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Henniker's.

To Mrs. Henniker's they went, and there, stretched out at length on the
wooden veranda before the house, they found the hero of the
potatoes, - the man who had taken them down to Crinkett's house. He
seemed to be fast asleep, but as they came up on the boards, he turned
himself on his elbow, and looked at them. 'Well, mates,' he said, 'what
do you think of Tom Crinkett now you've seen him?'

'He doesn't seem to approve of Ahalala,' said Dick.

'In course he don't. When a new rush is opened like that, and takes
away half the hands a man has about him, and raises the wages of them
who remain, in course he don't like it. You see the difference. The Old
Stick-in-the-Mud is an established kind of thing.'

'It's a paying concern, I suppose,' said Caldigate.

'It has paid; - not a doubt about it. Whether it's played out or not, I'm
not so sure. But Ahalala is a working-man's diggings, not a master's,
such as Crinkett is now. Of course Crinkett has a down on Ahalala.'

'Your friend Jack Brien didn't seem to think much of the place,' said
Dick.

'Poor Jack is one of them who never has a stroke of luck. He's a sort of
chum who, when he has a bottle of pickles, somebody else is sure to eat
'em. Ahalala isn't so bad. It's one of them chancy places, of course.
You may and you mayn't, as I was a-saying before. When the great rush
was on, I did uncommon well at Ahalala. I never was the man I was then.'

'What became of it?' asked Caldigate with a smile.

'Mother Henniker can tell you that, or any other publican round the
country. It never will stick to me. I don't know why, but it never will.
I've had my luck, too. Oh, laws! I might have had my house, just as
grand as Polly Hooker this moment, only I never could stick to it like
Tom Crinkett. I've drank cham - paign out of buckets; - I have.'

'I'd rather have a pot of beer out of the pewter,' said Caldigate.

'Very like. One doesn't drink cham - paign because it's better nor
anything else. A nobbler of brandy's worth ten of it. It's the glory of
out-facing the swells at their own game. There was a chap over in the
other colony shod his horse with gold, - and he had to go shepherding
afterwards for thirty pounds a-year and his grub. But it's something for
him to have ridden a horse with gold shoes. You've never seen a
bucketful of cham - paign in the old country?'

When both Dick and Caldigate had owned that they had never encountered
luxury so superabundant, and had discussed the matter in various
shapes, - asking whether the bucket had been emptied, and other questions
of the same nature, - Caldigate inquired of his friend whether he knew
Mick Maggott?

'Mick Maggott!' said the man, jumping up to his feet. 'Who wants Mick
Maggott?' Then Caldigate explained the recommendation which Mr. Crinkett
had made. 'Well; - I'm darned; - Mick Maggott? I'm Mick Maggott, myself.'

Before the evening was over an arrangement had been made between the
parties, and had even been written on paper and signed by all the three.
Mick on the morrow was to proceed to Ahalala with his new comrades, and
was to remain with them for a month, assisting them in all their views;
and for this he was to receive ten shillings a-day. But, in the event of
his getting drunk, he was to be liable to dismissal at once. Mick
pleaded hard for one bout of drinking during the month; - but when Dick
explained that one bout might last for the entire time, he acknowledged
that the objection was reasonable and assented to the terms proposed.




Chapter XI

Ahalala



It was all settled that night, and some necessary purchases made.
Ahalala was twenty-three miles from Nobble, and a coach had been
established through the bush for the benefit of miners going to the
diggings; - but Mick was of opinion that miners ought to walk, with their
swag on their backs, when the distance was not more than forty miles.
'You look so foolish getting out of one of them rattletrap coaches,' he
said, 'and everybody axing whether you're going to pick for yourself or
buy a share in a claim. I'm all for walking, - if it ain't beneath you.'
They declared themselves quite ready to walk, and under Mick's guidance
they went out and bought two large red blankets and two pannikins. Mick
declared that if they went without swags on their backs and pannikins
attached to their swags, they would be regarded with evil eyes by all
who saw them. There were some words about the portmanteaus. Mick
proposed that they should be left for the entire month in the charge of
Mrs. Henniker, and, when this was pronounced impossible, he was for a
while disposed to be off the bargain. Caldigate declared that, with all
his ambition to be a miner, he must have a change of shirts. Then Mick
pointed to the swag. Couldn't he put another shirt into the swag? It was
at last settled that one portmanteau should be sent by the coach, and
one left in the charge of Mrs. Henniker. 'Them sort of traps ain't never
any good, in my mind,' said Mick. 'It's unmanly, having all them togs. I
like a wash as well as any man, - trousers, jersey, drawers, and all. I'm
always at 'em when I get a place for a rinse by the side of a creek. But
when my things are so gone that they won't hang on comfortable any
longer, I chucks 'em away and buys more. Two jerseys is good, and two
drawers is good, because of wet. Boots is awkward, and I allays does
with one pair. Some have two, and ties 'em on with the pannikin. But it
ain't ship-shape. Them's my ideas, and I've been at it these nine years.
You'll come to the same.'

