The Miner’s Right

Chapter IX

Rolf Boldrewood

IT IS generally taken for granted in Britain that every person in a colony must of necessity know, or be known by, everybody else. Mr. Smith, of Sydney, on furlough, is importuned to carry a letter to Mr. Jones’s cousin in Queensland, while his disclaimer as to personal knowledge of Miss Thompson’s brother in Victoria is evidently looked upon with suspicion. It seems hopeless to attempt to convey to old-world people correct ideas of the enormous distances which separate the settlements of a newly-peopled continent; impossible almost to explain the nature of those social divisions which still further tend to prevent the universal brotherhood which is held to characterise the Arcadian existence of colonists.

They cannot imagine the necessity for such lines of demarcation ‘in a colony,’ clearly as they are defined and rigidly enforced in every third-rate county town and old-fashioned village in Britain.

As a matter of fact, there are few places in the world, London excepted, where individuals may be more securely hidden from kith or kin, early friends, and later acquaintances than in Australia. And no place in Australia furnishes greater facilities for personal effacement than a large goldfield. A squarely built man in ordinary miner’s garb, known as Jack Scott only by his associates, passes by carrying a tin dish and a shovel: how are you to divine that this particular Jack is the son of a clergyman, and the grandson of a general in the Indian army, who will presently die and leave him a fortune, when the whole thing comes out? You are summoned as a juror to attend the coroner’s inquest held on a poor fellow found in an eighty-feet shaft, where he has fallen overnight, having missed his way in the dark. He was ‘Bill Jones’ to all men, and lo! his brother arrives from town to attend the funeral, and it seems poor, easy-going, unambitious Bill, contented with the society of ‘equals’—the shareholders in the claim—and an occasional carouse, was the cadet of an ancient house, the members of which are broken-hearted at his early ignoble death. How many instances of this decadence had I noted? How often had I dreaded in moments of despondency a like fate; shuddering to contemplate in myself a possible waif, hopelessly stranded on the shore of despair and evil hap!

It had easily occurred, then, that Jane Mangold and I, though we had been living considerably less than a hundred miles apart, had never met, had never heard of each other, until this recent chance. Now that I was assured of her near presence, an intensely eager desire, a thrill repeated from the ardent boyish period, when

She was a part of those fresh days to me,’

urged me with resistless power to gaze upon that face once more of my old friend and playmate.’

I had often analysed my feelings towards the girl who had so nearly been linked for ever with my destiny. I had never been absolutely ‘in love’ with her, as the phrase goes. But the vivid unreasoning admiration of early youth for the first fair form and face might easily have ripened into a passion. From this misfortune—the grave error of declining to a lower level of birth, breeding, intellect, and sentiment—I was saved by a loftier, a purer, a more absorbing devotion.

Yet he who has once been inspired by a woman, even with feelings short of the highest degree of admiring interest, rarely ceases to regard her with a peculiar tenderness. If there be generosity in his nature, he is ever ready to stand forth as her champion, ready with aid or counsel. And students of the human heart are wont to aver that the friendship which might have been love has ere now expressed itself in acts of sublime self-abnegation to which the world furnishes few parallels.

On the following Saturday, therefore, I borrowed a horse for the journey to Warraluen, ‘putting a man on’—that is, hiring an experienced miner for the sum of ten shillings per diem, to perform my duty in the claim until my return.

Before the stars had left the sky, I rode quietly and steadily forth, thereby giving my horse, fresh from a run on grass but a few days since, a chance of settling to his work by degrees. As the sun rose higher I quickened my pace, and riding fast, but not unreasonably, the well-seasoned animal brought me within sight of the substantial little township of Warraluen before sundown.

As I rode up the narrow street, serpentine in construction, as in all gold-founded townships, I looked carefully for the hotel which I had been informed that Edward Morsley kept. The settlement differed in some respects from the one I had quitted. Its prosperity depended almost wholly upon quartz reefs. In their nature, the reefs or ledges of quartz rock are more permanent as to the gold crop than the alluvial deposits which can be rifled in a comparatively short time. Whereas the great depth of the matrix, as a rule, and consequently slow, steady extraction of the golden stone, necessitates a more protracted service, a more settled population. Hence the populations of ‘reeling districts’ are for the most part famed for comfortable cottages, well-grown orchards, and a general air of well-paid, contented labouring life.

