It Is Never Too Late to Mend
Part 12 out of 17
the hand yet, my lad. Pour for me, George." Robinson stirred and began
to dissolve the three remainders, and every now and then with an
artful turn of the hand he sent a portion of the muddy liquid out of
the vessel. At the end of this washing there remained scarce more than
a good handful of clay at the bottom. More water was poured on this.
"Now," said Robinson, "we shall know this time, and if you see but one
spot of yellow among it, we are all gentlemen and men of fortune."
He dissolved the clay, and twisted and turned the vessel with great
dexterity, and presently the whole of the clay was liquefied.
"Now," said Robinson, "all your eyes upon it, and if I spill anything
I ought to keep--you tell me." He said this conceitedly but with
evident agitation. He was now pouring away the dirty water with the
utmost care, so that anything, however small, that might be heavier
than clay should remain behind. Presently he paused and drew a long
breath. He feared to decide so great a question. It was but for a
moment; he began again to pour the dirty water away very slowly and
carefully. Every eye was diving into the vessel. There was a dead
Robinson poured with great care. There was now little more than a
Suddenly a tremendous cry broke from all these silent figures at the
same instant. A cry! it was a yell. I don't know what to compare it
to. But imagine that a score of wolves had hunted a horse for two
centuries up and down, round and round, sometimes losing a yard,
sometimes gaining one on him, and at last, after a thousand
disappointments and fierce alternations of hope and despair, the horse
had suddenly stumbled and the wild gluttons had pounced on him at
last. Such a fierce yell of triumph burst from four human bosoms now.
"Hurrah! we are the greatest men above ground. If a hundred emperors
and kings died to-day, their places could be filled to-morrow; but the
world could not do without us and our find. We are gentlemen--we are
noblemen--we are whatever we like to be. Hurrah!" cried Robinson.
"Hurrah!" cried George, "I see my Susan's eyes in you, you beauty."
"Hurrah!" whined Jem feebly, "let me see how much there is," and
clutching the calabash he fainted at that moment from loss of blood
and fell forward insensible, his face in the vessel that held the
gold, and his hands grasping it so tight that great force had to be
used to separate them.
They lifted Jem and set him up again, and sprinkled water in his face.
The man's thick lip was cut by the side of the vessel, and more than
one drop of blood had trickled down its sides and mingled with the
No comment was made on this at the time. They were so busy.
"There, he's coming to, and we've no time to waste in nursing the
sick. Work!" and they sprang up on to the work again.
It was not what you have seen pass for work in Europe, it was men
working themselves for once as they make horses work forever. Work? It
was battle; it was humanity fighting and struggling with Nature for
her prime treasure--(so esteemed). How they dug and scraped, and
fought tooth, and spade, and nail, and trowel, and tomahawk for gold!
Their shirts were wet through with sweat, yet they felt no fatigue.
Their trousers were sheets of clay, yet they suffered no sense of
dirt. The wounded man recovered a portion of his strength, and,
thirsting for gold, brought feeble hands but indomitable ardor to the
great cause. They dug, they scraped, they bowed their backs, and
wrought with fury and inspiration unparalleled; and when the sun began
to decline behind the hills these four human mutes felt injured. They
lifted their eyes a moment from the ground, and cast a fretful look at
the great, tranquil luminary.
"Are you really going to set this afternoon the same as usual, when we
need your services so?"
Would you know why that wolfish yell of triumph? Would you see what
sight so electrified those gloating eyes and panting bosoms? Would you
realize that discovery, which in six months peopled that barren spot
with thousands of men from all the civilized tribes upon earth, and in
a few years must and will make despised Australia a queen among the
nations--nations who must and will come with the best thing they
have, wealth, talent, cunning, song, pencil, pen, tongue, arm, and lay
them all at her feet for this one thing?
Would you behold this great discovery the same in appearance and
magnitude as it met the eyes of the first discoverers, picked with a
knife from the bottom of a calabash, separated at last by human art
and gravity's great law from the meaner dust it had lurked in for a
million years--Then turn your eyes hither, for here it is:
[Knife handle drawing
MR. MEADOWS dispatched his work in Shropshire twice as fast as he had
calculated, and returned home with two forces battling inside
him--love and prudence. The battle was decided for him.
William Fielding's honest but awkward interference had raised in Susan
Merton a desire to separate her sentiments from his by showing Mr.
Meadows a marked respect. She heard of his arrival and instantly sent
her father to welcome him home. Old Merton embraced the commission,
for he happened to need Meadows's advice and assistance. The
speculations into which he had been led by Mr. Clinton, after some
fluctuations, wore a gloomy look, "which could only be temporary,"
said that gentleman. Still a great loss would be incurred by selling
out of them at a period of depression, and Mr. Clinton advised him to
borrow a thousand pounds and hold on till things brightened.
Mr. Meadows smiled grimly as the fly came and buzzed all this in his
web: "Dear! dear! what a pity my money is locked up! Go to Lawyer
Crawley. Use my name. He won't refuse my friend, for I could do him an
ill turn if I chose."
"I will. You are a true friend. You will look in and see us, of
Meadows did not resume his visits at Grassmere without some twinges of
conscience and a prudent resolve not to anchor his happiness upon
Susan Merton. "That man might come here any day with his thousand
pounds and take her from me," said he. "He seems by his letters to be
doing well, and they say any fool can make money in the colonies.
Well, if he comes home respectable and well to do--I'll go out. If I
am not to have the only woman I ever loved or cared for, let thousands
and thousands of miles of sea lie between me and that pair." But still
he wheeled about the flame.
Ere long matters took a very different turn. The tone of George's
letters began to change. His repeated losses of bullocks and sheep
were all recorded in his letters to Susan, and these letters were all
read with eager anxiety by Meadows a day before they reached
The respectable man did not commit this action without some iron
passing through his own soul--_Nemo repente turpissimus._ The first
letter he opened it was like picking a lock. He writhed and blushed,
and his uncertain fingers fumbled with another's property as if it had
been red-hot. The next cost him some shame, too, but the next less,
and soon these little spasms of conscience began to be lost in the
pleasure the letters gave him. "It is clear he will never make a
thousand pounds out there, and if he doesn't the old farmer won't give
him Susan. Won't? He shan't! He shall be too deep in my debt to
venture on it even if he was minded." Meadows exulted over the
letters; and as he exulted they stabbed him, for by the side of the
records of his ill fortune the exile never failed to pour out his love
and confidence in his Susan and to acknowledge the receipt of some
dear letter from her, which Meadows could see by George's must have
assured him of undiminished or even increased affection.
Thus did sin lead to sin. By breaking a seal which was not his and
reading letters which were not his, Meadows filled himself with the
warmest hopes of possessing Susan one day, and got to hate George for
the stabs the young man innocently gave him. At last he actually
looked on George as a sort of dog in the manger, who could not make
Susan happy, yet would come between her heart and one who could. All
weapons seemed lawful against such a mere pest as this--a dog in the
Meadows started with nothing better nor worse than a commonplace
conscience. A vicious habit is an iron that soon sears that sort of
article. When he had opened and read about four letters, his moral
nature turned stone-blind of one eye. And now he was happier (on the
surface) than he had been ever since he fell in love with Susan.
Sure now that one day or another she must be his, he waited patiently,
enjoyed her society twice a week, got everybody into his power, and
bided his time. And one frightful thing in all this was that his love
for Susan was not only a strong but in itself a good love. I mean it
was a love founded on esteem; it was a passionate love, and yet a
profound and tender affection. It was the love which, under different
circumstances, has often weaned men, ay, and women, too, from a
frivolous, selfish, and sometimes from a vicious life. This love
Meadows thought and hoped would hallow the unlawful means by which he
must crown it. In fact, he was mixing vice and virtue. The snow was to
whiten the pitch, not the pitch blacken the snow. Thousands had tried
this before him and will try it after him. Oh, that I could persuade
them to mix fire and gunpowder instead! Men would bless me for this
when all else I have written has been long, long forgotten.
He felt good all over when he sat with Susan and thought how his means
would enable that angel to satisfy her charitable nature, and win the
prayers of the poor as well as the admiration of the wealthy. "If ever
a woman was cherished she shall be! If ever a woman was happy she
shall be!" And as for him, if he had done wrong to win her, he would
more than compensate it afterward. In short, he had been for more than
twenty years selling, buying, swapping, driving every conceivable
earthly bargain--so now he was proposing one to Heaven.
At last came a letter in which George told Susan of the fatal murrain
among his sheep, of his fever that had followed immediately, of the
further losses while he lay ill, and concluded by saying that he had
no right to tie her to his misfortunes, and that he felt it would be
more manly to set her free.
