Conrad Harvey Sayce.

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"Don't you beheve it. See that line of mulga
trees out there ? How far do you reckon it is ?"

"Oh, about a mile. I should say it's half way
/ between here and the foot of the peak."

"Well, I know for a cert that the trees are nearly
four miles from the hills. That makes it five we've
got to go ; it may be nearer six. You see, after a
stonn up here, it's absolutely impossible to judge
distance. . . . How do you feel now?"

"By gad, Tom, I'm hungry."

"That's good. What do you say if we put on the
pots right away? It's only about half -past four,
but that doesn't matter."

"Good," said Tynan. "This change has put new
life into me. I don't feel a bit sick now, but am as
hollow as a drum." He stood up. For a few
moments everything seemed to sway and toss
around him, then a horrible darkness came over
him, and he would have fallen had not Tom come
to his assistance."

"Thanks, Tom," he said feebly, when he had
recovered. "I had no idea I was so weak."

All he needed was nourishment, and a good
meal went far to completely restoring him. 'They
opened their first tin of fish, and while the cool
breeze kept off the flies, he ate with the relish of
hunger. Afterwards he lay back and sipped tea
with great content.

Tom was in high spirits, and sought to add to
his friend's cheerfulness. "By. the Lord, Jim, I


like your pluck. I reckoned you were clean knocked
out last night, and here you are as chirpy as a

Tynan took his hat off and let the wind play
with his hair. "It's this cool wind, Tom. Two
hours ago I thought I was about done, whereas
now . . . are we going to start soon?"

"Yes. Right away."

One after the other the great beasts rose from
the sand which had drifted around their loads,
shook themselves, and knelt down again, looking
round at the men with that disdainful glance of

Tucker was packed away, nose-lines adjusted,
and as the party set out for the last few miles of
travel, Tynan shouted from the rear:

"All aboard! Not stopping this side of Poison


Gold Madness.

The mass of rising ground of which Poison Peak
is the apex, runs roughly north and south. Behind
it is no distinct fall to the same level as the country-
east, but the high land continues for many miles
— how far, no white man knows, for no one has
ever had reason to cross it. The peak is nearly
central, and is cut off from the other hills by two
deep gullies which are just dry sandy creek beds
where they emerge on the plain, but grow rocky
and precipitous as they rise.

The only source of water in the district is a
small rock-hole, a spring which gurgles over its
basin and flows down one of the gullies in a silver
trickle till it loses itself in the sand.

The whole range is barren, save for the vegeta-
tion in these two gullies. From a distance, it
resembles nothing so much as the slag-heap of
some vast furnace, for stratum after stratum of
rock, coloured as if by the smelting of hell, rises
from base to summit. Rain might fall here con-
tinuously for a week, but when the sun shone out
again, it would swelter down on the same arid
waste. If wealth indeed is hidden here, it has a
grim keeper, for Death sits on the peak and his'
minions perch on every crumbling crag.

The caravan halted at the entrance to the
northern gully late on the afternoon of the sand-
storm, and the order was given for the camels to

"Not going up to-night ?" asked Tynan.

"No, Jim. The gully's unfit for camels. They'll
have to go round about six miles and come to the


water from the west. It's only about a mile and a
half up the gully."

"Why not walk up after tea, Tom. I feel as
right as pie, and by gad! I'm anxious to see that

"Not more anxious than I am, old man. No.
We'll take it steady. This sandy bed doesn't last
for more than a hundred yards. Then it's clamber-
ing over rocks and trees. I reckon we'd better
wait till morning."

Tynan's assurance that he was "as right as pie"
must be taken with reservations. He was very
restless, and quite unable to quieten his over-taxed
nerves; a condition which frequently follows ex-
haustion. In his excitement, he mistook this
activity, and his deception was made easier by the
fact of a healthy appetite. In reality, the keen
expectation of finding gold, which had supported
both men during the trials of the journey, took
advantage of his weakness, and became an obses-
sion. Fortunately for him, his companion retained
his self-control, or the young man might have
added one to the long list of prospectors who did
not "come back." He sat by the fire nursing his
knees after tea, and every now and again he looked
up the gully.

"There's gold within a mile and a half of us,
Tom. Think of that!" he muttered.

"Yes, old man. Nothing's surer except that
just now we want something more than gold."

