The Miner’s Right

Chapter XLIV

Rolf Boldrewood

THE DAY of days arrived at length, lingering as had been the diurnal periods—or rather ages, aeons, eternities—which preceded it. But for the punctual appearance of the sun, that unfailing wonder-sign in southern lands, I might have imagined that some especial disarrangement of the solar system had taken place for my express discomfiture. Good kind Mrs. Allerton, in spite of my entreaties, would not abate an hour of the stipulated time which had been agreed upon as necessary for the awful preliminaries so incomprehensible to men. Ruth, too, was unkind enough to smile, and remark that as we had waited years an additional month could not matter so much. In vain I brought forward arguments as to the frightful uncertainty of human life, the prevalence of epidemics, the recklessness of cabmen, the tempests of the equinox, probable earthquakes, all things, and each which might occur to frustrate our new-found happiness if longer delayed. Nothing availed me. I was compelled to solace myself, as had other impatient lovers, with reflections on the curious obstinacy of a sex which poets and romancers have, for some inscrutable reason, conspired to depict as soft and yielding.

But the winds and the waves, the stars in their courses, the forces of nature, with the lesser powers of human life and society, combined to favour the votive and supreme ceremony of our love.

The sun-god of the south, celestial, effulgent, rose on the most entrancing day that had dawned since first the summer breeze whispered to the ocean ’neath the lone headlands or by the silver sands of Rose Bay; surely on that charmed strand the fays of the southern main first danced to the mystic moon. Clear and bright as the ‘gold bar of heaven’ I watched God’s glorious messenger of light and warmth majestically uprise through an azure cloudless sky. It was the pale dawn flushed and glowed. It was the city of the Apocalypse—amber and pearl, rose, amethyst, and jacinth. All things were transfigured. It was from a fresh creation I seemed to issue forth, redeemed from a world of strife and labour, henceforth to inhabit a sphere of peace, of radiant happiness, which was to know no time or limit. We were but a small party as we met at the massive, old-fashioned, but still favourite and venerable church, with its alleys of araucaria and Moreton Bay fig-trees. Hard by was Mrs. Pemberton’s house and the glorious sea-terraced garden pleasaunce wherein we had wandered so many happy hours. With the Major, whose faultless attire defied the most fastidious club critic, came Mr. Bright, whose leave of absence appeared perennial. The Commissioner, with Mr. Merlin and Olivera, had managed to sever themselves temporarily from their onerous duties, and to stand by me on that day. Certain delicate-featured willowy-figured Sydney demoiselles, friends of Mrs. Pemberton’s, who had professed themselves quite too awfully charmed to assist at such a touching ceremonial, officiated as bridesmaids, and these were the only stranger guests in all the company. Ah, how different would it have been at Allerton Court!—a remark which Mrs. Allerton could not help making in the maternal fulness of her heart. But she saw the bright hues of health again mantling on Ruth’s check. so long a stranger to the warmer tints, and marked the love-light which glowed and sparkled in her soft bright eye. The flower-laden ocean breeze stole through the open windows of the old church, and during the hush and stillness, with the solemn tones of the aged clergyman, mingled ever and anon melodious surge-voices, chaunting their deep rhythmical antistrophe. The beauty and strangeness of the surroundings, where we now indissolubly sealed our union, overcame her motherly o’ercharged heart, and the tears of joy and thankfulness filled her eye and rolled unheeded adown her cheek.

Our wedding dejeuner, though a tiny festival, was complete; and, thanks to Mrs. Pemberton’s taste and sympathy, utterly perfect in detail.

Merlin confessed that he had never tasted such champagne since his last dinner at Very’s. Mr. Bright proposed the health of the leading performers with effect and feeling. The Major was compelled to undertake the toast ‘The bridesmaids,’ which doubtless he did under a mental reservation equivalent to ‘without prejudice.’

The Commissioner and the Squire arranged to meet in Northamptonshire, not far from the historic Kirby Gate, in two years’ time, which appointment, strange to say, did come off, by reason of the uncle of him (Blake) dying in the meantime and making testamentary dispositions of astounding liberality.

