Mary Musgrave by Anonymous
"Nine carets ef it's a blessed one."
"Scale 'im, an' ye'll find he's a half better. Clear es a bottle o' gin,
an' flawless es the pope! Tommy Dartmoor, ye're in luck, s' welp me never
ef ye ain't, an' that's a brilliant yer can show the polis an' not get
Tommy Dartmoor, who owed his surname to a crown establishment within the
restraining walls of which he had once enjoyed a temporary residence,
growled out a recommendation to "stow that," and then added, "Boys, we'll
wet this. Trek to Werstein's."
Forthwith a crowd of dirty, tanned diggers turned their heads in the
direction of Gustav Werstein's American Bar, and walked toward it as
briskly as the heat and their weariness would admit of. The Israelite saw
them coming, straightened himself out of the half-doze in which he had
passed the baking afternoon, stopped down the tobacco in the porcelain
bowl of his long-stemmed pipe with stumpy forefinger, and, twisting a cork
off his corkscrew, stood in readiness.
"Name yer pizons, boys, an' get outside 'em, wishin' all good luck to
R'yal Straight; R'yal Straight bein' the name o' this yer stone given by
Thomas D. Hesquire, original diskiverer an' present perprietor."
The orders were given,—bass at five shillings a bottle, champagne
(nee gooseberry) at five pounds, Cape smoke at two shillings per two
fingers,—and, at a given signal, there was an inarticulate roar from
dusty throats, an inversion of tumblers over thirsty mouths, and a second
inversion over the ground to show that all the contents had disappeared.
Satan, the one cat and only domestic pet of the camp, saw that there was a
general treat going on, and bustling up for his drink took a can of
condensed milk at six shillings. Other diggers came trooping in as the
news spread, and Tommy Dartmoor, who was rapidly becoming mellow, for he
drank half a tumbler of raw whisky with every one who nodded to him, stood
them refreshments galore, while the greasy Jew began to see visions of his
adopted fatherland in the near distance.
So the Kaffirs, except those who had supplies of their own, kept sober and
peaceful, while the higher order of the human race at Big Stone Hole,
after the manner of their kind, began to squabble. It was natural for them
to do so, perhaps, for the weather was so hot, and the liquors, for the
most part, more so; and under these circumstances men do not always cast
about them long for a casus belli. One or two minor brawls opened the
ball, and Herr Gustav, scenting battle in the air, drew from a locker a
card, which he balanced against the bottles on a shelf above his head. It
GENTS IS REKESTED TO SHOOT
CLEAR OF THE BARR-KEP.
BROKIN GLAS MAY BE PADE FOR
AT COST PRISE.
and had been written for the German by a gentleman who had had some
experience in Forty Rod Gulch, Nevada. The action elicited a contemptuous
laugh from one or two of the new hands, but the oldsters began shifting
sundry articles which depended from their belts into positions from which
they might be handled at the shortest notice; and the black cat, more wise
than any of them, having drunk his fill, stalked solemnly out into the
security of the darkness.
The sun went down,—went out with a click, some one declared,—and,
as no twilight interposed between daylight and darkness in the country
which Big Stone Hole ornamented, Herr Gustav lit his two paraffin-lamps.
Neither boasted more than a one-inch wick, and, as their glasses were
extremely smoky, the illumination was not brilliant; but it sufficed to
show the flushed, angry faces of a couple of men standing in the centre of
the room, with all the others clustered round, watching eagerly. One was
the Scholar. The other was a burly giant, whose missing left little finger
caused him to be nicknamed the Cripple. About what they had originally
fallen out was not clear to any one, to themselves least of all. As the
case stood when the second lamp was lit, Scholar had called Cripple a
something-or-other liar, and Cripple, who was not inventive, had retorted
by stigmatising Scholar as another. Further recriminations followed, and
their pistols were drawn; but as the audience had a strong objection to
indiscriminate shooting, by which it was not likely to benefit, the
belligerents were seized. No one was unsportsmanlike enough to wish to
stop the fight, and Jockey Bill, giving voice to the general wish of the
meeting, proposed that the gents be fixed up agin' a couple o' posts
outside, where they might let daylight into each other without
lead-poisoning casual spectators.
