It Is Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade
George was very homesick.
"Haven't we got a thousand pounds apiece yet?"
"Hush! no! not quite; but too much to bawl about."
"And we never shall till you take my advice, and trace the gold to its home in the high rocks. Here we are plodding for dust, and one good nugget would make us."
"Well! well!" said Robinson, "the moment the dry weather goes you shall show me the home of the gold." Poor George and his nuggets!
"That is a bargain," said George, "and now I have something more to say. Why keep so much gold in our tent? It makes me fret. I am for selling some of it to Mr. Levi.
"What, at three pounds the ounce? not if I know it."
"Then why not leave it with him to keep?"
"Because it is safer in its little hole in our tent. What do the diggers care for Mr. Levi? You and I respect him, but I am the man they swear by. No, George, Tom Weasel isn't caught napping twice in the same year. Don't you see I've been working this four months past to make my tent safe? and I've done it. It is watched for me night and day, and if our swag was in the Bank of England it wouldn't be safer than it is. Put that in your pipe. Well, Carlo, what is the news in your part?"
Carlo came running up to George, and licked his face, which just rose above the hole.
"What is it, Carlo?" asked George, in some astonishment.
"Ha! ha!" laughed the other. "Here is the very dog come out to encourage his faint-hearted master."
"No!" said George, "it can't be that--he means something--be quiet, Carlo, licking me to pieces--but what it is Heaven only knows; don't you encourage him; he has no business out of the tent--go back, Carlo--go into kennel, sir;" and off slunk Carlo back into the tent, of which he was the day sentinel.
"Tom," remarked George, thoughtfully, "I believe Carlo wanted to show me something; he is a wonderful wise dog."
"Nonsense," cried Robinson, sharply, "he heard you at the old lay, grumbling, and came to say cheer up, old fellow."
While Robinson was thus quizzing George, a tremendous noise was suddenly heard in their tent. A scuffle--a fierce, muffled snarl--and a human yell; with a cry, almost as loud, the men bounded out of their hole, and, the blood running like melting ice down their backs with apprehension, burst into the tent; then they came upon a sight that almost drew the eyes out of their heads.
In the center of the tent, not six inches from their buried treasure, was the head of a man emerging from the bowels of the earth, and cursing and yelling, for Carlo had seized his head by the nape of the neck, and bitten it so deep that the blood literally squirted, and was stamping and going back snarling and pulling and hauling in fierce jerks to extract it from the earth, while the burly-headed ruffian it belonged to, cramped by his situation, and pounced on unawares by the fiery teeth, was striving and battling to get down into the earth again. Spite of his disadvantage, such were his strength and despair that he now swung the dog backward and forward. But the men burst in. George seized him by the hair of his head, Tom by the shoulder, and with Carlo's help, wrenched him on to the floor of the tent, where he was flung on his back with Tom's revolver at his temple, and Carlo flew round and round barking furiously, and now and then coming flying at him; on which occasions he was always warded off by George's strong arm, and passed devious, his teeth clicking together like machinery, the snap and the rush being all one design that must succeed or fail together. Captain Robinson put his lips to his whistle, and the tent was full of his friends in a moment.
"Get me a bullock rope."
"And drive a stout pole into the ground."
In less than five minutes brutus was tied up to a post in the sun, with a placard on his breast on which was written in enormous letters--
(and underneath in smaller letters--)
Caught trying to shake Captain Robinson's tent. First offense. N B--To be hanged next time.
Then a crier was sent through the mine to invite inspection of brutus's features, and ere sunset thousands looked into his face, and when he tried to lower it pulled it savagely up.
"I shall know you again, my lad," was the common remark, "and, if I catch you too near my tent, rope or revolver, one of the two."
Captain Robinson's men did not waste five minutes with brutus. They tied him to the stake, and dashed into their holes to make up lost time, but Robinson and George remained quiet in their tent.
"George," said Tom, in a low, contrite, humble voice, "let us return thanks to Heaven, for vain is man's skill."
And they did.
"George," said Tom, rising from his knees, "the conceit is taken out of me for about the twentieth time; I felt so strong and I was nobody. The danger came in a way I never dreamed, and when it had come we were saved by a friend I never valued. Give a paw, Carlo."
Carlo gave a paw.
"He has been a good friend to us this day," said George. "I see it all now; he must have heard the earth move and did not understand it so he came for me, and, when you would not let me go, he went back, and says he, 'I dare to say it is a rabbit burrowing up.' So he waited still as death, watching, and nailed six feet of vermin instead of bunny."
Here they both fell to caressing Carlo, who jumped and barked and finished with a pretended onslaught on the captain as he was kneeling, looking at their so late imperiled gold, and knocked him over and slobbered his face when he was down. Opinions varied, but the impression was he knew he had been a clever dog. This same evening, Jem made a collar for him on which was written "Policeman C."
The fine new tent was entered and found deserted, nothing there but an enormous mound of earth that came out of the subterranean, which Robinson got a light and inspected all the way to its debouchure in his own tent. As he returned, holding up his light and peering about, he noticed something glitter at the top of the arch; he held the light close to it and saw a speck or two of gold sparkling here and there. He took out his knife and scraped the roof in places, and brought to light in detached pieces a layer of gold-dust about the substance of a sheet of blotting-paper and full three yards wide; it crossed the subterranean at right angles, dipping apparently about an inch in two yards. The conduct of brutus and co. had been typical. They had been so bent on theft, that they were blind to the pocketfuls of honest, safe, easy gold they rubbed their very eyes and their thick skulls against on their subterraneous path to danger and crime.
