Chapter V

Rolf Boldrewood

THE TROOPER came back to the log with the two ‘new chums,’ as he, a native-born Australian, would have called them, and turned his back while Trevanion handed Hastings his digging license. He then faced round. ‘You’ve been arrested according to law for digging in Growlers’ Gully without a license. Do you now produce one?’ Hastings handed him the parchment slip before referred to. ‘You hand me this license all correct and regular. I now discharge you from custody, and,’ continued the trooper, evidently thinking he ought to say something magisterial and impressive, ‘I hope it will be a warning to you.’ He then unlocked the padlock, which was passed through a chain which held the handcuff which was round the man’s ankle, and released him.

Hastings laughed as he stood up and stretched himself. ‘I expected a few strange experiences when I started to dig gold in this extraordinary country, but I never thought to be chained up to a log by the leg. However, it’s all in the day’s work. You’ve only done your duty, Doolan, and indeed you’ve stretched it a bit in letting me off. I’ll perhaps be able to do you a good turn some day. Good-bye.’

‘Now Mr.——,—I reallydon’t know your name,—Trevanion, thanks, I see you and your friend are just off the ship and therefore not up to the wicked ways of digging life. I may say now that I hold myself deeply indebted to you. In requital, if you’ll come to Growlers’ Gully, where I’m hanging out, I can lay you on to a “show,” as we miners call it, that may turn out something good.’

‘We know nothing as yet,’ said Lance. ‘We’re quite raw and inexperienced, therefore shall be very glad to go to Growlers’ Gully or any other place, if there’s a chance of setting to work in good earnest.’

‘The best thing you can do, then,’ said his new friend, ‘is to walk out there and stay in our tent to-night. To-morrow you can get back and show your party the way. It’s no good staying where you are.’

‘Done with you,’ said Lance. ‘Jack, you can go back and tell your wife,’ and away they went. After walking three or four miles, a kind of open ravine, which in Australia is called a gully, presented itself. The tents were thinner and the miners not quite so busy. ‘That’s our tent,’ said Hastings, ‘and there’s my mate sitting on a log outside, smoking and wondering what’s become of me. Hulloa! Bob, did you think I was lost or in chokee? This is Mr. Trevanion; he’s stood my friend or else I should have spent the night on the chain, so we must lay him on to a show, if there’s one in the gully.’

‘It’s a nice way to treat a Christian, chaining of him up like a dorg, ain’t it, sir?’ said the miner slowly. ‘It’ll raise trouble some day, I’ll go bail. Proud to see you, sir. There’s plenty of tea in the billy, it’ll soon warm up. Luckily I baked last night and there’s a goodish lump of corned silverside of beef. You’ll be ready for dinner, both on ye, I reckon.’

‘This child is,’ said Hastings, and ‘Mr Trevanion has had a goodish walk, which ought to sharpen his appetite. That’s right, Bob.’

As he spoke, his companion, who, if slow of speech, was evidently a man of action, placed some tin plates on a small table in the tent, knives and forks, with a large loaf, half a round of cold corned beef, and a bottle of pickles. This done, he poured out two pint pannikins of tea, and sitting a little way off outside, filled his pipe and lit it afresh.

‘Mind them Irishmen that took up number six claim above Jackson’s?’ inquired he.

‘Think I do,’ mumbled Hastings, whose mouth, like some people’s hearts, was too full for utterance. ‘Think I do; what about them?’

‘What about ’em?’ returned Bob. ‘Why, they’ve jacked up and cut it. Said they wanted summut more certain. A dashed good show, I call it.’

‘There’s a chance for you, Trevanion,’ said Hastings. ‘Go and peg it out the moment you’ve finished this humble meal. You’ve got twenty-four hours to be at work in it. But the sooner you make a start the better. I shouldn’t like to see you lose it. Bob will go with you.’

Lance made very good time over the corned beef, which he couldn’t be induced to leave for a while. But he and Bob made a formal pegging out half an hour afterwards, thus taking legal possession of two men’s ground.

