Grif: A Story of Colonial Life
Chapter XVI. The Story of Silver-Headed Jack
Chapter XVI. The Story of Silver-Headed Jack.
It was the fourth day of their journey. Grif was trudging along beside the weary bullocks, and Alice was sitting upon the dray, under the friendly shade of the tarpaulin. The road seemed very long to Alice; she was pining for the end of her journey; she was sick almost to death. She had dreamed the previous night that she saw her husband with a knife in his hand, standing over her father: rushing forward, with a cry of terror, to arrest his arm, she awoke in an agony of fear and trembling. Thank God! it was but a dream. But if she should be too late! The thought was horror! and she moaned, and pressed her nails into her tender palms, feeling no pain but that of her mental misery. How she envied the travellers on the coach, as it dashed along, with its six horses, at the rate of ten miles an hour—dashed along over the rough roads, winding its way through a forest of trees, until it disappeared from her sight, taking with it, as it seemed, all she had of hope, and leaving her helpless in her despair! The bullock-driver saw her distress; but he could not help her with money to enable her to travel more swiftly, for, indeed, he was poorer than herself. He was expressing his regret to her that they would have to part on the following morning, as their roads would then diverge.
“I cannot tell you,” he said, “how grieved I am that page 204 I have not been overtaken by a friend who is travelling your road, and who could have taken you within twenty miles of your journey's end. He ought to have been up with me this morning; and now it is nearly time to camp, and I don't hear any signs of him. He doesn't travel at this snail's pace, which I see is making you unhappy. He goes along bravely, does Old Jamie.”
“I am very grateful to you,” said Alice; “indeed, I cannot say how grateful, for you have been a friend to me, when I most needed it. I am quite strong, now, and shall be able to walk well in the morning. If I can ever repay you”——
“Tut! tut!” interrupted the bullock driver. “Repay me! It is I who am debtor, not you. I was growing into a brute, and you have made me human again. I have almost made up my mind to go home, and to meet the jeers of my friends with humility. But that's not to the point now. I wish there were fairies in the Australian woods, and that some gentle sprites would harness themselves to my friend's wagon, and drag it here with a whisk! But there are no fairies in these Antipodean wilds—nothing but lizards and—eh!” he exclaimed, as a sound of tinkling bells fell on the ear. “By Jove! there are fairies; and Queen Mab has done the trick! If that isn't Old Jamie, I'm a Dutchman.”
And, almost as he spoke, there came into sight a magnificent team of six dark bays, harnessed to an American wagon. They were splendid animals, and were dressed in handsome substantial harness. The wagon was piled with cases and barrels, and the driver page 205 was sitting in front, cracking a long whip, and shouting to his horses.
“Hi! there! Hi! Get along Truelove! Now, then, Silver! Pull it up!”
Whereupon, the bullock driver sent the cracker on his whip flying in the air, till it tickled the noses of the leading bullocks, and he cried,
“Hi! there! hi! Get along Strawberry! Now, then, Lazybones! Pull it up!”
“Pull it up!” echoed the teamster, scornfully. “You may well say, pull it up! I'll pull you up, if you block the road in that way. Why, I should be ashamed of myself for a lumbering, lazy rascal, if I was you. Here am I, started two days after you, tripping up your heels in less time than it takes to say, Jack Robinson! Well, if ever I take to bullock-driving, may I be”——
But here he made a full stop, and turned as red as a peony, for he caught sight of Alice in the bullock dray.
“Almost committed myself,” he whispered to the bullock-driver, as they shock hands. “I didn't know you had a woman with you.”
“She is a lady, Jamie,” said the bullock-driver. “I am so glad you have come up, you can't tell. She is going your road, and you'll have to take her on, tomorrow morning.
“All right. If you say so, so it is. It's time we camped. I hurried on to catch you up, so that we might camp together.”
They had a merry party that night. Old Jamie and Alice were friends at once, and Alice's sorrow was lessened thereby.page 206
“Would you believe, Miss,” said Jamie, when tea was over; “that this obstinate acquaintance of mine”——
“Friend, Jamie, friend,” said the bullock-driver.
