It Is Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade
The life of George Fielding and Thomas Robinson for months could be composed in a few words: tremendous work from sunrise to sundown, and on Sunday welcome rest, a quiet pipe, and a book.
At night they slept in a good tent, with Carlo at their feet and a little bag between them; this bag never left their sight; it went out to their work and in to sleep.
It is dinner-time; George and Tom are snatching a mouthful, and a few words over it.
"How much do you think we are, Tom?"
"Hush! don't speak so loud, for Heaven's sake;" he added in a whisper, "not a penny under seven hundred pounds' worth."
"It is slower work than I thought; but it is my fault, I am so unlucky."
"Unlucky! and we have not been eight months at it."
"But one party near us cleared four thousand pounds at a haul; one thousand pounds apiece--ah!"
"And hundreds have only just been able to keep themselves. Come, you must not grumble, we are high above the average."
"The reason we don't get on is we try for nothing better than dust. You know what you told me, that the gold was never created in dust, but in masses, like all metals; the dust is only a trifle that has been washed off the bulk. Then you said we ought to track the gold-dust coarser and coarser till we traced the metal to its home in the great rocks."
"Ay! ay! I believe I used to talk so; but I am wiser now. Look here, George, no doubt the gold was all in block when the world started, but how many million years ago was that? This is my notion, George; at the beginning of the world the gold was all solid, at the end it is all to be dust; now which are we nearer, the end or the beginning?"
"Not knowing, can't say, Tom."
"Then I can, for his reverence told me. We are fifty times nearer the end than the beginning, follows there is fifty times as much gold-dust in nature as solid gold."
"What a head you ha' got, Tom! but I can't take it up so. Seems to me this dust is like the grain that is shed from a ripe crop before it comes to the sickle. Now if we could trace--"
"How can you trace syrup to the lump when the lump is all turned to syrup?"
George held his peace--shut up, but not convinced.
"Hallo! you two lucky ones," cried a voice distant about thirty yards. "Will you buy our hole, it is breaking our heart here."
Robinson went up and found a large hole excavated to a great depth; it was yielding literally nothing, and this determined that paradoxical personage to buy it if it was cheap. "What there is must be somewhere all in a lump."
He offered ten pounds for it, which was eagerly snapped at.
"Well done, Gardiner," said one of the band. "We would have taken ten shillings for it," explained he to Robinson.
Robinson paid the money, and let himself down into the hole with his spade. He drove his spade into the clay, and the bottom of it just reached the rock; he looked up. "I would have gone just one foot deeper before I gave in," said he; he called George. "Come, George, we can know our fate in ten minutes."
They shoveled the clay away down to about one inch above the rock, and there in the white clay they found a little bit of gold as big as a pin's head.
"We have done it this time," cried Robinson, "shave a little more off, not too deep, and save the clay." This time a score of little nuggets came to view sticking in the clay; no need for washing, they picked them out with their knives.
The news soon spread, and a multitude buzzed round the hole and looked down on the men picking out peas and beans of pure gold with their knives.
Presently a voice cried, "Shame, give the men back their hole!"
"Gammon," cried others, "they paid for a chance, and it turned out well; a bargain is a bargain." Gardiner and his mates looked sorrowfully down. Robinson saw their faces and came out of the hole a moment. He took Gardiner aside and whispered, "Jump into our hole like lightning, it is worth four pound a day."
"God bless you!" said Gardiner. He ran and jumped into the hole just as another man was going to take possession. By digger's law no party is allowed to occupy two holes.
All that afternoon there was a mob looking down at George and Robinson picking out peas and beans of gold, and envy's satanic fire burned many a heart. These two were picking up at least a hundred pounds an hour.
Now it happened late in the afternoon that a man of shabby figure, evidently not a digger, observing that there was always more or less crowd in one place, shambled up and looked down with the rest; as he looked down, George happened to look up; the newcomer drew back hastily. After that his proceedings were singular; he remained in the crowd more than two hours, not stationary, but winding in and out. He listened to everything that was said, especially if it was muttered and not spoken out; and he peered into every face, and peering into every face it befell that at last his eye lighted on one that seemed to fascinate him; it belonged to a fellow with a great bull neck, and hair and beard flowing all into one--a man more like the black-maned lion of North Africa than anything else. But it was not his appearance that fascinated the serpentine one, it was the look he cast down upon those two lucky diggers; a scowl of tremendous hatred--hatred unto death. Instinct told the serpent there must be more in this than extempore envy. He waited and watched, and, when the black-maned one moved away, he followed him about everywhere till at last he got him alone.
Then he sidled up, and in a cringing way said:
"What luck some men have, don't they?"
The man answered by a fierce grunt.
The serpent was half afraid of him, but he went on.
"There will be a good lump of gold in their tent to-night."
The other seemed struck with these words.
"They have been lucky a long time," explained the other, "and now this added--"
"Well, what about it?"
"Nothing! only I wish somebody else had it instead."
"That is a secret for the present. I only tell you because I think somehow they are no friends of yours either."
"Perhaps not! what then."
"Then we might perhaps do business together; it will strike you singular, but I have a friend who would give money to any one that would take a little from those two."
"Say that again."
"Would give money to any one that would take it from those two."
"And you won't ask for any share of the swag?"
"Me? I have nothing to do with it."
"Gammon! well, your friend! will he?"
"Not a farthing!"
"And what will he give, suppose I have a friend that will do the trick?"
"According to the risk!"
The man gave a whistle. A fellow with forehead villainously low came from behind some tents.
"What is it, Will?" asked the newcomer.
"This one in it?"
"Yes! This is too public, come to Bevan's store."