Read CHAPTER XVIII of The Tale of Timber Town , free online book, by Alfred Grace, on ReadCentral.com.

Digging.

Moonlight and Scarlett were glad with the delight of success, for inside their tent, which was pitched beside Bush Robin Creek, lay almost as much gold as one of them could conveniently carry to Timber Town.

They had searched the rocky sides of the gorge where they had first found gold, and its ledges and crevices had proved to be exceedingly rich. Next, they had examined the upper reaches of the creek, and after selecting a place where the best “prospects” were to be found, they had determined to work the bottom of the river-bed. Their “claim” was pegged off, the water had been diverted, and the dam had been strengthened with boulders taken from the river-bed, and now, having placed their sluice-boxes in position, they were about to have their first “washing up.”

As they sat, and ate their simple fare “damper” baked on the red-hot embers of their fire, a pigeon which Scarlett had shot that morning, and tea their conversation was of their “claim.”

“What do you think it will go?”

“The dirt in the creek is rich enough, but what’s in the flat nobody can say. There may be richer gold in some of the higher terraces than down here. I’ve known such cases.”

At the place where they were camped, the valley had been, at some distant period, a lake which had subsided after depositing a rich layer of silt, through which the stream had cut its way subsequently. Over this rich alluvial deposit the forest had spread luxuriantly, and it was only the skill of the experienced prospector that could discover the possibilities of the enormous stretches of river silt which Nature had so carefully hidden beneath the tangled, well-nigh impenetrable forest.

“The river is rich,” continued Moonlight, “that we know. Possibly it deposited gold on these flats for ages. If that is so, this valley will be one of the biggest ‘fields’ yet developed. What we must do first is to test the bottom of the old lake; therefore, as soon as we have taken the best of the gold out of the river, I propose to ‘sink’ on the terraces till I find the rich deposit.”

“Perhaps what we are getting now has come from the terraces above,” said Jack.

“I think not.”

“Where does it come from then?”

“I can’t say, unless it is from some reef in the ranges. You must not forget that there’s the lower end of the valley to be prospected yet we have done nothing below the gorge.”

Talking thus, they ate their “damper” and stewed pigeon, and drank their “billy” tea. Then they lit their pipes, and strolled towards the scene of their labours.

The place chosen for the workings was selected by circumstance rather than by the diggers. At this particular point of its course there had been some hesitation on the part of the river in choosing its bed, and with but a little coaxing it had been diverted into an old channel which evident signs showed to be utilised as an overflow in time of flood and thus by a circuitous route it found its way to the mouth of the gorge.

All was ready for the momentous operation of washing up, and the men’s minds were full of expectation.

The bottom of fine silt, which had been laid bare when the boulders had been removed, stood piled on the bank, so as to be out of harm’s way in case the river burst through the dam. Into the old bed a trickle of water ran through the sluice-boxes. These were set in the dry bed of the stream, and were connected with the creek by a water-race. They were each twelve feet in length, and consisted of a bottom and two sides, into which fitted neatly a twelve-foot board, pierced with a number of auger-holes. These boxes could be joined one to another, and the line of them could thus be prolonged indefinitely. The wash-dirt would be shovelled in at the top end, and the water, flowing down the “race,” would carry it over the boxes, till it was washed out at the lower end, leaving behind a deposit of gold, which, owing to its specific gravity, would lodge in the auger-holes.

Moonlight went to the head of the “race,” down which presently the water rushed, and rippled through the sluice-boxes. Next, he threw a shovelful of wash-dirt into the lower part of the “race,” and soon its particles were swept through the sluice, and another shovelful followed.

When Moonlight tired, Scarlett relieved him, and so, working turn and turn about, after an hour they could see in the auger-holes a small yellow deposit: in the uppermost holes an appreciable quantity, and in the lower ones but a few grains.

“It’s all right,” said Moonlight, “we’ve struck it.” He looked at the great heaps of wash-dirt on the bank, and his eyes shone with satisfaction.

“Do you think the dam will hold?” asked Scarlett of the experienced digger.

“It’s safe enough till we get a ’fresh’,” was the reply. Moonlight glanced at the dripping rampart, composed of tree-trunks and stones. “But even if there does happen to be a flood, and the dam bursts,” he added, “we’ve still got the ‘dirt’ high and dry. But we shall have warning enough, I expect, to save the ‘race’ and sluice-boxes.”

“It meant double handling to take out the wash-dirt before we started to wash up,” said Scarlett, “but I’m glad we did it.”

“Once, on the Greenstone,” said Moonlight, “we were working from the bed of the creek. There came a real old-man flood which carried everything away, and when we cleaned out the bed again, there wasn’t so much as a barrowful of gold-bearing dirt left behind. Once bitten, twice shy.”

If the process was monotonous, it had the advantage of being simple. The men slowly shovelled the earth into the last length of the “race,” and the running water did the rest. In the evening, a big pile of “tailings” was heaped up at the foot of the sluice, and as some of the auger-holes were half-filled with gold, Moonlight gave the word for cleaning out the boxes.

