‘I did see him loafing about the claim on the 12th,’ said Cyrus, ‘and I told him if he didn’t clear I’d kick him out of it that hard as he’d never find his way back.’
‘Ha! that will do, Mr. Yorke. You give very good evidence indeed. Permit me to compliment you upon it.’
A large, respectable-looking Teuton steps into the witness-box. His name is Carl Ingerstrom. He produces his Miner’s Right, completely en règle, and deposes as follows, with a clear, unhesitating air, though somewhat shifty as to the eyes—
‘It vas de morgen of de dwelvth Tecemper I goes to numper vour of de Liperator Lead mit Mick Docheroty, Santy Mag Vails, and der Bommer. Ve dakes new begs and buds dem in de blases of dere begs. Ve vas occupy de ground—ve gommence do to vorks by beginnen to sinken anoder shaft. Dey rons and brevents us from vorken on our glaim—de last vitness, der breitmann, and anoder man. Ve has a sommons for de drespass. Ve knock off vorks dill de case is dried. Ve are here.’
Of course, this is a bare statement of the course of procedure necessary on the taking possession of a mining tenement, so as effectively to put the other occupants on their title. In the completeness of that title lies the gist of the whole action at law. And in that completeness very few of the more experienced spectators now believe.
Cross-examined by Mr. Markham. Is asked what induced him to peg out a claim in full work and occupation, and known to be on gold. Answer: ‘Dat is de very reason—vould you hafe me beg out a glaim as is got nodings for do bay vages and du croob, and lawyer and alle teufels? I haf zeen Mr. Ikey Boynter, he adfice me not to shoomp noomber vour. I say I will do all as I d—n like, shoost like an honest miner. I belief as der didle of de glaim is bat. I know Mr. Malcrate; he is ein herr hoch bes ahlter. I gif him one half share out of bure freundlich. I haf zentimend—en sprach du deutsh. I lofe him. I gif all my freunds half shares. Ve are all mades—hed and fest, in dis glaim.’
Michael Docherty, Alexander M‘Phail, and Thomas Bommer (alias ‘Tommy the Clock,’) are severally sworn and examined. Their Miners’ Rights are perfectly legal. Their evidence is, in essentials, identical with that of Carl Ingerstrom. They have legally taken up and occupied No. 4 Liberator Lead, always supposing that the former occupation and tenancy were bad in law.
Finally, the case for the defence is concluded, and Mr. Markham rises to commence his speech.
The Commissioner looks at his watch.
‘I can sit until five,’ he says, ‘if that will enable you to conclude your remarks.’
‘I think I shall be enabled, your worship, to bring my address to an end within that time,’ says our counsel, ‘though I cannot promise, in view of the very important nature and extent of the issue, to abate one iota of my privilege to address the Court, in order to clearly lay before it any point of the case that may seem material to the issue.’
‘Certainly,’ groans out the Commissioner resignedly. ‘Of course, this case will have to be adjourned, in order to permit the counsel for the defence to be heard in reply. Now then, Mr. Markham.’
Mr. Markham, availing himself of the permission, at once commenced a lucid and masterly analysis of the whole mining law and custom bearing upon the case, than which no advocate was better fitted to display and unravel, no judge more qualified by experience to deal with than the Commissioner.
Hasty and impatient by nature, William Blake was a man whose clear intellect enabled him to comprehend with rapid and comprehensive grasp the apparently involved cases that were constantly brought before him. He could detect the flaw in the most subtle of reasoning with unerring accuracy. His attention never flagged, nor did his memory fail to retain the most minute detail during the weary length of the protracted cases with which a crowded goldfield inundated his Court.
Ours was one of the most important cases which had occurred for a long time, and we had full assurance, as had every miner in that great gold region, that every legal formality would be scrupulously complied with. We knew that, if the fortunes of himself, his family, and his whole kindred had depended upon the verdict, that our advocate could not have been more tireless, more energetic, more watchful, more desperately resolved to win, by the employment of his every gift and faculty, than he was now.