.     .     .     .     .

We had planned to pass our earlier wedded days amid the fern-fringed glades and weird primeval forests of New Zealand. The month had not ended when we were steaming south over the restless sea which heaves and moans evermore before the still fathomless fiords of the West coast and the snow peaks of Treble Mount. We explored the hot blue springs of Waiwera, and luxuriated by starlight in the alabaster shell baths of Rotomahana.

We saw the magic lake that divides the pink and the white terraces; more marvels of the land of the Maori; the yellow and green mosaics; the silver-fretted fairy rock-work, so beauteous seeming to the eye, so wondrous soft to the touch. Ruth’s state of mind almost approached intoxication; her admiration was boundless.

‘I can imagine all about those people who came here and never returned to civilisation. The lotus-eaters were no myths after all. This is the land of enchantment.’

Ruth now congratulated herself that she had, early in her suzeraineté, signified her intention of thoroughly acquainting herself with this new world before she returned to the old for the remainder of our days.

‘We are young and adventurous now,’ she said, ‘or at least I am. Before we settle down to the dear unchanging English country life, why should not we see as much of this wonderful land of yours—the land which has done so much for both of us—as we can? In the long dark winters and not too sunshiny summers of our northern home will it not be pleasant to recall this free untrammeled life—this wandering hand-in-hand through the Eden that now lies around us?’

‘I never heard of a female Vanderdecken,’ I say musingly. ‘Can it be our fate to travel everlastingly, “prospecting” for hidden treasures of knowledge till we are too worn and gray to utilise them?’

‘You are the laziest creature,’ she says, pretending to frown. ‘I believe you never would have made anything more than tucker—isn’t that the expression?—if it hadn’t been for your mates and your backers, male and female, eh, sir?’

‘May I be permitted to express a hope that Mrs. Hereward Pole will not come out with expressive colonialisms when—I mean if—we return to England.’

‘Mrs. Hereward Pole—how very grand a title—is generally en accord with her surroundings, social or otherwise. But seriously, Harry dearest, you are not in a hurry to find yourself planté là in the dear old kingdom of Kent? Can we be happier than we are now, without a thought of the morrow, without cares or engagements, and with “a new heaven and a new earth” uprising before our gaze with every morn. In the after time, if we are like other people, we shall have sufficient sameness and settled life to content the most exigeante of British matrons.’

‘I will go with you to the end of the world,’ I murmured; ‘we will sail on thus “till the sun grows cold and the stars are old,” only let me lie at your feet and gaze into your eyes, love-illumined and tender-bright, for ever, as I do now!’

The Squire and Mrs. Allerton did not desire to explore further the earth’s surface, and having, as they thought, sufficiently improved their understanding with travel and adventure, they placed themselves on board the Peninsular and Oriental Company’s majestic steamer Hindostan without unnecessary waste of time. Mr. Allerton much congratulated himself that they had evaded the rigours of an English winter, and would arrive just in time to welcome the budding leaves of spring.

For ourselves, we carried out Ruth’s programme, to which I secretly inclined all the more for having observed that the free unmonotoned life of ‘riding o’er land, sailing o’er sea,’ was building up her constitution to a point of vigour and endurance which I could scarcely have hoped for in her early Australian days.

So beneath the Southern Cross we roamed far and wide and saw many things, and ere the winter winds commenced to howl, like wolves baying around the ice-peak of the Pole, we fled away towards the summer isles of the purple sea, and there possessed our souls in halcyon enjoyment.

Hand in hand we watched the graceful flower-wreathed maidens of Hawaii dance, as the earth’s first-born daughters danced beneath the broad moon’s silver ray; saw the Kanaka dive through the transparent water of coral-fringed bays, and watched the cocoanut palm wave welcome to the fleets of swift-darting canoes with their joyous oarsmen. We brushed with careful foot the smouldering lava of Kilauea, through the crevices of which Ruth, shuddering, marked the red glowing eternal fires of a nether visible and palpable hades. We gazed on the vast blocks and silent halls of the great temple of Iono—built by the hands of the spectral dead. At midnight we were lighted on our homeward path by a heaving sea of molten fire, through which the red domes of lava arose to heave and fall—in hissing fragments, amid pale green films of vapour, and a faint lace-tracery of mist.

