|Newspaper Title||Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||White Quartz|
by Arthur W. Upfield
AT noon the only thing that moved in the old gold boom town of White Quartz was an ancient goat languidly chewing a boot in the middle of the dust-covered only street. To be sure, there were Pat Hogan asleep on the broken verandah of his hotel, and Mr. Underwood lying on the flat of his back on the
verandah of his store across the way; but these two gentlemen moved but rarely. Outside, the heat shimmied and jazzed, as dur- ing prosperous summers long past it had jazzed and shimmied when the township consisted of three hotels, four stores, a police station and several dozen houses. But that was, indeed, long ago, when there was gold in the gullies and on the hillsides. A dog suddenly raised its head and growled. For a while it lis- tened. Then it ambled out on the road to gaze down the track, where it ran straight over a saltbush plain. What the dog saw made it raise its single prick ear and give a half-hearted yelp. Mr. Hogan slept on, but Mr. Underwood mur- mured: — "Shurrup. curse you!" The dog's ear dropped, but its fly-tortured eyes continued to gaze down the track. The nearer the object came the keener became the dog's interest, till at last it found continued silence unbearable and barked an excited welcome. Mr. Underwood grunted. With an effort he clawed his way up the verandah post till he stood on his feet. This movement brought the dog within view, and, noticing its fixed interest in something down the track, Mr. Underwood looked that way and saw what now appeared to be a horse-drawn dray. The driver was either asleep or drunk. From the store verandah Mr. Underwood descended to the track. He was a tall man and painfully thin— so thin, in fact, that, when he stooped to pick up his boot with his left hand and a piece of rock with his right, he looked in grave danger of breaking in halves. Hav- ing judged the distance to the cor- rugated iron roof directly above the sleeping Mr. Hogan and sent the stone on its mission, he turned towards his place of business. He heard the rock crash on the veran- dah roof above the recumbent Mr. Hogan, heard it bounce, heard it thud on the track, and at his fifth step heard a startled yell from Mr Hogan. "What - cher - mean - be - that?" yelled Mr. Hogan. Mr. Underwood turned slowly round with the dignity of his rank. Then, as though giving some mystic sign, he indicated the approaching dray with his thumb.
Without further interchange they awaited the conveyance. It was a large, cumbersome dray, drawn by a horse poorly conditioned and markedly lame. White streaks of sweat lined the edges of the har- ness where it touched the chest- nut body. Arrived, in White Quartz, the horse looked straight at Mr. Under- wood and Mr. Underwood's store, then examined with equal intent- ness Mr. Hogan and his hotel. Then it pulled over to the left and stopped before the verandah steps of Mr. Hogan 's shanty, and promptly dozed. What the stranger was was fairly apparent. A man about 60, with a greying full beard and brick-red complexion, wearing a large-brimmed felt hat and dun- garee trousers, his general appear- ance stamped him clearly as a prospector. Had his profession been doubtful, the dry-blower, the cradle, the wash-pans and the picks and shovels on the dray with him would have been decisive. Since it appeared that the stranger had no immediate inten- tion of waking, Mr. Hogan saun- tered along his verandah, des- cended the three steps to the ground and examined the horse, the dray, and the loading in the man- ner of one who had unlimited leisure and appreciates it. His eye finally centred, on the animal's hind rear leg, of which only the tip of the shoe rested on the ground. About the animal's lame foot Mr. Hogan observed two things. There was no swelling of the hock, and the shoe was loose and appeared prised from the hoof on one side by some solid wedged between. Any unnecessary move- ment Mr. Hogan never made. When, therefore. Mr. Underwood saw him give a swift glance at the sleeping traveller and then sud- denly stooped to look more closely at the horse's foot, his placidity vanished. With long strides he crossed the track, and so came on his fellow-citizen in the act of re- moving the obstruction with a blunt clasp-knife. And then for probably a full half-minute the two gentlemen of White Quartz gazed raptly at a piece of gold -studded pink quartz which lay on the palm of Mr. Hogan's hand. Their thoughts were the same. Quite recently the horse had stood, probably feeding, on an outcrop bearing many, many ounces of gold. From the open hand eyes lifted to meet avariciously. Mr. Hogan's head jerked sideways towards the door of the hotel. For perhaps five minutes they occupied the bar en- gaged in conference. Then Mr. Underwood came out again, descended to the road, kicked the one-eared dog out of his way, and brought up against the dray-wheel, against which he negligently leaned. "D'you think you'll be waking up
