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‘Dot's Claim.’

IT was evening in the German Arms at Schwartzdorf. Great fires blazed in all the rooms of that old-fashioned hostelry, welcome enough on entering from the chill, wild weather ruling over the mountainland outside.

Tired with a heavy day's work at inspecting the mining claims, which were beginning to attract notice to this secluded spot, it was with a feeling of satisfaction that, after tea, I drew a chair up to the fire, lit my pipe, and made myself comfortable.

Presently there was a knock at the door and, in response to my ‘Come in,’ there entered the man who told me this story.

In his hand he carried a canvas bag, whose contents he emptied on the table with the remark, ‘I thought perhaps you might like to see these.’

Very beautiful they were, without doubt—quartz, iron-stone and gold, mingled in the most fantastic manner; grotesque attempts by Nature's untrained fingers at crosses, hearts, stars, and other shapes defying name.

‘We got these the last shot knocking off to-night,’ said

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the owner of the pretty things as I asked him to sit down. ‘You might remember me tellin' you as I didn't think we was very far from the main reef. I believe we got it now in good earnest. Same lead as is in “Dot's Claim.” Same sort o' country. Reef runnin' with the same dip. An' you knows yourself, sir, as they took forty-five pound weight o' specimens richer than them out o' “Dot's” this mornin'.’

‘I beg your pardon,’ I said after a hasty glance at my note-book, ‘but I don't remember any such name. I thought, too, that I had seen all the most important claims.’

‘Why, of course,’ he replied, ‘I forgot! It's only a few of us old hands as knows the story as calls it Dot's now. When the big company took it from Fairleigh they names it the “El Dorado.” I reckon t'other was too short—didn't sound high enough for 'em. But if it hasn't the best right to the old name I'd like to know the reason why.’

‘El Dorado,’ I remarked; ‘why that's the original prospector's claim.’

My visitor nodded, saying, ‘An' I'm No. 2 South.’

‘Ward and party?’ I inquired, referring again to my memos.

‘That's it. I'm Ward.’

‘Well, then, Mr Ward, I want to hear that story you hinted at just now. Kindly touch that bell at your elbow. Thanks.’

It may have been only fancy, but I thought that between blooming Gretchen journeying to and fro with

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hot water, tumblers, sugar, etc., etc., and my lucky reefer glances passed betokening a more than casual acquaintance.

‘Yes, Gretchen, you may as well leave the kettle.’

I am trying to air my German, but fail lamentably, judging from the expression on the girl's full, fresh-coloured features as she struggles to avoid laughing. Even my visitor smiles. Everything is German here—bar, luckily, the beds. Outside the wind howled and beat against the curtained windows, and the rain fell dully on the shingled roof, and the roar of the Broken River came to our ears between the storm gusts.

Inside, the fire flickered and fell, sending deep shadows over the pine-panelled walls and the grave handsome face of my companion, the first fruits of whose labour shone sullenly under the shaded lamplight. From a distant room rose and died away faintly the chorus of some song of the Fatherland.

‘Now,’ said I, as Gretchen finally closed the door, ‘now for the story.’

‘Well,’ commenced Ward, after getting his pipe into good going order, ‘it's over eight years ago since I came here from the West Coast—Hokitika. I'd been diggin' there. But my luck was clean out, so I chucked it up, an’, after a lot of knockin' about, settles down here——would you believe it?—farmin'!

‘Now I know'd as much about farmin' as a cow does o' reefin'. Cert'nly my mate—for there was a pair of us—had been scarin' crows for a farmer in the Old Country when he was a boy. That wasn't much.

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Still, on the strength o' that experience, he used to give himself airs.

‘I think it was two years afore we got a crop o' anythin'. Then it was potaters. When we tried to sell 'em we couldn't get an offer. Everybody had potaters. So we just turned to an' lived on 'em. They're fillin', doubtless. But potaters and fish, an' fish an' potaters for a change, all the year round, gets tiresome in the long run.

‘I often wonder now what could have possessed me an' Bill to go in for such a thing as farmin'. But there, when a chap's luck's out diggin', he's glad to tackle anythin' for a change!

‘Presently one or two more, men with fam'lies, settles close to us and tries to make a livin'. It didn't amount to much. Then up comes a string o' Germans, trampin' along from the coast, carryin' furniture an' tools, beds—ay, even their old women-on their backs. An' they settles, an' starts the same game—clearin', an' ploughin', an' sowin'. But I couldn't see as any of 'em was makin' a pile. They worked like bullocks, women an' all, late an' early. The harder they worked, the poorer they seemed to get. Bill an' me had a pound or two saved up for a rainy day. But they had nothin'; an' how they lived was a mystery. So, you see, takin' things all round, it was high time somethin' turned up. An' somethin' did. The next farm to us belonged to a married couple. He was a runaway sailor. She'd been a passenger

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on board. They had one child, just turned four year old, an' they was both fair wrapped up in that kid.

‘If Dot's—Dot was his pet name—finger only ached, the work might go to Jericho.

