"Let's sling it, boys. There's no fun in our bullocking here day after day and not making tucker! I'm sick to death of the infernal hole, and mean to get out of it."
"So am I, Ned. I was sick of it a month ago," said Harry Durham, filling his pipe and flinging himself down at full length upon his luxurious couch--a corn-sack suspended between four posts driven into the earthen floor of the hut. "I'm ready to chuck it up to-morrow and drive a mob of nanny-goats to the Palmer, like young Preston did the other day."
"How much do we owe that old divil Ikey now?" said Rody Minogue, the third man of the party, who sat at the open doorway looking out upon the disreputable collection of bark humpies that constituted the played-out mining township of Mount Sugar-bag.
"About £70 now," said Durham; "but against that he's got our five horses. The old beast means to shut down on us, I can see that plainly enough.
When I went to him on Saturday for the tucker he had a face on him as long as a child's coffin."
"Look here, boys," said Buller, the pessimsit, "let the infernal old vampire keep our three saddle-horses--they are worth more than seventy quid--and be hanged to him. We'll have the two pack-horses left. Let us sell one, and with the other to carry our swags, we'll foot it to Cleveland Bay, or Bowen, I don't care which."
"An' what are we goin' to do whin we get there?" asked Rody.
Buller shrugged his shoulders. "Dashed if I know, Rody; walk up and down Bowen jetty watch the steamers come in."
"And live on pack-horse meat," said Durham.
"Now, look here," and Rody got up from the doorway and sat upon the rough table in the middle of the room, "I want you fellows to listen to me. First of all, tell me this: Isn't it through me entirely that we've managed to get tick from old Ikey Cohen at all?"
"Right," said Durham; "no one but you, Rody, would have had courage enough to make love to greasy-faced Mrs. Ikey."
"Don't be ungrateful. Every time I've been to the place I've sympathised with her hard lot in being tied to an uncongential mate like Ikey Cohen, and for every half a dozen times I've squeezed her had you fellows have to thank me for a sixpenny plug of sheepwash tobacco."
"By Heavens! how you must have suffered for that tin of baking-powder that we got last week, and which didn't go down the bill!"
Rody laughed good-naturedly.
"Well, perhaps I did. But never mind poking fun at me, I'm talking seriously now. Here we are, stone-broke, and divil a chance can I see of our getting on to anything good at Sugar-bag. We've got about forty tons of stone at grass, haven't we? What do you think it'll go?"
"About fifteen pennyweights," said Durham.
"I say ten," said Buller
"And I say it's going to be the biggest crushing on Sugar-bag since the old days," said Rody.
"Rot!" said Durham.
"Now just you wait and listen to what I've got to say. We've got forty tons at grass now. Now, we won't get a show to crush for some weeks, because there's Tom Doyle's lot and then Patterson's to go through first. It's no use asking old Fryer to put our stuff through before theirs. Besides, we don't want him to."
"Don't we? I think we want to get out of this God-forsaken hole as quick as we can."
"So we do. But getting our stuff through first won't help us away. Reckon it up, my boys! Forty tons, even if it goes an ounce, means only about £140. Out of that old Cohen gets £70--just half, that would leave us £70; out of this we shall have to give Fryer £40 for crushing. That leaves us £30."
"That'll take us to Townsville or Cooktown, anyway," said Durham.
"Yes," said Rody, "if we get it. But we won't. That stone isn't going to crush for more than ten pennyweights to the ton."
A dead silence followed. Rody was the oldest and most experienced miner of them all, and knew what he was talking about. Then Buller groaned.
"That means, then, that after we've paid Fryer £40 for his crushing we'll have £30 for old Cohen and nothing for ourselves.
"That's it, Ned."
No one spoke for a moment, until Durham, who had good Scriptural knowledge, began cursing King Pharaoh for not crossing the Red Sea first in boats and blocking Moses and his crowd from landing on the other side.
"Well, wait a minute," resumed Rody, "I haven't finished yet. We have our mokes to old Cohen, didn't we, as a guarantee? He said he'd send them to Dotswood Station, because there was no feed here. What do you think the old beast did?"
"Sold 'em," said Buller.