"More than gold!" Tynan was easily startled
in his present state.

"Yes. We both want a dashed good sleep."

"Sleep be blowed!" exclaimed the young man.
"D'you think I'll sleep a wink to-night, Tom?"

"I don't like to think of it if you don't, old man,"
said Tom, so seriously that for a minute or two
the obsession loosened its grip.


"I'll try, Tom, really I will. . . . But my
brain's on fire. . . . You said a mile and a half,
didn't you ? Well, if we start at six, we ought to
be there by — " Tom made an exclamation of im-
patience, and the rambling finished with : "I think
a sight of that gold would cool my head."

"Gold never cooled a man yet," was the empha-
tic answer.

"But I think it would cool mine, Tom." Then
with a cunning smile, he asked : "Would you be sur-
prised if I went up there in the night, Tom?"

The bushman stood up opposite his crouching
companion. The firelight shone on his weather-
worn face and rough clothes, and seemed to
emphasise the rude strength of one who had
gained it in a daily struggle with Nature.

"Look here, Jim !" he said sternly. "You must
drop this, right now. We're mates, but you've put
me in charge of this plant, and by G — I am in
charge! You're to go to bed at once and not stir
till I sing out in the morning. See?"

Tom had not meant to be so positive, but he saw
the rising passion in his friend's face, and knew
that no half measures would suffice.

T3Tian sprang to his feet before Tom had
finished speaking, and confronted his companion
across the fire.

"Who in the hell are vou giving orders to?" he
demanded. "I'll do what I like. I'll—"

But the barrel of a revolver, pointed directly at
him, brought the sentence to an abrupt close.

"Sit down!" was the command, followed by:
"and hand me your revolver."

There was no alternative, so Tynan obeyed. Tom
kept him covered for about five minutes, till he
saw that the rage had died out of the other's
face, then he addressed him again.

"Jim, old man, you and me are mates. I've met
all kinds of men up here, but never one I liked as


well as you. . . . But I know this country, and
the cursed grip gold takes of a man. It's worse
than whisky, and that's saying a lot. Jim, I've
seen it drive men stark mad. . . . Now you and
me have got to take this good and sober. You've
had a touch of the sun and are not quite right."

"Tom, I'm awfully sorry," said Tynan peni-
tently, "but I'm just all to pieces in my mind. You
don't know how near the edge of things I am."

"Then be a good chap and don't fall over it."

"Right. I'll go to bed."

For hours the weary man tossed on his
blankets. Body and mind ached, but both were
still at full tension. His friend's prompt action
had restored the balance that was being upset,
and he fought — of his own free will now — to keep
his thoughts from speculating on what would
happen next day. The lust that sends men out to
the ends of the earth in search of gold bears no
ratio to their need of it. Tynan was a wealthy
man, yet gold fever had attacked him so
strongly that if his companion had been less ex-
perienced, this one-time brilhant young doctor
would probably have died of exhaustion.

Skirting round the object of their journey in
search of a train of thought sufficiently absorbing
to occupy his mind to the exclusion of aught else,
it was inevitable that he should at last come to
Ida Hennessy. Why was he tossing restlessly at
the foot of Poison Peak instead of sleeping quietly
in his Melbourne bedroom? Not all the gold in
Australia could alter his position with her; but
the search for it was to drive her memory from
his mind. That it had not succeeded was apparent.
In pride he had come north and west into the
wilderness, and it had shown him what a pitiful
thing his pride had been.

But he could not run away from love. As all


the artificial props for his pride had been knocked
away — for nothing but what is real can live in the
bush — each mile had brought him nearer to the
naked truth, even as it had brought him nearer to
a lode of gold. He knew now that in losing Ida
he had lost what would have made his life worth
living ; but now ....

In sleep, the dreamer is always the central
figure, and always heroic. All wishes are fulfilled
in that magic land of make-believe. So when at
last Tynan's thoughts were of reconciliation, of
mutual love, and of unending vistas of happiness,
it is safe to conclude that he slept.

Tom watched the fire till nearly midnight, and
then tip-toed to the side of his friend. He listened
to the deep regular breathing for a moment, then
smiled and lay down to sleep. In his own quiet
way, Tom hked this city-bred man better than any-
one he had ever met.

