The Miner’s Right

Chapter XIV

Rolf Boldrewood

IT WAS certainly one of the richest finds we had any of us encountered, and we had been where the gold lay as plentiful as shells by the sea shore. Directly we were down, we drove across to the outer edges of our boundary, lest some smart neighbour (for we were closely surrounded by this time) should subterraneously encroach and get into our treasure chamber, before we had full knowledge of its outer walls.

This sort of thing had happened before, within our own knowledge. More than once a too easy party of miners in rich ground had, when down upon the lowest stratum, suddenly found, as they said, ‘the bottom drop out of their shaft,’ all their hopes of wealth untold falling with it into an unknown abyss.

This abnormal proceeding had resulted from smarter neighbours having driven, or made lateral galleries all about their under world, taking the gold up their own shaft, and perhaps clearing out altogether to a distance before their iniquity became manifest.

There was certainly the method of legal recovery of damages and value of gold so abstracted, if wilful encroachment and felonious taking could be fully proved. But on a thronged and quickly-shifting alluvial goldfield, like the Oxley, the chances were against receiving satisfaction in full. Probably, too, the ill-gotten gold was sold or spent before the discovery was made, transferred almost as far beyond the bailiff’s reach, if a judgment was obtained, as the quart of whisky which the Highlander defied the Customs officer to confiscate.

As I said before, our party was too rusé and experienced to lay itself open to such peculiar pillage. We drove and raised our washdirt without anxiety or molestation, and afterwards separated it from the attendant clay and gravel, by the old-fashioned expedient of a ‘tom.’ This abbreviation of ‘long tom’ is a sufficiently lengthy trough made of sawn boards with a plate of perforated iron at one end. The auriferous gravel, here placed, has a constant stream of water playing over it, the gold remaining in crevices specially prepared. Our wash-dirt was so exceptionally rich that very little treatment sufficed for it. At the end of the week’s washing up, we discovered that we were each making at the rate of a thousand pounds a man, or fifty-two thousand a year. A most respectable income. Even my friends of Mid-Kent would have allowed this; though many of them maintained, to their dying day, that gold digging was more or less an immoral occupation.

Well as we were doing, of course many others in our vicinity and other places were as richly rewarded. Our claim was soon well known as the Greenstone Dyke run of gold; one consequence of which was, that every available yard of soil, for more than a mile round, was taken up, thus preventing us from extending our operations, or continuing further search in the same direction.

We did not mind this, for, in addition to our present slice of luck, we had, in deference to Jack Bulder’s advice, bought up all the ‘interests,’ that is, shares, half shares, and quarter shares on or near the supposed run of gold that we had struck, which were for sale. We had cash in hand, and so were able to speculate to advantage as many of our neighbours were poor men, not long come on to the field. So that when the Greenstone Dyke Lead became so notoriously lucrative, we had more strings to our bow than one, and several sources of income.

Yet it seemed very hard that Olivera, who had shown us the lead and demonstrated by geological facts that the gold must be there, should get not an ounce of it; his claim being one of the very few blanks that were recorded on the lead.

Besides, as all the claim holders had closed round as far as could be seen in every direction, he was thereby shut out from getting another claim, even within hail of his first favourite spot. There was nothing for him but to go to a distant portion of the field and try his fortune there. He did so, taking his losses, as usual, very coolly, only saying ‘Just my luck. There’s plenty more on this field, more than these blockheads dream of, who have been crowding so eagerly here. But it is rather hard to be almost the only man who has duffered out on a lead of my own discovering. But you will do me the justice to say, that I expected it from the commencement.’

So Mr. Dycecombe Olivera, whom we had got into the habit of calling The Don, from his dark and somewhat foreign appearance, calmly departed with his vassals, and chose another site for a probable gold-mine, about due west of the present workings. This other was due east. Perhaps he thought that a direct antithesis might break the spell.

While we were working together before the successful result of our co-operative enterprise, I had instinctively occupied myself with observing the characteristics of our new mate, Mr. Jack Bulder.