The motion was acted on, and after rectifying a slight omission on the
Cripple's part—he had forgotten to put caps on the nipples of his
revolver—the pair of them were seated upon upturned barrels some ten
yards apart, each with a lamp at his feet, and told to begin when they saw
fit to do so. The swarthy, bearded diggers grouped themselves on either
side, and the cat, emerging from his retreat, scrambled on to the shoulder
of one of them, fully as curious as the rest to "see the shootin'." It was
a weird sight,—dust, scorched grass, empty tins, rude hovels, piles
of debris, African moonlight,—yet, except, perhaps, in the eyes of
the newest comers, there was nothing strange in it. The others were too wrapped
up in what was going to take place to see anything quaint in their
every-day surroundings. There was no theatre in the camp. The little
impromptu drama riveted all attention.
But before the duel commenced, a galloping horse, which had approached
over the grassy veldt unnoticed during the excitement, drew up with a
crash between the two combatants, and its rider, raising his hand to
command attention, cried:
"Boys, there's a white woman comin'!"
"A white woman!" was chorused in various tones of disbelief. "What, here?
White woman comin' here, Dan?"
And then some one inquired if she was a Boer.
"Boer—no," replied Dan; "English—English as I am; leastways
Englisher, bein' Amurrican-born myself. Overtook her et Hottentot Drift.
Thort I'd spur on an' tell yer. We'd do wi' a clean-up, some on us."
Dan spoke indistinctly, as a bullet had lately disarranged some of his
teeth; but his words had a wonderful effect.
Each man began instinctively to tidy himself. The would-be duellists,
forgetting their quarrel, stuck the revolvers in their belts and followed
the general example. The Cripple hied him to the store, and after breaking
down the door abstracted the only blacking-brush in the camp,—putting
down a sovereign on the counter in exchange for it,—and set to
polishing his high boots as if a fortune depended on their brightness. The
Scholar bought Herr Gustav's white shirt for a fiver, threatening to
murder its owner if he did not render it up. And Partridge, a good man
from Norfolk, with a regrettable weakness for shooting other people's
game, induced a friend to denude him of his flowing locks by means of a
clasp-knife and a hunk of wood, as no scissors were procurable.
The wardrobes of Big Stone Hole were stocked more with a view to strict
utility than variety or ornamentation, and the slender resources of the
store utterly gave out under the sudden strain that was put upon them. In
every direction grimy, unkempt men might be seen attempting to beautify
themselves. Here was one enduring agonies from a razor that would scarcely
whittle a stick; here another recalling the feel of a cake of soap; there
a great fellow pulling faces as he struggled to get the teeth of a comb
into his shock of hair; there another brushing the clay from his moleskin
trousers with a tuft of stiff grass.
It seemed to these men ages since they had last seen a woman in the flesh,—Kaffir
women don't count; they are not women, merely Kaffirs,—and, with the
natural instinct of males of every species, they set about pluming their
These operations, though speedy as might be, were necessarily prolonged,
for most of the men required several buckets of water over the head before
they felt fit for such unaccustomed exercises, and they were scarcely
finished before the creaking of wheels and the cries of the voorlooper as
he urged his oxen announced that the wagon was within earshot. Up it came,
the great tilt gleaming white in the moonlight, and every eye was fixed
expectantly on the dark chasm within. The driver, puffed up with his own
importance, cracked his long whip and deigned not to notice the men whom
he usually greeted with a friendly hail, and the Hottentot boy ahead,
imitating his master, vouchsafed no explanation. With more deathly
slowness than usual did the lumbering vehicle crawl along until the tired
cattle pulled up before the door of the American Bar. Then there was a
rush and a bit of a scuffle for the honour of handing the woman out. The
Cripple was the fortunate man, and, after assisting her to the ground,
waved his tattered hat toward the gleaming open doorway. But he did not
speak. Words were beyond him. Indeed, the diggers, who were none of them
particularly remarkable for taciturnity as a general thing, seemed, with
one exception, to be stricken dumb. But the Scholar proved himself equal
to the occasion, and with courtly phrase bade the new-comer welcome to the
camp. He had always been a popular man among women in his palmier days,
though openly holding rather a poor opinion of them; and as the one before
him now was neat of speech and comely of form, he was not at all averse to
enjoying her society and conversation.
