[Editor: This short story was published in The Westralian Worker (Kalgoorlie, WA), 20 December 1901.]
For the Worker.
He was a most unlucky dog. Everything he touched, ended in failure. Did he buy scrip? The mine was sure to turn out a duffer. Did he sell? The claim was sure to turn up trumps. He had the luck of the devil, and so his mates called him “Devil’s Luck.”
He was getting old — was on the wrong side of fifty. And he feared, as only a sturdy spirit can fear, the benevolent asylum. So he made up his mind to give up speculating and to save. His idea was to buy a little bit of land, build a hut on it, and raise sufficient food to satisfy his humble wants. The unlucky man always regrets that he did not take to something else. If he is a miner, he says, “Why didn’t I go on the land?” If he is a cocky, he says, “Why the dickens didn’t I try my luck at the diggings?” There is a fortune for every one of us, if we strike the right thing. But most of us don’t, and — you know the rest.
“Devil’s Luck” would frequently express at meal times his aspirations to his mates.
“By Jove,” said Bill Long, on one of these occasions, “I’ve got a bit of land that will suit you to a T.” Here Bill winked, and the rest of the boys looked hard into space. Bill Long had bought the bit of land referred to, which was situated two or three miles out of Milchester, in the old rush days. It was half swamp, half stony ridge, and it was known as Long’s Estate. The idea of Bill trading this off on poor Luck was decidedly humorous. But, for obvious reasons, the boys had no desire to prematurely manifest their keen sense of humor. On the contrary, one after the other solemnly averred that the land in question was the very piece “Devil’s Luck” wanted.
“I will give you fifteen quid for it,” said Luck, “and chance it.”
“A bargain,” cried Long.
“Poor Luck strode off to his camp for the money. And then — well, then the boys simply rolled over and over, and roared. Miners have a keen sense of humor.
On the following Saturday afternoon, Luck went out to see his estate. He was mortally disappointed. He knew little about land, but he knew enough to convince him at once that his fifteen quid had been thrown away. And then he began to have a vague sensation of suppressed laughter and sly winks.
“I have been had,” he muttered to himself, “not only by Long, but by the whole damned lot of them.” He sat down on the edge of a rock — utterly disgusted.
“What an ass I have been,” he muttered to himself. A man does not hesitate to call himself an ass when he is absolutely alone. He knows that the only person present will refuse to accept the accuracy of the description.
In sheer vexation of spirit, he picked up little bits of stone and threw them petulantly at nothingness. He had been playing at this fool’s game for some time when he imagined he saw one little bit shine in the sunlight. “New chum gold, I suppose,” he said, moving forward and picking it up. He looked at it carefully. Rubbed his eyes, and looked again. He then gazed vacantly in the direction of the universe, performed something between a whistle and a hiss, and whispered into an invisible ear: “Gold, by God.”
Early next morning he was out with pick and shovel. He had struck it rich at last. He came home about 8 o’clock in the evening with a new light in his eyes, and two or three hundred pounds worth of loose gold in his pockets.
He entered Mulligan’s pub, just as Long was making a whole barful of them roar with his account of how he had sold his estate.
“Fifteen bally sovereigns,” he roared, “and the whole bally thing not worth a tanner.”
While the boys were laughing at this sally Luck entered.
“How do, old man?” cried Long. “How do? Damn me if I don’t shout. We’ll drink prosperity of your new venture. I know I’ve let you have it dirt cheap.” (Loud laughter.) “But I’ll shout for all that.”
After they had drunk prosperity to Luck’s venture, Long said: “Honor bright, old man, what do you think of your bargain?”
“I reckon it’s the best bargain I ever made in my life,” said Luck earnestly.
This was too much for Long and his mates, and the pub literally shook with their laughter.
It was the joke of the evening, and miners, as previously observed, have a keen sense of humor.
A fortnight after, Lock sold his claim for £10,000.
Long, if not a wiser, is certainly a sadder man.
“Great Scott!” he is sometimes heard to exclaim, “to think that I was a blanky millionaire for twenty bloomin’ years, and never knew it.”