His certainly was an organisation dear to the psychological inquirer. He was much cleverer and more amusing than poor Joe, whom he continually rallied about his simplicity and the close-clinging rusticities he had been unable to shake off.

‘Hang it, Joe,’ he used to say, ‘why you’re just the same yokel as you were when I recollect you blubbering like a great girl, when I went away to sea.’

‘Happen I mightn’t see so much to blubber about, if ye were gannin’ noo. When folks is young they’re foolish like. I had na been long from mother’s apron-string then. I’m none as forrard as thee, I’ll allow, but I can do a many things as I never thout to learn in foreign parts. And I can work and haud a still tongue, lad.’

‘I never could,’ laughed the elder brother. ‘I never could in my life; there you have the advantage of me, as you will find some day. However, you can work, and no mistake, Joe. I didn’t think there was a man in Yatala, or here either, who could work alongside of me, so easy and regular as you have done.’

Jack Bulder did himself no more than justice when he half stated that no man on the field could work alongside of him with pick and shovel in a shaft. He was one of the most wonderful performers in the shaft-sinking line that we had ever dropped across. Strong, quick-witted, and absolutely tireless; he had the ready-for-anything turn of mind of a trained sailor. Full, also, of mechanical expedients in any emergency, he displayed a fertility of resource which furnished the most unaffected astonishment to his brother. Joe could not sufficiently express his wonderment at such a genius having appeared from out of the Bulder family, and their surroundings in Mid-Kent.

‘Danged if I know whether it be the sailoring or the digging as has made thee the man thou art,’ said he, in one of his vain attempts to explain the transformation which had taken place in his elder. ‘Seems to me as if they sent all the young chaps frae Dibblestowe aboord ship for five year, and to the diggin’ for five year more, they’d never want no poor law nor unions. Why, half-a-dozen chaps like Jack’d mak the fortune o’a dozen towns like Dibblestowe; they’d toorn all the ploughmen into farmers, and all the farmers into squires—danged if they wouldn’t.’

Without going quite so far as our worthy Joe in his theories as to the best means of vitalising the latent forces of the peasantry of Britain, the Major and I did full justice to the merits of our new comrade. We had always regarded Joe as the model Englishman of the labouring class; but his senior had all his unerring common sense, propriety of feeling, and incalculable staying power, apparently, with far more initiative faculty.

Whether it was the seafaring or the digging experience which had made the man he was of him, we, of course, could not determine. Anyhow, he was an interesting psychological study, and as such, afforded endless matter for reflection and comparison to the Major and myself.

Not that we, after our dearly bought and curiously varied experience, were too prone to take the most attractive new acquaintance wholly upon trust. Hundreds of human disappointments, personal and vicarious, had served to cure us of the Arcadian trustfulness with which we might have entered Australia. Indeed, the half reproachful conclusion was strictly applicable to us, which passed sadly from the lips of a détenu in the cells of one of Her Majesty’s metropolitan gaols.

Two prisoners in the exercise yard, serving their sentence, were heard one day conversing in earnest tones, such as aroused the attention of the warder, watchful lest plots for breaking gaol should be incubating. It proved merely to be the discussion of the probable success of an appeal to the Head of the Department—formerly a Commissioner of Goldfields—for some alleviation of duress.

‘Do yer think we could gammon the chief bloke, Bill,’ said the milder ruffian. ‘He looked a good-’arted cove when we see him last?’

‘I’m afeard it’s no go,’ croaked Bill, with despairing cadence, ‘he’s been too long at them bloomin’ diggins.’

Such, alas! had been our too realistic destiny. Without losing our reverence for the higher qualities of our common nature, we had learned to distinguish between the true and the false; and, for most purposes of deceit and imposture, such as are unblushingly practised upon the excellent of the earth—we had been ‘too long at the diggings!’

