It Is Never Too Late to Mend
Part 13 out of 17
Robinson then explained that in the old digging gold lay at various
depths and was inexhaustible; that this afternoon there would be a
rush made from it to Robinson's Gully (so the spot where they stood
was already called); that thousands of good claims would thus by
diggers' law be vacated; and that he should take the best before the
rush came back, which would be immediately, since Robinson's Gully
would be emptied of its gold in four hours.
"So clear out your two claims," said he. "It won't take you two hours.
All the gold lies in one streak four inches deep. Then back after me;
I'll give you the office. I'll mark you down a good claim."
Mr. Ede, who was not used to this sort of thing since he fought for
gold, wore a ludicrous expression of surprise and gratitude. Robinson
read it and grinned superior, but the look rendered words needless, so
he turned the conversation.
"How did you get your black eye?"
"Oh! didn't I tell you? Fighting with the blackguards for your claim."
It was now Robinson's turn to be touched.
"You are a good fellow. You and I must be friends. Ah! if I could but
get together about forty decent men like you, and that had got gold to
"Well," said Ede, "why not? Here are eight that have got gold to lose,
thanks to you, and your own lot--that makes ten. We could easy make up
forty for any good lay; there is my hand for one. What is it?"
Robinson took Ede's hand with a haste and an energy that almost
startled him, and his features darkened with an expression unusual now
to his good-natured face. "To put down thieving in the camp," said he,
"Ah!" said the other, half sadly (the desirableness of this had
occurred to him before now); "but how are we to do that?" asked he,
incredulously. "The camp is choke-full of them."
Robinson looked blacker, uglier and more in earnest. So was his answer
when it came.
"Make stealing death by the law."
"The law! What law?"
ABOUT a fortnight after Robinson's return to the diggings two men were
seated in a small room at Bevan's store. There was little risk of
their being interrupted by any honest digger, for it was the middle of
"I know that well enough," growled the black-maned one, "everybody
knows the lucky rip has got a heavier swag than ever, but we shan't
get it so cheap, if we do at all."
"He is on his guard now, night and day, and what is more he has got
friends in the mine that would hang me or you either up to dry, if
they but caught us looking too near his tent."
"The ruffians. Well, but if he has friends he has enemies."
"Not so many; none that I know of but you and me. I wonder what he has
done to you?"
The other waived this question and replied: "I have found two parties
that hate him; two that came in last week."
"Have you? then, if you are in earnest, make me acquainted with them,
for I am weak-handed; I lost one of my pals yesterday."
"They caught him at work and gave him a rap over the head with a
spade. The more ---- fool he for being caught. Here is to his memory."
"Ugh! what, is he, is he--"
"Dead as a herring."
"Where shall we all go to? What lawless fellows these diggers are. I
will bring you the men."
For the last two months the serpentine man had wound in and out the
camp, poking about for a villain of the darker sort as minutely as
Diogenes did for an honest man, and dispensing liquor and watching
looks and words. He found rogues galore, and envious spirits that
wished the friends ill, but none of them seemed game to risk their
lives against two men, one of whom said openly he would kill any
stranger he caught in his tent, and whom some fifty stout fellows
called Captain Robinson, and were ready to take up his quarrel like
fire. But at last he fell in with two old lags, who had a deadly
grudge against the captain, and a sovereign contempt for him into the
bargain. By the aid of liquor he wormed out their story. This was the
marrow of it: The captain had been their pal, and, while they were all
three cracking a crib, had with unexampled treachery betrayed them,
and got them laid by the heels for nearly a year; in fact, if they had
not broken prison they would not have been here now. In short, in less
than half an hour he returned with our old acquaintances, brutus and
These two came half reluctant, suspicious and reserved. But at sight
of Black Will they were reassured, villain was so stamped on him. With
instantaneous sympathy and an instinct of confidence the three
compared notes, and showed how each had been aggrieved by the common
enemy. Next they held a council of war, the grand object of which was
to hit upon some plan of robbing the friends of their new swag.
It was a difficult and very dangerous job. Plans were proposed and
rejected, and nothing agreed upon but this, that the men should be
carefully watched for days to find out where they kept their gold at
night and where by day, and an attempt timed and regulated
accordingly. Moreover, the same afternoon a special gang of six was
formed, including Walker, which pitiful fox was greatly patronized by
the black-maned lion. At sight of him, brutus, who knew him not indeed
by name but by a literary transaction, was "for laying on," but his
patron interposed, and, having inquired and heard the offense,
bellowed with laughter, and condemned the ex-peddler to a fine of half
a crown in grog. This softened brutus, and a harmonious debauch
succeeded. Like the old Egyptians they debated first sober and then
drunk, and to stagger my general notion that the ancients were unwise,
candor compels me to own, it was while stammering, maudling, stinking
and in every sense drunk that mephistopheles driveled out a scheme so
cunning and so new as threw everybody and everything into the shade.
It was carried by hiccoughation.
To work this scheme mephistopheles required a beautiful large new
tent; the serpentine man bought it. Money to feed the gang; serpent
Robinson's tent was about thirty yards from his claim, which its one
opening faced. So he and George worked with an eye ever upon their
tent. At night two men of Robinson's party patrolled armed to the
teeth; they relieved guard every two hours. Captain Robinson's orders
to these men, if they saw anybody doing anything suspicious after
dark, were these:
This general order was matter of publicity for a quarter of a mile
round Robinson's tent, and added to his popularity and our rascals'
These orders had surely the double merit of conciseness and melody;
well, for all that, they were disgustingly offensive to one true
friend of the captain, viz., to George Fielding.
"What is all the gold in the world compared with a man's life?" said
"An ounce of it is worth half a dozen such lives as some here," was
the cool reply.
"I have heard you talk very different. I mind when you could make
excuses even for thieves that were never taught any better, poor
"Did I?" said the captain, a little taken aback. "Well, perhaps I did;
it was natural, hem, under the circumstances. No! not for such thieves
as these, that haven't got any honor at all."
"Yes! honor. Look here, suppose in my unconverted days I had broke
into a jeweler's shop (that comes nearest to a mine) with four or five
pals, do you think I should have held it lawful to rob my pals of any
part of the swag just because we happened to be robbing a silversmith?
Certainly not; I assure you, George, the punishment of such a nasty,
sneaking, dishonorable act would be death in every gang, and cheap,
too. Well, we have broken into Nature's shop here, and we are to rifle
her, and not turn to like unnatural monsters, and rob our ten thousand
"Thieving is thieving, in my view," was the prejudiced reply.
"And hanging is hanging--as all thieves shall find if caught
"You make my flesh creep, Tom. I liked you better when you were not so
great a man, more humble like; have you forgotten when you had to make
excuses for yourself; then you had Susan on your side and brought me
round, for I was bitter against theft; but never so bad as you are
"Oh, never mind what I said in those days; why, you must be well aware
I did not know what I was talking about. I had been a rogue and a
fool, and I talked like both. But now I am a man of property, and my
eyes are open and my conscience revolts against theft, and the gallows
is the finest institution going, and next to that comes a jolly good
prison. I wish there was one in this mine as big as Pentonville, then
Here the dialogue was closed by the demand the pick made upon the man
of property's breath. But it rankled, and on laying down the pick he
burst out: "Well, to think of an honest man like you having a word to
say for thieving. Why, it is a despicable trait in a gold mine. I'll
go farther, I'll prove it is the sin of sins all round the world.
Stolen money never thrives--goes for drink and nonsense. Now you pick
and I'll wash. Theft corrupts the man that is robbed as well as the
thief; drives him to despair and drink and ruin temporal and eternal.
No country could stand half an hour without law!! The very honest
would turn thieves if not protected, and there would be a go. Besides,
this great crime is like a trunk railway, other little crimes run into
it and out of it; lies buzz about it like these Australian flies--drat
you! Drunkenness precedes and follows it, and perjury rushes to its
"Well, Tom, you are a beautiful speaker."
"I haven't done yet. What wonder it degrades a man when a dog loses
his dignity under it. Behold the dog who has stolen; look at Carlo
yesterday when he demeaned himself to prig Jem's dinner (the sly brute
won't look at ours). How mean he cut with his tail under his belly,
instead of turning out to meet folk all jolly and waggle-um-tail-um as
on other occasions--Hallo, you, sir! what are you doing so near our
tent?" and up jumped the man of property and ran cocking a revolver to
a party who was kneeling close to the friends' tent.
The man looked up coolly; he was on his knees.
"We are newly arrived and just going to pitch, and a digger told us we
must not come within thirty yards of the captain's tent, so we are
measuring the distance."
"Well, measure it--and keep it."
Robinson stayed by his tent till the man, whose face was strange to
him, had measured and marked the ground. Soon after the tent in
question was pitched, and it looked so large and new that the man of
property's suspicions were lulled.
"It is all right," said he, "tent is worth twenty pounds at the lowest
While Black Will and his gang were scheming to get the friends' gold,
Robinson, though conscious only of his general danger, grew more and
more nervous as the bag grew heavier, and strengthened his defenses
This very day one was added to the cause of order in a very
characteristic way. I must first observe that Mr. McLaughlan had
become George's bailiff, that is, on discovery of the gold he had
agreed to incorporate George's flocks, to use his ground and to
account to him, sharing the profits, and George running the risks.