The miners in this particular locality were chiefly Cornish-men, hereditarily accustomed to subterranean labour in their own land. Laborious, enduring, and efficient in their own occupation, to which many of them had served a life-long apprenticeship thousands of feet below old ‘ocean’s swells and falls,’ in Wheal Maria or The Great Dungavel, they were said to be by no means so suave of manner or agreeable in association as their cosmopolitan brethren of the alluvial goldfields. The aggressive, sullen nature of the untravelled Briton was still uncorrected by association with the outer world. They formed a community within themselves, and, as such, shut up to the development of their own peculiar tendencies, some of which were less pleasing than remarkable.

At this particular time the reefs at one end of the line of shafts, upon a mountain crest far above the town, had been lately yielding enormously, and were renowned throughout Australia. The ‘Cousin Jacks’ were, therefore, in great force. Much given to brawling amongst themselves, they were more than likely to be uncivil to strangers. The small force of police, hitherto thought sufficient for their subjugation, was all inadequate when a dozen reefs in line were sending up ten ounce stone—even better than that, it was whispered, and hundreds of wages men, employed by the great absentee companies, received their three pounds each as regularly as Saturday came.

In some respects, therefore, I had arrived at an inopportune season. Saturday night was pay night, and the vinous aspect of the groups I encountered—so different from the men at Yatala, except perhaps upon a high festival—convinced me that I had chosen a bad day for my entrance into Warraluen. However, I bestowed myself at the first available inn, and after needful refreshments and a couple of hours’ rest, strolled out into the well-lighted streets.

‘Well, lad,’ said a short man, whose blue-black curly hair and deep-set eyes betrayed the ‘Cousin Jack,’ while his enormous spread of chest redeemed him from any imputation of insignificance, ‘thou farest all as one as a stranger, loike? Where be’st bound?’

‘To Morsley’s Inn, if I can find it among these crooked streets of yours,’ I said, slightly irritated at my want of success and inauspicious surroundings.

‘Black Ned?’ said the pocket Hercules, rolling himself around, and not resenting the imputation on his town, but steadying himself for a comprehensive look at me. ‘Be’st a friend o’ thatn? Not by the looks o’ thee—danged sight more loike to be friends with yon pratty mawther as he’s gotten boxed-up there wi’ him—more’s the pity.’

‘Can you show me the house?’ I asked, not much disposed for the sort of conversation that I foresaw could only be extracted from my acquaintance.

‘Show thee t’ house—why, I’m a gannin’ theer, straight as I can go. There’s a dance there t’ night, man—a ball! and we’ll fare there together, Billy Pentreath and a friend, an owd friend—eh, lad? I’ll show thee the missis. Mayhap she’ll dance with thee—thou’rt a tidyish soart o’ chap.’

After a short walk, and a considerable amount of tacking indulged in by my guide before he could ‘fetch,’ as he expressed it, the ‘main drive,’ we fronted a large, imposing, two-storied brick building. Beyond doubt it was a gala night, as the profuse lighting up, the group of men and women round the doors, the sound of music which issued from the open windows, abundantly testified.

‘Why, here’s Billy Pen,’ said a red-bearded giant, who looked like Odin or Thor about to enter a modern Valhalla. ‘Here’s Billy a coming to see the ball, and another chap. Whose yer friend; a Geordie, most like?’

‘No fear, Red Gaffer—dunna thee moind about Geordies. Seems as he’s a Yatala man, and a golden hole man, as I’m warned,’ said Billy, improvising slightly for the benefit of his audience, and unaware that he was so far clinging to truth. ‘Wants to buy a few shares in Frohmand’s, and Barrell’s, and Caird’s. But let’s in, boys, and don’t obstrooct th’ entrance.’

