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Mary Musgrave
by [?]

“Nine carets ef it’s a blessed one.”

“Scale ‘im, an’ ye’ll find he’s a half better. Clear es a bottle o’ gin, an’ flawless es the pope! Tommy Dartmoor, ye’re in luck, s’ welp me never ef ye ain’t, an’ that’s a brilliant yer can show the polis an’ not get time fer.”

Tommy Dartmoor, who owed his surname to a crown establishment within the restraining walls of which he had once enjoyed a temporary residence, growled out a recommendation to “stow that,” and then added, “Boys, we’ll wet this. Trek to Werstein’s.”

Forthwith a crowd of dirty, tanned diggers turned their heads in the direction of Gustav Werstein’s American Bar, and walked toward it as briskly as the heat and their weariness would admit of. The Israelite saw them coming, straightened himself out of the half-doze in which he had passed the baking afternoon, stopped down the tobacco in the porcelain bowl of his long-stemmed pipe with stumpy forefinger, and, twisting a cork off his corkscrew, stood in readiness.

“Name yer pizons, boys, an’ get outside ’em, wishin’ all good luck to R’yal Straight; R’yal Straight bein’ the name o’ this yer stone given by Thomas D. Hesquire, original diskiverer an’ present perprietor.”

The orders were given,–bass at five shillings a bottle, champagne (nee gooseberry) at five pounds, Cape smoke at two shillings per two fingers,–and, at a given signal, there was an inarticulate roar from dusty throats, an inversion of tumblers over thirsty mouths, and a second inversion over the ground to show that all the contents had disappeared.

Satan, the one cat and only domestic pet of the camp, saw that there was a general treat going on, and bustling up for his drink took a can of condensed milk at six shillings. Other diggers came trooping in as the news spread, and Tommy Dartmoor, who was rapidly becoming mellow, for he drank half a tumbler of raw whisky with every one who nodded to him, stood them refreshments galore, while the greasy Jew began to see visions of his adopted fatherland in the near distance.

So the Kaffirs, except those who had supplies of their own, kept sober and peaceful, while the higher order of the human race at Big Stone Hole, after the manner of their kind, began to squabble. It was natural for them to do so, perhaps, for the weather was so hot, and the liquors, for the most part, more so; and under these circumstances men do not always cast about them long for a casus belli. One or two minor brawls opened the ball, and Herr Gustav, scenting battle in the air, drew from a locker a card, which he balanced against the bottles on a shelf above his head. It read thus:

GENTS IS REKESTED TO SHOOT
CLEAR OF THE BARR-KEP.
BROKIN GLAS MAY BE PADE FOR
AT COST PRISE.

and had been written for the German by a gentleman who had had some experience in Forty Rod Gulch, Nevada. The action elicited a contemptuous laugh from one or two of the new hands, but the oldsters began shifting sundry articles which depended from their belts into positions from which they might be handled at the shortest notice; and the black cat, more wise than any of them, having drunk his fill, stalked solemnly out into the security of the darkness.

The sun went down,–went out with a click, some one declared,–and, as no twilight interposed between daylight and darkness in the country which Big Stone Hole ornamented, Herr Gustav lit his two paraffin- lamps. Neither boasted more than a one-inch wick, and, as their glasses were extremely smoky, the illumination was not brilliant; but it sufficed to show the flushed, angry faces of a couple of men standing in the centre of the room, with all the others clustered round, watching eagerly. One was the Scholar. The other was a burly giant, whose missing left little finger caused him to be nicknamed the Cripple. About what they had originally fallen out was not clear to any one, to themselves least of all. As the case stood when the second lamp was lit, Scholar had called Cripple a something-or-other liar, and Cripple, who was not inventive, had retorted by stigmatising Scholar as another. Further recriminations followed, and their pistols were drawn; but as the audience had a strong objection to indiscriminate shooting, by which it was not likely to benefit, the belligerents were seized. No one was unsportsmanlike enough to wish to stop the fight, and Jockey Bill, giving voice to the general wish of the meeting, proposed that the gents be fixed up agin’ a couple o’ posts outside, where they might let daylight into each other without lead-poisoning casual spectators.