"I should be much obliged if you would direct me to a hotel," she said,
after taking a look around the cheap gaudiness of the saloon.
"I'm sorry to say that we have no hotel here as yet, Miss—er—?"
"Musgrave. Miss Mary Musgrave"—with a little bow. "But I heard that
a German had started a hotel here."
"No; there is nothing but this. That"—pointing to Herr Gustave, who
was regarding the newcomer with an evil eye—"that is the German."
Miss Musgrave appeared distressed.
"Then where can I go?" she asked. "Are there any lodgings to be had?"
"The lady may have my place," chorused three eager voices, and every man
in the room repeated the offer.
She thanked them with a pretty smile and one comprehensive bow, and looked
up at the Scholar for help.
"I would offer you my hut if it were not such a wretched one. But, as it
is, I should advise you to take this man's"—and he pointed to Tommy
"Why, mine's twenty carats better than hisn!" exclaimed the Cripple.
"And mine better 'n either," growled Dan.
"Mine's the best of the lot."
"No, it isn't; mine is," yelled others, till there was a general roar,
which caused Miss Musgrave to look frightened and shrink nearer to the
Scholar, and that gentleman to raise his hand for silence.
"Look here," said he, "we'll pick out the twelve best, and their owners
can cut with one another from a pack of cards."
After some discussion twelve were settled upon, but the number was
immediately raised to thirteen to prevent Jockey Bill disgracing the camp
by shooting before a lady. A pack of cards was placed on the bar, and each
man chose one, holding his selection face downward till all were ready.
Then the Scholar said, "Turn," and there were exhibited five aces, two
kings, a queen, three knaves, and two smaller cards. This was awkward, to
say the least of it, and, while sarcastic laughter rippled among the
spectators, there was an instinctive movement of right hands toward the
back of the belt on the part of each of the thirteen.
But the Scholar's voice, full of remonstrance, said, "Boys, you're being
looked at," and there was a regretful sigh or two, but no bloodshed.
Miss Musgrave gazed inquiringly from one to another, and the Scholar,
laying his hand on her arm, whispered something in her ear. She smiled,
whispered back, and was answered, and then, stripping off a pair of
well-fitting fawn gloves, she took the cards in a pretty little white
hand, and dealt out one to each of the competitors with charming
"Ain't touched a keard afore, bless her," whispered Euchre Buck, giving
his neighbor Dan a nudge in the ribs to call attention to this wonderful
piece of girlish innocence. "Square a deal es George Washington mought ha'
made." Then, as the greasy pasteboards were turned up, and his neighbour
was handed the ace of clubs, he raised his voice and yelled out, "Bully
for you, Dan! Cut away an' clar yer cabin out."
Away scampered Dan out into the darkness, with the rest of the crew at his
heels. Their home comforts were very small, poor fellows; but each gave of
his best, though the gifts were often incongruous enough. In half an hour
the cabin was fitted out with a small cracked looking-glass, two combs, an
old hair-brush,—still wet from the wash,—a pail, a frying-pan,
three kettles, two three-legged stools, and so many blankets that some
were requisitioned to carpet the floor. The whole crowd accompanied Miss
Musgrave to her door and gave her a cheer by way of good-night. She bowed
to them, smiling her thanks, and looking, as they thought, entrancingly
lovely as she stood there, with the pale moonbeams falling full on her.
Then she turned to go in, but as Euchre Buck stepped forward with an
admonishing cough, she waited and looked round at him.
