Rhymes from the Mines

A Poor Joke

Edward Dyson

‘NO, you can’t count me in, boys; I’m off it—
    I’m jack of them practical jokes;
They give neither pleasure nor profit,
    And the fellers that plays them are mokes.
I’ve got sense, though I once was a duffer,
    And I fooled up my share, I allow,
But since conscience has made me to suffer—
    She’s pegging away at me now.

You notice I’ve aged rather early,
    And the wrinkles are deep on my face?
That’s sorrer—I’m sixty-nine, barely.
    Jes’ camp, and I’ll tell you my case.
It was here on The Springs, we had hit it,
    And we working the lead on this spot—
And we were, to my shame I admit it,
    A rather unprincipled lot.

‘We were drunk all the day on the Sundays—
    No wickeder habit exists;
And our exercise mostly on Mondays
    Was feats of endurance with fists.
See, the wash wasn’t what we’d call wealthy—
    Ten pennyweight stuff, thereabout—
And we took matters easy and healthy;
Now we’d rush for the same, I’ve no doubt.

‘Well, one morning, from over the border
    Two Mongols moved inter the camp,
Which we voted a thing out of order—
    The climate for Chows was too damp.
But it happened a couple of troopers
    Arrived on The Springs that same week,
So the Chinks, in their opium stupors,
    Didn’t wander down inter the creek,

‘Or get drowned in the dam at The Crescent,
    As we reckoned might happen somehow;
But they settled down, easy and pleasant,
    And there wasn’t the smell of a row.
Howsomever, we weren’t long twigging
    The Chows were an ignerent pair,
And knew nothin’ at all about digging
    And that was our chance to get square.

‘It was ’cording to Bastow’s directions,
    Though I volunteered for the game,
To ensnare their Mongolian affections,
    And lay them right on to a claim
Round the bend where we’d bottomed a duffer—
    Myself and Pat Foley—right there,
Where the sinking is deep and is tougher
    Than the hobs of Gehenna, I swear.

‘That shaft was a regular clinker,
    Which it riles me to think of to-day.
Quite a fortnight it took us to sink her,
    And then we came through on the clay,
Not the ghost of a handful of gravel.
    Well, we dropped it without any fuss,
On the hill pegged the best we could snavel,
    And the devil could prospect, for us.

‘But the Pagans were not a bit wiser,
    And I counted it pretty fair game
To appear as their friend and adviser,
    And induce them to take up that claim,
By a-cracking the lay and position
    So’s to get them to sink on the clay,
Till they struck a hot shop in Perdition
    Or tapped water in Europe some day.

‘But the heathens were mighty suspicious,
    Wouldn’t have it I cared for their sakes—
Here, I state that all Chinkies are vicious
    And I hate them like fever and snakes.
Then I tried a new system of dealing,
    And offered advice at a fee,
And they caught on like winking. Fine feeling
    Is wasted on any Chinee.

‘So they pegged out our cast-off, the duffer.
    Their rights they had made out exact,
And Ah Kit, who was boss, wouldn’t suffer
    Any little neglect of the Act:
And I put in their pegs to a fraction,
    As grave as a brick on a hob,
Rigged up things to their full satisfaction,
    And charged them five quid for the job.

Well, the heathens soon set their picks going,
    And they seemed rather fond of the graft,
Though the boys had had trouble in stowing
    A heap of dead things in the shaft,
And we chuckled and thought we had got ’em:
    I knew I could tickle the pair
To keep sinking on inter the bottom
    For gravel that never was there.

‘Next night a most harrowing rumour
    Went round, and the camp was half daft:
It was said that a nugget—a boomer—
    Had been found by the Chows in our shaft.
‘Point of fact, that the Pagans had struck it,
    Had knocked down a sample of wash
That looked good for a pound to the bucket,
    And our joke had gone hopelessly squash.

‘It was c’rect, boys, by all that is holy!
    We’d struck a false bottom,1 no doubt,
And the fortune of self and of Foley
    Was scooped by Ah Kit and Ah Gout.
We resolved that these Chinese were sapping
    The wealth of the land, and agreed
On a project for catching them napping
    When the troopers rode on to the lead.

Yes, we scrambled for claims all around ’em,
    And we made the foam fly for a week,
But the Chows had the gilt edge. Confound ’em,
    They’d lobbed right on top of the streak!
No, your joke, boys, I reckon is risky,
    And somewhat ridic’lus, I think,
But I’m with you for friendship and whisky
    If one of you orders the drink.’

1.    * It has happened in sinking on alluvial fields that a streak of the strata (the “bottom”) which usually underlies the wash has been found immediately above it, the result of a geological freak. This has occasionally deceived even diggers of some experience, and led them to abandon claims as duffers which, when subsequently sunk a little further, have proved to be golden holes.    [back]

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