George had, however, encumbered the property with Abner as herdsman.
That worthy had come whining to him lame of one leg from a blow on the
head, which he convinced George Jacky had given him with his
"I'm spoiled for life and by your savage. I have lost my place; do
something for me."
Good-hearted George did as related, and moreover promised to give
Jacky a hiding if ever he caught him again. George's aversion to
bloodshed is matter of history; it was also his creed that a good
hiding did nobody any harm.
Now it was sheep-shearing time and McLaughlan was short of hands; he
came into the mine to see whether out of so many thousands he could
not find four or five who would shear instead of digging.
When he put the question to George, George shook his head doubtfully.
"However," said he, "look out for some unlucky ones, that is your best
chance, leastways your only one."
So McLaughlan went cannily about listening here and there to the men
who were now at their dinners, and he found Ede's gang grumbling and
growling with their mouths full; in short, enjoying at the same time a
good dinner and an Englishman's grace.
"This will do," thought the Scot, misled like continental nations by
that little trait of ours; he opened the ball.
"I'm saying--my lads--will ye gie ower this _weary warrk a wee
whilee_ and sheer a wheen sheep to me?"
The men looked in his face, then at one another, and the proposal
struck them as singularly droll. They burst out laughing in his face.
McLaughlan (keeping his temper thoroughly, but not without a severe
struggle). "Oh, fine I ken I'll ha'e to pay a maist deevelich price
for your highnesses--aweel, I'se pay--aw thing has its price; jaast
name your wage for shearing five hunder sheep."
The men whispered together. The Scot congratulated himself on his
success; it would be a question of price, after all.
"We will do it for--the wool."
"Th' 'oo?--oo ay! but hoo muckle o' th' 'oo? for ye ken--"
"How muckle? why, all."
"A' the 'oo! ye blackguard, ye're no blate."
"Keep your temper, farmer, it is not worth our while to shear sheep
for less than that."
"De'il go wi' ye then!" and he moved off in great dudgeon.
"Stop," cried the captain, "you and I are acquainted--you lived out
Wellington way--me and another wandered to your hut one day and you
gave us our supper."
"Ay, lad, I mind o' ye the noo!"
"The jolliest supper ever I had--a haggis you called it."
"Ay, did I, my fine lad. I cookit it till ye myssel. Ye meicht help me
"I will," said Captain Ede; and a conference took place in a whisper
between him and his men.
"It is a' reicht the noo!" thought McLaughlan.
"We have an offer to make you," said Ede, respectfully.
"Let us hear't."
"Our party is large; we want a cook for it, and we offer you the place
in return for past kindness."
"Me a cuik, y' impudent vagabond!" cried the Caledonian, red as a
turkey-cock; and, if a look could have crushed a party of eight, their
hole had been their grave.
McLaughlan took seven ireful steps--wide ones--then his hot anger
assumed a cold, sardonic form, he returned, and with blighting satire
speered this question by way of gratifying an ironical curiosity.
"An' whaat would ye ha'e the cheek t'offer a McLanghlan to cuik till
ye, you that kens sae fine the price o' wark?"
"Thretty shilling the week for a McLaughlan!"
"The week," cried Ede, "nonsense--thirty shillings a day of course.
We sell work for gold, sir, and we give gold for it; look here!" and
he suddenly bared a sturdy brown arm, and, smacking it, cried, "That
is dirt where you come from, but it is gold here."
"Ye're a fine lad," said the Scot, smoothly, "and ye've a boeny aerm,"
added he, looking down at it. "I'se no deny that. I'm thinking--I'll
just come--and cuik till ye a wee--for auld lang syne--thretty schelln
the day--an' ye'll buy the flesh o' me. I'll sell it a hantle cheaper
than thir warldly-minded fleshers."
Bref, he came to be shorn, and remained to fleece.
He went and told George what he had done.
"Hech! hech!" whined he, "thir's a maist awfu' come doon for the
McLaughlans---but wha wadna' stuip to lift gowd?"
He left his head man, a countryman of his own, in charge of the
flocks, and tarried in the mine. He gave great satisfaction, except
that he used to make his masters wait for dinner while he pronounced a
thundering long benediction; but his cookery compensated the delay.
Robinson enrolled him in his police and it was the fashion openly to
quiz, and secretly respect him.
Robinson also made friends with the women, in particular with one Mary
McDogherty, wife of a very unsuccessful digger. Many a pound of
potatoes Pat and she had from the captain, and this getting wind
secured the good will of the Irish boys.
GEORGE was very homesick.
"Haven't we got a thousand pounds apiece yet?"
"Hush! no! not quite; but too much to bawl about."
"And we never shall till you take my advice, and trace the gold to its
home in the high rocks. Here we are plodding for dust, and one good
nugget would make us."
"Well! well!" said Robinson, "the moment the dry weather goes you
shall show me the home of the gold." Poor George and his nuggets!
"That is a bargain," said George, "and now I have something more to
say. Why keep so much gold in our tent? It makes me fret. I am for
selling some of it to Mr. Levi.
"What, at three pounds the ounce? not if I know it."
"Then why not leave it with him to keep?"
"Because it is safer in its little hole in our tent. What do the
diggers care for Mr. Levi? You and I respect him, but I am the man
they swear by. No, George, Tom Weasel isn't caught napping twice in
the same year. Don't you see I've been working this four months past
to make my tent safe? and I've done it. It is watched for me night and
day, and if our swag was in the Bank of England it wouldn't be safer
than it is. Put that in your pipe. Well, Carlo, what is the news in
Carlo came running up to George, and licked his face, which just rose
above the hole.
"What is it, Carlo?" asked George, in some astonishment.
"Ha! ha!" laughed the other. "Here is the very dog come out to
encourage his faint-hearted master."
"No!" said George, "it can't be that--he means something--be quiet,
Carlo, licking me to pieces--but what it is Heaven only knows; don't
you encourage him; he has no business out of the tent--go back,
Carlo--go into kennel, sir;" and off slunk Carlo back into the tent,
of which he was the day sentinel.
"Tom," remarked George, thoughtfully, "I believe Carlo wanted to show
me something; he is a wonderful wise dog."
"Nonsense," cried Robinson, sharply, "he heard you at the old lay,
grumbling, and came to say cheer up, old fellow."
While Robinson was thus quizzing George, a tremendous noise was
suddenly heard in their tent. A scuffle--a fierce, muffled snarl--and
a human yell; with a cry, almost as loud, the men bounded out of their
hole, and, the blood running like melting ice down their backs with
apprehension, burst into the tent; then they came upon a sight that
almost drew the eyes out of their heads.
In the center of the tent, not six inches from their buried treasure,
was the head of a man emerging from the bowels of the earth, and
cursing and yelling, for Carlo had seized his head by the nape of the
neck, and bitten it so deep that the blood literally squirted, and was
stamping and going back snarling and pulling and hauling in fierce
jerks to extract it from the earth, while the burly-headed ruffian it
belonged to, cramped by his situation, and pounced on unawares by the
fiery teeth, was striving and battling to get down into the earth
again. Spite of his disadvantage, such were his strength and despair
that he now swung the dog backward and forward. But the men burst in.
George seized him by the hair of his head, Tom by the shoulder, and
with Carlo's help, wrenched him on to the floor of the tent, where he
was flung on his back with Tom's revolver at his temple, and Carlo
flew round and round barking furiously, and now and then coming flying
at him; on which occasions he was always warded off by George's strong
arm, and passed devious, his teeth clicking together like machinery,
the snap and the rush being all one design that must succeed or fail
together. Captain Robinson put his lips to his whistle, and the tent
was full of his friends in a moment.
"Get me a bullock rope."
"And drive a stout pole into the ground."
In less than five minutes brutus was tied up to a post in the sun,
with a placard on his breast on which was written in enormous
(and underneath in smaller letters--)
Caught trying to shake Captain Robinson's tent.
N B--To be hanged next time.
Then a crier was sent through the mine to invite inspection of
brutus's features, and ere sunset thousands looked into his face, and
when he tried to lower it pulled it savagely up.
"I shall know you again, my lad," was the common remark, "and, if I
catch you too near my tent, rope or revolver, one of the two."
Captain Robinson's men did not waste five minutes with brutus. They
tied him to the stake, and dashed into their holes to make up lost
time, but Robinson and George remained quiet in their tent.
"George," said Tom, in a low, contrite, humble voice, "let us return
thanks to Heaven, for vain is man's skill."
And they did.
"George," said Tom, rising from his knees, "the conceit is taken out
of me for about the twentieth time; I felt so strong and I was nobody.
The danger came in a way I never dreamed, and when it had come we were
saved by a friend I never valued. Give a paw, Carlo."
Carlo gave a paw.
"He has been a good friend to us this day," said George. "I see it all
now; he must have heard the earth move and did not understand it so he
came for me, and, when you would not let me go, he went back, and says
he, 'I dare to say it is a rabbit burrowing up.' So he waited still as
death, watching, and nailed six feet of vermin instead of bunny."
