The house which they saw certainly surprised them much, and seemed to justify the assertion just before made to them that Mr. Crinkett was a swell. It was marvellous that any man should have contemplated the building of such a mansion in a place so little attractive, with so many houses within view. The house and little attempted garden, together with the stables and appurtenances, may have occupied half an acre. All around it were those hideous signs of mining operations which make a country rich in metals look as though the devil had walked over it, dragging behind him an enormous rake. There was not a blade of grass to be seen. As far as the eye could reach there stood those ghost-like skeletons of trees in all spots where the soil had not been turned up; but on none of them was there a leaf left, or even a branch. Everywhere the ground was thrown about in hideous uncovered hillocks, all of which seemed to have been deserted except those in the immediate neighbourhood of Mr. Crinkett’s house. But close around him one could see wheels turning and long ropes moving, and water running in little wooden conduits, all of which were signs of the activity going on under ground. And then there was the never-ceasing thud, thud, thud of the crushing-mill, which from twelve o’clock on Sunday night to twelve o’clock on Saturday night, never paused for a moment having the effect, on that vacant day, of creating a painful strain of silence upon the ears of those who were compelled to remain on the spot during the unoccupied time. It was said that in Mr. Crinkett’s mansion every sleeper would wake from his sleep as soon as the engine was stopped, disturbed by the unwonted quiescence.
But the house which had been built in this unpromising spot was quite entitled to be called a mansion. It was of red brick, three storeys high, with white stone facings to all the windows and all the corners, which glittered uncomfortably in the hot sun. There was a sweep up to it, the road having been made from the débris of the stone out of which the gold had been crushed; but though there was the sweep up to the door carefully made for the length of a few dozen yards, there was nothing that could be called a road outside, though there were tracks here and there through the hillocks, along which the waggons employed about the place struggled through the mud. The house itself was built with a large hall in the middle, and three large windows on each side. On the floor there were four large rooms, with kitchens opening out behind, and above there were, of course, chambers in proportion and in the little garden there was a pond and a big bath-house, and there were coach-houses and stables; — so that it was quite a mansion. It was called Polyeuka Hall, because while it was being built Mr. Crinkett was drawing large gains from the Polyeuka mine, about three miles distant on the other side of Nobble. For the building of his mansion on this special site, no one could imagine any other reason than that love which a brave man has of overcoming difficulties. To endeavour to create a paradise in such a Pandemonium required all the energies of a Crinkett. Whether or not he had been successful depended of course on his own idiosyncrasies He had a wife who, it is to be hoped, liked her residence. They had no children, and he spent the greater part of his time away in other mining districts in which he had ventures. When thus absent, he would live as Jack Brien and his friends were living at Mrs. Henniker’s, and was supposed to enjoy the ease of his inn more thoroughly than he did the constraint of his grand establishment.
At the present moment he was at home, and was standing at the gate of his domain all alone, with a pipe in his mouth — perhaps listening, as the man had said, to the noise of his own crushing-machine. He was dressed in black, with a chimney-pot on his head — and certainly did not look like a miner, though he looked as little like a gentleman. Our friends were in what they conceived to be proper miners’ costume, but Mr. Crinkett knew at a glance that there was something uncommon about them. As they approached he did not attempt to open the gate, but awaited them, looking over the top of it from the inside. ‘Well, my mates, what can I do for you?’ he said, still remaining on his side, and apparently intending that they should remain on theirs. Then Caldigate brought forth his letter, and handed it to the owner of the place across the top of the gate ‘I think Mr. Jones wrote to you about us before,’ said Caldigate.
Crinkett read the letter very deliberately. Perhaps he required time to meditate what his conduct should be. Perhaps he was not quick at reading written letters. But at last he got to the end of the very few words which the note contained. ‘Jones!’ he said, ‘Jones wasn’t much account when he was out here.’
‘We don’t know a great deal about him,’ said Dick.
