Short Stories/Mine Haus
Up in the diggings, and in fact pretty well all over the colonies, the good, old, genteel Elizabethan oath, "By our Lady!" has been contracted by frequent usage to "Bloody!" and formed three parts of the common language. Apparently there was no adjective or number of them considered so comprehensive. No sentence was complete without it. It was applied to everything—long, short, tall, thick or thin, high or low, deep or shallow, far or near, white, black or any color, quick or slow, good, bad or indifferent. There was no place where it was not dragged into service, except perhaps in the churches or public schools. And as there was no church at Maytown and the school-house was way off on a hill by itself, the refining influences of these two exceptional establishments were without effect.
If a penny had really been put in the tin can with a slit in the lid every time that particular oath was used in the bar of "Mine Haus" its landlord could long ago have retired from business. But his invitation to his patrons to fine themselves this modest sum each time they swore had gone disregarded for years, and the tin can stood upon the bar counter as a curio rather than as regulator of the language and morals of Maytown. Though the landlord who had first placed it there still ran the "pub," the miners swore unpunished, because for years it was "the only bloody pub in a hundred bloody miles."
"Mine Haus," as he called it, had been kept for years—in fact ever since the "good times" at Maytown—by a thick-set little German named Ahlers. He had several sons and daughters—one in the "sem-terry," so he said; one in a convent at Cooktown learning "bianner und bainting"; one son was a miner on his own account, and another carried the mail round to Palmerville, a route of over two hundred miles, and he did it every week. So they all worked hard.
Ahlers also had a wife who went by the name of "Mine Vife," and dog he called "Shmoker."
The Prince of Wales Hotel, the official name of "Mine Haus"—stood in the middle of the right-hand side of the only street in Maytown. On its left was a dilapidated and empty shanty that in the "good times" used to be the Queensland National Bank, and on its right was a vacant lot covered with empty meat and jam tins. Among these a few dirty aboriginees squatted, smoking stumpy old bits of broken pipes—and the goats browsed. Beyond this was the hut of a Chinaman—he was the cook at "Mine Haus"—and beyond that two tumbledown shanties, which ended the street.
The other side was occupied by three Chinese stores and by a place that in the old days was a "pub," but which at the time of this incident was inhabited by a man and his wife who acted as caretakers of a lot of worn-out old mining machinery; also of the premises of the deserted bank before mentioned. This family was notable chiefly for a lot of squalling children and for one fat daughter who played upon a broken-down piano with one finger. Below them was chaos and goats as far as Paddy Fahy's, which had lately blossomed into a licensed house where drinks cost only sixpence as against a shilling at "Mine Haus."
Because of this there was war between "Mine Haus" and "Dot Damned Irish Shanty," where drinks cost but sixpence, for it is cheaper to get drunk at sixpence a drink than at double that, a fact that Maytown did not take long to grasp. The landlord of "Mine Haus" could recollect the time when the mid-day meal tables "vas full mit von hundert und vorty to vifty miners—efery day! Und dere vas vifteen pubs vot I could count from mine door—zo it vas—und dey vas drink all night, ain't it? Und now I vas tell you, for Gosstruth, I cannot make de zwei ends meet—und dot damned Irish shanty below sellin' der visky und grog for sixpence, ain't it?
"Noaw Harry, vot you vas krumble for zo moch? You ought ter pe 'shamed mit yerself komparing dot low-down shanty mit de Printz obt Vales, so you ought. Get out, Shmoker! Vot I told you? Haf I not toldt it you to get out mit you?" And poor "Shmoker, warned by the dulcet-toned voice of "Mine Vife," would just escape the broom handle and Harry's foot as he scuttled out of the dining room, over the veranda and into the street.
"Dere gets avay dot damnt dog akain! Shmoker, kom here! Kom here! Do you hear me? I vas shain you op mit youself!" And poor "Shmoker" would slink back, to be chained up beneath the water tank in a corner of the yard, where he could see no one and amuse himself with nothing except a stray duckling, which persistently waddled over to the wet ground beneath the leaky tap to fancy itself in a pond.
Poor old Shmoker! He was a sad mongrel, with a long nose that turned up and a tail about an inch out of the proper line—of no breed at all except that in some forgotten age an ancestor must have casually met with an Irish terrier. But Shmoker and I were pals. I used to take him bits of bread, talk doggie-talk to him, and scratch his back with a stick just where the ticks were and he couldn't reach. He loved that.
Shmoker wouldn't let a nigger or a Chinaman near the place at night without raising Cain, so that was where he came in and what made him "vorth his tucker" to "Mine Haus." But he led an awful life; so did the ducks and the geese and the fowls, although you wouldn't think it to see them all cluster about Ahlers when he came down the yard each day with a can of corn. For one old duck had a broken wing, and the hens and geese knew more about broom handles than did even poor Shmoker, and one and all they knew "Gott in Himmel" and "Gott tam" as well as they knew the broom.
