John Caldigate, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter IX

Nobble

During the two days which Dick and Caldigate spent together in Melbourne Mrs. Smith’s name was not mentioned between them. They were particularly civil each to the other and went to work together, making arrangements at a bank as to their money, taking their places, despatching their luggage, and sorting their belongings as though there had been no such woman as Mrs. Smith on board the Goldfinder. Dick, though he had been inclined to grumble when his mystery had been taken out of his hands — who had, of course, been jealous when he saw that the lady had discarded her old hat and put on new ribbons, not for him, but for another — was too conscious of the desolation to which he would be subjected by quarrelling with his friend. He felt himself unable to go alone, and was therefore willing that the bygones of the ship should be bygones. Caldigate, on the other hand, acknowledged to himself that he owed some reparation to his companion. Of course he had not bound himself to any special mode of life; — but had he, in his present condition, allied himself more closely to Mrs. Smith, he would, to some extent, have thrown Dick over. And then, as soon as he was on shore, he did feel somewhat ashamed of himself in regard to Mrs. Smith. Was it not manifest that any closer alliance, let the alliance be what it might, must be ruinous to him? As it was, had he not made an absolute fool of himself with Mrs. Smith? Had he not got himself already into a mess from which there was no escape? Of course he must write to her when the month was over. The very weight of his thoughts on this matter made him tamer with Dick and more observant than he would otherwise have been.

They were during those two days frequently about the town, looking at the various streets and buildings at the banks and churches and gardens — as is usual with young men when they visit a new town; but, during it all, Caldigate’s mind was more intent on Mrs. Smith than he was on the sights of the place. Melbourne is not so big but that she might easily have thrown herself in his way had she pleased. Strangers residing in such a town are almost sure to see each other before twenty-four hours are gone. But Mrs. Smith was not seen. Two or three times he went up and down Collins Street alone, without his friend, not wishing to see her — aware that he had better not see her — but made restless by a nervous feeling that he ought to wish to see her, that he should, at any rate, not keep out of her way. But Mrs. Smith did not show herself. Whatever might be her future views, she did not now take steps to present herself to him. ‘I shall be so much the more bound to present myself to her,’ he said to himself. ‘But perhaps she knows all that,’ he added in the same soliloquy.

On the Wednesday morning they left Melbourne by the 6 A.M. train for Albury, which latter place they reached the same day, about 2 P.M., having then crossed the Murray river, and passed into the colony of New South Wales. Here they stayed but a few hours and then went on by coach on their journey to Nobble. From one wretched vehicle they were handed on to another, never stopping anywhere long enough to go to bed — three hours at one wretched place and five at another — travelling at the rate of six miles an hour, bumping through the mud and slush of the bush roads, and still going on for three days and three nights. This was roughing it indeed. Even Dick complained, and said that, of all the torments prepared for wicked mortals on earth, this Australian coaching was the worst. They went through Wagga-Wagga and Murrumburra, and other places with similar names, till at last they were told that they had reached Nobble. Nobble they thought was the foulest place which they had ever seen. It was a gold-digging town, as such places are called, and had been built with great rapidity to supply the necessities of adjacent miners. It was constructed altogether of wood, but no two houses had been constructed alike. They generally had gable ends opening on to the street, but were so different in breadth, altitude, and form, that it was easy to see that each enterprising proprietor had been his own architect. But they were all alike in having enormous advertisement-boards, some high, some broad, some sloping, on which were declared the merits of the tradesmen who administered within to the wants of mining humanity. And they had generally assumed most singular names for themselves ‘The Old Stick-in-the-Mud Soft Goods Store.’ ‘The Polyeuka Stout Depot,’ ‘Number Nine Flour Mills,’ and so on — all of which were very unintelligible to our friends till they learned that these were the names belonging to certain gold-mining claims which had been opened in the neighbourhood of Nobble. The street itself was almost more perilous to vehicles than the slush of the forest-tracks, so deep were the holes and so uncertain the surface. When Caldigate informed the driver that they wanted to be taken as far as Henniker’s hotel, the man said that he had given up going so far as that for the last two months, the journey being too perilous. So they shouldered their portmanteaus and struggled forth down the street. Here and there a short bit of wooden causeway, perhaps for the length of three houses, would assist them; and then, again, they would have to descend into the roadway and plunge along through the mud.

‘It is not quite as nice walking as the old Quad at Trinity,’ said Caldigate.

‘It is the beastliest hole I ever put my foot in since I was born,’ said Dick, who had just stumbled and nearly came to the ground with his burden. ‘They told us that Nobble was a fine town.’

