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Waitaruna: A Story of New Zealand Life

Chapter XIV. — No Joke for Mike

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Chapter XIV.
No Joke for Mike .

"Detested sport that owes its pleasure to another's pain."

Cowper .

Next morning Gilbert found himself quite a lion in a small way, and he was complimented by numbers of the townsfolk on his having saved the man's life as he went along the street to visit the sufferer. He found the man's leg had not been set, as the break was a nasty compound fracture, and the limb was greatly swelled from the exposure and cramped position in which it had lain for so long.

A subscription had already been started for the poor fellow, and to this many of the miners had subscribed with their accustomed liberality. Putting down his name for a modest sum, Gilbert proceeded to Goodall's in search of Arthur Leslie. As he entered the bar he was greeted by a pert and rather buxom young woman, who bid him "Good morning" from behind the bar counter. Gilbert returned the salutation, and as he stepped forward to inquire for Arthur, he had an opportunity of inspecting the page 195renowned "Stringer," as the young woman (I beg her pardon, young lady) was popularly called.

She was not bad looking, though her complexion was rather florid. Her mouth was large, but her teeth were perfection. Her expression was pleasing, notwithstanding a certain air of boldness. But the chief feature in her appearance was her hair, of which she appeared to have an immense quantity. It was of a dark-brown colour, almost black, but the manner in which it was piled up over her head was astonishing to behold, while it descended again in a series of well-oiled worm-like coils or ringlets, which were disposed in a row all along her forehead, to which they were plastered in a truly marvellous manner. Gilbert could hardly take his eyes off this wonderful erection, and he felt disposed to ask Miss Needham if she slept in all that. For he could not imagine that such an elaborate structure was renewed daily, and concluded in his own mind that she must do like the Fiji mountaineers, who sleep with no pillow but a log of wood placed under the neck, so that the head may be kept from the ground and the coiffure be preserved from disarrangement. He, however, contented himself by inquiring if Mr. Leslie was about, and was rather startled by hearing the barmaid call along the passage leading into the house, "Arthur, here's a gentleman wishes to see you." Gilbert felt annoyed to think that this page 196girl should seemingly be on such familiar terms with his friend, as he still called him, and he was too vexed to do more than answer Miss Needham's remarks monosyllabically. He had not, however, long to wait before Arthur made his appearance, accompanied by a tall digger, both of them looking somewhat "seedy," and as if they had partaken too freely of strong drink the previous evening.

"Ah! Gilbert, my boy, how are you?" said Arthur. "I wish I had known you were in the township last night and I would have looked you up. It would have enabled me to get away from Long Tom here and the rest of them, who were having a bit of a spree last night. It was too much for me, and I feel confoundedly seedy this morning."

"Well now," said "Long Tom," "I call that civil, after leading us all astray, to say he would have been glad to get away from us. That's just a little too good. Don't you think so, Jenny, my dear?"

"Yes, indeed, I think so," replied Jenny. "Arthur was the life and soul of the whole affair; but what you both want is a cocktail to pick you up."

"That's the ticket, Jenny, my woman," replied Long Tom. "I'll forgive you for buttering Arthur since you have made that good suggestion."

"Try one of Jenny's 'cocktails,'" said Arthur to Gilbert; "she fixes them up A-1."

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"No, thank you; I am sorry to see you think you need one, Arthur."

"Oh! confound it, Gilbert, don't preach," said Arthur. "If you worked as hard as I have been doing lately, you would not grudge a fellow a little bit of amusement. Forking stones in a tail-race is harder than cooking a long sight, I can tell you. Here's luck!" he added as he tossed off the mysterious compound prepared by Miss Jenny. "By the way, old man," he continued, "you have got your name up, and no mistake, finding that poor devil with the broken leg. I wonder we did not hear him, Tom, when we were out at Mike's horse," he added, addressing his digger friend.

"By the way," said Tom, "it's about time we were going to look after that Irish friend of yours."

"Yes," replied Leslie; "let's walk over to his tent and see if he is back. It's such a lark," he continued, speaking to Gilbert; "come on and I'll tell you all about it as we walk along."