‘But when he heard that we were coming, he offered us a letter to you,’ said Caldigate. ‘I believe him to be an honest man.’
‘Honest! Well, yes; I daresay he’s honest enough He never robbed me of nothing. And shall I tell you why? Because I know how to take care that he don’t, nor yet nobody else.’ As he said this, he looked at them as though he intended that they were included among the numbers against whom he was perfectly on his guard.
‘That’s the way to live,’ said Dick.
‘That’s the way I live, my friend. He did write before. I remember saying to myself what a pair of simpletons you must be if you was thinking of going to Ahalala.’
‘We do think of going there,’ said Caldigate.
‘The road’s open to you. Nobody won’t prevent you. You can get beef and mutton there, and damper, and tea no doubt, and what they call brandy, as long as you’ve got the money to pay for it. One won’t say anything about what price they’ll charge you. Have you got any money?’ Then Caldigate made a lengthened speech, in which he explained so much of their circumstances as seemed necessary. He did not name the exact sum which had been left at the bank in Melbourne, but he did make Mr. Crinkett understand that they were not paupers. They were anxious to do something in the way of mining, and particularly anxious to make money. But they did not quite know how to begin. Could he give them a hint? They meant to work with their own hands, but perhaps it might be well for them at first to hire the services of some one to set them a-going.
Crinkett listened very patiently, still maintaining his position on his own side of the gate. Then he spoke words of such wisdom as was in him. ‘Ahalala is just the place to ease you of a little money. Mind I tell you. Gold! of course there’s been gold to be got there. But what’s been the cost of it? What’s been the return? If sixteen hundred men, among ’em, can sell fifteen hundred pounds’ worth of gold a week, how is each man to have twenty shillings on Saturday night? That’s about what it is at Ahalala. Of course there’s gold. And where there’s gold chucked about in that way, just on the surface, one gets it and ten don’t. Who is to say you mayn’t be the one. As to hiring a man to show you the way — you can hire a dozen. As long as you’ll pay ’em ten shillings a-day to loaf about, you may have men enough. But whether they’ll show you the way to anything except the liquor store, that’s another thing. Now shall I tell you what you two gents had better do?’ Dick declared that the two gents would be very much obliged to him if he would take that trouble. ‘Of course you’ve heard of the “Old Stick-in-the-Mud”?’ Dick told him that they had heard of that very successful mining enterprise since their arrival at Nobble. ‘You ask on the veranda at Melbourne, or at Ballarat, or at Sydney. If they don’t tell you about it, my name’s not Crinkett. You put your money, what you’ve got, into ten-shilling shares. I’ll accommodate you, as you’re friends of Jones, with any reasonable number. We’re getting two ounces to the ton. The books’ll show you that.’
‘We thought you’d purchased out all the shareholders said Caldigate.
‘So I did, and now I’m redividing it. I’d rather have a company. It’s pleasanter. If you can put in a couple of thousand pounds or so between you, you can travel about and see the country, and your money’ll be working for you all the time. Did you ever see a gold mine?’
They owned that they never yet had been a yard below ground. Then he opened his gate preparatory to taking them down the ‘Old Stick-in-the-Mud,’ and brought them with him into one of the front rooms. It was a large parlour, only half furnished not yet papered, without a carpet, in which it appeared that Mr. Crinkett kept his own belongings. Here he divested himself of his black clothes and put on a suit of miner’s garments — real miner’s garments, very dirty, with a slouch hat, on the top of which there was a lump of mud in which to stick a candle-end. Any one learned in the matter would immediately have known the real miner. ‘Now if you like to see a mine we will go down, and then you can do as you like about your money.’
They started forth, Crinkett leading the way, and entered the engine-house. As they went he said not a word, being aware that gold, gold that they could see with their eyes in its raw condition, would tempt them more surely than all his eloquence. In the engine-house the three of them got into a box or truck that was suspended over the mouth of a deep shaft, and soon found themselves descending through the bowels of the earth. They went down about four hundred feet, and as they were reaching the bottom Crinkett remarked that it was ‘a goodish deep hole all to belong to one man.’ ‘Yes,’ he added as Caldigate extricated himself from the truck, ‘and there’s a precious lot more gold to come out of it yet, I can tell you.’