When he read this, Meadows' exultation broke all bounds. "Ah ha!"
cried he, "is it come to that at last? Well, he is a fine fellow after
all, and looks at it the sensible way, and if I can do him a good turn
in business I always will."
The next day he called at Grassmere. Susan met him all smiles and was
more cheerful than usual. The watchful man was delighted. "Come, she
does not take it to heart." He did not guess that Susan had cried for
hours and hours over the letter, and then had sat quietly down and
written a letter and begged George to come home and not add separation
to their other misfortunes; and that it was this decision, and having
acted upon it, that had made her cheerful. Meadows argued in his own
favor, and now made sure to win. The next week he called three times
at Grassmere instead of twice, and asked himself how much longer he
must wait before he should speak out. Prudence said, "A little more
patience;" and so he still hid in his bosom the flame that burned him
the deeper for this unnatural smothering. But he drank deep, silent
draughts of love, and reveled in the bright future of his passion. It
was no longer hope, it was certainty. Susan liked him; her eye
brightened at his coming; her father was in his power. There was
nothing between them but the distant shadow of a rival; sooner or
later she must be his. So passed three calm, delicious weeks away.
MEADOWS sat one day in his study receiving Crawley's report.
"Old Mr. Merton came yesterday. I made difficulties as instructed. Is
to come to-morrow."
"He shall have the eight hundred."
"That makes two thousand four hundred; why, his whole stock won't
"Don't understand it, it is too deep for me. What is the old gentleman
"Hunting Will-o'-the-wisp. Throwing it away in speculations that are
colored bright for him by a man that wants to ruin him."
"Aha!" cackled Crawley.
"And do him no harm."
"Augh! How far is it to the bottom of the sea, sir, if you please? I'm
sure you know? Mr. Levi and you."
"Crawley," said Meadows, suddenly turning the conversation, "the world
calls me close-fisted, have you found me so?"
"Liberal as running water, sir. I sometimes say how long will this
last before such a great man breaks Peter Crawley and flings him away
and takes another?" and Crawley sighed.
"Then your game is to make yourself necessary to me."
"I wish I could," said Peter, with mock candor. "Sir," he crept on,
"if the most ardent zeal, if punctuality, secrecy, and unscrupulous
"Hold your gammon! Are we writing a book together! Answer me this in
English. How far dare you go along with me?"
"As far as your purse extends: only--"
"Only what? Only your thermometer is going down already, I suppose."
"No, sir; but what I mean is, I shouldn't like to do anything too
"What d'ye mean by too bad?"
"Punishable by law."
"It is not your conscience you fear, then?" asked the other gloomily.
"Oh, dear, no, sir, only the law."
"I envy you. There is but one crime punishable by law, and that I
shall never counsel you to."
"Only one--too deep, sir, too deep. Which is that?"
"The crime of getting found out."
"What a great man! how far would I go with you? To the end of the
earth. I have but one regret, sir."
"And what is that?"
"That I am not thought worthy of your confidence. That after so many
years I am still only a too--I mean an honored instrument, and not a
"Crawley," said Meadows, solemnly, "let well alone. Don't ask my
confidence, for I am often tempted to give it you, and that would be
all one as if I put the blade of a razor in your naked hand."
"I don't care, sir! You are up to some game as deep as a coal-pit; and
I go on working and working all in the dark. I'd give anything to be
in your confidence."
"Anything is nothing; put it in figures," sneered Meadows,
"I'll give twenty per cent off all you give me if you will let me see
"The reason, sir--the motive!--the why!--the wherefore--the what it is
all to end in. The bottom!"
"Why not say you would like to read John Meadows' heart?"
"Don't be angry, sir; it is presumption, but I can't help it. Deduct
twenty per cent for so great a honor."
"Why, the fool is in earnest."
"He is; we have all got our little vanity, and like to be thought
worthy of confidence."
"And then I can't sleep for puzzling. Why should you stop every letter
that comes here from Australia. Oh, bless me, how neglectful I am;
here is a letter from there, just come. To think of me bringing it,
and then forgetting."
"Give it me, directly."
"There it is. And then, why on earth are we ruining old Mr. Merton
without benefiting you? and you seem so friendly with him; and indeed,
you say he is not to be harmed--only ruined; it makes my head ache.
Why, what is the matter, Mr. Meadows, sir? What is wrong? No ill news,
I hope. I wish I'd never brought the letter."
"That will do, Crawley," said Meadows, faintly, "you may go."
Crawley rose with a puzzled air.
"Come here to-morrow evening at nine o'clock, and you shall have your
wish. All the worse for you," added he, moodily. "All the worse for
me. Now go, without one word."
Crawley retired dumfounded. He saw the iron man had received some
strange, unexpected and terrible blow; but for a moment awe suppressed
curiosity, and he went off on tiptoe, saying almost in a whisper,
"To-morrow night at nine, sir."
Meadows spread George's letter on the table and leaned on his two
hands over it.
The letter was written some weeks after the last desponding one. It
was full of modest, but warm and buoyant exultation. Heaven had been
very good to Susan and him. Robinson had discovered gold; gold in such
abundance and quality as beat even California. The thousand pounds, so
late despaired of, was now a certainty. Six months' work, with average
good fortune, would do it. Robinson said five thousand apiece was the
least they ought to bring home; but how could he (George) wait so long
as that would take! "And, Susan, dear, if anything could make this
wonderful luck sweeter, it is to think that I owe it to you and to
your goodness. It was you that gave Tom the letter, and bade me be
kind to him, and keep him by me for his good; he has repaid me by
making us two man and wife, please God. See what a web life is! Tom
and I often talk of this. But Tom says it is Parson Eden I have to
thank for it, and the lessons he learned in the prison; but I tell him
if he goes so far back as that, he should go farther, and thank Farmer
Meadows, for he it was that sent Tom to the prison, where he was
converted, and became as honest a fellow as any in the world, and a
friend to your George as true as steel."
The letter concluded as it began, with thanks to Heaven, and bidding
Susan expect his happy return in six months after this letter. In
short, the letter was one "Hurrah!" tempered with simple piety and
Meadows turned cold as death in reading it. At the part where Farmer
Meadows was referred to as the first link in the golden chain, he
dashed it to the ground and raised his foot to trample on it, but
forbore lest he should dirty a thing that must go to Susan.
Then he walked the room in great agitation.
"Too late, George Fielding," he cried aloud--"too late; I can't shift
my heart like a weathercock to suit the changes in your luck. You have
been feeding me with hopes till I can't live without them. I never
longed for a thing yet but what I got it, and I'll have this though I
trample a hundred George Fieldings dead on my way to it. Now let me
He pondered deeply, his great brows knitted and lowered. For full half
an hour invention and resource poured scheme after scheme through that
teeming brain, and prudence and knowledge of the world sat in severe
and cool judgment on each in turn, and dismissed the visionary ones.
At last the deep brow began to relax, and the eye to kindle; and when
he rose to ring the bell his face was a sign-post with Eureka written
on it in Nature's vivid handwriting. In that hour he had hatched a
plot worthy of Machiavel---a plot complex yet clear. A servant-girl
answered the bell.
"Tell David to saddle Rachel directly."
And in five minutes Mr. Meadows, with a shirt, a razor, a comb, and a
map of Australia, was galloping by cross lanes to the nearest railway
station. There he telegraphed Mr. Clinton to meet him at Peel's
Coffee-House at two o'clock. The message flashed up to town like
lightning. The man followed it slowly like the wind.
MEADOWS found Mr. Clinton at Peel's. "Mr. Clinton, I want a man of
intelligence to be at my service for twenty-four hours. I give you the
Mr. Clinton replied that really he had so many irons in the fire that
Meadows put a fifty-pound note on the table.
"Will all your irons iron you out fifty pounds as flat as that?"
"No, nor five. Come, sir, sharp is the word. Can you be my servant for
twenty-four hours for fifty pounds? yes or no!"
"Why, this is dramatic--yes!"
"It is half-past two. Between this and four o'clock I must buy a few
hundred acres in Australia, a fair bargain."
"Humph! Well, that can be done. I know an old fellow that has land in
every part of the globe."
"Take me to him."
