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作者:未知      更新:2018-03-11 22:39      字数:7134
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    Soon after Harry and Donald returned to Wonga-Wonga, the station was excited by the news that gold had been found about seventy miles to the north of Jerry's Town. At first the news was partially pooh-poohed at Wonga-Wonga.

    “We've heard of storekeepers' rushes before now, haven't we?” Mr. Lawson said to the men, who were getting unsettled by the tidings. “Those fellows would make out that there was gold in the moon, if people could get there to buy their damaged goods; and nicely they'd clap it on for carriage.”


    It soon became certain, however, that something more than the mere “colour of gold” had been found at Jim Crow Creek. Three parts of the population of Jerry's Town started for the new diggings, and yet the town was busier than ever, such a stream of people poured through it. Nearly every township between Jerry's Town and Sydney contributed its quota, and amongst those who came from Sydney were a good many who had sailed thither from Melbourne. Perhaps they had been doing very well on the Victoria diggings, but diggers have almost always a belief that they could do better somewhere else than where they are; and so, when they hear of new diggings, off they flock to them, like starlings from England in autumn.


    Wonga-Wonga and the other stations near Jerry's Plains soon became very short-handed. Shepherds and stockmen sloped wholesale for the Creek, sometimes helping themselves to their masters' horses to get there. To make the best of a bad job, Mr. Lawson resolved to avail himself of the market for meat that had suddenly been created at Jim Crow Creek; and, accordingly, he and the boys started thither with some of the sheep and cattle that had been left with scarcely any one to look after them.

    As they rode into Jerry's Town, they passed a mob of Chinamen, in baggy blue breeches, who were preparing to encamp by the roadside. Most of them still wore their tails, coiled up like snakes, or dangling down like eels. The Jerry's Town youngsters were pelting the Chinamen, and taking sly pulls at the dangling tails, whenever they got the chance, meanwhile shouting “Chow-chow” and singing in chorus

    “Here he was, and there he goes,

    Chinaman with the monkey nose.”


    As the Chinamen laid down the bamboos they had carried on their shoulders, with bundles hanging from them like milk-pails from a yoke, and gathered sticks to boil their rice, their almond eyes glanced very evilly from under their beehive hats at the young outside barbarians. I am sorry to say that is not only the young barbarians who behave very brutally to Chinamen in Australia.

    All the way from Jerry's Town to Jim Crow Creek the road, that used to look even more solitary than Highgate Archway Road looks during the greater part of the year, was every here and there almost as crowded as Highgate Archway Road during the time of Barnet Fair. Men on horseback, with saddle-bags and pistols peeping from their holsters, were ambling and cantering along, singly and in couples, and in threes and fours. Moleskin-trousered pedestrians, who had “humped the swag,” were toiling along, footsore and perspiring, their red or blue shirts rolled up and laid upon the top of their heavy loads. Greenhorn-looking young fellows, fresh from the counter or the desk, were sitting down, dead beat. Tarpaulined drays ground along in a long line, monotonously jingling the pots and pannikins slung beneath.



    Here and there a dray had broken down, and the driver was fussing about as angry as a wasp, or smoking in sulky idleness, because he could not get any one to stop to help him right his cargo. Every public was crammed with rowdy-looking, bronzed, bearded fellows, shouting for nobblers, spiders, and stone-fences. The free commons which every traveller in Australia used to look upon as a right rather than a favour, had ceased to be supplied by either house or hut. If any passenger wanted food or drink, he had to pay for them, and pay smartly too. Some of the parties taking their meals along the road were faring jollily, but some of the pedestrians who limped past them cast enviously hungry glances on their commissariat. To say nothing of brandy, bitter beer, sardines, and potted salmon, they were speculating anxiously as to how much longer they could make sure of tea and damper.


    Jim Crow Creek was reached at last. A week or two before, it had been so quiet that the shy water-moles would come up and bask for the half-hour together on the surface of its gravy-soup-coloured water. There was nothing to startle them except the sudden scream of a flock of parrots flashing across, or the lazy rustle of the long, inky, lanky-tassel-like leaves which the grey-boled trees upon the banks dipped into the smooth stream. But now for two or three miles upon both banks there was bustle. The trees had been cut down, the banks scarped and honeycombed, and dotted with big boil-like heaps of dusty earth. The tortured creek, here dammed, there almost drained, and yonder flowing in a new channel, seemed to be as puzzled as to its identity as the old lady who had her petticoats cut all round about. Steam sent up quick, angry white puffs; windlasses went round and round at the top of yawning wells of dirt; the grinding, rattling dash of shovels into soil, the ticking click of picks on stone resounded everywhere. Cradles rocked; hip-booted men, who looked as if they had not washed either face or hands for a twelvemonth, swished their precious mud round and round in washing-pans. Scattered along the sloping sides of the creek, and jostlingly jumbled on the flat it once crept round, so sleepily quiet, were all kinds of extemporized stores and dwellings: a house or two of corrugated iron; more hastily knocked-up ones of slabs; canvas-walled houses, roofed with asphalte-felt; round tents, square tents, polygonal tents, and mere bark gunyahs. Some had their owners' names roughly painted on the canvas. Outside one tent hung a brass plate inscribed with “Mr. So-and-So, Photographer.” Keen-looking gold-buyers stood at the doors of their wooden “offices.” A commissioner, swellish in gold lace, cantered superciliously through the bustling throngs. Policemen lounged about, striving to look unconscious of the “Joey!” which the miners found time to shout after them in scorn. Hanging about the sly grog-shop tents, there were men who might have been thought to have more time for such amusement, since smoking and nobblerizing was all that they seemed to have to do; but these gentry appeared by no means eager to attract the attention of the police. The gold-buyers looked anxious when the rascals' furtively-ferocious eyes chanced to fall their way, and they were not the kind of man that a solitary digger would have liked to see peeping into his tent at night, or loitering before him in the bush. Everybody at Jim Crow Creek had guns or pistols of some kind, and took care to let his neighbours know that he was armed by firing off his weapons before he turned in, and then ostentatiously reloading them after the gun-powdery good night.