Henniker’s hotel was a long, low wooden shanty, divided into various very small partitions by thin planks, in most of which two or more dirty-looking beds had been packed very closely. But between these little compartments there was a long chamber containing a long and very dirty table, and two long benches. Here were sitting a crowd of miners, drinking when our friends were ushered in through the bar or counter which faced to the street. At the bar they were received by a dirty old woman who said that she was Mrs. Henniker. Then they were told, while the convivial crowd were looking on and listening, that they could have the use of one of the partitions and their ‘grub’ for 7s. 6d. a-day each. When they asked for a partition apiece, they were told that if they didn’t like what was offered to them they might go elsewhere. Upon that they agreed to Mrs. Henniker’s terms, and sitting down on one of the benches looked desolately into each others faces.

Yes; — it was different from Trinity College, different from Babington, very different even from the less luxurious comfort of the house at Pollington. The deck, even the second-class cabin, of the Goldfinder had been better than this. And then they had no friend, not even an acquaintance, within some hundred miles. The men around them were not uncivil. Australian miners never are so. But they were inquisitive, familiar, and with their half-drunken good-humour, almost repulsive. It was about noon when our friends reached Henniker’s, and they were told that there would be dinner at one. There was always ‘grub’ at one, and ‘grub’ at seven, and ‘grub’ at eight in the morning. So one of the men informed them. The same gentleman hoped that the strangers were not very particular, as the ‘grub,’ though plentiful was apt to be rough of its kind.

‘You’ll have it a deal worse before you’ve done if you’re going on to Ahalala,’ said another. Then Caldigate said that they did intend to go on to Ahalala. ‘We’re going to have a spell at gold-digging,’ said he. What was the use of making any secret of the matter? ‘We knowed that ready enough,’ said one of the men. ‘Chaps like you don’t come much to Nobble for nothing else. Have you got any money to start with?’

‘A few half-crowns,’ said Dick, cautiously.

‘Half-crowns don’t go very far here, my mate. If you can spend four or five pounds a-week each for the next month, so as to get help till you know where you are, it may be you’ll turn up gold at Ahalala; — but if not, you’d better go elsewhere. You needn’t be afraid. We ain’t a-going to rob you of nothing.’

‘Nor yet we don’t want nothing to drink,’ said another.

‘Speak for yourself, Jack,’ said a third. ‘But come; — as these are regular new chums, I don’t care if I shout for the lot myself.’ Then the dirty old woman was summoned, and everybody had whisky all round. When that was done, another generous man came to the front, and there was more whisky, till Caldigate was frightened as to the result.

Evil might have come from it, had not the old woman opportunely brought the ‘grub’ into the room. This she chucked down on the table in such a way that the grease out of the dish spattered itself all around. There was no tablecloth, nor had any preparation been made; but in the middle of the table there was a heap of dirty knives and forks, with which the men at once armed themselves; and each took a plate out of a heap that had been placed on a shelf against the wall. Caldigate and Shand, when they saw how the matter was to be arranged, did as the other men. The ‘grub’ consisted of an enormous lump of boiled beef, and a bowl of potatoes, which was moderate enough in size considering that there were in all about a dozen men to be fed. But there was meat enough for double the number, and bread in plenty, but so ill-made as to be rejected by most of the men. The potatoes were evidently the luxury; and, guided by that feeling, the man who had told the strangers that they need not be afraid of being robbed, at once selected six out of the bowl, and deposited three each before Dick and Caldigate. He helped the others all round to one each, and then was left without any for himself. ‘I don’t care a damn for that sort of tucker,’ he said, as though he despised potatoes from the bottom of his heart. Of all the crew he was the dirtiest, and was certainly half drunk. Another man holloaed to ‘Mother Henniker’ for pickles; but Mother Henniker, without leaving her seat at the bar, told them to ‘pickle themselves.’ Whereupon one of the party, making some allusion to Jack Brien’s swag — Jack Brien being absent at the moment — rose from his seat and undid a great roll lying in one of the corners. Every miner has his swag — consisting of a large blanket which is rolled up, and contains all his personal luggage. Out of Jack Brien’s swag were extracted two large square bottles of pickles. These were straightway divided among the men, care being taken that Dick and Caldigate should have ample shares. Then every man helped himself to beef, as much as he would, passing the dish round from one to the other. When the meal was half finished, Mrs. Henniker brought in an enormous jorum of tea, which she served out to all the guests in tin pannikins, giving to every man a fixed and ample allowance of brown sugar, without at all consulting his taste. Milk there was none. In the midst of this Jack Brien came in, and with a clamour of mirth the empty pickle jars were shown him. Jack, who was a silent man, and somewhat melancholy, merely shook his head and ate his beef. It may be presumed that he was fond of pickles, having taken so much trouble to provide them; but he said not a word of the injury to which he had been subjected.