"No, he'd hardly be game to do that. But instead of sending them to Dotswood, he's got the two packhorses running the mail coach between the Broughton and Charters Towers, and the three saddle-horses are getting their hides ridden off them carrying the mail between Cleveland Bay (Townsville) and Bowen."
"The infernal old sweep!" said Durham, springing up from his bunk. "Who told you this, Rody? Greasy-face?"
"My informant, Mr. Durham, was Mrs. Isaac Cohen, or, as you so vulgarly but truly call her, 'Greasy-face.'"
Presently, after taking due notice of his mates' wrathful visages, Rody began again--
"So this is how the matter stands. We three fellows, who are working like thundering idiots to pay off old Ikey's store account, are actually running a coach for him, and conveying her majesty's mails for him, and he gets the money! Now, I don't want to do anything wrong, but I'm hanged if I'm going to let him bilk us, and if you two will do what I want we will get even with him. But you'll have to promise me to do just exactly what I tell you. Are you willing?"
"Right you are, Rody. Go ahead."
"I'm not going into details just at present, but I can promise you that we'll leave Sugar-bag in a month, or less, from to-night, with £50 each. And old Ikey is going to give it to us; and what is more, he won't dare to ask us to give it back again."
"How are you going to do it?"
"You'll know when the proper time comes. But from to-morrow fortnight we don't raise a bit more stone from our duffing old claim. We're going to start on those big mullocky leaders in Mason's and Crow's old shafts, and raise about ten tons before we crush the stone. We must have it ready at the battery as soon as the stone is through. Now, there you are again, making objections. I know that it didn't go six pennyweights, but it's going to be powerful rich this time."
Mr. Isaac Cohen was the sole business man at Mount Sugar-bag, and although the majority of the miners working the claims on the field were not doing well, Mr. Cohen was. In addition to being the only storekeeper and publican within a radius of fity miles, he was also the butcher, baker, and saddler, this last vocation having been his original means of livelihood for many years in Sydney. A small investment, however, in some Northern Queensland mining shares led him on the road to fortune, and although never entirely forsaking his old trade, by steady industry and a rigid avoidance of such luxuries as soap and a change of clothing, he gradually accumulated enough money to add several other businesses to that of saddlery. He had arrived at Sugar-bag when that ephemeral township was in the zenith of its glory, and now, although it was on the eve of the days that lead to abandoned shafts and grass-grown, silent crushing mills, wherein wandering goats camp on the water tables, and death adders and carpet snakes crawl up the nozzle of the bellows in the blacksmith's forge to hibernate, he still remained. No doubt he would have left long before had it not been for the fact that the remaining ninety or a hundred miners in the place were all in his debt. Then, besides this, he had bought a mob of travelling cattle and stocked a block of country with them. The drover in charge, a fatuous young Scotchman, with large, watery-blue eyes and red hair, had succumbed to Ikey's alleged whiskey and the news that there was no water ahead of him for another sixty miles. Ikey buried him decently (sending the bill home to the young man's relations, including the cost of the liquor so freely consumed on the mournful occasion) and took charge of the cattle, at the same time writing to the owners and informing them that their cattle were dying by hundreds, and advising them to place them in the hands of an agent for sale. And to show Mr. Cohen's intergrity, it may be mentioned that he named Mr. Andrew M'Tavish, the local auctioneer, as a suitable person, but neglected to state that Mr. M'Tavish had died in Bown hospital a month previously, and that Ikey Cohen had bought his business. Consequently the catlle went cheap, and Ikey bought them himself. Thus by honest industry he prospered, while every one else in Sugar-bag went to the wall i.e. the bar of Ikey Cohen's Royal Hotel. And at the bar they were always welcome, for even if--as sometimes did occur--a disheartened, stone-broke customer drank too much of Mr. Cohen's irregular whisky and died in his back yard, leaving a few shillings recorded against his name on the bar-room slate, Ikey forgave the corpse and debt and buried him (he was the Mount Sugar-bag undertaker) for the trifling sum of £10- paid by sending round the hat on the day of the funeral. In due course Ikey was made a J.P., and then began to think of Parliament.