The three started the next morning at six, duly invested with their
swags. Before they went they found Mrs. Henniker up, with hot tea,
boiled beef, and damper. 'Just one drop at starting, - for the good of
the house,' said Mick, apologetically. Whereupon the whisky was
brought, and Mick insisted on shouting for it out of his own pocket.

They had hardly gone a mile out of Nobble before Maggott started a
little difficulty, - merely for the purpose of solving it with a master's
hand. 'There ain't to be no misters among us, you know.'

'Certainly not,' said Caldigate.

'My name's Mick. This chap's name's Dick. I didn't exactly catch your'n.
I suppose you've been kursened.'

'Yes; - they christened me John.'

'Ain't it never been Jack with you?'

'I don't think it ever was.'

'John! It do sound lackadaisical. What I call womanish. But perhaps it's
for the better. We have such a lot of Jacks. There's dirty Jack, and
Jack the nigger, and Jack Misery, - that's poor Jack Brien; - and a lot
more. Perhaps you wouldn't like not another name of that sort.'

'Well; no, - unless it's necessary.'

'There ain't another John about the place, as I know. I never knew a
John down a mine, - never. We'll try it, anyhow.'

And so that was settled. As it happened, though Dick Shand had always
been Dick to his friend, Caldigate had never, as yet, been either John
or Jack to Dick Shand. There are men who fall into the way of being
called by their Christian names, and others who never hear them except
from their own family. But before the day was out, Caldigate had become
John to both his companions. 'It don't sound as it ought to do; - not
yet,' said Mick, after he had tried it about a dozen times in five
minutes.

Before the day was over it was clear that Mick Maggott had assumed the
mastery. When three men start on an enterprise together, one man must be
'boss.' Let the republic be as few as it may one man must be president.
And as Mick knew what he was about, he assumed the situation easily. The
fact that he was to receive wages from the others had no bearing on the
subject at all. Before they got to Ahalala, Caldigate had begun to
appreciate all this, and to understand in part what they would have to
do during this month, and how they would have to live. It was proposed
that they should at once fix on a spot, - 'peg out a claim,' on some
unoccupied piece of ground, buy for themselves a small tent, - of which
they were assured that they would find many for sale, - and then begin to
sink a hole. When they entered Ahalala, Caldigate was surprised to find
that Mick was the most tired of the three. It is always so. The man who
has laboured from his youth upwards can endure with his arms. It is he
who has had leisure to shoot, to play cricket, to climb up mountains and
to handle a racket, that can walk. 'Darned if you ain't better stuff
than I took you for,' said Mick, as the three let the swags down from
their backs on the veranda of Ridley's hotel at Ahalala.

Ahalala was a very different place from Nobble, - made Nobble seem to be
almost a compact and prosperous city. At Nobble there was at any rate a
street. But at Ahalala everything was straggling. The houses, such as
they were, stood here and there about the place, while a great part of
the population lived under canvas. And then Ahalala was decidedly in the
forest. The trees around had not yet been altogether killed, nor had
they been cut down in sufficient numbers to divest the place of its
forest appearance. Ahalala was leafy, and therefore, though much less
regular, also less hideous than Nobble. When Dick first made tender
inquiry as to the comforts of an hotel, he was assured that there were
at least a couple of dozen. But the place was bewildering. There seemed
to be no beginning to it and no end. There were many tracks about here
and there, - but nothing which could be called a road. The number of
holes was infinite, - each hole covered by a rough windlass used for
taking out the dirt, which was thrown loosely anywhere round the
aperture. Here and there were to be seen little red flags stuck upon the
end of poles. These indicated, as Mick informed them, those fortunate
adventures in which gold had been found. At those very much more
numerous hillocks which showed no red flag, the labourers were hitherto
labouring in vain. There was a little tent generally near to each
hillock in which the miners slept, packed nearly as close as sheep in a
fold. As our party made its way through the midst of this new world to
Ridley's hotel, our friend observed many a miner sitting at his evening
meal. Each generally had a frying-pan between his legs, out of which he
was helping himself to meat which he had cooked on the ashes just behind
him. Sometimes two or three were sharing their provisions out of the
same frying-pan; but as a rule each miner had his own, and each had it
between his legs.

