― 71 ―

‘Number One North Rainbow.’

‘ANOTHER duffer!’

‘Rank as ever was bottomed!’

‘Seventy-five feet hard delving, and not a colour!’

The speakers were myself, the teller of this story, and my mate, Harry Treloar.

We were sitting on a heap of earth and stones representing a month's fruitless, dreary labour. The last remark was Harry's.

‘That makes, I think,’ continued he, ‘as nearly as I can guess, about a dozen of the same species. And people have the cheek to call this a poor man's diggings!’

‘The prospectors are on good gold,’ I hazard.

‘So are the publicans,’ retorts he, ‘and the speculators, and the storekeepers, and, apparently, everybody but the poor men—ourselves, to wit. This place is evidently for capitalists. We're nearly “dead-brokers,” as they say out here. Let's harness up Eclipse and go over to old Yamnibar. We may make a rise there. It's undignified, I allow, scratching amongst the leavings of other men and other years; dangerous, also, but that's nothing. And many a good man has had to do the same before us.’

No life can equal that of a digger's if he be ‘on gold,’

  ― 72 ―
even moderately so; if not, none so weary and heart-breaking.

It's all very well to talk, as some street-bred novelists do, of ‘hope following every stroke of the pick, making the heaviest toil as nought,’ and all that kind of thing; but when one has been pick-stroking for months without seeing a colour; when one's boots are sticking together by suasion of string or greenhide; when every meal is eaten on grudged credit; when one works late and early, wet and dry, and all in vain, then hope becomes of that description which maketh the heart sick, very sick, indeed. Treloar was, in general, a regular Mark Tapley and Micawber rolled into one. But for once, fate, so adverse, had proved too much for even his serenely hopeful temper.

He was an Anglo-Indian. Now he is Assistant Commissioner at Bhurtpore, also a C.S.I.; and, when he reads this, will recollect and perhaps sigh for the days when he possessed a liver and an appetite, and was penniless.

Our turnout was rather a curious one. The season was dry, and, feed being scarce, Treloar had concluded that, at such a time, a bullock would be better able to eke out a living than a horse. Therefore, a working bullock drew our tilted cart about the country.

‘You see, my boy,’ said Treloar, when deciding on the purchase, ‘an ox is a beggar that always seems to have something to chew. Turn a horse out where there's no grass, and he'll probably go to the deuce before morning. But your ox, now, after a good look around, seeing he's

  ― 73 ―
struck a barren patch, 'll draw on his reserves, bring up something from somewhere, and start chewing away like one o'clock. That comforts his owner. I vote for the ox. He may be slow, but he generally appears to have enough in his stomach to keep his jaws going; and, in a dry time, that is a distinct advantage.’

So Eclipse was bought, I merely stipulating that Treloar should always drive.

I have an idea, that, after a while, as the old ‘worker’ sauntered along, regarding the perspiring Harry, and his exhortations and exclamations, often in Hindustani, with a mild stare of surprise, as he slowly stooped for a dry tussock, or reached aloft for an overhanging branch, the latter somewhat repented him of his experiment. But he never said so. And, to do him justice, Eclipse was not a bad ‘ox’; and, when he could get nothing better, justified Harry's expectations by seeming able to chew stones. But his motto was decidedly festina lente.

Yamnibar, ‘Old Yamnibar,’ at last. Behind us, on the far inland river, we had left a busy scene of activity. Hurrying crowds of men, the whirr of a thousand windlassess, the swish of countless cradles, and the ceaseless pounding by night and by day of the battery stamps. And now what a contrast!

A wide, trackless valley, covered with grave-like mounds, on which grass grew rankly; with ruined buildings and rotting machinery, and, here and there, pools of stagnant water, whilst the only thing save the sweep of the wind that reached our ears was a distant rhythmical moaning, coming very sadly in that desolate place—the

  ― 74 ―
sounding of the sea on the rock-bound coast not far away.

The only signs of life, as Eclipse, pausing now and again, and taking a ruminative survey of the valley, drew us by degrees down the sloping hills, were the buglings of a squad of native companions flying heavily towards the setting sun.

‘What a dismal hole!’ I muttered, as the ‘ox,’ spying some green rushes, bolted at top speed—about a mile an hour—towards them.

