The Miner’s Right

Chapter VII

Rolf Boldrewood


SOME DIFFICULTY was encountered in quelling the gambling mania among the Chinese. Watchful and cunning, though they were in the habit of congregating to play ‘fan-tan’ for largish sums, the police never could catch them. One fortunate evening the sergeant surrounded the house of Mr. Lin Yun, and captured thirty-five Mongolians in all, bringing with him, in triumph, their strange instruments, their copper and brass counters, and all kinds of collateral evidences. A handy interpreter was found, and the upshot was that Lin Yun was fined ten pounds, and the rest five pounds each, with a threat of imprisonment for the next offence. This broke up the confederacy.

When the Chinese are in excess of, or nearly approach in number the white population, they are difficult to manage. It was not so as yet in Yatala, though a time came. As traders or labourers, house servants or gardeners, they were more industrious than and as trustworthy as the whites; while their breaches of the law were by no means numerous, considering their proportion to the population. After a quarrel in a gambling house, one Chinaman drew a knife and stabbed another, with whom he had an altercation. The others at once secured him, while a messenger ran to report to the sergeant, by whom the culprit was at once carried into captivity. He was subsequently committed for trial in due course, the court-house being crowded with his countrymen, and at the assizes found guilty and sentenced to death. His sentence was, however, commuted to imprisonment for life.

Looking back upon that exceptional, perhaps abnormal settlement, of which, however, I was for some years so completely a part that I doubted at times if my old life at Dibblestowe Leys, with my visits to Allerton Court, and my morning tramplings over the brown fallows, had not been a dream, and this my true and real existence, I see many things to be admired as well as some which were to be deplored and condemned.

Let me here testify of my own knowledge and experience to a much more than ordinary amount of Christianity. By this I mean that adoption of the spirit of our religion, which finds vent in sympathy, charity, and abstinence from evil speaking and evil judging.

The main body of miners are, by circumstances, led to assume much of the demeanour and mode of thought which prevails in club life. They have graduated in the University of Travel, and are in a general way too experienced as gentlemen adventurers, and men of the world, to go blurting out their sentiments, like simple villagers, upon every tiny question of manners and morals that arises. Prompt and decided in action when need arises, they fully appreciate these qualities in their rulers. But they exercise a large measure of toleration, and have learned very thoroughly the high expediency of each man minding his own business. Only watch their bearing in the case of the family of a dead comrade, of hospital funds, of sudden misfortune or bereavement, of undeserved obloquy. I have never seen any body of men, in any land, so ready of hand in relief, so prompt and generous in aid, so delicate and effusive in sympathy.

A modern community is incomplete without its newspaper. At Yatala there were two, diametrically opposed, of course, in law, religion, and politics. One journal was strictly conservative, upholding the Government, with the administration of justice, and all things and persons pertaining thereto. The other, the Watchman, was democratic, not to say destructive, scoffing at the constituted authorities, sneering at the police, badgering the magistrates, impeaching the Commissioner himself, and continually calling on the great body of miners ‘to assemble in the night and sweep away all tyrants and goldfields officials, together with the absurd contradictory regulations which hampered their honest efforts and tramelled their virtuous industry.’ The editor of this exciting, not to say inflammatory journal, was named Fitzgerald Keene.

Clever, fairly educated, and morally unprejudiced, he, like another historical scribe, was quite capable of raising a wale upon that epidermis which it suited him to thong, whenever such to him seemed necessary for the purpose of the hour. Ingenious in discovering the weak point of an adversary, he would concentrate and exaggerate until the uninitiated were almost fain to believe that there must be some ground for this furious invective, this wholesale denunciation.

When once he had singled out an official for attack, no part of the whole moral surface seemed to escape him. Caution was cowardice and irresolution, pitiful indecision, conscious incompetence; firmness was obstinacy; decision was tyranny; coolness was contempt of the toiling masses; silence was dumb idiocy; speech in explanation was drivelling insanity or ludicrous display of ignorance. There was no pleasing him.

‘The only cure (of course) for all this miserable official muddling and disgraceful apathy on the part of an effete and corrupt government that stood tamely by while a great interest was being plundered and blundered through daily, was that the hardy and intelligent miners of Yatala should “roll up,” and take the law, the government, the land, and the gold into their own hands.’

After reading one of these anti-monarchical productions, Mr. Merlin, with his customary coolness, intimated to the editor that it was very well written—so much so that he himself would not be surprised if some fine day it, or a similar proclamation, did actually arouse the mining population to some mad revolutionary act; in which case he would take upon himself to arrest the author of the whole mischief—the writer himself—and that he would so far honour him as to make the arrest with his, Merlin’s, own hands.

