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Frank Melton's Luck, Or, Off to New Zealand

Chapter XXIII. Gold Fever—the Thames Goldfields

page 96

Chapter XXIII. Gold Fever—the Thames Goldfields.

‘Well, if you want to know anything about my opinion of Grosvenor's whereabouts,’ exclaimed Harry, irritably, for we had asked him what he thought about the question, ‘I should say he's in chokey, where he richly deserves to be, and I sincerely hope he'll have to stay there for the rest of his natural life. Under those circumstances I heartily drink long life to him.’

‘What makes you think that, Harry, my boy?’

‘Why, after all the games he played in Auckland, and narrowly escaped detection, I'll swear he couldn't be long outside a prison, for the colonial Bobbies are not to be despised.’

‘But perhaps his narrow escapes might have taught him a lesson to stop those little games.

‘No fear! He couldn't exist without a bit of villainy, and a pretty big bit, too. If he isn't nabbed yet, he jolly soon will be. But enough about the hound; let's talk of something more interesting.’

‘Well, one word more, and I've done,’ said I. ‘Brown, promise me to let the Robinsons know all about his affair with my cousin, and what Harry has told us. They will then see what he's like.’

‘I certainly would, only I am hardly likely to see them again, for I have left my billet. They have fenced the boundary, and my occupation is gone.’

‘I had better write, I suppose, and let them know all about it,’ said I.

‘Perhaps so. Oh! by-the-bye, I heard, since I came up here, that the old gent has sold his station for a good figure, and is going to buy a large farm up to the north of Wanganui. Do you know it, Frank?’

‘I should think I did. It must be the very place my uncle wanted Grosvenor to buy. I wonder we never heard of his looking about there for land.’

‘He got a friend and partner to go over and see it, I believe.’

‘I may here state that my old friend did buy the estate, and moved on to it shortly after. I did not write, as I thought I should be sure to see him almost as soon as a letter would reach him.

‘Is Miss Grave still with the Robinsous, Brown?’ I asked.

‘Yes, and I believe she was awfully annoyed at Julia's engagement, for she particularly detested Mr G.’

‘Your one word is a confounded long one,’ growled Harry, irritably. For God's sake have done with the wretch, or I'll clear out and leave you.’

‘Well, Harry, have you met any of our other shipmates?’

‘Yes; there was poor Gracie. You heard of his death, didn't you?’

‘No, that I didn't. How did it occur, poor fellow?’

‘He was in the same company that I was.’

‘Gracie, a fighting man! you don't say so?’

‘I do, indeed, and a braver fellow never stepped, but he was always just as fanciful and peculiar about his dress. The girl he was so spooney on in the steerage—you remember her, a washed-out looking page break
An engraving of Gustavus von Tempsky

Major Von Tempsky.

page break page 97 thing—chucked him up on their arrival in Auckland, and married a burly young butcher. Gracie, shortly after, joined the militia, and said there was a better chance of creditably leaving a life—which his troubles had made very tasteless and insipid—in the army, than in any other calling. Poor fellow, his words came only too true. He left it, and, I think you'll own, as creditably as the most fastidious could desire. He had rushed out of the ranks under a heavy fire from our foes to save a little Maori pickaninny, who would have been certainly killed by a stray bullet. He saved the infant, but as he was running off with it, a black fiend let fly at him. He just staggered along far enough to put the poor little thing in a safe place, and then fell without a groan, and never spoke again. I potted the devil that shot him though, that's one comfort.’

‘Poor Gracie, though rather an oddity, he was a right-down good fellow. I am awfully sorry to hear of his death. Simple though he was, a more kind-hearted beggar never existed. He would do anything in his power for his friends. I did not think his affections were so deeply touched. It was an awful shame of that girl to encourage him like she did, then chuck him up.’

‘Oh, for the matter of that, it's a way they all have,’ replied Harry: ‘love you one day, and you may go to the devil the next.’