‘Let's try and find a golden one,’ laughed my mercurial friend. ‘Here we have a whole gold-field to ourselves. Just think of it! “Lords of the fowl and the brute”— Eclipse and Kálee and the bralgas. Take the old chap out of the gharri, and we'll pitch our camp.’

I ought to have spoken of Kálee long ago. Indeed, when one comes to think of it, I ought to have called this story after her. But man is an ungrateful animal— worse than most dogs. Not that the great deerhound with the faithful eyes, who might have stepped out of one of Landseer's pictures, was forgotten—far from it. But for her we should possibly now, both of us, be bundles of dry bones, with all sorts of underground small deer making merry amongst them.

She ought, according to her merits, to hold pride of place here. But she was quiet and unobtrusive as she was faithful and affectionate, whereas Eclipse was nothing of the kind, only a noisy blusterer, thinking of no one but himself. Therefore, as happens so often with us, has he stolen a march on a failing memory for prior

  ― 75 ―
recognition. But the ‘ox’ is grass, and Kálee still lives in the great Eastern Empire, and has two servants to wait upon her. O Dea certe!

‘Behold!’ said Treloar, as we lay and smoked in the moonlight, after supper, in front of our tent, which we had pitched between the door-posts of what had evidently been a building of some size, but of which they were the sole remains. ‘Behold, my friend, the end of it all! But a few years are passed, and where, now, are the busy thousands that toiled and strove and jostled each other, below there, in earth's bowels, in the fierce race for gold? Look at it now! Think of the great waves of human hopes and disappointments and joys that have rolled to and fro across this miserable patch of earth! Think of the brave hearts that came hot with the excitement of the quest, and departed broken with the emptiness of it. Also, of those others, who never departed, but lie at rest beneath that yellow clay. Just a little while, in the new-born one, is centred alike the glow of success and the cold chill of failure; all the might of swift fierce endeavour, every passion, good and bad, that convulses our wretched souls. And then, after a brief season, its pristine form defaced and scarred, comes the rotting solitude of the tomb! Why 'tis, in some sort, the story of our corporal life and death!

‘ “Over the Mountains of the Moon,
Down the Vale of Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,” the shade replied,
“For there lies El Dorado.”

  ― 76 ―

Behold, my friend, the Valley of the Shadow that has passed, wherein many a bold soul has gone down to Hades, “unhouselled, disappointed, unaneled.” Do their ghosts wander yet, I ask?’

‘O, bother!’ I mutter sleepily. ‘I'm tired. Let's turn in.’

Fortunately such outbursts were rare. But when the fit came on, I knew too well the uselessness of attempting to stop it.

Awakened towards the small hours by the roarings of Eclipse, triumphantly apprising the world at large that his belly was full, I found the lantern still burning, and could see Treloar's eye ‘in a fine phrenzy rolling,’ as he scribbled rapidly. Years afterwards I read in the Bombay Pioneer ‘How the Night Fails on Yamnibar, and thought it passable.

It was anything but pleasant work, this groping about old workings. It was also very dangerous. Many were the close shaves we had of being buried, sometimes alive, at others flattened out.

The soil, for the first twenty or thirty feet, was of a loose, friable description. Thence to the bottom, averaging eighty feet, was ‘standing ground,’ i.e., needed no timbering. But, in many cases, the slabbing from the upper parts had rotted away and fallen down, followed by big masses of earth, which blocked up the entrance to the drives where our work lay.

Then after, with great trouble, clearing the bottom, generally yellow pipeclay, and exploring the dark, cramped passages for pillars, we had, before beginning

  ― 77 ―
to displace these, to support the roof by artificial ones. Timber had at the time of the rush been plentiful; as a consequence pillars were scarce. Also, the field, having in its prime been a wonderfully rich one, it had been repeatedly fossicked over. This made them scarcer still.

Often after a heavy job of clearing out and heaving-up mullock, water, and slabs, all the time in imminent peril of a ‘fall’ from some part of the shaft, would we discover, on exploring the drives, that they were simply groves of props—not a natural support left standing.

Such a network of holes and burrows as the place was! I can compare it to nothing but a Brobnignagian rabbit-warren.