Mr. Keene turned rather pale at this piece of voluntary information, which he did not work up into a ‘paragraph.’ For some weeks afterwards there was decidedly less red pepper in the leading articles of the Watchman.

It was not to be supposed that the rough and ready partition of twenty or thirty tons of gold, to the value of something under two millions of pounds sterling, was to be effected without a little litigation. Law, of course, there was in abundance, and a very good thing, too, though it bore hard upon our particular party. The vulgar error arises that disputes are more easily settled without law or lawyers. Such is by no means the case. Unlearned people, when the casus belli is presumably important, are tedious and difficult to deal with. Unaware of the nature of evidence, they waste the time of the court far more than any professional men, however prone to take objections.

In order to lay down the law there must of necessity be lawyers. At Yatala there were four, who not infrequently had their hands full between police cases, civil processes, and mining suits. When it is borne in mind that the mining laws, as settled by statute and the regulations founded thereon, were in some instances intricate and, perhaps, ambiguous, that a large discretionary power was vested in the Commissioner, and that a cheap and accessible court of appeal existed,—a rehearing before two magistrates, who were empowered to reverse the most elaborate decision of a Commissioner, if they saw fit,—it may be calculated how many suits came on for hearing before our administrators, and how crowded the court-house was on nearly every day in the week.

The legal gentlemen consisted of duly qualified solicitors. Such only were empowered to plead and conduct cases before the court on behalf of clients. No miner was debarred from pleading his own cause, but he was not permitted to cross-examine witnesses, or to address the court on behalf of another. It was held that such conduct would trench on the vested rights and privileges of professional gentlemen. And as all matters were settled at Yatala—notwithstanding it was a goldfield, and a diggings in far-away Australia—principally and in accordance with ‘the law of England, in that case made and provided,’ and not as ardent reformers chose to suggest, so the status of the profession was upheld.

The chief personages among the band of advocates, who occasionally pocketed in a week fees that would have made a junior barrister’s mouth water, were Mr. Markham and Mr. Cramp. They were nearly always employed on different sides, and either had or simulated a distinct personal antagonism—whether merely forensic or otherwise it was difficult to determine; but the fierceness of their tones, the bitterness of their sarcasms, the desperate tenacity with which they fought over the last shred of the probability of victory, with the power and elaboration of their addresses to the court, would have stamped them as advocates of a high order before any tribunal.

There was, perhaps, no great difference in their legal attainments. In mining experience they were level. Both had paid in hard cash, in common with all outside speculators, for whatever trustworthy knowledge of actual mining they had gained. No wonder that they threw sufficient energy into their advocacy of mining suits, when it was no uncommon thing in the flush times of a goldfield for the lawyer on either side to receive a half or quarter sleeping share in the mining property at stake. In one instance, a quarter share so given, or promised, realised within a short space of time no less a sum than two thousand three hundred pounds sterling.

Mr. Markham was a ruddy-faced, full-whiskered, middle-aged bachelor. He apparently kicked all care behind him, and thought of nothing but his business during the day, with a steady game of whist in the evening, and a few congenial friends with whom to share the flowing bowl, which regularly at 11 P.M. made its appearance in the shape of whisky and water. His friends said he was a man of regular habits, and knew exactly how much was good for him. His enemies said that he drank hard, if regularly, and was undermining his constitution. They called him careless, indolent, and fitful in the discharge of his duties. His friends (and they were many and less lukewarm than such easy-going well-wishers generally are) averred that no more watchful and rusé diplomatist ever veiled consummate art under a carefully careless manner. However that might be, Mr. Markham had a pretty high average of verdicts to score to his legal bat, and in all leading mining or criminal cases some curiosity was always displayed to know which side Markham was on.

A family man, of staid and austere morals, Mr. Cramp had his own good points, and was valued accordingly. He was closely and technically acquainted with mining and common law to an extent that made him a dangerous antagonist, when anything was to be gained by a fatal objection. When a point of law happened to be in his favour he would seize upon it and shake it, as a learned judge remarked, ‘like a dog shaking a rat.’ There was no fear of a Bench or a Commissioner forgetting his vantage ground, once he descried it. Painstaking and perspicuous, he was dangerous with a bad case, and irresistible with a good one. A tendency to irritability, of which his adversaries occasionally made use, was perhaps his weak point. But he was conscious of this defect, and under ordinary circumstances refused to ‘rise’ to any bait, however tempting.