Finding it was past twelve, we retired to our respective rooms. I did not sleep much, however, as the news I had heard about my rival, made my heart sick—sick with the thought that such a detestable villain should have the power to keep the affections of a girl like my cousin; though, in all probability, at any time when it suited his base purposes, or when he tired of her, he would trample them under his feet. A man of his evil nature, and total want of principle, could not he capable of a true, lasting love. When every good impulse is sacrificed to selfishness and conceit, there is no room for love; it cannot exist. When I contemplated my cousin married to such a man, and the world-wide difference between my feeling for her and his, I doubted the goodness of God in allowing such things to be. Why could they not see him in his true light? Why would they not listen to what I could say in his disfavour? I would not exaggerate his faults, for that would be a difficult matter, nor ‘ought set down in malice.’ But no; everything I said was discredited. I doubted much if I should, even with my recently-gained knowledge of his doings, be able to stop this hateful marriage. What, I thought, if he should turn up in my absence, and marry her? What if he were even now in Wanganui? But this could hardly be. My thoughts were getting rather mixed. He had given them to understand that he had gone home, and even if he had not done so, he would not visit them again, until ample time had elapsed for him to have made the return journey, for fear they would suspect something was wrong. Would he not, though, if anything occurred to make it advisable to alter his plans and get married at once? He would with unblushing face, present himself at uncle's door, and give some specious rigmarole of an excuse, which they would in all probability credit, and the marriage would take place.

The reader can guess my feelings as these thoughts crossed and recrossed my mind, and when at length, in the early morning, I dropped into a troubled sleep, it was only to dream of a black demon, with the orthodox horns and hoofs, but Grosvenor's smirking features, persistently baulking my utmost endeavours to approach my cousin, page 98 and grinning a ghastly grin, when, in my furious efforts to strike him, my fist dashed into a dense sulphurous mist.

Harry, who occupied the same room, said at the breakfast-table that the hearty supper I had taken, or the fumes of the whiskey, must have given me the nightmare, for I was making such a devil of a row, that he couldn't sleep for my groans. I replied that there were worse troubles than good suppers and nightmare.

‘Why, old man, I believe you are spoony on that ass of a Robinson girl still! I thought you had more sense.’

I did not deign to answer him.

After our morning meal I had to go and take delivery of the cattle, and let the former owner know that I intended shipping them by the next steamer for Wanganui. I had still a few days to spend in town, for which I was not sorry. With returning daylight my brighter hopes had arisen, and I began to consider things might not be quite as black as they looked. Then followed a peaceful Sabbath. We rose late, and by the time we had breakfasted, the bells of Saint Paul's Church were ringing. I asked Harry if he was going.

‘No fear,’ he replied. ‘I never go near the devil dodgers. I like to think for myself. I don't want to know what their grannies told them about hell fire and all that; it's a played-out farce. I am surprised at you, Frank. I thought the time you've been in the colonies would have knocked all that nonsense out of you.’

‘Well, Harry, I also like to think for myself, and do. I can do that, and listen to them too.’

‘What do you want to hear them preach for, then? Can't you be content with your own observations and experiences? Why accept a lot of bosh that you can't prove to be true?

‘No, I can't be content with my own observations and experiences in religion, any more than in any other science. In astronomy, geology, and a host of other ologies, do we not take the written knowedge gathered by others without testing it for ourselves, by this means saving a lot of useless inquiry and time? Now, putting religion on a level with these science for the sake of argument, are we to take nothing for truth that is written by previous investigators and exponents? Are we only to believe the little scraps of knowledge we may pick up in our short lives? Why should we treat religion worse than worldly knowledge?’

‘I can't say I see the use of what you goody-goodies call religion—church-going, prayers, and all that. I hold that men want nothing more to teach them their duty, and to be good and moral; that the knowledge that it answers best, and that unhappiness and trouble arise from acting unfairly to one another is quite sufficient.’