A shout of laughter greeted this imposing utterance of Mr. Pentreath, performed with some difficulty. But seconding his expressed wish with an energetic shoulder movement, which even the giant did not care to withstand seriously, Mr. William Pentreath rolled through the open door into the hall of mirth, whither I followed with comparative ease.

‘E. Morsley’s Reefers’ Arms,’ as the large gilt letters on the front of the house proclaimed it to be, had always been celebrated as a ‘dance-house,’ where from time to time gatherings were permitted by the police for the avowed enjoyment of music and dancing. This privilege had always been fenced round with restrictions and sparingly conceded by the police authorities. It was found, in the early history of the goldfields, that these assemblages of men of all classes and characters, excited by liquor, flush of money, and urged on by the presence of women, more fair than honest, led to many undesirable results. It was then enacted that each hotel keeper who desired to have music and dancing in his licensed house, should apply in writing for the permission. This application was referred to the police officers, who recommended or otherwise. If broils had taken place, robberies been hatched, or bad characters been encouraged to frequent the house on former occasions, the police stated objections, when the application was sternly vetoed by the Bench of Magistrates. In no case was such permission granted oftener than once a week. It was, therefore, no scene of wild, unhallowed revelry upon which Mr. Billy Pentreath and I were about to intrude, no reckless orgy, but a fairly regulated entertainment, in which, if there was a certain license as to liquor and language, no great abuse of either would be possible. Still, I knew well that, had the woman I had come to seek retained her former feelings and principles, there would have been as much likelihood of her joining in a gipsy feast on the common near Dibblestowe as willingly lending the sanction of her presence to revelry like this.

The room was large and well lighted by lamps which hung from the ceiling. The floor good in a general way, although uneven towards one end, where the difference in the height of the wall showed that a smaller room had been annexed for greater public accommodation. A brass band of considerable power, and by no means inharmonious time, was at the moment performing a German waltz, to which about a hundred couples gyrated with orthodox slowness and precision. Of the women, some were handsome and showily dressed, others again were homely, middle-aged, and plain of attire, the wives of working miners who had a mind for once to enjoy themselves, and, at the same time, make sure that Sam or Joe would be back in time for his ‘shift’ at the claim. These were, in the main, reputable and hardworking women. It was easy to see many who deserved neither of these epithets. But whether fair or honest, there was one striking fact apparent, that women of any kind were at a considerable premium at Warraluen. More than half the couples were men dancing with men. The saltatory instinct must be, even when diluted by descent, of great original strength, if one may judge from the fact that men, long absent from the pleasures of ordinary civilisation, when met for purposes of amusement, will dance for hours contentedly with one another rather than not dance at all.

At the end of the room was a highly ornamental bar for the sale of liquors, behind which was displayed in tempting profusion every kind of alcoholic stimulant. Officiating here, in company with an assistant whose time was completely taken up in serving the drinks which were ceaselessly called for, was a tall dark man, showily dressed according to the taste of the locality, and affecting a kind of spurious gentility which I thought sat ill on a lowering, savage cast of countenance.

‘Yon’s Black Ned, blank him,’ said my companion, ‘as large as life, and twice as nasty if a’ dared; let’s over and have a drink, and he’ll tell us a’ the lees as is agoin’ about Frohmann’s, Caird’s, and Bolterman’s, and the lot on ’em. You’re a wantin’ sheers for a Sydney company, eh lad? That’s your little game. I seed it soon as ye said fust word.’ And here Billy winked at me with a portentous cunning, the effect of which was much enhanced by the difficulty with which he performed the feat.

Whether with characteristic shrewdness he had assumed that, whatever my real errand, there was no need to advertise it, or whether my appearance suggested an agency for the purchase of reef shares, then popular with speculators and rising fast in the market, I could not divine. But I instantly saw the advantage of following the hint accidently given, and being made known to Mr. Ned Morsley under the style and title of a purchaser of shares in the great reefs which were then sending all the Australian world mad with hope, fear, and regret.