The flat had been undermined, claim breaking into claim, until the wonder was that the whole top crust didn't cave in. In some places this had happened, and one looked down into a dismal chaos of soil, rotten timber, and surface water.

As I have remarked, it was risky work this hunting for the few solitary grains amongst the rotten treasure-husks left by others, especially without a local knowledge of the past, which would have been so invaluable to us. But there came to be, nevertheless, a sort of dreary fascination in it.

We had heard that, on this same field, years after its total abandonment, a two hundred ounce nugget had been found by a solitary fossicker in a pillar left in an old claim.

Very often, I believe, did the picture of that big lump

  ― 78 ―
rise before us as we crawled and twisted and wriggled about like a pair of great subterranean yellow eels, not knowing the moment a few odd tons of earth might fall and bury us.

One day an incident rather out of the common befell. Lowering Treloar cautiously down an old shaft to, as usual, make a preliminary survey, I presently heard a splash and a cry of ‘Heave-up!’ Up he came, a regular Laocoon, in the close embraces of a thumping, lively carpet snake, whose frogging ground he had intruded upon.

He had, by luck, got a firm grip of the reptile round the neck, and was not bitten. He was, however, badly scared.

Doubtfully he listened as, while releasing him from the coils, I assured him that the thing was perfectly harmless.

Was I quite certain on this point? he wished to know. Of course I was; and I quoted all the authorities I could think of.

Then, before despatching it, would I let it bite me? As an ardent ophiologist, he took the utmost interest in such a fact, and would like to become as confident as myself of it.

But I pointed out earnestly that this was simply trifling, and that we had no time to spare. Practical demonstration is a very capital thing in many cases. But ver non semper viret, and our friend of the curiously-patterned skin might not be always innocuous.

We took three ounces out of a pillar in Snake Shaft That night, on returning to our camp, we found an old man there. He was the first person we had seen for a

  ― 79 ―
month; and so were inclined to be cordial. There was nothing particularly remarkable about the new-comer, except that he had a habit of tightly shutting one eye as he looked at you.

I have called him old because his hair was grey; but he was still a very powerful man, and likely to prove a tough one at close quarters.

‘Come and have some supper, mate,’ said Treloar.

‘Call me Brummy, an' keep yer dorg orf,’ replied the other, as he poured out a pannikin of tea. ‘I don't fancy a big beast like yon a-breathin' inter the back o' a feller's neck.’

And, indeed, Kálee's attentions were marked. She sniffed around and around the new-comer, bristled all her hair up, and carried or a monologue which sounded unpleasant.

‘No,’ he resumed in answer to a question, as Treloar sent Kálee to her kennel. ‘I was never on this here field before. Down about the Lachlan's my towri. Everybody theer knows Brummy. I'm goin' to do a bit of fossickin' now I got this far. Ain't a-thinkin' o' interferin' wi' you. Surfiss is my dart—roun' about the old tailin's and puddlers. Down below's too risky in a rotten shop like this. I leaves that game to the young 'uns. An” (with a sly grin) ‘old Brum does as well as the best on 'em in the long run.’

Soon after this he went away and pitched a ragged fly further along the flat.

Next day, as we were having a smoke and a spell after rigging two new windlass standards, he came up to us,

  ― 80 ―
and in a furtive sort of manner, began to try and discover the position of those claims which we had already prospected. Having no motive for concealment, we told him as well as we could, also pointing out most of them from where we sat.

He appeared quite pleased as we finished, and marched off with his old tin dish banging and rattling against the pick on his shoulder.

‘That old man,’ remarked Harry presently, ‘is a dangerous old man. Moreover, he is a liar.’

‘How do you know that?’ I asked.

‘The first,’ he replied, ‘I feel—as Kálee did. Now for the second count in the indictment. Did you not hear him tell us that this was his first visit to Yamnibar? Well, when he asked so carelessly if we had tried the big shaft over yonder—the one where you can see the remains of a horse-whim—and you said that we had not, a momentary gleam of satisfaction passed across his face. We'll try that hole to-morrow morning. Luckily, our new standards are finished.’

‘Pooh!’ I said. ‘My dear fellow, your legal training has made you too suspicious. The poor old beggar may have an idea of prospecting that very shaft himself.’

‘He probably has,’ replied Treloar quietly. ‘Only don't forget that he doesn't like underground work.’