‘Confound the fellow,’ said the Major one day, when we had had a lengthened discussion about him; ‘he’s as good as a new novel, very nearly. But for him, and a torn copy of Adam Bede, I should have been out of all intellectual rations—perhaps, taken to beer and dominoes. Still (reflectively), he’s got one fault, a very bad one, in my experience of character, real and fictitious. I can’t call to mind a faultless hero, who hadn’t a screw loose somewhere, connected with the leading machinery, too. Now, our friend’s too d—d perfect altogether. I’m sorry for it. But mark my words, Pole, there’s something to find out about him.

We, therefore, placed a percentage of our judgment, while basking in the sunshine, to the suspense account, so to speak, of Mr. Jack Bulder’s energy and capacity; for, did he not splice our rope, much worn and not to be replaced, improvise an anvil and point out picks after hours, manufacture a superior kind of windlass with a patent brake, and twice the ordinary power, besides fishing out a new auriferous gully, before Olivera, who, however, endorsed his judgment and took up a claim broadside on to us. This, of course, was after we had worked out our ‘goldsmith’s window’ as the adjacent diggers christened it, and recommenced to dig out another fortune.

Our first claim possessed the very great advantage of being easy to work, besides being fabulously rich; that is, the wash-dirt could be got out and treated with almost a tithe of the terrible work and loss of time necessary at poor old Yatala. So Jack and his brother, working all the time like two benevolent Trolls, with zealous emulation, it came to pass that we were clean worked out and had sold the good-will of our claim to some new arrivals for ‘a cool hundred,’ before many of our neighbours at Greenstone Gully were half done with their ‘dirt.’

As may be easily imagined, this assimilation of the ‘root of all evil’ to the familiar tuber which merely needs in ordinary seasons to be dug up and put in bags (ours were chamois leather, to be sure), was not without its effect upon society at large, civilised and uncivilised.

Rumour had caught up, magnified, and sent fleeing on the wings of the wind to every quarter of the globe, sensational inflations, gold coloured and rose hued, until all Europe, Africa, America, and even Asia, to the bounds of ‘far Cathay,’ grew familiar with the gold farms on the banks of the Oxley, where the crops were gathered all the year round; where the streams trickled over treasure untold, and the very rocks were of virgin gold!

Our own astonishing successes, and, indeed, those of numberless fellow-workers, could not fail to produce a violent commotion among the floating populations of the earth. But Aladdin-chamber inventories must have been sown broadcast to account for the tidal-wave of stranger hosts which now came rolling in upon the river flats of the Oxley.

Not only did every colony of Australia, every province of New Zealand, send in, apparently, its able-bodied contingent, but Americans, Canadians, Germans, Frenchmen, Italians, Swiss, Cockneys and Highlanders, Scots and Irishmen, Spaniards and West-Indian Creoles, arrived, apparently in shiploads.

Moreover, and on this modern invasion our conscript fathers looked darkly and with sullen disapproval, long strings of Chinese, grotesquely attired, and heavily burdened, came thronging along the well worn trail which led from the arterial highways of the coast.

Simultaneously with the advance in force of the great army of miners, an official camp had been formed, where Captain Blake took up his headquarters, accompanied by Mr. Merlin, the sergeant, and a strong body of police, further reinforced a few days afterwards.

The Commissioner, with military prevision, selected as a site a high bluff or point surrounded on three sides by the deep and rapid waters of the Oxley. A stout palisaded fence was at once run across the neck (a narrow one) on the side facing the diggings, thus forming a convenient paddock for the troop horses, while, as a strategical position, it was capable of scientific defence, should the need ever arise.

The tents were pitched, pending the erection of the necessary buildings, the horses let loose, the Captain’s dogs chained up, the Union Jack flaunted on a sapling appropriate for a flag-staff, and Her Majesty’s Government was fully represented.

