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He had been a lamplighter in the old country, and for many years had known no more arduous task than that of tramping round certain streets three times daily, ladder on shoulder, bitch at heel, to attend the little flames that helped to dispel the London dark.
And he might have jogged on at this up to three score years and ten, had he never lent an ear to the tales that were being told of a wonderful country, where, for the mere act of stooping, and with your naked hand, you could pick up a fortune from the ground.
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On hearing his mate's report he had sunk heavily down on a log, and there he sat, a pannikin of raw spirit in his hand, the tears coursing ruts down cheeks scabby with yellow mud, his eyes glassy as marbles with those that had still to fall. This accident was the last link in a chain of ill-luck that had been forging ever since he first followed the diggings.
They had only been eight in all—a hand-to-mouth number for a deep wet hole.
Then, one had died of dysentery, contracted from working constantly in water up to his middle; another had been nabbed in a manhunt and clapped into the "logs." And finally, but a day or two back, the three men who completed the nightshift had deserted for a new "rush" to the Avoca. There was nothing left for him, Long Jim, to do, but to take his dish and turn fossicker; or even to aim no higher than washing over the tailings rejected by the fossicker. He cursed the day on which he had first set foot on Ballarat. " "'Ere, 'ave another drink, matey, and fergit yer bloody troubles." His re-filled pannikin drained, he grew warmer round the heart; and sang the praises of his former life.
Well, they wouldn't be many; this was not a place that made old bones.
And, as he sat, worked on by grief and liquor, he was seized by a desperate homesickness for the old country. He shut his eyes, and all the well-known sights and sounds of the familiar streets came back to him.