In ten minutes they were in one of those dingy, narrow alleys in the
city of London, that look the abode of decent poverty, and they could
afford to buy Grosvenor Square for their stables; and Mr. Clinton
introduced his friend to a blear-eyed merchant in a large room papered
with maps; the windows were incrusted; mustard and cress might have
been grown from them. Beauty in clean linen collar and wristbands
would have shown here with intolerable luster; but the blear-eyed
merchant did not come out bright by contrast; he had taken the local
color. You could see him and that was all. He was like a partridge in
a furrow. A snuff-colored man; coat rusty all but the collar, and that
greasy; poor as its color was, his linen had thought it worth
emulating; blackish nails, cotton wipe, little bald place on head, but
didn't shine for the same reason the windows didn't. Mr. Clinton
approached this "dhirrrty money," this rusty coin, in the spirit of
"Sir," said he, in a low reverential tone, "this party is disposed to
purchase a few hundred acres in the colonies."
Mr. Rich looked up from his desk and pointed with a sweep of his pen
to the walls.
"There are the maps; the red crosses are my land. They are numbered.
Refer to the margin of map, and you will find the acres and the
latitude and longitude calculated to a fraction. When you have settled
in what part of the world you buy, come to me again; time is gold."
And the blear-eyed merchant wrote and sealed and filed and took no
notice of his customers. They found red crosses in several of the
United States, in Canada, in Borneo, in nearly all the colonies, and
as luck would have it they found one small cross within thirty miles
of Bathurst, and the margin described it as five hundred acres. Mr.
Meadows stepped toward the desk.
"I have found a small property near Bathurst."
"Bathurst? where is that?"
"If the price suits. What is the price, sir?"
"The books must tell us that."
Mr. Rich stretched out his arm and seized a ledger, and gave it
"I have but one price for land, and that is five per cent profit on my
outlay. Book will tell you what it stands me in, you can add five per
cent to that, and take the land away or leave it."
With this curt explanation, Mr. Rich resumed his work.
"It seems you gave five shillings an acre, sir," said Mr. Clinton.
"Five times five hundred shillings, one hundred and twenty-five
pounds. Interest at five per cent, six pounds five."
"When did I buy it?" asked Mr. Rich.
"Oh, when did you buy it, sir?"
Mr. Rich snatched the book a little pettishly, and gave it to Meadows.
"You make the calculation," said he; "the figures are all there. Come
to me when you have made it."
The land had been bought twenty-seven years and some months ago. Mr.
Meadows made the calculation in a turn of the hand and announced it.
Rich rang a hand bell. Another snuffy figure with a stoop and a bald
head and a pen came through a curtain.
"Jones, verify that calculation."
"Penny, halfpenny, twopence, penny, halfpenny, twopence. Mum, mum!
Halfpenny wrong, sir."
"There is a halfpenny wrong!" cried Mr. Rich to Meadows, with a most
"There is, sir," said Meadows, "but it is on the right side for you. I
thought I would make it even money against myself."
"There are only two ways, wrong and right," was the reply. "Jones,
make it right. There, that is the price for the next half hour; after
business hours to-day add a day's interest; and, Jones--if he does not
buy, write your calculation into the book with date--save time, next
customer comes for it."
"You need not trouble, Mr. Jones," said Meadows. "I take the land.
Here is two hundred and fifty pounds--that is rather more than half
"When can I have the deeds?"
"Receipt for two hundred and fifty pounds," said Meadows, falling into
the other's key.
"Jones, write receipt--two five naught."
"Write me an agreement to sell," proposed Meadows.
"No, you write it; I'll sign it. Jones, enter transaction in the
books. Have you anything to do, young gentleman?" addressing Clinton.
"Then draw this pen through the two crosses on the map and margin.
Good morning, gentlemen."
And the money-making machine rose and dismissed them, as he had
received them, with a short, sharp business _conge'._
Ye fair, who turn a shop head over heels, maul sixty yards of ribbon
and buy six, which being sent home insatiable becomes your desire to
change it for other six which you had fairly, closely, and with all
the powers of your mind compared with it during the seventy minutes
the purchase occupied, let me respectfully inform you that the above
business took just eight minutes, and that "when it was done, 'twas
"You have given too much, my friend," said Mr. Clinton.
"Come to my inn," was all the reply. "This is the easy part, the game
After dinner. "Now," said Meadows, "business. Do you know any
respectable firm disposed toward speculation in mines?"
"Any that are looking toward gold?"
"Why, no. Gold is a metal that ranks very low in speculation. Stop!
yes, I know one tip-top house that has gone a little way in it, but
they have burned their fingers, so they will go no farther."
"You are wrong; they will be eager to go on--first to recover the loss
on that article of account, and next to show their enemies, and in
particular such of them as are their friends, that they didn't
blunder. You will go to them to-morrow and ask if they can allow you a
commission for bringing them an Australian settler on whose land gold
has been found."
"Now, my good sir," began Mr. Clinton, a little superciliously, "that
is not the way to gain the ear of such a firm as that. The better way
will be for you to show me your whole design and leave me to devise
the best means for carrying it into effect."
Up to this moment Meadows had treated Mr. Clinton with a marked
deference, as from yeoman to gentleman. The latter, therefore, was not
a little surprised when the other turned sharp on him thus:
"This won't do; we must understand one another. You think you are the
man of talent and I am the clodhopper. Think so to-morrow night; but
for the next twenty-four hours you must keep that notion out of your
head or you will bitch my schemes and lose your fifty pounds. Look
here, sir. You began life with ten thousand pounds; you have been all
your life trying all you know to double it--and where is it? The
pounds are pence and the pence on the road to farthings. I started
with a whip and a smock-frock, and this," touching his head, "and I
have fifty thousand pounds in government securities. Which is the able
man of these two--the bankrupt that talks like an angel and loses the
game, or the wise man that quietly wins it and pockets what all the
earth are grappling with him for? So much for that. And now which is
master, the one who pays or the one who is paid? I am not a liberal
man, sir; I am a man that looks at every penny. I don't give fifty
pounds. I sell it. That fifty pounds is the price of your vanity for
twenty-four hours. I take a day's loan of it. You are paid fifty
pounds per diem to see that there is more brains in my little finger
than in all your carcass. See it for twenty-four hours or I won't fork
out, or don't see it but obey me as if you did see it. You shan't
utter a syllable or move an inch that I have not set down for you. Is
this too hard? then accept ten pounds for to-day's work, and let us
part before you bungle your master's game as you have done your own."
Mr. Clinton was red with mortified vanity, but forty pounds! He threw
himself back in his chair.
"This is amusing," said he. "Well, sir, I will act as if you were
Solomon and I nobody. Of course under these circumstances no
responsibility rests with me."
"You are wasting my time with your silly prattle," said Meadows, very
sternly. "Man alive! you never made fifty pounds cash since you were
calved. It comes to your hand to-day, and even then you must chatter
and jaw instead of saying yes and closing your fingers on it like a
"Yes!" shouted Clinton; "there."
"Take that quire," said Meadows, sharply. "Now I'll dictate the very
words you are to say; learn them off by heart and don't add a syllable
or subtract one or--no fifty pounds."
Meadows being a general by nature (not Horse-Guards) gave Clinton
instructions down to the minutest matters of detail, and he whose life
had been spent in proving he would succeed--and failing--began to
suspect the man who had always succeeded might perhaps have had
something to do with his success.
Next morning, well primed by Meadows, Mr. Clinton presented himself to
Messrs. Brathwaite & Stevens and requested a private audience. He
inquired whether they were disposed to allow him a commission if he
would introduce them to an Australian settler on whose land gold had
The two members of the firm looked at one another. After a pause one
of them said:
"Commission really must depend on how such a thing turned out. They
had little confidence in such statements, but would see the settler
and put some questions to him."
Clinton went out and introduced Meadows. This happened just as Meadows
had told him it would. Outside the door Mr. Meadows suddenly put on a
rustic carriage and so came in and imitated natural shyness with great
skill; he had to be twice asked to sit down.
The firm cross-examined him. He told them gold had been discovered
within a stone's throw of his land, thirty miles from Bathurst; that
his friends out there had said go home to England and they will give
you a heavy price for your land now; that he did hope to get a heavy
price, and so be able to live at home--didn't want to go out there
again; that the land was worth money--for there was no more to be sold
in that part; government land all round and they wouldn't sell, for he
had tried them (his sharp eye had seen this fact marked on Mr. Rich's
"Well," said the senior partner, "we have information that gold has
been discovered in that district; the report came here two days ago by
the _Anne Amelia._ But the account is not distinct as yet. We do
not hear on whose land it is found if at all. I presume you have not
seen gold found."
"Could I afford to leave my business out there and come home--on a
The eyes of the firm began to glitter.
"Have you got any gold to show us?"
"Nothing to speak of, sir; only what they chucked me for giving them a
good dinner. But they are shoveling it about like grains of wheat, I
The firm became impatient.