Here they both fell to caressing Carlo, who jumped and barked and
finished with a pretended onslaught on the captain as he was kneeling,
looking at their so late imperiled gold, and knocked him over and
slobbered his face when he was down. Opinions varied, but the
impression was he knew he had been a clever dog. This same evening,
Jem made a collar for him on which was written "Policeman C."
The fine new tent was entered and found deserted, nothing there but an
enormous mound of earth that came out of the subterranean, which
Robinson got a light and inspected all the way to its _debouchure_
in his own tent. As he returned, holding up his light and peering
about, he noticed something glitter at the top of the arch; he held
the light close to it and saw a speck or two of gold sparkling here
and there. He took out his knife and scraped the roof in places, and
brought to light in detached pieces a layer of gold-dust about the
substance of a sheet of blotting-paper and full three yards wide; it
crossed the subterranean at right angles, dipping apparently about an
inch in two yards. The conduct of brutus and co. had been typical.
They had been so bent on theft, that they were blind to the pocketfuls
of honest, safe, easy gold they rubbed their very eyes and their thick
skulls against on their subterraneous path to danger and crime.
Two courses occurred to Robinson; one was to try and monopolize this
vein of gold, the other to take his share of it and make the rest add
to his popularity and influence in the mine. He chose the latter, for
the bumptiousness was chilled in him. This second attack on his tent
made him tremble.
"I am a marked man," said he. "Well, if I have enemies, the more need
to get friends all round me."
I must here observe that many men failed altogether at the gold
diggings and returned in rags and tatters to the towns; many others
found a little, enough to live like a gentleman anywhere else, but too
little for bare existence in a place where an egg cost a shilling, a
cabbage a shilling, and baking two pounds of beef one shilling and
sixpence, and a pair of mining boots eight pounds, and a frying-pan
thirty shillings, and so on.
Besides, the hundreds that fell by diarrhea, their hands clutching in
vain the gold that could not follow them, many a poor fellow died of a
broken heart and hardships suffered in vain, and some, long unlucky
but persevering, suddenly surprised by a rich find of gold, fell by
the shock of good fortune, went raving mad, dazzled by the gold, and
perished miserably. For here all was on a great heroic scale,
starvation, wealth, industry, crime, retribution, madness and disease.
Now the good-natured captain had his eye upon four unlucky men at this
No. 1, Mr. Miles, his old master, who, having run through his means,
had come to the diggings. He had joined a gang of five; they made only
about three pounds a week each, and had expelled him, alleging that
his work was not quite up to their mark. He was left without a mate
and earned a precarious livelihood without complaining, for he was
game; but Robinson's quick eye and ear saw his clothes were shabby and
that he had given up his ha! ha! ha!
No. 2, Jem, whose mate had run away and robbed him, and he was left
solus with his tools.
No. 3, Mr. Stevens, an accomplished scholar, and, above all, linguist,
broad in the forehead but narrow in the chest, who had been
successively rejected by five gangs and was now at a discount. He
picked up a few shillings by interpreting, but it was a suspicious
circumstance that he often came two miles from his end of the camp to
see Robinson just at dinner-time. Then a look used to pass between
those two good-hearted creatures, and Mr. Stevens was served first and
Carlo docked till evening. Titles prevailed but little in the mine.
They generally addressed the males of our species thus:
The females thus:
The Spartans! but these two made an exception in favor of this reduced
scholar. They called him "Sir," and felt abashed his black coat should
be so rusty; and they gave him the gristly bits, for he was not
working, but always served him first.
No. 4, Unlucky Jack, a digger. This man really seemed to be unlucky.
Gangs would find the stuff on four sides of him, and he none; his last
party had dissolved, owing they said to his ill-luck, and he was
forlorn. These four Robinson convened, with the help of Mary
McDogherty, who went for Stevens; and made them a little speech,
telling them he had seen all their four ill-lucks, and was going to
end that with one blow. He then, taking the direction of brutus's
gold-vein, marked them out a claim full forty yards off, and himself
one close to them; organized them, and set them working in high
spirits, tremulous expectation, and a fervor of gratitude to him, and
kindly feeling toward their unlucky comrades.
"You won't find anything for six feet," said the captain. "Meantime,
all of you turn to and tell the rest how you were the unluckiest man
in the whole mine--till you fell in with me--he! he!"
And the captain chuckled. His elastic vanity was fast recovering from
brutus, and his spirits rising.
Toward evening he collected his whole faction, got on the top of two
cradles, made a speech, thanked them for their good-will, and told
them he had now an opportunity of making them a return. He had
discovered a vein of gold which he could have kept all to himself, but
it was more just and more generous to share it with his partisans.
"Now, pass through this little mine one at a time," said he, "and look
at the roof, where I have stuck the two lighted candles, and then pass
on quick to make room for others."
The men dived one after another, examined the roof, and, rushing
wildly out at the other end in great excitement, ran and marked out
claims on both sides of the subterranean.
But, with all their greediness and eagerness, they left ten feet
square untouched on each side the subterranean.
"What is this left for?"
"That is left for the clever fellow that found the gold after a thief
had missed it," cried one.
"And for the generous fellow that parted his find," roared another,
from a distance.
Robinson seemed to reflect.
"No! I won't spoil the meat by cutting myself the fat--no! I am a
digger, but not only a digger, I aspire to the honor of being a
captain of diggers; my claim lies out there."
"Hurrah; three cheers for Captain Robinson!"
"Will you do me a favor in return?"
"Hurrah! won't we?"
"I am going to petition the governor to send us out police to guard
"And even beaks, if necessary" (doubtful murmurs). "And, above all,
soldiers to take our gold safe down to Sydney."
"Where we can sell it at three fifteen the ounce."
"Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!"
"Instead of giving it away here for three pounds, and then being
robbed. If you will all sign, Mr. Stevens and I will draw up the
petition; no country can stand without law!"
"Hurrah for Captain Robinson, the diggers' friend."
And the wild fellows jumped out of the holes, and four seized the
diggers' friend, and they chaired him in their rough way, and they put
Carlo into a cradle, and raised him high, and chaired him; and both
man and dog were right glad to get safe out of the precarious honor.
The proceedings ended by brutus being loosed and set between two long
lines of men with lumps of clay, and pelted and knocked down, and
knocked up again, and driven, bruised, battered and bleeding, out of
that part of the camp. He found his way to a little dirty tent not
much bigger than a badger's hole, crawled in, and sank down in a
fainting state, and lay on his back stiff and fevered, and smarting
soul and body many days.
And while Robinson was exulting in his skill, his good fortune, his
popularity, his swelling bag, and the constabulary force he was
collecting and heading, this tortured ruffian, driven to utter
desperation by the exposure of his features to all the camp with
"Thief" blazing on him, lay groaning stiff and sore--but lived for
"Let him keep his gold--I don't care for his gold now. I'll have his
"I WONDER at you giving away the claim that lay close to the gold; it
is all very well to be generous, but you forget--Susan."
"Don't you be silly, George. The vein dips, and those that cut down on
it where it is horizontalish will get a little; we, that nick it
nearly verticalish, will get three times as much out of a ten-foot
"Well! you are a sharp fellow, to be sure; but, if it is so, why on
earth did you make a favor to them of giving them the milk and taking
"Policy, George! policy!"
"TOM, I invite you to a walk."
"Ay! ay! I'd give twenty pounds for one; but the swag?"
"Leave it this one day with Mr. Levi; he has got two young men always
armed in his tent, and a little peevish dog, and gutta-percha pipes
running into all the Jews' tents that are at his back like chicks
after the old hen."
"Oh, he is a deep one."
"And he has got mouth-pieces to them, and so he could bring thirty men
upon a thief in less than half a minute."
"Well, then, George! a walk is a great temptation, this beautiful
In short, by eight o'clock the gold was deposited, and the three
friends, for Policeman C must count for one, stepped lustily out in
the morning air.
It was the month of January; a blazing hot day was beginning to glow
through the freshness of morning; the sky was one cope of pure blue,
and the southern air crept slowly up, its wings clogged with
fragrance, and just tuned the trembling leaves--no more.
"Is not this pleasant, Tom--isn't it sweet?"
"I believe you, George! and what a shame to run down such a country as
this. There they come home, and tell you the flowers have no smell,
but they keep dark about the trees and bushes being haystacks of
flowers. Snuff the air as we go, it is a thousand English gardens in
one. Look at all those tea-scrubs each with a thousand blossoms on it
as sweet as honey, and the golden wattles on the other side, and all
smelling like seven o'clock; after which flowers be hanged!"
"Ay, lad! it is very refreshing; and it is Sunday, and we have got
away from the wicked for an hour or two; but in England there would be
a little white church out yonder, and a spire like an angel's
forefinger pointing from the grass to heaven, and the lads in their
clean smock-frocks like snow, and the wenches in their white stockings
and new shawls, and the old women in their scarlet cloaks and black
bonnets, all going one road, and a tinkle-tinkle from the belfry, that
would turn all these other sounds and colors and sweet smells holy, as
well as fair, on the Sabbath morn. Ah! England. Ah!"
"You will see her again--no need to sigh."
"Oh, I was not thinking of her in particular just then."
"Prejudice be hanged, this is a lovely land."