Such buyers were always, of necessity, provided with a sufficiency of ready cash; and the bearer of promptly available moneys has always been a welcome guest at hostelries of every grade since the days of the Tabard.

When, therefore, Mr. Pentreath lumbered up with diagonal dexterity to the bar, narrowly avoiding the destruction of more than one couple of performers, and further informed Morsley that I was Mr. Poole, a friend of his, from Yatala, as was ‘on the gutter’ in the best blank claim in the blank field, and was bound to have the pick of all the sheers as was for sale in the leading reefs on the blank Hill, the sullen face of the host assumed an air of laboured welcome, and even an ominous, half-gracious, half-sinister smile illumined his dark visage.

‘You’re only just in time. I had some of Frohmann’s this morning, but they’re gone. There’s a half-share in Caird’s, and two-quarters in Bolterman’s, that I can put you on to. The men were here this morning; one’s off to Sydney, and the other’s just spliced—that’s why they want to sell—d—d fools both.’

‘Eh, thou’lt find him some, I warrant thee, as long as there’s a loomp o’ quartz o’ th’ hill the soize o’ a brickbat. Whoy, thou’st grinnin’ aal over t’face loike a Cheshire cat. But coom, what’ll thee tak’, Mr. Poole? let’s booze up, summat near the mark. Ned, what’s thine? whoy, here’s t’ missis and Grizzly Joe as is finished their dance aready. Stir thee stumps, Ned. It’s Billy Pentreath’s shout, all round. Blanked if thee don’t own the handsomest wife from here to Los Angeles.’

Mr. Pentreath threw a five-pound note upon the bar and looked defiantly around, as a tall American miner, with close shaved face and heavy moustache, lounged up to the bar with his partner, followed by the first detachment of the dancers, whose waltz had suddenly come to a full stop.

I looked at Mr. Grizzly Joe’s partner, guarding myself carefully from any appearance of unusual interest. The first glance showed me that it was Jane Mangold, the woman whom I had last set eyes on as she bade me farewell at the Leys. I could recall her figure and dress even now, as I watched her run hurriedly into the old-fashioned porch at the entrance to the rod-brown many-gabled farm house.

We had met again. And here!

I was changed, as the boy changes to the man, when the days of lightly carried duties and pleasures have passed away, and those of the stern taskmasters of later years have worked their will on mind and muscle. But I was still free—had I the world’s goods—to resume my former place in the land we had both quitted, even, perhaps, with added fame and the prestige of the roamer and adventurer. While she——?

Our eyes met, and for one moment the flush upon her face faded so suddenly that I thought Mr. Pentreath’s favourable romance had failed in its effect, and that I should stand confessed before the jealous eyes of Ned Morsley, as a former friend and admirer of his wife.

For the moment, however, he had been engaged professionally—and hastily seizing tho wine glass before her, she drank it hurriedly, and, turning to her partner, with a forced laugh made some commonplace remark about the heat of the room, and her fatigue as mistress of the house and principal partner at these troublesome balls.

The next minute Morsley returned from his spirituous search and, with a peculiar look at his wife, introduced me as a friend of Billy Pen’s from Yatala, who had come over to buy a few shares.

‘Very glad to see him or anybody from Yatala in this rough place,’ she said, half looking down, but with assumed carelessness of manner. ‘But I thought all the shares were sold that were worth buying.’

‘Never you mind about that, Jenny,’ Mr. Morsley said, with a kind of jocular gruffness. ‘Billy and I could find him some shares if every claim on the hill had been sold twice over.’

‘I’ve no doubt of that,’ she returned, sarcastically. ‘The question is, whether Mr. Poole—I think you said—would care to buy.’

Here the band struck up a popular war dance of the period, and the room being immediately made noisily cheerful with stamping and trampling to the somewhat exigent time, I formally solicited the pleasure of Mrs. Morsley’s hand for the dance, thereby anticipating the intentions of half a dozen burly aspirants, one of whom, evidently considering that a dance was a dance, promptly thus addressed Mr. Pentreath—

‘’Ave a shottise, Bill?’