About two years after his arrival at Sugar-bag, Ikey had occasion to visit Townsville on business, and on his return was accompanied by his newly-wedded wife, a Brisbane-dressed lady of thirty or so. Somewhat to his surprise, a number of the miners at Sugar-bag who had, during their travels, visited the southern capitals, greeted her as an old friend, and congratulated him on securing such an excellent life-partner; and, as he had married the lady after only a few days' acquaintance, he naturally enough accepted her explanation of having presided over various bars in Melbourne and Sydney, where she had met a great number of Queenslanders. Of course there were not wanting, even at Sugar-bag, evil minded beings to openly assert that Mr. Cohen's expression of surprise at the wide circle of his wife's friends was all bunkum, and that "Greasy face," as the lady was nicknamed, was only another of his cute financial investments.
If this was correct it certainly showed his sound judgment, for her presence in the bar of the Royal proved highly lucrative to him; and showed as well that he was above any feelings of unworthy jealousy. For although the title of "Greasy-face" was not althogether an inappropriate one, the bride was by no means bad-looking and possessed to a very great degree that peculiar charm of manner and freedom from stiff conventionality so noticeable among the fair sex on new rushes to goldfields. Perhaps, however, Mr. Cohen did think that her preference for Rody Minogue was a little too openly shown to the neglect of his other customers and her admirers; but, being a business man, and devoid of sentiment, he said nothing, but charged Rody and his mates stiffer prices for the rations he sold them, and was quite satisfied.
On the morning after the three mates had discussed their precarious condition, Rody, instead of going up to the claim with Durham and Buller, remained in camp to write a letter. It was addressed to "Mr. James Kettle, c/o Postmaster, Adelong, N.S. Wales," and contained an earnest request, for old friendship's sake, to send Mr. Harry Durham a telegram, as per copy enclosed, as quickly as possible.
Then, lighting his pipe, Rody left the hut, and walked up towards the Royal. When about half-way he sat down on a log and waited for the mailman, who he knew would be passing along presently on his way down to Cleveland Bay. He had inteded to go up to Cohen's the previous evening and write and post his letters there, but Ikey being the postmaster, and Rody a particularly cute individual, the latter changed his mind. The mail man usually slept at Cohen's on his way down to the Bay, and being a good-natured an convivial soul, and a fellow-countryman of Rody, the two were on very good terms.
Presently Rody saw him ride out of Cohen's yards, leading a pack-horse, and turn down the track which led past the place where he was waiting.
"How are you, Dick?" said Rody; 'pull up a minute, will you? I've got a letter here I want you to post for me in Townville. It's not good enough leaving a letter in old Ikey's over night."
"Right," said the mailman, taking the letter; "want anything else done, Rody?"
"Yes; would you mind bringing me out as much lead as you can carry when you come back, 40 or 50 lb. Don't bring it to the humpy; just dump it down here behind this log, where I can get it. I'll pay you for it in a week or two; and buy me a horseshoer's rasp as well."
"O.K., old man. I can get it easily enough, and drop it here for you when I come back on Thursday. So long" and Dick the mailman jogged off.
Ten minutes later Rody sauntered up to Mr. Ikey Cohen's store. Mrs. Isaac was there, opening a box of mixed groceries.
"Hallo, Rody! how are you? Here, quick; stick this in your shirt before the little beast comes in;" and "Greasy-face" pushed a bottle of pickles into his hand, just as Ikey entered--in time to see the pickles.
"Not at work this morning, Mr. Minogue?"
"No; I've come up to have a bit of a chat with you. How much are the pickles, Mrs. Cohen?"
"Two shillings, Mr. Minogue," she answered, with a world of sorrow expressed in the quick glance she gave him, knowing that Ikey had detected her.
"How vas the claim shaping?" asked Ikey, presently.
Rody shook his head. "Just the same. We don't like the look of the stone at all. Of course the gold is as fine as flour, and you can't tell what it's going to turn out till you get it under the stampers. We are thinking of raising some of that mullocky stuff out of Mason's and Crow's old claims. We got some good prospects lately."
"Vell, you'd better do somedings pretty qvick. I can't go on subblying you and your mates vid rations for noding," said Mr. Cohen, with an unpleasant look on his face. He was not in a pleasant temper, for he disliked Rody and his mates--the former in particular--and would have shut down on them long before only for the fact that all three men were such favourites on the field that an action like this would have meant a big hole in his bar profits.