"So 'tis, Tom, so 'tis. But I'll tell you what puts me out a little
bit; nothing is what it sets up for here. If you see a ripe pear and
go to eat it,--it is a lump of hard wood. Next comes a thing the very
sight of which turns your stomach--and that is delicious, a loquot,
for instance. There now, look at that magpie! well, it is
Australia--so that magpie is a crow and not a magpie at all.
Everything pretends to be some old friend or other of mine, and turns
out a stranger. Here is nothing but surprises and deceptions. The
flowers make a point of not smelling, and the bushes that nobody
expects to smell, or wants to smell, they smell lovely.
"What does it matter where the smell comes from, so that you get it?"
"Why, Tom," replied George, opening his eyes, "it makes all the
difference. I like to smell a flower--flower is not complete without
smell--but I don't care if I never smell a bush till I die. Then the
birds they laugh and talk like Christians; they make me split my
sides, God bless their little hearts; but they won't chirrup. Oh,
dear, no, bless you, they leave the Christians to chirrup--they hold
conversations and giggle and laugh and play a thing like a fiddle--it
is Australia! where everything is inside-out and topsy-turvy. The
animals have four legs, so they jump on two. Ten-foot square of rock
lets for a pound a month; ten acres of grass for a shilling a year.
Roasted at Christmas, shiver o' cold on midsummer-day. The lakes are
grass, and the rivers turn their backs on the sea and run into the
heart of the land; and the men would stand on their heads, but I have
taken a thought, and I've found out why they don't."
"Because if they did their heads would point the same way a man's head
points in England."
Robinson laughed, and told George he admired the country for these
very traits. "Novelty for me against the world. Who'd come twelve
thousand miles to see nothing we couldn't see at home? Hang the same
old story always; where are we going, George?"
"Oh, not much farther, only about twelve miles from the camp?"
"To a farmer I know. I am going to show you a lark, Tom," said George.
His eyes beamed benevolence on his comrade.
Robinson stopped dead short. "George," said he, "no! don't let us. I
would rather stay at home and read my book. You can go into temptation
and come out pure; I can't. I am one of those that, if I go into a
puddle up to my shoe, I must splash up to my middle."
"What has that to do with it?"
"Your proposing to me to go in for a lark on the Sabbath day.
"Why, Tom, am I the man to tempt you to do evil?" asked George, hurt.
"Why, no! but, for all that, you proposed a lark."
"Ay, but an innocent one, one more likely to lift your heart on high
than to give you ill thoughts."
"Well, this is a riddle;" and Robinson was intensely puzzled.
"Carlo," cried George, suddenly, "come here. I will not have you
hunting and tormenting those kangaroo rats to-day. Let us all be at
peace, if you please. Come to heel."
The friends strode briskly on, and a little after eleven o'clock they
came upon a small squatter's house and premises. "Here we are," cried
George, and his eyes glittered with innocent delight.
The house was thatched and whitewashed, and English was written on it
and on every foot of ground round it. A furzebush had been planted by
the door. Vertical oak palings were the fence, with a five-barred gate
in the middle of them. From the little plantation all the magnificent
trees and shrubs of Australia had been excluded with amazing
resolution and consistency, and oak and ash reigned safe from
overtowering rivals. They passed to the back of the house, and there
George's countenance fell a little, for on the oval grass-plot and
gravel walk he found from thirty to forty rough fellows, most of them
"Ah, well," said he, on reflection, "we could not expect to have it
all to ourselves, and indeed it would be a sin to wish it, you know.
Now, Tom, come this way; here it is, here it is--there." Tom looked
up, and in a gigantic cage was a light brown bird.
He was utterly confounded. "What, is it this we came twelve miles to
"Ay! and twice twelve wouldn't have been much to me."
"Well, but what is the lark you talked of?"
"This is it."
"This? This is a bird."
"Well, and isn't a lark a bird?"
"Oh, ay! I see! ha! ha! ha! ha!"
Robinson's merriment was interrupted by a harsh remonstrance from
several of the diggers, who were all from the other end of the camp.
"Hold your ---- cackle," cried one, "he is going to sing;" and the
whole party had their eyes turned with expectation toward the bird.
Like most singers, he kept them waiting a bit. But at last, just at
noon, when the mistress of the house had warranted him to sing, the
little feathered exile began as it were to tune his pipes. The savage
men gathered round the cage that moment, and amid a dead stillness the
bird uttered some very uncertain chirps, but after a while he seemed
to revive his memories, and call his ancient cadences back him to one
by one, and string them sotto voce.
And then the same sun that had warmed his little heart at home came
glowing down on him here, and he gave music back for it more and more,
till at last--amid breathless silence and glistening eyes of the rough
diggers hanging on his voice--out burst in that distant land his
It swelled his little throat and gushed from him with thrilling force
and plenty, and every time he checked his song to think of its theme,
the green meadows, the quiet stealing streams, the clover he first
soared from, and the spring he sang so well, a loud sigh from many a
rough bosom, many a wild and wicked heart, told how tight the
listeners had held their breath to hear him; and when he swelled with
song again, and poured with all his soul the green meadows, the quiet
brooks, the honey clover and the English spring, the rugged mouths
opened and so stayed, and the shaggy lips trembled, and more than one
drop trickled from fierce unbridled hearts down bronzed and rugged
And these shaggy men, full of oaths and strife and cupidity, had once
been white-headed boys, and had strolled about the English fields with
little sisters and little brothers, and seen the lark rise, and heard
him sing this very song. The little playmates lay in the churchyard,
and they were full of oaths and drink and lusts and remorses--but no
note was changed in this immortal song. And so for a moment or two
years of vice rolled away like a dark cloud from the memory, and the
past shone out in the song-shine. They came back, bright as the
immortal notes that lighted them, those faded pictures and those
fleeted days; the cottage, the old mother's tears when he left her
without one grain of sorrow; the village-church and its simple chimes;
the clover-field hard by in which he lay and gamboled, while the lark
praised God overhead; the chubby playmates that never grew to be
wicked, the sweet hours of youth--and innocence--and home.
"WHAT will you take for him, mistress? I will give you five pounds for
"No! no! I won't take five pounds for my bird!"
"Of course she won't," cried another, "she wouldn't be such a flat.
Here, missus," cried he, "I'll give you that for him;" and he extended
a brown hand with at least thirty new sovereigns glittering in it.
The woman trembled; she and her husband were just emerging from
poverty after a hard fight. "Oh!" she cried, "it is a shame to tempt a
poor woman with so much gold. We had six brought over, and all died on
the way but this one!" and she threw her white apron over her head,
not to see the glittering bribe.
"---- you, put the blunt up and don't tempt the woman," was the cry.
Another added: "Why, you fool, it wouldn't live a week if you had it,"
and they all abused the merchant. But the woman turned to him kindly
"You come to me every Sunday, and he shall sing to you. You will get
more pleasure from him so," said she, sweetly, "than if he was always
"So I will, old girl," replied the rough, in a friendly tone.
George stayed till the lark gave up singing altogether, and then he
said: "Now I am off. I don't want to hear bad language after that; let
us take the lark's chirp home to bed with us;" and they made off; and
true it was the pure strains dwelt upon their spirits, and refreshed
and purified these sojourners in a godless place. Meeting these two
figures on Sunday afternoon, armed each with a double-barreled gun and
a revolver, you would never have guessed what gentle thoughts
possessed them wholly. They talked less than they did coming, but they
felt so quiet and happy.
"The pretty bird," purred George (seeing him by the ear), "I feel
after him--there--as if I had just come out o' church."
"So do I, George, and I think his song must be a psalm, if we knew
"That it is, for Heaven taught it him. We must try and keep all this
in our hearts when we get among the broken bottles, and foul language,
and gold," says George. "How sweet it all smells, sweeter than
"That is because it is afternoon."
"Yes! or along of the music; that tune was a breath from home that
makes everything please me. Now this is the first Sunday that has
looked, and smelled, and sounded Sunday."
"George, it is hard to believe the world is wicked. Everything seems
good, and gentle, and at peace with heaven and earth."
A jet of smoke issued from the bush, followed by the report of a gun,
and Carlo, who had taken advantage of George's revery to slip on
ahead, gave a sharp howl, and spun round upon all fours.
"The scoundrels!" shrieked Robinson. And in a moment his gun was at
his shoulder, and he fired both barrels slap into the spot whence the
smoke had issued.
Both the men dashed up and sprang into the bush revolver in hand, but
ere they could reach it the dastard had run for it; and the scrub was
so thick pursuit was hopeless. The men returned full of anxiety for
The dog met them, his tail between his legs, but at sight of George he
wagged his tail, and came to him and licked George's hand, and walked
on with them, licking George's hand every now and then.
"Look, Tom, he is as sensible as a Christian. He knows the shot was
meant for him, though they didn't hit him."
By this time the men had got out of the wood, and pursued their road,
but not with tranquil hearts. Sunday ended with the noise of that
coward's gun. They walked on hastily, guns ready, fingers on
trigger--at war. Suddenly Robinson looked back, and stopped and drew
George's attention to Carlo. He was standing with all his four legs
wide apart, like a statue.
George called him; he came directly, and was for licking George's
hand, but George pulled him about and examined him all over.