‘But that knowledge is a part of religion, my boy, and a more important part of it than mere church-going. Was there no religion, there would be no punishment for acting wrong and no reward for doing right, no Supreme Being to reward or punish. But I dare say you do not believe in a Supreme Being?’

‘Well, I think those races who worshipped the sun were as near right as any. The sun certainly rules everything, and, with its warmth, makes life. Why need it have a maker?’

‘You must prove that it hasn't before you accept that theory, old man, if you want to carry out your own idea of only believing what yor know to be true. However, it is no good arguing. I once read a quotation from the works of some philosopher, I forget the beggar's page 99 name, but it struck me as remarkably apt: “Why try to solve an infinite problem with a finite mind.”’

‘It's too hot to trouble to solve any problem except how to quench one's thirst this morning, Frank, so I'll give you best.’

That evening a gentleman came in with whom Harry was acquainted. He was a resident at the Thames, but was often in Auckland, and generally lodged at the place at which we were staying. His conversation, like that of many others at the time, was of nothing but mining shares, for Aucklanders were now in a fever of excitement and speculation over the new goldfields, which had been proclaimed a few months before at the Thames. Gold had been found as early as 1852 at Coromandel, but owing to obstruction from the native owners, the country around could not be fairly prospected. A few adventurous miners, however, did a little surreptitious prospecting, and the result justified the Colonial Government in making substantial arrangements with the chiefs, and the field was opened in 1867. As much as three pounds per acre a year, was paid to the lucky tribe for the use of the land for mining purposes. The prospects were so good, that as many as fifteen thousand miners from various countries visited it during the next four years. Four prospectors discovered a marvellously rich deposit in the bed of a creek. They immediately pegged it out, and named it the Shotover, and were men of great wealth in no time. Among the many rich mines, I may name the famous Golden Crown, which paid no less than two hundred thousand pounds in dividends in one year to the shareholders; also the Caledonian, a mine unequalled in richness in these colonies, or perhaps, elsewhere; out of which, in the space of twelve months, the almost incredible amount of ten tons of gold were taken, and six hundred thousand pounds paid in dividends. No wonder, when so many had partaken of this sudden access of wealth, that the whole province of Auckland, to say nothing of other parts of the colony, should be in a state of feverish insanity, I might almost call it. Sharebrokers started by dozèns, and, from the immense number of shares which passed through their hands, they must have coined money in commissions alone. Farmers sold their farms, and merchants their merchandise, to invest the proceeds in shares, shares, shares, no matter to some mad speculators whether the claim had yet found the colour, or not, or perhaps was ever likely to find it. Many, of course, lost their all. Fortunes were made or lost in a few days. Shares in the Caledonian, for instance, rose from a few shillings to two hundred pounds per share in an incredibly short space of time. This intense excitement was just commencing when I visited Auckland, but I have mentioned it here, as it had its effect on me, for I caught the gold fever. The only consideration which prevented me from rushing to the brokers, and buying shares—I cared little in what mine, for I had no knowledge of mining to guide me—was that, very fortunately, I had no spare coin to invest. Had I possessed the needful, it is ten to one I should have taken advantage of the offer of Harry's acquaintance to sell me, what he represented to be, the scrip of a mine only slightly inferior to the Golden Crown, and on the same reef, but which I noticed afterwards, wound up without paying a cent, or finding the colour of gold. At the time I anathematised my ill luck in not having the wherewithal to purchase the chance of making thousands of pounds, even although a very small sum would have done it. Could I but have bought those shares, I soliloquized, I might have been a man of wealth page 100 in no time, and then perhaps Fanny would have listened to me. The temptation certainly arose to make use of some money which I had received for uncle, for I felt sure the shares would rise in time for me to sell out in a few days, but I fortunately dismissed the idea. I did go to the office of the only man I knew in Auckland likely to lend me the sum required, but, to my disgust at the time, I found a card nailed on his door stating he was out, so I had to leave the next morning without slaking my burning thirst for scrip.