― 178 ―

3. Chapter III.

It was after dark that evening when Trevaskis went across to the Colmar Arms for his evening meal. When he came out at his office door, he saw Victor going across the reef towards Stonehouse. He did not turn up at the inn for tea, so it was evident that he was spending the evening with the Challoners. As the manager sat alone at the long dreary table of the dreary dining-room, he fell into one of those brooding fits of utter depression which from time to time overtook him since coming to Colmar.

At such times his past life would rise up before him, year by year and period by period, till he felt almost suffocated by despair, and a bitter sense of the injustice of his lot. He had earned his money so hardly–building up his wealth without help or bequest from anyone. And then, when he had achieved his purpose, how far removed he had been from plunging into reckless extravagance or speculation! The only faults he could charge himself with were trusting his partner too blindly, and putting so large an amount into bank shares, with the purpose of being quite safe. But now, after all his long years of toil, and those brilliant ones during which all his hopes were realized, he was beggared, and with no prospects in life that he could see beyond dragging out a death-in-life existence at some miserable mine, in the heart of some miserable desert. He had no knowledge nor training for commercial life; all his business aptitude lay in one direction. He had, after coming to the mine, some faint hopes that enough would be saved out of the wreck of his fortune to enable him to start as a sharebroker. But affairs had turned out even worse than he had anticipated. It was now certain that, in common with other shareholders of the bank that had failed, he would have to pay liquidation callsnote on the shares he held.

As he sat plunged in the gloomiest reflections, feeling the weight of his misfortunes, and his loneliness pressing upon him like a heavy, physical load, he heard the sound of voices and loud

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laughter in the bar. Sometimes of late, when these fits of profound gloom overcame him, Trevaskis felt a nervous horror of returning to the solitude of his own rooms. He would have been ashamed to confess it openly, even to himself; but he would, in reality, have preferred to join the boisterous miners and stray swagmen drinking in the bar-room rather than remain alone with his despairing thoughts. He had sometimes compromised between the two plans, by sitting for an hour or two after tea in the bar-parlour, where the sound of voices of noisy merriment, and occasionally the strains of a banjo, an accordion, or a fiddle, gave him a certain sense of companionship. The bar-parlour faced the dining-room, being on the opposite side of the narrow passage which divided the newer portion of the Colmar Arms. Trevaskis went into the room on this evening, and found it as usual unoccupied, with a small notepetroleumnote lamp on the mantelpiece, notewhich diffused more odour than light.

There was a large horsehair sofa in the room, one end against the door that opened into the bar-room. Trevaskis threw himself down on this, with a newspaper in his hand. But he did not read it. His move into this room, with its staring wall-paper, its cheap vulgar oleographs, its strong fumes of negro-head tobacconote and coarse spirits, seemed to bring home to him more forcibly than before the hopeless slough into which his life had been resolved. He recalled, with a vividness strange in his experience, all the external aspects and pleasures of the years during which he had enjoyed the delights and luxuries of wealth. His entrance into parliamentary life; the gratified sense of importance that came to him as his name began to figure in the daily papers–now introducing a deputation, then giving utterance to some pregnant comment regarding the mineral laws of the country, ever and anon as one of the guests at the more important social gatherings; at banquets to distinguished visitors; at official dinners given by the Governor–every detail had been precious to him.

He recalled the long evenings at the clubs; the pleasant excitement of hurrying from the theatre to go to an evening assembly; the malicious rumours and surmises regarding other people's affairs; the unexpected dénouements and amusing gossip which

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his wife never wearied of retailing to him–all in his present cruel isolation had an exaggerated interest and value. But though, like the newly enriched of other spheres and countries, Trevaskis had developed a marvellous affinity for luxury and the more material aspects of refinement, he had no resources in himself. He read the newspapers, and there his reading began and ended. As soon as he had left the solitude of the Bush and the engrossing toil that had been sweetened by rapidly accumulating gain, he had taken with extraordinary avidity to all forms of amusement. Though he did not dance, he would pass hours watching people at a ball, enjoying the spectacle more thoroughly than most of those who took part in it. The music, the light, the flowers, the elegant dresses, the soft movement of costly fans, the fragrance of dainty perfumes,–all had an irresistible attraction for him. He was an habitual theatre-goer, and never missed an opera if he could help it. He had not the least technical knowledge of music, yet he would listen to a solo or a chorus with a sort of tranced rapture that had in it something almost hypnotic.