“Well, friend, then, as the honorable member for bullock-dray, allows me to call him—that he obstinately refuses, from a feeling of pride, to go home to his family, who would kill the fatted calf the moment they caught sight of his old phiz; and persists in remaining here in these antipodes, wasting his miserable existence as a bullock-driver!”
“Don't call names, Jamie,” said the bullock-driver, “or I'll have your words taken down. Besides, I want you to tell us a story. You've been in the Colony long enough to write a book.”
“I have that; but writing's not much in my line. I can talk, though, any amount. But what does the lady say?”
“I should much like to hear you,” said Alice.
“And my shock-headed friend?”
Grif grinned, and said He wos agreeable to listen; he wos wery fond of stories, he wos.
“Fire away, now,” said the bullock driver. “Something that occurred to yourself; no fibs, mind.”
“Very well. Did you remark,” he said, addressing Alice, “that when I spoke to my horses, I called one of them Truelove, and one of them Silver? I did not christen them by those names without a reason; and, to prove this, I will, if you please, tell you a real, right-down, veritable, true story, about a mate of mine, called
“I have seen so many strange things, since I have page 207 been in the Colony, and have seen the Colony itself pass through so many wonderful phases, that I sometimes grow bewildered when I think of them, and am apt to confuse one thing with another. When I am walking through Melbourne streets, my memory often carries me back to the time, and that not very long ago, when what are now magnificent, broad thoroughfares, lined with substantial buildings, were but tangled bush, in which one might lose oneself without much trouble. No fairy story can excel, in its imaginative details, the rapid and wondrous changes that have passed over Victoria since the gold discovery. Where banks transact that business which enables them to pay twenty per cent.; where merchants trade and negotiate for shipments from all parts of the world; where copies of London and Paris swells promenade; and where Fashion parades from morning to night—the Aboriginal stalked but yesterday in all his dirty savagery. You might have seen plenty of them, a dozen years ago, with their boomerangs and their dirty blankets (a luxury which all did not possess), and their black eyes glittering from beneath their dark hair; you may live in Melbourne now for years, and not see a single memento of the original possessor of the soil. They are fast dying oat, and by-and-by they will live only in the traditions of the country. I could tell you some stories about them that would make you whistle——I beg your pardon; I forgot that I was speaking to a lady. What I am going to tell you now, is the story of Silver-headed Jack.
“He was a mate of mine on the Echuca gold-diggings. Not silver-headed at that time, for he had the glossiest page 208 curls I ever saw. There were three of us together: myself, Silver-headed Jack, and Serious Muggins. Serious Muggins was not his proper name, you know, but the diggers have a knack of christening each other anew when they come together, and a name, once bestowed, sticks to a fellow all over the Colony. Serious Muggins had come out with Silver-headed Jack, and had got the title because he never smiled. He and Jack had been friends and companions at home, as you will find out presently. They were both about the same age, and of the same build; but you could not well imagine a greater contrast between any two men, than the contrast between Serious Muggins and Silver-headed Jack.
“Silver-headed Jack was always smiling; Serious Muggins was always frowning. If you could have transferred the smile from the face of Silver-headed Jack to that of Serious Muggins, I believe that Muggins would have been by far the handsomer man of the two; as it was, he was by far the uglier. For face is nothing, mates; what tells, is the expression that lights it up. If you'll excuse my being poetical, I should say that the face of Silver-headed Jack was like a bright day, and the face of Serious Muggins like a dark night.
“Well, we worked together on the Echuca for nearly six months; and if bad luck ever haunted one, and stuck to one, and worried one, and wouldn't go away from one, bad luck did all that to us. I said there were three of us in a party—myself, Silver-headed Jack, and Serious Muggins; it was a mistake of mine, for there were four of us—myself, Silver-headed Jack, page 209 Serious Muggins, and Bad Luck. We never sat down to a meal, but Bad Luck sat down with us, and didn't leave us enough to eat. We never marked out a claim, but Bad Luck got to the bottom before us, and took away the gold. We were among the first at a rush to a new flat, and we had marked out our claim, and had stuck our picks in it, when Bad Luck whispered to us that we were out of the line of the gold-lead. So we shifted our pegs, and another party took possession of our claim. We were only a few yards away from each other, and we bottomed at the game time. The other party bottomed on two ounces to the dish—we bottomed on two grains; and when I washed out the prospect, I looked up and saw Bad Luck grinning at us. If it had been a man, we would have stood up and took our revenge. As it was a spirit, we could only swear at it. Which we did, with a will.