The very next morning saw the party duly installed. Mrs. Polwarth and Tottie had arrived, the tent was pitched, a fireplace made, the windlass fitted with a new rope, and Lance and Jack working away as if they had been mining all their lives.

For nearly a fortnight the two men toiled and delved, one winding up and the other picking and shovelling away at the various strata which intervened between them and the precious ore they hoped to discover.

‘We shan’t get no gold here, I don’t believe,’ quoth Jack, mournfully, one day. ‘I’ve heard of a grand diggings only fifty miles off. I’m warned they’re a-pickin’ of it up in handfuls.’

‘It wants ten days to the end of the month,’ replied Lance. ‘I like to stick to things when I’ve begun. Suppose we make up our minds to keep at it till then. It isn’t fair to Hastings to run away without a good trial.’

‘All right, Mr. Lance, we’ll give it till the thirty-first. If we don’t hit it then, I’m off to Forest Creek for good. Until then we’ll see who can work the hardest’

As far as manual labour was concerned there had now come to be perfect equality between the man of birth and the son of toil Stalwart and symmetrical always, the frame of Lance Trevanion had now acquired from daily labour and simple food the muscle and elasticity of an athlete in full training. Hour after hour could he swing the pick and lift the shovel weighted with clay and gravel, or wind up the heavy raw hide bucket, fully loaded, without the slightest sense of fatigue, with hardly a quickening of the breath. The healthful, yet abundant, food always procurable at a prosperous digging, amply sufficed for all their needs; the sound and dreamless sleep restored strength and tissue, and sent them forth ready, even eager for the morning’s toil.

As Lance walked among the tents, or strolled up the busy lighted street on Saturday night, resplendent in clean flannels or a half-worn shooting-jacket of fashionable cut, many an admirer of form, even in that lanista of magnificent athletes, the flower of the adventurous manhood of many a clime, stopped to make favourable comment on the handsome young Englishman who had come to the gully with ‘Callao’ Hastings.

Just one day before the last one of the month, when the partners were already inquiring the distance of the first stage to Forest Creek, Lance broke into a stratum of decomposed rock mingled with quartz gravel This was from a foot to eighteen inches in depth, and extended across the shaft. They did not know—ignorant as they were of the humblest mining lore—what had happened till they consulted their guide, philosopher, and friend, Hastings.

‘Why, you’ve bottomed,’ he made answer, with a look of profound wisdom, ‘I’ll go down and have a look at the “wash.”’

They lowered him down. Ten minutes after he sent up the bucket, half-full; then, after the rope was lowered, came up himself. ‘Get a tin dish and carry it down to the creek till I wash the “prospect,”’ quoth he.

He filled the dish with the ‘wash-dirt,’ as he called it, dipped it again and again in the yellow waters of the creek, sending out the clay-stained water with a circular twist of his wrist, in a way incomprehensible to Lance and Jack. Lastly, when bit by bit all the clay and gravel had disappeared, leaving but a narrow ring of black and gray sand around the bottom of the dish, he spoke again

‘Look there,’ he said meaningly.

They looked, and saw dull red and yellow streaks on the upper edge of close-lying grains, with an occasional pea-like pebble of the same colour.

‘Is that—is that——?’ asked Lance in a husky voice.

‘Gold!’ shouted Hastings, ‘yes, that’s what it is. I call it an ounce to the dish, with eighteen inches of wash-dirt for the whole width of the claim; your fortune’s made. It’s a golden hole, nothing less, and one of the richest on the field.’

.     .     .     .     .

So it was. . . . Day after day the partners cradled the precious gravel; day after day they returned to their tent with a tin pannikin or camp kettle containing enough of the precious metal to cause the most pleasurable excitement in the owners, and to occasion exaggerated reports of their wealth and the inexhaustible richness of the claim to pervade the field.

‘You’ll have to look out now,’ said Hastings, impressively, one day. ‘You’ve got a most dangerous and unenviable reputation. You’ve supposed to have gold untold in your tent. Do you know what that means here?’