Before they had been at Ahalala twenty-four hours they also had their
tent and their frying-pan and their fire, and had pegged out their
claim, and were ready to commence operations on the morrow. It was soon
manifest to Caldigate and Dick Shand that they would have been very much
astray without a 'boss' to direct them. Three or four hours had been
passed in forming a judgment as to the spot on which they should
commence to dig. And in making his choice Mick had been guided by many
matters as to which our two adventurers were altogether ignorant. It
might be that Mick was equally so; but he at any rate assumed some
knowledge. He looked to the fall of the ground, the line in which the
red flags were to be traced, - if any such line could be found, - and was
possessed of a considerable amount of jargon as to topographical mining
secrets. At last they found a spot, near a creek, surrounded by
forest-trees, perhaps three hundred yards from the nearest adjacent
claim, and, as Mick declared, in a direct line with three red flags.
Here they determined to commence their operations. 'I don't suppose we
shall do any good,' said Caldigate to Dick, 'but we must make a
beginning, if only for the sake of hardening our hands. We shall be
learning something at the time even though we only shovel up so much
mud.'

For a fortnight they shovelled up the soil continuously without any
golden effects, and, so far, without any feeling of disappointment. Mick
had told them that if they found a speck at the end of three weeks they
would be very fortunate. They had their windlass, and they worked in
relays; one man at the bottom, one man at the wheel, and one man idle.
In this way they kept up their work during eighteen hours of the day.
Each man in this way worked twelve hours, and had twelve for sleeping,
and cooking, and eating. Other occupation they had none. During the
fortnight neither of them went any further distance from their claim
than to the neighbouring shop. Mick often expressed his admiration at
their continued industry, not understanding the spirit which will induce
such young men as them to work, even when the work is agonising. And
they were equally charmed with Mick's sobriety and loyalty. Not a word
had been said as to hours of work, - and yet he was as constant to their
long hours as though the venture was his own, - as though there was no
question of wages.

'We ain't had a drop o' drink yet,' said Mick one night. 'Ain't we a
holding off like Britons?' There was great triumph in his voice as he
said this; - very great triumph, but, also, as Caldigate thought, a sound
of longing also. They were now in their third week, and the word whisky
had never been pronounced between them. At this moment, when Mick's
triumphant ejaculation was uttered, they were all lying - in bed. It
shall be called bed by way of compliment. They had bought a truss of
straw, which Mick had declared to be altogether unnecessary and
womanish, and over that was laid a white india-rubber sheet which
Caldigate had brought with him from England. This, too, had roused the
miner's wrath. Nevertheless he condescended to lie upon it. This was
their bed; and here they lay, each wrapped up in his blanket, Mick in
the middle, with our two friends at the sides. Now it was not only on
Mick's account, but quite as much in reference to Dick Shand, that
Caldigate deprecated any reference to drink. The abstention hitherto had
been marvellous. He himself would have gone daily to the store for a
bottle of beer, but that he recognised the expediency of keeping them
away from the place. He had heard that it was a peculiarity of the
country that all labour was done without drink, even when it was done by
determined drunkards. The drunkard would work for a month, and then
drink for a month, - and then, after a time, would die. The drink almost
always consisted of spirits of the worst description. It seemed to be
recognised by the men that work and drink must be kept separate. But
Mick's mind travelled away on this occasion from the little tent to the
delights of Ridley's bar. 'We haven't had a drop of drink yet,' he said.

'We'll push through the month without it; - eh, old boy?' said Caldigate.