"Show us what they gave you as the price of a dinner?"
Meadows dug into a deep pocket, and chased into a corner, and caught,
and produced a little nugget of quartz and gold worth about four
pounds, also another of somewhat less value.
"They don't look handsome, gents," said he, "but you may see the stuff
glitter here and there; and here is some of the dust. I had to buy
this; gave them fifty shillings an ounce for it. I wish I had bought a
hundred-weight, for they tell me it is worth three pound ten here."
"May we inspect these specimens?"
"Why not, sir? I'll trust it with you. I wouldn't with everybody,
The partners retired with the gold, tested it with muriatic acid,
weighed it, and after a short, excited interview one of them brought
it back and asked with great nonchalance the price of the land.
Meadows hung his head.
"Twenty thousand pounds."
"Twenty thousand pounds!" and the partner laughed in his face.
"I don't wonder you are surprised, sir. I wonder at myself asking so
much. Why, before this, if you had offered me five thousand, I would
have jumped into your arms, as the saying is; but they all say I ought
to have twenty thousand, and they have talked to me till they make me
The partner retired and consulted, and the firm ended by offering ten
"I am right down ashamed to say no," was the answer, "but I suppose I
must not take it."
The firm undertook to prove it was a magnificent offer. Meadows
offered no resistance, he thought so too; but he must not take it,
everybody told him it was worth more. At last, when his hand was on
the door, they offered him twelve thousand five hundred.
He begged to consider it.
No! they were peremptory. If he was off, they were off.
He looked this way and that way with a frightened air.
"What shall I do, sir?" said he, helplessly, to Clinton, and nudged
"Take it, and think yourself very lucky," said that gentleman,
exchanging a glance with the firm.
"Well, then, if you say so, I will. You shall have it, gentlemen, five
hundred acres in two lots--400 and 100."
Clinton, acting on his secret instructions, now sought a private
interview with the firm.
"I am to have a commission, gentlemen?"
"Yes! fifty pounds; but, really, we can hardly afford it."
"Well, then, as you give me an interest in it, I say--pin him."
"Don't you see he is one of those soft fellows who listen to
everybody. If he goes away, and they laugh at him for not getting more
for it, I really could hardly answer for his ever coming back here."
The firm came in cheerfully.
"Well, Mr. ---- Mr."
"Not Mr., sir. Crawley--plain John Crawley."
"We will terminate this affair with you. We will have a contract of
sale drawn up and make you an advance. When can you give us the title
"In a couple of hours, if the lawyer is at home."
"By the by, you will not object to draw upon us at three months for
one half of the money?"
"No, sir. I should say by the look of you you were as good as the
"The other half by check in two hours." The parties signed the
Then Meadows and Clinton went off to the Five-per-Center, completed
with him, got the title deeds, brought them, received check and
accepted draft. Clinton, by Meadows' advice, went in and dunned for
his commission then and there, and got it, and the confederates went
off and took a hasty dinner together. After dinner they settled.
"As you showed me how to get this commission out of them, it belongs
to you," said Clinton, sorrowfully.
"It does, sir. Give it to me. I return it to you, sir; do me the favor
to accept it."
"You are very generous, Mr. Meadows."
"And here is the other fifty you have earned."
"Thank you, my good sir. Are you satisfied with the day's work?"
"Amply, sir. Your skill and ingenuity brought us through triumphant,"
said Meadows, resuming the deferential, since he risked nothing by it
"Well, I think I managed it pretty well. By the by, that gold you
showed them, was it really gold?"
"Oh! because I thought--"
"No, sir, you did not. A man of your ability knows I would not risk
ten thousand pounds for want of a purchase I could not lose ten.
shillings by. Ore is not a fancy article."
"Oh! ah! yes, very true; no, of course not. One question more. Where
did the gold come from?"
"But, I mean, how did you get it?"
"I bought it out of a shop window those two knowing ones pass twice
every day of their lives."
"Ha! ha! ha!"
"You pass it oftener than that, sir. Excuse me, sir; I must catch the
train. But one word before I go. My name must never be mentioned in
"Very well; it never shall transpire, upon my honor."
Meadows felt pretty safe. As he put on his greatcoat he thought to
himself: "When the story is blown and laughed over, this man's vanity
will keep my name out of it. He won't miss a chance of telling the
world how clever he is. My game is to pass for honest, not for clever,
no, thank you."
"Good-by, sir," was his last word. "It is you for hoodwinking them."
"Ha! ha! ha! Good-by, farmer"(in a patronizing tone).
Soon after this, Meadows was in a corner of a railway-carriage, twelve
thousand four hundred and fifty pounds in his pocket, and the second
part of his great complex scheme boiling and bubbling in his massive
head. There he sat silent as the grave, his hat drawn over his
powerful brows that were knitted all the journey by one who never
knitted them in vain.
He reached home at eight and sat down to his desk and wrote for more
than half an hour. Then he sealed up the paper, and when Crawley came
he found him walking up and down the room. At a silent gesture Crawley
took a chair and sat quivering with curiosity. Meadows walked in deep
"You demanded my confidence. It is a dangerous secret, for once you
know it you must serve me with red-hot zeal, or be my enemy and be
crushed out of life like a blind-worm, or an adder, Peter Crawley."
"I know that, dear sir," assented Peter, ruefully.
"First, how far have you guessed?"
"I guess Mr. Levi is somehow against us."
"He is," replied Meadows, carelessly.
"Then that is a bad job. He will beat us. He is as cunning as a fox."
Meadows looked up contemptuously; but as he could not afford to let
such a sneak as Crawley think him anything short of invincible, he
said coolly, "He is, and I have measured cunning with a fox."
"You have? That must have been a tight match."
"A fox used to take my chickens one hard winter; an old fox cautious
and sly as the Jew you rate so high. The men sat up with guns for
him--no; a keeper set traps in a triangle for him--no. He had the eye
of a hawk, the ear of a hare, and his own nose. He would have the
chickens, and he would not get himself into trouble. The women
complained to me of the fox. I turned a ferret loose into the
rabbit-hutch, and in half a minute there was as nice a young rabbit
dead as ever you saw."
"Lookee there now," cried Crawley.
"I choked the ferret off, but never touched the rabbit. I took the
rabbit with a pair of tongs; the others had handled their baits and
pug crept round 'em and nosed the trick. I poured twenty drops of
croton oil into the little hole ferret had made in bunny's head, and I
dropped him in the grass near pug's track. Next morning rabbit had
been drawn about twenty yards and the hole in his head was three times
as big. Pug went the nearest way to blood; went in at ferret's hole. I
knew he would."
"Yes, sir! yes! yes! yes! and there lay the fox."
"No signs of him. Then I said: 'Go to the nearest water. Croton oil
makes 'em dry.' They went along the brook--and on the very bank there
lay an old dog-fox blown up like bladder, as big as a wolf and as dead
as a herring. Now for the Jew. Look at that;" and he threw him a
"Why, this is the judgment on which I arrested Will Fielding, and here
is the acceptance."
"Levi bought them to take the man out of my power. He left them with
old Cohen. I have got them again, you see, and got young Fielding in
my power spite of his foxy friend."
"Capital, sir, capital!" cried the admiring Crawley. He then looked at
the reconquered documents. "Ah!" said he, spitefully, "how I wish I
could alter one of these names, only one!"
"What d'ye mean?"
"I mean that I'd give fifty pound (if I had it) if it was but that
brute George Fielding that was in our power instead of this fool
Meadows opened his eyes: "Why?"
"Because he put an affront upon me," was the somewhat sulky reply.
"What was that?"
"Oh, no matter, sir!"
"But it is matter. Tell me. I am that man's enemy."
"Then I am in luck. You are just the enemy I wish him."
"What was the affront?"
"He called me a pettifogger."
"Oh, is that all?"
"No. He discharged me from visiting his premises."
"That was not very polite."
"And threatened to horsewhip me next time I came there."
"Oh, is that where the shoe pinches?"
"No, it is not!" cried Crawley, almost in a shriek; "but he altered
his mind, and did horsewhip me then and there. Curse him!"
Meadows smiled grimly. He saw his advantage. "Crawley," said he,
quickly, "he shall rue the day he lifted his hand over you. You want
to see to the bottom of me."
"Oh, Mr. Meadows, that is too far for the naked eye to see," was the
"Not when it suits my book. I am going to keep my promise and show you
"Listen and hear the secret of my life. Are you listening?"
"What do you think, sir?" was the tremulous answer.
"I--love--Miss--Merton;" and for once his eyes sank before Crawley's.