Now, he was exiled from all this, and worse still, he was separated from his wife and children. He recalled them as he had often watched them in the luxurious nursery of his big handsome house–his little fair-haired girls kneeling in their snowy-white nightdresses–and hot tears which refused to be shed dimmed his eyes. Then, crowding side by side with these reminiscences, came thoughts of his present surroundings–the mine, with its unceasing din and smoke, with the tents and hovelsnote of the miners–those squalid abodes through which he passed and repassed thrice a day to his meals at the dreary inn. The earth floors, sometimes half covered with dust-strewn sacks; the dingy little deal tables, heaped-up with dirty dishes of tin and earthenware; the narrow bunks, with heaps of soiled clothing; the empty kerosene cases, that served for seats; the flapping partitions in some of the squalid interiors, covered with tattered notenewspapers; groups of children playing at digging mines, everything strewn with the grime of perpetual dust–all seemed stamped on his brain with the sharp precision of a photograph.

At times he would overhear the sound of women's voices in

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angry contention. In such settlements as the Colmar Mine woman is seldom anything more than the female of the man, with an emphatic tendency to shriek on insufficient grounds. Often he would meet groups of the miners on their way to the Colmar Arms laughing and talking merrily. They had washed and changed their clothes after coming up out of the mine, having put in their "shift" of eight hours out of the twenty-four, at from eight to ten shillings a day. Many of them looked as if they had not a care in the world. Frequently he found himself envying them. He had left his own class–to do so had been the aim and the pride of his life. And yet, on this evening, after all that had come and gone, to sneak into a room where he could overhear men who belonged to his original rank in society, was the nearest approach to enjoyment which existence presented to him. He ground his teeth at the thought in a paroxysm of impotent rage, muttering half aloud, "God in heaven! is there nothing I can do to get out of this notehole?"

He had of late been troubled with a dull aching in his head and eyes. To-night the latter were worse, with that acute sensation as of hot sand below the eyelids which foretold an attack of sandy blight.note He rose and turned the light low, so as to relieve the tension of his eyesight. Then he lay down on the couch, with his face to the wall. Someone in the bar-room was playing a plaintive air on a zither; when it was ended there was a shout of applause, and several men spoke at once, asking the musician to have a drink in the various forms of invitation popular at the mine.

"Give it a name, old boy!"

"Have one with me, Hans."

"Would you like a bath, or notesuthin' stiff?"

"Nominate your pizen,note mate!"

Trevaskis was astonished to find the voices penetrate the bar-parlour as distinctly as if the door were open. He went to see whether it was ajar, and found it was closed and bolted as usual. But the upper half, which was of glass, covered with a dingy cretonne curtain, had been broken in some recent scuffle. Hence all that passed in the bar-room was perfectly audible in the little parlour.

"Mein Gott! I gannot trink mid you all at once, my frents–von

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at a dime, if you blease," said the musician.

"You better have a good blow out while you can, Hans," said one of the men; "Roby will be making a blue-ribboner of you soon–now that he's got you to play at his Saturday concerts."

"Ach Gott, even such a goncerts is better than notenodings," answered Hans. "I haf few books, and I read small English. I do not get on fast mid your yellow packs."note

"And little good they are when a bloke does read 'em," said one, in a tone of conviction. "It's allays the same sort o' onpossible chaps and females, with a lot o' rot about the sun notegoing down, as if 'e didn't every day follow out the same lines, since he first got 'is billet. . . . Now in my hopinion if you gives yourself over to be a liard, you ought to spin a good stiff yarn out o' your own 'ead. It's laziness and not the fear o' Gord as makes 'em steal old lies noteisstid o' making up new ones."

"You're not far wrong, sonny," said an elderly man in an encouraging tone. "For my own part, I'd more rather go to a gospel shopnote 'n read a notenovel. One puts me to sleep sooner 'n t'other."