He drew a picture of the long discouraging struggle with fortune, which most miners had experienced. The travel and voyage from one colony to another. The terrible privations, by cold or heat, famine or poverty, silently borne or uncomplainingly defied! The weary waiting, the soul-sickness of hope deferred. The possible failure of health, the chances of accident, all the best gifts of mortality offered on the cast of the die. Life itself cast down recklessly as the last stake against gold.
Then the horizon brightens; a fortunate find is made. The last hope, when so many were vain, has proved successful. The old dream of home and native land and longing early friends is no longer a romance but a tangible reality. The richness of the claim is proved. The ceaseless labour is for once munificently rewarded. The toil of years is at length duly compensated.
But what then? Envy and greed, watchful and eager as harpies, swoop down. A sham title is set up to the property—so fairly, so truly, so honestly acquired.
‘But not legally,’ interjects the irrepressible Doctor.
‘Am I to be interrupted in this way?’ says Mr. Markham, appealing gravely to the Bench.
The Doctor is informed that it is hardly correct for him to interpose during Mr. Markham’s address.
He apologises, and the speech proceeds.
‘A sham title,’ he repeats, ‘is set up. These loafing scoundrels (he must apologise for the expression—but they are not legitimate miners, or self-respecting labourers of any kind) who had shammed occupation, shammed efficient labour, were set on by, if possible, greater scoundrels than themselves, only with a little more money, and who even now, in the background, were watching, spider-like, for the enmeshing of their prey. He trusted, however, that the web of deceit and chicanery would be rent on this occasion, would be swept into infamous oblivion by the besom of the law in the hands of Justice. (Applause.) Proceeding to quote a number of well-known decisions in mining cases he traced the gradual growth of the assumption—for it was no more—that all the partners in a mining enterprise should suffer in title, in property, in person, in their very mining existence, if but one had failed to provide himself with what, he admitted, was an indispensable preliminary to all searching for gold upon the public estate—on the lands of the crown—a Miner’s Right. And he characterised as cruel, oppressive, and ultra vires of all the spirit and even letter of the common law of the realm, and, therefore, of the statute law under which the Commissioner was now adjudicating, this crushing and extreme penalty of forfeiture of the claim. If the work of men’s hands, righteously won and manfully laboured at, was to be handed over to the first sneaking informer who discovered a paltry technical defect, then the goldfields would soon cease to be composed, as they were now, of the very flower of the working classes. They would no longer have among them the more stalwart and intelligent individuals of those above the grade of labour, if such there were, but a concourse of thieves and assassins, cut-throats and gamblers—the scum of the nations of the earth.
Not a single point which could by any means be brought to bear upon the question at issue was omitted. Not a standard authority or leading case was left unquoted. Not an appeal to honest judgment, to good conscience and equity, as he maintained the Commissioner’s Court as at present constituted to be, not a single part of the evidence which was favourable was left without reference; and when, candles having been procured and the hour of ordinary sitting long passed, the exhaustive oration was brought to a close by a solemn and impassioned peroration, in which the high magistrate was besought to right the oppressed and free the administration of goldfields law from the reproach of constructive unfairness and over-litigation which had so long clung to it, the Court adjourned with one universal feeling on the part of the crowd of spectators, that justice was with the cause of the last speaker, and that he had nobly cleared away all doubts from the minds of his hearers.
On the morrow, punctually at the usual hour, the officials of the Court were in attendance. Directly the doors were thrown open by the police, an eager crowd of miners, business people, and even strangers, attracted by the cause célèbre, poured in, filling every seat and foot of standing room.
Dr. Bellair was to make his speech in reply, and all knew that the Commissioner would then give his decision, that important verdict, which though certain to be appealed against, was rarely, in such cases as this, reversed.