"Not as libertines love, nor as boys flirt and pass on. Heaven have
mercy on me, I love her with all my heart and soul and brain! I love
her with more force than such as you can hate!"
"The deuce you do!"
"I love the sweetheart--of the man--who lashed you--like a dog."
Crawley winced and rubbed his hands.
"And your fortune is made if you help me to win her."
Crawley rubbed his hands.
"Old Merton has promised the woman I love to this George Fielding if
he comes back with a thousand pounds."
"Don't you be frightened, sir; that he will never do."
"Will he not? Read this letter."
"Ah! the letter that put you out so. Let me see--Mum! mum! Found gold.
Pheugh! Pheugh! Pheeeugh!!"
"Crawley, most men reading that letter would have given in then and
there, and not fought against such luck as this. I only said to
myself, 'Then it will cost me ten thousand pounds to win the day.'
Well, between yesterday eleven forenoon and this hour I made the ten
He told him briefly how.
"Beautiful, sir! What, did you make the ten thousand out of your own
"Yes, I taxed the enemy for the expenses of the war."
"Oh, Mr. Meadows, what a fool, what a villain I was to think Mr. Levi
was as great a man as you! I must have been under a hallucination."
"Crawley, the day that John and Susan Meadows walk out of church man
and wife I put a thousand pounds into your hand and set you up in any
business you like; in any honest business, for from that day our
underhand dealings must end. The husband of that angel must never
grind the poor or wrong a living creature. If Heaven consents to my
being happy in this way, the least I can do is to walk straight and
straightforward the rest of my days, and I will, s'help me God."
"That is fair. I knew you were a great man, but I had no idea you were
such a good one."
"Crawley," said the other, with a sudden gloomy misgiving, "I am
trying to cheat the devil. I fear no man can do that;" and he hung his
"No ordinary man, sir," replied the parasite, "but your skill has no
bounds. Your plan, sir, at once, that I may co-operate and not thwart
your great skill through ignorance."
"My plan has two hands; one must work here, the other a great many
miles from here. If I could but cut myself in two, all would be well;
but I can't; I must be one hand, you the other. _I_ work thus:
Post-office here is under my thumb. I stop all letters from him to
her. Presently comes a letter from Australia telling among pork,
grains, etc., how George Fielding has made his fortune and married a
girl out there."
"But who is to write the letter?"
Can't you guess?"
"Haven't an idea. She won't believe it."
"Not at first, perhaps, but when she gets no more letters from him she
"So she will. So then you will run him down to her."
"Not such a fool, she would hate me. I shall never mention his name. I
make one of my tools hang jail over old Merton. Susan thinks George
married. I strike upon her pique and her father's distress. I ask him
for his daughter. Offer to pay my father-in-law's debts and start him
"Susan likes me already. I tell her all I suffered silent while she
was on with George. I press her to be mine. She will say no perhaps
three or four times, but the fifth she will say yes!"
"She will; you are a great man."
"And she will be happy."
"Can't see it."
"A man that marries a virtuous woman and loves her is no man at all if
he can't make her love him; they can't resist our stronger wills
except by flight or by leaning upon another man. I'll be back
Mr. Meadows returned with a bottle of wine and two glasses. Crawley
was surprised. This was a beverage he had never seen his friend drink
or offer him. Another thing puzzled him. When Mr. Meadows came back
with the wine he had not so much color as usual in his face--not near
"Crawley," said Meadows, in a low voice, "suppose, while I am working,
this George Fielding were to come home with money in both pockets?"
"He would kick it all down in a moment."
"I am glad you see that. Then you see one hand is not enough; another
must be working far away."
"Yes, but I don't see--"
"You will see. Drink a glass of wine with me, my good friend; your
"Same to you, sir."
"Is it to your mind?"
"Elixir! This is the stuff that sharpens a chap's wit and puts courage
in his heart."
"I brought it for that. You and I have no chicken's play on hand.
"Success to your scheme, sir."
"Crawley, George Fielding must not come back this year with one
"No, he must not--thank you, sir, your health. Mustn't, he shan't; but
how on earth can you prevent him?"
"That paper will prevent him; it is a paper of instructions. My very
brains lie in that paper--put it in your pocket."
"In my pocket, sir? Highly honored--shall be executed to the letter.
"And this is a check-book."
"No! is it though?"
"You will draw on me for one hundred pounds per month."
"No! shall I, though? Sir, you are a king!"
"Of which you will account for fifty pounds only."
"Liberal, sir; as I said before, liberal as running water."
"You are going a journey."
"Am I? well! Don't you turn pale for that--I'll come back to
you--nothing but death shall part us. Have a drop of this, sir; it
will put blood into your cheek, and fire into your heart. That is
right. Where am I going, sir?"
"What, don't you know?"
"No! nor I don't care, so long as it is in your service I go."
"Still it is a long journey."
"Oh, is it? Your health then, and my happy return."
"You are not afraid of the sea or the wind?"
"I am afraid of nothing but your wrath, and--and--the law. The sea be
hanged, and the wind be blowed! When I see your talent and energy, and
hold your checkbook in my hand and your instructions in my pocket, I
feel to play at football with the world. When shall I start?"
"To-night, if you like. Where am I to go to?"
That single word suspended the glass going to Crawley's lips, and the
chuckle coming from them. A dead silence on both sides followed it.
And now two colorless faces looked into one another's eyes across the
THREE days the gold-finders worked alone upon the pre-Adamite river's
bed. At evening on the third day they looked up and saw a figure
perched watching them with a pipe in its mouth. It disappeared in
silence. Next day there were men on their knees beside them, digging,
scraping, washing and worshipping gold. Soon they were the center of a
group--soon after of a humming mob. As if the birds had really carried
the secret north, south, east and west, men swarmed and buzzed and
settled like locusts on the gold-bearing tract. They came in panting,
gleaming, dusty and travel-stained and flung off their fatigue at
sight, and, running up, dived into the gullies and plied spade and
pickax with clinched teeth and throbbing hearts. They seamed the face
of Nature for miles; turned the streams to get at their beds; pounded
and crushed the solid rock to squeeze out the subtle stain of gold it
held in its veins; hacked through the crops as through any other idle
impediment; pecked and hewed and fought and wrestled with Nature for
the treasure that lay so near yet in so tight a grip.
We take off our clothes to sleep and put them on to play at work, but
these put on their clothes to sleep in, and tore them off at peep of
day, and labor was red-hot till night came and cooled it; and in this
fight lives fell as quickly as in actual war, and by the same
enemy--Disease. Small wonder, when hundreds and hundreds wrought the
livelong day one half in icy water, the other half dripping with
Men rotted like sheep, and died at the feet of that Gold whom they
stormed here in his fortress; and some alas met a worse fate. For that
befell which the world has seen in every age and land where gold has
come to light upon a soil; men wrestling fiercely with Nature jostled
each other; cupidity inflamed hate to madness, and human blood flowed
like water over that yellow dirt. And now from this one burning spot
gold fever struck inward to the heart of the land; burned its veins
and maddened its brain. The workman sold his tools, bought a spade and
a pickax, and fled to the gold; the lawyer flung down his parchment
and off to the gold; the penny-a-liner his brass pen and off to a
greater wonder than he had ever fabricated; the schoolmaster to whom
little boys were puzzling out
Quid non mortalia pectora cogis
Auri sacra fames--
made the meaning perfectly clear; he dropped ferrule and book and ran
with the national hunt for gold. Shops were closed for want of buyers
and sellers; the grass crept up between the paving-stones in great
thoroughfares; outward-bound ships lay deserted and helpless in the
roads; the wilderness was peopled and the cities desolate; commerce
was paralyzed, industry contracted. The wise and good trembled for the
destiny of the people, the government trembled for itself--idle fear.
That which shook this colony for a moment settled it as firm as a
granite mountain and made it great with a rapidity that would have
astounded the puny ages cant appeals to as the days of wonders.
The _sacra fames_ was not Australian, but human; and so at the
first whisper of gold the old nations poured the wealth they
valued--their food and clothes and silk and coin--and the prime
treasure they valued not, their men--into that favored land.
Then did great Labor, insulted and cheated so many years in narrow,
overcrowded corners of the huge unpeopled globe, lift his bare arm and
cry, "Who bids for this?" and a dozen gloved hands jumped and clutched
at the prize. And in bargains where a man went on one side and money
on the other, the money had to say, "Thank you," over it instead of
But still, though the average value of labor was now full as high in
the cities as in the mine, men flowed to the desert and the gold,
tempted by the enormous prizes there, that lay close to all and came
to fortune's favorites.
