Chapter 64226771

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Chapter NumberXII
Chapter TitleTHE SOLITARY DIGGER.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article64226771
Full Date1891-10-31
Page Number1
Corrections2
Word Count1647
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2018-06-17
Newspaper TitleBathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 - 1904)
Trove TitleThe Mount Macedon Mystery
article text

CHAPTER XII.

THE SOLITARY DIGGER.

Our goldfields are responsible for many rapid fortunes, and for innumerable de- pleted pockets. Fortunes's wheel turned in these auriferous districts very rapidly, but though there were many great prizes, attached thereto, the blanks bore an un- due proportion to the winning tickets. The few gained while the many lost.

Assuredly the most erratic and frolic- some of Fortune's pranks were played on the Berlin and Moliagul gold-fields. In these places enormous fortunes were made by a single stroke of the pick. While thousands toiled without getting a "color" a lucky digger would stumble, over an anthill and lay bear a 30lb. nug- get. Four newchum Chinamen went out the first morning on the Moliagul field and laid bare the enormous slab of pure gold named the "Moliagul Lump," supposed to have been the largest nugget ever

discovered. It is only supposition, how- ever, for the Chinese, frightened at los- ing such a fortune, at one sweep cut the yellow mass into four pieces, and obtain- ing the aid of a fellow, countryman, who could speak "pidgeon" English, sold the gold to a bank at Inglewood. The interpreter was as cunning as Brete Harte's heathen however, and di- vided the gross proceeds by five instead of four, a lapse from the laws of meum and tuum which got him into trouble. Other adventurers on these rich but patchy fields were not so soon enabled to return to their native land as these Chinese, but the finding of large nuggets was of frequent occurrence, and many diggers suddenly acquired a competence for life.

If a nugget were not found, probably a thin reef, which was frequently a streak of gold would be discovered, and the pauper of to-day would become the Crœsus of to-morrow. It was a life of hope and excitement, and suited the wild spirits who were gathered there during the "sixties." For some months in the year 1866, a solitary miner had laboured on the Moliagul field in quest of a buried for- tune, which apparently he could not find. His habits were reserved, so that he had few acquaintances and no friends, but in those days people did not trouble themselves much about their neighbours' affairs, nor seek to pry into one's his- tory. The gold-field was a great "Liberty Hall " where he who came could sit above or below the salt as he pleased. There was no one to say him nay. The morose stranger often visited the shanty, some quarter of a mile off, which did duty as a general store, haberdashery and chemist's shop, in addition to retail- ing the fire water, which dogs the steps of the Anglo-Saxon and Celt all over the globe. Although going ostensibly for provi- sions, he invariably visited the rough bar and drank deeply of the vile spirit re- tailed there. Even in his cups he made no friends, and gradually residents on the field began to shun him, for if he did not want their company they were per- fectly independent of his. The ground he worked was shallow, and he was thus able to carry on opera- tions alone. This he did at all hours. Often he would idle during the day and

make up for the spell at night, and thus he carried on his desultory labor. It was one Spring evening in the latter end of September that he walked from his tent towards the little claim, carry- ing his lantern, for he meant to put in a night shift. He was a rather tall and good-looking man, though his face was marred by a peculiar shifting, restless look in the eyes, His large, though bony frame, showed that with a less trying life he would be portly, but roughing it on the diggings, or carrying a swag twenty or thirty miles a day under a burning sun,

are not the best methods of putting on fat. The shaft was not more than seven feet deep, and was evidently bottomed, for the owner had begun driving. After resting for a few minutes he lighted the primitive lantern he carried — a candle stuck in the neck of a half brandy bottle — as darkness was fast set- ting in, and descended. He had taken the wash out for some distance around, and apparently with un- satisfactory results, for he muttered some- thing about "having another try at the duffer." He soon got to work, and in a few hours had a lot of washdirt at the bottom of the hole ready to raise to the sur- face. He was sitting on an upturned bucket, smoking contentedly, preparatory to raising the dirt, when his eyes caught a glitter on one side of the drive, which reflected back the feeble rays of the candle. "A spec, I suppose," he said, as in a stooping posture he made his way to the object. He touched it with his finger, expect- it to come away, but it did not stir,, and in fact showed a greater area of reflec- tion. Then, rather excitedly, he tried to dis- lodge the gold, for such he at once saw it was, but it resisted his efforts. He scraped the wash away from it with his fingers, but the process was slow, and perspiring with anticipation he moved back and got the pick with which he soon cleared the dirt away, revealing and im- mense nugget. It was fully eighty pounds in weight, and, trembling with excitement, he carried it to the bottom of the shaft, where he sat gloating over it. "Now I can end this accursed life and take my place in society where I ought to be," the solitary digger said. "I might as well be a beast as to live like this, but what can a man do in a city without money." Then he picked up the nugget and held it in his two hands trying to test the weight. " It's worth three or four thousand pounds, I am certain," he muttered. . Looking upward he hastily turned and blew out the light, fearful that prying eyes might detect his treasure and rob him of it. Taking a large coat which he had brought with him, he carefully wrapped it up and with difficulty ascended the steps in the side of the hole which did duty for a ladder. " The other things can stop there, I shall not require them again. But per- haps there may be another find below. I must look," he added, as he descended

with his precious load. Relighting the candle and seizing the pick he groped around, searching the sides, the top and the bottom of the wash, but no treasure met his eye. Wisely, considering that he should be content with what ho had, the lucky digger again clambered to the surface, and with many a glance around conveyed the gold to his tent, where he mounted guard over it, not daring to sleep for fear it should disappear. Many people cannot slumber because they lack gold, whilst others who have a superbundance of the precious metal in vain woo "nature's sweet restorer." There were plenty of gold-buyers on the field, and during the day the digger, carefully disguising the nugget, conveyed it to one of them. It turned the scale at nine hundred ounces, and the solitary

digger left the buyers presence with £3500 odd. " It is not exactly a fortune," he murmured, "but when I spend it I can look out for more. "The same un- thrifty spirit animated many other diggers in those days." After that the strange digger was not again seen on the field, and residents began to talk. "I wonder what's become of the bad tempered chap that had this claim. I have'nt seen him for about a fortnight," said a miner named Duggan to his mate as they were passing the claim lately vacated by the lucky digger. " I suppose he's made his fortune and gone away to spend it," was the satirical though, unwittingly, truthful answer. "There may have been a 'cave in,' " suggested Duggan. "Let's go down and see." They descended the shallow hole, but there was no "cave in." The pick, shovel, bucket and piece of candle were at the bottom, which was rather un- usual. " He must think we're an honest lot round here," said one of the men. "He means to turn up again at any rate," replied the other, as they climbed out and went away. But the solitary and morose digger was

after the foregoing conversation his pro- longed absence aroused a suspicion that he might be ill in his tent, which he had left standing, but on a search being made it was found to be empty, and the interior showed that its owner had taken what he wanted and left the district. The police took possession of the tent and what effects were left, and a few days later from what the gold buyer told them they concluded that the property be- longed to the man who had found the big nugget — the discovery of which had only leaked out a few days previously — and that he would not return to claim Moliagul had given up another of its prizes in fortune's lottery, and the win- ner — like an absentee landlord — had gone away to bestow the fruits on and swell the wealth of another place.