In all the sights to be seen about the world there is no sight in which there is less to be seen than in a gold-mine. The two young men were made to follow their conductor along a very dirty underground gallery for about a quarter of a mile, and then they came to four men working with picks in a rough sort of chamber, and four others driving holes in the walls. They were simply picking down the rock, in doing which they were assisted by gunpowder With keen eyes Crinkett searched along the roof and sides, and at last showed to his companions one or two little specks which he pronounced to be gold. ‘When it shows itself like that all about, you may guess whether it’s a paying concern! Two ounces to the ton, my boys!’ As Dick and Caldigate hitherto knew nothing about ounces and tons in reference to gold, and as they had heard of nuggets, and lumps of gold nearly as big as their fist, they were not much exalted by what they saw down the ‘Old Stick-in-the-Mud.’ Nor did they like the darkness and dampness and dirt and dreariness of the place. They had both resolved to work, as they had often said, with their own hands; — but in thinking over it their imagination had not pictured to them so uncomfortable a workshop as this. When they had returned to the light, the owner of the place took them through the crushing-mill attached, showed them the stone or mulloch, as it was thrust into the jaws of the devouring animal, and then brought them in triumph round to the place where the gold was eliminated from the débris of mud and water. The gold did not seem to them to be very much; but still there it was. ‘Two ounces to the ton, my boys!’ said Crinkett, as he brought them back to his house. ‘You’ll find that a 10s. share’ll give you about 6d. a month. That’s about 60 per cent, I guess. You can have your money monthly. What comes out of that there mine in a March, you can have in a April, and so on. There ain’t nothing like it anywhere else — not as I knows on. And instead of working your hearts out, you can be just amusing yourselves about the country. Don’t go to Ahalala; — unless it is for dropping your money. If that’s what you want, I won’t say but Ahalala is as good a place as you’ll find in the colony.’ Then he brought a bottle of whisky out of a cupboard, and treated them to a glass of grog apiece. Beyond that his hospitality did not go.
Dick looked as though he liked the idea of having a venture in the ‘Old Stick-in-the-Mud.’ Caldigate, without actually disbelieving all that had been said to him, did not relish the proposal. It was not the kind of thing which they had intended. After they had learned their trade as miners it might be very well for them to have shares in some established concern; — but in that case he would wish to be one of the managers himself, and not to trust everything to any Crinkett, however honest. That suggestion of travelling about and amusing themselves, did not commend itself to him. New South Wales might, he thought, be a good country for work, but did not seem to offer much amusement beyond sheer idleness, and brandy-and-water.
‘I rather think we should like to do a little in the rough first,’ he said.
‘A very little’ll go a long way with you, I’m thinking.’
‘I don’t see that at all,’ said Dick, stoutly.
‘You go down there and take one of them picks in your hand for a week — eight hours at a time, with five minutes’ spell allowed for a smoke, and see how you’ll feel at the end of the week.’
‘We’ll try it on, if you’ll give us 10s. a-day for the week,’ said Caldigate, rubbing his hands together.
‘I wouldn’t give you half-a-crown for the whole time between you, and you wouldn’t earn it. Ten shillings a day! I suppose you think a man has only just to say the word and become a miner out of hand. You’ve a deal to learn before you’ll be worth half the money. I never knew chaps like you come to any good at working. If you’ve got a little money, you know, I’ve shown you what you can do with it. But perhaps you haven’t.’