Still another moon and we are on board the New York City, among the passengers, who were regaled with ice still pure as when first from the caves of Lake Wenham, and salmon fresh as when congealed the first day of its capture. Entering by the Golden Gate we saw the other great gold city of the earth—San Francisco, and were entertained by a cousin of poor Gus Maynard with the royal hospitality in which Americans excel all the nations of the earth. Under his guidance, or rather in his train, we ‘did’ the Yosemite, Los Angelos, the Mammoth Tree, and even, what interested Ruth most, the wall of the old mission St. Pedro, whereon were traced legends not unconnected with ‘the old, old song,’ old when these old walls were young, ‘Manuela of La Torre.’ Onward again by trains which threaded the awful snow solitude and lone peaks of the Rocky Mountains, through great cities which had been waving forest solitudes but yesterday, over prairie-oceans where the far horizon showed nor hill nor tree—naught but endless flower-strewn plains, as league after league stretched beneath the tireless swift-speeding iron steed, over billowy waving seas of giant grasses and lavish herbage products of the boundless generosity of nature in the far west, over tressel bridges which trembled and vibrated as the long train wound its oscillating way across shuddering abysses. We reach the ocean of the north, again the wondrous Atlantic shore; we dwell in great cities, wondering and awestricken at the labour results of the Briton left free to develop his many-sided nature and boundless energy in a new land of limitless resources. We commence to feel restless—only a week and then home, home!—ah, me! The wanderers have reached home—England, the dear old chalk cliffs of Albion—at last.

From my old friends and true comrades can I now part for evermore without further mention? Can I leave the generous sympathetic reader of these rambling pages to pine in uncertainty, rendering herself uneasy as to what became of Mrs. Yorke and Mrs. Mangrove, whether Mr. Merlin married, if the Commissioner returned to England, or Mr. Bright became chief inspector of banking institutions, with carte blanche for champagne and oysters, and unlimited leave of absence? He who indites even so humble a chronicle of men and manners as this, which now draws to a close—and time, too, perhaps grumble impatient youth, when the heroine is married—cannot complete the task without a tender feeling of regret. Have we said farewell, and for ever, to all the personages, fair and friendly, loyal or false, gentle and simple, which have moved, have spoken, have strutted their hour upon our tiny stage? Shall we never meet again in this world? Alas! some are dead and gone; even in the world of fiction there is a savour of reality; and we could mourn—if we might—for the bright eyes that have ‘forgotten to shine,’ for the brave hearts whose pulses are for ever stilled. When the golden holes known to this day as Greenstone Dyke and No. 4 claims were exhausted and utterly worked out, the party was broken up for good and all. The whole plant, the whim, the tools, the huts, the Major’s cottage—every mortal thing down to a worn-out hide bucket—was sold by auction and the proceeds divided among the shareholders. Roan Bessie, the whip-horse that had drawn up so many thousand buckets of washdirt, was bought in by Joe Bulder, who had made up his mind to purchase an estate on the Hawkesbury and settle down to his old occupation of farming. In this resolution he was supported by Mrs. Yorke, who had definitely consented to become his wife, and to entrust her ‘pile,’ as she phrased it, and the welfare of her children to her late husband’s comrade.

