Ernest Hornung.

Denis Dent: A Novel



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"I don't want to do that either. Yet you see my position about Bendigo?" And his troubled glance included Doherty, whose brown face was also awry with mixed feeling.

"We see it perfectly, my dear fellow," Denis answered; "and if we ever have another mate" (Doherty looked up quickly), "may he be half as staunch as you! We have done our best, but so far we've made a mess of it. You had had enough in October, and you've wasted these two months on our account out of the sheer goodness of your heart; my dear Moseley, you sha'n't waste another week. You've tried Bendigo, and we haven't; you go home with as good a conscience as you leave us, and in three or four months I shall follow you."

And they really parted in three or four days, and at a point not very much further than that from which they had first beheld the tents and mud-heaps of Ballarat; only Jimmy looked his last on them with a sigh, and even he had recovered his spirits when it came to clasping hands. But all three had light hearts at the end, and shoulders to match; for they had sold their entire kit at the very fair figure of ?11 3s. They had also cash in hand to the tune of ?2 11s. 6d., so that the Bendigonians had nearly ?10 as their share, to take with them to the new field, but as Denis said, at least a hundred pounds' worth of experience to put to it. He it was who had kept the accounts, all through, and he who would not hear of Moseley's generous but unfair proposals at the end. It may be added that the Company's debt to the latter had been duly, if not forcibly, discharged; but after all, they had taken some thirteen ounces of gold out of the maligned hole on Black Hill Flat, and sold the same for over ?50.

Denis and Jim stood without speaking while Moseley hurried away from them down the Melbourne road; but it may have been that their hands ached more from his than did their hearts. When he had waved his wideawake at the bend, and they theirs for the last time, it is certain that from that moment the original pair were more to each other than they had been for two wearisome months. They had almost as much to say as if they had been separated for the same period. But it was not Moseley that they discussed; it was their own new prospects, ways, and means. Nor had Denis long to wait for Mr. Doherty's earlier manner, which got up like a breeze in the free expression of his opinion that ten pounds was not enough to "see" them to Bendigo, "let alone starting of us when we gets there."

"Perhaps it isn't," said Denis, slackening a stride which had lacked something since the parting of the ways. "Let's sit down under that gum-tree and talk about it. If you are right," continued Denis, paring a slab of tobacco when they were duly seated, "it might be better to turn back to Ballarat instead of going on to Bendigo."

The matter-of-fact tone in which Denis made this startling suggestion betrayed him to Doherty without more ado. "You meant to do it all along!" said he.

"It was the only way to do it," returned Denis, rubbing his tobacco between both palms, "without hurting anybody's feelings.

Now he need never know. He had a heart of gold, Jimmy, but it was the only kind we should have got with him; and that's the last word about him now he's gone, poor chap! Back he goes to Silly Suffolk, and back we go to Ballarat with nine-pound-three between us! But no more nice dry games on Black Hill Flat, or anywhere else where the chances are big and the certainties next to nothing; we're going to sink deep and wet and dirty, Jimmy; and we're not going to sink on chance again."

Jimmy's eyes were wide open in all senses at once.

"Sink deep on nine-pound-three, mister? And you've been studyin' the 'ole game all this time?"

"There's this," said Denis, producing Bullocky's nugget. "I believe you still have its fellow."

"And many's the time I've thought of it," cried Jimmy; "but you said we was to keep them forever – for luck!"

"A lot of luck they've brought us," said Denis; "on the other hand, I've learned a lot since then, and even now I don't propose to part with them altogether. No, but since the devil drives we must raise our fresh capital on them, and so let them bring us luck after all. If they do we can soon redeem them; and I mean them to, Jimmy, this time. Come a bit nearer: I've something to show you," continued Denis, drawing out his new map. "I've made this at odd times, some of it when you and Moseley were fast asleep. I don't say it's accurate, but it's given me a better grasp of the diggings as a whole than ever I had before, and I should like it to do the same for you. You see the double lines straggling from top to bottom like a bit of loose tape?"

"Yes."

"That's the Yarrowee."

"And the little squares sprinkled all over?"

"Fancy tents."

"And the blots in between?"

"The holes belonging to them."

"And the centipedes, or whatever they are?"

"The Seven Hills of Ballarat, Jimmy! Bakery Hill, Specimen Hill, and all the rest."

