and self-respect.

Two days later the whole of the district was in a fever of excitement
over the intelligence that the Macdougals had struck a golden lode at the
foot of Magpie Hill, on their sister's selection. The news reached
Wombat, and Harry and his father rode across to inspect "the find."
Intelligence of gold discoveries travels through mysterious agencies, and
flies to every point of the compass as if a staff of a'rial Mercuries
were always in waiting to carry the electrifying news from ear to ear.
When the Greys cached the paddock there was a great crowd about the
cutting in which the Macdougals, father and sons, were at work. Miners
and prospectors had gathered from miles around, and scores of envious
agriculturists swelled the excited throng.

One glance at the cap of the reef convinced all with the slightest
knowledge of mining that the Macdougals had struck it rich and were "in
for a big thing." The outcrop showed almost as much gold as stone, and
the pure yellow metal shone with dazzling lustre in the bright rays of
the midday sun. The men had already laid bare a great quantity of the
quartz, showing that the reef widened as "she" dipped, and to the
astonished onlookers it seemed that there must be a fortune now in sight.

Harry Grey stood, speechless, staring at the reef. He had some little
knowledge of quartz-mining, and had seen golden stone before, but never
anything like this. Yet it was not the gold alone that amazed him; he
remembered how, only a few hours before, he had stood upon this very
spot, within a foot or two of the great treasure glowing before his eyes,
telling Victoria Macdougal that she was too poor ever to be the wife of
the son of Grey of Wombat.

The young man plucked at his father's sleeve, and backed out of the
crowd. His eyes danced with excitement, and the hand on his father's arm
shook like that of an old man.

"Great Scott!" he gasped, when beyond earshot of the people standing
about. "Dad, listen. I stood on top of that golden pile when I broke with
Vic on Monday. My boots must have touched the gold. She sat upon that log
which they have been forced to roll aside to get at the reef, while I
babbled about her poverty like an inspired jackass!"

Mr. Grey held his chin, and seemed to pull his naturally long visage down
to an extraordinary length as he heard this, and a ludicrous expression
of intense solicitude grew in his pawky face.

"Couldna ye mack it up again, boy?"

"Good-day, Mr. Grey. How do you do, Master Harry?" It was Vic who had
obtruded into their conversation. She looked at Harry with a peculiar
little smile that made him flush to the eyes. She wore the dove-coloured
riding-dress he had so often admired, and her abundant bright hair
rippled from under her hat. The young man noticed with selfish
satisfaction that her face was unusually pale, and, despite the faint
smile upon her lips, she did not look as happy and radiant as might have
been expected of one who had experienced great and sudden good fortune.

"They have struck it at last, Vic," said the young man, indicating the
cutting with a toss of his hand.

"I have struck it," she answered with emphasis. "At about nine minutes
past 2 on Monday afternoon I was sitting on a log over the spot where my
brothers are working, playing amongst the dirt with a stick and listening
to your story--you'll remember, Harry--when I turned up this golden key
to wealth." She held out for their inspection a fine nugget, on which a
quaint pattern was wrought in white quartz.

"You see," she said, "it is almost the shape of a broken anchor."

She turned away, but paused after walking a few yards, and looking back,
said, with an artfully ingenuous air:

"By the way, Mr. Grey, have you heard of my brother Dick's engagement to
Mary Lalor, of Gumleaf? They have been in love with each other for some
time, it appears, but said nothing about it till yesterday."

When she had gone father and son stood in thoughtful attitudes for a few
moments, and then turned, and each looked into the other's blank face and
breathed a great sigh.

"Just my infernal bad luck!" muttered Harry, cutting fiercely at a
dandelion with his riding whip.



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