Hence a new wonder, a great moral phenomenon the world had never seen
before on such a wide scale. At a period of unparalleled civilization
and refinement, society, with its artificial habits and its jealous
class distinctions on its back, took a sudden unprepared leap from the
heights it had been centuries constructing--into a gold mine; it
emerged, its delicate fabric crushed out of all recognizable shape,
its petty prides annihilated, and even its just distinctions turned
topsy-turvey. For mind is really more honorable than muscle, yet when
these two met in a gold mine it fared ill with mind. Classical and
mathematical scholars joined their forces with navvies to dig gold;
and nearly always the scholars were found after a while cooking, shoe
cleaning, and doing generally menial offices for the navvies.
Those who had no learning, but had good birth, genteel manners and kid
gloves and feeble loins, sunk lower and became the dregs of
gold-digging society ere a week's digging had passed over their backs.
Not that all wit yielded to muscle. Low cunning often held its own;
hundreds of lazy leeches settled on labor's bare arm and bled it. Such
as could minister to the diggers' physical needs, appetites, vices,
had no need to dig; they made the diggers work for them, and took toll
of the precious dust as it fell into their hands.
One brute that could not spell chicory to save himself from the
gallows cleared two thousand pounds a month by selling it and hot
water at a pinch a cup. Thus ran his announcement, "Cofy allus rady."
Meantime Trigonometry was frying steaks and on Sunday blacking boots.
After a while lucky diggers returned to the towns clogged with gold,
and lusting and panting for pleasure.
They hired carriages and sweethearts, and paraded the streets all day,
crying, "We be the hairy-stocracy, now!!"
The shopkeepers bowed down and did them homage.
Even here Nature had her say. The sexes came out--the men sat in the
carriages in their dirty fustian and their checkered shirts and no
jacket; their inamoritas beside them glittered in silk and satin. And
some fiend told these poor women it was genteel to be short-sighted;
so they all bought gold spy-glasses, and spied without intermission.
Then the old colonial aristocracy, who had been born in broadcloth and
silk, and unlike the new had not been transported, but only their
papas and mammas, were driven to despair; but at last they hit upon a
remedy. They would be distinguished by hook or by crook, and the only
way left now was always to go on foot. So they walked the
pavement--wet or dry, nothing could induce them to enter the door of a
carriage. Item: they gave up being shortsighted; the few who for
reasons distinct from fashion could not resign the habit concealed it,
as if it was a defect instead of a beauty.
This struggle of classes in the towns, with its hundred and one
incidents, was an excellent theme for satire of the highest class. How
has it escaped? is it that even Satire, low and easy art, is not so
low and easy as Detraction? But these are the outskirts of a great
theme. The theme itself belonged, not to little satire, but to great
In the sudden return of a society far more complex, artificial and
conventional than Pericles ever dreamed of, to elements more primitive
than Homer had to deal with; in this, with its novelty, and nature,
and strange contrasts,
In the old barbaric force and native color of the passions, as they
burst out undisguised around the gold,
In the hundred and one personal combats and trials of cunning,
In a desert peopled, and cities thinned by the magic of cupidity,
In a huge army collected in ten thousand tents, not as heretofore by
one man's constraining will, but each human unit spurred into the
crowd by his own heart,
In "the siege of Gold," defended stoutly by Rock and Disease,
In the world-wide effect of the discovery, the peopling of the earth
at last according to Heaven's long-published and resisted design,
Fate offered poetry a theme broad and high, yet piquant, and various
as the dolphin and the rainbow.
I cannot sing this song, because I am neither Lamartine, nor Hugo, nor
Walter Scott. I cannot hum this song, because the severe conditions of
my story forbid me even to make the adventurous attempt. I am here to
tell, not the great tale of gold, but the little story of how Susan
Merton was affected thereby. Yet it shall never be said that my pen
passed close to a great man or a great thing without a word of homage
and sympathy to set against the sneers of groveling criticasters, the
blindness of self-singing poetasters, and the national itch for
detraction of all great things and men that live, and deification of
God has been bountiful to the human race in this age. Most bountiful
to Poets; most bountiful to all of us who have a spark of nobleness in
ourselves, and so can see and revere at sight the truly grand and
noble (any snob can do this after it has been settled two hundred
years by other minds that he is to do it). He has given us warlike
heroes more than we can count--far less honor as they deserve; and
valor as full of variety as courage in the Iliad is monotonous--except
when it takes to its heels.
He has given us one hero, a better man than Hector or Achilles. For
Hector ran away from a single man; this hero was never known to run
away at all. Achilles was a better egotist than soldier; wounded in
his personal vanity, he revenged himself, not on the man who had
wronged him--Prudence forbade--but on the army, and on his country.
This antique hero sulked; my hero, deprived of the highest command,
retained a higher still--the command that places the great of heart
above all petty personal feeling. He was a soldier, and could not look
from his tent on battle and not plunge into it. What true soldier ever
could? He was not a Greek but a Frenchman--and could not love himself
better than his country. Above all, he was not Achilles, but
He has given us to see Nineveh disinterred by an English hero.
He has given us to see the northwest passage forced, and winter
bearded on his everlasting throne, by another. (Is it the hero's fault
if self and snowdrop-singing poetasters cannot see this feat with the
eyes of Camoens?)
He has given us to see Titans enslaved by man; Steam harnessed to our
carriages and ships; Galvanism tamed into an alphabet--a Gamut, and
its metal harp-strings stretched across the earth _malgre'_
mountains and the sea, and so men's minds defying the twin monsters
Time and Space; and now, gold revealed in the East and West at once,
and so mankind now first in earnest peopling the enormous globe. Yet
old women and children of the pen say, this is a bad, a small, a
lifeless, an unpoetic age--and they are not mistaken. For they lie.
As only tooth-stoppers, retailers of conventional phrases, links in
the great cuckoo-chain, universal pill-venders, Satan, and ancient
booksellers' ancient nameless hacks can lie, they lie.
It is they who are _small-eyed._ Now, as heretofore, weaklings
cannot rise high enough to take a bird's-eye view of their own age,
and calculate its dimensions.
The age, smaller than epochs to come, is a giant compared with the
past, and full of mighty materials for any great pen in prose or
My little friends aged nineteen and downward--fourscore and
upward--who have been lending your ears to the stale little cant of
every age, as chanted in this one by Buffo-Bombastes and other
foaming-at-the-pen old women of both sexes--take by way of antidote to
all that poisonous, soul-withering drivel, ten honest words.
I say before heaven and earth that the man who could grasp the facts
of this day and do an immortal writer's duty by them, i.e., so paint
them as a later age will be content to engrave them, would be the
greatest writer ever lived. Such is the force, weight and number of
the grand topics that lie this day on the world's face. I say that he
who has eyes to see may now see greater and far more poetic things
than human eyes have seen since our Lord and his Apostles and his
miracles left the earth.
It is very hard to write a good book or a good play, or to invent a
good picture, and having invented paint it. But it always was hard,
except to those--to whom it was impossible. Bunglers will not mend
matters by blackening the great canvases they can't paint on, nor the
impotent become males by detraction.
When we write a story or sing a poem of the great nineteenth century,
there is but one fear--not that our theme will be beneath us, but we
miles below it; that we shall lack the comprehensive vision a man must
have from heaven to catch the historical, the poetic, the lasting
features of the Titan events that stride so swiftly past IN THIS
THE life of George Fielding and Thomas Robinson for months could be
composed in a few words: tremendous work from sunrise to sundown, and
on Sunday welcome rest, a quiet pipe, and a book.
At night they slept in a good tent, with Carlo at their feet and a
little bag between them; this bag never left their sight; it went out
to their work and in to sleep.
It is dinner-time; George and Tom are snatching a mouthful, and a few
words over it.
"How much do you think we are, Tom?"
"Hush! don't speak so loud, for Heaven's sake;" he added in a whisper,
"not a penny under seven hundred pounds' worth."
"It is slower work than I thought; but it is my fault, I am so
"Unlucky! and we have not been eight months at it."
"But one party near us cleared four thousand pounds at a haul; one
thousand pounds apiece--ah!"
"And hundreds have only just been able to keep themselves. Come, you
must not grumble, we are high above the average."
"The reason we don't get on is we try for nothing better than dust.
You know what you told me, that the gold was never created in dust,
but in masses, like all metals; the dust is only a trifle that has
been washed off the bulk. Then you said we ought to track the
gold-dust coarser and coarser till we traced the metal to its home in
the great rocks."
"Ay! ay! I believe I used to talk so; but I am wiser now. Look here,
George, no doubt the gold was all in block when the world started, but
how many million years ago was that? This is my notion, George; at the
beginning of the world the gold was all solid, at the end it is all to
be dust; now which are we nearer, the end or the beginning?"