"Does Roby hold forth on Sundays as much as he used to?" said a man, whose voice Trevaskis thought he recognised, though he could not quite identify it.

"More so, from all I 'ears," answered one of the miners. "As for I, I gives un a wide berth. Go to 'ear a effigee of a man like 'e bawling out what 'e felt and what 'e thought and what 'e did? Not much. Ef 'e trampled on 'is conscience and 'is female, why can't the bloomin' idjit keep it to 'isself? Wash your dirty linen to 'ome,note say the old proverb, and ef your soul is dirty, wash that to 'ome too, say I."

"Brayvo, Circus Bill!" said one.

"Go it like a good un, old chap! Why, you could give us a stunning sermon off your own bat," said another.

"As for notesermings, I'd like to know what was the good of ever takin' out a patent for 'em, from the beginning," said another. "I was one Sunday in town, wandering about, and I sees a place with notea door open and people goin' in. I followed 'em. There was Bibles, and hymn-books, and other utensils more or less

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religious, but not a soul said a word for 'arf an hour by my watch. At the end o' that, I got nervous like, and I came away. Someone told me noteafterwards they was Quakers.note If ever I jines a church it 'll be them, where people sits quiet and decent, keeping holy the Sabbath day, instead of setting a silly man to give a lot o' foolish jaw that no one minds."

There was some laughter as the speaker ended, and then a man, in a thick crapulous voice, declared his conviction that all this chapel-going and preaching and creeds and Bibles was a made-up thing to keep notepeople from enjoying themselves over some liquor.

Someone remonstrated, saying in a reflective tone that in the old days "the 'eathen rubbed ile into the karkiss of Christians, and put a lucifer match to them–and yet they went on spreadin'."

"And then what sort of enjoyment is it?" said another, who spoke with a strong Scotch accent; "pouring a lot of raw speerits down your throat till you're a beast, and then sleeping till you wake up a poor sick creature with a conscience like the undying worm."note

"Ach Himmel! dat is von way to trink," said the German. "Bud in mein gountry it noteis not so. There two kameraden will sit for a whole day and night making joy and singing over their schoppen. In Ausdralia if von trink doo mooch id is notethe teufel; bud if von trink doo mooch in notethe Vaterland,note id is yoost right."

At this juncture the company in the bar was joined by a stranger.

"I'm blowed if it isn't Van Diemen's Nick!" said the landlord.

"Holloa, Nick, have you turned up too, old man?" said the voice which Trevaskis half recognised.

"You here, Oxford Jim?" cried the new-comer in a tone of surprise. "Why, I thought you was far away, looking for the colour of gold among limestone ridges somewheres."

"No, mate, I'm here instead. I'm going to take up a new line: write epitaphs, irrespective of the character of the deceased, for bereaved families, or something of that sort. I got kind of tired of regions red with black men's blood and stained with white men's crimes."note

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"That be damned for a yarn! You haven't been much beyond Broombush Creek all the time. Now, West, you look sharp, and give me a grown man's dose of your best Three-star brandy, dark," said Van Diemen's Nick, in an authoritative voice.

The landlord, who was seldom sober after dark, broke into a string of lurid adjectives, winding up with the request:

"Pay me the three pound ten you owe me first!"

"I don't owe you a notesanguinary copper, not a farden,note and you knows it, you cheatin' notevagabond!" shouted Nick.

There was a scuffle amid loud exclamations; Trevaskis blew out the lamp which was on the mantelpiece, and standing by the door that led into the bar, lifted a corner of the cretonne curtain to watch the proceedings. West had jumped over the bar and seized Nick by the shoulders. They were separated by those who stood nearest them; the landlady, half crying now, stood behind the bar imploring her husband not to make another row.

"Come, come, Nick! don't spoil good comradeship in this way," said the man who was known as Oxford Jim, speaking in the half ironical tone habitual to him.

Trevaskis, on catching sight of him, at once recognised his old instructor in the arts of spelling and correct pronunciation.