"I wish they may not have hurt him after all, the butchers; they have,
too. See here, Tom, here is one streak of blood on his belly, nothing
to hurt, though, I do hope. Never mind, Carlo," cried George, "it is
only a single shot by what I can see, 'tisn't like when Will put the
whole charge into you, rabbit-shooting, is it, Carlo? No, says he; we
don't care for this, do we, Carlo?" cried George, rather boisterously.
"Make him go into that pool, there," said Robinson; "then he won't
"I will; here--cess! cess!" He threw a stone into the pool of water
that lay a little off the road, and Carlo went in after it without
hesitation, though not with his usual alacrity. After an unsuccessful
attempt to recover the stone he swam out lower down, and came back to
the men and wagged his tail slowly, and walked behind George.
They went on.
"Tom," said George, after a pause, "I don't like it."
"Don't like what?"
"He never so much as shook himself."
"What of that? He did shake himself, I should say."
"Not as should be. Who ever saw a dog come out of the water and not
shake himself? Carlo, hie, Carlo!" and George threw a stone along the
ground, after which Carlo trotted; but his limbs seemed to work
stiffly; the stone spun round a sharp corner in the road, the dog
"He will do now," said Robinson.
They walked briskly on. On turning the corner they found Carlo sitting
up and shivering, with the stone between his paws.
"We must not let him sit," said Tom; "keep his blood warm. I don't
think we ought to have sent him into the water."
"I don't know," muttered George, gloomily. "Carlo," cried he,
cheerfully, "don't you be down-hearted; there is nothing so bad as
faint-heartedness for man or beast. Come, up and away ye go, and shake
it off like a man."
Carlo got up and wagged his tail in answer, but he evidently was in no
mood for running; he followed languidly behind.
"Let us get home," said Robinson; "there is an old pal of mine that is
clever about dogs, he will cut the shot out if there is one in him,
and give him some physic."
The men strode on, and each, to hide his own uneasiness, chatted about
other matters; but all of a sudden Robinson cried out, "Why, where
_is_ the dog?" They looked back, and there was Carlo some sixty
yards in the rear, but he was not sitting this time, he was lying on
"Oh! this is a bad job," cried George. The men ran up in real alarm;
Carlo wagged his tail as soon as they came near him, but he did not
"Carlo," cried George, despairingly, "you wouldn't do it, you couldn't
think to do it. Oh, my dear Carlo, it is only making up your mind to
live; keep up your heart, old fellow; don't go to leave us alone among
these villains. My poor, dear, darling dog! Oh, no! he won't live, he
can't live; see how dull his poor, dear eye is getting. Oh, Carlo!
At the sound of his master's voice in such distress, Carlo whimpered,
and then he began to stretch his limbs out. At the sight of this
Robinson cried hastily:
"Rub him, George; we did wrong to send him into the water."
George rubbed him all over. After rubbing him a while, he said:
"Tom, I seem to feel him turning to dead under my hand."
George's hand in rubbing Carlo came round to the dog's shoulder, then
Carlo turned his head and for the third time began to lick George's
hand. George let him lick his hand and gave up rubbing him, for where
was the use? Carlo never left off licking his hand, but feebly, very
feebly, more and more feebly.
Presently, even while he was licking his hand, the poor thing's teeth
closed slowly on his loving tongue, and then he could lick the beloved
hand no more. Breath fluttered about his body a little while longer;
but in truth he had ceased to live when he could no longer kiss his
And so the poor single-hearted soul was gone.
George took it up tenderly in his arms. Robinson made an effort to
console him. "Don't speak to me, if you please," said George, gently
but quickly. He carried it home silently, and laid it silently down in
a corner of the tent.
Robinson made a fire and put some steaks on, and made George slice
some potatoes to keep him from looking always at what so little while
since was Carlo. Then they sat down silently and gloomily to dinner,
it was long past their usual hour and they were workingmen. Until we
die we dine, come what may. The first part of the meal passed in deep
silence. Then Robinson said sadly:
"We will go home, George. I fall into your wishes now. Gold can't pay
for what we go through in this hellish place."
"Not it," replied George, quietly.
"We are surrounded by enemies."
"Seems so," was the reply, in a very languid tone.
"Labor by day and danger by night."
"Ay," but in a most indifferent tone.
"And no Sabbath for us two."
"I'll do my best for you, and when we have five hundred pounds more
you shall go home to Susan."
"Thank you. He was a good friend to us that lies there under my coat;
he used to lie over it, and then who dare touch it?"
"No! but don't give way to that, George--do eat a bit, it will do you
"I will, Tom, I will. Thank you kindly. Ah! now I see why he came to
me and kept licking my hand so the moment he got the hurt. He had more
sense than we had; he knew he and I were to part that hour. And I
tormented his last minutes sending him into the water and after
stones, when the poor thing wanted to be bidding me good-by all the
while. Oh, dear! oh, dear!" and George pushed his scarce-tasted dinner
from him, and left the tent hurriedly, his eyes thick with tears.
Thus ended this human day so happily begun; and thus the poor dog paid
the price of fidelity this Sunday afternoon.
_Siste viator iter_--and part with poor Carlo--for whom there are
now no more little passing troubles--no more little simple joys. His
duty is performed, his race is run. Peace be to him, and to all simple
and devoted hearts. Ah me! how rare they are among men!
"What are you doing, Tom, if you please?"
"Laying down a gut line to trip them up when they get into our tent."
"Those that shot Carlo."
"They won't venture near me.
"Won't they? What was the dog shot for? They will come--and come to
their death; to-night, I hope. Let them come! you will hear me cry
'Carlo' in their ears as I put my revolver to their skulls and pull
George said nothing, but he clinched his teeth. After a pause he
muttered, "We should pray against such thoughts."
Robinson was disappointed, no attack was made; in fact, even if such a
thing was meditated, the captain's friends watched his tent night and
day, and made such a feat a foolhardy enterprise, full of danger from
without and within.
In the course of the next week a good deal of rain fell and filled
many of the claims, and caused much inaction and distress among the
diggers, and Robinson guarded the tent, and wrote letters and studied
Australian politics, with a view to being shortly a member of Congress
in these parts. George had his wish at last and cruised about looking
for the home of the gold. George recollected to have seen what he
described as a river of quartz sixty feet broad, and running between
two black rocks. It ran in his head that gold in masses was there
locked up, for, argued he, all the nuggets of any size I have seen
were more than half quartz. Robinson had given up debating the point.
George was uneasy and out of spirits at not hearing from Susan for
several months, and Robinson was for indulging him in everything.
Poor George! he could not even find his river of quartz. And when he
used to come home day after day empty-handed and with this confession,
the other's lips used to twitch with the hard struggle not to laugh at
him; and he used to see the struggle and be secretly more annoyed than
if he had been laughed out at.
One afternoon Tom Robinson, internally despising the whole thing, and
perfectly sure in his own mind that there was no river of quartz, but
paternal and indulgent to his friend's one weakness, said to him:
"I'll tell you how to find this river of quartz, if it is anywhere
except in your own head."
"I shall be much obliged to you. How?"
"Jem has come back to camp and he tells me that Jacky is encamped with
a lot more close to the gully he is working--it was on the other side
the bush there-and Jacky inquired very kind after you."
"The little viper."
"He grinned from ear to ear, Jem tells me; and says he, 'Me come and
see George a good deal soon,' says he."
"If he does, George will tan his black hide for him."
"What makes you hold spite so long against poor Jacky?"
"He is a little sneaking varmint."
"He knows every part of this country, and he would show you 'the home
of the gold,'" observed Robinson, restraining his merriment with great
This cock would not fight, as vulgar wretches say. Jacky had rather
mortified George by deserting him upon the first discovery of gold.
"Dis a good deal stupid," was that worthy's remark on the second day.
"When I hunt tings run, and I run behind and catch dem. You hunt--it
not run--yet you not catch it always. Dat a good deal stupid. Before
we hunt gold you do many tings, now do one; dat a good deal stupid.
Before, you go so (erecting a forefinger); now you always so (crooking
it). Dat too stupid." And with this--whir! my lord was off to the
On the head of this came Abner limping in, and told how a savage had
been seen creeping after him with a battle-ax, and how he had lain
insensible for days, and now was lame for life. George managed to
forgive Jacky's unkind desertion, but for creeping after Abner and
"spoiling him for life," to use Abner's phrase, he vowed vengeance on
that black hide and heart.
Now if the truth must be told, Jacky had come back to the camp with
Jem, and would have marched before this into George's tent. But
Robinson, knowing how angry George was with him, and not wishing
either Jacky to be licked or George to be tomahawked, insisted on his
staying with Jem till he had smoothed down his friend's indignation.
Soon after this dialogue Robinson slipped out, and told Jacky to stay
with Jem and keep out of George's way for a day or two.
And now the sun began to set red as blood, and the place to sparkle
far and wide with the fiery rays emitted from a hundred thousand
bottles that lay sown broadcast over the land; and the thunder of the
cradles ceased, and the accordions came out all over five miles of
gold mine. Their gentler strains lasted till the sun left the sky;
then, just at dusk, came a tremendous discharge of musketry roaring,
rattling, and re-echoing among the rocks. This was tens of thousands
of diggers discharging their muskets and revolvers previous to
reloading them for the night; for, calm as the sun had set to the
music of accordions, many a deadly weapon they knew would be wanted to
defend life and gold ere that same tranquil sun should rise again.
