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Waitaruna: A Story of New Zealand Life

Chapter XXII. — Gilbert's Promotion

page 294

Chapter XXII.
Gilbert's Promotion .

"Man never is but always to be blessed."

Pope .

Fortunately neither Mr. Ramshorn nor Gilbert felt any the worse for their night's exposure. Mr. Ramshorn growled and grumbled a good deal about the climate, and expressed his regret that he had ever seen what he was pleased to term the "confounded country," so often, that Gilbert felt sure that something more serious than the snowstorm had ruffled his temper. He did not, however, divine the true cause, although he might have suspected it from the abruptness of their departure from Pakeloa. But Mr. Ramshorn's cup of bitterness was not full. Among the letters which were brought from the mail there was one which he opened eagerly. It was from one of the shareholders in the Halcyon Quartz claim, who had promised to let Mr. Ramshorn know the result of the trial crushing.

"Ha! here is some good news from the Halycon! What do you say is the result, Langton? Two ounces to the ton, eh?"

But before Gilbert could reply, Mr. Ramshorn exclaimed—"What's this?" His face lengthened as page 295he glanced over the letter, and then tossed it over to Gilbert, saying, "My usual luck!"

Gilbert found that the letter ran—

"Dear Sir,—I greatly regret to inform you that the result of the Halycon crushing was under two pennyweights, which of course would not anything like pay working expenses. I can't understand how it is, that it should have proved such a complete and utter failure, after all the trials we have had in crushing small quantities. Were it not that I know that Hardcastle, the manager, has put every sixpence he could raise into the concern, I should say that he was a rogue and that we were duped, but as it is, I fear it is worse, and think that he is a fool, and that we are more than ditto. He has gone off to town in disgust, and as he has borrowed money to buy shares, I expect he will come to grief, or clear out. I could have sold him mine at a fair premium a few days ago. What a blamed idiot I was not to do so! I am too riled to write more.—Yours faithfully,

"J. R. King".

"I am awfully sorry," said Gilbert, as he handed back the letter; "won't they try again?"

"Oh! I don't know; but how can they? They have spent their bottom dollar, and are in debt to the bank, and I don't see where they are to get any more money. I am the most unfortunate dog that ever was. I think I'll do like Hardcastle—clear out."

"Why should you do that?" asked Gilbert; "you page 296have, I suppose, lost a good bit of money, but you know the worst of it now, and if you can pay all that will be required, I can't see any reason for your clearing out, and giving up your billet here."

"As for paying money," was the reply, "I have none of that to do, for my shares are fully paid up, but I am sick of this wretched country. Look how we were nearly buried alive in the snow last night, and it's always either blowing, or raining, or snowing, or doing something disagreeable. I'll tell you what it is, this country wants roofing-in badly. I am going back to Australia, and from there I think I'll go to South America. Wherever I go, it will be to some place where there is a better climate than here, and where it will be warm enough for a man to die straight."

"Oh! nonsense, Mr. Ramshorn; I am sure the climate is a splendid one, though we do have some sudden changes, and other disagreeables. It is better than I have been accustomed to in the old country, and from all I have heard you say of hot winds and droughts in Australia, I am sure I should not like to live there."

"Well, I daresay, I am inclined to speak badly of the country, because things have gone against me, and very likely if I had been successful here, I should have looked on things with different eyes. But I have made up my mind to go, and shall start for town to-morrow morning. If the agents can manage to let me go, I shan't come back here page 297again, and I'll put in a good word for you. I think that you will stand a good chance of getting appointed manager, so you will have no cause to complain of my going."

"I shall not object to promotion," said Gilbert honestly, "but at the same time I am sorry you are going, especially under such circumstances as the present."

Mr. Ramshorn and Gilbert chatted some time about the approaching departure of the former, and many directions and suggestions were given as to the future management of the station. The rest of the day was spent by the manager in making preparations for his journey, and next morning he made an early start, Gilbert accompanying him a short way.

On his return to the station Gilbert found that Mike Donovan had arrived in his absence, and had been blowing to Mrs. M'Lean about his great success at the "diggings."

"Hullo! Mike," said Gilbert, as the Irishman approached and held out his hand, to shake hands in the most nonchalant manner possible. "What brought you here?"

"Sure, thin, an it was my grey mare, so it was."

"Have you got a real grey mare now, Mike?" asked Gilbert.

"Be jabers, and it was a mane thrick to play on a dacent boy, that same was. I did not think that you would have taken a hand in it, Misther Langton, neither I did. But they won't play that thrick on me page 298again, for I have got a grey mare; and even if they were to whitewash her, it would not make much difference. I picked her for that same reason, that I did!"