‘Now the ground’s worked out and the party broke up,’ she said in explaining the matter to Mrs. Mangrove confidentially, ‘I feel that unsettled that if there was a new rush broke out in the middle of Californy I’d be bound to follow it, which must be foolishness with all the money I’ve got in the bank. So jest as I was thinkin’ how awkward it ’ld be not to have a soul to cook for or to chaff a bit when they come in from work, and grizzlin’ over poor Cyrus as is dead and gone, this old Joe must come and ketch hold of my hand and offer to take a half share in all future interests. Well, I agreed to transfer, with the parson for registrar, and I don’t know as I could better it much. Marryin’s a long lease not easy cancelled if the labour conditions ain’t carried out as we’ve all seen on this field. But Joe and poor Cyrus was always good mates. He’s as sober and steady as Roan Bessie, very nigh; never was off his shift, hot or cold, wet or dry. He’ll be a good dad to the young ’uns, and he’s that used to doin’ what I tell him that it won’t come strange to him by and by, as it might to some chaps as never worked in the party.’

So Mrs. Yorke, holding that it would simplify matters, was married first, and travelled down country afterwards with Roan Bessie and another horse in a cart with the children and other portables much in the same fashion as they had come to the rush. They could begin to be top sawyers, she said, when they got to Sydney, and then they could make a fair start and launch out at their leisure.

I am bound to say that their wedding, as reported in the Beacon, was an imposing affair, and in a manner far more splendid than ours. The Oxley Church of England building was so full that seats were not procurable, and numbers of the friends of the bride and the bridegroom, who had rolled up in force, were constrained to stand outside.

A stupendous breakfast at Hennessy’s is yet quoted in mining circles, at which the health of the happy pair was drunk in every conceivable liquor, from lager beer to maraschino, while the benediction was pronounced in more tongues than had been set going at once since the Tower of Babel. And the ball at night, at which the happy pair led off the first dance, was such an entertainment as recalled the ‘brave days of old’ to all old prospectors and ‘forty-niners.’

Next day, before the sun was well up the camp was deserted and Joe and his wife on their way to Sydney.

Jack Bulder had, fortunately for himself, joined the ranks of the Good Templars some months since. He, therefore, was enabled to appear at the marriage and subsequent festivities without risk, and on those somewhat dangerous occasions—teetotally speaking—he conducted himself with a perfect, though somewhat pensive propriety. He consistently declined matrimony on his own account for the time to come, residing at intervals with his brother, to whose children he willed his fortune in anticipation of the sudden death which he always prophesied would be his fate. Some years afterwards he was drowned by the foundering of his yacht, the Favourite, in a gale, between Melbourne and Sydney, when his bank shares served to consolidate the increasing prosperity of the Yorkes and Bulders, the second generation of which, well educated and well endowed, may yet take rank among Australian notables.

Some weeks after we had left the Oxley, Edward Morsley was put upon his trial at the Assize Court held at Russell, and after a careful and protracted examination of the evidence found guilty of wilful murder and sentenced to death. Beyond reiterating a statement that poor Jane had taken her own life in despair at being at the last moment prevented from sailing for England, he made no attempt to exculpate himself or evade his doom.

Remorseless ruffian though he might be, he was ‘brave with the she-wolf’s courage grim, dying hard and dumb, torn limb from limb.’ When the drop was finally arranged, and after he had been pinioned, he motioned to the hangman’s assistant as if wishing to speak. The clergyman came over—he had in vain urged him to confess—and listened intently. These were the criminal’s last words: ‘Now look here, what I want to know is this: am I standing perfectly square and straight?’ The good man sighed and commenced the prayer for the dying. The drop fell, and the innocent blood was avenged as far as human justice could compass such expiation.

It was a fact—let us say a coincidence—that within a year of our departure by easy stages for Europe, unlooked-for good fortune commenced to shower its benefits upon nearly all the members of our camaraderie. The Commissioner’s uncle died, leaving him and that brother with whose name and fame we were tolerably familiar, a considerable fortune. Mr. Jack Blake acted up to his Christian name and family traits (was there ever a Jack of sordid soul?) He divided the inheritance with the Commissioner, whereupon that high official swiftly departed for England, taking two couple of his kangaroo dogs with him. Smoker and Spring he could not leave behind, while Forester would show some of the home coursing men that in roughish country a ‘dawg’ reared in Australia could make it very hot for the hares of the period.