Like all bushmen, he was awake at dawn. The
sun had still an hour or two to rise before it would
shine over the top of Poison Peak, so when Tom
saw that Tynan was still asleep, he signed to the
boy to lie down again, and did the same himself.

Now that the object of his quest was nearly
within his grasp, he was strangely indifferent to
it. Many times he had pictured this identical
morning, with its mad rush up the gully at the
first signs of day; and now he was lying idly on
his blankets. As a matter of fact, he was ex-
periencing one of those strange psychological
impulses which, when the object of a very strong
desire is almost attained, makes us stay our hand.
Probably many of the failures in the region of
high endeavour can be attributed to this. So much
energy has gone in anticipating achievement, that
when it is almost accomplished, there is not the


necessary power to carry it to completion. Tom
lay and gazed at the brightening sky, at the trees,
at the weird colours of Poison Peak, and there was
no quickening of his pulse. In order to stir up his
mind, he went over the details of his previous visit,
when that reef had startled him almost to mad-
ness. But he could arouse no more interest than
to determine to go up the gully after breakfast.
He turned on his side and did what he could
scarcely remember having done before : he went to
sleep again after sunrise.

No one can predict what he will do or think in
a crisis. Both these men were on the top-note of
expectation, yet they reacted in entirely opposite

But two hours later ! With increasing difficulty
the white men had climbed the creek bed till it
narrowed to a steep gully. On each side of them,
the strata showed as clearly as if it had been pre-
pared for a geological specimen. What ages of
pohshing with wind-blown sand had gone by since
first, when the earth turned in its sleep, this rift
had been made ! On top was the slag-like forma-
tion, stratum upon stratum of vivid colours, but
lower down was grey granite veined here and
there like marble. This evidently constituted the
body of the range ; the other — who can tell whence
came that multi-coloured refuse pile on pile ?

When the rift up which they scrambled was
nearly closing in at the top, two smaller ones
joined it, one going north and of no great length,
and the other south extending for perhaps a
quarter of a mile up into the western footing of
the peak. At the junction of these stood a white

Tynan had been so busy keeping pace with his
companion that he almost stumbled against the
cree before its significance struck him. When it


did he leant against it and shouted till the gully
was full of echoes.

"Tom ! Tom ! Here's that white gum !"
But Tom was already crashing through the
bushes in the southern ravine. All apathy had
left him, and his face, usually so open and kind,
was fierce and set as he urged his body to do its
utmost to respond to the passionate impatience
of his mind.

Tynan followed. They dashed on, stumbling,
bruised, bleeding, with torn flesh and clothes, pant-
ing, swearing, shouting, while great sweat-drops
tinged with dirt and blood blinded their eyes. The
younger man managed to get ahead, and saw the
tobacco tin first, whereat he gave a yell of joy.
But his companion, with a sudden sprint, was
abreast of him, and flung him to the ground and
raced on.

On reaching the tin wedged in the fork of a
mulga tree. Tom made straight for the wall of the
gully as if he would dash himself against it ; but a
needle-bush hid the entrance to a crack in the
rock, and with a leap through the bush, he fell
down against a solid wall of rock, sobbing and
reaching up his torn hands, fondling the rock as
a man might fondle the face of a woman whom he
had braved many dangers to win.

Tynan was on his feet again m an instant,
gained the crumpled tin, and was just in time to
see his companion disappear behind the bush. He
followed with a shout, and fell exhausted beside
the sobbing man.

Their climb had brought them nearly to the top
of the range, and the loose, brightly coloured
strata showed a few feet above them. Below these
was grey granite, while the rock on which the men
lay was a bluish dolorite. But between the granite
and the dolorite, like a mineral sandwich, was a


hard milky stone stained with dull red, and it was
this which Tom was caressing with such extrava-
gant affection.

"Gold!" he cried, with the tender tones of a
lover. "Gold! Gold! How beautiful it is. . . .
It's waited all the time for me. ... for me !"

Between his knees was a piece of the whitish
quartz that had broken off from the rest. It_ was
about the size of a man's hand, and was thickly
covered with red and yellow stains. Tom flung his
arms round it, kissing its rough surface, and finally
lay down with his head upon the hard mass, croon-
ing little words of endearment which sounded
strange from a bushman. Such display of emotion
would have been ridiculous, did not the excesses
border on madness, and turn the scene from
comedy to fragedy.