"That was a good idea of yours, Mike," said Gilbert, laughing; "but what if they were to make a chestnut of her with a little red ochre?"

"Ochre, did ye say, Mr. Langton? What the divil that is I don't know, but I would like to see the man that would put ochre on my mare. Besides, they can't put anything on her, for whenever I get her in now, I always put her in the stable. Do ye see that now?"

"Then I don't see why you need have got a grey mare, Mike, if you take such precautions."

"Oh! may be not, but then it was not you that was wandering all over the country looking for your horse, or you would take precautions too," said Mike, getting nettled. "I always thought that Mr. Leslie was a gintleman till he did that dirthy mane turn to me."

"Well, well, don't get your dander up, Mike. Let us drop it. How have you been getting on since I saw you last?"

"I've done first rate, thin, that I have! I bought a share in a claim over at the Sowburn, and it has turned out first class. Afther getting any amount of gold out of it, I sold out to the very man I bought from for a bigger price than I gave; and as I heard Mr. Leslie wanted to sell his share, I came down to Muttontown, and I have bought it. But before setting page 299in to work I thought I'd come over and see the ould spat."

"You have bought out Mr. Leslie, have you? and what is he going to do now?" asked Gilbert.

"Have you not heard of his last move? He has bought the shanty on the road as you go up to where old Sam Morrison lives. I expect that you know where I mean. Him and his missus went over there a fortnight ago, putting a man in his claim till it was sold. One of his ould mates told me that Jack, the packer, who goes past that way, had told him that Mr. Leslie had got on the spree at their opening supper, and had been at it pretty well straight on end since thin. So I'm thinking he'll be his own best customer."

"Do you mean to say that Arthur Leslie has become the landlord of a low bush public-house? You must be making fun of me, Mike!"—exclaimed Gilbert in astonishment.

"Niver a bit. And if the public house is low, it is good enough for the likes of Mr. Leslie, who is not a gintleman at all at all. But I must go and see all the boys before I go back. I'll see you over at Muttontown some time, Mr. Langton, I expect."

"Yes, no doubt," replied Gilbert, "good-bye, Mike, good-bye."

"Poor Arthur Leslie!" thought Gilbert, as he turned away. "I little thought he would ever come down so low in the social scale as to become a shanty-keeper, and yet, I fear he has not reached page 300the lowest depth either. Yet, why should I pity him, for no doubt he is happy in his own way. I used always to think that he was happier than I, for he had the knack of plucking the enjoyment of the moment regardless of the consequences, while I used to inwardly think that the pleasure was passing, or that it would have to be paid for in some way or other, and so for me it would lose its zest. I daresay he was the more philosophic of the two, though his philosophy has not proved beneficial to him. It is this same sort of feeling that has led him into habits of drinking, no doubt. Arthur would drink for good fellowship, and because he liked to feel jolly, without a thought whether or not the habit was growing on him. Now, if I were ever to become a drunkard, which I hope I never may, I think I should do so deliberately to drown care, and seeing and knowing whither I was drifting. I often, very often, experience a feeling that life is hardly worth having, or that something, I can't tell what, is going to happen, and am consequently miserable, so that, perhaps, it would be better for me if I had a little of Arthur's 'carpe diem' temperament about me. But yet!—I am becoming morbid."

Lighting his pipe, Gilbert said to himself, "Ah! Ottalie, if I had you for my wife, I should be a different man." And then he began to conjure up all kinds of scenes of conjugal felicity, in which he and Ottalie filled the most important parts. And the possibility of the fulfilment erelong of some of page 301those dreams seemed greater now that there was a chance of his being appointed manager of the "Waitaruna station, and so having a home to which he could take a wife.

Some ten days after Mr. Ramshorn's departure Gilbert received two letters by the mail, one from Mr. Ramshorn himself, and the other from the agents of the station—offering him the appointment of manager, at a salary, however, rather lower than what Mr. Ramshorn had drawn. This was a disappointment, but he consoled himself with the thought that after a trial they would probably raise his pay to a higher figure. In the other letter Mr. Ramshorn again bid his former cadet good-bye, and amongst other pieces of news he mentioned that he had seen Harry Ewart's widow, who was looking very well and very pretty, and that she seemed already to have got over her bereavement, and was said to be carrying on a flirtation with a young doctor with an eye apparently to business, so far as she was concerned. "So," said Mr. Ramshorn, "I think there is little doubt but that she will lay aside her weeds before the year is out."

"She is a designing baggage," was Gilbert's comment; "and poor old Harry was a thousand times too good for her. I think I must take a run up to Pakeloa and let the Ewarts know of my promotion. The old people have always been very kind and hospitable to me."