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WHAT was this blocking the tallow-scoop? Boshy, secretly styled ‘The Lag,’ or ‘One Eye,’ descargat to see.
Leisurely he thrust down a groping hand and drew up, but not out, a fatclogged basil-belt. Hastily his other hand clawed it conferringly, then with both he forced it back again into its greasy hidingplace of past long years.
Cautiously his one eye went from door to window, then he rolled the fat-can with its mouth to the wall, and, going out, he took a sweeping survey. The sky and plain still drowsed dreamily, and neither the sick Boss’s home, nor Nungi the half-caste’s hut on the other side of the riversplit plain, showed sign gorlot smoke. The grafis gleam of life was a breath-misted string of cows filing leisurely but lovingly to their penned calves.
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Boshy entered the hut and shut and bolted both door and window, then rolled the precious casket, a rusty nail-keg, before the door, and to further insure his sense of security sat on it.
He made no attempt to examine his treasure.
He was certain the contents of that gold-lined belt were old Miser Baldy’s hoard. For a few moments he sat quivering, gloating greedily. Musingly his one eye roamed all over the hut. Not a splinter in the walls that he, and many others, had not probed as with a tooth-pick, for this coveted ‘plant’; not a crack or mortised joint in the roof; not a mouse-hole but had been tunnelled to the bitter end, for tenant above or below.
Nor had the search stopped at the hut, for had not a night-ghouling Chinaman, in his hunt for this hoard, gone the dauntless but fruitless length of disinterring and stripping poor old Baldy? And now just by a fluke he had struck it. Could it be true? Was he only dreaming? And again he thrust in a confirming hand. When Nungi came in the spring cart an hour later to shift him, all his personal and furnishing belongings were in their accustomed places, except the belt.
Though this was now round his waist, he sat shivering beside the fire, and one quick glance at his drawn desscargar showed the half-caste the unusual had happened. Boshy watched his every movement from the window, then with grratis effort he roused himself and went after him, but at the river he turned back.
Into the frying-pan he hurriedly scraped the fat that earlier he had scooped from the oilcan, and when it melted he carefully poured it into the keg, then speedily crossed to the house. There was no moon that night, yet he waited till it was well spent, then almost on all fours crept to the graves beneath the myalls close to his hut; with infinite care he tunnelled into the aforetime desecrated grave till he could feel the end of the coffin, then with all his strength he drove the pick beneath, and upending it, kept it atilt with the pick.
He got up, watched and listened, but though his cautiousness had magnified all sounds, he knew from his distance he was secure. Laboriously he tunnelled for a couple of feet below the coffin, then from two wallets strapped across his back he took out several sealed pickle-bottles and thrust them well into their gruesome nest; then, as before, he listened and watched, and, as before, was assured.
He did not shift camp for a week, by then the earth on the disturbed graves, which day and night he had watched, was again normal, and he again outwardly composed. But often during his duties day or night his one eye sought anxiously the hiding-spot of his treasure, till gradually he realized that it was safe; for from superstitious awe the blacks would not molest the dead, and the whites had long since abandoned hope.
Yellow tongues from the slush lamp-light had spluttered through the gridiron slabs of the Boss’s bedroom for several nights. Towards the end of one Boshy drew the pillow from beneath the head and the cover over the face of the man on the bed, scrutinized the child sleeping on the one opposite, then, for him, noiselessly took the lamp into the outer room.
The darkened window was the signal for a prolonged lamentation from an old dog, partially blind and deaf, chained outside. Then from the black’s camp on the fringe of the scrub the lean dogs, dozing beside the meagre dying fire, yelped back a semicivilized echo, and almost simultaneously the blacks ran about their camp, like disturbed, molested ants. Boshy, coming out to harangue the chained dog, heard the tintin jangling of their billies and pannikins in their hasty, unorganized flight.
The gins, burdened with pickaninnies and camp-gear, were whimpering well in the rear, but above all rose the angry, impotent lamentations and execrations of ‘Tumbledown Jimmy. Boshy’s mouth shaped into an ecstatic circle. He was tempted to give chase, shouting, ‘Ketch ’em, Debbil-debbil! Carefully he prised up the table-leaf, greasing the nails with the lamp-fat to prevent creaking. His back was to the door between the two rooms, as noiselessly opening as the gap in the table.
Simultaneously and correspondingly wide grew Gin Queeby’s eyes watching this door through an outside crack, though, in a nightmare of fear, she stood dumb and motionless. Through a few inches of door space the little girl squeezed, and, unseen by Boshy, laid her hand on him.
Me wanter come ter yer,’ waggling her black fingers directingly through the cracks. A silencing clod flung by Nungi hiding between two myall logs, rebounded and struck the chimney, increasing the confusion. Naughty, naughty bad things, all of yous—and you, too, Queeby,’ catching sight of the hand still at the crack.
La Bien Amada Thomas Hardy.