“‘Floored again,’ said Silver-headed Jack, as we sat down at night to our mutton, and tea, and damper, and not much of those; ‘I wonder if we shall ever get a rise? Lizzie will die an old maid, and I shall die an old bachelor, if luck doesn't change.’
“‘Or she will be tired of waiting,’ said Serious Muggins, ‘and marry some one else.’
“‘She will never do that, as you know very well,’ returned Jack; ‘when I write home, I will tell her what you say.’
“Serious Muggins did not reply; but a darker shade stole over his countenance.
“You may guess from this, that Silver-headed Jack was in love. He had come away from home, betrothed to a page 210 young girl, whose face, judging from the picture he had of her, was just the face that any one might fall in love with, and be proud of. Now, let me tell you what I learned at that time, from my own observation. Serious Muggins and Silver-headed Jack had come out from the same village, had been schoolmates and companions all their lives, and were both in love with the same girl. Jack made no secret of his attachment; his friend kept his locked up in his breast.
“Yet I believe that if ever there was a man madly in love, and if ever there was a man madly jealous of the love he coveted, and which was given to another, that man was Serious Muggins. He had so possessed himself with the love he bore to her, that his lips would quiver, and every feature in his face would twitch, when he saw (as he saw daily) Silver-headed Jack take her letters from his pocket, and read them; and often, when Jack read aloud little scraps from them, he would go out of the tent abruptly, and make himself mad with drink at some grog-shanty. Silver-headed Jack could not help seeing this and taking notice of it, but he did not put the same construction upon it as I did.
“‘Poor fellow!’ he would say upon such occasions. ‘You see, Jamie, he was in love with her too, but she wouldn't have anything to say to him. I don't wonder it preys upon him; I know it would drive me mad, if I was to lose her. It is her love for me, and the thought of our being together by-and-by, that keeps me good. God bless her!’
“I couldn't help admiring the young fellow, and wishing him success. At the time that this took place, I was page 211 between forty and fifty years of age. Twenty years before that, I was in love, too, and with a woman that I thought then, and think now, the best, the purest in the world. Circumstances sent me to this Colony, and since then I have neither seen nor heard of her. I was not fit for her—I know that now; she was too good for me. But if heart-photographs could be taken, she might be seen on mine; and the memory of her dwells within me like a star that will light my soul to heaven.
“I never liked Serious Muggins. I always believed that if he could do Silver-headed Jack an ill turn, he would not scruple to do it; and I had observed that the effects of our ill-luck were different upon the two. Serious Muggins actually seemed pleased that we were not successful. You see, he might have argued within himself, that a rich claim would bring Silver-headed Jack nearer to the woman he himself loved. He was like the dog in the manger. I had reason to suspect him; for just before the time came for us to part company, this occurred that I am going to tell you.
“We were working a claim that was just turning out ‘tucker.’ There were three drives in it, and the last day I worked in them, I noticed that the pillars were firm and secure. The following morning, Serious Muggins had a spell below, and when he came up, Silver-headed Jack took his turn at the bottom. He had not been down a quarter of an hour, when I heard a great thud beneath me, and then a scream. I was working at the windlass, and Serious Muggins was chopping down a tree, a little distance off, for firewood. page 212 I cooeyed to him, and he came running up to me with a face so scared that I couldn't help noticing it.
“‘What's the matter?’ he asked, trembling all over.
“‘God knows,’ I replied, preparing to go down; ‘but I expect some part of the claim has fallen in. Lower me gently, and be careful to do exactly what I tell you, when I am at the bottom.”
“‘Is Jack below?’ he asked, eagerly.
“‘You know he is,’ I replied shortly. ‘Lower away.’