However, my companion had his own way, which, except in such matters as that of the snake-test, he generally did; and next morning saw us fixing our windlass at the summit of the big heap of mullock which towered above its fellows.

  ― 81 ―

We seldom got anything in such claims. They had mostly been worked by rich companies, and every ounce of wash-dirt removed.

It was pretty late by the time we had removed sufficient of the débris from the bottom of the shaft—too late to do more that night.

As we walked over to our camp, we caught a glimpse of ‘Brummy’ following us.

‘He's been watching,’ said Treloar.

‘Nonsense!’ I replied impatiently. ‘You're becoming a monomaniac.’

That evening our neighbour came over to our fire; and in consequence Kálee, in low threatening communion with herself, had to be put upon the chain.

‘Goin' to try the big un?’ he asked presently.

‘Yes,’ said Harry; ‘there may be something there. One can never tell.’

‘Not much danger!’ he blurted out. ‘The coves as worked Number One North Rainbow weren't the chaps to leave much behind 'em. Leastways'—he quickly added, seeing his mistake, ‘so I've heard say.’

Treloar gave me a look which meant ‘How now?’ but neither of us took further notice.

‘I've heard tell, too,’ he continued, ‘as that claim's häänted.’

‘Oh!’ said Treloar airily, and as if in constant association with them, ‘we don't mind ghosts. It's the living, not the dead, that force us betimes to keep a sharp look-out.’

‘Well, mates,’ retorted Brummy, rather sulkily, ‘I

  ― 82 ―
ain't quite cunnin' enuff yet to chew tacks, but I ain't not altogether a born hidjiot; an' if anybody was to offer me a thousand poun' to go down that 'ere shaft, where you got your win'less rigged, an' up them drives, I wouldn't do it.’

‘I was down it to-day,’ I remarked, ‘and didn't notice anything out of the common.’

‘Mebbe not, mebbe not—yet,’ said he. ‘But the yarns I've listened to—on the Lachlan, over yander— consarning that 'ere Rainbow claim 'd make your 'air stick up stiff.’

During the night, feeling restless and unable to sleep, I got up and went outside. The weather was very hot, and, for some time, I sat and listened to the faint wash of the sea, longing for a plunge in its cool depths. Suddenly, in the great expanse of gloom, my eyes caught the glimmer of a light. As nearly as I could guess, it was moving slowly towards the shaft we were to descend in the morning.

‘There goes your aged friend,’ said a voice at my shoulder, which made me start with the unexpectedness of it.

‘Too hot and close to sleep,’ explained Treloar. ‘Come out for a breath of air.’

‘Let's shepherd the old chap, and see what his little game is. Bring the lantern. Needn't show a light. We know the way well enough. I expect he's after ghosts.’

As, breathless, we arrived at our windlass, Treloar gave a grunt of disappointment on seeing that everything

  ― 83 ―
was exactly as we had left it—rope coiled neatly round the barrel, green-hide bucket hanging over the mouth.

‘It must have been a Jack-o'-lantern,’ said he; ‘or perhaps the old sinner's gone down some other shaft. Yes, by Jingo! look there!’ he exclaimed, pointing to where, a couple of hundred of yards distant, a flash of light was visible for a moment. ‘He's gone down the Snake Shaft! Those ladders are as rotten as pears; and he'll break his wicked old neck if he isn't careful. I wish him joy of all he'll find there, even if he gets to the bottom safely. What came we out for to see? Let's make back.’

It was my turn down next morning, and when I got to the end of the hundred and odd feet of the häänted shaft, I lit my candle, and, at random, entered one of the four roomy drives that had been put in so many long years ago.

So extensively had it been quarried, that I was only obliged to stoop slightly. Not a trace of earthen pillar here. A valuable property this, and a clean-swept one. Travelling warily along, I suddenly stumbled over a ridge of mullock, into what was evidently another drive altogether.

My course, so far, had been downwards. The new tunnel sloped slightly upwards.

Evidently both claims had been driving for a ‘gutter.’ One of them had got to the end of its tether before reaching it. The surface limits of ‘golden holes’ are pretty strictly defined; but roguery, as well as miscalculation,

  ― 84 ―
has been known to produce curious effects in adjoining claims. Not that, just then, I bothered myself with any such speculations. I was on the look-out for a lump of that rich water-worn conglomerate which had made Yamnibar, in the days of its youth, the talk of the world. Sitting down to rest a minute, the candlelight fell brightly on the shining steel of a pick.