‘Them’s a-going to Ahalala, Jack,’ said the distributor of the potatoes, nodding his head to indicate the two new adventurers.

‘Then they’re a-going to the most infernal, mean, — — —— break-heartedest place as God Almighty ever put on this ‘arth for the perplexment of poor unfortunate ———— miners.’ This was Jack Brien’s eloquence, and his description of Ahalala. Before this he had not spoken a word, nor did he speak again till he had consumed three or four pounds of beef, and had swallowed two pannikins of tea. Then he repeated his speech: ‘There isn’t so ———— an infernal, mean, break-hearted a place as Ahalala — not nowhere; no, not nowhere. And so them chums’ll find for theirselves if they go there.’ Then his neighbour whispered into Caldigate’s ear that Jack had gone to Ahalala with fifty sovereigns in his pocket, and that he wasn’t now worth a red cent.

‘But there is gold there?’ asked Caldigate.

‘It’s my belief there’s gold pretty much everywhere and you may find it, or you mayn’t. That’s where it is; — and the mayn’ts are a deal oftener turning up than the mays.’

‘A man can get work for wages,’ suggested Dick.

‘Wages! What’s the use of that? A man as knows mining can earn wages. But Ahalala aint a place for wages. If you want wages, go to one of the old-fashioned places — Bendigo, or the like of that. I’ve worked for wages, but what comes of it? A man goes to Ahalala because he wants to run his chance, and get a big haul. It’s every one on his own bottom pretty much at Ahalala.’

‘Wages be ——!’ said Jack Brien, rising from the seat and hitching up his trousers as he left the room. It was very evident that Jack Brien was a gambler.

After dinner there was a smoke, and after the smoke Dick Shand ‘shouted’ for the company. Dick had quite learned by this time the mystery of shouting. When one man ‘stands’ drinks all round, he shouts; and then it is no more than reciprocal that another man should do the same. And, in this way, when the reciprocal feeling is spread over a good many drinkers, a good deal of liquor is consumed.

While Dick Shand’s ‘shout’ was being consumed, Caldigate asked one of his new friends where Mr. Crinkett lived. Was Mr. Crinkett known in Nobble? It seemed that Crinkett was very well known in Nobble indeed. If anybody had done well at Nobble, Mr. Crinkett had done well. He was the ‘swell’ of the place. This informant did not think that Mr. Crinkett had himself gone very deep at Ahalala. Mr. Crinkett had risen high enough in his profession to be able to achieve more certainty than could be found at such a place as Ahalala. By this time they were on the road to Mr. Crinkett’s house, this new friend having undertaken to show them the way.

‘He can put you up to a thing or two, if he likes,’ said the new friend. ‘Perhaps he’s a pal of yourn?’

Caldigate explained that he had never seen Mr. Crinkett, but that he had come to Nobble armed with a letter from a gentleman in England who had once been concerned in gold-digging.

‘He’s a civil enough gent, is Crinkett,’ said the miner; —‘but he do like making money. They say of him there’s nothing he wouldn’t sell — not even his grandmother’s bones. I like trade, myself,’ added the miner; ‘but some of ’em’s too sharp. That’s where Crinkett lives. He’s a swell; ain’t he?’

They had walked about half a mile from the town, turning down a lane at the back of the house, and had made their way through yawning pit-holes and heaps of dirt and pools of yellow water — where everything was disorderly and apparently deserted — till they came to a cluster of heaps so large as to look like little hills; and here there were signs of mining vitality. On their way they had not come across a single shred of vegetation, though here and there stood the bare trunks of a few dead and headless trees, the ghosts of the forest which had occupied the place six or seven years previously. On the tops of these artificial hills there were sundry rickety-looking erections, and around them were troughs and sheds and rude water-works. These, as the miner explained were the outward and visible signs of the world-famous ‘Old Stick-in-the-Mud’ claim, which was now giving two ounces of gold to the ton of quartz, and which was at present the exclusive property of Mr. Crinkett, who had bought out the tribute shareholders and was working the thing altogether on his own bottom. As they ascended one of those mounds of upcast stones and rubble, they could see on the other side the crushing-mills, and the engine-house, and could hear the thud, thud, thud of the great iron hammers as they fell on the quartz — and then, close beyond, but still among the hillocks, and surrounded on all sides by the dirt and filth of the mining operations, was Mr. Crinkett’s mansion. ‘And there’s his very self a-standing at the gate a-counting how many times the hammer falls a minute, and how much gold is a-coming from every blow as it falls.’ With this little observation as to Mr. Crinkett’s personal character, the miner made his way back to his companions.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/trollope/anthony/caldigate/chapter9.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43