As they walked down the street together, Arthur informed Gilbert that Mike Donovan on being "sacked" from Waitaruna had come over to Muttontown, and had pitched his tent on the flat just below the township, and that he had lived there ever since, having got work in one of the claims. Mike's good nature and remarkable verdancy had, more than once since his arrival, caused him to be chosen as page 198a butt for some practical joke or other; and last night, when Arthur and some other miners were assembled at Goodall's, Barney M'Ghee happened to drop in. During the conversation which ensued, he intimated that Mike was making great preparations for riding over to the station to see his friends on the following day, and that he had got his horse in, and had tethered it on the flat with a brand new rope bought for the express purpose. One of the company had remarked that it would be a good joke to let the "moke" adrift after Mike had turned in, but Barney said, "Faix, I'll tell you something better than that; let's whitewash him, and I bet a note that Mike won't know him." The idea took, and Arthur proceeded to reconnoitre while Barney went to procure a supply of pipeclay. About midnight some half-dozen men had gone down to the flat, taking with them a feed of oats and a bucket of pipeclay and water. While poor Mike's horse munched the former, he was transformed from a bright chestnut to a white by a liberal application of the latter. They laughed so much over their work, that they were afraid that Mike, although he did not come out to see what was going on, must have heard them, and so suspected that some trick was being played, which would have tended to put him on the alert, and thus possibly have led to its discovery. On the way back they had amused page 199themselves by bespattering one another with what remained of the pipeclay, but this nearly resulted in a pugilistic encounter before they reached the hotel. The difficulty was, however, got over without resorting to the arbitrament of fists, and over repeated "drinks" the almost combatants swore eternal friendship.

"I fear," said Gilbert, when Leslie had recounted the events of the previous evening, "that you have got into rather a drunken lot, Arthur. You should take care what you do."

"Oh! I'm all right," was Arthur's reply; "besides; one must have some amusement in a dull hole like this."

"You may be all right now, and I have no doubt you are, but surely you don't intend being a digger all your life. And though you may go on in the way you are doing, merely for the fun of the thing, as you think, I should be greatly afraid you might acquire a liking for drinking before you were aware of it."

"Oh! no fear. What's the odds so long as you're happy?"

Before Gilbert could rejoin, Long Tom, who had lagged behind to speak to a friend, came up and said, "There's Mike, just got back from looking for what has never been lost."

"Well, Mike, how are you?" asked Gilbert, as they came up to that worthy.

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"Och! and it's meesilf that's tried, so it is. Here's that ould horse of mine has gone and lost hisself, afther I had found him yesterday."

"Have you not found that horse of yours yet, Mike?" asked Long Tom, winking to the others. "I expect some one has taken a fancy to that new tether rope of yours, and has picked it up without noticing that there was a horse at the end of it."

"Do ye tell me that now?" said Mike. "By the piper that played before Moses, if I had the spalpeen here, I'd give him the tether rope in a way that would make him remember it to his dying day."

"They don't hang men even for horse-stealing in these parts, Mike," replied Long Tom, "and that rope of yours would hardly suit for the purpose, I think. Let's look at it."

"Sure now you're welcome to look at and for it too, for I've been looking for it all morning, and divil a bit av it I've seen."

"Yes; and how is that?" asked Arthur, feigning ignorance.

"Sure and haven't they stole me horse?" said Mike, in astonishment; "and have I not been tramping afther the mob looking for him all this blessed morning."

"And was he not with the mob?" asked Arthur. "But surely you did not expect that whoever stole your horse would turn it out with the township mob, page 201did you? And what has your horse got to do with the rope you were looking for? I don't see the connection."

"Now, look here; it's game you're afther making av me, so it is. Wasn't the rope on the horse, and was it not bekase the horse was not with the mob that I know he is stolen. I was just going up to the camp to tell the sargint about it when you came. But it's going to be a shower of rain I think; come into the tint till it's over."

The shower was a smart one, and lasted for pretty nearly an hour, which they wiled away by smoking and talking about all sorts of conceivable topics; and though Long Tom and Arthur Leslie generally managed to give the conversation a turn so that they might have an opportunity of "taking a rise" out of Mike, yet he nevertheless hospitably lighted a fire, boiled his "billy," and made tea, and though he could only muster two pannikins, he entertained his visitors right well, if his efforts to induce them to scald their mouths by drinking boiling tea had nothing sinister in them.