"Miss," said he, holding out a big revolver in his hard fist, "you take
this yer gun, an' ef any one whistles, or otherwise disturbs you, let a
hole into him straight away, an' we'll see him buried decent."
But Miss Musgrave courteously, and with profuse thanks, refused the offer,
and, saying that she had perfect confidence in all who were around her,
gave Euchre Buck a bewitching smile, went inside, and closed the door
Then the diggers returned to Gustav Werstein's American Bar and discussed
the new arrival.
"I known Noomarket an' Hascot an' Hepson, an' all the places where swells
goes in England," said Jockey Bill, enthusiastically; "but never one come
there as pretty as she, stop my license if ther' did."
"Grand eyes, hain't she?" said Tommy Dartmoor. "Regular fust-water 'uns.
Here's to 'em!"
"And-a-hoof! See it peep below her gownd. S' welp me ef it wer' es big as
"An' 'er close, gentlemen! Made to measure, every thread on 'em, I allow."
"She's a lady, boys," exclaimed he who had offered to see after a funeral,
"a reg'lar slap-up, high-toned, blow-yer-eyes-don't-touch-me lady; an' as
she sees fit to do the civil to this fellar"—striking himself on the
chest—"he's just going to drop his professional name, an' arsk yer
to call him Mister Samuel K. Gregson, Esquire. Play on that."
Next morning the inhabitants of Big Stone Hole were startled by reading
this announcement outside the cabin which Dan had resigned to Miss
SINGING AND MUSIC TAUGHT.
LITERARY WORK DONE.
It was printed on a card, which was affixed to the door by means of a
drawing-pin, and from within came the sound of a contralto voice singing
to a guitar accompaniment. One by one the male residents of Big Stone Hole
drew near to that iron-roofed hut and stopped to listen; but after
commenting on the innovation in gleeful whispers—for guitar had
never twanged in that part of Africa before—they moved on to their
work. No consideration could cause them to neglect that. They might
fritter away the dull, rough gems when they had found them, but the lust
of handling diamonds once was the strongest passion they knew. And so the
day's toil was not curtailed; but at the conclusion Miss Musgrave had an
application for instruction in music from every man in the camp, with one
exception. This one defaulter was Euchre Buck. He owned to having no ear
for music—thereby exhibiting more honesty than many of the others—and
confessed to knowing only two tunes, one of which was "Hail Columbia," and
the other—wasn't; and so he said he wanted some "literary work
done." He proposed to Miss Musgrave that she should write a history of his
life at half a guinea a page, thereby—cute Yankee that he was—thinking
to appropriate the whole of her time.
But embarrassed by all these calls upon her, and obviously unable to
satisfy each of them, Miss Musgrave turned for help to the Scholar, whom
she appeared to regard as her special adviser; and he, promising a
solution of the difficulty in half an hour, drew off the whole crowd to
the American Bar, where the question was thrashed out in all its points.
It was clearly evident that Miss Musgrave could not surrender to each
individual the whole of her evening, even if any one had been willing to
let his neighbor monopolise it, which no one was; and therefore it was
necessary to formulate some scheme by which her talents might be
distributed over a larger area. But what the scheme should be was not
settled all in a minute. One man wanted to hear her sing, another to hear
her talk, another was willing to give five pounds an hour for the
privilege of talking to her. After a lengthened discussion, which was
excited throughout, and at times verged on the warlike, it was decided to
effect a compromise—subject, of course, to Miss Musgrave's
inclinations; and a deputation was sent to learn her views on the subject.
There was no assembly-room in the place, excepting Werstein's saloon,—which,
of course, was not available for such a purpose,—and so it was
proposed to her, with much humility, that she should take up her position
in the evenings on a chair outside her hut, and there discourse such vocal
and instrumental music as she saw fit, interlarding the same with friendly
conversation. What was she to talk about? Anything—absolutely
anything. They didn't mind what it was, so long as they heard her voice.
Five shillings, the committee had decided, was to be paid by every man who
came within earshot. And any one who wanted a free list was requested to
argue the matter out with Euchre Buck.