It was apparent to us that it would take the Commissioner and Mr. Merlin ‘all their time,’ as the diggers phrased it, to keep the field in the same state of order and subjection as had obtained at Yatala. A better sous-officier than Sergeant Mac-Mahon they could not possibly have had. But, beside the enormously increased population which now gave every sign of being massed upon the ground, there were other elements likely to be infused which might lead to revolt and disorganisation.

On the first Saturday afternoon, after having heard that the new Clerk of the Bench had arrived, we went to call upon him. He was also Mining Registrar, Agent for the Curator of Intestate Estates, Registrar of the Small Debts Court, Coroner, Commissioner for Affidavits, and the holder of several other minor offices, which are generally appendages to the appointment.

We found him in the large tent which did duty as a court-house, of one corner of which he had possessed himself. Evidently not a man of method, he was surrounded with books and papers relating to his office, all in such a state of inextricable confusion, that an average licensed surveyor (of all men, perhaps, most experienced in making a tent habitable and officially effective) would have swooned on the spot.

‘Now then, w-w-what’s your name,’ he called out in a loud voice, without looking up, ‘don’t keep me w-w-waiting all d-d-day.’

The Major smiled. He looked up angrily. ‘How d-d-dare you presume to l-l-laugh, sir, in Her M-m-m-ajesty’s t-t-tent, sir, taking up the G-g—government time? D-d-don’t you know every minute of my t-t-time’s worth a g-g-guinea?’

The Major having by this time extracted his card, presented it, at the same time saying, ‘Mr. Bagstock, I believe, permit me to introduce my friend Mr. Pole.’

Mr. Bagstock gave one hurried glance at the card, stared wildly at us, then with a rapid alteration of manner, got up and shook hands warmly with us.

‘D-d-delighted to see you, I’m sure. Charlie Grant—b-b-best f-f-fellow in the world—s-s-said you were out here. W-w-wrote, I believe. Live near this p-p-pandemonium?’

‘We live in it,’ said the Major; ‘we’re familiar demons.’

‘But wh-wh-what do you d-d-do, then?’

‘Dig,’ I said, ‘and are not badly paid for it just at present.’

‘Regular miners?’ said our new acquaintance, still wonderingly. ‘Good God! you don’t say so. Got one of th-these and all?’ Here he pointed to a book of Miners’ Rights, upon which he had been scribbling names as fast as he could write before we came in which accounted for his unconventional reception.

This he explained as we talked afterwards, during which conversation he showed himself a most amusing man of the world. His habit of stammering was so repeatedly useful in giving point and accentuation to his witticisms, that we doubted seriously as to whether it was natural or assumed.

A vein of eccentricity, amounting to recklessness, pervaded his character, which I thought could either be accepted by the mining population as legitimate humour and pleasantry, or be seriously disapproved of, and so lead to the severance of official relations.

He freely confided to us his views as to the performance of his duties, as well as his general opinion as to the best mode of treating the heterogeneous population with which he was brought into contact.

‘F-f-f-irmness, my dear fellow, and k-k-keeping them in their p-p-p—laces; depend upon it that’s the l-l-line to take, and cut s-s-short all their d—d t-t-technical details.’

‘Hulloo! what is it? Ex-c-c-cuse me M-m-major?’

Here a burly digger advanced with a document carefully folded up in his hands.

‘Are you the gen’lman as takes the hafferdavys?’

‘C-c-certainly; all I can g-g-get.’

‘Well, Mr. Cramp said as I was to make my hafferdavy afore you, where you see my mark here, as I was the owner of these town allotments in Bathurst.’

‘All r-r-right, s-s-swear away.’

Here he looked around for the official Bible, which ought to have been within reach, but which was probably buried under some of the piles of papers, books, forms of summons, warrants, informations, etc., which lay around as if in upheaval a corner of a stationer’s shop had fallen in just then.

Not seeing it he continued: ‘This is your signature, and the contents of this affidavit are t-t-true, so h-h-help you God. Half a guinea!’

The man looked rather confused and uncertain, but produced the coin, and then said, ‘I didn’t see no Bible, sir?’