The last sensational legend that will ever be told by Australian camp fires about ‘The Captain,’ arose out of the grand farewell dinner in his honour the evening before he started for Sydney en route for Europe. The officials of the goldfield, the gentry of the district and the neighbouring towns, mustered strong. The wines were undeniable. The honour of the Civil Service stood involved; there was but little flinching. Towards the end of the evening a slight difference of opinion arose between Blake and an argumentative surgeon formerly in the army; moreover born north of the Tweed. It referred to a question of genealogy, leading to that of the county rank and precedence of his family, anent which sacred subject Blake was wont to be unusually stiff and dignified towards the small hours.

As ill-luck would have it, the contumacious doctor accompanied him and Bagstock towards the camp after all was over, when he was ill-advised enough to recommence the argument.

‘It’s a vara odd thing, noo I come to think o’t,’ he said musingly. ‘I was quartered in Galway, close to Tuam and Dunmore, for three years. I can recollect fine the Dillons and Brownes, the Frenches and O’Malleys, by the score, but the de’il a Blake I can ca’ to mind for the life o’ me.’

‘By ——!’ growled the Commissioner, and as he spoke he seized him with both hands, and exerting his enormous strength, lifted him high in the air as if he had been a child. ‘You’ll remember one of the Blakes after this night, I’ll go bail.’

A deep-water race just then crossed their path in which the ice-cold waters led from a mountain stream hurried, gleaming in the dim light. Into this Blake dashed the unlucky Doctor, and striding forward, left him to struggle out the best way he could with Bagstock’s aid, whose only consoling remark, as he dragged out the dripping and sputtering victim, was ‘I should have thought you had more s-s-sense, Doctor, than to argue with the Commissioner at t-t-two o’clock in the m-m-morning.’

A bronzed soldierly-looking man, whose straight going and utter indifference to obstacles are somewhat at variance with his snow-white hair and beard, has for some seasons been well known with the Pychley—a dead shot, an authority on grey-hounds which brings him nearly on a level with Stonehenge as a referee and authority, the latter days of the erstwhile ‘Billy’ Blake of the 80th Hussars—whose name was the synonym for feats of daring, beside which foolhardiness was cautious prudence—pass peacefully and happily. But still in all parts of Australia, when miners gather round a camp fire, or the tongues grow lissom under the influence of good fellowship and potent liquor, some racy saying or autocratic act of Commissioner’ Blake’s is quoted, and for long years yet the name of ‘The Captain’ will be a spell to conjure with on the banks of the Oxley.

Mrs. Mangrove and John, true to their principles, were among the earliest arrivals at the great Matamora rush, which occurred years after the Oxley. There they erected the first hotel and sold it at a large profit. They built another, specially retaining the name, and stocked a large store before the second detachment of new arrivals flocked in. As the first American coach arrived, carrying about fifty odd passengers, and the reins of the seven horses handled by a gigantic Canadian were thrown to the helpers, there was such a rush to Mangrove’s Hotel that the inexperienced felt sure that a fight or a bushrangers’ raid was on (so the Matamora Herald pleasantly put it).

‘It’s only “the boys,” John,’ said the long-experienced hostess, as the bronzed and bearded faces, fresh from Queensland, New Zealand, Victoria, and Kiandra, welcome breathing, thronged the hotel, rustling one another like school boys, and casting their swags recklessly on the verandah.

Mrs. Mangrove expressed herself to the effect that it was quite like old times. John, who had been smiling silently throughout the whole performance, merely replying as he gave expressive nods to the hearty greetings of old acquaintances, ‘regular stunning good rush, boys; 120 oz. nugget got by one man simply.’

Mr. Bright, like the Commissioner, was indebted to a considerate relation for a bequest which, somewhat to his regret, absolved him from the necessity of forming branches at new goldfields and defending the property of the Bank of New Holland like a mediæval champion against all comers. He and Mr. Merlin met in Paris the following year, when the latter gentleman was enabled to display his proverbial knowledge of gastronomy under the most favourable conditions, and together they experienced such dinners as can only be realised in dreams south of the line. We had the pleasure of talking over old times with them during the shooting season at Allerton Court, where Australian stories were reproduced for the benefit of some of the magnates of the county-tales of wonder to which Mr. Bright’s exceptional shooting, when we got to the preserves, lent ample corroboration.