“By this time, two or three other diggers had strolled to the spot, and they lent a hand. When my head was even with the top of the claim, I looked up, and the only thing that struck my notice, was the white face of Serious Muggins, and a wild, triumphant, yet half-frightened look in his eyes. I took a step in the drive in which Silver-headed Jack had been working, and called out to him. I was dreadfully frightened at receiving no answer, and creeping along slowly and cautiously, I found that one of the pillars had given way, and that Silver-headed Jack had been knocked down senseless by the falling earth. Only a part of his body was buried—his head was free. We dug him out after a little trouble, and got him safely up. Five minutes after wards, the whole claim tumbled in. Jack was not much hurt. Beyond the shaking, and a few bruises, he had nothing the matter with him. We took away the windlass and our tools, and knocked off for the day.
“‘It is very strange,’ said Silver-headed Jack, as he lay resting on his back, on the stretcher; ‘I never touched the pillars. I was picking away at the bottom, when, without the slightest warning, the earth tumbled page 213 in. Did you notice anything, when you were down this morning?’ he asked of Serious Muggins, who was busy making a stew for tea.
“‘No,’ was the reply.
“‘Did you touch any of the pillars?’ I asked.
“‘I can't make it out,’ I said; ‘there has been no rain, and I will take my oath that when I was down yesterday, the claim was safe.’
“‘What, do you think’— —commenced Serious Muggins, when I interrupted him.
“‘I am not going to say what I think. But I am going to say this: I think we had better part. We have had nothing but bad luck since we have been together. We can't have much worse when we are away from each other, and we may have better. So to-morrow morning, my lads, we'll dissolve partnership.’
“A curious thing happened to me that night. We all slept in one tent. It was a pretty large one. Well, I woke up in the middle of the night, and, opening my eyes, I saw Serious Muggins sitting up in his bed, and kissing a picture. I thought I saw him crying, too. I must have turned in my stretcher; for Muggins threw a quick look at me, and hurriedly put out the light. I thought a good deal of this before I fell asleep again. I did not know that he had a picture he set much store on, and I settled in my mind that it was the picture of Jack's Lizzie that Muggins was kissing, and which he must have taken from under Jack's pillow. Although I suspected Muggins, I couldn't help pitying him.
“In the morning, we dissolved partnership. I page 214 would have liked Silver-head Jack for a mate, but he thought it a point of honor not to part from Serious Muggins. Jack did not entertain any suspicions of foul play, and I did not think I was justified in telling him my suspicions, for, after all, I might have been wrong. It was a pretty common thing for claims to tumble in from all manner of causes. So we parted, and I went away to another diggings.
“It was eighteen months before I saw either of them again. I heard of them at odd times as being now at one place and now at another, but I did not fall in with them. For my own part, during this time, I was always able to make wages, and was always in hopes of making a pile. I should think a gold digger's life is very much like a gambler's. There is the same feverish excitement about it, and although you may go on losing and losing, and wasting your time, there is always the chance of a run of luck setting in with the very next deal of the cards. At a new rush, for instance, while you are sinking your claim, your are always speculating as to what it will turn out; and when you go to sleep, you will dream, perhaps, that you have bottomed on a nugget, as big as your head. Such nuggets have been found, you know. Men at starvation point one day, may be tolerably rich the next. I once gave up a claim in disgust, after working at it for two months. Some new chums took it up a few days afterwards, and went home with twelve hundred pounds a piece for a month's work. If I had driven my pick two inches further, I should have come upon as rich a patch of gold as was ever found. During these eighteen months that I did not see page 215 Silver-headed Jack or Serious Muggins, I had only two mates. You will stare when I tell you that one of them was a woman! and a jolly good digger she was; she did as much work at the windlass as a man. Her husband was my mate, first; but he was seized with a paralytic stroke, and was in bed for a twelvemonth. So his wife, like a noble-minded brave woman as she was, worked for him by day, and nursed him by night. But he got worse instead of better, and she was advised to take him down to the Melbourne Hospital, if she wanted to save his life. When this occurred, I shifted my quarters, and fell in with my old mates. They were still working together; but they hadn't been much more fortunate than they were when we were all mates. They had a quartz claim, now, though, which they thought was going to turn out splendidly. But a great change had come over Silver-headed Jack. He had not heard of his Lizzie for six months, and he was fretting for means to take him home, to find out the cause of her not writing. In those six months he had grown a dozen years older. I I don't think Serious Muggins was very pleased to see me, but Silver-headed Jack was, and he offered to give