"Not knowing, can't say, Tom."
"Then I can, for his reverence told me. We are fifty times nearer the
end than the beginning, follows there is fifty times as much gold-dust
in nature as solid gold."
"What a head you ha' got, Tom! but I can't take it up so. Seems to me
this dust is like the grain that is shed from a ripe crop before it
comes to the sickle. Now if we could trace--"
"How can you trace syrup to the lump when the lump is all turned to
George held his peace--shut up, but not convinced.
"Hallo! you two lucky ones," cried a voice distant about thirty yards.
"Will you buy our hole, it is breaking our heart here."
Robinson went up and found a large hole excavated to a great depth; it
was yielding literally nothing, and this determined that paradoxical
personage to buy it if it was cheap. "What there is must be somewhere
all in a lump."
He offered ten pounds for it, which was eagerly snapped at.
"Well done, Gardiner," said one of the band. "We would have taken ten
shillings for it," explained he to Robinson.
Robinson paid the money, and let himself down into the hole with his
spade. He drove his spade into the clay, and the bottom of it just
reached the rock; he looked up. "I would have gone just one foot
deeper before I gave in," said he; he called George. "Come, George, we
can know our fate in ten minutes."
They shoveled the clay away down to about one inch above the rock, and
there in the white clay they found a little bit of gold as big as a
"We have done it this time," cried Robinson, "shave a little more off,
not too deep, and save the clay." This time a score of little nuggets
came to view sticking in the clay; no need for washing, they picked
them out with their knives.
The news soon spread, and a multitude buzzed round the hole and looked
down on the men picking out peas and beans of pure gold with their
Presently a voice cried, "Shame, give the men back their hole!"
"Gammon," cried others, "they paid for a chance, and it turned out
well; a bargain is a bargain." Gardiner and his mates looked
sorrowfully down. Robinson saw their faces and came out of the hole a
moment. He took Gardiner aside and whispered, "Jump into our hole like
lightning, it is worth four pound a day."
"God bless you!" said Gardiner. He ran and jumped into the hole just
as another man was going to take possession. By digger's law no party
is allowed to occupy two holes.
All that afternoon there was a mob looking down at George and Robinson
picking out peas and beans of gold, and envy's satanic fire burned
many a heart. These two were picking up at least a hundred pounds an
Now it happened late in the afternoon that a man of shabby figure,
evidently not a digger, observing that there was always more or less
crowd in one place, shambled up and looked down with the rest; as he
looked down, George happened to look up; the newcomer drew back
hastily. After that his proceedings were singular; he remained in the
crowd more than two hours, not stationary, but winding in and out. He
listened to everything that was said, especially if it was muttered
and not spoken out; and he peered into every face, and peering into
every face it befell that at last his eye lighted on one that seemed
to fascinate him; it belonged to a fellow with a great bull neck, and
hair and beard flowing all into one--a man more like the black-maned
lion of North Africa than anything else. But it was not his appearance
that fascinated the serpentine one, it was the look he cast down upon
those two lucky diggers; a scowl of tremendous hatred--hatred unto
death. Instinct told the serpent there must be more in this than
extempore envy. He waited and watched, and, when the black-maned one
moved away, he followed him about everywhere till at last he got him
Then he sidled up, and in a cringing way said:
"What luck some men have, don't they?"
The man answered by a fierce grunt.
The serpent was half afraid of him, but he went on.
"There will be a good lump of gold in their tent to-night."
The other seemed struck with these words.
"They have been lucky a long time," explained the other, "and now this
"Well, what about it?"
"Nothing! only I wish somebody else had it instead."
"That is a secret for the present. I only tell you because I think
somehow they are no friends of yours either."
"Perhaps not! what then."
"Then we might perhaps do business together; it will strike you
singular, but I have a friend who would give money to any one that
would take a little from those two."
"Say that again."
"Would give money to any one that would take it from those two."
"And you won't ask for any share of the swag?"
"Me? I have nothing to do with it."
"Gammon! well, your friend! will he?"
"Not a farthing!"
"And what will he give, suppose I have a friend that will do the
"According to the risk!"
The man gave a whistle. A fellow with forehead villainously low came
from behind some tents.
"What is it, Will?" asked the newcomer.
"This one in it?"
"Yes! This is too public, come to Bevan's store."
"GEORGE, I want you to go to Bathurst."
"To buy some things."
"First of all, a revolver; there were fellows about our tent last
night, creeping and prowling."
"I never heard them."
"No more you would an earthquake--but I heard them, and got up and
pointed my revolver at them; so then they cut--all the better for
them. We must mind our eye, George; a good many tents are robbed every
week, and we are known to have a good swag."
"Well, I must start this moment if I am to be back."
"And take a pound of dust and buy things that we can sell here to a
George came back at night looking rather sheep-faced.
"Tom," said he, "I am afraid I have done wrong. You see there was a
confounded auction, and what with the hammer, and the folk bidding,
and his palaver, I could not help it."
"But what is it you have bought?"
"A bit o' land, Tom."
Robinson groaned; but, recovering himself, he said gayly:
"Well, have you brought it with you?"
"No, it is not so small as all that; as nice a bit of grass as ever
you saw, Tom, and just outside the town of Bathurat; only I didn't
ought to have spent your money as well as my own."
"Stuff and nonsense--I accept the investment. Let me load your new
revolver. Now look at my day's work. I wouldn't take a hundred pound
for these little fellows."
George gloated over the little nuggets, for he saw Susan's eyes in
them. To-night she seemed so near. The little bag was placed between
them, the day's spoils added to it, and the tired friends were soon
"HELP! help! murder! help! murder!" Such were the cries that invaded
the sleepers' ears in the middle of the night, to which horrible
sounds was added the furious barking of Carlo.
The men seized their revolvers and rushed out of the tent. At about
sixty yards distant they saw a man on the ground struggling under two
fellows, and still crying, though more faintly, "murder" and "help."
"They are killing him!" cried George; and Robinson and he cocked their
revolvers and ran furiously toward the men. But these did not wait the
attack. They started up and off like the wind, followed by two shots
from Robinson that whistled unpleasantly near them.
"Have they hurt you, my poor fellow ?" said Robinson.
The man only groaned for answer.
Robinson turned his face up in the moonlight, and recognized a man to
whom he had never spoken, but whom his watchful eye had noticed more
than once in the mine--it was, in fact, the peddler Walker.
"Stop, George, I have seen this face in bad company. Oh! back to our
tent for your life, and kill any man you see near it!"
They ran back. They saw two dark figures melting into the night on the
other side the tent. They darted in--they felt for the bag. Gone! They
felt convulsively all round the tent. Gone! With trembling hands
Robinson struck a light. Gone--the work of months in a moment---the
hope of a life snatched out of a lover's very hand, and held out a
mile off again!
The poor fellows rushed wildly out into the night. They saw nothing
but the wretched decoy vanishing behind the nearest tents. They came
into the tent again. They sat down and bowed to the blow in silence,
and looked at one another, and their lips quivered, and they feared to
speak lest they should break into unmanly rage or sorrow. So they sat
like stone till daybreak.
And when the first streak of twilight came in, George said in a firm
"Take my hand, Tom, before we go to work."
So the two friends sat hand in hand a minute or two; and that hard
grip of two workingmen's hands, though it was not gently eloquent like
beauty's soft, expressive palm, did yet say many things good for the
heart in this bitter hour.
It said: "A great calamity has fallen; but we do not blame each other,
as some turn to directly and do. It is not your fault, George. It is
not your fault, Tom."
It said: "We were lucky together; now we are unlucky together--all the
more friends. We wrought together; now we have been wronged
together--all the more friends." With this the sun rose, and for the
first time they crept to their work instead of springing to it.
They still found gold in it, but not quite so abundant or so large.
They had raised the cream of it for the thieves. Moreover, a rush had
been made to the hole, claims measured off actually touching them; so
they could not follow the gold-bearing strata horizontally--it
belonged to their neighbors. They worked in silence, they ate their
meal in silence. But as they rose to work again, Robinson said, very
gravely, even solemnly:
"George, now I know what an honest man feels when he is robbed of the
fruits of his work and his self-denial and his sobriety. If I had
known it fifteen years ago, I should never have been a--what I have
For two months the friends worked stoutly with leaden hearts, but did
little more than pay their expenses. The bag lay between them light as
a feather. One morning Tom said to George:
"George, this won't do. I am going prospecting. Moore will lend me his
horse for a day."