.     .     .     .     .

Surely it is decreed and fore-ordained that the lives of some men should be divided into periods of war and peace. The youth of those who, like myself,

‘Have striven and toiled and fought it out.
        Under the hard blue sky’

of a far land is filled full of the hazard and the glory, the grim perils and the stormy joys of war, of dreary watching in trenches, dogged endurance of defeat, intoxicating triumph of victory.

To some men-at-arms it is given to march proudly in through the gate of the beleagured city of Fortune, with drum and trumpet and banners flying, while comrades lie dead in the breach or disabled on the plain.

Let him who emerges from the battle of life safe, enriched, and honoured by all men, be more than content, be humbly thankful to the great Being by whose mercy he, all unworthy, was spared while so many perished on the march or the stricken field.

For me, Hereward Pole, the reign of peace has distinctly set in, now and forever. Henceforth, save when the shadow of the wing of Azrael the Death Angel, from whom no household rich or poor may claim immunity, darkens my threshold, no faintest fear of fate or trace of care or grief was mingled with my life.

I was fortunate in being able to purchase an estate which marched with Allerton Court, and which the Squire, in a mild and Christian-like way, had always coveted. The house was delightful—perhaps too large and complete for the land which surrounded it. But for that we did not particularly care. My son would be the heir of Allerton Court, and in the fulness of time, upon the death of the Squire, which apparently will not take place for long years to come—would that he may become a centenarian—we shall occupy that time-honoured pile.

And do I manage to fill up satisfactorily the great intervals of absolute leisure in this wholly new and untried life, free from all necessity to work with head or hand—a pensioned idler and non-combatant, guaranteed against all the ills of mortality except ennui?

Well, yes, I get along, and find unalloyed happiness a fairly payable claim. Ruth and I are nearly as much at Allerton Court as at Combe Hall, our own, our very own place, which is almost too comfortable, not to say luxurious. The Major has pretty well taken up his abode with us, and the Major’s room is one of the recognised apartments of the house. He is a confirmed bachelor; our friendship is, therefore, unlikely to alter in degree. When country life palls upon us, we are graciously permitted by Ruth to fish in Norway, to hunt in the shires, to run down to Scotland in the grouse season, and even, one particularly cold winter, to try a little lion-stalking in Algeria.

I am a magistrate, and thus moderately interested in county business. Besides, London is not such a very bad place for a few days now and then. Rome and Venice we think we know something about; but we are forbidden to go to Russia, or to stay more than a fortnight in Paris at a time. With a few of these distractions, always accessible within forty-eight hours or a trifle over, it is surprising how the year gets disposed of. Every now and then a fresh Australian turns up that I hear of at the Reform Club, the Travellers, or the Athenæum, and I bring him out to Ruth’s great interest and satisfaction. Olivera himself appeared one day, having ‘at long last,’ as his Irish mate said, made a fortune suddenly in tin, and become one of the leading capitalists of Stanthorpe. He had played a waiting race, and won fortune’s sweepstake on the post in the last heat.

In my study, as the modest apartment is called which contains my private and personal effects, hang many prints, pictures, and other delineations, more or less en souvenir of far lands and strange adventures. But the one which I occasionally find Ruth and the children gazing steadfastly at—our nursery is pretty full and Hereward the second, commonly called Harry, is growing a big boy and clamorous for a Shetland—is a small much crumbled piece of parchment, framed in wonderful dead gold Venetian, and which, after detailing for the hundredth time some spirit-stirring goldfields’ adventure of which papa was the hero, she proudly describes, for the benefit of any youthful visitors, as a talismanic document without which no one can dig gold in Australia—none other, in fact, than a real, true, authentic ‘Miner’s Right.’


The Miner’s Right - Contents

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