But little time was lost. After a few moments the case was again called on. The Doctor commenced his reply. His nervous, eager countenance was toned down to a decorous appearance of calmness and gravity much at variance with his volcanic temperament, as he, with a great show of deference and respect, addressed the Commissioner, ‘whose experience and thorough knowledge of mining law,’ he said, ‘had made his opinion weighty, and his decisions all but immutable, wherever a goldfield gathered together its strangely constituted population. He would implore him to dismiss from his mind all knowledge of the different social footing of the parties to the suit; to obliterate all fanciful ideas of presumed equity and false generosity of sentiment, and to cling tenaciously and sternly, as a British judge should do, to the only pure and unmixed truth—the unquestioned and unquestionable law. This power, this rock, this law of the land, his clients he should be able to demonstrate, had most unmistakably on their side. Whoever they were, whatever they were, he only claimed for them the status of the ordinary legitimate gold digger, who, however, with his Miner’s Right, had the proud privilege of being able to occupy and search for gold every acre of the broad crown lands of this great colony of New South Wales. They had never forfeited their right to justice. He should not dwell on this portion of the facts, in opening his case, were it not that so much stress had been laid by his learned friend on the previous career of the complainants, on their long course of evil fortune, and their present prize, which it was asserted his clients had conspired to wrest from them.
‘Whether it was so or not, he would submit, it did not touch the case in any shape. What was it to his worship, sitting here as judge both of law and of fact, how or with what success the complainants had laboured? If they had given their whole lives to an unsuccessful pursuit of gold, or fame, or happiness, had not others, all the world, indeed, with but few exceptions, done the same? The Commissioner did not sit here to redress the wrongs of society, and pose himself as a second-hand Providence, reading the hearts and rewarding the hidden motives of men, but to administer the law, not to make it—as the great Bacon, with almost divine wisdom defined it, not to consider probable compensations of fate, but to hear and determine within the limits of the statute, and only with regard to sworn evidence brought before him. He himself knew the Commissioner, and the whole tenor of his previous decisions—decisions which lent stability and assurance to the great interest he was called upon to control—too well to dream that he would otherwise think, otherwise act. But he ought, considering the quality of the ad captandum arguments used by his learned friend, due, no doubt, to the defects of his cause, not to pass over this aspect of the matter.’
The Doctor then, warming to his work, to our dismay briefly and trenchantly dealt with the evidence, bringing out the default of that unlucky Cyrus, as to his missing or wilfully evaded Miner’s Right, into full and distressing prominence. He showed that, over and over again, claims which had turned out to be the richest and most valuable on their field had been ruthlessly forfeited in consequence of similar illegality. It was as firmly established as anything could be by a series of judgments, by the consensus of opinion, by the unwritten custom of mining law that in all such cases the default of one shareholder made the whole occupation bad. If the previous occupation was bad, the land was in the position of vacant, waste crown lands, which his clients had had a perfect right to enter upon. They had legally done so; they had worked until prevented by force by the complainants. Their title was perfect. He defied any one to find a flaw in it. If a verdict was not given for them in this case, then the whole previous weight and authority of mining law fell to the ground, an unsubstantial and baseless fabric. All future decisions must rest on caprice and injustice, on personal feeling and improper partiality.
‘But he had no fear of any such result, though, if it occurred, he would carry the case on behalf of his clients, poor and of small account as they were, through every court in the colony, including the highest, the Supreme Court, if it cost him every penny he had in the world. But,’ he repeated, ‘he had no fear of such a contingency, such a perversion of right, such a miscarriage of justice. The experienced magistrate, the proconsul he might call him, before whose words of fate the fortunes, almost the lives of men, had before now trembled in the balance, could not, dared not (the Commissioner’s eye glowed, and then rested fixedly on the impassioned advocate, who seemed transfigured into a tribune, shrieking forth the wrongs of oppressed humanity, and proclaiming gospel of the people’s rights) dared not, in the clear light of his fame for strict justice and stern impartiality, record other than one verdict, one decree. He had no fear for the issue. He rested upon the firm basis of the evidence they had all that day heard. It was from first to last unassailed, unassailable; the law was plain, the issue certain. He awaited but the formality of his worship the Commissioner’s sanction to place his clients in possession of the ground of which they and the public at large had been illegally deprived.