"I don't want to spoil no good comradeship, but I noteorder this notevarminnote of a man to give me the refreshment I order. He's bound by his license to shelter man and beast and give nourishment when it's ast for."note

"I won't do neither till you pay me; and you've come without a copper to blesh yourself, as usual. I know you–you old penniless tramp!" shouted West.

"I'm an old penniless tramp, am I?" retorted Nick. "Well, now, I'll just give you a lesson!"

He disengaged himself from Oxford Jim as he spoke, and thrust his right hand under the soiled blue woollen jumper he wore.

"Oh, hold 'im! hold 'im!" shrieked the landlady; "he's got fire-arms; don't you see them a-bulging out all round of 'im?"

The landlord retreated behind the bar, and opening a small door which communicated with the back premises of the inn,

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called out, "'Arry, 'Arry, 'Arry!" in thick stentorian tones.

A dragglednote and scared-looking maid-servant appeared at the door.

"I want the ostler!" roared the landlord. "Tell him to go at once for Wills, the police-trooper. This very instant, mind! Tell him there's a harrest to be made."

Trevaskis, standing in the darkness holding back a small portion of the curtain, watched Nick's noteproceedings with growing interest. He saw him take a long thick looking package, wrapped up in a red cotton handkerchief, from underneath his blue jumper.

"Have you got the police-trooper handy, West?" he cried in a shrill voice that had in it a strange note of notetriumph.

The landlord, backing away a little while his wife notepassed in front of him, watched the man's proceedings with undisguised alarm.

"noteYou had better play none of your revolver pranks 'ere, or, as sure as your name is old Nick––"

"Call the trooper, I say! Let him bring his revolver. You noteallus gives people in charge that has stuff like this."

He was untying one end of the irregular-shaped parcel as he spoke. All eyes were fastened on him. Slowly he unfolded the soiled red cotton handkerchief.

"That's the sort of thing that gets a bloke into the "tin Maria"note in this part of the world, ain't it, mates?" he cried, his voice almost rising into a yell of triumph, as he flung a large piece of heavy metal on the bar. It fell with a dull thud, and lay where it fell with a deep dull yellow glitter.

"By the Lord in heaven, it's all pure gold!" cried one of the men nearest the bar, in a tone of incredulous wonder, taking up the nugget. It passed from hand to hand, while the bar-room became full of confused and broken murmurs. The landlord stood looking on, eyes wide open, mouth agape, notewhen Nick turned to him with a violent imprecation, crying:

"Now, perhaps, you'll give me what I ast you for?"

West carried out the order as to the dose of Three-star brandy

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without a single comment.

Where had Nick been prospecting? Was there much gold? Was this all? How far away from the Colmar Mine? Did anyone else know of his find? To all of which Nick returned no answer, beyond smiling blandly and putting his forefinger significantly against his nose.

"This weighs over seventy ounces," said the landlord, when he had at last got possession of the nugget, holding it as he spoke in the notepalm of his two hands.

"So this is what you were up to, Nick, when you were lying low and keeping dark all these weeks! It was rather hard to put me off the scent, though, and let me waste the sweetness of my old age among these billabong coursesnote behind the––"

"Don't let the cat out of the bag, Jim!" cried Nick. "I'll give you a nugget or two, noteold bloke, and some horiginal promoters' shares in my new company."

"Thank you, Nick, thank you kindly," answered Oxford Jim. "Why, man, this nugget alone will enable you to sit on a post and swill beer among the aristocracy of Colmar for a year to come!"

"Do you think I've got no better idea than that of enjoying myself?" said Nick indignantly. "Ah, you're allays makin' game of a chap, and I think you're a little jealous, after all! You said you was getting the colour of gold where you stayed so many weeks behind Broombush Creek."

"Broombush Creek–Broombush Creek!" The name passed from one to the other; one or two made a motion towards the door, as if they would set out for the place there and then.

But Nick took no notice. He kept his eyes fixed on Jim as he said, in a dogged tone:

"Come, man, let's see the colour you got. Show it to us! This is not my only nugget; I've plenty more where this came from!"

