Will Jones and the Blue Dog
In a crack between boulders, ten feet from the main shaft of the newly named Blue Dog mine, there lived a blue-tongue lizard, as scaly and tough as the ground itself. About the length of a man’s forearm, he was broad and thick with stored fat. His tail was hard to distinguish from his mouth, for both were stumpy and stubby. There was only one difference – his mouth had teeth.
This last fact was something that Little Blue learned early on in his relationship with the blue-tongue, for the young cattle dog hated that reptile like city dogs hate cats. He devoted much of the day to attempting to catch it.
After breakfast, when Will, Sam, Lainey and Johnson had started work, Little Blue would sit back at a distance, waiting for the fat little lizard to emerge from the cleft in the stone where it lived. Then, every muscle frozen, Blue would watch the creature appear at the opening of his bolt hole, tongue flicking from between his lips. The dog was smart enough to wait, even as the lizard moved out into the morning sun.
A foot … two feet … a yard.
Finally now, Little Blue would pounce; and just as quickly the blue-tongue would scurry for the hole. Blue’s jaws would close on empty air, and his nose, often as not, struck hard rock. It was at this point, bewildered and snuffling at the crack, that the lizard would dart out far enough to give the pup a nip on his sensitive nose.
After a period of confusion, and a canine yelp or two, the game would start all over again. Even after a week, Little Blue was still the sorry loser of this exchange, with a scab on his nose from one particularly deep bite.
Meanwhile, the shaft had deepened slowly. The fractured granodiorite of the hillside gave way only with the application of blisters to hands and the power of dynamite. Johnson, it soon proved, was a dab hand with a blasting cap, and when Will asked how a Manning River cow cocky had become so adept at using explosives, he muttered something about blasting old stumps and the like.
Late in the week, the partners of the Blue Dog Mine loaded their contractual ten ton of ore onto a company dray, drawn by as fine a team of draught horses as Will had seen. He and Sam took a breather, watching the load heading off towards the Lyver Hills Company battery.
‘I won’t be expecting much from that lot,’ Will said to Sam. ‘Never seen so much as a sparkle and we won’t, I’m guessing, until we find this darned leader.’
Sam inclined his head in agreement, watching the dray go with his thick arms folded across his chest, and his battered derby hat down low. His hair had grown, in the past few months, and it hung down past his ears on either side, lank and dusty.
It was only Lainey who held out any hopes for that first load. ‘We’ll see,’ she said. ‘Didn’t Henry say that there are low values of gold right across the valley?’
‘That’s true,’ said Will. ‘He did say that.’
He still didn’t hold out much hope.
Two days later Henry Sutton rode up to the mine and swung off his horse. From the saddle bags he produced a document, a pencil and what looked like a cheque.
Being hospitable, Will settled the visitor at the fireside and fixed a pint pot of tea in his hands. Johnson and Sam, who had been working on the headgear, came across to listen.
‘You’ve made good progress,’ said Henry, lighting a cigar. ‘Not many small crews get so far in a week.’
Will took off his hat and wiped his brow with his sleeve. It was a warm day, for August, and he’d been at the face since sparrow’s fart. ‘Thanks Mr Sutton. We’ve done our best.’
‘Well here’s some good news for you – a report on your first crushing,’ he said. ‘Your ore realised around fourteen pennyweight of gold to the ton – seven ounces nine pennyweight in total. At the current price of three pounds sixpence an ounce, that’s not a bad start. Just sign your certificate here, and here’s your cheque.’
Will gave a funny little laugh, ‘Well that beats everything – I didn’t expect a penny from that lot.’ He looked at Lainey, who was grinning from ear to ear. It was an exciting moment – a paying lease right from the first week meant that they could buy hardwood for shoring – even pay for extra labour if necessary. It meant that they could eat beef and bread. Most of all it meant that they were not wasting their time and energy.
Will took the processing certificate from Henry Sutton’s hand and scanned through it. Then, with a pencil he scrawled his signature on the line, and accepted the cheque with the other hand.
When Sutton had gone, and Will sat down, staring at the cheque, Little Blue left his vigil near the lizard and came to sit at Will’s feet, head against his knees.
‘So what do we do now?’ Lainey asked while Will scratched his dog’s ears.
‘Oh I reckon I’ll ride to the store at Wilga, cash this barsted and buy us a bottle of beer or three.’ Will said. ‘Then tomorrow we get back to work.’ He smiled. ‘The deeper we go the better this caper is going to pay.’
© Greg Barron 2022