Thus the tired army slept not at their ease, like other armies,
guarded by sentinels and pickets, but every man in danger every night
and every hour of it. Each man lay in his clothes with a weapon of
death in his hand; Robinson with two, a revolver and a cutlass ground
like a razor. Outside it was all calm and peaceful. No boisterous
revelry--all seemed to sleep innocent and calm in the moonlight after
the day of herculean toil.
Perhaps if any one eye could have visited the whole enormous camp, the
children of theft and of the night might have been seen prowling and
crawling from one bit of shade to another. But in the part where our
friends lay the moon revealed no human figures but Robinson's patrol,
three men, who, with a dark-lantern and armed to the teeth, went their
rounds and guarded forty tents, above all the captain's. It was at his
tent that guard was relieved every two hours. So all was watched the
Two pointed rocks connected at the base faced the captain's tent. The
silver rays struck upon their foreheads wet with the vapors of night,
and made them like frost seen through phosphorus. It was startling.
The soul of silver seemed to be sentinel and eye the secret gold
And now a sad, a miserable sound grated on the ear of night. A
lugubrious quail doled forth a grating, dismal note at long but
measured intervals, offending the ear and depressing the heart. This
was the only sound Nature afforded for hours. The neighboring bush,
though crammed with the merriest souls that ever made feathers vibrate
and dance with song, was like a tomb of black marble; not a
sound--only this little raven of a quail tolled her harsh, lugubrious
Those whose musical creed is Time before Sentiment might have put up
with this night-bird; for to do her justice she was a perfect
timist--one crake in a bar the livelong night; but her tune--ugh! She
was the mother of all files that play on iron throughout the globe.
Crake!--crake!--crake! untuning the night.
An eye of red light suddenly opened in the silver stream shows three
men standing by a snowy tent. It is the patrol waiting to be relieved.
Three more figures emerge from the distant shade and join them. The
first three melt into the shade.
The other three remain and mutter. Now they start on their rounds.
"What is that?" mutters one.
"I'll go and see." Click.
"Oh, it is only that brown donkey that cruises about here. She will
break her neck in one of the pits some day."
"Not she. She is not such an ass."
These three melted into the night, going their rounds; and now nothing
is left in sight but a thousand cones of snow, and the donkey paddling
carefully among the pits.
Now the donkey stands a moment still in the moonlight--now he paddles
slowly away and disappears on the dark side the captain's tent. What
is he doing? He stoops--he lies down--he takes off his head and skin
and lays them down.
It is a man! He draws his knife and puts it between his teeth. A
pistol is in his hand--he crawls on his stomach--the tent is between
him and the patrol. His hand is inside the tent--he finds the opening
and winds like a serpent into the tent.
BLACK WILL no sooner found himself inside the tent than he took out a
dark lantern and opened the slide cautiously. There lay in one corner
the two men fast asleep side by side. Casting the glare around he saw
at his feet a dog with a chain round him. It startled him for a
moment--but only for a moment. He knew that dog was dead.
mephistopheles had told him within an hour after the feat was
performed. Close to his very hand was a pair of miner's boots. He
detached them from the canvas and passed them out of the tent; and now
looking closely at the ground he observed a place where the soil
seemed loose. His eye flashed with triumph at this. He turned up the
openings of the tent behind him to make his retreat clear if
necessary. He made at once for the loose soil, and the moment he moved
forward Robinson's gut-lines twisted his feet from under him. He fell
headlong in the middle, and half a dozen little bells rang furiously
at the sleepers' heads.
Up jumped Tom and George, weapons in hand, but not before Black Will
had wrenched himself clear and bounded back to the door. At the door,
in his rage at being balked, he turned like lightning and leveled his
pistol at Robinson, who was coming at him cutlass in hand. The
ex-thief dropped on his knees and made a furious upward cut at his
arm. At one and the same moment the pistol exploded and the cutlass
struck it and knocked it against the other side of the tent. The
bullet passed over Robinson's head. Black Will gave a yell so
frightful that for a moment it paralyzed the men, and even with this
yell he burst backward through the opening, and with a violent wrench
of his left hand brought the whole tent down and fled, leaving George
and Robinson struggling in the canvas like cats in an empty
The baffled burglar had fled but a few yards, when, casting his eye
back, he saw their helplessness. Losing danger in hatred he came back,
not now to rob, but murder, his left hand lifted high and gleaming
like his cruel eye. As he prepared to plunge his knife through the
canvas, flash bang! flash bang! bang! came three pistol-shots in his
face from the patrol, who were running right slap at him not thirty
yards off, and now it was life or death. He turned and ran for his
life, the patrol blazing and banging at him. Eighteen shots they fired
at him, one after another; more than one cut his clothes, and one went
clean through his hat, but he was too fleet, he distanced them; but at
the reports diggers peeped out of distant tents, and at sight of him
running, flash bang went a pistol at him from every tent he passed,
and George and Robinson, who had struggled out into the night, saw the
red flashes issue, and then heard the loud reports bellow and re-echo
as he dodged about down the line, and then all was still and calm as
death under the cold, pure stars.
They put up their tent again. The patrol came panting back. "He has
got off--but he carried some of our lead in him. Go to bed, captain,
we won't leave your tent all night."
Robinson and George lay down again thus guarded. The patrol sat by the
tent. Two slept, one loaded the arms again and watched. In a few
minutes the friends were actually fast asleep again, lying silent as
the vast camp lay beneath the silver stars.
And now it was cold, much colder than before, darker, too, no moon
now, only the silver stars; it makes one shiver. Nature seemed to lie
stark and stiff and dead, and that accursed craake her dirge. All
tended to shivering and gloom. Yet a great event approached.
A single event, a thousand times weightier to the world, each time it
comes, than if with one fell stroke all the kingdoms of the globe
became republics and all the republics empires, so to remain a
thousand years. An event a hundred times more beautiful than any other
thing the eye can hope to see while in the flesh, yet it regaled the
other senses, too, and blessed the universal heart.
Before this prodigious event came its little heralds sweeping across
the face of night. First came a little motion of cold air--it was
dead-still before; then an undefinable freshness; then a very slight
but rather grateful smell from the soil of the conscious earth. Next
twittered from the bush one little hesitating chirp.
Craake! went the lugubrious quail, pooh-poohing the suggestion. Then
somehow rocks and forest and tents seemed less indistinct in shape;
outlines peeped where masses had been.
Jug! jug! went a bird with a sweet jurgle in his deep throat. Craake!
went the ill-omened one directly, disputing the last inch of nature.
But a gray thrush took up the brighter view; otock otock tock! o tuee
o o! o tuee oo! o chio chee! o chio chee! sang the thrush, with a
decision as well as a melody that seemed to say: "Ah! but I am sure of
it; I am sure, I am sure, wake up, joy! joy!"
From that moment there was no more craake. The lugubrious quail shut
up in despair, perhaps in disdain,* and out gurgled another jug! jug!
jug! as sweet a chuckle as Nature's sweet voice ever uttered in any
land; and with that a mist like a white sheet came to light, but only
for a moment, for it dared not stay to be inspected, "I know who is
coming, I'm off," and away it crept off close to the ground--and
little drops of dew peeped sparkling in the frost-powdered grass.
* Like anonymous detraction before _vox populi._
Yock! yock! O chio faliera po! Otock otock tock! o chio chee! o chio
Jug! jug! jug! jug!
Off we go! off we go!
And now a thin red streak came into the sky, and perfume burst from
the bushes, and the woods rang, not only with songs some shrill, some
as sweet as honey, but with a grotesque yet beautiful electric
merriment of birds that can only be heard in this land of wonders. The
pen can give but a shadow of the drollery and devilry of the sweet,
merry rogues that hailed the smiling morn. Ten thousand of them, each
with half a dozen songs, besides chattering and talking and imitating
the fiddle, the fife and the trombone. Niel gow! niel gow! niel gow!
whined a leather-head. Take care o' my hat! cries a thrush, in a soft,
melancholy voice; then with frightful harshness and severity, where is
your bacca-box! your box! your box! then before any one could answer,
in a tone that said devil may care where the box is or anything else,
gyroc de doc! gyroc de doc! roc de doc! cheboc cheboc! Then came a
tremendous cackle ending with an obstreperous hoo! hoo! ha! from the
laughing jackass, who had caught sight of the red streak in the
sky--harbinger, like himself, of morn; and the piping crows or
whistling magpies modulating and humming and chanting, not like birds,
but like practiced musicians with rich baritone voices, and the next
moment creaking just for all the world like Punch, or barking like a
pug dog. And the delicious thrush with its sweet and mellow tune.
Nothing in an English wood so honey-sweet as his otock otock tock! o
tuee o o! o tuee o o! o chio chee! o chio chee!
But the leather-heads beat all. Niel gow! niel gow! niel gow! off we
go! off we go! off we go! followed by rapid conversations, the words
unintelligible but perfectly articulate, and interspersed with the
oddest chuckles, plans of pleasure for the day, no doubt. Then ri
tiddle tiddle tiddle tiddle tiddle tiddle! playing a thing like a
fiddle with wires; then "off we go" again, and bow! wow! wow! jug!
jug! jug! jug! jug! and the whole lot in exuberant spirits, such
extravagance of drollery, such rollicking jollity, evidently splitting
their sides with fun, and not able to contain themselves for it.