The water from the dam was cut off, leaving but a trickle running through the boxes. The false bottoms were then taken out of the sluice, and upon the floors of the boxes innumerable little heaps of gold lay exposed to the miners’ delighted eyes.

The heavy gold, caught before it had reached the first sluice-box, lay at the lower end of the “race.” To separate the small quantity of grit that remained with the gold, the diggers held the rich little heaps claw-wise with their fingers, while the rippling water ran through them. Thus the gold was left pure, and with the blade of a sheath-knife, it was easily transferred to the big tin dish.

“What weight?” asked Jack, as he lifted the precious load.

Moonlight solemnly took the “pan” from his mate. “One-fifty to one-sixty ounces,” he said oracularly. His gaze wandered to the heap of wash-dirt which remained. “We’ve washed about one-sixth,” he said. “Six times one-fifty is nine hundred. We’ll say, roughly, L4 an ounce: that gives us something like L3600 from that heap.”

As night was now approaching, they walked slowly towards their tent, carrying their richly-laden dish with them. Sitting in the tent-door, with their backs to the dark forest and their heads bent over the gold, they transferred the precious contents of the dish to a strong chamois-leather bag. Moonlight held open the mouth of the receptacle, and watched the process eagerly. About half the pleasant task was done, when suddenly a voice behind them said, “Who the blazes are you?”

Turning quickly, they saw standing behind them two men who had emerged from the forest.

Seizing an axe which lay beside him, Moonlight assumed an attitude of defence. Scarlett, who was weaponless, stood firm and rigid, ready for an onslaught.

“You seem to have struck it,” said the newcomer who had spoken, his greedy eyes peering at the dish. “Do put down that axe, mate. We ain’t bushrangers.”

Moonlight lowered the head of his weapon, and said, “Yes, we’ve got the colour.”

“Blow me if it ain’t my friend Moonlight!” exclaimed the second intruder, advancing towards the diggers. “How’s yerself?”

“Nicely, thank you,” replied Moonlight. “Come far to-day?”

“A matter of eight hours’ tramp but not so fer; the bush is mighty thick. This is my mate. Here, Ben, shake ’ands.”

It was none other than Benjamin Tresco who came forward. As he lowered his “swag” to the ground, he said, smiling urbanely, “How de do? I reckon you’ve jumped our claim. But we bear no malice. We’ll peg out another.”

“This ain’t ours,” said the Prospector, “not by chalks. You’re above the gorge, ain’t you?”

“Yes,” replied Moonlight, “I should reckon we must be a mile above it.”

“Where I worked,” continued Bill, “was more’n a mile below the gorge. What are you makin’?”

“A few pennyweights,” responded Moonlight.

“It looks like it!” exclaimed the Prospector, glancing at the richly-laden dish. “Look ’ere, Ben: a few pennyweights, that’s all just makin’ tucker. Poor devils!”

Moonlight laughed, and so did Scarlett.

“Well, we might do worse than put our pegs alongside theirs, eh, Ben?”

“Oceans worse,” replied Tresco.

“Did you prospect the gorge?” asked Moonlight.

“I wasn’t never in the gorge,” said the Prospector. “The river was too high, all the time I was working; but there’s been no rain for six weeks, so she’s low now.”

Tresco advanced with mock trepidation, and looked closely at the gold in the chamois-leather bag, which he lifted with assumed difficulty. “About half a hundredweight,” he said. “How much more of this sort have you got?”

Moonlight ignored the question, but turning to the Prospector, he said, “I shouldn’t have left till I’d fossicked that gorge, if I’d been you.”

“Then you’ve been through it?” queried Bill.

Moonlight nodded.

“How did it pan out?”

“There was gold there.”

“Make tucker, eh?” the Prospector laughed. “Well this’ll be good enough for us. We’ll put in our pegs above yours. But how you dropped on this field just gits over me. You couldn’t have come straighter, not if I’d shown you the way myself.”

“Instinct,” replied Moonlight. “Instinct and the natural attraction of the magnet.” He desired to take no credit for his own astuteness in prospecting.

Scarlett had so far said nothing, but he now invited the newcomers to eat, before they pitched their tent.

“No, no,” said the Prospector, “you must be on pretty short commons you must ha’ bin out a fortnight and more. Me an’ my mate’ll provide the tucker.”

“We are a bit short, and that’s the truth,” said Moonlight, “but we reckon on holding out till we’ve finished this wash-up, and then one of us’ll have to fetch stores.”

While Benjamin and his mate were unpacking their swags and Scarlett was lighting the fire, Moonlight transferred the rest of the gold from the dish to the leather bag.

When the four men sat down to their frugal meal of “billy” tea, boiled bacon, and “damper,” they chatted and laughed like schoolboys.

“Ah!” exclaimed Tresco, as red flames of the fire shot toward the stars and illumined the gigantic trunks of the surrounding trees, “this is freedom and the charm of Nature. No blooming bills to meet, no bother about the orders of worrying customers, no everlasting bowing and scraping; all the charm of society, good-fellowship, confidence, and conversation, with none of the frills of so-called civilization. But that is not all. Added to this is the prospect of making a fortune in the morning. Now, that is what I call living.”