‘An' indeed he were a most loveable little chap. With regards to him, we was all of us 'most as bad as the father an' mother, the way we played with him an' petted him. There was no denyin' Dot of anythin' once he looked at you out o' those big blue eyes o' his. And the knowledgeableness of him! No wonder Jim Fairleigh an' his missis thought the sun rose every mornin' out o' the back o' their boy's neck.’

Here Ward paused and queried,—

‘Married man, sir?’

‘No,’ I replied.

‘No more 'm I,’ he continued, ‘or I don't s'pose I'd be here yarning a night like this.’

‘It's a wonder,’ I said, ‘that none of these jolly-looking Fräuleins about here have been able to take your fancy.’

‘Well, to tell the truth,’ he replied, with, however, a rather conscious expression on his face, ‘I think what those poor Fairleighs went through rather scared me of marryin'.

‘But, as I was sayin', farmin' didn't seem to agree with my mate, Bill—that's him you seen at the claim to-day—spite o' his past experience, any more'n it did with me. He done the business, by-the-bye, quite

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lately with a bouncin' gal—Lieschen Hertzog—an' now stays at home o' nights.

‘We had a note or two left. We had also a crop o' potaters an' some punkins. But no one wanted 'em—wouldn't buy 'em at any price. In fact, you couldn't give 'em away in those times.

‘The Fairleighs an’, I think, all of us, were pretty much in the same box. As I said before, it was time somethin' turned up.

‘It was a wild night. Bill an' me was lyin' in our stretchers readin'. About ten o'clock, open flies the door, an' in bolts Fairleigh drippin' wet, no hat on, an' pale as a ghost, an' stands there like a statue, starin' at us, without a word.

‘ “In God's name what's the matter?” I says at last. With that he flaps his hands about, so-fashion, an' sings out, “Dot's lost in the ranges!”

‘You may bet that shook us up a bit! You've seen the Broken Ranges for yourself, an' can judge what chance a delicate little kiddy like Dot 'd have among them rocks an' scrub on a worse night than this is.

‘That fool of a sailor-man, if you'll believe me, an' his wife had been out sence dark searchin' for the child, 'stead o' rousin' the settlement. Presently, to make matters worse, it appears that he'd lost the woman too—got separated in the scrub, an' couldn't find her again. Just by a fluke, while on the Black Hill yonder, he'd caught the glimper o' sparks from our chimney. He was covered with cuts and bruises an' goin' cranky fast when he got to the hut.

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‘Bill had gone to tell the news; an' in a very few minutes a whole crowd o' Fritzes, an' Hanses, an' Hermans, an Gottliebs was turned out an' ready for a start.

‘They didn't want no coaxing. All they says was ‘Ach Gott!’ an' they was fit for anythin'. By no manner o' means a bad lot,’ here commented Ward, ‘when you comes to get in with 'em an' know 'em like. Honest as the light, an' as hard-workin' as a bullock. Slow, maybe, but very sure. Full o' pluck as a soger-ant. Clannish as the Scotties, an' as savin'. I've got some real good friends among 'em now. An' their women-folks, too, is amazin' handy—make you up a square feed out o' a head o' cabbage an' a bit o' greenhide, I do believe, if they was put to it.

Cert'nly their lingo's the dead finish at first, till you gets used to it. I can Deutsch gesprechen, myself, now, more'n a little.

‘However, that's neither here nor there.

‘Bill, my mate, as I told you, as much as me, havin' got full o' farmin', we used to take a prospectin' trip now and then among the ranges. But we never rose the colour. Never found a thing, 'cept scrub turkeys’ eggs. Anyhow, we knew the country better'n the Germans, an' took the lead.

‘Pitch dark it were, with heavy squalls, an' the river roarin' along half a banker.

‘Fairleigh, after a stiff nip o' rum, began to find his senses again sufficient to give us the right course.

‘Such scramblin', an' coo-eein’, an' slippin', an' tearin' about the Bush in the dark never, I should think,

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happened before. But we managed to keep in some sort o' line an' cover a goodish track o' country.

‘We must ha' gone fully five miles into the ranges, an' Bill an' me was gettin' to the end of our tether in that direction, when we found Mrs Fairleigh. Karl Itzig nearly falls over her, lyin' stretched out on a big flat rock.

‘We thought she was dead; but, after a while, she comes to, light-headed, though, and not able to tell us anythin'. So we sends her home with a couple o' the chaps carryin' her.

‘Well, we searched till daylight—rainin' cats an' dogs all the time. And we searched all the next day without any luck. That evenin' it cleared-up bright at sundown. The Fairleigh gives in complete, an' has to be carried home to his wife.

‘After a camp an' a snack the moon rose, an' we at it afresh. But we 'bouted ship now; for I was sure we'd overrun ourselves. There was full fifty of us, an' we circled, takin' in all the country we could. You see, we was hopin' for fresh tracks, an' we went with our noses on the groun' like a lot of dogs on the scent of an old man kangaroo, only a sight slower.