Of the two other professional gentlemen, one was a Frenchman, who had successfully mastered the difficulties of our English tongue, as well as the intricacy of our laws. He was indeed a man of unusual talent—an orator, a logician, a tribune of the people, a republican of very advanced opinions. But for the genuine British distrust of a foreigner, Dr. Bellair would have taken a high rank as a political leader as well as a lawyer and a physician. But the invincible British prejudice against ‘a Eyetalian, a Mossoo, or summat o’ that there sort,’ was sufficient to neutralise the fire of his oratory, the fervour of his philanthropy, and the ardour of his (adopted) patriotism. The Bench had occasionally great difficulty in controlling him; his temper was utterly unmanageable, and occasionally landed him in disrespectful allusions to the quality of the law as at Yatala administered. The magistrates with much tact and kindness bore with him, trusting to his sense of propriety, which was delicate, to bring matters round. But the Commissioner, who was too awful a potentate to be bearded with impunity, had once sworn that he would incarcerate him in that provisional dungeon, ‘the Logs,’ if he did not then and there apologise and retract certain words, which he accordingly, with a bad grace, consented to do.

The fourth advocate was an elderly gentleman, who had formerly enjoyed a large metropolitan experience, and a well-deserved reputation for exactitude in the recollection of statutory enactments from Carolus I upwards. He was scarcely so familiar with the subtleties of mining law and phraseology as his younger brethren, and though as good as ever in the labyrinth of common law, found a difficulty in adapting himself to these latter-day developments. However, so great was the general press of legal exercise that he had his hands full, and was rarely without more business than he could get through at his somewhat steady pace.

However, for some few weeks there came one of those lulls and seasons of depression which occasionally take place on goldfields. None of the claims, except the Nova Scotia, had been yielding richly for some time. We had cleared out from that unlucky neighbourhood, and were down fifty feet on the Liberator Lead, so called after the great Dan O’Connell, a party of whose countrymen had taken up a prospecting claim, of which strong hopes were entertained. So much confidence was felt that the value of shares all along the lead were steadily rising, and we, in No. 4, began to hope that we might be in for a good thing at last.

That man must be inconsiderable of mark, extremely cautious or unnaturally inoffensive, who does not possess enemies. Among these natural antagonists, who seem born for the chief purpose of working evil to foredoomed men and women, one individual always stands prominently forward. Whether fostered by chance, or developed by circumstances, the enmity is unmistakable. Deadly, unsleeping hate fills the whole nature of the creature. And they are exceptionally fortunate for whom the gods act as shield and buckler, so that the evil eye is dimmed, and the renegade from civilisation foiled.

The dangerous classes of Yatala, very fully represented at times, held among their evil celebrities a man named Algernon Malgrade. He had been known by name to me before I left England as a gambler and a low profligate. By birth one of an old county family, he was shunned by acquaintances and scouted by relatives. More than one shady transaction had left him not wholly unscathed. Toleration is long extended to the merely extravagant and selfish spendthrift, so long as certain society laws are not infringed. But at length a day came when a wholly unpardonable escapade caused Algy Mal, as his friends and humble imitators called him, to be ‘cut’ beyond all hope of rehabilitation. The flat of expulsion from the inner circle is often delayed; but when it once goes forth the sentence is stern and irrevocable. Malgrade strove against it, with a sneer and a mocking laugh, for a while. But the odds were too great, and one fine day, like many another bad bargain, the goldfields of Australia were enriched by his presence and example.

We met at Yatala soon after his arrival. Flush of money, as not having wholly exhausted his outfit, he was looked up to by the, perhaps, not fastidious set with which he chose to ally himself. He was by way of greeting me as an old acquaintance. We had met more than once, but I repelled his overtures, and showed his companions plainly that I meant to keep clear of him. From that moment the whole evil nature of the man seemed to concentrate itself in a settled and passionate hatred, as violent as it was irrational.

In a score of different ways he soon announced himself as my sworn foe and antagonist. At all the meetings upon matters of local interest we invariably were ranged on opposite sides. He was not without talent; indeed, he possessed a superabundance of natural gifts, which he might have turned to material advantage had he listed. He had a persuasive manner of talking when he cared to hide the unclean spirit which dwelt ever within him. He was accomplished, graceful, and, as far as animal courage went, utterly fearless. Reckless and remorseless, he needed but mediæval power to have furnished a true type of the Visconti of old, sparing neither man in his anger nor woman in his lust. In these modern days, and under the democratic miner rule, such personages are only covertly dangerous.

