And so it was with the acrid pleasure he had promised himself that he said to the visitor, bending over the double handful of gold, “Guess it looks good to you.”
“Yes, it looks good!” But he had lifted his eyes, and seemed to be studying the man more than the metal.
A couple of newcomers, going by, halted.
“Christ!” said the younger, “look at that!”
The Boy remembered them; they had been to Seymour only a couple of hours before asking for work. One was old for that country—nearly sixty—and looked, as one of the gang had said, “as if, instid o’ findin’ the pot o’ gold, he had got the end of the rainbow slam in his face—kind o’ blinded.”
At sound of the strange voice Austin had wheeled about with a fierce look, and heavily the strangers plodded by. The owner turned again to the gold. “Yes,” he said curtly, “there’s something about that that looks good to most men.”
“What I was thinkin’,” replied the Boy slowly, “was that it was the only clean gold I’d ever seen—but it isn’t so clean as it was.”
“What do you mean?” Austin bent and looked sharply into the full hands.
“I was thinkin’ it was good to look at because it hadn’t got into dirty pockets yet.” Austin stared at him an instant. “Never been passed round—never bought anybody. No one had ever envied it, or refused it to help someone out of a hole. That was why I thought it looked good—because it was clean gold ... a little while ago.” And he plunged his hands in the water and washed the clinging particles off his fingers.
Austin had stared, and then turned his back with a blacker look than even “Scowl” had ever worn before.
“Gosh! guess there’s goin’ to be trouble,” said one of the gang.
“He saw, and first of brotherhood had sight....”
It was morning, and the night-shift might go to bed; but in the absent Englishmen’s tent there was little sleep and less talk that day. The Boy, in an agony, with a foot on fire, heard the Colonel turning, tossing, growling incoherently about “the light.”
It seemed unreasonable, for a frame had been built round his bed, and on it thick gray army blankets were nailed—a rectangular tent. Had he cursed the heat now? But no: “light,” “God! the light, the light!” just as if he were lying as the Boy was, in the strong white glare of the tent. But hour after hour within the stifling fortress the giant tossed and muttered at the swords of sunshine that pierced his semi-dusk through little spark-burnt hole or nail-tear, torturing sensitive eyes.