‘'Bout midnight I sees somethin' shinin'. It was the steel buckle on the front o' poor Dot's shoe. Only one of 'em, an' all soaked through with rain. No tracks; so we reckoned he'd been here last night in the heaviest of it.

‘That little bit o' leather put us in better heart. But it wasn't to be. The sun was just risin', when, pretty

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near done up, me an' Bill an' Wilhelm Reinhardt comes out o' the scrub on to a small bald knob, an' there, on a bare patch, lies Dot, stone dead, with his blue eyes wide open, starin' at the sky, an' the long curly hair, as his mother used to be so proud of, all matted with sand and rain.

‘Four crows was sittin' overright him on the limb of a tree. I don't believe the poor little fellow 'd been dead very long—in the chill o' the early hours o' that mornin' likely. In one hand he had a bit o' stick. With the other he held his pinny, gathered up tight, same as you've seen kiddies do when they're carryin' somethin'.

‘A real pitiful sight it were. It was as much as Bill an' me could stand. As for Wilhelm, he just sits down aside the body an' fair blubbers out.

‘Well, with our coo-ees the rest comes up in twos an' threes. Most of the Germans started to keep Wilhelm company. Foreigners, I think, must be either softer-hearted than us, or ain't ashamed o' showin' what they feel. Anyhow, there wasn't a dry eye among them Germans when they gathered round little Dot.

‘Presently we starts to rig a sort o' stretcher with coats and a couple o' saplin's.

‘Then Bill lifts the body up, an' as he does out from the pinny drops four o' the beautifullest specimens you'd ever wish to see—them on the table ain't a patch on 'em.

‘I twigs them at once. So did three or four more old digger chaps.

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‘Then we takes a squint around, an' there, right against our noses, as one might say, ran the reef, with bits o' gold stickin' out o' the surface-stone an' glimperin' in the sun.

‘I don't believe the Germans tumbled for a while. You see they was all new chums. Most likely none of 'em hadn't ever seen a natural bit o' gold afore.

‘But the others did, quick. An’, presently, a rather hot sort o' argument begins to rise.

‘For a short time me an' Bill stands and listens to the wranglin'. Then I looks at Bill, and he nods his head, and I shoves my spoke in.

‘ “Look here, chaps!” I says, “this may be only a surface leader, as some of you appears to think, or it may be a pile. I don't care a damn which it is! It's Fairleigh's first say. His kid, as lies there dead, found it! An’, by the Lord, his father's goin' to be first served! I'm goin' now to peg cut what I considers a fair prospectin' claim for him. That 'll be seen to after. When that's done you can strike in as you likes. If you objects to that you ain't men. Bill, here, 'll back me up, an’, if you don't like it, we'll do it in spite o' you. We're all poor enough, God knows! But none of us ain't just lost an only child, an' self an' wife gone half mad with the sorrow of it.”

‘Well, sir, the Germans, who was beginning to drop to how the thing lay, set up a big shout o' “Hoch! Hoch!” meanin' in their lingo, “Hooray.” An' the rest, what was right enough at bottom, an' only wanted showin' like what was the fair an' square thing to do,

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quick agreed. All 'cept, that is, one flash sort of a joker from the Barossa. But, while I steps the groun’, Bill put such a head on him in half-a-dozen rounds that his own mother wouldn't know him again.

‘It were only a couple o' miles in a straight line from the settlement, through the ranges, to that bit of a bald hill.

‘Exactly, almost, where you stood to-day, lookin' at the windin' plant o' the El Dorado, was where we found Dot.

‘When the field was proclaimed the Warden didn't have much alteration to make in the p.c. I'd marked off for Fairleigh.

‘You see it was only one man's groun’ then. An' it turned out rich from the jump. An it's gettin' better every foot. None o' the others, as the Company's bought an' malgamated with it, although joinin', can touch “Dot's.”

‘But Fairleigh's never to say held up his head sence that night.

‘A week after we buried the child we carried the mother to rest beside him.

‘Fairleigh must be a rich man now. Everythin' he touches, as the sayin' is, seems to turn to gold. He can't go wrong. But he seldom comes a-nigh the place. One of the first things he done when “Dot's” turned up such trumps, was to put five thousand pounds to mine and Bill's credit in the A—— bank. But we never touched it. Ever sence that night our luck's been right in. First we sells out No. I North to the Company

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at a pretty stiff figure. Then we buys out No. 2 South an' seemingly we've struck it again, an' rich.’

‘And, now,’ I remark as my friend, his yarn finished, sits gazing meditatively at the glowing logs,—‘and, now, all you want is a wife. Follow your mate's example, and make a home where you're making your money.’

Ward shook his head, smiling doubtfully, and, knocking the ashes out of his pipe, rose to go.

Just then Gretchen, buxom, and smiling also, appeared bearing a huge back-log in her arms. And when I saw the way my companion sprang up and rushed to meet and relieve her of the burden, and heard the guttural whispering that took place before the lump of timber reached its destination, I thought that, ere very long, all doubts would be dissipated, and that, even then, I sat within measurable distance of the future Mrs Ward.