Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.


ALBERT DORRINGTON

THE SALE OF YELLOW FACE

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover


Ex Libris

As published in The Sydney Mail 2 April 1924

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-04-13
Produced by Terry Walker, Gary Meller and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

Click here for more books by this author



THE shadow of Ah Toy slanted across the mouth of the mine tunnel. His small fat body and pigtailed head lay flat against the white rib of quartz that bulged from the hillside. Within the tunnel two men wore arguing in fierce undertones, while the Chinaman squeezed nearer and nearer to catch each flung out syllable.

'Ye forget, Lorimer, we're owing money to that old cheese-skate in the store—Marsden. An' winter is comin'! The rags I'm wearin' are tied on to me wit' string an' rope. Tomorrow, unless we find a buyer for this mine, we'll be beggin' food from the old Chink across the hill. An' when you catch me plasterin' a bit of gold into the reef ye scowl like a young priest at a races meetin'!'

'I will not be silent, Hagen, while you attempt to plug this mine,' Lorimer retorted quietly. 'Day after day people come here only to laugh at your trowel work up there. They know the stunt and they never make an offer.'

Hagen was using a trowel in the reef crannies. In the palm of his hand were several pellets of gold the size of nail brads. With the craft of a jeweller he mortised and set them into the blue veins in the glittering white quartz overhead.

Teddy Lorimer was twenty-five, and had met Hagen while prospecting for gold in the Heathcote Ranges six months before. They had come upon an outcrop of reef thirty acres in extent that excited their energies. Both had mining permits. They decided to camp at Yellow Face, as they called the mica-crested ridge. After tunnelling to meet the lode that splayed downward like the claw of a bird they decided that Yellow Face was a good name for the mine that sapped their life-blood and gave nothing in return.

Hagen's body was built after the manner of a twisted root. His head and jaw seemed to have been blasted from red rock. And he- was unutterably bad.

He paused in his 'salting' operations to survey the priest- faced boy seated on an upturned bucket in the drive.

'We must sell, Teddy, or eat with the gaol thugs this winter. Old Marsden has been here an' seen the show. He'll buy! But just now he's sick from over-eatin'. And that long-legged girl of his—'

'Miss Nancy,' Lorimer prompted icily.

'Well, she's comin' here to take stock, an' to make an offer, maybe.'

'She's cleverer than most women, Hagen. That trowel decoration won't carry the bluff far. She was born and reared in these hills.'

A series of monkey noises escaped Hagen as he glowered at his young partner. 'All I want from you is a shut head when Marsden's girl blows in here,' he warned. 'Her father is rolling in money. He's the biggest thief that ever bumped a scale. Have ye noticed the bacon he sells us?'


THE sun disappeared beyond the scrub-covered hills, and the raw heat of the afternoon lifted with the first breath from the higher ranges. Softly, and with no more sound than a lizard, Ah Toy faded into the purple wonga vines that screened his solitary camp in the gully. Like Hagen and Lorimer, he was trying out the alluvial reefs in the hope of finding payable gold. In the present instance he was merely holding a watching brief in his own interests.

A fire sang and crackled near the mine entrance. Hagen sat cross-legged on a dump of tailings smoking, and sullenly watchful until the icy nip from the ranges sent him to his tent, and his blanket.

'Let's be up early,' he called to Lorimer. 'That girl of Marsden's has got the bird habit. She'll be chirpin' round in the mornin', maybe before sun-up. Let's make a show of bein' at work. Night!'

'Good-night,' Lorimer answered broodingly. His face, sunk in his hands, where the rose bloom of the dying camp fire was reflected in his boyish eyes.


AN hour before dawn Lorimer stirred uneasily in his blanket. His tent was pitched a few yards from the tunnel entrance, and within easy reach of Hagen's. A slight scraping sound within the tunnel had reached his sensitive ears. He sat up and caught it again; this time it sounded like a mallet striking against the soft schist formation in the cross-drive. Hagen's loud snoring in his tent dispelled any possibility of his presence in the drive.

Raising the flap of his tent cautiously, Lorimer peered out. A faint wisp of moon was setting in the south-east. The mouth of the tunnel was no more than a black arch in the uncertain light; but within this black arch he detected the faint nimbus from a covered lantern. Lorimer lay still, his chin resting on the ground. With some difficulty he restrained himself from calling out to Hagen. That anyone should enter their claim at that hour appeared incredible.