It was not for the first time that my arm had encircled my partner’s shapely waist. In old times there had been rustic junketings, picnics, and other informal merrymakings, at which a little dancing was allowable, if not ostensibly in the programme. As soon as we swung clear of the encircling crowd at the further end of the room, where there was an outlet to a small garden with seats and other appliances for availing of the refreshments ordered at the bar, we stopped by mutual consent and looked in each others eyes. For one brief moment they met, and then hers, which wore a troubled and half-appealing wistful expression, sunk suddenly before mine, as she hurriedly broke the silence.

‘This is like—and yet how dreadfully unlike—old times, isn’t it? Who would ever have thought that Jane Mangold and Hereward Pole would have met in Australia, in such a place as this, too, Oh, my God! who would have dreamed it? Don’t say a kind word to me—don’t—or I shall burst out crying and then Ned will——’

‘Are you afraid of him?’ I said. ‘Will he be angry if he finds you and I are old friends?’

‘Of course he will. I am not afraid of him, or of any one else,’ she said, turning on me with a sudden light in her eye and a defiant look which marked the change from the innocent country girl of old days. ‘But I know he’ll kill me one of these days. And now let us finish our dance, or these people will wonder. My miserable story will do some time when we can have a quiet talk together. I try to forget! Oh, if I only could.’

We whirled off to the familiar measure, to which with an odd, inexplicable impulse we addressed ourselves gaily. It afforded strange feelings of relief. We did not again stop till the dance was over.

So complete was the recognition of the once familiar face, that I had hardly asked myself whether or no the alteration in her appearance had been favourable or otherwise. Scanning her features more closely, I was astonished to confess that as far as outward seeming went, Jane was now incomparably more attractive than she had ever been. Her complexion still, as ever, wonderfully delicate, pure-tinted, and but faintly coloured with a warmer glow, was of the class so rarely seen save amid the green meads and sheltered vales of the British Isles. Her figure had but altered from that of girlhood to the more perfect symmetry of the more fully developed woman. The blue eyes, though their expression—ah me! had changed, were softly radiant, as of yore. Added to all, there was an air of self-possession—of higher resolution and quickened intelligence, that had been absent in the dear innocent old days of Dibble-stowe Leys. She was then a bright-faced, merry, wayward country maiden—much resembling her whom Chaucer limned—

‘Wincing she went as doth a wanton colt.
Sweet as a flower, and upright as a bolt.’

Now, it may be that she had sinned and suffered, borne hard usage, and flung back bitter words; but the sorrow and the shame, the suffering and remorse, had been all powerless to deprive her of that gift, so fatal, alas! to many a possessor among Eve’s daughters.

She was still graceful and striking-looking, nay more—a dangerously beautiful woman.

I remained at Warraluen some days. I continued my fortuitously-formed friendship with Mr. Billy Pentreath, who devoted himself to my service and entertainment, being, apparently, curiously anxious to justify his hastily-conceived description of my character and errand, by letting me into some of the confidential mining operations which had then financially so much interest for all classes of society in New South Wales.

I kept up the idea, which now thoroughly pervaded the larger portion of the community, by purchasing guardedly a few ‘interests’ from time to time out of the largish number submitted for my approval, and by assuming a gay and careless manner, much at variance with my habit and present inclination.

Thus Billy Pentreath, and his friend Harry Pole from Yatala, became fully accepted as the last novelty in speculative mineral society.

Even the suspicious Morsley relaxed his grim, menacing demeanour, regarding me, doubtless, as one of the harmless pigeons of the golden period, whose pecuniary pinions were fated to be even more completely and effectually plucked than usual.