"And the hanks of red ink in between the hills, twisting all over the place, under half the tents and holes; you must have put 'em in first, mister; they look like rivers of blood. I'm blessed if I know what else they do look like!"

"They're rivers of gold, Jimmy, and I did put them in first."

Jimmy looked up very quizzically, for, of course, he felt he was being quizzed, and made a scathing inquiry as to the green that was or was not in his piercing eye. But Denis swore to his golden rivers, and then admitted they were underground, which heightened Jimmy's interest while it restored his faith.

"They're the leads, of course," continued Denis; "and the leads are neither more nor less than rivers of gold, flowing on the bed-rock at heights varying with its height, or, if you like, frozen where they flowed a million years ago. On the whole they flow thin, and you only get so much to the tub; but like other rivers they have their thicker backwaters, and here and there their absolutely stagnant pools; those are their 'pockets' and their 'jewelers' shops,' as they call them – and as we shall call ours one of these days. But it will take time, Jimmy, perhaps weeks and months, before we sink deep enough to begin driving right and left as all the deep sinkers do. If it wasn't for that I should have shown Moseley my hand. He never could have held out, and he would have hindered us who can and will. He was longing to go, and he may be back in Silly Suffolk before we get down deep enough to do much good."

Doherty began to feel consoled for a prospect which could not but chill his younger blood a little. He did not wish to be months in getting to the gold; at any rate he would have preferred not to know that they might be months; but still less did he want Moseley back. He was content therefore to inquire how Denis could know before he went to work that he was sinking in the right place. And in a moment their heads were together again over the map.

"You remember what the squares and blots are?"

"Tents and holes."

"Then don't you see how they follow and fill the red rivers?"

"There's nothing else from bank to bank."

"Well, we've only got to squeeze in between any of them, on the lead we decide on, say Eureka, or Sailor's Gully, wherever there's room to peg out a claim and pitch a tent. Now look up to the top of the map, and tell me if you see that square and blot all by themselves."

"I see them."

"High and dry on the banks of one red river, instead of on the river itself?"

"Yes."

"That was our old claim."

CHAPTER XVI
A WINDFALL

The pair had passed the place where they had waved farewell to Moseley, and were in sound but not quite in sight of all that one of them had never expected to see or to hear again, when a voice hailed them in the rear, and they found that a buggy and pair had crept upon them while they talked. Doherty was filled with apprehension. He had not been so happy for two months. But Denis was much interested in the driver of the buggy, who drove alone, and who looked as though he might have been got up in Bedford Row, what with his black silk stock, his high hat still shining through its layer of yellow dust, and his spectacled face clean-shaven to the lips.

"May I ask if you are Ballarat diggers," said he, "or new arrivals like myself?"

"We are diggers," replied Denis, "and Ballarat's just over that hill."

"So I should suppose," observed the gentleman from afar, and proceeded to weigh the couple with a calculating eye. "Been at it long?" he added as one who did not find them altogether wanting.

"A couple of months."

"H'mph! Not so long as I should have liked, but there's just a chance that you can help me, as I am sure you will, sir," nodding at Denis, who nodded back, "if you can. Perhaps the lad will be so kind as to hold my horse. Thanky. Not that it's mine at all," the incongruous gentleman went on, as he flung down the reins and addressed himself to the contents of a small black bag. "I couldn't afford twenty-four hours in Melbourne waiting for the coach, so I had to hire, with all sorts of arrangements for changing horses on the way. But my coachman was in liquor before midnight, and when I left him, appropriately enough at Bacchus Marsh, early this morning, I wasn't going to trust myself to another. If you have a tongue in your head, sir, you can find your own way from Lincoln's Inn to John o' Groats. Ah, now I have it!" and he produced a photograph, of the carte-de-visite size then alone in vogue, and shook it playfully at Denis before putting it into his outstretched hand. "There, sir!" he wound up. "If you happen to know that face, just say so; and if you do not know it, have the goodness not to pretend you do. The answer to the question is Yes or No."

Denis looked upon the full-length presentment of a very tall gentleman, in a frock-coat, a white waistcoat, and an attitude as stiff as the heart of early Victorian photographer could desire. An elbow rested on the pedestal of a draped pillar, and the thumb of that hand in the watch-pocket; but the handsome face looked contemptuously conscious of its own self-consciousness, only it was the very gentlest contempt, and Denis recognized the expression before the face. Strip off his muddy rags, re-apparel him thus, shave his chin and nick his beard into flowing whiskers, and there was their friend the deep-sinker, hardly a day younger than when Denis had last seen him on his claim in Rotten Gully.