‘But we take our gold to the Commissioner every day,’ said Lance, ‘and we see it sealed up and labelled and put in a safe before we leave.’

‘That’s all very well, and the most sensible thing you could do, but nothing will persuade some of those fellows, with which the gully is getting too full to please me, that you don’t keep gold or cash in your tent.’

‘Well, what of that?’

‘What of that among some of the greatest scoundrels unhung? Fellows that for a ten-pound note would chop Mrs. Polwarth up for sausages and fry Tottie with bread sauce, after knocking both of you on the head? You don’t know what a real bad digging crowd is, and when you do it may be too late.’

.     .     .     .     .

Now the reign of Plutus had set in, as far as Lance and his companion were concerned. A few short weeks and how had their prospects changed. What was now their position? shovelling in gold at the rate of five hundred pounds a week per man. It seemed like a dream, a fairy tale to Lance. A year or so at most of this kind of work and he would be able to return to England in the triumphant position of a man who had seen the world, who had been, as the phrase runs, the architect of his own fortune, who had boldly accepted the alternative rather than own himself in the wrong, and who now had carried out what he had vowed to do in spite of the incredulity of disapproving friends.

And his cousin, his beloved Estelle, what would be her feelings? He wrote to her at once, telling her to abandon all doubt and fear on his account. Where were her prophecies now? He should always bless the day on which he sailed for Australia. He might even go the length of thanking his father for his stern reproof, his unjust severities. After all it had been for the best. It had made a man of him. Instead of lounging about at home, or idling on the continent (for he would never have taken his degree if he had stayed at Oxford till he was gray), he had seen what a new country was like, met numbers of the most interesting people, learned how to carry himself among all sorts of queer characters, learned to work with his hands and to show himself a man among men. To crown all, he was making eight or ten thousand a year. With a little judicious speculation he was very likely to double or quadruple this. And in three years from the day he left she would see him back again, he had almost said dead or alive. What talks they would have over his adventures and wonderful, really wonderful, experience! loving each other as of old and rejoicing in one’ another’s society. The life agreed with him splendidly. He was in famous condition, and except that he was sunburned and a little browner, there was no change to speak of. She would be able to judge if he had altered for the worse in manner or lost form. Perhaps he had roughened a little by associating with all sorts and conditions of men, but it would soon come back again when once more he found himself among his own people and near his heart’s darling, Estelle.

Thus far the welcome letter—how welcome those alone can tell who have longed for tidings from a far country, who have waited with the heart-sickness of hope long deferred, and have at length snatched at the precious missive that told of safety and success, even of the approaching return.

Estelle Chaloner treasured this missive from a far country, read it and re-read it day after day: she watched the features change and the colour fade from her uncle’s face as he listened to the exulting cry with which she announced a letter from Lance, watched the stern face soften and heard the first words of regret which had passed his lips since the day of wrath and despair.

‘I was hard upon the boy, perhaps,—it’s this accursed family temper, I suppose,’ he said. ‘Where is the lad that isn’t a fool in some way or other! We are a stubborn breed, and once heated slow to cool. Tell him when you write that he will be welcome again at Wychwood. Not to stay away too long, though, whatever his good fortune may be, for I am not the man I was, Estelle, and I should like to see my boy’s face again, before—before I die.’

Here the hard voice changed, the stern man turned his head. Could this be Sir Mervyn? thought Estelle. In all her previous knowledge of him she had never known him to express regret for any act, speech, or opinion whatever, however placed in the wrong by after-consequences. That he should be really regretful and repentant struck her in the light of a species of miracle. More than that, it imbued her with a vague fear, as if there was some impending ill when such an abnormal change took place in the social atmosphere.

‘Do not grieve, my dearest uncle,’ said she, winding her arms around him, with a look of beseeching tenderness. ‘I know, from the way Lance has written to me, that he has long since ceased to harbour resentment. He knows that he was in the wrong, though he, and I too, must I confess it, at the time, thought that you were too hard upon him. Depend upon it we shall see him in a year, if not less, and all will be forgotten in the joy of his return, in the triumph of his success.’

