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Cuddio Rhestr Erthyglau

12 erthygl ar y dudalen hon

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-n_ fALL RIGHTS RESERVED.] LUCK AT THE DIAMOND FIELDS. .BY DALRYMPLE J. BELGRAVB (BARRISTER- AT-LAW). A COMPACT. IT was at the George Hotel" at Portsmouth (said Gordon, as we paced the deck of the Trojan on our voyage home) that I spent my last evening in England with my brother. The next day I was to see him off for Cape Coast Castle, where he was going to serve with his regiment in the Ashantee war. To-day I can remember the dingy old smoking- room in which we sat till late at night, talking over the home and school days which were over, and our lives, which having always run together, seemed then to be branching far apart. We had no other relations alive; our father had died that year. The old castle in Sutherland, in which we had been born, had been sold to a rich London stock-broker, and our life seemed to have come to an end. My brother, he was the elder, had chosen the army for his pro- fession. He would have little but his pay to live upon, but it seemed to him to be the proper career for one of his race. I had determined to make money; it had been my dream that I would make my fortune in some distant part of the world where fortunes were to be made easily, though I did not quite know how. I was to come back to Scotland and settle down there, and we Gordons were to take our own place again. A few days after my brother sailed I was to start for South America, the country I had at last determined to be the land where that fortune would be soonest made. My brother had listened to all my schemes and then we had talked about the campaign for which he was going to start. I think we both thought a good deal of the terrible climate he was going to face, and we became grave as the idea came into our minds that the next day's parting was likely to be a long one. There was a story in our family that both of us must have been thinking of, for while it was in my mind my brother Donald suddenly spoke about it. The story was of a com- pact made between our grandfather and his brother. They were both soldiers, and their regiments were en service, one in Spain and the other in America. i'he agreement was that if one of them were killed, he would, if he were allowed to do so, appear to the other. Our uncle was killed in America, and it was always believed most religiously in our family that he was allowed to perform hie promise And that on the day he was killed my grandfather, who was in Spain, saw him and knew of his death. It was of this story as we grew more thoughtful, on that last evening we were to spend together, my brother reminded me. Let us make the same promise; the one who lives will be the last of our name and race, and perhaps it would be as well for him to know it at once," he said to me. We had both become grave and earnest enough, and as we grasped each other's hands and made that promise I think we felt it was not one lightly made. The next morning I saw him off. He said no more about our promise, yet as he stood on the deck of the troopship and I on the dockyard, I think we both thought o it. Neither King Koffee or the more dire potentate King Fever hurt my brother, and he came home well and in good spiriti;, and got on in the service, and of what fighting there was managed to see plenty. I am sorry to say that, unlike him, I did not fulfil the career I had mapped out for myself. I went to South America and did not succeed; and then tried one country after another, until one day, some nine years after I left England, I found myself in South Africa, finishing a long tramp from the gold fields to the Diamond Fields. So far that fortune which I had gone out to seek was as far away in the future as ever. I had ceased even to hope for it. I had been a pro- verbial rolling stone and had gathered no moss. I had tried my luck in Canada, Australia, and South Africa, and had found each country worse than the one I had been in before. My experiences were not very interesting, and they would only make a tale which has already been told many a time before. I had begun to laugh grimly at my old hopes of making a fortune, Iond bringing back some of the family property. And yet my ideas had not been so absurd either; I bad seen men whose chances did not seem to be much better than mine succeed and make something like the fortune I had dreamt of. Still I laughed when I contrasted my life with what I had expected it would have been. Certainly there had been plenty ef incident in it; but it was a better life to talk about than to live-a life full of long dreary days of rough uncongenial society, and I am sorry to say, of coarse, brucalising dissipation and of degrading poTerty brought about thereby. I failed at first from bad luck, and afterwards from my own fault. After one or two failures I came to South Africa and went' up to the Diamond Fields. Kimberley, when I came there, seemed to be the city of the prodigal son. He was there devouring his substance and getting the worst of its kind for it, and feeding the swine, or rather, minding a bar, which is a good colonial equivalent, and only too ready to eat of the husk he served out. I had little substance to devour, and when I had used it up was not even as lucky as the prodigal, for I got nothing to do at all. From there I went up to the gold-fields in the Transvaal, and two years of varied luck in digging ended in my being on my way tramping back. I had not done much towards making my fortune, I had not a penny in my pocket, my boots were worn out, and I had not had a meal for twelve hours, and I was very doubtful as to how or where I should get the next one. I was doing my last day's tramp. Bar away across the veldt I could see the mounds of earth that had been taken out of the Kimberley mine, and as slowly and painfully I dragged across that weary flat they seemed to grow longer every step I took. It was with little feelings of hope I saw the dis- tant view of that most hideous of towns, Kimberley. When I left the gold-fields I had thought that I could hardly be worse off than I had been there, and that I would get some work at the diamond mines. But, weary with my long journey, and weak from hunger and dysentery that had come over me, I had lost all strength, and thought that the best I could hope for would be that I should be allowed to crawl into the hospital at Kimberley and die there. Every step I took pained me, for my feet were sore and swollen. I remember I had been thinking a good deal about my brother and constrasting his career with mine. Already he was known as one of the most promising young officers in the army. I had not heard from him for years, for