Oh! it was twelve thousand miles above the monotonous and scanty
strains of a European wood; and when the roving and laughing, and
harshly demanding bacca-boxes and then as good as telling you they
didn't care a feather for bacca-boxes or anything else, gyroc de doc!
cheboc cheboc cheboc! and loudly announcing their immediate departure,
and perching in the same place all the more and sweet, low modulations
ending in putting on the steam and creaking like Punch, and then
almost tumbling off the branches with laughing at the general
accumulation of nonsense--when all this drollery and devilry and joy
and absurdity were at their maddest, and a thousand feathered
fountains bubbling song were at their highest, then came the cause of
all the merry hubbub--the pinnacles of rock glowed burnished gold,
Nature, that had crept from gloom to pallor, burst from pallor to
light and life and burning color--the great sun's forehead came with
one gallant stride into the sky--and it was day!
Out shone ten thousand tents of every size and hue and shape, from
Isaac Levi's rood of white canvas down to sugar-loaves, and even to
miserable roofs built on the bare ground with slips of bark, under
which unlucky diggers crept at night like badgers--roofed beds--no
more--the stars twinkling through chinks in the tester. The myriad
tents were clustered for full five miles on each side of the river,
and it wound and sparkled in and out at various distances, and shone
like a mirror in the distant background.
At the first ray the tents disgorged their inmates, and the human hive
began to hum; then came the fight, the maneuvering, the desperate
wrestle with Nature, and the keen fencing with their fellows--in
short, the battle--to which, that nothing might be wanting, out burst
the tremendous artillery of ten thousand cradles louder than thunder,
and roaring and crashing without a pause.
The base of the two-peaked rock that looked so silvery in the moon is
now seen to be covered with manuscript advertisements posted on it; we
can only read two or three as we run to our work:
"_Immense_ reduction in eggs only one shilling each!!! Bevan's
"Go-ahead library and registration office for new chums. Tom Long in
the dead-horse gully."
"If this meets the i of Tom Bowles he will ear of is pal in the
"This is to give notice that whereas my wife Elizabeth Sutton has
taken to drink and gone off with my mate Bob, I will not be answerable
for your debts nor hold any communication with you in future.
A young Jew, Nathan, issued from Levi's tent with a rough table and
two or three pair of scales and other paraphernalia of a gold assayer
and merchant. This was not the first mine by many the old Jew had
His first customers this morning were George and Robinson.
"Our tent was attacked last night, Mr. Levi."
"Tom thinks he has got enemies in the camp."
"Humph! the young man puts himself too forward not to have enemies."
"Well," said George, quickly, "if he makes bitter enemies he makes
George then explained that his nerve and Robinson's were giving way
under the repeated attacks.
"We have had a talk and we will sell the best part of our dust to you,
sir. Give him the best price you can afford for Susan's sake."
And away went George to look for his quartz river, leaving the
ex-thief to make the bargain and receive the money.
In the transaction that followed Mr. Levi did not appear to great
advantage. He made a little advance on the three pounds per ounce on
account of the quantity, but he would not give a penny above three
guineas. No! business was business; he could and would have _given_
George a couple of hundred pounds in day of need, but in buying and
selling the habits of a life could not be shaken off. Wherefore
Robinson kept back eight pounds of gold-dust and sold him the rest for
notes of the Sydney Bank.
"Well, sir," said Tom, cheerfully, "now my heart is light; what we
have got we can carry round our waists now by night or day. Well,
friend, what do you want, poking your nose into the tent?"
Coming out suddenly he had run against a man who was in a suspicious
attitude at the entrance.
"No offense," muttered the man, "I wanted to sell a little gold-dust."
Levi heard what Robinson said, and came quickly out.
He seated himself behind the scales.
"Where is your gold?"
The man fumbled and brought out about an ounce. All the time he
weighed it, the Jew's keen eye kept glancing into his face he lowered
his eyes and could not conceal a certain uneasiness. When he was gone,
Levi asked Robinson whether he knew that face.
"No," said Robinson, "I don't."
Levi called Nathan out.
"Nathan, look at that man, follow him cautiously, and tell me where we
have seen him; above all, know him again. Surely that is the face of
Then the old man asked himself where he had seen such an eye and brow
and shambling walk as that; and he fell into a brown study and groped
among many years for the clew.
"What! is Erin-go-bragh up with the sun for once?" cried Robinson to
Mary McDogherty, who passed him spade on shoulder.
"Sure if she warn't she'd never keep up with Newgut," was the instant
"Hem! how is your husband, Mary?"
"Och, captain, it is a true friend ye are for inquiring. Then it's
tied in a knot he is.
"Mercy on us, tied in a knot?"
"Tied in a knot intirely--wid the rheumatism--and it's tin days I'm
working for him and the childhre, and my heart's broke against gravel
and stone intirely. I wish it was pratees we are digging, I'd maybe
dig up a dinner any way."
"There is no difficulty, the secret is to look in the right place."
"Ay! ay! take your divairsion, ye sly rogue!--I wish ye had my five
"Oh! you spiteful cat!"
"Well, Ede, come to sell?"
"What is to do out there? seems a bit of a crowd."
"What, haven't you heard? it is your friend Jem! he has got a slice of
luck, bought a hole of a stranger, saw the stuff glitter, so offered
him thirty pounds; he was green and snapped at it; and if Jem didn't
wash four ounces out the first cradleful I'm a Dutchman."
"Well, I am right glad of that."
A young digger now approached respectfully. "Police report, captain."
"Hand it here. May I sit at your table a minute, Mr. Levi?" Mr. Levi
"No clew to the parties that attacked our tent last night?"
"None at present, captain, but we are all on the lookout. Some of us
will be sure to hear of something, course of the day, and then I'll
come and tell you. Will you read the report? There is the week's
summary as well."
"Of course I will. Mum! mum! 'Less violence on the whole this week;
more petty larceny.' That is bad. I'll put it down, Mr. Levi. I am
determined to put it down. What an infernal row the cradles make. What
is this? 'A great flow of strangers into the camp, most thought to be
honest, but some great roughs; also a good many Yankees and Germans
come in at the south side.' What is this? 'A thief lynched yesterday.
Flung headforemost into a hole and stuck in the clay. Not expected to
live after it.' Go it, my boys! Didn't I say law is the best for all
parties, thieves included? Leave it, Andrew, I will examine it with
the utmost minuteness."
The dog used fine words on these occasions, that he might pass for a
pundit with his clique, and being now alone he pored over his
police-sheet as solemn and stern as if the nation depended on his
A short explosion of laughter from Andrew interrupted this grave
occupation. The beak looked up with offended dignity, and, in spite of
a mighty effort, fell a sniggering. For following Andrew's eyes he saw
two gig umbrellas gliding erect and peaceful side by side among the
"What on earth are they?"
"Chinamen, captain. They are too lazy to dig. They go about all day
looking at the heaps and poking all over the camp. They have got eyes
like hawks. It is wonderful, I am told, what they contrive to pick up
first and last. What hats! Why, one of 'm would roof a tent."
"What is up now?"
"Hurroo!" And up came Mary McDogherty dancing and jumping as only
Irish ever jumped. She had a lump of dim metal in one hand and a
glittering mass in the other. She came up to the table with a
fantastic spring and spanked down the sparkling mass on it, bounding
back one step like india-rubber even as she struck the table.
"There, ould gintleman, what will ye be after giving me for that? Sure
the luck is come to the right colleen at last."
"I deal but in the precious metals and stones," replied Isaac,
"Sure, and isn't gould a precious metal?"
"Do you offer me this for gold? This is not even a metal. It is
"Mikee?" cried Mary, ruefully, with an inquiring look.
At this juncture in ran George, hot as fire. "There!" cried he,
triumphantly to Robinson, "was I right or wrong? What becomes of your
gold-dust?" And he laid a nugget as big as his fist on the table.
"Ochone!" cried the Irishwoman, "they all have the luck barrin' poor
The mica was handled, and George said to her compassionately, "You
see, my poor girl, the first thing you should do is to heft it in your
hand. Now see, your lump is not heavy like--"
"Pyrites!" said Isaac, dryly, handing George back his lump. "No!
pyrites is heavier than mica--and gold than pyrites."
"Mr. Levi, don't go to tell me this is not a metal," remonstrated
George, rather sulkily, "for I won't have it."
"Nay, it is a metal," replied Levi, calmly, "and a very useful metal,
but not of the precious metals. It is iron."
"How can it be iron when it is yellow? And how is one to know iron
from gold, at any rate?"
"Be patient, my son." said the old Jew calmly, "and learn. Take this
needle. Here is a scale of gold; take it up on the needle-point. You
have done it. Why? Because gold is a soft metal. Now take up this
scale from your pyrites?"
"No, because iron is a hard metal. Here is another childish test--a
bloodstone, called by some the touchstone. Rub the pyrites on it. It
colors it not--a hard metal. Now rub this little nugget of pure gold I
have just bought."