The Westralian Worker (Kalgoorlie, WA), 20 December 1901, p. 1
aver = to assert, declare, or state something to be a fact; to declare positively that something is definitely true; (in a court of law) to allege or assert something as a fact (past tense: averred)
bally = an exclamatory term, a euphemism for “bloody”; an exclamation used for emphasis, or as an expression of annoyance or anger against someone or something (e.g. “That bally idiot!”)
benevolent asylum = a charitable institution which provides shelter and food for destitute or homeless people, inclusive of the aged, disabled, and infirm; benevolent asylums were also known as destitute asylums, poor houses (also rendered as: poor-houses, poorhouses), or work houses (so-named due to the emphasis placed on making the able-bodied work for their upkeep; also rendered as: workhouses)
Bill = a diminutive form of “William”; there are several diminutive forms of William: Bill, Billie, Billy, Will, Willie, Wills, Willy, (Scottish) Wullie
blanky = substitution for a swear word (such as “bloody”)
bloomin’ = (vernacular) blooming (an exclamatory oath)
boys = (in the context of adults) a reference to men (similar to the use of “lads” to refer to men)
cocky = (also spelt “cockie”) a farmer (the term was used to refer to poor bush farmers, from having land so poor that they were jokingly said to only be able to farm cockies, i.e. cockatoos, a type of bird; however, it was later used to refer to farmers in general)
dickins = a replacement for the word “devil” (considered to be a polite substitution, or euphemism, for the word “devil”), e.g. as used in the phrase “What the dickins?” (similar to “What the deuce?”) (usually spelt: dickens)
duffer = a non-paying or unproductive mine
Great Scott = an exclamation of surprise (similar to “good heavens”)
Jove = an alternate name for Jupiter; in Roman mythology, Jupiter was king of the gods, as well as the god of sky and thunder (“by Jove” is an exclamatory phrase, denoting excitement or surprise; the phrase was a way of saying “by God” without blaspheming)
new chum = a newly-arrived immigrant, especially a British immigrant (also spelt with a hyphen: new-chum)
new chum gold = fool’s gold: a mineral or rock which can be mistaken for gold (usually pyrite)
pound = a unit of British-style currency used in Australia, until it was replaced by the dollar in 1966 when decimal currency was introduced in Australia
pub = hotel; an establishment where the main line of business is to sell alcoholic drinks for customers to consume on the premises (“pub” comes from the abbreviation of “public house”)
quid = a pound or a dollar; originally “quid” referred to a pound, a unit of British-style currency used in Australia (until it was replaced by the dollar in 1966, when decimal currency was introduced); after the decimalisation of Australia’s currency, it referred to a dollar
rush days = the days (or times) of the gold rushes
sally = a military attack or sortie against an enemy, especially by soldiers who are besieged or surrounded; a pouring forth of soldiers from a base or position (especially a fortified or defensive position) to attack an enemy; to burst out, to rush forward; a pouring forth of words; an outburst; a commencement or start of activity; to go on a journey (“sallied” is often used in conjunction with “forth”, especially in a military context, e.g. “they sallied forth from the castle”)
scrip = an alternative or a substitute for legal tender; a certificate of money invested in or subscribed to a bank or company, which usually entitles the bearer or a named person to receive dividends (such as a certificate for shares in a company, or for government-issued bonds); an issue of additional, bonus, or spin-off shares to existing shareholders; certificates, coupons, or tokens issued by a business, company, or organisation, which can be turned in or exchanged for goods or services from the issuing entity (this includes gift cards, which are a modern form of scrip); a certificate of debt, issued by a government, to be used as a form of currency during a financial emergency; a small scrap of material, usually paper, especially a written document)
shout = to buy drinks for others; to buy a round of drinks, especially in a pub
sovereign = a gold sovereign coin, equivalent to £1 (one pound)
suit you to a T = something that is very suitable, exactly right, or perfect; something that will fit in nicely with one’s plans; something which aligns with one’s persona
tanner = (slang) a sixpence (can also refer to: someone whose profession is to tan animal hides or leather)
turn up trumps = to be successful, to achieve success or a good result, for a situation to turn out well, to win (especially to achieve success in a situation where success was unlikely or was not expected); the phrase is believed to derive from card games in which trump cards are the highest suit (the phrase is also rendered as “come up trumps”)