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King Billy Of Ballarat
by [?]

King Billy was given to strolling up and down the streets of Ballarat when that eviscerated city was merely in process of disembowelment, before alluvial mining gave way to quartz-crushing, when the individual had a chance, if a very vague one, of sudden and delightful fortune. The Ballarat blacks were a scaly lot, to talk of them like ill-fed hogs, as men were wont to do. They dwined and dwindled, as natives will before the resources of civilisation: the bloodthirsty ones got killed out; the rumthirsty ones died out; the wild corroboree was reduced to a poverty-stricken imitation of its former glory. King Billy’s authority grew less with the increase of his clothes. The brass plate with his name on it was about the last relic of his precarious power, and was chiefly valued as a means of notifying the public generally that they might stand drinks to a monarch if they saw fit and were not too humble. He was not haughty, and never presumed on his plate, as parvenus will. He came of an ancient stock, and could afford to condescend, even if he could not afford to pay for drinks. He was very kind to children,–white children, of course,–and was hale-fellow-well-met with many of them.

He was particularly fond of Annie Colborn, whose father was a magistrate and a gold commissioner, and a person of very great importance. Whether or not King Billy was wise in his generation, and out of the unwritten Scriptures of the somber bush had culled a maxim inculcating the wisdom of making friends of the sons of Mammon, I cannot say, but he was always good to Annie. For my own part, I do not believe the simple-hearted old king had any such notion inside his thick antipodean skull. He was good because he was not bad, which is the very best morality after all, and a great advance on much we hear of. And, besides, he was sometimes hungry, and Mr. Colborn’s Chinese cook was very haughty, and not to be approached except through an intermediary. And who so capable of conciliating Wong as Annie? Wong would make her cakes even when his pigtail hung despondently from his aching head after an opium debauch, and his cheeks were shining with anything but gladness; for if you get drunk very often on opium you shine.

Old Billy was mostly to be found where there was a chance of a drink; but if the fountains were dried up, or he had been insulted by some democratic, revolutionary, king-hating miner knocking his high hat down over his eyes, he usually went up to Mr. Colborn’s place, and sat on the fence, or on a log outside the gate. So he was often very melancholy when Annie came out. One day his hat was very, very badly bulged indeed.

“Your hat is very bad to-day, King Billy,” said six-year-old Annie, as she stood in front of him critically, with her head on one side. Without knowing it, the child had come to look upon the state of the poor king’s hat as emblematical of his state of mind. When it shut up like a closed concertina his barometer was low.

“Yes, missy,” said the king; “white man knock ‘um over eyes, and”– with a rub down his face–“skin ‘um nose.”

She inspected his nose carefully–though from a certain distance, because her own nose was very good, both inside and out, and she knew the king never got washed unless it rained when he was very drunk. And this was the end of summer. It had not rained since November.

“There is not very much skin off,” said Annie. “You had better wash it.”

The king made a wry face and changed the conversation.

“You got ‘um hat, Missy Annie? One hat baal brokum, allasame white fellow hat. Bad hat, King Billy bad; black fellow, white fellow laugh.”