'What wouldn't I give for a pint of bitter beer?' said Shand.

'Or a bottle of Battleaxe between the three of us!' said
Mick; - Battleaxe being the name for a certain brand of brandy.

'Not a drop till the month is over,' said Caldigate turning himself
round in his blanket. Then there were whisperings between the other two
men, of which he could only hear the hum.

On the next morning at six Caldigate and Dick Shand were at the hole
together. It was Caldigate's turn to work till noon, whereas Dick went
off at nine, and Mick would come on from nine till three. At nine Mick
did not make his appearance, and Dick declared his purpose of looking
after him. Caldigate also threw down his tools, as he could not work
alone, and went in search. The upshot of it was, that he did not see
either of his companions again till he found them both very drunk at a
drinking-shop about two miles away from their claim, just before dusk!

This was terrible. He did at last succeed in bringing back his own
friend to the tent, having, however, a sad task in doing so. But Mick
Maggott would not be moved. He had his wits about him enough to swear
that he cared for nothing. He was going to have a spree. Nobody had ever
known him to be talked out of it when he had once set his mind upon it.
He had set his mind upon it now, and he meant to have his whack. This
was what he said of himself: 'It ain't no good, John. It ain't no good
at all, John. Don't you trouble yourself, John. I'm going to have it
out, John, so I tell you.' This he said, nodding his head about in a
maudlin sort of way, and refusing to allow himself to be moved.

On the next day Dick Shand was sick, repentant, and idle. On the third,
he returned to his work, - working however, with difficulty. After that,
he fairly recovered himself, and the two Cambridge men went on
resolutely at their hole. They soon found how hard it was not to go
astray without their instructed mate. The sides of the shaft became
crooked and uneven, and the windlass sometimes could not be made to
work. But still they persevered, and went on by themselves for an entire
week without a sign of gold. During this time various fruitless
expeditions were made by both the men in search of Maggott. He was still
at the same drinking-shop, but could not be induced to leave it. At last
they found him with the incipient horrors of delirium tremens, and yet
they could not get him away. The man who kept the place was quite used
to delirium tremens, and thought nothing about it. When Caldigate tried
a high moral tone everybody around him laughed at him.

They had been digging for a month, and still without a speck of gold,
when, one morning early, Mick appeared in front of the tent. It was then
about eight, and our friends had stopped their work to eat their
breakfast. The poor man, without saying a word, came and crouched down
before them; - not in shame, - not at all that; but apparently in an agony
of sickness, - 'I've had my bout,' he said.

'I don't suppose you're much the better for it,' replied Caldigate.

'No; I ain't none the better. I thought it was all up with me yesterday.
Oh, laws! I've had it heavy this time.'

'Why are you such a fool?'

'Well; - you see, John, some of us is born fools. I'm one of 'em. You
needn't tell me, 'cause I know all about it without any sermoning.
Nobody don't know it so well as I do! How should they? If you had my
inside now, - and my head! Oh, laws!'

'Give it up, man.'

'That's easy said; - as if I wouldn't if I could. I haven't got a blessed
coin left to buy a bite of bread with, - and I couldn't touch a morsel if
I had ever so much. I'll take my blanket and be off as soon as I can
move.' All this time he had been crouching, but now he threw himself at
length upon the ground.

Of course they did what they could for the poor wretch. They got him
into the tent, and they made him swallow some tea. Then he slept; and in
the course of the afternoon he had so far recovered as to be able to eat
a bit of meat. Then, when his companions were at their work, he
carefully packed up his swag, and fastening it on to his back, appeared
by the side of the hole. 'I'm come to bid you good-bye he said.

'Where are you going, Mick?' asked Caldigate, climbing up out of the
hole by the rope.

'I'm blessed if I know, but I'm off. You are getting that hole
tarnation crooked.'

The man was going without any allusion to the wages he had earned, or to
the work that he had done. But then, in truth, he had not earned his
wages, as he had broken his contract. He made no complaint, however, and
no apology, but was prepared to start.

'That's all nonsense,' said Dick, catching hold of him.

'You put your swag down,' said Caldigate, also catching hold of the
other shoulder.

'What am I to put my swag down for? I'm a-going back to Nobble.
Crinkett'll give me work.'