Now came the exciting last act of the melodrama so likely to terminate in tragedy as far as we were concerned. The Commissioner calmly looked over his notes, and prepared to deliver his decision amid the ominous hush and suppressed excitement of the crowded Court. Not a sound was heard, though the spectators in the rear of the assemblage raised themselves on tiptoe, and strained every ear with deepest curiosity to hear the words of fate. The Commissioner, in whose hands lay life and death (so to speak), who had the power to take away from us all that made life worth living for, to doom us to the barren and hopeless existence of unrewarded toil and hope long deferred from which we had so lately emerged, commenced his address. It would not be long, we knew. It was not his wont to ‘improve the occasion’ in the hundreds of cases, more or less important, which he administered monthly. He was fully aware that his audience, whether as malefactors or parties to civil process, understood the consequences of legal wrong-doing on the facts of the case fully and accurately without explanation from him or any other magistrate. His duty was to administer the law, with which as a class they were singularly well acquainted, without favour or affection; and this he always did shortly and decidedly. He was very careful in arriving at his decisions; but once given they were as the laws of the Medes and Persians. If they could be shown to be ultra vires or informal, well and good; let the higher courts see to that. But he, William Blake, had never been known to alter a decision, and as long as he was Commissioner of Goldfields never would be.
Thus he began—
‘This was an information laid for trespass by Pole and party, complainants, who sought to cause Ingerstrom and others to abate trespass upon a certain mining tenement, known as No. 4 Liberator Lead.
‘The gist of the matter clearly lay in the evidence given on the part of Pole and party, as to the legality of their prior occupation of No. 4 claim, before referred to. It had been proved before him this day in Court that they had taken up, that is, occupied and worked the claim, had sunk upon and traced the auriferous drift, had taken out wash-dirt, and received and shared dividends, long before the defendants had appeared upon the scene. If they had in all respects complied with the regulations, there was no doubt about the complainants possessing the prior right. Upon that proof being complete the whole title hinged. If it were not so proved, no natural feeling of sympathy on his part, no consideration of the crushing severity with which a breach of the goldfields’ regulations would be visited on their heads, in the event of their forfeiture of so rich a claim as No. 4 had been proved to be, would prevent him from recording a verdict adverse to them. He, sitting there, had nothing whatever to do with the feelings, nay, the equitable right of individuals. He had always, he hoped, clearly interpreted and enforced the law, and the law only. Such he would continue to do, he trusted, to the end.
With regard to the occupation of Pole and party, it had been shown that three of the shareholders possessed Miners’ Rights. But the fourth shareholder was unable to produce that indispensable permit. He must, therefore, be presumed to be without it, and, in such a case, he was an unauthorised occupant of crown lands, whether for residence or mining purposes. He had no locus standi. He could not legally apply for relief of any kind to that Court. Any share which he possessed must be forfeited. He was also liable to a fine, with imprisonment in default of payment.
‘This, however, was not all. It had been long held by mining authorities that, unless all the shareholders taking up a claim were possessed of Miners’ Rights at the time when they pegged out and commenced operations, their action was illegal as far as taking possession of crown lands for gold mining purposes, under the Act, was concerned. The occupation, he repeated, if but one even of the shareholders was not at that time the holder of a Miner’s Right, would be bad in law.
‘In this case, it had not been shown in evidence before him that Cyrus Yorke, one of the complainants in the trespass case now before him, was the holder of a Miner’s Right when No. 4 claim was first by them taken up. That default, in his opinion, invalidated the whole title. Not the slightest doubt existed in his mind upon the subject. He would, therefore, give a verdict for—’
Here an uproar arose in the body of the Court towards the entrance door, of such a pronounced, ungoverned nature, that the sergeant, looking at first pained and then justly indignant, marched with long dignified strides and a sternly resolved air to the scene of disorder, as if to bring the offenders, there and then, before the Court for doom.
He reappeared, however, with an altered and relaxed visage, escorting gallantly our good friend Mrs. Cyrus Yorke, on the other side of whom was Mr. Markham, who ever and anon inclined his ear in confidential legal intercourse. The little woman held one hand triumphantly aloft, in which was something which stirred our hearts anew and caused the flickering light of hope to be freshly irradiated with a glow of celestial illumination.