‘N-n-never mind. K-k-kiss the book when you g-g-get home!’

Overawed by the authority and impressiveness of Mr. Bagstock’s manner, the miner, not one of the pestilent educated sort, departed, and we only awaited his safe clearing out to laugh heartily.

‘Allow me to congratulate you upon your savoir-faire,’ said the Major with much politeness; ‘for a newly-landed official, I don’t recollect seeing your equal.’

Bagstock confronted us with a face of absolute gravity.

‘Where do you s-s-suppose I should be if I d-d-didn’t cut short these f-f—fellows’ trifling objections. C-c-can’t waste the G-g-government time, you know.

There was a humorous twinkle in his eye as he said this, which nearly set us off again; but his command of feature was perfect. So, arranging for him to dine with us and Olivera on the following day, and promising to send a guide to the camp before the appointed hour, we took our leave.

‘By Jove,’ said the Major, ‘our friend will either be a distinguished ornament to the service, or he will be mentioned in such a way in Blake’s despatches that the Government will require his services at Bourke or Wilcannia without delay.’

‘I don’t know about that,’ I said. ‘He has plenty of “pluck and assurance,” as Deuchatel said the other day, and foreseeing rather wild times, I incline to the belief that he will develop into a celebrity.’

‘Talking of distinguished people,’ said my companion, ‘I heard one of these Victorians, who are arriving in such hordes, address Jack Bulder familiarly by a different name. The man evidently knew him well. He acknowledged him, but little more, and went on with his work. He looked up afterwards and said something about “a purser’s name being handy now and then in this country.”’

‘What did the fellow call him?’

‘Dawson, I think; not his own name, at any rate.’

‘It can’t matter to us,’ I said; ‘he may have married, and since he was on the diggings, as the men say, and have reasons not affecting his general character for not wishing to be brought back under a warrant, to answer a charge of maintenance. Such things happen now and then. Look at Westerman’s case.’

‘I am surprised to hear a man of your high moral tone talk in that way,’ said the Major sarcastically. ‘No, I don’t think our accomplished friend, somehow, fears that the flowery fetters of matrimony may resolve themselves into prosaic handcuffs; but I am convinced he has reason to dread some éclaircissment or other. In spite of his ceaseless work—and he is the devil, bon diable if you will, at that—he has a restless look. And I wouldn’t give very heavy odds that he doesn’t drink.’

‘Why, he never touches anything,’ said I greatly astonished.

‘Bad sign,’ replied the Major, ‘very bad; that is the reason why I think so.’

Our speculations, were, however, confined to our own breasts. In the daily increasing rout and turmoil of the greatest concourse of people ever gathered together upon (temporarily) the richest goldfield in Australia, it did not appear to matter much about private character, more than upon the moral standard reached by any given soldier in a decisive battle.

Our time was much taken up with our own highly exciting work, for which we were still rewarded beyond our most sanguine expectations. As all the early comers were similarly successful, and as it was from time to time requisite to defend one’s ground against aggressive strangers, ignorant of mining or, apparently, any other laws, there was absolutely no leisure whatever. The Commissioner rode his horses almost to death, having to decide so many hundreds of cases on the ground daily; and though rapid and decisive as usual, the immense population of the field, with its daily multiplying gold areas, employed every moment of daylight, and still left a margin of small disputes undisposed of.

It was in one of these where our new mate distinguished himself by prompt action peculiar to himself. One afternoon we discovered that four unprepossessing-looking strangers had pegged out a corner of our claim, and were proceeding to sink thereon, under the pretext that we held more than our proper quantity, and that there was ‘spare ground between us and the next claim.’ It was merely a pretext, as we knew, but annoying, as it might be a week or two now before the Commissioner could come down and adjudicate. Before which time, as the ground was shallow, these fellows might have their shaft down and commence to rob us in daylight.