At the amiable Algy, therefore, we could afford to laugh, and the Major, more than once, caused the evil sneer to deepen by carelessly inquiring whether he had heard from home lately, or whether a club to which they both formerly belonged was still as celebrated for its Madeira as ever. From this abode of bliss we knew that Malgrade had been driven forth by a well-nigh unanimous ballot of the members.

Though I had the worst possible opinion of his heart, and regarded the man’s intellect as merely subservient to his appetites, I could not for the life of me return his detestation of me in kind, or cease to take a certain interest in his actions. For one thing, he was wonderfully good-looking. His recklessly indulged passions had, as yet, written no evil record upon face or form. The fair hair was still bright, the blue eyes still steadfast and clear. And a certain appearance of fallen-angel pride clung to him in the midst of his degradation. I could not help cherishing a dim hope that some day he might thrust from him the foul incrustation of vice and crime, and return to his natural position among men.

The Major never omitted to laugh at my credulous optimisms, and to sneer at my ignorance of the world, on these occasions.

‘You ought to know a thing or two by this time, Harry, but I doubt if you ever will,’ he would say. ‘If a man doesn’t pick up an accurate method of gauging the moral attributes of his fellow-men at a goldfield he will never analyse worth a cent. And here you are, just as much carried away by this infernal scoundrel’s regular features and soft voice, as that handsome pantheress that he’s stolen somewhere. She’ll poison him some day or he’ll knock her brains out, I feel certain. And what the loss to society would be in either case, I should fear to over-estimate by the faintest expression of regret.’

‘You are rather too hard on the other side,’ I made answer. ‘You have no sympathy for human weakness. I say it is a piteous thing to see the decadence of creatures originally noble and formed for higher things.’

‘Bah!’ retorted my unconvinced friend. ‘Do you remember what Athos and Co. did with Miladi? That she-devil of a Dolores—she’s no more Spanish than I am Greek—will give you a rough turn, as Cyrus would say, some day, if you let her so much as look at you—“I think I knows ’em!”’

All of a sudden, without any previous warning, a wonderful rumour arose that the prospectors in the Liberator Lead had struck incredible gold. Although they had not yet announced it, the excitement occasioned by this statement was astounding to those who had never known the tremendous force of the passions which, from time to time, stir the crowds which make up a goldfield’s population. At one moment you would imagine them to be the most logical, law-abiding body of men in the world; at another time a brigade of red republicans would be liberal conservatives compared to them. In this instance no one but an eye-witness could have credited the turmoil which arose. As the report was soon passed around in every paper in the colony, strangers began to arrive within a month of the first announcement, whose worn draught animals and vehicles told of far and fast journeying. Every unoccupied person, male or female, young or old, from Yatala and within twenty miles of it, was apparently massed around the wings of the famed Liberator Lead. Daily the numbers swelled. The forest was felled. Huts were erected in all directions. Tents were like the sands of the sea for multitude, or the advance guard of an army. All was eager excitement and feverish expectation. The prospectors of the Liberator, as of every other lead or course of auriferous deposit, were bound by the regulations then in force to report ‘payable gold’ as soon as such had been struck, and to hoist a red flag as denoting the discovery. In default of such advertisement, for the general benefit, they were liable, according to custom and practice, to have their claim ‘jumped’ or taken forcible possession of by any party of miners who could prove that they were concealing the golden reality.

The prospectors made no sign. They refused to state precisely what the indications were. They simply declared that they had not as yet ‘bottomed’ or sunk down to the alluvial drift, immediately above the bed rock, and which alone is likely to be auriferous. Some of the impatient holders of claims on ‘the line’ frontage, and others, who were merely ‘blockers’ or the occupants of ordinary chance claims, anywhere in the vicinity, were more than impatient—they were threatening and abusive. They insisted that the shareholders were ’on gold,’ for their own purposes hiding the nature of the deposit, cheating the public, disobeying the regulations, and injuring their fellow miners.

The chief man of the party, a grand-looking herculean Milesian, quietly rejoined that they had not bottomed yet, that they had nothing to show or report, though the indications were good, that when the time came they would at once report at the Commissioner’s office. In the meantime they would answer no questions, nor let any one go down their shaft, except by order of the Commissioner.

That gentleman, who had condescended to appear on the occasion, and who began to realise that a crisis was approaching, asked Mr. Phelim O’Shaughnessy how long they expected to be, the sinking being easy, before they were on the drift?

‘About a week.’