"The answer is Yes," he said, returning the likeness.

"You are sure of that?"

"Quite."

"You don't want the lad to confirm your view?"

"As you like; but he has only seen him once, and I have twice. It's the deep-sinker, Jimmy," added Denis over his shoulder.

The shaven gentleman pulled a wry face.

"May I ask if that's the only name you know him by?"

"I have never heard his name; but that's what he is, and the most scientific one I've come across."

The wry face went into a dry smile.

"And do you know where to find him?"

"Well, I know his claim."

"Would you very much mind getting up beside me and directing me how to drive there?"

"I should be delighted to have the lift."

"Thanky. There'll be room for your young friend behind. This is one of those happy coincidences which almost give one back one's childish belief in luck!"

The diggings were in the state of suspended animation which was their normal condition from twelve to three. The latest pilgrim blinked about him through his spectacles, more interested than impressed with what he saw. Denis took the reins, turned off the road at once, found a ford in the northern bend of the Yarrowee, and drove straight into an outpost of windsails and windlasses hidden away behind the hill. In another minute the buggy drew up beside the deep-sinker's solid little hut, in whose shade his soured assistant sat asleep, with his eyebrows up and the corners of his mouth turned down, even in his dreams.

"Where's your master?" demanded the visitor, causing Denis and Doherty to exchange glances; but the other merely opened a long-suffering eye, pointed indoors, and had closed it again before the gentleman descended.

At his request, the partners remained in the buggy, where they spent an interval of a few minutes in covetous admiration of the neat hut with its bark roof, the iron windlass, the stack of timber slabs for lining the shaft, and the suggestively solid opening of the shaft itself. They agreed to look down, if not to descend, with the deep-sinker's permission, before departure. Meanwhile his quiet voice was not to be heard outside, but the visitor's was, and eventually the pair emerged.

"But I'm just going to touch bottom," the tall digger expostulated. "After weeks and months I'm all but on it, and now you want to carry me off!"

The visitor whispered some smiling argument, which elicited a shrug of familiar and restrained contempt.

"It isn't the money," said the tall man. "It's the fun of the thing, don't you know."

The visitor took out his watch as though they could just catch a train.

"I've arranged for fresh horses all along the road," said he. "These have only done ten miles, and they can do the same ten back again. I hope I made it plain about the first ship. It may sail the day after to-morrow."

The digger sighed inevitable acquiescence. He looked rather sadly, yet with some quiet amusement, at his rude little home, at the good windlass on its staging stamped against the sky. His assistant had meanwhile risen from his slumbers, and was standing respectfully at hand.

"Charles," said the digger, "I've got to go home. Are you coming with me, or will you stay out here and make your fortune out of the hole? I'll make you a present of it if you will."

But the look of splendid disgust had vanished as if by magic from the assistant's face. "I'll go home with you, sir!" he said emphatically, and then looked from one gentleman to the other, as though he might have committed a solecism. He was forthwith ordered into the hut to put his master's things together, with a grim smile on the master's part, who proceeded at last to notice Denis, or at any rate to record such notice with his fraction of a nod.

"So it's to you I owe my prompt discovery," said he. "'Pon my word I'm not as grateful to you as I ought to be! Doing any better on Black Hill Flat?"

"I've left it," said Denis, rather shortly.

"Where are you now?"

"Nowhere. We have sold up and are going to start again. Your friend has given us a lift, for which we're much obliged, but I think the horses would stand all right without us."

"Would you like to take over this claim and hole?"

"I have no money," said Denis. Behind him Doherty had given a gasp, followed by something like a sob of disappointment. But the deep-sinker wore the broadest smile they had ever seen upon his languid countenance.

"My dear good fellow, I don't want money for it!" cried he. "I want a worthy inheritor with energy and ideas, somebody a cut above the stupid average, and by Jove you're my very man! Come on: if you don't the whole thing will be jumped by the nearest ruffian. I don't say there's much in the hole; but it's a good, sound hole as far as it goes, and it can't have to go much further. We've worked through the light clays and through the sand, and we're well in the red; when you get through that you can start washing, and I wish you the luck you deserve. Thank me? What for? If you don't come in some one else will. I am only too glad to leave the little place in such good hands. It was pretty carefully chosen, and if it isn't plumb over the gutter it ought to be."