It must be explained that so rich was the yield of gold at this particular gully, every foot of ground represented no in considerable sum. A certain number of superficial feet only was allotted to each miner by the regulations. If he, working separately, or his party collectively, occupied more than the legal allowance, any other miner, making the discovery, might take possession of it, as ground held in excess, and if he proved his case it was allotted to him by the Commissioner.

Hence, in rich localities, it was customary for men to go round the claims with a tape line carefully measuring the areas. If they discovered a sufficient quantity of ground ‘held in excess,’ barely sufficient to sink a shaft upon, they made a practice of taking possession of it. In some cases they managed to work these fragments of claims, and secure a portion of the general treasure; in others they effected a compromise, and sold out their titles to the original holders. This was not held to be a manly or reputable course of conduct by the miners generally, and, indeed, was chiefly adopted by the loafers and scamps of the goldfield. But, on the other hand, no miner had any right to take up more ground than he was legally entitled to, and if he was thereby damaged it was his own fault.

We however, and also Olivera, had always been scrupulously careful to measure accurately our due and lawful quantity, holding it for the reasons recited wrong and inexpedient to do otherwise. We were, therefore, convinced that the attempted occupation was only an impudent struggle for blackmail, by forcibly encroaching on our claim.

The Major and I had resisted by all means, short of personal violence, this invasion of our rights, and were engaged in a stormy altercation with the leading man of the party, a tall, fair-bearded, dissipated-looking personage. He affected an American accent, but was evidently one of those pernicious scoundrels known as ‘whitewashed Yankees,’ who having been a few years in the States, make the fact an excuse for imitating the alleged license of the worst class of American rowdies.

‘Now, look here, mister,’ he was saying when the two brothers came up, ‘ye don’t allow, I guess, that we’ve come all the way from Bear Valley to let you Britishers freeze on to every likely gulch you con-clude to mark out on this all-fired rich placer. No, sirree. I reckon there’s a smart chance of one handy now, and hyar goes my peg.’

Suiting the action to the word, he raised a stout pointed sapling end and prepared to drive it into the earth. At the same moment Jack Bulder with his brother Joe appeared on the scene, having both stripped to their working clothes for the shift.

Walking rapidly up, the elder brother appeared to have fully comprehended the situation, and backed up sturdily by Joe, was evidently ready to carry out mine or the Major’s order. In the moment he cast eyes upon the tall man his manner changed suddenly and remarkably.

He rushed forward and, for a moment, his eyes glared at the stranger with an expression of hate, loathing, and wrath unspeakable, almost demoniac in intensity, which distorted his whole countenance. The direst earthly tragedy could furnish no fitter exposition.

His enemy—for such he was, doubtless, and the feud was not of yesterday—gazed at him with an air of deepest surprise, mingled with dismay.

‘So it’s you? blast you!’ he hissed out, ‘thief and betrayer that you are; hasn’t the earth swallowed you up yet? Drop your peg and clear while you can. Why should I have your blood on my head? curse you! You won’t?—then—’

Wholly dominated, as it seemed, by uncontrollable, furious passion, and, indeed, hardly giving his antagonist time to do anything, who stood speechless, still holding the peg, John Bulder dashed in upon him with the agility of a panther, and with scarcely less ferocity.

Pushing aside with his right hand the stake held cudgel-fashion as if it had been a walking-cane, he struck the stranger such a blow with his left as only an Englishman, early trained by the village lanista, can inflict. Down went the man prone, without sense or motion, and his antagonist stood beside him for one moment grinding his teeth and looking at the bleeding face, as one who hesitated whether he should follow up his natural instincts and stamp the life out of his foe as he lay beneath his feet.

At the same instant Joe Bulder walked forward and in a sort of mechanical manner knocked down the man nearest to him. All conflict being highly contagious, the Major and I advanced, upon which the others of the invading party threw up their hands with a gesture of disavowal, and declined the combat temporarily.