"That's true enough," said Rody, with apparent humility, but with a look in his eye that had Ikey noticed it would have made him step back out of his reach, "and I've come to have a talk with you on the matter. Will you mind just showing us how we stand?"
"Here you are; here's your ackound up to the tay pefore yestertay--the last of the month," and the storekeeper handed him the bill.
Rody looked at--£70 10s. 6d.
"You charge us pretty stiff, Mr. Cohen, for some of the tucker and powder and fuse."
"Vell, ven you can't bay gash!" and the little man humped his shoulders and spread his ten dirty fingers wide out.
Rody continued to scrutinise the items on the bill. "We're paying pretty stiff for keeping those mokes at Dotswood--eight quid is a lot of money when we get no use out of 'em."
"Vy, you vas full of grumbles. Vat haf you to comblain of? Thirty-two veeks' grass and vater for five horses at a shilling a veek each. My friend, if dose horses had not gone to Dotswood dey would haf died here."
"All right," said Rody, putting the bill in his pocket and turning to go, "as soon as Doyle and Patterson's stuff goes through, our crushing follows. They start to-day."
"Vell, I hopes ve do some good," snorted Cohen, as he sat down to his accounts.
"What the balzes is that for?" said Buller, as late on Thursday night rody came into the hut and dumped a small but extremely heavy parcel, tied up in a piece of baggin, down on the table.
Rody cut the string that tied it, and the mates saw that it contained a compact roll of sheet lead and a farrier's rasp.
"Never you mind; I know what I'm doing. Now, boys, we're got to slog into that mullocky stuff at Mason's all next week, and look jolly mysterious if any of the chaps tell us we're only bullocking for nothing."
A light began to dawn on Durham as he looked at the rasp and lead; a few days before he had seen Rody bringing home an old worn-out blacksmith's vice that he had picked up somewhere, and stow it under his bunk.
Taking up the articles again, Rody stowed them away, and then drew a letter out of his pocket.
"Read that," he said.
Durham took it up and read aloud -
"DOTSWOOD STATION, BURDEKIN RIVER,
"June 7, 188__ .
"DEAR SIR--In reply to your note, I beg to state that no horses with the brands described by you have ever been recieved on this station from Mr. Isaac Cohen, nor any other person.
"WALTER D. JOYCE,
"MR. RODY MINOGUE, "Manager.
"The thundering old sweep! Why, we could jail him for this," said Durham. "Are you quite sure about his using them ever since he took delivery of them?"
"Quite; I can bring a dozen people to prove that the two pack-horses have been running in the Charters Towers coach for the past six months, and the three saddle-horses have been carrying the Bowen mail from Townsville for five months."
Durham thumped his fist on the table. "I wish we could get him to tell us before a witness that the horses were at Dotswood."
"We needn't bother; this is better," and Rody, taking out Cohen's account, read -
"To 32 weeks' agistment for 5 horses at Dotswood Station, at 1s. per week--£8."
"That's lovely, rody. We've got him now."
For the next week or so the three mates worked hard at Mason's and Crow's old shafts, to the wonder of the rest of the diggers at Sugar-bag. And they would have been still more surprised had they gone one Sunday into a thick scrub about a mile from the camp, and seen Rody Monogue fix an old vice on a stump, and spreading a bag beneath it, produce a rasp, and begin to vigorously file a thick roll of lead into fine shavings, that fell like a shower of silver spray upon the bag beneath.
Rody spent the best part of the day in the scrub. He had brought his dinner, and enjoyed his laborious task. As soon as it was finished he carefully poured the bright filings into a canvas bag, and threw the vice and rasp far into the scrub. Then, just at dusk he carried the heavy bag home unobserved.
That night, as they turned in, he said to his mates--
"We must all be up at old Ikey's to-morrow night, boys, to see the mailman come in. I think we are pretty sure to get Jim Kettle's wire to-night. I asked him to send it at once."