I had noticed how freshly the earth smelled, and wondered thereat. The pick was fresh too. One could swear that it had not left its owner's grip five minutes. Without a doubt it had been used to remove the thin curtain of earth between the rival drives.

Looking more closely, fresh knee and footprints were plentiful.

What the deuce did it mean?

Crawling along the new drive, which was much smaller than the Rainbow's, I at length emerged into a shaft that struck me as familiar.

The ‘Snake,’ or I was a Dutchman!

I knew it by the ladders, for one thing; for another, by a piece of timber at the entrance to the opposite drive—the one in which we had made our three-ounce rise.

I tried the rungs of the rude ladders. Not half so rotten as we had taken them to be. Also covered with fresh earth left by recent boots.

Only fifty feet to the top, and up I went safely enough. Treloar was sitting smoking, with his back towards me as I approached.

I startled him finely when I spoke.

  ― 85 ―

‘This is the hole the old man wants,’ he remarked, after hearing my story. ‘He knew he couldn't very well get down our rope and climb up it again. But he knew that one of the ‘Snake’ drives ran nearly into one of these. I suspect he must once have been employed in one or other of the claims. Either that, or he's been fossicking here before. You know we've come across plenty of traces of such. Cunning old dodger! But what can he be after? I tell you what. We'll both go down and try another of the drives. We'll leave Kálee on top to watch. I'll bet you she'll sing out pretty soon.’

I said nothing, for I was beginning to have doubts respecting ‘Brummy's’ veracity.

This time I lowered Treloar first. Then, whilst he held the rope taut, I slipped comfortably down.

We chose the opposite drive to the one I had explored, and moved in, Treloar leading.

‘Hello!’ said he presently, ‘someone's been here before us. See, there's been a good-sized pillar taken out. Why, here's some of the dirt left yet! And—good God!’ he suddenly exclaimed, ‘what's this?’

Pushing up alongside him, and holding my candle forward, I saw, lying at full length, a human skeleton. And yet it was not a complete skeleton. Here and there, rags and tatters of flesh, dry and hard as leather, stuck to the frame. A pair of heavy boots, with the ankle bones protruding, lay detached, and remnants of clothing were still visible. But the head was what fixed our gaze, the first horror of the thing over. The fore part

  ― 86 ―
of the skull had been smashed completely in. Near by lay a small driving-pick, thickly encrusted as with rust.

‘Neither rats, nor mice, nor snakes did that,’ whispered Treloar, pointing to the awful fracture.

‘Surely,’ I replied, with a shiver, ‘this can't be the thing old Brummy's searching for. No wonder he insisted on the place being haunted.’

‘Not that poor valueless shell,’ answered my friend, who was now kneeling, ‘but this! and this! and this!’ holding up, as he spoke, three fine nuggets, whose dull gleam had caught his eye in the heap of loose drift on which the skeleton partially lay.

‘Never!’ I exclaimed. ‘He never would have had the pluck to face back again if that is some of his work.’

‘If it is,’ said Treloar, quickly springing to his feet, thereby bumping the roof with his head, ‘we shall soon hear of it. Back, man! Back for your life! Hark! By G—d! there's Kálee now. Good dog, hold him!’ as if it were possible for her to hear at that depth.

Pushing and scrambling along, we got to the entrance of the drive, where the muffled sounds resolved themselves in a furious hullaballoo of barks and curses. Then, as we paused for a moment, swish, swish, down came the windlass rope, falling all of a heap. Just as we were on the point of pushing out, what feeble light there was at the bottom changed into total darkness, and, with a terrific smash, a heavy mass fell at our feet.

  ― 87 ―
Then silence, broken only by low groans and hoarse fierce growls.

With trembling hands we relit our candles, and saw more distinctly.

Upon the rope coils lay ‘Brummy,’ quite still. Squatted on his breast, the great hound watched him narrowly—so narrowly that her lolling red tongue nearly touched the face of the prostrate man. Blood oozed slowly from his mouth and ears.

