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PAGE 4

The Geological Spieler
by [?]

Mr Stoneleigh expressed his thanks and his appreciation of the kindness shown him and his servant. He was extremely sorry to give them any trouble.

The navvy, a serious man, who respected genius or intellect in any shape or form, said that it was no trouble at all, the camp was very dull and the boys were always glad to have someone come round. Then, after a brief comparison of opinions concerning the probable duration of the weather which had arrived, they bade each other good night, and the darkness swallowed the serious man.

Steelman turned into the top bunk on one side and Smith took the lower on the other. Steelman had the candle by his bunk, as usual; he lit his pipe for a final puff before going to sleep, and held the light up for a moment so as to give Smith the full benefit of a solemn, uncompromising wink. The wink was silently applauded and dutifully returned by Smith. Then Steelman blew out the light, lay back, and puffed at his pipe for a while. Presently he chuckled, and the chuckle was echoed by Smith; by and by Steelman chuckled once more, and then Smith chuckled again. There was silence in the darkness, and after a bit Smith chuckled twice. Then Steelman said:

“For God’s sake give her a rest, Smith, and give a man a show to get some sleep.”

Then the silence in the darkness remained unbroken.

The invitation was extended next day, and Steelman sent Smith on to see that his baggage was safe. Smith stayed out of sight for two or three hours, and then returned and reported all well.

They stayed on for several days. After breakfast and when the men were going to work Steelman and Smith would go out along the line with the black bag and poke round amongst the “layers and stratas” in sight of the works for a while, as an evidence of good faith; then they’d drift off casually into the bush, camp in a retired and sheltered spot, and light a fire when the weather was cold, and Steelman would lie on the grass and read and smoke and lay plans for the future and improve Smith’s mind until they reckoned it was about dinner-time. And in the evening they would come home with the black bag full of stones and bits of rock, and Steelman would lecture on those minerals after tea.

On about the fourth morning Steelman had a yarn with one of the men going to work. He was a lanky young fellow with a sandy complexion, and seemingly harmless grin. In Australia he might have been regarded as a “cove” rather than a “chap,” but there was nothing of the “bloke” about him. Presently the cove said:

“What do you think of the boss, Mr Stoneleigh? He seems to have taken a great fancy for you, and he’s fair gone on geology.”

“I think he is a very decent fellow indeed, a very intelligent young man. He seems very well read and well informed.”

“You wouldn’t think he was a University man,” said the cove.

“No, indeed! Is he?”

“Yes. I thought you knew!”

Steelman knitted his brows. He seemed slightly disturbed for the moment. He walked on a few paces in silence and thought hard.

“What might have been his special line?” he asked the cove.

“Why, something the same as yours. I thought you knew. He was reckoned the best–what do you call it?–the best minrologist in the country. He had a first-class billet in the Mines Department, but he lost it–you know–the booze.”

“I think we will be making a move, Smith,” said Steelman, later on, when they were private. “There’s a little too much intellect in this camp to suit me. But we haven’t done so bad, anyway. We’ve had three days’ good board and lodging with entertainments and refreshments thrown in.” Then he said to himself: “We’ll stay for another day anyway. If those beggars are having a lark with us, we’re getting the worth of it anyway, and I’m not thin-skinned. They’re the mugs and not us, anyhow it goes, and I can take them down before I leave.”

But on the way home he had a talk with another man whom we might set down as a “chap.”

“I wouldn’t have thought the boss was a college man,” said Steelman to the chap.

“A what?”

“A University man–University education.”

“Why! Who’s been telling you that?”

“One of your mates.”

“Oh, he’s been getting at you. Why, it’s all the boss can do to write his own name. Now that lanky sandy cove with the birth-mark grin–it’s him that’s had the college education.”

“I think we’ll make a start to-morrow,” said Steelman to Smith in the privacy of their where. “There’s too much humour and levity in this camp to suit a serious scientific gentleman like myself.”