Two courses occurred to Robinson; one was to try and monopolize this vein of gold, the other to take his share of it and make the rest add to his popularity and influence in the mine. He chose the latter, for the bumptiousness was chilled in him. This second attack on his tent made him tremble.
"I am a marked man," said he. "Well, if I have enemies, the more need to get friends all round me."
I must here observe that many men failed altogether at the gold diggings and returned in rags and tatters to the towns; many others found a little, enough to live like a gentleman anywhere else, but too little for bare existence in a place where an egg cost a shilling, a cabbage a shilling, and baking two pounds of beef one shilling and sixpence, and a pair of mining boots eight pounds, and a frying-pan thirty shillings, and so on.
Besides, the hundreds that fell by diarrhea, their hands clutching in vain the gold that could not follow them, many a poor fellow died of a broken heart and hardships suffered in vain, and some, long unlucky but persevering, suddenly surprised by a rich find of gold, fell by the shock of good fortune, went raving mad, dazzled by the gold, and perished miserably. For here all was on a great heroic scale, starvation, wealth, industry, crime, retribution, madness and disease.
Now the good-natured captain had his eye upon four unlucky men at this identical moment.
No. 1, Mr. Miles, his old master, who, having run through his means, had come to the diggings. He had joined a gang of five; they made only about three pounds a week each, and had expelled him, alleging that his work was not quite up to their mark. He was left without a mate and earned a precarious livelihood without complaining, for he was game; but Robinson's quick eye and ear saw his clothes were shabby and that he had given up his ha! ha! ha!
No. 2, Jem, whose mate had run away and robbed him, and he was left solus with his tools.
No. 3, Mr. Stevens, an accomplished scholar, and, above all, linguist, broad in the forehead but narrow in the chest, who had been successively rejected by five gangs and was now at a discount. He picked up a few shillings by interpreting, but it was a suspicious circumstance that he often came two miles from his end of the camp to see Robinson just at dinner-time. Then a look used to pass between those two good-hearted creatures, and Mr. Stevens was served first and Carlo docked till evening. Titles prevailed but little in the mine. They generally addressed the males of our species thus:
The females thus:
The Spartans! but these two made an exception in favor of this reduced scholar. They called him "Sir," and felt abashed his black coat should be so rusty; and they gave him the gristly bits, for he was not working, but always served him first.
No. 4, Unlucky Jack, a digger. This man really seemed to be unlucky. Gangs would find the stuff on four sides of him, and he none; his last party had dissolved, owing they said to his ill-luck, and he was forlorn. These four Robinson convened, with the help of Mary McDogherty, who went for Stevens; and made them a little speech, telling them he had seen all their four ill-lucks, and was going to end that with one blow. He then, taking the direction of brutus's gold-vein, marked them out a claim full forty yards off, and himself one close to them; organized them, and set them working in high spirits, tremulous expectation, and a fervor of gratitude to him, and kindly feeling toward their unlucky comrades.
"You won't find anything for six feet," said the captain. "Meantime, all of you turn to and tell the rest how you were the unluckiest man in the whole mine--till you fell in with me--he! he!"
And the captain chuckled. His elastic vanity was fast recovering from brutus, and his spirits rising.
Toward evening he collected his whole faction, got on the top of two cradles, made a speech, thanked them for their good-will, and told them he had now an opportunity of making them a return. He had discovered a vein of gold which he could have kept all to himself, but it was more just and more generous to share it with his partisans.
"Now, pass through this little mine one at a time," said he, "and look at the roof, where I have stuck the two lighted candles, and then pass on quick to make room for others."
The men dived one after another, examined the roof, and, rushing wildly out at the other end in great excitement, ran and marked out claims on both sides of the subterranean.
But, with all their greediness and eagerness, they left ten feet square untouched on each side the subterranean.
"What is this left for?"
"That is left for the clever fellow that found the gold after a thief had missed it," cried one.
"And for the generous fellow that parted his find," roared another, from a distance.
Robinson seemed to reflect.
"No! I won't spoil the meat by cutting myself the fat--no! I am a digger, but not only a digger, I aspire to the honor of being a captain of diggers; my claim lies out there."
"Hurrah; three cheers for Captain Robinson!"
"Will you do me a favor in return?"
"Hurrah! won't we?"
"I am going to petition the governor to send us out police to guard our tents."
"And even beaks, if necessary" (doubtful murmurs). "And, above all, soldiers to take our gold safe down to Sydney."
"Where we can sell it at three fifteen the ounce."
"Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!"
"Instead of giving it away here for three pounds, and then being robbed. If you will all sign, Mr. Stevens and I will draw up the petition; no country can stand without law!"
"Hurrah for Captain Robinson, the diggers' friend."
And the wild fellows jumped out of the holes, and four seized the diggers' friend, and they chaired him in their rough way, and they put Carlo into a cradle, and raised him high, and chaired him; and both man and dog were right glad to get safe out of the precarious honor.
The proceedings ended by brutus being loosed and set between two long lines of men with lumps of clay, and pelted and knocked down, and knocked up again, and driven, bruised, battered and bleeding, out of that part of the camp. He found his way to a little dirty tent not much bigger than a badger's hole, crawled in, and sank down in a fainting state, and lay on his back stiff and fevered, and smarting soul and body many days.
And while Robinson was exulting in his skill, his good fortune, his popularity, his swelling bag, and the constabulary force he was collecting and heading, this tortured ruffian, driven to utter desperation by the exposure of his features to all the camp with "Thief" blazing on him, lay groaning stiff and sore--but lived for revenge.
"Let him keep his gold--I don't care for his gold now. I'll have his blood!"