The mallet work ceased. A strange shadowy shape emerged suddenly from the tunnel, a covered hurricane lamp swinging at its side. Lorimer stifled a cry. The shadow revealed the pigtail and blouse of the Chinaman Ah Toy!

To leap out and catch the trespasser by the scruff would have been easy enough. Instead. Lorimer crept back to his blanket, too bewildered to sleep, conscious only that the dawn would reveal the nature of the Chinaman's visit. To be caught tampering with a white man's claim was more than Ah Toy would risk unless driven by dire necessity.

Hagen was abroad at the first streak of day. The sound of his shovel on the sandy floor of the tunnel brought Lorimer from his blanket. Kicking the fire together, they breakfasted hastily and the day's work began.

Lorimer joined Hagen in the crosscut, where the in-slanting sun rays lit the mouth of the tunnel.

'I'm betting that the Marsden girl will come to-day,' Hagen grunted as be attacked the overhead reef with the intention of impressing casual callers from the distant township.

'An' ye'll let me do me talkin,' he instructed Lorimer. 'Got an idea you're a bit soft about this Marsden nipper.'

Lorimer flushed, but held his longue. He had no desire to quarrel with his partner. Time enough to be outspoken, when the Marsdens started bidding for their worthless claim. Hagen worked in a desultory way, pausing at times to pick up loose rock that fell at his feel. Bending hit; shoulders to reach the angle of reef overhead with his pick, he paused transfixed, his eyes rooted on a five-ounce nugget nestling in the fragmented vein of the reef.

The pick slithered from his nerveless grasp; his jaw hung in amazement. Lorimer turned slowly in the funnel and stared in his direction, 'What's up?' he called softly. 'Somebody coming?'

Sweat streamed from Hagen's brow us he tore the slug of gold from the blue veins of the quartz. He licked it with his dry tongue, as men do who touch virgin gold after months of ill-luck and privation.

Lorimer drew breath sharply as he viewed the heavy slug in his partner's band. Then his eyes traversed the line of reef to the crumbling pocket in the angle in the cross-cut.

Inexperienced as he was, he knew instinctively that the piece of gold in Hagen's fist did not belong to that particular hole. He remembered the Chinaman's visit, his soft mallet strokes against the reef, and was silent. Hagen regarded him almost fiercely.

'Why the dickens don't you say something? Yesterday you couldn't afford a cigarette. I suppose ye know what this means?' He pushed the slug within an inch of Lorimer's face.

Lorimer laughed with forced gaiety.

'It means life or death to us,' was his noncommittal reply. Hagen returned to the overhead pocket and worked with the fury of a demon.

'The old Yellow Face is not for sale now.' he called out from lime lo lime. 'We're only beginning to touch our luck. Stick to it!'

Lorimer worked less feverishly than the gold-maddened Hagen. He was now certain that Ah Toy had put the nugget in the reef; but all the logic and reason he could summon to his aid failed to explain the Chinaman's motive. In the history of mining he could recall nothing that would help him to a solution of Ah Toy's strange trick.

For months past the old Chinaman had delved and burrowed in his own claim to win a few specks of colour to keep him in food and opium. He was poor and niggardly beyond words. But for the generosity of Nancy Marsden, who pitied his lonely condition and his everlasting struggle to keep alive, the wild dogs would have fought for his starved body long ago. And now he was salting their claim with five-ounce, slugs!


THE night came, full of stars and with unutterable tranquillity. Hagen was sprawling before the campfire, the gold slug held so that the flames reflected the water polished sheen of its virgin skin.

'Funny,' he commented hoarsely, 'how this duffer of a claim should throw out an ace like this. What d'ye make or it?'

Lorimer was silent. Instinct strong as life warned him against hasty statements. Hagen was not the man to play a waiting game. His animal impatience would spoil everything once he became aware of the nugget's history.

An hour before dawn Lorimer sat up in his tent and listened. He had become conscious of a presence in the tunnel, and again came the muffled tap, tap of a mallet on the crumbling reef. A single peep under the tent flap revealed the shaded glow of the hurricane lamp in the cross-drive. This time the mallet work was more prolonged.

Lorimer leaned on his elbow, smiling grimly. He had given up the riddle. His youthful brain failed to answer why a stingy, poverty-ridden old Chinaman should, at the risk of being shot as a trespasser, find pleasure in hammering lumps of gold into their claim. He lay motionless under the tent flap as Ah Toy emerged from the tunnel, his hurricane lamp extinguished. For an instant the Chinaman allowed himself a fleeting glance at the white men's tents, a curious scathing smile lingering on his saturnine features. Noiselessly he turned towards the ridge that overhung the vine-infested gully, his ragged, scarecrow attire blending weirdly with the spectral foliage. He seemed to fade at the instant a lean, crooked shape hurtled in his rear.