Tynan was too exhausted to give rein to his ex-
citement. He lay panting on the ground. Though
he had never seen gold in the rough before, he
knew the meaning of those reddish stains, and in-
deed the gold on the broken lump was apparent to
anyone. The sight of his friend steadied him, but
only for a time ; he was too weak to resist the con-

Tom looked up, and the next moment the two
rnen were hugging one another almost to suffoca-
tion, using every possible term of endearment and
protestation of undying friendship, stooping to-
gether to fondle the broken lump, covering the
face of the rock with kisses, and at times breaking
away to wave their arms and shout with all their

Here was gold! Power! The vitalising agent
of the world ! They did not know how much of it
could be taken to the igreat cities that smile so
affably on those who have gold ; but it was here,
and belonged to them, and no one in the wide


world was present to dilute the joy of complete

Complete possession? No one? There was
Tynan ! There was Tom ! Such was suddenly the
thought of each, and how subtly did they try to
hide it. Power cannot be perfect if shared, and
madness possessed these men for perfect power.

The paroxysm of delight passed almost simul-
taneously away, and as they lay back, their eyes
met, and each read the same tale in those of the
other. In order to cover their designs, they began
to quietly discuss the find, the sudden lull in the
emotion storm being more terrible than its out-

"What weight d'you think that lump ought to
yield, Tom?" asked Tynan, and as he spoke
casually, his hand stole round to his revolver-
pouch, while his eyes watched his companion as a
cat does a mouse.

"Oh, it's hard to say, till it's crushed," was the
answer, while he too felt for his weapon. Sud-
denly Tom laughed. It was a cruel, mirthless
laugh, and immediately the other man's face
blanched with fear. Tynan's pouch was empty.
Tom had forgotten to return his revolver.

At all costs the pretence must be kept up.
Tynan moved a little closer to his companion and
asked, with a forced laugh, "What's the joke,

A fierce gleam came into the bushman's lust-
maddened eyes, and he slipped his revolver out
of its pouch and laid it on his lap. "Oh," he said
casually, "I was just thinking of the things a
chap can do with money, that's all." And he idly
cocked the hammer of his weapon.

All at once Tynan sprang. Every particle of
strength in his well-knit figure went into that
supreme effort. But Tom had watched him


closely, and leapt aside. Tynan tripped and fell,
and his head crashed into the lump of gold-stained
quartz. He lay still. Tom backed slowly against
the wall and took aim. It somehow did not seem
right to shoot a man at too close quarters. As
he stepped back, another piece of quartz tripped
him, and in order to get a firm stand, he kicked it
out of the way. The stone struck the forehead
of the unconscious man, and a trickle of blood
flowed over the milky surface and mingled with
the stains of gold.

He took aim carefully, then lowered the weapon.
No, he would not shoot; it would make a noise,
and the blackfellow might hear. Why not crush
the skull with that lump of quartz? It would
have the appearance of an accident, and he would
then have unquestioned right over this gold, this

He took a step forward to carry out his design,
when a hail from the top of the ravine checked
him. Banjo was looking down.

"Which way me hobble um camel?" he asked.

That simple question saved the life of one man
and the sanity of another. Tom stood dazed for a
moment, looking down at his friend, as if he did
not know how he got there.

"Hi! Misser Tom! Which way me hobble um
camel?" came the question again, answered at
length by a shaky voice.

"You take um back longa camp. Good feed
there all about. You sit down longa camp. Me
came by-'m-by."

No wife could be more tender and devoted to a
sick husband than was Tom to his friend. Night
and day he cared for him, apparently giving no
thought to the object of their journey, till he had
nursed him back to health again.



Long days of unremitting toil were succeeded
by nights of unbroken sleep. Camp was made
near the water-hole on the table-land, just above
the ravine where the men worked all day. A tiny
spring bubbled up, and after brimming over the
rock basin, the water fell into the gully and was
lost. Thousands, perhaps millions, of years of
scanty rain on Poison Peak had stored this sup-
ply, which was the only source of the precious
liquid in that arid district.

Every three or four days, the camels were
brought from their pasture at the mouth of the
gully, given a drink, then taken back and hobbled,
for there was no herbage on the plateau.