‘Then, on this day week I will be here,’ said Captain Blake, addressing himself both to the speaker and the mob, ‘and on that day, whether gold be reported or otherwise, I will send down two men to examine the workings and to report to me.’

‘All right, your honour,’ replied Phelim. ‘There’s no two ways about us. Any one your honour likes to send down is welcome, but we’re not going to let all the rapscallions in the country down our shaft just because they happen to think we’re to slave and murther ourselves intirely for their convanience—to find gold for the likes o’them—coch ’em up, indeed; the lazy naygurs.’

At ten o’clock in the morning of Monday, the 17th May, which was the day week following, the Commissioner sat on his horse beside the shaft, in much the same careless attitude as before. But the scene was changed in some important particulars. Gold had been duly reported. A red flag proudly flaunted from a lofty pole in front of the claim, while a crowd of five thousand souls, eager, earnest, dangerously roused at once by the strong passions of greed and anxiety, swayed and surged around the little group.

On a new and presumably rich lead it was no unusual matter to see a concourse of this kind. But rarely was there so much feeling shown as here. Rarely were there so many knitted brows and scowling faces; rarely so much savage and insubordinate language. How had it all come about? Mr. Merlin, with a couple of troopers, well armed and mounted, rode behind the Commissioner. Why was this semi-warlike accompaniment?

The solution was this. A short time previous several fresh regulations had been drafted, and had become law, which to a certain extent altered the existing customs, more particularly as regarded frontage.

That which more particularly affected the present question was Regulation 22, reciting as follows:—

‘When the sinking in new ground shall be found not to reach a depth of a hundred feet in dry ground, or sixty feet in wet or rocky ground, of which the bottoming of three or more shafts on the supposed line of lead shall be a sufficient test, unless the Commissioner shall specially sanction a further testing, all marking on the line of lead shall be null and void, and the ground shall be open for taking up claims in the block form, the frontage holders having a preference to select their claims in rotation, according to their priority of occupation on the supposed lead.’

This then was it which so agitated the seething human mass, which by this time included, as well as the true miner, men of every rank, trade, and occupation, lured to the banks of the Waraldah Creek by the wildly exaggerated reports which had gone forth.

So much depended upon the accident of the golden drift being struck at a foot or two below instead of above the magic number of a hundred feet.

Should this rich deposit be proved to lie at or beneath the specified depth, the rich claims, already numbered and registered as far as fifty, down the lead, would belong only and inalienably to those who had months before occupied and registered them according to law.

But should the golden seed of discord repose upon a drift shallower than the regulation number of feet, every man in the crowd might deem that he had a share in the golden subterraneous channel; possibly might delve within a fortnight into a recess as rich as that of Aladdin, or of the one to which Ali Baba procured the entrée at so great personal risk.

But would the Commissioner pronounce the ’open sesame’? For it lay with him—with him only rested the responsibility, graver than often befalls one man in a century, of dashing to the ground the hopes of a body of hardworking legitimate miners, or of unloosing the flood of half-infuriated physical force, which needed but one word from his lips to burst the bonds of restraint. The anxious chafing thousands were only too ready to scatter themselves with pick and shovel, a swarm of human locusts, upon the golden ground which they seemed to devour with their eyes.

The word was ‘Block.’ But would Captain Blake utter it?

There was much to be done yet. Both sides were strongly represented—legally, officially, socially, as well as numerically.

‘And many a banner will be torn.
And many a knight to earth be borne.
And many a sheaf of arrows spent.
Ere Scotland’s King shall cross the Trent.’

‘In the first place, I shall send down two practical miners to examine the wash,’ quoth he. ‘I intend to satisfy myself as to the fact of payable gold to begin with.’

He looked around—scanning the faces of the miners nearest to him—on the crowd.

‘Here, Tom Denman, and you, Geordie, my boy, get away down and send up a couple of dishes of wash-dirt. Then we shall all see if it’s worth fighting about, and not have a row about nothing.’

Two stalwart miners stepped forward, and the man called Geordie, a middle-sized but tremendously muscular specimen from ‘cannie Newcassel,’ putting his foot in a loop of the rope, closed his hands upon it above his head, and was rapidly lowered down. In a few minutes the rope came up empty, and Tom Denman descended.