me a small share in the claim—an eighth it was—if I would join them. It was a pretty fair offer, for the claim was nearly down to the reef, so I accepted it. Serious Muggins would have objected, I dare say, if he could have done so without being suspected of animosity; but the claim wanted a second man at the windlass, and he knew I was a good miner, so he was forced to put up with me. Well, one day, about three weeks after I joined them, we put in a blast and fired it; and when page 216 the smoke cleared away, and Jack got to the bottom, of the claim, he sent up a bucketful of quartz, in which we could see a good many specks of gold. We had struck the reef, and it seemed to promise to turn out well. It turned out a good deal better than we expected. The quartz was about three feet thick, and we calculated that it would run at least six ounces to the ton. We came upon a very rich patch, too—so rich, that I almost danced with delight when I handled the golden-veined lumps of stone. We raised about forty tons of quartz, and made arrangements for having it crushed at a machine that stood hard by. We took some of it to the machine in sacks, and put it, with our own hands, under the iron stampers. We didn't leave the machine until the whole of it was crushed. The first night we were all together watching the heavy iron stampers, beating down with their one-two-three-four time, and wondering what sort of a cake of gold the forty tons would turn out. I said that I thought there would be at least four hundred ounces.
“‘That will give me five hundred pounds for my share,’ said Silver-headed Jack. ‘I shall put a good wages-man in the claim, and go home to find out why Lizzie has not written to me. I can't help thinking there is some underhand work going on.’
“‘Phsa!’ said Serious Muggins. ‘She's tired of waiting, and has married some one else. You don't think a girl will wait for a man until she grows to be an old woman, do you?’
“‘I don't know what girls will or will not do,’ said Silver-headed Jack; ‘but I know that my Lizzie would page 217 wait for me all her life. I'm almost frightened to go home, for fear of hearing that something has happened to her. The world wouldn't be worth living in, without her.’
“‘Have you written to her?’ I asked.
“‘Yes, regularly. Only think of my working all these years, and never till now having the means to send for her, and after all not to know if she is dead or alive. Jamie,’ he said to me, ‘if I was to hear that she was dead, I'm sure I should go mad, or something dreadful would happen to me. You can't think think how I've set my heart on my Lizzie.’
“The crushing of that forty tons of quartz took nearly four days and four nights. They couldn't crush then as fast as they do now. Quartz crushing used to cost six pounds a ton, at that time; now, you can get it done for a pound. Well, it was all passed through the machine, and Jack and I were watching the washing out of the quicksilver. Serious Muggins had gone to the Post, to see if there were any letters (for the mail was expected), and he was to get us some supper ready by the time we came home with the gold. You may guess we kept a pretty sharp look-out upon the machine men, as they did their work; for it would have been the easiest thing in the world for them to have slipped a few pounds weight of the gold and quicksilver on one side, without our being a bit the wiser for it. There was nearly half a bucketful of the mixture. This was poured, about half a pint at a time, into a large chamois leather skin. The skin is porous, and upon being tightly squeezed, allows a large portion of the pure quicksilver page 218 to ooze out, retaining the gold, coated, of course, with quicksilver. It was not until the men came near the bottom of the bucket that we found how rich was the quartz that had been crushed. The first few skinsful of quicksilver escaped through the chamois leather like silver-water, and there was but little gold left; but, when we came near the bottom of the bucket, we jumped for joy at finding that it was nearly all gold. After all the quicksilver was passed through the leather, the amalgam was put into a large retort, and screwed down. The retort was then put into the furnace. When it got red-hot, the quicksilver began to rise in the iron tube, which is joined to the top of the retort, and came showering down into the pail of water beneath, like a rain of silver stars. I was glad when the shower lessened; for I was half frightened that the gold was being spirited away. Then the retort was taken out of the furnace, and opened, and there lay the beautiful gold, changing, in the process of cooling, into all the colors of the rainbow, I wonder if a miser, in counting his hoardings, experiences the same kind of pleasure that I experienced when I saw that splendid cake of gold! If he does, his rusty old heart must be lighted up by a very delightful feeling. The cake weighed six hundred and twenty ounces, so that the quartz had averaged nearly sixteen ounces of gold to the ton. Not so bad that, eh? Well, Silver-headed Jack wrapped up the precious golden saucer in his pocket-handkerchief, and we made our way to the tent. I had my revolver cocked, in case of any accident, I can tell you. When we got to the tent, I noticed that Serious Muggins was very pale. page 219 Jack opened his handkerchief, and looked at the gold triumphantly. As for me, I was running over with delight.