So the reconstructed firm of Dent and Doherty became possessed of one of the deepest holes and best-appointed claims on the celebrated Eureka Lead, and all within a few minutes; for it took the man Charles no longer to collect such chattels as were worth his master's while to take away with him. Thus, ere the diggings were astir again for the afternoon, the new owners were alone in their unforeseen glory, and one of them at least was still capering and singing in his joy. But over Denis a cloud had already fallen; and there was a blacker cloud on Jimmy when he grasped the cause.

"It's Moseley," said Denis. "This is horribly unfair on him."

"Unfair! How?"

"Suppose we should have as good luck here as we had bad luck on the flat!"

"Well? Didn't he want to be out of it? Wasn't he longing to go home?"

"I don't like it," persisted Denis. "I played a trick on him, but I never thought it would turn out like this. I thought we should spend months doing what we've after all had done for us." He raised his brooding eyes from the ground, and there was the buggy still in view, labouring in and out among the tents. "Jimmy, you stay on the claim!" he cried, and dashed after it on the spur of the moment.

"What's happened?" asked the late sinker, pleasantly. "We haven't forgotten anything, have we?"

"No, but I have," panted Denis, "and if you can help me I'll be as grateful again to you. There's a chum of ours who left us only this morning. He was sick of it; but he little knew the luck that was in store for us. His name's Moseley, and he was going home in the first ship, which will be your ship, but you will probably overtake him on the road to-night."

"What's he like?" asked the spectacled gentleman, who no longer drove; and when Denis told him he was sure he had met Moseley in the forenoon, and felt confident of recognizing him again.

"Then will you tell him exactly what has happened to us, and that he shall come in on the old shares if only he'll come back? Say we changed our mind about Bendigo; and say we must be two men and a boy, and we'd far rather he was the other man than some stranger, especially if there's a fortune in it. Tell him there probably is; and if you will tell it him all from his friend, Denis Dent, gentlemen, I can't say how grateful I shall be to you!"

Denis had an odd reward for his trouble and this outburst. The tall digger shook hands with him for the first and last time.

But the climax of the business was to come long before Moseley's answer. Denis had not been five minutes absent, yet on his return to the new claim it was surrounded by a fringe of diggers embellished by a posse of mounted men in spruce uniform.

"What on earth is it?" cried Denis, rushing up in alarm.

"The old story," answered a digger. "Joe! Joe! Joe!"

"Traps," added another; but Denis had not been on the diggings two months without learning the meaning of both words. Either was the diggers' danger signal, and signified a raid by the police in search of their licenses; in fact, that very sport whose praises Lieutenant Rackham had sung in the ear of his old crony Captain Devenish.

And it was Rackham who led the present field; dismounted, he had run his man to earth in the bark-roofed hut; and his man was no more of a man than the unfortunate Doherty, who was clinging tooth and nail to the door-post, while Rackham himself, a full-blooded negro in his rage, tugged like a terrier at his ankles.

"Stick to it, little 'un!" cried one in good-humoured encouragement. "If you don't, the claim'll be jumped afore your mate gets back."

"Hold your row," growled another with an oath. "It's a fine deep hole, and I have a jolly good mind to jump it myself."

Denis burst through them at that moment.

"What's the matter?" he demanded of Rackham; but he had the sense not to lay a hand on the fellow's uniform, and the black devil let go one of Doherty's ankles.

"He's not got his license, and he's going to the Logs," says Rackham, showing his white teeth in the sun. "Who are you?"

"His mate," said Denis. "Do you mind letting go his other leg?"

"And where's your license?" added Rackham, turning on him as he complied.

Denis was feeling in his breast pocket with a smile; before quitting the flat Jimmy had proposed to destroy his Ballarat license as of no further use, but Denis knowing better had got it from him on some pretext.

"Here is my license and his, too," said he, and handed both to Rackham, who now stood livid and trembling with mortification, under a derisive cross-fire of "Joe! Joe! Joe!" from all sides of the claim. "If you will examine them," added Denis, with the politeness he could afford, "you will find that they both have about a week to run; and after this you may trust us to take out the new ones in very good time."



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