    Before Mr. Lawson and the boys reached the “township,” as the Jim Crow Flat was already called, their sheep and cattle were bought up by a butcher who was waiting on the road. They bought their chops of him for their evening meal, and when they found what he charged for them, Mr. Lawson was not quite so satisfied with his cattle bargain as he had been when he made it. After tea, the boys strolled out to look about them, and presently came to a large tent, with the American colours flying above it. There was a crowd at the entrance, and it was as much as two money-takers could do to make sure that they did take the admission-money from all the boisterous fellows who were rolling in. Amongst them were a few women, with faces like brown leather, who were still more boisterous.

    “Let's go in, Donald,” said Harry. “It must be those Ethiopian chaps that passed us on the road in the American waggon.”


    The boys struggled in at last, and then wished, but in vain, that they could struggle out. They were jammed in a steaming, smoking, rum-scented mass of miners, good-tempered enough in the main, but apparently of opinion that the proper place for a man's elbows was in his neighbour's ribs, and for his feet upon his neighbour's toes. Not more than half had seats, and sometimes they swayed about so, that it seemed certain the bulging tent must fall. They joined most discordantly in all the choruses, and when especially pleased, pitched coppers, and sixpences, and shillings on the stage. They threw other things that were not so pleasant. One wag threw a potato, which hit Bones upon the nose just when he was propounding a conundrum to Tambourine; and Mr. Bones, in spite of his fun, being a very irascible little serenader, leaped down amongst his audience, and made frantic efforts to get at his assailant. There was very nearly a battle-royal between house and performers, and Mr. Bones was pulled up at last by his brethren, with his woolly wig half off his head, his long-tailed coat split from waist to collar, and his huge shirt-collar and cravat in a sadly crumpled condition. Whilst the scrimmage lasted, Donald had noticed a broad-shouldered mulatto, in red shirt and ear-rings, who had kept on plunging backwards and forwards in the crowd, apparently bent on increasing the confusion.


    “Hae ye got anything in your pockets, Harry?” said Donald, when comparative calm had been restored. “Just spot yon body in the red shirt. He tried my pockets more than once. I suppose he thocht I'd bring a bundle of notes in here. I'm nae sae daft.”

    It was nearly midnight when the “entertainment” concluded, and it was Sunday morning before all the entertained got into the open air again. As the reeking crowd struggled out, the mulatto recommenced his plunging man?uvres. When the boys got out, they saw him hurrying in the moonlight down an alley between two little rows of tents.


    “He's a nice young man for a small music party,” said Harry, looking after him; “and there seems to be plenty of his sort. Come along, Donald; we've a good step to go, and I should feel so spoony if I got bailed up by those fellows; though it isn't much, is it, they could ease us of?”

    Mr. Lawson had pitched his tent on the other side of the “township,” some little way down the Jerry's Town road, in a place where there were no other tents near.

    When the boys had crossed the flat, and were ascending the steep rough bush track dignified with the name of Jerry's Town Road, they were not exactly pleased to see a man who looked very much like the mulatto, and two other men, slip out of the bush, and seat themselves on a log and a stump by the roadside.

    “It don't seem game to turn out of the road for those fellows, does it, Donald?” said Harry. “But I'll go bail they're up to no good, and they're hulking big beggars, and I'll be bound they've barkers, and we haven't.”


    “I dinna think they're planting for us,” answered Donald; “but, as like as not, they'd gie us a knock on the head if we went up to them; an' what's the use o' gettin' a knock on the head for nae guid, if ye can avoid it?”

    “I should uncommonly like to know what they're scheming,” said Harry, as the boys turned aside into the bush. “They're jabbering fast enough about something. Let's creep up behind and listen. P'r'aps it's the governor they've a down on.”

    This is what the boys heard when they had crept like cats to a listening-place:

    “It's a squatter fellow that sold some bullocks to Wilcox the butcher,” said one of the mulatto's companions. “He's camped out yonder by himself.”