With reluctance the dog obeyed her master's call, and, apparently uninjured, crouched in a corner, panting loudly, while we examined Brummy.

Habet!’ said Treloar, as we turned him over. ‘Back's broken! See here’ (producing a loaded revolver from a hip-pocket), ‘the old man meant business. It's only guessing, mind. But he probably thought we should attempt to escape up the Snake Shaft, and would have shot us off the ladders like magpies. Well done, Goddess Kálee. You've proved yourself worthy of your name for once, anyhow.’

With a good deal of trouble we got the rope through the drive into the Snake Shaft and on to our windlass again. It had been cut clean off with a tomahawk. We hove the man and the dog up. We let the other thing alone for a while. But the one we had thought dead was still alive, with a little life. As the cool air blew on his face he opened his eyes. It was all he could do. Black, beady eyes, once sharp and piercing, now fast dulling with the death-film. And he lay there and watched me, staring fixedly. It was a bright sun-shiny

  ― 88 ―
day, the birds were singing cheerily about us, and the wash of the sea was very faint. From the expression on his face I thought he was listening to it. Presently Treloar returned from the camp with some brandy, and poured a spoonful between the clenched teeth.

The spirit revived him a little. and he spoke. He said,—

‘Curse you!’

More brandy, and he spoke again.

‘Is he there yet?’

‘He's there yet,’ answered Treloar. ‘How long ago was it?’

‘Ten year.’

‘What did you kill him for?’

More brandy; and then, as his eyes brightened, he laughed, actually laughed up at us, saying, in a strong voice,—

‘Why, you fool, for the big lump, o' coorse! A 'underd an' eighty ounces! Too big to share, I reckon. I'd a-smashed a dozen men for it in them days, let alone a poor softy like Jim.’

‘There must be thirty or forty ounces down there,’ I remarked. ‘Why didn't you take that too?’

‘Never you mind,’ he said. ‘I come back for it now. And if it hadn't been for that theer infernal dorg I'd ha' had it.’

‘And how about us?’ asked Treloar, as, obeying the look in his eyes, he gave him another drink.

The dying man smiled significantly, but said nothing. There was a long pause, during which Brummy shut his

  ― 89 ―
eyes, and breathed stertorously, whilst Kálee, drawing herself noiselessly along on her belly, came closer, and looked into his face, but with no anger in her gaze now.

‘There's one thing I can't understand,’ said Treloar, in a low voice, ‘and that is how he contrived to get up this shaft again with the gold.’

Quietly as he spoke, Brummy heard him, and muttered—

‘Would ye like to know?’

‘No, no!’ exclaimed Treloar earnestly. ‘We have wasted far too much precious time already in vain talk. Can we do anything to make your mind easier? You know you can't last much longer. In God's name try and prepare yourself to meet Him.’

Very slowly came the reply, in short gasps,—

‘I'm easy enough. If I could choke the pair o' ye by winkin' I'd do it. I'm gittin' cold a'ready. But I'm cursin' ye to mysen all the time. If I kin git back I'll häänt ye.’

Another long silence, and then he murmured,—

‘Take that dorg away, Jim, or I'll put the pick into yer! There, you got it now, ole man! Ah, would yer?’

Then the flickering light in the eyes failed altogether, and, I take it, a very defiant, murderous old soul went forth to meet its Maker.

Kálee, smelling at the body, sat upon her haunches and wailed loudly and dismally after the manner of her kind, answered from the flat by Eclipse, marvelling at the disturbance of his friend, with sonorous bellowings.

  ― 90 ―

This was the requiem of him as he passed to join the other shades of Yamnibar. Slain by a dog and the cunning of his own hand.

As for the gold that ‘Jim’ had lain by so quietly, and watched so patiently through the years, we never got any of it.

The three nuggets figured in the police-court inquiry, with other things, under the title of ‘Exhibit A.’

That was the last glimpse we had of them.

Departmental red tape enwrapped them so closely that no amount of solicitation could render them visible again —to us.

Easier would it be to draw leviathan from the waters with a bit of twine and a crooked pin than to draw ‘treasure trove’ from the coffers of a treasury—colonial or otherwise.

To this day they are possibly accumulating dust, pigeon-holed with the depositions in the case. But I doubt it, I doubt it.