In less than a quarter of an hour the hammer indicator rose and fell upon its tin sheet, whereupon the rawhide bucket used for the purpose brought to light a collection of sand, quartz fragments, rounded pebbles, and gritty greenish clay-loam. This was unanimously pronounced a ‘very nice wash,’ and being placed in a couple of tin dishes beneath the strict supervision of the Commissioner, was taken to a neighbouring pool of water and placed in readiness for the two miners who had excavated it. These returned gnomes having been brought to light, at once commenced to ‘pan off,’ according to the recognised rule and practice.

Dipping the full dish into the pool, each man held the vessel aslant while he washed among the gravel and small stones, permitting the water to flow uninterruptedly over and away from the wash-dirt. The clay-stained water assumed a bright yellow hue. As the stones became cleared of the encrusting dirt, the miner carefully examined them for traces of adhering gold and then threw them on one side. Gradually the sand and clay disappeared over the rim, in the unvaried steady flow of water, the dish being held slightly downwards and off the level.

The sandy deposit at the bottom grew finer and finer, as with a peculiar half circular motion the water and the outer grains were ejected and the heavier particles retained. At length there remained but a narrow segment of darkish sand at the bottom of each dish, while plain for all to see was a streak of deep though dull yellow particles, chiefly fine in grain, but sprinkled with coarser grains, some of which were of the size of wheat.

‘Here you are, sir,’ quoth Tom Denman, exhibiting the residuum respectfully to the Commissioner. ‘There’s no mistake about that. Geordie and I took these from different parts of “the face.” I haven’t seen such a prospect for some time. A good half ounce to the dish, and Geordie’s, I can see from here, is better.’

‘I declare the Prospecting Claim of the Liberator Lead,’ said the Commissioner, passing the dish to the nearest of the eager crowd, ‘to be in possession of payable gold.’

The first man who looked at it shouted out, ‘half an ounce to the dish,’ and threw up his hat. Hundreds, of course, were not near enough to see, but the tone and the action were sufficient. A cheer rose from the vast multitude that roused the wallaroos in the sandstone spurs of the Dividing Range miles away.

‘The next thing to determine,’ said the Commissioner, ‘is the depth of sinking. A good deal will depend upon that. One of you men give my compliments to Mr. Underlay, the mining surveyor, and ask him if he will come here. I wish him to measure this shaft. I know he is not far off.’

‘It’s never a hundred feet sinking,’ yelled an excited miner, in a ragged red shirt. ‘All the field knows it ain’t much over ninety. They may have bin and sunk through the bottom to make it handy for their friends in No. 1 and 2, where they’ve got half shares. But there’s no hundred feet in it, and it ought to be “block” out and out, this blessed minit.’

Here the multitude caught up the word, and sounded it over and over again in a vast reverberating chorus. For nearly a quarter of an hour nothing could be heard but ‘block’—‘block’—‘block.’

‘What the devil do you mean by making all that row, you fellows,’ said the Commissioner irascibly. ‘Do you think it will make any difference in my decision if you yelled yourselves hoarse and shouted till doomsday. Thank you, Mr. Underlay,’ he continued, with a rapid change of manner. ‘Will you have the goodness to go down this shaft and measure the exact depth from the surface to the top of the “wash.” That I shall take leave to consider to be the real depth of sinking.’

Before he had well done speaking, Mr. Underlay, the mining surveyor, an active, resolute-looking youngster, had his hand upon the rope, and was on his way towards the lower regions. After a short sojourn he reappeared, holding a tape line, and after comparing and verifying his measurements, pronounced the words ‘Ninety-eight feet eleven inches.’

Again a wild cheer rent the air, while the excited individuals of the outer crowd so pushed inwards under the impression that ‘block’ was to be declared, and claims given away there and then, that the Commissioner’s horse began to get impatient, and Mr. Merlin and his troopers were under the necessity of turning round their chargers several times, which resulted in inconvenience to the toes and other portions of the frames of the vanguard.

‘Understand once and for all,’ said Captain Blake, ‘that by Regulation No. 22 I am bound to allow three shafts to be bottomed on gold, on the course of the lead, before I finally decide upon the average depth of sinking, and before I declare the lead to be worked either under block or frontage. I shall, therefore, return this day week at the same hour. If the requisite number of shafts have been bottomed on the lead by that period, I will deliver my decision as to the question of block or frontage.’

Then a hoarse roar arose from the crowd, as of some hungry monster baulked of its prey. But further remonstrance or interference was not thought of. The Captain rode carelessly and peacefully homeward, lighting his cigar, and calling to his dogs, as if no such torments as gold and gold diggers, prospectors and claim-holders, frontage men and blockers, existed upon the hardly entreated earth.


The Miner’s Right - Contents    |     Chapter VIII


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