LOCKED in Hagen's fierce embrace, Ah Toy was dragged into the open almost to the edge of the smouldering campfire. The Chinaman suppressed a scream of terror as the while man flung him stammering onto a heap of stones.

'What's your game, Toy? I'll have the truth if I tear it out of your yellow throat!' Hagen stormed.

Ah Toy whimpered inaudibly, knees updrawn, his slat eyes betraying the cold fear of the trapped dingo.

'You lemme go, Missah Hagen. Me takee on'y one lille peep inside yo' tunnel. I likee you an' Missah Lollima velly much!'

'Save your lies, Toy. Nobody likes me, not even the dogs that come here, I want the truth! Speak up.'

The Chinaman squirmed on the stones. In the cold dawn light his face had grown livid and wan.

'I speakee trufh, Missah Hagen. You an' Missah Lollima go hungly. You welly poor. Me solly for you. I putee lille nugget in reef to helpee you.'

Hagen glowered at him. The one fact that flamed in his mind was that there was no gold in the Yellow Face claim except what Ah Toy had put there. He did not believe the Chinaman's story, and the mystery of it angered and unnerved him.

Ah Toy lay quite still on the stone heap, like a fat mouse that fears to stir. Hagen regarded him with the eyes of a hanging Judge.

'Chink,' he said slowly, 'your breed never tells the truth. Your infernal game's got me guessin'. No man born of a woman throws red gold into a stranger's dirt.'

Between the fat mouse on the stone heap and the man with the fingers of iron a frozen silence fell. The sun's rim showed like the edge of a volcano above the forest line. Smoke from the slumbering, campfire oozed and drifted across the gully.

It seemed hours before Hagen spoke. All the misery of his past labours was printed like hatchet strokes about his unrelenting face. He felt that he was being fooled by a Chinaman, guyed, and made to look ridiculous. The story would spread, and a whole continent would laugh at the newest joke in mine salting. And a crumpled up, swine-footed Celestial would lead the laughter.

'Toy,' Hagen began hoarsely, 'I'm goin' to warm the truth out of ye!' He kicked a heap of dry wood on to the smoking fire, fanned it with his hat until the flames peeped and ran through the pile. Then he unwound a length of rope that lay coiled about an old windlass. Stooping near the stone heap, he lashed the Chinaman's legs together, leaving his hands free. Hagen then drew the rope taut and hauled savagely. The feet of Ah Toy rested on the edge of the burning campfire. Hagen lay back on the rope; another jerk would bring the wriggling body into the centre of the flames.

'Goin' to speak, or shall we leave it to the fire?'

There was no answer from the wide-eyed Chinaman gasping at the end of the tight-drawn rope. Hagen hunched his root-like shoulders and strained gently on the rope. A footstep turned him sharply. Lorimer was standing beside him, his hand on the rope.

'Drop it, Hagen. He's scared to the limit already.' Lorimer's face was drawn and white. He disliked scenes and resented the loss of sleep, but above all he resented his partner's methods of handling Chinamen.

Hagen spoke without dropping the rope.

'Stand away! I've caught this Chow salting the claim. Ye'll yet my meanin' if ye don't stand aside pretty lively.'


LORIMER walked to the prostrate Chinaman and unhitched the rope from his ankles and body. Then he turned slowly to meet the inevitable rush of his rage-blinded partner. The root-like build of Hagen's body and limbs gave him a formidable appearance. He had fought a hundred battles in different mining camps, and had won most id' thorn. But each new fight brings defeat a step nearer.

Lorimer shifted only slightly when Hagen hurtled towards him, a cursing, raving mass of spleen. Like a mastiff he bored in, missing and slipping across the clay-packed earth in his hate to pulp the boyish figure that stalled his wild blows. Lorimer fenced with him, boxed him at the length of his long left arm. until Hagen missed and slipped and missed as he had never done before.

'Hagen.' Lorimer spoke with a sharp intake of breath. 'I'll give you a taste of that fire if you don't stop trying to fight! Quit before you go too far!'

