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PAGE 3

The Geological Spieler
by [?]

The boss blinked and knitted his brow, but had the presence of mind to say: “Just so.”

“Had the rock on that cutting been healthy–been alive, as it were–you would have had your work cut out; but it is dead and has been dead for ages perhaps. You find less trouble in working it than you would ordinary clay or sand, or even gravel, which formations together are really rock in embryo–before birth as it were.”

The boss’s brow cleared.

“The country round here is simply rotting down–simply rotting down.”

He removed his spectacles, wiped them, and wiped his face; then his attention seemed to be attracted by some stones at his feet. He picked one up and examined it.

“I shouldn’t wonder,” he mused, absently, “I shouldn’t wonder if there is alluvial gold in some of these creeks and gullies, perhaps tin or even silver, quite probably antimony.”

The boss seemed interested.

“Can you tell me if there is any place in this neighbourhood where I could get accommodation for myself and my servant for a day or two?” asked Steelman presently. “I should very much like to break my journey here.”

“Well, no,” said the boss. “I can’t say I do–I don’t know of any place nearer than Pahiatua, and that’s seven miles from here.”‘

“I know that,” said Steelman reflectively, “but I fully expected to have found a house of accommodation of some sort on the way, else I would have gone on in the van.’

“Well,” said the boss. “If you like to camp with us for to night, at least, and don’t mind roughing it, you’ll be welcome, I’m sure.”

“If I was sure that I would not be putting you to any trouble, or interfering in any way with your domestic economy—“

“No trouble at all,” interrupted the boss. “The boys will be only too glad, and there’s an empty whare where you can sleep. Better stay. It’s going to be a rough night.”

After tea Steelman entertained the boss and a few of the more thoughtful members of the party with short chatty lectures on geology and other subjects.

In the meantime Smith, in another part of the camp, gave selections on a tin whistle, sang a song or two, contributed, in his turn, to the sailor yarns, and ensured his popularity for several nights at least. After several draughts of something that was poured out of a demijohn into a pint-pot, his tongue became loosened, and he expressed an opinion that geology was all bosh, and said if he had half his employer’s money he’d be dashed if he would go rooting round in the mud like a blessed old ant-eater; he also irreverently referred to his learned boss as “Old Rocks” over there. He had a pretty easy billet of it though, he said, taking it all round, when the weather was fine; he got a couple of notes a week and all expenses paid, and the money was sure; he was only required to look after the luggage and arrange for accommodation, grub out a chunk of rock now and then, and (what perhaps was the most irksome of his duties) he had to appear interested in old rocks and clay.

Towards midnight Steelman and Smith retired to the unoccupied whare which had been shown them, Smith carrying a bundle of bags, blankets, and rugs, which had been placed at their disposal by their good-natured hosts. Smith lit a candle and proceeded to make the beds. Steelman sat down, removed his specs and scientific expression, placed the glasses carefully on a ledge close at hand, took a book from his bag, and commenced to read. The volume was a cheap copy of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. A little later there was a knock at the door. Steelman hastily resumed the spectacles, together with the scientific expression, took a note-book from his pocket, opened it on the table, and said, “Come in.” One of the chaps appeared with a billy of hot coffee, two pint-pots, and some cake. He said he thought you chaps might like a drop of coffee before you turned in, and the boys had forgot to ask you to wait for it down in the camp. He also wanted to know whether Mr Stoneleigh and his man would be all right and quite comfortable for the night, and whether they had blankets enough. There was some wood at the back of the whare and they could light a fire if they liked.