As a nightmare passes at the advent of day,
leaving a fainter and fainter memory of the time
of terror, so those first hours of madness gradually
faded like a dream. In fact, neither man ever
remembered clearly what had happened from the
time they reached the white gum to that later
time when, with water from the spring, Tom had
restored his companion to consciousness.

Mining toil came natural to Tom, for he had
been used to rough work and food from his child-
hood; but Tynan nursed blisters for days, and
knew more about muscles, because of the stiffness
of his own, than he had ever done in his student

They had worked with picks, hammers, and
wedges, for several feet into the rock face. The
richest of the quartz had been roughly crushed
and washed, and the residue of sparkling metal


scraped into a billy can. Every evening- the day's
find was weighed and stored in a leather bag. But
a point had now been reached when nick and wedge
had to be exchanged for more deadly tools. They
were satisfied that the lode was of high grade ore,
and it was now necessary to know how far it ex-

"You see," explained Tom, "what we really want
to know is whether it's just a pocket or whether
it goes further. If it does, I reckon we peg our
claim and go back right away and register it. If
not, we can get what's there and clear out. We're
both rich men, anyway."

"Then you propose blasting, Tom?"

"Yes. The sooner we know, the better."

Next morning, three holes were drilled at the
back of the adit, one pointing due west, one south-
west, and the third north-west. By thus splaying
their direction the full worth of each explosion
would be gained. Each hole was rammed with
gelignite and finished off with a detonator and

"We're taking no risks on this journey," said
Tom, as he unrolled a coil of fuse for each de-
tonator, and brought them together at the en-
trance of the adit. When I fire these, we'll both
make into the gully for our lives. You've no idea
how far rocks carry."

The scraping of a match; the glow as it was
shaded in a^pair of hard hands; and a man stoop-
ing over the junction of three wires. A splutter
and a trail of smoke, then three trails crawling to-
wards the adit. Both men ran till an overhang-
ing rock offered them shelter, and they crouched

Boom! Boom! A pause. Boom! followed by
the rumble of falling rocks. The air in the gully
seemed to strike the confining walls with a shock,


and both men, though they were expecting the ex-
plosions, staggered as if from a blow.

Tjman started back up the gully.

"Wait a couple of minutes, Jim. Some of the
rocks may be only loosened and may fall in a
minute or two; and besides, the adit will be full
of fumes. So they waited about five minutes and
then walked back to the scene.

"By gad! I never thought it would do that,"
exclaimed Tynan, amazed.

"Neither did I," agreed his companion. "It
lifted more than I thought it would."

The little gully was full of a debris of huge
boulders which entirely covered the spot where
they had been working. The part of the cliff which
had been laid bare by the explosion, was hidden by
the accumulation of rocks which still smoked as
if the fires of the earth's centre had an outlet

Tom began scrambling over the boulders in
haste to see what had been discovered, and Tynan
was not long in following him.

"Any good?" he shouted.

Tom had reached the wall face first, and
answered the question with a joyous shout.

"Jim! Jim! Look at that! Just look at that!"

The charges had lifted the top off the mineral
sandwich, and had broken far into the quartz.
What met the gaze of the two excited men was
indeed a marvellous sight.

A mass of quartz had fallen aw^y with . the
shock, leaving a surface literally studded with
gold. On this nobbly surface were many little
pockets whose convex sides glittered with the pre-
cious metal as brilliantly as a jeweller's show-
cushion by electric light. There, on that freshly
broken surface, was enough gold to satisfy any


"What d'you think of that, Jim?"

"Good Lord ! Tom, if it goes on like that, we're
on a terribly rich thing. It's a couple of feet
broader here than on the face, and any amount
richer. I wonder how far it extends.

He tried to loosen one of the pieces of gold with
a knife, but it was too firmly embedded.

"Leave it, Jim," Tom advised. "We'll have to
clear the rubbish away before we can tackle the
face. I vote we go and have a drink of tea."



As they reached camp, Banjo met them, ap-
parently with news.

"What name?" asked Tom.

"Camels no bin come up."

"What for camels no bin come up ?"

"Poison bin catch um."



Tom looked at the nigger's expressionless face,

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Online LibraryConrad Harvey SayceGolden buckles → online text (page 12 of 15)