This call upon her powers seemed to take Miss Musgrave aback.
"I have never sung in public," she pleaded, rather nervously. "Indeed, my
voice is not good enough for it; really it isn't. Only I thought I could
teach a little perhaps, and that is why I came here. You see, mother, is
an invalid, and we were so very poor that—"
"Miss," broke in Jockey Bill, "call it ten bob a 'ead, an' just 'um to
"Oh no, Mr. William, it was not the money that I thought about; indeed,
five shillings would be far too much. But if you think that I should be
able to amuse you at all, I would do my very best—believe me, I
"Miss," growled Dan, with a clumsy endeavour to chase away her diffidence,
"all we asks is fer you to sit near us fer a spell. Ef you sings or plays,
we'd be proud; ef you just looks an' talks, we'd be pleased."
So in the end Miss Musgrave yielded to the wishes of the community, and
the nightly conclave in the American Bar became so much a thing of the
past that Gustav Werstein was heard to threaten another emigration. The
songs were to the diggers new, and yet not new. There was nothing of the
music-hall type about them; they were nearly all old-fashioned ditties.
She sang to them of "Barbara Allen" and "Sally in our Alley"; she gave
them "Cheer, Boys, Cheer," and called for a chorus; she sang "The
Message," "The Arrow and the Song"; and she brought back memories of other
days when Africa was to them a mere geographical expression—of days
when that something had not happened which had sent them away from home.
Sunday came, the fifth day after her arrival, and it differed from the
usual Sabbath of Big Stone Hole. Sunday had been observed before by the
biggest drinking bout of the week, and a summary settlement of the
previous six days' disputes. Now, to the huge surprise of the Kaffirs, and
to the still greater surprise of themselves, these diamond-diggers sang
hymns at intervals during the day, and refrained from indulging in the
orthodox carouse till after Miss Musgrave had retired for the night. It
was a wonderful change.
During the next week a fall of earth took place in Tommy Dartmoor's claim.
Two Kaffirs were killed; and when the proprietor himself was extricated
from the debris of blue clay which held him down, he was found to have a
broken arm, besides other serious injuries.
"Don't let on to her," he managed to gasp out to his rescuers, wishing to
spare Miss Musgrave's nerves a shock.
But she saw the men bearing him to his hut, joined them, and insisted on
being installed as sole nurse forthwith.
Twenty other men would willingly have broken an arm for such a reward; and
the recklessness displayed during the next few days was something awful.
But she saw that too,—little escaped those big blue eyes,—and,
ascribing it to drink, gave a pretty strong lecture on the bibulous habits
of Big Stone Hole, at her next concert.
There was an earnest meeting in the American Bar that night, at which the
following motion was put and carried unanimously: "On and after this date,
any drunken man is liable to be shot at sight, unless his friends can
prove that he has dug over three carats of diamonds during the day." And
then, like other reformers, they went on to more sweeping measures: "Only
knife-fighting to take place in the camp. All disputes with pistols,
unless of a very pressing nature, to be settled out of earshot of Dan's
house." There were even some hints of appointing a closing-time for the
saloon—"it would make the place so much more like home." But the
promoter eventually withdrew his suggestion, as it was justly felt that
such a motion would interfere with the liberty of the subject too much.
But a storm of cheers burst forth when it was proposed to transfer the
diamond-safe from Werstein's keeping to a corner of the new goddess's
Even Satan, the cat, joined in the general adoration, and, more favoured
than the rest, enjoyed at times a chaste salute from Miss Musgrave's
Never, in so short a space of time, had a community been more changed for
the better than was that of Big Stone Hole. Never had woman's humanising
influence made itself more clearly felt. The azure cloud of blasphemy that
hung over the workings and the rest of the camp was replaced again by the
normal dust. Each man tried to beautify the inside of his shanty to the
best of his means and ideas, for there was no knowing when the only "she"
would take it into her pretty, capricious head to pay a call. In this
latter line the Scholar had a decided pull. Education had taught him
taste; necessity, handiness; and by aid of the two he transformed his rude
dwelling into something approaching the rooms in which he used to dawdle
away the happy hours, time ago. It was partly drawing-room, partly
curiosity-shop. Cups, saucers, and spoons appeared as if by magicians'
call, and one blazing afternoon the news flashed round the diamond-pits
that Miss Musgrave was "taking afternoon tea with the Scholar." But when
the Scholar saw the dismay his simple act had spread around him, he
dissipated it with a kindly laugh and a few reassuring words.