'You're not going to leave us in that way,' said Dick.

'Stop and make the shaft straight,' said Caldigate. The man looked
irresolute. 'Friends are not to part like that.'

'Friends!' said the poor fellow. 'Who'll be friends to such a beast as I
be? But I'll stay out the month if you'll find me my grub.'

'You shall have your grub and your money, too. Do you think we've
forgotten the potatoes?'

' - - the potatoes,' said the man, bursting into tears. Then he chucked
away his swag, and threw himself under the tent upon the straw. The next
day he was making things as straight as he could down the shaft.

When they had been at work about five weeks there was a pole stuck into
their heap of dirt, and on the top of the pole there was a little red
flag flying. At about thirty feet from the surface, when they had
already been obliged to insert transverse logs in the shaft to prevent
the sides from falling in, they had come upon a kind of soil altogether
different from the ordinary clay through which they had been working.
There was a stratum of loose shingle or gravelly earth, running
apparently in a sloping direction, taking the decline of the very
slight hill on which their claim was situated. Mick, as soon as this was
brought to light, became an altered man. The first bucket of this stuff
that was pulled up was deposited by him separately, and he at once sat
down to wash it. This he did in an open tin pan. Handful after handful
he washed, shifting and teasing it about in the pan, and then he cast it
out, always leaving some very small residuum. He was intent upon his
business to a degree that Caldigate would have thought to be beyond the
man's nature. With extreme patience he went on washing handful after
handful all the day, while the other two pulled up fresh buckets of the
same stuff. He would not pause to eat, or hardly to talk. At last there
came a loud exclamation. 'By - - - , we've got it!' Then Dick and
Caldigate, stooping down, were shown four or five little specks in the
angle of the pan's bottom. Before the sun had set they had stuck up
their little red flag, and a crowd of neighbours was standing round them
asking questions as to their success.




Chapter XII

Mademoiselle Cettini



After three days of successful washing, when it became apparent that a
shed must be built, and that, if possible, some further labour must be
hired, Mick said that he must go. 'I ain't earned nothing,' he said,
'because of that bout, and I ain't going to ask for nothing, but I can't
stand this any longer. I hope you'll make your fortins.' Then came the
explanation. It was not possible, he said, that a regular miner, such as
he was, should be a party to such a grand success without owning a share
in it. He was quite aware that nothing belonged to him. He was working
for wages and he had forfeited them. But he couldn't see the gold
coming out under his hands in pailfuls and feel that none of it belonged
to him. Then it was agreed that there should be no more talk of wages,
and that each should have a third share in the concern. Very much was
said on the matter of drink, in all of which Caldigate was clever enough
to impose on his friend Dick the heavy responsibility of a mentor. A man
who has once been induced to preach to another against a fault will feel
himself somewhat constrained by his own sermons. Mick would make no
promises; but declared his intention of trying very hard. 'If anybody'd
knock me down as soon as I goes a yard off the claim, that'd be best.'
And so they renewed their work, and at the end of six weeks from the
commencement of their operations sold nine ounces of gold to the manager
of the little branch bank which had already established itself at
Ahalala. These were hardly 'pailfuls'; but gold is an article which adds
fervour to the imagination and almost creates a power for romance.

Other matters, however, were not running smoothly with John Caldigate at
this eventful time. To have found gold so soon after their arrival was
no doubt a great triumph, and justified him in writing a long letter to
his father, in which he explained what he had done, and declared that he
looked forward to success with confidence. But still he was far from
being at ease. He could not suffer himself to remain hidden at Ahalala
without saying something of his whereabouts to Mrs. Smith. After what
had happened between them he would be odious to himself if he omitted to
keep the promise which he had made to her. And yet he would so fain have
forgotten her, - or rather have wiped away from the reality of his past
life that one episode, had it been possible. A month's separation had
taught him to see how very silly he had been in regard to this
woman, - and had also detracted much from those charms which had
delighted him on board ship. She was pretty, she was clever, she had
the knack of being a pleasant companion. But how much more than all
these was wanted in a wife? And then he knew nothing about her. She
might be, or have been, all that was disreputable. If he could not shake
himself free from her, she would be a millstone round his neck. He was



Online LibraryAnthony TrollopeJohn Caldigate → online text (page 8 of 46)