Meanwhile opportunities were freely afforded me of hearing poor Jane’s sad story. After my departure from the Leys she had become (she told me) restless and dissatisfied with her home and her ordinary duties. Her father was, as she thought then (‘not now—not now,’ she said, with how sad a look and sigh), hard and unkind. After several quarrels, resulting in settled home discomfort, she in a fit of pique and rebellion accepted Dick Cheriton’s addresses. Marrying him without her father’s consent, they emigrated to Australia, full of the golden expectations which, about that time, the great days of the Turon, of Ballarat, and Bendigo, lured so many hapless rustics from their homes, little dreaming of the ferocity of the dragons that guarded the Hesperides of the South. They arrived at Ballarat in the early days of that astonishing treasure-city, now with a population of many thousand souls, with banks and churches, railways and public schools, with parks on gala days crowded with school children, and regattas with fleets of boats upon Lake Wendouree; then a vast camp of cabins clustered beside the sodden banks of a muddy creek, or on the slopes of a gloomy forest, where in endless ranks stood charred iron-seeming stems of the great eucalypti. Some of the usual consequences followed.

Richard Cheriton, weak and dissipated, had, after a temporary run of luck, swiftly succumbed to the temptations of the scene and the period. Hard drinking and reckless gambling had made short work of him and his capital, and within three years of their landing, the ruddy-faced farmer, whose mild misdeeds in his native county would almost have counted as virtues amid the fierce whirlpool of vice in which he had lately revolved, was laid in the crowded cemetery, a shattered wreck, an imbecile, and a pauper.

Lonely and wretched, though flattered for her beauty and distracted amid the thousand excitements of the great goldfield, Jane had, half in despair, half in instinctive feeling of self-preservation, accepted the first apparently favourable offer of marriage made to her. Ned Morsley, apparently wealthy and successful, courted for his money, and veiling his villainy under a mask of careless dissipation, easily imposed himself upon her.

His wealth and his protection were alike shams. A wandering adventurer, he had dragged her from one goldfield to another, from colony to colony, or had deserted her, leaving her well-nigh to starve, unaided and unguarded. Used as a lure and a decoy, yet subject to paroxysms of causeless jealousy on the part of her husband, she had often experienced the vilest abuse, the grossest ill-treatment at his hands. Loathing herself and her surroundings, an inherent vigour of organisation, joined with the sustaining power of a false excitement, had hitherto served to keep her alive.

But how weary of her life she was, she again and again told me, with bitter tears. She would long since have ended it, but that her father was alive, and she clung to some half-instinctive hope that she might yet see him, and end her feverish wasted life near the cool brook and under the aged trees of the quiet village, where for generations her race had lived and died peacefully, innocently, happily.

‘Oh! if I could only see the Leys again,’ she sobbed, leaning her head against my shoulder in the abandonment of despairing and passionate grief, ‘how happily I should die. I do not wish to live. I have long ago come to hate my life. Alas! false and wretched dream that it has been. But if I could only get away from these hateful heaps of earth, this miserable monotonous existence, this sickening endless turmoil about gold—the accursed gold—ruining alike in body and soul those who have it and those who have it not—I could sleep away my life peacefully and thankfully. Oh, Hereward, my friend, my brother, of the old glad, innocent days, you cannot think what a joy your coming has been to me. Do you think God will ever let me go back?’

I soothed the weeping woman, and offered such poor consolation as I could think suitable to her hopeless state. But that nothing could be done I was only too well aware. How can any woman of any degree be helped against her husband? She had chosen her fate and must abide by it, enduring torture only short of legally punishable violence, hardly restrained, indeed, within such bounds.

I was to leave Warraluen next day. I could not longer prolong my stay without causing inconvenience to my partners at Yatala, and probably exciting unfavourable remarks at Warraluen. I promised to aid and help my unhappy friend in all loyalty, and caused her to promise that if matters became dangerous or intolerable she would trust herself to my care at Yatala where I would do for her what a brother might.

In keeping up my character with Billy Pentreath, as an earnest mining speculator, I had purchased more shares in Frohmann’s, Cairds, the Frenchman’s, and Bolterman’s than I had at first intended, but the money stood at my credit in the Bank of New Holland, at Yatala, and with the true mining disdain of the odds, I considered that a favourable rise was quite as likely to take place in their market value as the reverse.