Hagen drew off for a breath-giving space, eyes bulging, sweat streaming from his face. Then, with hands covering his head, he charged. Lorimer's right fist descended like an axe on the nape of the bull neck, in the shift of a toe his long left ripped up to the swaying jaw. Hagen slithered like a shot beast within an inch of the fire and lay still. He uttered no sound as Lorimer drew him from the scorching blaze towards the tent. The Chinaman had disappeared.

Far down the bridle-track leading from the township a young girl rode leisurely in the direction of Yellow Face. Lorimer's eyes kindled as he watched her canter up the slope to the mouth of the tunnel.


NANCY MARSDEN slipped from the saddle, holding the bridle over her arm. She reached well above Lorimer's tall shoulder, and strode like a boy into the clearing. Nancy was eighteen, and combined a beautiful personality with charming executive ability. For weeks past she had kept in touch with Hagen's growing debt to the store. The man's presence oppressed her. He was the type of miner who preferred trickery to the more arduous task of developing his claim. Moreover, it pained her to think of his corrupting influence on Lorimer. She had watched their efforts from the first, and had been amused at Hagen's attempts to interest her father in the purchase of Yellow Face. And now she was prepared to negotiate on her father's behalf, if only to be rid of Hagen and relieve Lorimer of his hateful partnership.

Lorimer moved from Hagen's tent door, fearing that Nancy's appraising eye might discern symptoms of the recent conflict. She hailed him cheerfully.

'Morning, Mr. Lorimer. I've come about old Yellow Face. They say you're dying to let go.'

Lorimer flushed to his hair roots. He was done with Hagen and the salted reef in the tunnel. He was determined to tell the truth.

'Fact is, Miss Marsden, old Yellow Face isn't worth a new spade and barrow. It isn't a mine at all—it's just a fifth- rate funeral.'

She regarded his worn clothes and toil-stained hands silently; then, throwing her bridle rein over a post, entered the tunnel.

Lorimer followed, secretly ashamed of the way his partner had inveigled her into the deal. A short laugh escaped her as she indicated the salted veins of the reef, together with, two shining slugs which Ah Toy had manipulated into the schist above the crosscut. Then her questing eyes followed the fall of the reef to the end of the tunnel, where the blue veins seemed to carry heavy mineral deposits. Out in the open she spoke with decision.

'This claim may be somebody's funeral, but I'm willing to acquire Mr. Hagen's share, and will pay five hundred pounds for it.'

Hagen appeared at his tent door, a badly shaken figure after his recent encounter. Nancy's offer dispelled the sullen lit of brooding which enveloped him.

'My share's yours for the money,' he agreed with avidity. 'It will make you both rich,' he added with an ill-concealed sneer.

Nancy Marsden drew a typewritten agreement from her pocket.

'Come along, Mr. Hagen. This is a deed of relinquishment and transfer of your rights to me. Put your signature here and take the money.'

With a shaking hand Hagen signed the document. The next, moment he had retired to his tent to count the roll of notes in his possession.

Lorimer hung his head dejectedly. He felt that Nancy Marsden had made a fool of herself. Nancy listened spellbound while he gave an account of the Chinaman's strange salting operations. The tiniest of frowns wrinkled her sun-sweetened face.

'Let's find him,' she suggested. 'Toy's been coming to the store for months past. He's as poor as a bandicoot—lives on rice and stolen chickens! Gold is the last thing he'd trifle with.'

Nancy led her horse through the scrub-choked gully, followed by the pensive Lorimer. Ah Toy's claim was difficult to locale among the piled-up boulders and giant sassafras ferns that smothered the landscape. Speargrass and cactus formed an almost impenetrable barrier to progress.

Like most Chinamen within the Northern Territory, Toy's efforts to win gold from the ranges were regarded with indifference and scorn by the scattered whites. The tracks were difficult, and often led nowhere, and the ranges had a reputation for barren reefs and starvation claims. It was generally admitted that Toy was a harmless imbecile.

With the cunning of a bushman Nancy picked up Toy's recent tracks that led to the scrub-screened mouth of a tunnel. Only the most careful search revealed its existence. The dirt from the tunnel had been carried to a deep gully, where the creepers and undergrowth covered it completely. The faint sound of a pick told them that the Chinaman was at work inside. Lorimer detected a feverish haste in the pick strokes, accompanied by the low rumble of falling earth and stones.

'Come along, partner!' Nancy laughed, adjusting her pocket compass with the care of a mining surveyor. 'I've heard a good deal about Chinese miners; I'm just aching to see one at work.'