‘Your worship,’ commenced the sergeant, ‘I beg respectfully to state that the apparently disorderly conduct in Court was caused by the attempts of the friends of this witness to procure her admission to the vicinity of your worship.’
‘Sergeant M‘Mahon, the irregularity is fully explained. You desire to address the Court, Mr. Markham?’
‘Yes, your worship. I tender this witness, the wife of one of the complainants, who has most important evidence, material to the issue, to give. I am aware that the proceedings on the side of the complainants have been closed, but, your worship’s Court, as that of a Commissioner of Goldfields, is one of equity and good conscience, and I trust that such evidence as this witness may produce, will not be shut out.’
‘I object to any such proceeding as monstrous, illegal, and perfectly unprecedented,’ shouts Dr. Bellair, with a most excited air. ‘The evidence has been closed. The whole proceedings finished, but the actual pronunciation of the verdict, in defendants’ favour, of course; and now you ask to have the proceedings re-opened, for what possibly may be perfectly unnecessary evidence.’
‘We shall see that,’ said Mr. Markham, with a sanguine air. ‘Will your worship admit the evidence?’
‘The question with me, in such cases as I am called upon to try under the Mining Act and Regulations, is less whether the evidence be informally tendered, than whether the nature of it be material. In this case I will shut out no evidence that may possibly bear on the legality of my decision. Swear the witness.’
‘Mrs. Yorke, go into the box,’ said Mr. Markham. ‘You are the wife of Cyrus Yorke, one of the complainants who has given evidence in this case to-day?’
‘Do you produce a Miner’s Right, and, if so, in whose favour, and of what date?’
‘I do. I took it out for my husband, one day in Louisa, knowing how careless he was in such things, and put it into a box for safety. It was hidden under the children’s clothes, or I should have had it out in Court long before this. Goodness knows what—’
‘Have the goodness to hand it to the Clerk of the Court,’ interrupted the Commissioner.
The truly important document was inspected with eager eyes by that functionary, who respectfully handed it to the Commissioner. He read aloud the talismanic signs—
‘Cyrus Yorke. 1st January 185—. Issued in the Registrar’s office at Louisa. To remain in force till 31st December 185—,|
(Signed) ‘William D. Blake, P. M., Commissioner.’
An utterly irrepressible sound of relief and amazement escaped the lips of the majority of the listeners. There was the missing link, the indispensable, vitally necessary legal act, in default of which this tremendously rich claim was about to be forfeited and transferred to the enemy, as sure as anything ever was in this world.
‘Silence in the Court,’ growls the sergeant, but with a sympathetic intonation noticeable through all his official severity.
‘I demand to see this paper, this Miner’s Right as it is called,’ here breaks in Dr. Bellair, with a voice of mingled passion, regret, and disbelief. ‘How do we know that it has not been manufactured for the occasion. I demand the fullest investigation as to how and when it was issued, and I protest against any notice being taken of it as evidence in this most improper manner.’
‘You may protest, Doctor,’ said Mr. Markham, good humouredly, ‘but my client’s case is complete. I am in a position to prove by the evidence of the Mining Registrar at Louisa, that the Right produced was taken out by witness during the week following Christmas of last year—she very properly determining to make sure that her husband should not be placed in a false position. I wish all wives were as careful on the goldfields. Now you can examine the witness, Doctor, and make what you can of her.’
‘I shall do so, without your permission,’ cried the fiery little advocate. ‘Now then, Mary Ann Yorke. Is that your real name; are you married to the complainant, Yorke?’
‘I’d soon show you, if I had you down on the Blue Lead,’ said the little woman, trembling with passion, and suggestively raising her hand. ‘What do you mean by—’
‘Mrs. Yorke,’ said the Commissioner, suavely but firmly, ‘you must answer Dr. Bellair’s questions, and I would remind you not to become excited in this Court. Answer the questions shortly, and to the best of your knowledge; the examination will soon be over.’