today, mister?" politely he asked. The sleeper stirred and mumbled, but did not respond. The question was put again in louder tone. The traveller opened a pair of deep blue eyes. "Good day-ee!" he drawled, pleasantly. "It this here the town- ship of White Quartz?" "It is. Come on down, mister, and join me in a sniffter." "I was dreamin' about one when you woke me up. Are you the pub- lican?" "Naw. I'm the storekeeper. Sell you anythink from a bar of soap to a dry-blower. Mr. Hogan is the owner of the hotel. Ah — here, he is." Leading the way to his bar, Mr. Hogan waddled round to his right- ful side of the dilapidated counter and said: "Phwat'a it to be?" "Mine's a handle," answered the stranger. Mr. Underwood nodded agree- ment, and, Mr. Hogan's taste in 'sniffters' being similar, he filled three glass pots with beer. "Come far?" he casually en- quired of the stranger. "So — so." "And 'ow far back may so and so be?" "Maybe a cuppler mile — maybe twenty." "'Well— welL It's a dry argument. Again, Mr. Hogan." For the next half-hour they in- dulged in many snifters, discussing in the intervals the weather, the elections of last year, and the rapid manner in which Australia would go ahead if the politicians would only let it. From taciturn the stranger became garrulous, and Mr. Underwood, with an oily smile, re- turned to the attack. "You must have come a distance today," he said. "Your horse ap- pears quite done up." "Shouldn't be,"' returned the stranger. "Camped at White Tank
lars night. Only nine miles back." He seemed to ponder. Then : "Well, mus' get on. Wanta hit Tolly's Dam tonight. Ten mile, ain't it?" "Yep, about that," Mr. Hogan agreed. "Goin' on ter day, or is it ter-morrer?" "Yaas. No dust ter spend. Wot, again? All right?" "You camp long at White Tank?" asked the thin man, putting a hand affectionately on the stranger's shoulder. "Only about a week," replied the stranger. "Goin' inter Dalby to register claim. Foun' a leader — no, found nothink. "Scuse me, gents. Mus' go on. Help me inter dray. Orl ri', then. My bloomin' oath!' Mr. Hogan placed the reins in the stranger's hands. Mr. Underwood slapped the horse's rump and cried a "Get up, there!" The two citizens of White Quartz watched the lumbering dray until it disappeared among the mulga scrub. Then Mr. Underwood walked swiftly to the stable beside the store to harness his horse to a light sulky. Meanwhile, the moment the stranger was hidden by the scrub, he appeared to recover his sobriety with amazing ease. Driving his horse a shade, he alighted and chained the wheel. After this he got an empty flour bag and went back to where he could view the township without being seen. With a grin he saw Mr. Hogan climb into the sulky with Mr. Un- derwood, and drive off to White Tank in search of the gold-bearing reef. He gave them five minutes start
before walking back to the town- ship, being careful to keep on the hard ground beside the road. For a while was invisible within Mr. Underwood's place of business. When he emerged his bag was weighty. At sundown the citizens of White Quartz returned highly disgruntled. They found where the stranger had camped, and had tracked the horse's aimless wanderings in search of grass, but not a sign of any reef, or outcrop, or any pieces of pink quartz did they find. And at sundown the stranger, sit- ting in his camp at Tolly's Dam, watched the billy come to the boil. He had the habit of many pros- pectors of talking aloud to himself. "A collection of rations, say, four quid. Four bottles of whisky and two of gin, is four ten, making, it eight, ten. Add a dozen bottles of beer at two bob, and we get nine pound fourteen, less about fourteen bob's worth of gold in that bit of quartz I picked up at Mount Mag- net. Them gents won't miss the aforesaid articles, and I don't miss me bit of quartz. It's funny how these poker-faced blokes thinks theirselves so clever."|| Names and characters used in stories in tine fiction pages of 'The Chronicle' are entirely invaginary and have no re- ference to real persons.