“‘Got you at last you beauty!’ I exclaimed. ‘Oh, you sly coquette! What coaxing you want before you give yourself up! Jacob didn't work harder or more patiently for Laban's daughter, than we have worked for you. Only think, Jack, of this bright beauty hiding herself in the caverns of the earth, and refusing to give herself up until we plucked her out of her miserable home. Can you imagine a bright-eyed damsel, Jack, sinking into the earth, and we diving after her, until we catch her in the rock which prevents her escape? Oh, you beauty! I could kiss you!’
“You see, I am a bit of a poet.
“‘I will kiss you,’ said Jack, lifting the cake of gold to his lips, ‘for you bring me nearer to my Lizzie. Hallo! Muggins! what's the matter?’
“‘I've got bad news for you, Jack,’ said Muggins.
“‘What news?’ asked Jack, dropping the gold, and turning quite pale.
“‘Well, man, go on.’
“‘She's dead, Jack,’ said Muggins, looking as white as Jack himself. ‘The mail's in. I've got letters from home.’
“Jack didn't say a word, but dropped into his seat, trembling, and covered his face. I beckoned to Serious Muggins, and we stole out of the tent; I thought it was best to let Jack fight with his grief alone. I knew what a blow this was to him. He had not been working for page 220 himself, but for his Lizzie; and just at the moment of success, to hear that she was dead—it was terrible. He was in a dreadful bad way about it. As I sat, outside the tent, smoking, I heard him talking to himself, strangely. We had left the cake of gold upon the table.
“‘You glittering devil,’ I heard him say, ‘why did you lure me away from my Lizzie? If it hadn't been for you, I should never have left home, and we should have been together now. What would it have mattered if we had been poor! Why did I fly from happiness to you, you false cruel devil?’
“I wouldn't have him disturbed the whole of that night. I knew all the talking in the world wouldn't ease him. But when I saw him in the morning, I started back in a fright. He was sitting upon the bench, with his face resting in his hands, staring fixedly at the cake of gold. He had evidently not moved during the whole night, and during that night, his hair had turned as white as silver! That was how he got to be called Silver-headed Jack. I tried to rouse him, but the answers he gave me were so vague and wandering, that I began to be afraid he had gone mad. I saw at once that he was very ill, so I ran for a doctor, who told me that my mate had gone in strong for the brain fever. Sure enough, he had, too. We thought he would never have come out of it, and it's my belief, to this day, that he never would, if one of the strangest things hadn't happened. I should say it was six weeks after Jack had been struck down. I had nursed him all the time (he wouldn't let Serious Muggins come near page 221 him), and the doctor said he couldn't last another week. How poor Jack raved while in that fever! I wonder that my hair didn't turn white through the frights he used to give me! He used to fancy Lizzie was in the tent with him, and he talked to her so naturally, sometimes waiting for her answers, that, during his pauses, I used to turn my head, half expecting to see Lizzie's white shade at my shoulder. I was sitting by the door of the tent one evening, listening to Jack's mutterings, for his tongue never seemed to stop; I was very troubled, for you see I liked Jack amazingly, and I pitied him, and could sympathise with him, for, as I told you, I have been in love myself. Of course, my pipe was in my mouth. What should we do without tobacco, I wonder! Do you know, I think tobacco prevents a good deal of mischief. What used we to say at school?—‘And Satan finds some mischief still, for idle hands to do.’ But a man isn't idle when he has a pipe in his mouth; it is occupation for him. And you may laugh at me, if you please, it is elevating, too. Men don't plan murder, when they have pipes in their mouths. They've got something else to do; they've got to smoke and think—and thinking, when you're smoking, is generally good thinking. I could philosophise on this for an hour; but it's time I finished my story. I will say, however, that I look upon tobacco as a real good friend.