‘Yes, Commissioner, yes, your worship,’ said poor Mrs. Yorke, already repenting her of her just indignation, in that it might imperil the cause; ‘but what does he mean by trying to make out I’m not an honest woman, and don’t have my right name? I’ll name him if he tries that on, as sure as my name’s Mary Ann Yorke.’
‘I trust I shall be protected by the Court,’ said the Doctor, defiantly. ‘It is necessary that I should test this woman’s credibility, which I have every reason to doubt.’
‘Certainly, Dr. Bellair, but I must ask you not to put such questions needlessly, as may be offensive to the witness’s feelings of modesty and self-respect.’
‘I claim the privileges of the Bar! and I defy your worship to abate one jot or tittle of those privileges in my person. A judge of the Supreme Court could not do so.’
‘You will find, Dr. Bellair, that I am judge in my own court, and that I will interfere very decidedly, if you pursue a line of cross-examination which can only have the effect of distressing the feelings, and outraging the moral sense of the witness—in this case, a most exemplary and respectable woman.’
The Doctor snorted indignantly, and went on with his cross-examination; but although he made himself sufficiently disagreeable to Mrs. Yorke, whose eyes became so round and fierce, that we all felt alarmed, particularly Cyrus, at the probable consequences, he did not choose to adopt the vivisecting process permitted to counsel in the higher courts. He knew full well, by experience, in spite of his bravado, that he would be peremptorily stopped by the Commissioner, one of whose fixed principles it was, never to permit a woman, whatever might be her character and antecedents, to be needlessly harassed in the witness box, or treated with unnecessary disrespect. So the day wore on.
‘Why did her husband not take out his own Miner’s Right; wasn’t he man enough to do it?’ said the Doctor.
‘He was man enough to work hard for his family, and had never denied them anything—not like some folk, a spending their money away from home, and isn’t very particular what company they went into on the sly; but he hadn’t no head for business like. And wasn’t there many a good all-round man on this field, as the same could be said of?’
All Mrs. Yorke’s timidity gradually left her. Such is generally the case with female witnesses. And, being fully aroused to a sense of the Doctor’s antagonistic position to the party, answered him with such vigour and unexpected epigram, that the Court, more than once, felt compelled to interfere. However, nothing could be got out of her but that she had taken out the Miner’s Right for the use and benefit of her husband, ‘as any wife as had any sense had good call to do.’
‘Why, I might have one myself, Doctor,’ she continued, ‘for all you know, or the baby in arms, bless him! The Act says, “any person,” don’t it? It doesn’t say man or woman, child or sucking babe, does it? I shouldn’t wonder if I knew as much mining law as you do, Doctor, close up.’
‘I opine that we do not come here to listen to this woman’s disrespectful maunderings about mining acts and regulations, your worship,’ said the little man, loftily. ‘I demand the protection of the Court.’
‘Who do you call “this woman?”’; Mrs. Yorke was just commencing to inquire, when she was told by the Commissioner that she might stand down after signing her name to her deposition.
‘One moment, your worship. I wish to interpose one question,’ said Mr. Markham. ‘What mining registrar did you get your Miner’s Right from? who issued it?’
‘Mr. Allen, of Louisa. I went over there about some quinces; and I saw him write it down in the but of his book. It’ll be there, with the day and date, I know. There’s no get away, you take my word, your worship.’
‘That will do, Mrs. Yorke. We will not detain you.’
And the little woman retired to a seat, previously casting a look of withering indignation at her late opponent.
The Commissioner, apparently, did not see the necessity of making two speeches upon the same subject. Besides, it was getting late. He briefly gave the reasons for the decision he was about to pronounce.
‘He had stated, he thought, in his first address that the missing link in the chain of evidence for the complainants was an important one—no less than the Miner’s Right of Cyrus Yorke, one of the original and prior occupants. Had the defect in the evidence not been cured, a verdict must have been given by him virtually for the defendants—“No trespass committed.”