Lorimer stepped into the tunnel and noted the excellent condition of the timbering and slopes. Nancy paid strict attention to her compass as they stumbled forward over the loose stones and pebbles. The dull glow of the hurricane lamp showed at the end of the drive. Within the arc of the smoky flare stood the half naked figure of the Chinaman.

Lorimer gasped at the almost Dante-esque fury of the yellow man's efforts to break the white wall of reef in front. Like a bull-ant he rent and gouged at impossible masses of ore. At times he threw down his pick and tore away boulders with his naked hands. And as he laboured and chattered to himself Nancy's lingers closed gently on Lorimer's sleeve.

'Heavens!' she whispered. 'Look—look at the reef under his pick! Look—over his head!'

In all his life Lorimer had never beheld such strange workings and flow of virgin gold in a reef line. In every cranny and seam the yellow metal pouted and grinned. It lay in twisted slugs of curious design, some, knotted like a man's fist; in other places it seemed to have frozen in a solid stream, an open jugular in a body of crystalline quartz. Lorimer's lips parted in a weary smile.

'Good luck to old China!' he said under his breath. 'Let him enjoy his reward. After all, he only tried to be kind to us, and got small thanks for his pains.'

Nancy Marsden was standing at his elbow, her eyes fixed on her pocket compass. When she spoke her voice had in it a touch almost of resentment.

'Good luck to everyone, Mr. Lorimer. But—this Chinaman is mining on our properly! He's inside our thirty acres by a good two hundred yards. He's stealing our gold.'

The sound of Nancy's voice swung Ah Toy from his frantic labours. At sight of Lorimer a spasm of childish fury swept him. His talon fingers gestured hysterically.

'Why you come heah?' he screamed. 'Go 'way! You no light to tlespass on me!'

Lorimer glanced swiftly at Nancy. She answered with a nod of assurance. 'A good two hundred yards inside our properly,' she reiterated.

Instantly Lorimer remembered that the pegs of their northern boundary marked a line that made Ah Toy's operations illegal. The Chinaman had burrowed under the hill, attacking the northern extremity of the Yellow Face reef and striking the gold from the lower shoots in the strata.

After a while Toy sat on a heap of stones, wiping his hot face with a soiled lamp rag. The folly of protesting against Lorimer's entry dawned on him by degrees. Also, he was not unmindful of the fact that the young white miner had protected him from Hagen's wrath.

'Tell me Toy,' Lorimer began persuasively, 'why you risked salting the other end of our reef?'

Fat tears trickled down the Chinaman's hardened cheeks. His bald head wagged like a spring-fitted image. With a final flourish of the lamp rag he broke convulsively into speech.

'I find plenty gold heah. Then I get welly flitened you an' Missah Hagen find it out. Me supportee my ole fader in Soo Loon. So me t'ink if I keepee you an Missah Hagen hard to work in your tunnel you then have no time to pokee roun heah. You savvy me, Missah Lorimer?'

'Go on, Toy,' The young miner nodded encouragingly,

The Chinaman sighed. 'I takee fat lille nugget flom heah an' put it in your mine while you sleep. Me feel pletty sure you an' Missah Hagen would stay in tunnel evely day to find moah. Then by'm-by you too busy to watchee me cally away this gold in a cart to my fiends on the coast.' "You saltee Yellow Face mine good an' hard," my fiend Ching Boh say to me one day. "That fellah Hagen him go blind lookin' foh moah; him stay likee ferret in his tunnel allee day! You hop, hop then, Ah Toy," he tell me. "Evely day aftah you' saltee claim him work hard while you fillee cart. Then you hop, hop to me."

'All welly ni', Ah Toy concluded tearfully, 'until Missah Hagen wake up an catchee me like a debil. Hi ya; me welly unlucky.'

Nancy's rippling laughter filled the tunnel.

'Cheer up, you old sinner. Instead of handing you over to the police. Mr. Lorimer may give you a chance to be honest. At any rate, you've developed this end of the property.'

Lorimer nodded in agreement.

THE following day a police patrol took charge of the mine workings, north and south, until Lorimer arranged for men and modern machinery to tackle the rich ore bodies in sight. Ah Toy was kept on the pay-roll. Nancy's sense of humour demanded that his latent mining abilities needed the utmost encouragement. And in Nancy Marsden Lorimer found his true life partner. All the gold in the Yellow Face would have been as dust if her heart had not been found in it.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.