When the rain ceased, Long Tom again referred to the lost horse, and asked Mike if he had ever looked for the horse where he left him.

"Av coorse," was the reply. "Wasn't it tethered over there forninst where that white one is?"

"Was the white one there when you tethered page 202yours?" asked Tom, who was longing for the denouement.

"Niver a bit av it; come out and I'll show you where my horse was. By me sowl!" exclaimed Mike, "if the white horse hasn't gone and changed into a piebald!"

It was true enough; for the rain had washed off some of the pipeclay and imparted a peculiar streaky appearance to the animal. Long Tom and Arthur, who had both been bursting with suppressed laughter for some time, could no longer contain themselves, and fairly exploded with a loud guffaw.

Mike looked from one to the other in astonishment for a moment, and then a light seemed to dawn on him, for he ran towards the tethered horse, and before he reached it, he was satisfied that he was once more the victim of a practical joke. He drew his hand down the streaky neck of his steed, thus making a clearly defined darker line, when he turned again towards the bystanders.

"Ye're a set of dirthy blackguards, and I'd like to see the man that did the dirthy trick stand out here by hissilf, and I'll spile his ugly face for him, so that his own mother won't know him, so I will. But if he won't stand out," continued the irate Mike, seeing his auditors did nothing but laugh immoderately, "I'll fight the whole lot of yees altogether, one at onct."

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"Well, Mike," said Gilbert, "you don't suppose I had any hand in it, do you? I think it was rather too bad to treat you so. Upon my word, I do."

"No, Mr. Langton," replied Mike, "I don't think you did it, but I think you knew and might have tould me about it."

"Well, I own I knew about it just before I came down to see you, but you had been out for some hours looking for your horse; besides, I don't know that even if you had not been, I should have interfered. I wonder you did not have a look at the white horse before you started."

"Well, thin, maybe I did and maybe I didn't; but it's not meesilf that's able to see through whitewash at all."

"Oh! well, Mike, there was a big crowd in the job, I hear, and you could hardly fight them all; but come on up to town and have a drink, and perhaps you'll hear who did it," said Long Tom.

"And give you and the rest of the mane dirthy spalpeens the chance to laugh at me? No, you don't get me this time," replied the still angry Mike. "I'll go to the Warden about it, that's what I'll do, and be jabers if there's law in the land I'll make somebody pay for it, that I will."

As it was impossible to pacify Mike, they returned to the township, and Gilbert, finding that the blacksmith had completed his work, bid "good-bye" to page 204his companions, and adjourned to his hotel for dinner. The ordinary meal was over, but he found the doctor, whose professional duties had detained him, just sitting down to the dinner-table.

"By the by, Langton," said he as they sat at dinner, "we have been talking here about getting up a pig-hunting expedition. I hear there are a lot of pigs between this and Big Creek, so two or three of us were proposing to have some sport with them. You had better come too; I'll send you over word when we have fixed to go."

"I shall be very glad to join you if I can get away at the time you fix. I have been awfully disappointed as to the amount of shooting I have been able to get in this country. I thought that I should have lots of sport here, but I find I am mistaken."

"It will be a good country for shooting one of these days, however," replied the doctor, "for they are turning out all sorts of game, and everything that is introduced seems to do well. We ought to have some fun with these pigs. I saw a fellow the other day who had been over there lately, and he said they were very plentiful. One old boar he described as having a mane on him like a lion. I should think, from all accounts, he must have been one of the original stock turned out by Captain Cook," added the doctor, laughing.

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"I must be making a start if I want to get home to-night," said Gilbert, rising; "and I say, Doctor, if you can do anything for Arthur Leslie in the way of getting him out of the set he has got into, I shall be obliged, for I don't think they are likely to lead him into much good."

"Well, I'll look him up and see what I can do, but I don't suppose I shall be able to do much, for I think that he is really soft on that towsy-headed barmaid, and any man who could be spooney on a piece of goods like that is, I fear, beyond me. But if you are interested in him, I'll at least let you know how he gets on."