That day George worked alone. Robinson rode all over the country with
a tin pan at his back, and tested all the places that seemed likely to
his experienced eye. At night he returned to their tent. George was
just lying down.
"No sleep to-night, George," said he, instinctively lowering his voice
to a whisper; "I have found surface gold ten miles to the southward."
"Well, we will go to it to-morrow."
"What, by daylight, watched as we are? We, the two lucky ones," said
Robinson bitterly. "No. Wait till the coast is clear--then strike tent
At midnight they stole out of the camp. By peep of day they were in a
little dell with a brook running at the bottom of it.
"Now, George, listen to me. Here is ten thousand pounds if we could
keep this gully and the creek a fortnight to ourselves."
"Oh, Tom! and we will. Nobody will find us here, it is like a box."
Robinson smiled sadly. The men drove their spades in close to the
little hole which Robinson had made prospecting yesterday, and the
very first cradleful yielded an ounce of gold-dust extremely small and
pure. They found it diffused with wonderful regularity within a few
inches of the surface. Here for the first time George saw gold-dust so
plentiful as to be visible. When a spadeful of the clay was turned up
it glittered all over. When they tore up the grass, which was green as
an emerald, specks of bright gold came up clinging to the roots. They
fell like spaded tigers on the prey.
"What are you doing, George?"
"Going to light a fire for dinner. We must eat, I suppose, though I do
grudge the time."
"We must eat, but not hot."
"Because, if you light a fire, the smoke will be seen miles off, and
half the diggings will be down upon us. I have brought three days'
cold meat---here it is."
"Will this be enough?" asked George, simply, his mouth full.
"Yes, it will be enough," replied the other, bitterly. "Do you hear
that bird, George? They call him a leather-head. What is he singing?"
George laughed. "Seems to me he is saying, 'Off we go!' 'Off we go!'
'Off we go!'"
"That is it. And look now, off he is gone; and, what is more, he has
gone to tell all the world he saw two men pick up gold like beans."
"Work!" cried George.
That night the little bag felt twice as heavy as last night, and Susan
seemed nearer than for many a day. These two worked for their lives.
They counted each minute, and George was a Goliath; the soil flew
round him like the dust about a wmnnowing-machine. He was working for
Susan. Robinson wasted two seconds admiring him.
"Well," said he, "gold puts us all on our mettle, but you beat all I
ever saw. You are a man."
It was the morning of the third day, and the friends were filling the
little bag fast; and at breakfast George quizzed Robinson's late
"The leather-head didn't tell anybody, for here we are all alone."
"But we should not have been, if I had let you light a fire. However,
I really begin to hope now they will let us alone till we have cleared
out the gully. Hallo!"
"What is the matter?"
"Look there, George."
"What is it? Smoke rising--down the valley ?"
"We are done! Didn't I tell you?"
"Don't say so, Tom. Why, it is only smoke, and five miles off."
"What signifies what it is or where it is? It is on the road to us."
"I hope better."
"What is the use of hoping nonsense? Was it there yesterday? Well,
"Don't you be faint-hearted," said George. "We are not caught yet. I
wonder whether Susan would say it was a sin to try and mislead them?"
"A sin! I wish I knew how, I'd soon see. That was a good notion. This
place is five hundred pound a day to us. We must keep it to-day by
hook or by crook. Come with me, quick. Bring your tools and the bag."
George followed Robinson in utter ignorance of his design; that worthy
made his way as fast as he could toward the smoke. When they got
within a mile of it the valley widened and the smoke was seen rising
from the side of the stream. Concealing themselves, they saw two men
beating the ground on each side like pointers. Robinson drew back.
"They are hunting up the stream," said he, "it is there we must put
the stopper on them."
They made eastward for the stream which they had left.
"Come," said Robinson, "here is a spot that looks likely to a novice;
dig and cut it up all you can."
George was mystified but obeyed, and soon the place looked as if men
had been at work on it some time. Then Robinson took out a handful of
gold-dust and coolly scattered it over a large heap of mould.
"What are you at? Are you mad, Tom? Why, there goes five pounds. What
"Did you never hear of the man that flung away a sprat to catch a
whale? Now turn back to our hole. Stop, leave your pickax, then they
will think we are coming back to work."
In little more than half an hour they were in their little gully
working like mad. They ate their dinner working. At five o'clock
George pointed out to Robinson no less than seven distinct columns of
smoke rising about a mile apart all down the valley.
"Ay!" said Robinson, "those six smokes are hunting the smoke that is
hunting us! but we have screwed another day out."
Just as the sun was setting, a man came into the gully with a pickax
on his shoulder.
"Ah! how d'ye do?" said Robinson, in a mock friendly accent. "We have
been expecting you. Thank you for bringing us our pickax."
The man gave a sort of rueful laugh and came and delivered the pick
and coolly watched the cradle.
"Why don't you ask what you want to know?" said Robinson.
The man sneered. "Is that the way to get the truth from a digger?"
"It is from me, and the only one."
"Oh! then what are you doing, mate?"
"About ten ounces of gold per hour."
The man's mouth and eyes both opened. "Come, my lad," said Robinson,
good-naturedly, "of course I am not glad you have found us, but since
you are come, call your pals, light fires, and work all night.
To-morrow it will be too late."
The man whistled. He was soon joined by two more and afterward by
others. The whole party was eight. A hurried conference took place,
and presently the captain, whose name was Ede, came up to Robinson
with a small barrel of beer and begged him and his pal to drink as
much as they liked. They were very glad of the draught and thanked the
The newcomers took Robinson's advice, lighted large fires, divided
their company, and groped for gold. Every now and then came a shout of
joy, and, in the light of the fires, the wild figures showed red as
blood against the black wall of night, and their excited eyes glowed
like carbuncles as they clawed the sparkling dust. George and
Robinson, fatigued already by a long day, broke down about three in
the morning. They reeled into their tent, dug a hole, put in their
gold bag, stamped it down, tumbled dead asleep down over it, and never
woke till morn.
Gn l r-r-r! gn l r-r-r!
"What is the matter, Carlo?"
Gn l r-r-r.
Hum! hum! hum! Crash! crash!
At these sounds Robinson lifted up the corner of his tent. The gully
was a digging. He ran out to see where he was to work, and found the
whole soil one enormous tan-yard, the pits ten feet square, and so
close there was hardly room to walk to your hole without tumbling into
your neighbor's. You had to balance yourself like boys going along a
beam in a timber-yard. In one of these he found Ede and his gang
working. Mr. Ede had acquired a black eye, ditto one of his mates.
"Good-morning, Captain Robinson," said this personage, with a general
gayety of countenance that contrasted most drolly with the mourning an
expressive organ had gone into.
"Well, was I right?" asked Robinson, looking ruefully round the
"You were, Captain Robinson, and thank you for last night."
"Well, you have picked up my name somehow. Now just tell me how you
picked up something else. How did you suspect us in this retired
"We were working just clear of the great digging by the side of the
creek, and doing no good, when your cork came down."
"Cork out of your bottle."
"I had no bottle. Oh, yes! my pal had a bottle of small beer."
"Ay, he must have thrown it into the creek, for a cork came down to
us. Then I looked at it, and I said, 'Here is a cork from Moore's
store; there is a party working up stream by this cork.'"
Robinson gave a little groan. "We are never to be at the bottom of
gold digging," said he.
"So we came up the stream and tried several places as we came, but
found nothing; at last we came to your pickax and signs of work, so my
lads would stay and work there, and I let them an hour or two, and
then I said, 'Come now, lads, the party we are after is higher up.'"
"Now how could you pretend to know that?" inquired Robinson, with
"Easy enough. The water came down to us thick and muddyish, so I knew
you were washing up stream."
"Confound my stupid head," cried Robinson, "I deserve to have it cut
off after all my experience."
And he actually capered with vexation.
"The best may make a mistake," said the other soothingly. "Well,
captain, you did us a good turn last night, so here is your claim. We
put your pal's pick in it--here close to us. Oh! there was a lot that
made difficulties, but we over-persuaded them."
"Gave them a hiding, and promised to knock out any one's brains that
went into it. Oh! kindness begets kindness, even in a gold mine."
"It does," cried Robinson, "and the proof is--that I give you the
claim. Here come this way and seem to buy it of me. All their eyes are
upon us. Now split your gang, and four take my claim."
"Well, that is good of you. But what will you do, captain? Where shall
you go?" And his eyes betrayed his curiosity.
"Humph! Well, I will tell you on condition that you don't bring two
thousand after me again. You should look behind you as well as before,
These terms agreed to, Robinson let Ede know that he was going this
moment back to the old digging. The other was greatly surprised.
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