A Romance of Lake Wakatipu
A Typical Goldfields Teamster—Camping out—Stalactite Caves—The Natural Bridge—Kawarau and Clutha Junction—Eighty-seven Pounds Weight of Gold.
As the night's encampment at the mouth of the Roaring Meg wore on, Bob's fund of anecdote increased.
In further illustration of the timber question,* he went on to relate how that, on another occasion, an old squatter in the neighbourhood named Captain Fraser had caused Bob and his mates some offence. In revenge, the Captain's fencing furnished their fires for the night.
Fraser, being a bit of a character, wakened Bob's recollections to other of his peculiarities. Fraser was particularly well pleased with himself and his name. His boast was that he was Duniewassal, or first gentleman of the clan, and that there had never been a Fraser who was other than a perfect gentleman.
Getting to the ears of a band of shearers, en route to his shed, they determined upon taking a rise out of this weakness. One of the number was a crossbred between a Malay and an Australian aboriginal—a most villainous specimen. The band made their arrangements accordingly.
In that way the evening was spent; and at a late hour the lawyer and Bob retired to their blankets under the tilt of the dray.
Towards morning the lawyer felt cold, and he was not at all sorry when daybreak afforded him the opportunity for getting up.
Following Bob's example, he made his morning's ablutions in the creek, and, knowing that Bob would not be ready to start for some time, he hastened to pay a visit of inspection to the stalactite caves in the neighbourhood. Although narrow at the entrance, they were found capacious enough inside. From the roof hung an inverted forest of these congelated substances, twisted and turned into the most fantastic shapes and figures. Some of them had grown down almost to the floor, but for the most part they had only attained the size of well-developed icicles, with a few drops of pure water trickling down their sides. Acted upon by such straggling rays as managed to penetrate the cave, the effect was grand. These rays were reflected back in ten thousand gleams of rainbow colour.
Having still more leisure before the dray came up, the lawyer visited another curiosity—the Natural Bridge.*
The water at this place, being particularly turbulent, has scooped out for itself an underground passage, leaving the superincumbent ledge of rock overhanging the channel to within a few feet of the opposite bank. Although not extending right across from bank to brae, it enabled venturesome people with good vaulting-powers to get over. The lawyer, however, not being amongst the venturesome class, did not attempt the experiment. The dray coming up, the lawyer took his old quarters inside, with Bob on the front seat.
The river not having fallen to the low level at which Hartley and Riley were fortunate enough to find it, the work was mostly of a preliminary kind, and but little gold was being got. Still, the expectations were high; but, like many more great expectations, they were doomed to disappointment. Not only did the river continue high until the diggers, sad and weary, were driven away, but the débris from the Shotover and other higher workings sluiced down into the bed effectually disposed of all chance of the river ever becoming so low as it was on the memorable occasion alluded to. Now, however, the river dredge† is doing what the miner of that day wanted to do in vain.
Well on in the afternoon Bob pointed out the position of a rock, from the ledges of which Hartley and Riley scraped the 87lb. weight of gold out of which the fame of the place arose. A slight gurgle was all that marked the rock, the water being now many feet above its surface. It was a wild spot, enough to damp the ardour of the most sanguine. Still, these two men persevered in their research, and they got their reward, which is a great deal more than can be told of many equally deserving who followed in their wake.
Darkness had fairly set in when the dray reached Clyde, the township of the Dunstan, and here, over a parting glass of grog, the lawyer and Bob separated.
"Good-bye," said the lawyer, extending his hand to the Yankee; "but mind, Bob, don't again attempt to run the rapids on the Nevada side, for, if you do that sort of thing too often, folks will begin to doubt your veracity."
"You're right," said Bob. "Why, man, I never thought of my veracity before."
"That, Bob, I can well believe," replied the lawyer; "but you take my advice, and just let it have a chance."
"Aye, aye, sir," said Bob, cracking his whip cheerily as ho drove away his team to their camping-place at the other end of the town.