“Well, on this evening, I was sitting at the door of the tent, when who should I see coming along the gully where our tent was pitched, but a woman. Our tent was nearly at the foot of the gully, and, of page 222 course, there was a hill shelving into it. I saw the woman at the first point of sight on that hill, and it almost seemed as if she came out of the sunlight. There were half-a-dozen tents scattered about, and she stopped at one of them and asked something. Imagine my surprise, when I saw the digger, to whom she had spoken, point to our tent, and when I saw her walking quickly towards me. She was a pretty, modest-looking lassie, and had a quiet, self-possessed air about her, which took me mightily. I was thinking over in my mind all sorts of things as to her, when she came up. My hair stood on end, and my knees began to shake, for I had seen the picture Silver-headed Jack set such great store on, and this lassie's face so resembled it, that I thought I was looking at a ghost. I believe, if I hadn't been so completely dumbfoundered, I should have run away.
“‘Does John Staveley live here?’ asked my ghost.
“John Staveley was Silver-headed Jack's proper name.
“‘He's living here, miss,’ said I, ‘and he's dying here.’
“‘My God!’ she exclaimed, and as she staggered, I caught her in my arms. ‘Don't tell me that!’
“‘Who are you?’ I asked.
“‘My name is Elizabeth Truelove,’ she answered.
“‘Jack's Lizzie!’ I cried.
“‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Don't tell me that he's dying.’
“‘He's dying because he heard that you were dead,’ I said. ‘You aren't dead, are you?’
“‘No,’ she said, holding out her hand. A true woman's loveable little hand—real pleasant flesh and blood.page 223
“‘I think I can see through it,’ I said, when I was convinced she wasn't a ghost. ‘Jack's very ill. If anybody can save him, you can. But don't be frightened, when you see him. He is much changed. His hair turned snow-white the night he heard you were dead. I've been his nurse, till now. You may as well go in and take my place.’
“She glided past me, and I walked away. I went straight to where I knew I should find Serious Muggins. He was in a concert-room, drinking with a lot of diggers. I went up to him quite coolly, and slapped his face. He started to his feet, and asked me what I meant by it?
“‘You're a lying scoundrel,’ I said; ‘and if you don't understand what I meant by the first tap, I'll give you another.’ And I gave him another—a pretty smart one, this time.
“He was bound to fight, you see. We went outside, and the diggers made a ring.
“‘Now, mates,’ I said, as I was tucking up my sleeves: he had stripped off his shirt. ‘You all know me pretty well. I have never done a dirty action in my life, and I never mean to do one. This fellow has done the meanest thing I ever heard of. When I have polished him off, I'll tell you what it is. And then if you don't think I've done right, you can throw me in the creek, if you like.’
“Serious Muggins fought like a devil. I must do him the justice to say that he was, physically, a brave man. But he had been drinking for a good many weeks, and that told on him. I don't think I should have licked him, but for that. As it was, after an hour's hard fighting, when I was pretty will done myself, he page 224 threw up his arms. Then, I told the diggers the trick he had played Silver-headed Jack, and how the woman he had said was dead was nursing my mate at the moment I was speaking. If Muggins hadn't been lying nearly dead on the ground, they'd have tarred and feathered him. As it was, they declared they would do so the next day. But the next day he was gone, and I never heard anything more of him. He left a rich claim behind him, and it was out of my share of that claim I bought my first team.
“When I got back to the tent, there was Lizzie True-love nursing poor Jack as tenderly—as a woman, I was going to say. That would have been a nice bull, wouldn't it? Do you know, that although she hadn't been in the tent two hours, it had got quite a different look in that short time. What a little treasure that woman is! It did me good to look at her! It appears that Muggins had intercepted all the letters; and Lizzie, uneasy at not hearing from Jack, and being sure of his constancy, had come out by herself, to learn what had become of him. That was faithful love, wasn't it? I don't think I have any occasion to tell you that Jack got well. He did get well, and he married his Lizzie after all. He gave up his own name, and took her's when they were married. But although he calls himself John Truelove, everybody else calls him Silver-headed Jack.”