The conversation was ended by a declaration on the part of Caldigate that they would take a week to think over Mr. Crinkett’s kind proposition, and that they might as well occupy the time by taking a look at Ahalala. A place that had been so much praised and so much abused must be worth seeing. ‘Who’s been a-praising it,’ asked Crinkett, angrily, ‘unless it’s that fool Jones? And as for waiting, I don’t say that you’ll have the shares at that price next week.’ In this way he waxed angry; but, nevertheless, he condescended to recommend a man to them, when Caldigate declared that they would like to hire some practical miner to accompany them. ‘There’s Mick Maggott,’ said he, ‘knows mining a’most as well as anybody. You’ll hear of him, may be, up at Henniker’s. He’s honest; and if you can keep him off the drink he’ll do as well as anybody. But neither Mick nor nobody else can do you no good at Ahalala.’ With that he led them out of the gate, and nodding his head at them by way of farewell, left them to go back to Mrs. Henniker’s.
To Mrs. Henniker’s they went, and there, stretched out at length on the wooden veranda before the house, they found the hero of the potatoes — the man who had taken them down to Crinkett’s house. He seemed to be fast asleep, but as they came up on the boards, he turned himself on his elbow, and looked at them. ‘Well, mates,’ he said, ‘what do you think of Tom Crinkett now you’ve seen him?’
‘He doesn’t seem to approve of Ahalala,’ said Dick.
‘In course he don’t. When a new rush is opened like that, and takes away half the hands a man has about him, and raises the wages of them who remain, in course he don’t like it. You see the difference. The Old Stick-in-the-Mud is an established kind of thing.’
‘It’s a paying concern, I suppose,’ said Caldigate.
‘It has paid; — not a doubt about it. Whether it’s played out or not, I’m not so sure. But Ahalala is a working-man’s diggings, not a master’s, such as Crinkett is now. Of course Crinkett has a down on Ahalala.’
‘Your friend Jack Brien didn’t seem to think much of the place,’ said Dick.
‘Poor Jack is one of them who never has a stroke of luck. He’s a sort of chum who, when he has a bottle of pickles, somebody else is sure to eat ’em. Ahalala isn’t so bad. It’s one of them chancy places, of course. You may and you mayn’t, as I was a-saying before. When the great rush was on, I did uncommon well at Ahalala. I never was the man I was then.’
‘What became of it?’ asked Caldigate with a smile.
‘Mother Henniker can tell you that, or any other publican round the country. It never will stick to me. I don’t know why, but it never will. I’ve had my luck, too. Oh, laws! I might have had my house, just as grand as Polly Hooker this moment, only I never could stick to it like Tom Crinkett. I’ve drank cham — paign out of buckets; — I have.’
‘I’d rather have a pot of beer out of the pewter,’ said Caldigate.
‘Very like. One doesn’t drink cham — paign because it’s better nor anything else. A nobbler of brandy’s worth ten of it. It’s the glory of out-facing the swells at their own game. There was a chap over in the other colony shod his horse with gold — and he had to go shepherding afterwards for thirty pounds a-year and his grub. But it’s something for him to have ridden a horse with gold shoes. You’ve never seen a bucketful of cham — paign in the old country?’
When both Dick and Caldigate had owned that they had never encountered luxury so superabundant, and had discussed the matter in various shapes — asking whether the bucket had been emptied, and other questions of the same nature — Caldigate inquired of his friend whether he knew Mick Maggott?
‘Mick Maggott!’ said the man, jumping up to his feet. ‘Who wants Mick Maggott?’ Then Caldigate explained the recommendation which Mr. Crinkett had made. ‘Well; — I’m darned; — Mick Maggott? I’m Mick Maggott, myself.’
Before the evening was over an arrangement had been made between the parties, and had even been written on paper and signed by all the three. Mick on the morrow was to proceed to Ahalala with his new comrades, and was to remain with them for a month, assisting them in all their views; and for this he was to receive ten shillings a-day. But, in the event of his getting drunk, he was to be liable to dismissal at once. Mick pleaded hard for one bout of drinking during the month; — but when Dick explained that one bout might last for the entire time, he acknowledged that the objection was reasonable and assented to the terms proposed.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14