"Don't mind me, boys. I was only doing the civil in a purely platonic
manner. Miss Musgrave is nothing to me, nor am I anything to her. Heaven
forbid! I'm too hard a bargain for any girl. If any one of you marries her
I'll act as his best man if he asks me to, and wish him every felicity
without a thought of regret."
"Bully for the Scholar!" yelled the delighted crowd; and Miss Musgrave's
smiles were more sought after than ever.
So things went on day after day, week after week, till Miss Musgrave
became little short of an autocratic empress. But still she showed no
signs of taking unto herself a consort; she kept all men at a cousinly
distance, and those who felt intimate enough to address her as "Miss Mary"
accounted themselves uncommonly fortunate. Thus the little machine of
state worked perfectly harmoniously, and Big Stone Hole was as steady and
prosperous a settlement as need be.
Had these diggers refreshed their minds by looking back for historical
parallels, they might have been prepared in some degree for Miss
Musgrave's exit from among them, but as none of them indulged in such
retrospections the manner of it took the camp somewhat by surprise.
It was first discovered in this wise. Work was over for the day. The
Kaffirs had been searched and had returned to their kraal. Pipes were
being lit after the evening meal, and a picturesque assembly was grouping
itself in an expectant semicircle on the sun-baked turf in front of Miss
Musgrave's dwelling. She was usually outside to welcome the first comers,
and her absence naturally formed the staple topic of conversation. Digger
after digger arrived, threw himself down, and joined in the general
wonderment as to why Miss Mary wasn't there, and at last some one hazarded
a suggestion that she "must be asleep." There was a general epidemic of
noisy coughing for a full minute, and then silence for another, but no
sound from within the hut.
"Perhaps she's ill," was the next surmise.
After the etiquette to be followed had been strictly discussed, and a
rigid course of procedure set down, the Scholar got up and knocked at the
door. He received no answer, and so knocked again—knocked several
times, in fact, and then rattled the handle vigorously, but without
"Better open it," said a voice.
And he did so; and after looking inside, announced:
"She's not there."
At this moment Dan came up.
"My ole mar' 's gone," he said; "an' she ain't stampeded, neither, but was
stole. Tote-rope's been untied, an' saddle an' bridle took as well."
There was uncomfortable silence, which the Scholar broke by a low,
"Boys," said he, "let's look inside the safe."
The three men who held the keys brought them up, the bolts were shot, and
the massive door swung back. There was every man's little sack with his
name on it; but somehow or other the sacks looked limper than of yore.
Each one was eagerly clutched and examined, and many a groan and not a few
curses went up on the still night air as it was found that every sack save
Dan's had been relieved of the more valuable part of its contents.
So much heart-breaking labour under the burning sun thrown away for
nothing; the dreary work to commence afresh, almost from the beginning!
Had the thief been any ordinary one, the denunciation would have been
unbounded; but no one lifted his tongue very loudly against Mary Musgrave.
Yet mounted men were despatched on the three trails to bring back the
booty if possible, and the rest moved dejectedly toward their old club.
The greasy Jew did not attempt to conceal his exultation. He served his
customers with his wicked old face glowing with smiles, and when a
moment's breathing-time came he observed:
"We all 'az hour lettle surbrizes in dis wairld, an' I most confaiss I am
asdonished myself to lairn that Mess Mosgrave is a thief—" But here
a crashing among the glassware announced that Tommy Dartmoor had begun
shooting with his left hand, and Herr Gustave sputtered out from behind
the fingers he held before his face, "Ach Gott! I say nozzing more!"