I had left off writ- ing, and he did not know where to write to me. But I had seen by the papers that he had gained the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan. I thought of him and I thought of myself, and cursed mylaok then, for I was too weak and out of spirits to fool myself I cursed my own folly, which I knew had been the cause of my having come down so low. Slowly and hopelessly I stumbled along through the sand. When should I get to Kimberley, what should I do when I got there?" I kept asking myself, and I feli too. dull and tired oat to answer the question. I had very few friends there, and my appearance, ragged, almost barefooted and obviously penniless, would not tell in my favour. What was the good of walking any faster? I might as well sleep there on the veldt as go on," I said to myself; and then stumbling over a stone, I half fell, half threw myself down beside the road, and lay there exhausted, thoughtless, and almost insensible. I was roused by some one lifting me up and pouring brandy down my throat. Played out, eh ? well, take a good nip of this, it will pull you together if anything will, it's Eckshaw's No. 1, the best brandy that comes to this cursed country. Where have you come from, eh ?" The voice I somehow seemed to remember, and as the brandy revived me I took a look at the Good Samaritan who had come to my assistance. I knew him the pleasant voice belonged to Jim Dormer; and it was his handsome reckless face I saw looking down at me. "I have come from the gold-fields and have had a hardish time of it," I said in answer to his question. Well, I don't know that I'd have done myself up like that to come to this-hole 'Kimberley; but you'd better get into my cart—I'll give you a lift in anyhow," he said. Of course I was glad enough to accept his offer and to get into his cart, which was drawn np close to where we were, his Kaffir boy holding the reins. Let's see, ain't you Mr. Gordon, who used to have claims at old De Beoy's ? Thought I knew you. Do you remember that day on the race-course when Cockney Bill and his pals tried the system of going for the banker at faro and jumping his satchel ? That system would have come off if it hadn't been for your taking a hand in the game." I remembered the incident he alluded to, which took place one evening after the races. Some roughs had made an attack upon him and his partner, who were keeping a faro table, and I, who had been losing my money to him, came to his assistance. "I haven't forgotten it and shan't in a hurry. That's the sort of chap I'd like to have with me in anything that wanted good grit,' I said to myself when I saw you in that row," he said. "Look here, Mr. Gordon, where are you going to put up when you get to Kimberley?" he added, after thinking for some time. If you like to come to my place I can look after you and give you as good a room as you will get at any of the hotels, and you'll be made quiet and comfortable." It was a good-natured offer, and all the more good-natured from the way he put it; but I hesitated before I accepted it. Ah, you think that stopping with Jim Dormer won't gp-nd over well, and I don't say you're not right; but times are bad in the camp and there isn't much chance of your getting a billet all at once, so you might stop at my place till you get over your tramp down; but you won't hurt my feelings by refusing, I ain't one of the respectable crowd and don't want to be." He had guessed my thoughts. He was a pleasant, well-mannered fellow enough, but he had acquired rather a doubtful character, and I am afraid to a certain extent deserved it. It would be difficult for anyone who wished to do so in a friendly spirit to say how he lived and had lived for the last ten years. He himself would probably admit that he was a professional gambler. His enemies would declare that in the matter of buying stolen diamonds he was not altogether without reproach. This charge, how- ever, was not true, for he preferred winning money from the buyers of stolen diamonds to indulging in such a risky trade on his own account. He never for one moment was able to see that he was one whit worse than the people who belonged to what he called the respectable crowd. He won money from some of the biggest thieves in the camp, so he was called a sharper and an asso- ciate of bad characters, while your respectable men got hold of honest men's money with their bubble companies. He wished he got as much the best of it at a deal of faro as honest Mr. Bowker, the mem- ber of the Legislative Assembly, did when he started the Boschfontein Mining Company. He was too straight to be respectable, that's where he went wrong," he would say to me when I got to know him better; and I believe he thought it. Thanks, you're a good fellow, but I don't like to sponge on you; I am dead broke," I said in answer to his invitation. "Dead broke be blowed No man's dead broke till his neck's broke; and as for sponging on me, one never loses anything by doing a good turn to one of your sort who had good grit. You're looking pretty bad though—dysentery do yeu say? Well, you'd better watch it; come up to my place and 111 put you straight," he said. It was not, perhaps, a very wise thing to do, but beggars can't be choosers, and I was very little more than a beggar, besides I liked Jim Dormer's cheery, free and easy manner. It was pleasant to meet a man who seemed to think something of one ahhough one was unsuccessful and dead broke. So I accepted his offer, and leaned back in the cart, relieved to think that I should have a place to rest in after my long weary journey. Jim Dormer was on his way back from a viait to a roadside canteen, where a man he was interested in was training for a foot race. "I am glad I met you I like a man who has got grit; maybe it will be a lucky meeting for the pair of us," he said some what enigmatically. I did not take much thought about what his motives might be, I was too tired. Take a man as you find him he has been a good friend to me anyhow," I thought as I drove through the well known street. The town looked dull and depressed there was a marked change, one could see that bad times were felt more than they were when I left some months before. Bars, stores, and billiard rooms that used to be doing a roaring business were empty. Several stores were to let; there was not as much traffic in the streets, while I fancied there was something in the listless gait of the men one saw lounging about which expressed bad times. Glad enough was I when we pulled up at a neat iron house where Jim lived, and where that great luxury, as it seemed to me then, a bed, was to be found provided for me after I had attempted a meal. (70 60


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