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I.

Jim Briscoe turned the hydraulic nozzle slowly, directing the water to a patch of rough cement that offered very stubborn resistance.

“There, you can bore your way into that while I get a smoke.”

He found his knife missing. “Um! Must have left it up at the hut at crib time, I suppose.” He moved the nozzle a point or two again, and, drawing a plug of tobacco from his pocket, proceeded to tear off a smoke with his fingers, staring in absorbed fashion at the jet, which was roaring loudly on a flat stone in the wash-dirt, and sending up a white spray, whereon the western sun was flashing rainbow tints.

Suddenly the roaring ceased, the rod-like column of water broke into spray at the nozzle mouth, and Briscoe, turning to the bank, where his mate was pointing a fork with a hatchet, yelled, “Water off, Joe; look slippy.”

Joe was off in an instant, running up the hill along the course of the distended canvas till he reached the race and turned off the water. Mean-while Briscoe, as soon as the pressure had eased sufficiently, took off the nozzle and extracted a piece of wood that had caused the obstruction.

“Blessed nuisance, these sticks, Joe,” he said to his mate upon his return. “We must use a finer screen up there. That wire-netting's no good—too coarse. We'll be having a bust up in the pipe soon.”

When all was ready again for action the water was restored, the canvas coil wriggling along its course down the hill with the first onrush of water, till, meeting with confinement in the nozzle, the canvas began filling back, and presently hundreds of needle sprays shot out on all sides of the coil, suggesting thoughts of pleasant fountains in city parks, and creating longings to lie in the pleasant sun, cooled by the fairy showering spray.

“Well,” said Briscoe to his mate after knock-off, as they looked down at the claim from the home path on the crest of the little bill, “this place is a puzzle to me. Johnstone says that Ratliffe got 11 weights to the paddock there below the bar, and old Wright claims to have taken 14 ounces out of that patch near the wattles, and coarse gold, too—that's what beats me. We can't raise anything better than mustard where we are. That's the worst of it. If a man knows there's coarse gold about he's always in hope of getting a piece that'll make up for lost time. Look at that gold we got up at the Junction; some sense in that.”

His mate having acquiesced, they started for home, Briscoe remarking that “if the next paddock didn't pan out better he intended to ‘ding’ it,”




  ― 240 ―

The miner is of all men sanguine of success in the face of difficulties, but then troubles never come singly in the world of washdirt, but even as in the non-auriferous walks of life and industry; and there must necessarily be times when the race requires more fall, the canvas wears out, the prospecting dish fails in its reward, and, still worse, the all-important factor of water begins, under the influence of drought, to slacken off. At such crises it takes a brave heart to struggle through, and, let it be said to their eternal credit, the heart of miners are truly “hearts of gold.”

Briscoe, nearing his cottage, spied his little son Ralph, aged 7, toddling down to the gate with his only sister, Fan, aged 5. They were coming, as usual, to meet him.

The father's face brightened.

“Well, this won't do, Mr. Briscoe,” he said, half aloud. “You must shake off the blues, old son. It won't do to carry all that mullock home for the missus to worry over.”

The children shouted and raced towards him gleefully.

“Hello, dad! Mother killed a snake—great big snake—near the chimbly. I got the shubbel and Mum watched him, and I got the shubbel and Mum killed his head off with the shubbel, and——.” Here Fan broke in lispingly, “ 'N Muvver put the thnake on the arnth next 'n it wiggled and wiggled, dardy.” Here the young lady clapped her hands triumphantly.

“And, I say, farver,” cried Ralph, impatient of his sister's interruption, “the sewin' machine man came to-day; and Flora got off her chain at him; and the parrot got out, and a nasty ork was at him, farver; and mummy shooed him orf, and ——.” Here Briscoe held out his hands, and the lad, seizing them, climbed up, or, rather, walked up his legs and body, and perched on his back: while Fan was borne in front. Presently the verandah was reached. “Boots, daddy, boots!” cried Ralph. “Bewth, dardy, yeth; bewths, pleath,” yelled Miss Fannie, and gently the fond father set them down, and a moment later he had a jockey on each instep, their little legs stuck out straight behind, and elevated above the floor to assist locomotion. Splodge, splodge went the gum boots through the house, the children rising and falling alternately as he proceeded.

“Muvver, come quick, and look,” cried Fan,” and, of course, mother did come, even at the risk of burning the toast; came, as she did each evening, to laugh and say. “Well, Jim, I wonder how you can carry those big lumps like that!”

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