‘God grant it,’ said the old man, ‘but I have evil dreams. I believe the devil enters into a Trevanion at times. Perhaps Lance may break the spelL If he has an angel for his wife like my darling Estelle, it will be all the more likely.’

.     .     .     .     .

Trevanion and party, of Number Six, Growlers’ Gully, were ‘fair on it’—‘had struck it rich, and no mistake,’ in miners’ parlance. Fame and fortune were both theirs, assured, unchallenged; the fame, as in too many cases in this world, considerably in advance of the fortune. His partner, Polwarth, a shrewd, long-headed ‘Cousin Jack’ (as the Cornish miners are called), stuck steadily to his work, stayed at home with his wife and child, and beyond building a comfortable weatherboard-fronted bark cottage for them, made no difference in his equilibrium.

But it was otherwise with Lance Trevanion. His striking appearance, his manner and bearing, his reputation for wealth, coupled with romantic tales of his family circumstances, commenced to make him a personage of consideration, as well as to cause his society to be sought after in the higher social strata in and around Ballarat. Even at the Gully, now that it had developed a true and defined ‘lead’ the auriferous course of a dead and buried river of the past—a couple of branch banks had been established, shops and hotels had sprung up.

All created organisms, during certain periods of their existence, are capable of development. The conditions being varied, plants and animals, including that strangely-constituted vertebrate, man, suddenly or by graduation, but not less surely, expand and change, or decrease and degenerate, as the case may be. Physical expansion does not invariably presume moral advancement, and, indeed, the removal of restrictive pecuniary conditions occasionally conduces to the reverse result. Alas! that the delightful freedom from restraints which our civilisation renders galling, which is often described by the phrase ‘money being no object,’ should, in itself, be ofttimes that broad road leading to irrevocable ruin, to destruction of body and soul.

When a man arises from sound and untroubled slumber at or about five ‘A.M. in the morning,’ vide Mr. Chuckster, and within an hour is commencing a long day’s work, which process is continued week in, week out, with the exception of Sundays, there is not much room or opportunity for the Enemy of man, who proverbially finds work for ‘the unemployed.’

These, and chiefly for such reasons, were the dangers of ‘Growlers’ Gully’ during the early period of their existence—an eminently peaceful and virtuous community. Hard at work from morn till dewy eve, that is from daylight to dark, a matter of fourteen hours, there was scant space or opportunity for riotous living. A quiet talk over their pipes before the so-early bedtime, a glass of beer or grog at the unpretending shanty, which, before the era of hotel licenses, was compulsorily modest and unobtrusive, was the outside dissipation indulged in by the ‘Growlers.’ There was sufficient prosperity to produce hope and contentment, but not enough, except in rarely exceptional cases, to bring forth the evil craving for luxury and excitement. There was no theatre, no gaming saloon (under the rose, of course), no inrush of fiends, male and female, as upon a diggings of published richness; and therein lay safety, had they known it, such as should have made every man thankful, and every woman deeply grateful to the Higher Power that had so ordered their destiny and surroundings.

So might, perchance, have continued their Arcadian freedom from evil had not the exceptional richness of Number Six been known and bruited abroad. But, somehow, principally through Lance’s carelessness, it had leaked out, been spread far and wide, been wildly exaggerated, and now, every day new arrivals from the most unlikely places in other colonies testified to the brilliant reputation which ‘Growlers’’ had acquired. Greatness, indeed, had been thrust upon them. There was no escaping the celebrity, wholly undesired by the more thoughtful and forecasting miners. But the majority of the adventurers of the day were young and inexperienced. Intoxicated with their suddenly-acquired wealth, they were splendidly reckless as to the morrow. They ever welcomed the irruption of the heterogeneous army of strangers which invaded their hitherto rather close borough. They treated their rash migration, made upon the flimsiest reports, as a humorous incident wholly appropriate to goldfield life. As for the risks to which such an admixture might fairly be held to expose the safety and solvency of the community, they were contemptuously indifferent.

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