    “Well, but,” objected the mulatto, “Wilcox would pay him in orders, and what's the good of them?”


    “Ah, but I heard him ask Wilcox for some in cash or notes, if he had it. The fellow said he'd got cleaned out on the road up, and must have some money to take him back. So Wilcox gave him some; I can't say how much it was, but any's worth finding. Besides, he's a gold tickera real handsome one, as big as a frying-pan. And then there's the three horses, and first-chop colonial saddles.”

    “Is there anybody with him, then?”

    “Two young 'uns came with him, but they've gone down into the town, an' if they've come back, it don't matter much. I fancy he's turned in now. I've been watching him this good while, till I come down to hunt up you and Bill.”

    “Well, let's be off then,” said the mulatto; and the three began to run. The boys tried to make a short cut for the tent, but lost ground instead. When they reached the tent Mr. Lawson was on his back, half-throttling, however, the mulatto who knelt upon him, whilst the other two scoundrels were giving him savage blows and kicks.

    “Putaballintohim,” gasped the mulatto.


    Before a pistol could be pointed, however, the two boys had leaped on the two men, and by the suddenness of the onslaught toppled them over, tumbling at the same time themselves. For a minute a confused heap of trunks and limbs heaved and wriggled on the floor; but Mr. Lawson rolled himself out, and, getting uppermost in turn, brought down his huge Northumbrian fist with a tremendous thud upon the mulatto's face. As soon as the other two men could scramble to their feet, they took to their heels. The boys had got hold of their pistols by that time, and Mr. Lawson was reaching out his hand for his revolver. Three bullets whistled after the two runaways, but neither was hit. Meantime the mulatto, save for his stertorous breathing, lay like a log upon the ground.

    “Get your horse, Harry, and ride in for the police,” said Mr. Lawson. “We'd best tie the scoundrel first, though.”


    Harry and Donald went to catch the hobbled horse; Mr. Lawson turned to refasten an up-pulled tent-peg, and to get a cord, and when he turned round again, the mulatto was gone.

    “The rascal was only shamming,” said Mr. Lawson, feeling rather silly, when the boys returned. “I turned my back for a second, and he wriggled off like a snake. Now, boys, turn in, and I'll keep watch till the sun comes up. If I hadn't been in such a hurry to get a snooze, I shouldn't have been laid on my back by those mean curs. I must have been sleeping like a top when they pounced in upon me. I've to thank you, boys, and let us all thank God.”


    Mr. Lawson and the boys stayed over the Sunday at Jim Crow Creek, but it was a strange Sunday. The miners knocked off work, but they economized the Sabbath hours in fighting out the week's quarrels, which they could not spare time to settle on week-days. The only “service” was one conducted by a tall, gauntly-sinewy Cornish miner, who shouted at the top of his voice, and worked himself into a pale perspiration as he flung about his long limbs as if they were galvanized. A few of his hearers looked pleased to be reminded anyhow of what the day was. A few more looked ashamed because they were ashamed to look pleased too. But most grinned, and then passed on to find more exciting amusements.

    “Faix, it's the crathur's way o' divartin' himself,” said the police-sergeant, who had stopped for a few minutes to hear his own creed anathematized; “and a mighty queer kind o' divarsion it is, to my thinkin'.”

    The sergeant, when spoken to about the attempted robbery, instantly recognized the mulatto.


    “It's that thief o' the worruld, Baltimor-r-e Ben. That's who it is entirely. They call him Baltimor-r-e Ben becase he came from Mel-bour-r-ne. He'll lie dar-ruk for a bit afthur this, but we'll have him, sir-r; an' if we won't, the digger bhoys will string him up if they catch him. An' was it the young gintlemen settled the other bla'guards? More power to their elbows! You should have kicked him on the shins, sir-r. A neegur's head's as harrud to crack as an Irishman's.”

    At Wonga-Wonga, as well as by the Jim Crow Creek police-sergeant, Harry and Donald were considered great heroes, when their exploits were told there. If Mrs. Lawson had had her way, however, neither her husband nor the boys would ever have gone to Jim Crow Creek again. Once more, nevertheless, they drove stock over thither. And then, suddenly, the place was deserted by all except a few Chinese fossickers, who mysteriously made a living out of claims which Europeans had thrown up as not worth a speck. The tide of diggers rolled back to Sydney, cursing the storekeepers as they went. Some waves of the tide crept rather than rolled, and some of the tide never got back. There was misery, sickness, starvation, at Jim Crow Creek and along the road; but sundry storekeepers had balanced their ledgers greatly to their satisfaction.


    “Those miners ought to be 'cute enough by this time to take care of themselves,” said Harry, when he was talking over the matter; “but still it does seem an infested shame that they should be done so. I wish Hargreaves had never come back from California. I don't see what gold has done for the colony, except spoilt the runs and run up shepherds' wages.”

    “Ah, that is how you Boys in the Bush talk,” said Miss Smith, who had recently returned from Sydney.

    “Miss Smith,” replied Harry, majestically, “I no longer consider myself a Boy in the Bush.”

    THE END.
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