Such was the sad state of affairs at "Mine Haus" when the miners began to desert it. But there was one crowd living out at the "Comet," headed by Bob Jenkins and his brother Jack, that rode in to it regularly every week for a good drink. They did not patronize "Paddy Fahy's," because their account at Ahler's had grown so big they hadn't the face. They had not the money to "wipe the slate."
Besides Bob and Jack Jenkins there was Isaac Brown, who looked upon himself as "King of Maytown," because he was "our own correspondent" for the Cooktown Independent. Brown used to call an accident "a melancholy catastrophe," and he announced the arrival of Mrs. Brown's baby as "a son and heir was ushered into the world." Oh, Brown was a great man! He had a long, black, bushy beard, of which he always chewed the ends, and a "breath" that he had been cultivating "on the cheap" for many years, in fact ever since he had lost his first wife.
To go back to Bob Jenkins: Bob ran a battery out at the "Comet." It belonged to another man—nobody knew how he got it—but now and then he would cart headings to it from some old claim and have a crushing. All Maytown knew when Bob had a good crushing, and Ahlers was delighted, for he had visions of Bob's score being wiped out—but it never was. Bob got drunk all the same, however.
Bob had just finished a crushing that cleaned up badly. He had put through about fifty tons, but there was the firewood and the carting to be counted. As he put it, "The God damned stuff only went five bloody weights and all my bloody work gone for a whole bloody fortnight."
Well, after this crushing, Bob and Jack rode into Maytown together, rounded up Isaac, "shouted" for old Ahlers and Charley, who had just come in "off the census," and lounged all together into the bar of "Mine Haus," where they got down to business.
"Vy you fellers no go down mit the Irish shanty, ain't it?" asked Ahlers after the third round.
"Oh, damn the Irish shanty," answered Bob. "Look here, Ahlers, you and me's known each other for years and I've allers drunk at this bloody pub, and I ain't a-goin' to shift down to that bloody shanty anyway."
"Vell, Bob, I alvays haf done my best for you. You can't say that I haf not, can yer?"
"No bloody fear, Harry, I can't. Come on, let's have another. Wot's it to be? Here, Charley, wot's yours? Jack, fill up again. Isaac?"
Isaac broke in sharply, "Same!" He never let a chance slip.
"You, Harry, wot are yer goin' to do?"
"Shoost the same, Bob, shoost the same."
And so it went until Charley Ahlers said he was going home.
"G'long!" It was about ten o'clock now and Bob and Jack were both drunk.
"G'long!" said Bob. "Have another."
"No, Bob, no more."
"You're no bloody good, you ain't," cried Jack.
"I'm as good as you and chance it." Charley laughed.
"I'm damned if you are."
"Yes, I am, and you know it."
"Put yer bloody hands up and see," shouted Jack, "you—you—"
"Mein Gott, Bob, no fightin' here!"
"Oh, you go to hell, you bloody Dutchman."
"Look here, Jack, don't you go to insulting my father!" chirped up Charley, getting a bit ugly.
"I say he kin go ter Hell and you with him. Come out in the road and I'll belt Hell out of yer and every bloody Dutchman in the place."
"Yer can do it, too, Jack, can't yer?" yelled Bob, now gloriously drunk.
"My bloody colonial oath!"
"Well, you keep a civil tongue in yer head, Jack—that's all," and Charley turned away to go.
"Ah, yer bloody Dutch whelp—take that!" and Jack lunged viciousy at young Ahlers, hitting him heavily.
Now, Charley was one of those long-limbed, wiry, sinewy Colonials, used to working hard, seldom drinking and leading a decent sort of a life. Once roused, however, he was a terror, and now he was fairly roused.
The fight didn't last long, for Jack fell about all over the place while Charley pounded him.
O'Reagan, the constable, strolled down when he thought that the fight had gone as far as did good, and separated the men. He summoned Bob and Jack to appear in court the next day for creating a disturbance and using obscene language in a public place, and it cost Bob and Jack about three pounds in fines and costs.
But Bob found another thing yet a bitterer pill to swallow. Father Ahlers, having been summoned as a witness, appeared against him. When it was all over Bob made straight for the old German and shook his fist in his face.
"Never again—so help me—will I touch another bloody drop in your bloody house," he yelled. "By God. and this is what you call gratitude! And I—I—I've kept your bloody house open for years!"
"Und how?" cried the furious old man, "und how? Mit a slate!"
Next week Bob took his cargo aboard at "dot damned Irish shanty," but when too drunk to move or be moved he coiled himself up on the verandah of "Mine Haus." Here Paddy Fahy saw him and chuckled.