It may be mentioned here that although there was no telegraph station at Sugar-bag, there was at Big Boulder, a small but thriving minig township five miles away, and telegrams sent to any one at Sugar-bag were sent on by the postmaster at Big Boulder by Dick the mailman.
"Here's Dick the mailman coming!" and the crowd of diggers that sat in Ikey Cohen's bar lounged ouside to see him dismount.
In a few minutes he came inside, and first handing the small bag that contained the Sugar-bag mail to Mr. Cohen, who at once, by virtue of his office, proceeded to open it and sort out the few letters, he went to the bar at Buller's invitation for a drink.
"How are you, boys? How goes it, Rody? I'll take a rum, please Missis. How's the claim shapin', Durham?"
"Here's a delegram for you," said Ikey, handing the missive to Durham, and wishing that he could kept it back till the morning, so as to have made himself acquainted with its contents.
"Thank you," said Durham. "I wonder who it's from?"
"No bad news, Harry, is there?" said Mrs. Ikey, sympathetically; "you look very serious."
"Oh, no; it's from Jummy Kettle; he and I and Tom Gurner--who went to South Africa--used to be mates on the Etheridge; and without further explanation he walked away, accompanied by Rody and Buller.
Early next morning, as Mr. Cohen opened his store and pub, Durham walked in.
"Look here, Cohen, I want to sell out and get away. Will you give me something for my horse, and ten pounds for my share in the crushing? Rody can't do it, of course; neither can Buller."
"No, I von't," said Mr. Cohen; "I ain't going to throw away any more money. Vere do you want to go to?"
Durham, with a gloomy face, handed him the telegram he had received. It ran as follows:-
"From JAMES KETTLE, Adelong.
"To HENRY DURHAM, Sugar-bag, N.2.
"Tom Gurner returned. Has done well. Wants you and me to go back South Africa with him. Will stand the racket for passage money. Steamer leaves Sydney in four weeks. Hurry up and join us."
"Can't you give me a lift at all?" said Durham, after Cohen had read the telegram.
"No, I can't."
"Then blarst you, don't! I'll foot it to Townsvill, you infernal old skunk."
Sure enough that day he did leave, but not on foot, for some one lent him a horse, to be returned by the mailman. Rody accompanied him part of the way and gave him some final instructions.
On the day that Durham reached Townsville Rody and Buller began crushing their stone at the mill. The forty tons of stone were to go through first, and were to be followed by the stuff from Mason's and Crow's old claims, which had been carted down to the mill. As Rody surmised, the stone showed for about ten penny weights, and the second day, about dusk, they "cleaned up," squeezed the amalgam into balls, and placed it in an enamelled dish, ready for retorting.
"Four of these will do us," said Rody, taking out that number of balls of amalgam, pressing them into a flat shape, and thrusting them into his trousers pockets; "here's that old swine Ikey coming now to see if we are robbing him."
"Vell, how does she look?" inquired Cohen.
Rody, with a face of gloom, pointed to the amalgam in the dish. "It'll go about ten pennyweights," he said, "but we're going to start on that other stuff to-morrow. It's patchy, but I believe there's more in it than there was in the quartz."
"Vell, vat are you going to do with this amalgam? Von't you redord (retort) it now?"
"No," answered Rody, "It's not worth while having two retortings. Take it away with you--you have the best right to it--and lock it up. then, as soon as we have put this mullocky stuff through, we will retort the lot together. It won't take long running that stuff through the battery--it's soft as butter."
Then, after carefully weighing the amalgam, Rody handed it over to Mr. Cohen for safe keeping, and he and Buller went up to their humpy for the night. But before they bade Mr. Cohen good-night, Rody wrote out a few words on a slip of paper, and handed it to Ikey, with a two-shilling piece.
"Send that along to Big Boulder by any one passing, will you? I told Durham I'd send him a wire. He won't leave Townsville until to-morrow. The steamer goes at four in the afternoon to-morrow."
When Mr. Cohen got home he read Rody's message, which was brief, but explicit--
"Crushing going badly; not ten weights. Mullock may go as much or more."
At eight o'clock next morning Rody and Buller were ready to feed their second lot of stone into the boxes. At Rody's suggestion the mill manager, who was also the engine driver (and who employed but two Chinamen to feed and empty the sludge pits in connection with the wretched old machine), put on very old coarse screens; and whilst he was engaged in doing this, rody stowed a certain small but heavy canvas bag in a conveniently accessible spot near the battery boxes.