‘You seem rather hot property, mates,’ said the more respectable-looking one of the twain. ‘I’m not agin a friendly round, when everything’s agreeable; but it strikes me there’s been enough rough and tumble for one morning. Yankee Jake brought us here; he said he knowed the ropes, and it was the regular thing to go in and jump a bit of ground or we’d never get none.’

‘Well, now that you’ve discovered that it’s a highly irregular thing,’ said the Major, ‘perhaps you’d oblige me by clearing out, and taking Mr. Yankee Jake with you, alive or dead. He looks like the last.’

That distinguished individual not being quite dead, slowly raised himself and looked around with an air of deadliest malice at his foe, who stood near him, as if with wrath unsated.

‘Get up,’ he said, ‘you hound, and take your rotten carcass out of my sight. Why don’t I drive my knife into you and make an end of it? It’s almost worth while.’

Jack looked so tigerish, as he glanced at the bleeding wretch, laying his hand upon the sheath-knife which, sailor fashion, he always wore at his belt, that the man hastily, though with difficulty, arose, and, assisted by his mates, limped off the claim towards the place where their bundles lay. Before finally departing the tall man turned towards us, and with a face hardly human in its expression, bleeding and distorted as it was, groaned out.

‘I owe you another for this, Ballarat Jack—d’ye hear? and I’ll pay it yet, as sure as my name’s Jake Challerson.’

The man whom he addressed made no answer, but with his hat over his eyes, and his breast still heaving with suppressed passion, passed into his tent. The only practical answer to the menace was that of Joe Bulder, who, tearing up their pegs, flung them after the retreating party.

There was no ulterior consequence to this rather serious affray, such as would on the morrow, as surely as it dawned, have taken place at Yatala. But the enemy, for reasons of their own probably, did not invoke the aid of the civil power. The police had their handsfull of criminal cases and matters of more pressing import. And the Commissioner, when he heard of it, said he wished to heaven that other miners would take example by Pole and party, and not bother him about every trumpery jumping dispute.

We were not sorry to be done with our dispute on such easy terms, having had enough of law to last us our lives. Jack appeared to have done the right thing at the right time, as usual; still we could not help being impressed by the exaggerated ferocity which he had exhibited in his encounter with the tall stranger.

‘Those men were old miners, that was plain enough,’ said the Major, ‘and foes of no ordinary degree. I never saw mortal look more like a demon than Jack Bulder did after he had knocked the fellow down: and he did drop him, like a bullock. Never saw a straighter blow, fair in the mouth too. He won’t eat or talk “worth a cent,” as he would say himself, for some time to come.’

‘And that ruffian hates him with no ordinary hatred either,’ I said. ‘I wonder what it is all about?’

Must have been a woman mixed up with it,’ mused the Major, with grim certainty; ‘no real hell-broth without her finger in it, trust me.’

‘Pooh, pooh, Major, you’re too hard upon the sex, altogether. Diggers quarrel about scores of things, apart from any question of that sort, as we know.’

‘Quarrel, perhaps. But there is that kind of feud between those two men, if I mistake not, that only blood will quench, if opportunity serves. What did that scoundrel mean by calling him Ballarat Jack, too? Anything to do with the stockade affair?’

‘Shouldn’t wonder; but there were lots in it as well if he was there. He doesn’t talk much about his Victorian experiences, I notice. By the way, how’s Olivera?

‘Well, I believe he’s done rather better than usual for him. His party got £500 out of their last claim, which will about pay wages and something over. This is the fifth claim he has been in since he came here, and the first in which he has seen the colour. Isn’t it wonderful? But I have known cases like it,’ continued the Major, ‘though rarely where the seeker was so persevering and scientific as our friend here. However, if the gold holds out, his luck must turn some day. No one ever knew the red to turn up for more than a certain number of times.’

‘I suppose he’ll be all right if the gold holds out, but a few years at this rate will see it out.’

He says another generation won’t, nor another after that,’ replied the Major, ‘that it’s mathematically demonstrable.’

The Miner’s Right - Contents    |     Chapter XV

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