‘The last piece of evidence, although from circumstances tendered so late in the day, that some magistrates would have felt justified in shutting it out altogether, had clearly proved that the complainants were each and all legally authorised when they went on the ground. That they had prior occupation could not be doubted for an instant. They had worked their claim for gold, had washings out of it, and shared dividends. As to the size of the claim, and its irregular shape, that was partly caused by the course of the lead, and was a minor matter in his eyes. So long as they had no more than the number of superficial feet allowed in four men’s ground, he saw no illegality in that circumstance. He, therefore, unhesitatingly pronounced a verdict for complainants, with one hundred and fifty pounds costs against defendants, who were hereby ordered forthwith to abate trespass.’
At this announcement a general impulse tempted the closely-packed crowd to cheer. The sergeant looked around with so horrified and severely surprised expression of countenance, that the audience relapsed into the dumbness of church-goers. Mrs. Yorke wept for joy, and infected with that strange contagious feminine luxury a young woman who sat next to her, and who, being a relation of one of the jumpers, might be said to belong to the enemy’s camp.
‘I give notice of appeal!’ promptly said the fiery little advocate.
‘Lodge your money within seven days, and a written notice in due form,’ said the unmoved Commissioner.
‘I desire to apply for an injunction also, to restrain Pole and party from washing up and getting gold from my clients’ claim while this suit is pending.’
‘And I oppose the granting of any such instrument,’ said Mr. Markham. ‘My clients have been placed in this position for no fault of their own. They have lost valuable time. They have been compelled to attend here without a shadow of reason, and debarred from their legal rights. And now your worship is asked, forsooth, to keep them idle for another three or six months.’
‘Under the circumstances, I refuse to grant an injunction,’ quoth the Commissioner.
‘I shall only be compelled to apply to a judge of the Supreme Court,’ replied Dr. Bellair.
‘It is not for me to suggest to whom you may or may not apply,’ answers the Commissioner. ‘I shall grant no injunction, if every barrister in the colony made separate application. The Court stands adjourned to this day week.’
Whereupon there was a general stampede to the nearest hotels on the part of the witnesses, spectators, complainants, and defendants; while the Commissioner, evidently not in the humour for conversation, mounted his well-known hackney, which was brought to the office door by a trooper, and departed in the direction of the police camp, whistling, as he went, to his dogs, but evidently not ‘for want of thought.’
‘The melodrama had been played. The dénouement was satisfactory as far as we were concerned. But more uncertainties and a further experience of litigation awaited us. The prize was too rich to be abandoned at the first check; Dr. Bellair, a man, when in the guise of an opponent, not to be lightly regarded. He had, it was reported, received a transfer of a ‘sleeping quarter share,’ that is, a proportion of the property of the claim, involving a sixteenth of the entire profit, without the necessity of representing or paying for the services of an able-bodied miner.
This might be worth a thousand—two—three thousand pounds. No doubt it was worth a considerable amount of trouble and legal research. We did not expect to be let alone for long. Of course notice of appeal had at once been given by the opposite side, and the sum of money, stated in the regulations, lodged with the registrar of the district court.
But we went to work again, and made haste to raise enough to complete a machine-full of washdirt, which, when put through or puddled, produced a sufficiency of gold to pay all our late law expenses, and leave us a comforting surplus, thus demonstrating also the unabated richness of No. 4.
Hardly, however, had we completed this gratifying transaction than one of our late antagonists arrived in company with a police trooper, and called upon us to stop working on their claim.
‘Your claim!’ said Cyrus Yorke, striding up to him and lifting him off the ground, as if he had been a schoolboy, instead of a wiry, muscular labourer. ‘You may serve out your injunction, or summons, or whatever it is that you’ve got the bobby to help you with; but if you call No. 4 your claim again, I’ll drop you down the shaft as sure’s as there’s homminey on the Hawkesbury.’