As soon as the screens were fixed, old Joe Fryer came round and started the engine, whilst Rody "fed" and Buller attended to the tables and blankets.
"We'll feed her, Fryer," said Rody. "These Chinkies are right enough with hard stone, but they're no good with mucky stuff like this. They'd have the boxes choked in no time."
Fryer was quite agreeable, and as soon as he turned away to attend to the furnace Rody seized the canvas bag and poured about a quart of the lead filings into the box. At the same time, Buller came round from the tables with a cupful of quicksilver, and poured that in. This was done at frequent intervals.
In a quarter of an hour Buller came round to Rody and said, in Fryer's hearing, that the amalgam was showing pretty thick on the plates.
Fryer went to look at it, naturally feeling pleased at such goo news. In a minute he was back, and seizing Rody by the hand, his dirty old face beaming with excitement.
"By Jingo! You fellows have struck it this time. I haven't seen anything like it since the time Billy Mason and George Boys put ten loads of stuff like this through and got four hundred ounces. And look here, his stuff of yours is going to be as good."
"Well, look here, Fryer," said Rody, modestly, "I may as well tell you that I somehow thought it was pretty right. And I believe we've just dropped on such another patch as Mason and Boys did in '72."
Buller by this time was apparetnly as much excited as old Fryer, and was now sweeping the amalgam off the plates with a rubber, like a street scraper sweepsup mud--in great stiff ridges--and dropping it into an enamelled bucket. And every time that Fryer was out of sight shoving a log of wood into the furnace, rody would pour another quart of lead filings in the feed-box, and Buller would follow with a pint of quicksilver.
"Luckily we got him to put on those old worn screens," muttered Rody to Buller, "the cursed stuff is beginning to clog the boxes as it is."
At last, there being no more lead left and but little quicksilver, the stampers worked with more freedom, and in another hour Rody flung down his shovel--the final shovelful of mullock had gone into the box.
"I'll help you clean up as soon as I draw my fire," said old Fryer. "By thunder, boys, what'll the chaps say when they see this? What about old Sugar-bag being played out, eh?"
Fortunately for Rody and his partner the mill was a good two miles away from the main camp, there being no nearer water available, and no one had troubled to come down to see how the crushing was going, except one Micky Foran, who had carted their stone down from the claim. But when Micky saw Fryer and Rody go round to the back of the boxes, lift the apron, and take off the screens, he gave a yell that could have been heard a mile:
"Holy Saints, it looks like a grotto filled wid silver!"
And so it did, for the whole of the sides of the box, the stampers, and dies were covered with a coating of amalgam some inches thick and as hard as cement.
In five minutes Micky was galloping up to the camp with the glorious news of Sugar-bag's resurrecion, leaving Fryer, Buller and Rody hard at work digging out the amalgam with cold chisels and butcher knives.
By the time the boxes had been cleaned, and the quicksilver--or rather amalgam--scooped up from the wells, and the whole lot placed in various dishes and buckets, the excited population of Sugar-bag began to appear upon the scene. Among them was Mr. Cohen, who advanced to Rody with a smile.
"Vell, my boy, you've struck id and no misdake. I knew you vas a good____"
"Oh, to balzes out o' this!" said Mr. Minogue, roughly. "I don't want any of your dashed blarney. Ten days ago you wouldn't give poor Harry Durham a fiver to take him to the bay, and here you come crawling round me, now that our luck has changed. Go to the devil with you! I can pay you your dirty seventy quid now and be hanged toy!"
And with this he pushed his way over to where Fryer and Buller were, keeping guard over the white gleaming masses of precious amalgam.
"Going to retort it now, Rody?" said a digger.
"No; we can't. There isn't a retort big enough to hold a quarter oft he hard stuff, let alone the quicksilver, which is as lumpy as porridge, as you can see," and he lifted some in the palm of his hand out of a bucket. We'll have to send over to Big Boulder for Jones' two big retorts."