"Ay! this stains the stone yellow."
"A soft metal. Here in this little phial is muriatic acid. Pour a drop
on my nugget. The metal defies it. Now pour on your pyrites. See how
it smokes and perishes. It cannot resist the acid. There are many
other tests, but little needed. No metal, no earthly substance,
resembles gold in the least."
"Not to a Jew's eye," whispered Robinson.
"And much I marvel that any man or even any woman who has been in a
gold mine and seen and handled virgin gold should take mica" (here he
knocked the mica clean off the table) "or pyrites" (here he spanged
that in another direction) "for the royal metal."
"I'll tell you what to do, Mary," began Robinson, cheerfully. "Hallo!
she is crying. Here is a faint heart."
"Och! captain dear, Pat an' me we are kilt right out for want of luck.
Oh! oh! We niver found but one gould--and that was mikee. We can't
fall upon luck of any sort--good, bad or indifferent--that is where
I'm broke and spiled and kilt hintirely. Oh! oh! oh!"
"Don't cry. You have chosen a bad spot."
"Captain, avick, they do be turning it up like carrots on both sides
of huz. And I dig right down as if I'd go through the 'orld back to
dear old Ireland again. He! he! he! oh! oh! An' I do be praying to the
Virgin at every stroke of the spade, I do, and she sends us no gould
at all at all, barrin' mikee, bad cess to 't. Oh!"
"That is it. You are on two wrong tacks. You dig perpendicular and
pray horizontal. Now you should dig horizontal and pray
"Och! captain, thim's hard words for poor Molly McDogherty to quarry
"What is that in your hand?"
"Sure it is an illigant lump of lead I found," replied poor Mary; the
base metal rising in estimation since her gold turned out dross. "Ye
are great with the revolver, captain," said she, coaxingly, "ye'll be
afther giving me the laste pinch of the rale stuff for it?"
Robinson took the lump. "Good heavens! what a weight!" cried he. He
eyed it keenly. "Come, Mr. Levi," cried he, "here is a find; be
generous. She is unlucky."
"I shall be just," said the old man gravely. He weighed the lump and
made a calculation on paper, then handed her forty sovereigns.
She looked at them. "Oh, now, it is mocking me ye are, old man;" and
she would not take the money. On this he put it coolly down on the
"What is it at all?" asked she, faintly.
"Platinum," replied Isaac, coldly.
"And a magnificent lump of it!" cried Robinson, warmly.
"Och, captain! och, captain, dear! and what is plateenum at all--if ye
"It is not like your mica," said Isaac. "See, it is heavier than gold,
and far more precious than silver. It has noble qualities. It resists
even the simple acid that dissolves gold. Fear not to take the money.
I give you but your metal's value, minus the merchant's just profit.
Platinum is the queen of the metals."
"Och, captain, avick! och! och! come here till I eat you!" And she
flung her arm round Robinson's neck, and bestowed a little furious
kiss on him. Then she pranced away; then she pranced back. "Platinum,
you are the boy; y'are the queen of the mitals. May the Lord bless
you, ould gentleman, and the SAINTS BLESS YOU! and the VIRGIN MARY
BLESS YOU!"* And she made at Isaac with the tears in her eyes, to kiss
him; but he waved her off with calm, repulsive dignity. "Hurroo!" And
the child of Nature bounded into the air like an antelope, and frisked
three times; then she made another set at them. "May you live till the
skirts of your coat knock your brains out, the pair of ye! hurroo!"
Then with sudden demureness, "An' here's wishing you all sorts of
luck, good, bad an' indifferent, my darlin's. Plateenum foriver, and
gould to the Divil," cried she, suddenly, with a sort of musical
war-shout, the last words being uttered three feet high in air, and
accompanied with a vague kick, utterly impossible in that position
except to Irish, and intended, it is supposed, to send the obnoxious
metal off the surface of the globe forever. And away she danced.
* These imprecations are printed on the ascending scale by way of
endeavor to show how the speaker delivered them.
Breakfast now! and all the cradles stopped at once.
"What a delightful calm," said Robinson, "now I can study my
police-sheet at my ease."
This morning, as he happened to be making no noise, the noise of
others worried him.
"Mr. Levi, how still and peaceful they are when their time comes to
grub. 'The still sow sups the kail,' as we used to say in the north;
the English turn the proverb differently, they say 'The silent hog--'"
"Jabber! jabber! jabber!--aie! aie!"
"Hallo! there's a scrimmage! and there go all the fools rushing to see
it. I'll go, too!"
Alas! poor human nature; the row was this. The peaceful children of
the moon, whom last we saw gliding side by side, vertical and
seemingly imperturbable, had yielded to the _genius loci,_ and were
engaged in bitter combat, after the manner of their nation. The gig
umbrellas were resolved into their constituent parts; the umbrellas
proper, or hats, lay on the ground--the sticks or men rolled over one
another scratching and biting. Europe wrenched them asunder with much
pain, and held them back by their tails, grinning horribly at each
other, and their long claws working unamiably.
The diggers were remonstrating; their morality was shocked.
"Is that the way to fight? What are fists given us for, ye varmint?"
Robinson put himself at the head of the general sentiment. "I must do
a bit of beak here!!!" cried he; "bring those two tom-cats up before
The proposal was received with acclamation. A high seat was made for
the self-constituted beak, and Mr. Stevens was directed to make the
Orientals think that he was the lawful magistrate of the mine. Mr.
Stevens, entering into the fun, persuaded the Orientals, who were now
gig umbrellas again, that Robinson was the mandarin who settled
property, and possessed, among other trifles, the power of life and
death. On this they took off their slippers before him, and were
awestruck, and secretly wished they had not kicked up a row, still
more that they had stayed quiet by the banks of the Hoang-ho.
Robinson settled himself, demanded a pipe, and smoked calm and
terrible, while his myrmidons kept their countenances as well as they
could. After smoking in silence a while, he demanded of the Chinese,
"What was the row?"
1st Chinaman. "Jabber! jabber! jabber!"
2d Chinaman. "Jabber! jabber! jabber!"
Both. "Jabber! jabber! jabber!"
"What is that? Can't they speak any English at all?"
"No wonder they can't conduct themselves, then," remarked a digger.
The judge looked him into the earth for the interruption.
"You get the story from them, and tell it."
After a conference, Mr. Stevens came forward.
"It is about a nugget of gold, which is claimed by both parties."
Robinson. "Stop! bring that nugget into court; that is the regular
Great interest began to be excited, and all their necks craned
forward--when Mr. Stevens took from one of the Chinese the cause of so
sanguinary a disturbance, and placed it on the judge's table. A roar
of laughter followed--it was between a pea and a pin's head in
Robinson. "You know this is shocking. Asia, I am ashamed of you.
Silence in the court! Proceed with the evidence."
Mr. Stevens. "This one saw the gold shining, and he said to the other,
Robinson (writing his notes). "Said--to--the-other--'Ah!'--Stop! what
was the Chinese for 'ah'?"
Andrew. "Come! the beggars have got hold of some of our words!"
Robinson. "Silence in the court!"
Andrew. "I ask pardon, captain."
Stevens. "But the other pounced on it first, so they both claim it."
Robinson. "Well! I call it a plain case."
Stevens. "So I told them."
Robinson. "Exactly! Which do you think ought to have it?"
Stevens. "Why, I told them we have a proverb--'Losers,
Robinson. "Of course; and which was the finder?"
Stevens. "Oh! of course this one that--hum! Well, to be sure he only
said 'ah!' he did not point. Then perhaps--but on the other
Robinson. "Why, don't you see? but no!--yes! why it must be the one
that--ugh! Drat you both! why couldn't one of you find it, and the
Robinson was puzzled. At last he determined that this his first
judgment should satisfy both parties.
"Remove the prisoners," said he; "are they the prisoners or the
witnesses? remove them anyway, and keep them apart."
Robinson then searched his pockets, and produced a little gold
swan-shot scarce distinguishable from the Chinese. He put this on the
table, and took up the other.
"Fetch in number one!"
The Chinaman came in with obeisances and misgivings; but when the
judge signed to him to take up the gold, which he mistook for the
cause of quarrel, his face lightened with a sacred joy--he receded,
and with a polite gesture cleared a space; then, advancing one foot
with large and lofty grace, he addressed the judge, whose mouth began
to open with astonishment, in slow, balanced and musical sentences.
This done, he retired with three flowing salaams, to which the judge
replied with three little nods.
"What on earth did the beggar say? What makes you grin, Mr. Stevens?"
Stevens. "He said--click!"
Robinson. "Come! tell me first, laugh after."
Stevens. "He said, 'May your highness flourish like a tree by the side
of a stream that never overflows, yet is never dry, but
glides--(click!)--even and tranquil as the tide of your prosperity--'"
Robinson. "Well, I consent!"
Stevens. "'May dogs defile the graves of your enemies! '"
Robinson. "With all my heart! provided I am not dancing over them at
Stevens. "When satiated with earthly felicity, may you be received in
paradise by seventy dark-eyed houris--'"
Robinson. "Oh! my eye!"
Stevens. "Click! 'Each bearing in her hand the wine of the faithful;
and may the applause of the good at your departure resemble the waves
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