We had seldom seen our easy-going, careless partner so excited before. Like most slow-moving intellects, his faculties were capable of great expansion when fully aroused. Once or twice we had marked him in the thick of an affray. Like Athelstane the Unready, when his blood was up, knight, and squire, and yeoman, and villain went down with wondrous suddenness before the South-Saxon giant of Wiseman’s Ferry. On this occasion there was no need for deeds of valour. The miners of Yatala had long since discovered the futility of resorting to physical force.
‘I say, Cornstalk, I shall have to put the bracelets on those mutton fists of yours,’ said the trooper good humouredly. ‘That chap’s on the Queen’s service, or all the same. Here’s a Supreme Court injunction, which I hereby serve by giving to your mate, Harry Pole, here. D’ye hear? Let go this honest old miner, or you’ll drop in for it. I’ve seen as big a chap as you straightened afore now.’
Cyrus was too good a subject of Her Gracious Majesty to resist the law’s representative. He relinquished Mr. Bommer with a gentle shake, growling to himself meanwhile like an interrupted grizzly. We capitulated. I called out ‘below there.’ The indicator rapped, and presently the Major and Joe Bluer emerged from the lower depths, clay-stained and disgusted.
‘Blocked again!’ quoth the Major, ‘what an infernal shame. It’s enough to demoralise a man altogether and irrevocably, this forced idleness. Enough to drive him to take to—well—Alison’s History of Europe, or even Martin Farquhar Tupper. Do you ever reflect for one moment,’ he said, facing the astonished jumper, ‘what may be the consequence of your unprincipled litigation? Heavy reading, incipient dementia, violent inanity, imbecility. And all because you won’t respect the tenth commandment. Had you a mother? Did you ever attend a Sunday school? Had you so much as a maiden aunt? Answer me.’
‘You be hanged,’ said the half-puzzled, half-irritated catspaw, who had evidently been drowning his sense of defeat in the flowing bowl, from his flushed and heavy-eyed look. ‘You think because you and Harry Pole are swells that you can carry things all your own way on the field. But we’ll learn ye different before we’ve done with yer.’
‘And you think, because you’re a pack of loafing blackguards,’ retorted the Major, roused for the nonce, ‘that you can interfere with fair working miners, and steal claims that you have no more right to than the bank in Main Street. We shall see you all in gaol for half a year for our costs, that’s one comfort, and it’s a great pity we can’t put your underhand friends and backers there along with you.’
‘You’ll be pulled for using language calculated to cause a breach of the peace, Major,’ said the trooper, ‘if you don’t stash it. Come along, my noble jumper, you’ve served your injunction, and that ought to satisfy you for one while.’
So the malignant departed, rather to my relief, for there was nothing to be gained by being summoned to Court, and fined under the 5th clause of the Vagrant Act. No. 4 was sufficiently near a public road, thoroughfare, or place, to tempt our adversary to swear that we were within the meaning of that very stringent clause.
Our wisest plan was to comply with the law, to hang up our buckets, put away the rope, and abide the issue. A deep claim is not a property that can be worked, or larcenously interfered with, without remark. The only way that our golden hoard could in any way be rifled was by the men in one of the adjacent claims driving or making a lateral gallery over our boundary below, when our washdirt might have gone up their shaft in the light of day, and no one been any wiser. This has been done before now.
In addition to this safeguard, the neighbours on either side were straightforward and honourable men. We also possessed another legal preventive. By application to the Commissioner we could at any time obtain an order to descend and survey either of the adjacent shafts, when, by means known to all miners, we could soon discover if any subterranean encroachment had been made.
We were stopped accordingly. It was a bore, but the other side could not work either; and being precluded from hard work, with plenty of money to spend, and no unpaid debts, or anxiety about the morrow, was a very different thing from our former experiences.
So we all preserved our souls in peace for the six weeks that elapsed before the appeal could be heard. The Major read every book in the library of the Mechanics’ School of Arts, besides buying so many that they may seriously interfere with the comfort of our sleeping apartment. Joe Bulder smoked a good deal more than was good for him, and anathematised those scoundrels of jumpers with more fervency than propriety. While Cyrus ran his horse in several exciting sweepstakes, and won or lost as the case might be.