"Boys," said a digger, solemnly, "so help me, I believe there's a thousand ounces of gold going to come out of that there amalgam. What do you think, Rody?"
"About eight hundred," he answered, modestly; and Ikey Cohen metaphorically smote his breast and wished he had lent Durham all he asked for.
Placing the amalgam in the big box Fryer kept for the purpose, Rody was about to lock it, when some one make a remark--just the very remark he wanted to hear and be heard by Isaac Cohen, who was still hanging about him.
"Sometimes there's a lot of silver in these mullocky leaders. I heard that at the Canton Reef, near Ravenswood, there was a terrible lot of it."
"Oh, shut up! What y'r gassin' about? There ain't no silver about this field, I bet," called out two or three miners in a chorus.
Rody's face fell. "By jingo, boys, I don't know. Perhaps Joe is right. I've seen Canton Reef gold, it's only worth about twenty-five bob an ounce owing to the silver in it."
"Try a bit of amalgam on a shovel," suggested some one.
Rody lifted the cover of the box and took out a small enamelled cup half full of hard amalgam--the contents of his trousers pockets surreptitiously placed with the rest while cleaning up.
In a few minutes a fire was lit and a shovel with an ounce of amalgam on it wa held over the flame. As the shovel grew red hot and the quicksilver passed away in vapour there lay on the heated iron about eight pennyweights of bright yellow, frosted gold.
"Right as rain!" was the unanimous opinion, and then every one went away to get drunk at Cohen's pub in honour of the occasion.
"Vere are you going to, Mr. Minogue?" said Cohen, oilily, to Rody.
"To Big Boulder, to send another wire to Durham and tell him to come back."
"My friend, you will be foolish. Now you and me vill talk pizness. I vant to buy Mr. Durham out. If you will help me to ged his inderest in the crushing sheap I will call my ackound square and give you--vell, I will give you £200 for yourself."
Rody appeared to hesitate. At last he said, "Well, I'll do it. I'll write him that the stuff is going about two ounces, and that you want to buy him out. I'll tell him to take what you offer. But at the same time I won't see him done too bad. Give him £200 as well."
"No, I vill give him £150."
"All right. I'll wire to him at once. The steamer goes to-morrow,"
"And I rides in with you to Big Boulder and sends him a delegram, too," said Ikey joyfully.
In another hour the two messages were in Harry Durham's hand. He read them and smiled.
"Rody's managed it all right."
At five in the afternoon Mr. Cohen received an answer--
"Will sell you my interest in the Claribel crushing, now going through, for £150 if money is wired to Bank New South Wales before noon to-morrow."
Mr. Cohen wired it, grinning to himself the while as he thought of the rich mass of amalgam lying in Fryers box. Nothing much under £350 would be his share, even after paying Rody £200, in addition to Durham's £150.
There was a great attendance to see the retorts opened two days afterwards, and Mr. Cohen went into a series of fits when the opening of the largest cylinder revealed nothing by a black mass of charred nastiness (the result of the lead filings), and the other (which contained the amalgam from the first crushing) showed only a little gold--less than twenty ounces.
Of course he wanted to do something desperate, but Rody took him aside, and showing him certain documents concerning horses, said--
"Now, look here; you had better let things alone. It's better for your to lose £350 than go to gaol. This crushing is a great disappointment to me as well as you. We've both been had badly over it."
It was not many weeks before the three mates met again in Sydney, Durham having wired them half of the £150 sent him by Ikey Cohen before he left Townsville, not knowing that they had got £200 out of Ikey themselves. And about a year later Rody sent Mrs. Cohen a letter enclosing the amount of old Fryer's bill of crushing, and £80 from himself and mates for Ikey. "Tell him, Polly, that he can keep the horses for the £70 against us. The money he sent to Harry Durham--to swindle him out of that rich crushing, and what he gave Buller and me--set us on our legs. We have been doing very well at the Thames here, in New Zealand, since we left Sugar-bag. Of course you can please yourself as to whether you give him the £80 or keep it yourself. And if you send us a receipt signed by yourself, it will do us just as well as his, and please in particular your old friend, RODY MINOGUE."
Becke wrote 'The Great Crushing at Mount Sugar-Bag' in 18@@
It first appeared in print