When I returned to Yatala, after my week’s unwonted recreation, I was accompanied as far as the first inn, about ten miles on my way, by Mr. Pentreath and a few friends, who were determined that I should not quit ‘The Hill,’ as Warraluen was familiarly called, without some sort of public recognition. We rode along, therefore, with a free rein as far as Spraggs’s, as the hostelry of that gentleman was chiefly designated, irrespectively of a patently aggressive signboard, legended The Jolly Miner, and representing a suspiciously well-dressed individual in recent possesion of a fabulously large and brilliant nugget. Thither arrived, champagne was demanded, and my health was proposed by Mr. Pentreath as a legitimate miner and a true friend, as was a honour to his country and to Yatala, which tho’it was only alluvial—in a manner of speaking—had some tidy claims on it, and ‘whoever met his friend Harry Pole from theer, would find him a man, whether the sinkin’ was deep or shallow—and here was his jolly good health, with all the honours, three times three—hurrah.’

But for leaving poor Jane to bear unaided her miserable fate, I should have quitted Warraluen with a much lighter heart than I had entered it with. I made shift, however, to feign the requisite amount of hilarity, and parting cordially with my kind-hearted Cousin Jacks, I breasted the line of steep green hills around which the road wound, and ‘they went on their way, and I saw them no more.’

.     .     .     .     .

Once more at Yatala, and again seated at our humble board, I had hardly completed my mutton chop, and commenced to extract the impartial local news from yesterday’s Beacon when suddenly a low, rumbling sound attracted my attention. Something which I could not analyse, aroused a kind of sickening anxiety, and I looked out. God in heaven! what was that? I could see plainly the shaft and the staging of Gus Maynard’s claim. As I looked I saw the woodwork on the top of the shaft driven up as by an unchained hell-blast, the bark roof of the sun-covering is burst upwards as by an explosion, and comes down in fragments all over the spot. Is it fancy, or do I see the heavy pile of crossed logs, ten or twelve feet from the surface of the earth, stagger—and fall ruinous to the earth? Does the adjacent ground disappear and finally remain stationary, as a hideous, dry, formless pond?

It is even so, and my senses have not deceived me. There is a general rush from all sides to the place. Men commence to work frantically for a time, and then stop, and say sadly that there can be no help. Finally we discover the nature of the terrific accident which Providence has seen fit to suffer.

The Nova Scotia claim has fallen in. All the present workings are for ever closed, and Gus Maynard and seven stalwart miners, who this morning were full of lusty life, are lying crushed lifeless clay in the sealed up galleries, and a hundred feet from the day. The heavy props which supported the drives had given way simultaneously, and an enormous mass of superincumbent earth fallen in upon the doomed miners. The suddenly expelled air, driven out through the shaft as by a tube, had produced the volcanic effect we had witnessed. There is no going down the shaft, no volunteering to risk life for the chance of saving dying or crippled men, as when the fatal fire-damp slays or only stupeties the miner in the ancient workings of British coalmines. All such effort was useless. All trace of shaft or drive was here completely lost. Fresh shafts, of course, will be sunk, fresh galleries excavated, the old workings will be freshly scooped out of the jealous bosom of the dread mother—for the gold is still there, in fine dust and shot-like grains, and rugged, rough, red ingots. Such prizes will always tempt the heedless heart of man. Against these will he cheerfully barter afresh his life and limb, health and strength.

But Gus Maynard and his mates will never more be seen on earth, never more appear in the forms known and loved so well—for wives and orphans are weeping hopelessly now—till the sea gives up her dead, and the caves and dark places of the earth render up those that lie ’prisoned with them, awaiting the last dread trump.

When I dragged my feet back to our tent that night—for how unwillingly move the members when the heart is heavy—I felt as if a cloud of evil omen had gathered around our fortunes and prosperity. All were silent, all desponding. Gus was a universal favourite, and there were few at Yatala that night who did not sorrow as for a friend or a brother.

The Miner’s Right - Contents    |     Chapter X

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