As Nick spoke he put down three more nuggets on the bar. The men around began to look at him with a new expression on their faces. He was a small, lean man, with a flat, battered sort of face, who had led a flat, battered sort of life from his first entrance into the world. He had been for years prowling about in auriferous districts, chiefly because he had a rooted dislike to steady work. He ran up scores in the inns and stores that would give him

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credit, and then disputed the validity of the claims. His face and hands were perennially stained with earth; no one had ever seen him in clean clothes. The one solace of his existence had hitherto been to obtain a bottle of strong drink, and lose all thought and capacity of action in those strange bouts of absence from consciousness which we term drunkenness. And now, in the midst of the base and sordid accidents notethat made up the record of his years, this strange thing happened to him. Alone in the arid desert, grubbing in the dirt, he had accidentally come upon a certain heavy glittering metal, more precious to the majority of his kind than the loftiest achievements of human genius, the progress of science, or the perfection of holiness. Nick enjoyed the unusual importance of being looked at without pity or contempt. Added to this, the old brown brandy, of which he had imbibed what he called "a grown man's dose," noteadded something to his feeling of importance. As he watched the crowd of men in the bar-room pressing round his nuggets, he turned once more to Oxford Jim.

"Show us the colour you got, Jim, do!"

"Well, I don't mind if I do, since you are so pressing," answered the man thus addressed, as he rose to leave the bar.

He came towards the door leading into the bar-parlour, in which Trevaskis stood absorbed in listening to and observing all that passed. But before Jim reached the door the landlord interposed eagerly:

"Come this way, mate–it's the nearest way to your room."

As Jim disappeared through the door behind the bar, West said in an exultant voice:

"I bet you a drink all round this chap's got somethin' worth lookin' at. He come here early this mornin' with a tumble-down little one-'orse cart, and an 'orse as you could count note'is ribs arf a mile away; and he carries two or three swags into note'is room, and locks it most careful behind 'im when he goes out."

No one made any reply to this; all eyes were fixed on the door through which Jim had disappeared. A curious silence had fallen on the noisy crowd. Each one believed, without knowing exactly why, that the man who had accepted Nick's challenge with an air

  ― 188 ―
so self-contained and unboastful had something to show worth looking at.

In a few minutes he reappeared, carrying a bundle folded up in a blue blanket in his arms. A low murmur broke from the lookers-on.

Jim stood by the counter and unstrapped his bundle. The men pressed round him like a swarm of bees. Trevaskis, secure in the darkness of his retreat and the absorbed excitement of all the men, stood close to the door looking on with rising emotion.

"There, that's one bit of colour, Nick!" said Oxford Jim, holding up a great nugget of gold that weighed nearly a hundred ounces.

There was a hushed, breathless silence for a brief space, and then a wild shout went up, and there was soon a babel of distracting cries.

"Hip, hip, hooray! our fortune's made!"

"You wasn't working far apart, you two!"

"Mein Gott, noteis vas drue all de notedimes. I notewas begin to tink Ausdralie was like other goundries, where von vork hard for liddle pay and no bleasures. But now I see it mid mein own eyes. . . . A man can get a gread lump of gold down in the dirts widout no governments!" said the German.

"There's plenty more gold where these nuggets were found. They're the biggest ever seen in the Colony. Here's news for you, Ben, here's news for you!" cried one to a newcomer who entered at that moment.

He was a correspondent for one of the daily newspapers in town, and no sooner had he seen the notenuggets and heard the tale of their discovery, and noteheard that the lucky diggers had been working in the vicinity of Broombush Creek, than he rushed off to the telegraph-office to endeavour to send a late message to town.

"There will be a great rush in no time; and we'll all be off to the diggings. Hurrah, hurrah for the new diggings!"

The cry was taken up on every side. When the tumult had a little subsided, Oxford Jim said, in a tone of quiet conviction:

"Well, now, you fellows who are miners at the Colmar Mine,

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noteyou better buy up the old cave room and search it well. You'll find it a better spec than going off to the new diggings, I can tell you!"

There was a roar of laughter at this; but Trevaskis, whose blood seemed to be on fire at sight of the gold, and who knew Oxford Jim well enough of old to feel sure he did not speak in jest, stole out of the bar-parlour unseen and unobserved, resolved that he would on this very night see for himself whether there was any truth in his words.