Jenny Carter leaned over the bar-counter, her elbows on the rough planks among the glasses and tin pannikins, and her chin in her hands. Her face was tanned and freckled by the strong winds and fierce sun of Northern Victoria, and her yellow hair had a bleached look as if that sun had stolen some of the colour from it. Still, she was not counted pretty without reason, for her big brown eyes looked out wistfully from under their long lashes, and the rare smile that parted her red lips showed a row of milk-white teeth.
But Jenny Carter had not yet learned her own value in a land where women of any sort were scarce, and a pretty unmarried one a valuable commodity, and very evidently no thought of her personal appearance had ever come either to trouble or to gratify her. Her yellow curls had been tossed and tumbled by the wind all day long, and her lilac cotton gown was buttoned all awry. It had seen service, too, that gown, and was faded in some parts to a dull and dingy white, and the rents and tears that were pretty numerous had been mended in a fashion that could only be called slipshod. It was open at the neck a little for coolness, for the January day had been a sweltering one, and the line where the sun-tan ended showed as a dark ring round her white neck; the sleeves, too, were rolled up to the elbows, but that was evidently their normal condition, for the round young arms were all one golden brown, like her face. The Lucky Digger hotel and store was a poor enough place, half canvas tent, half bark and corrugated iron shanty, and the counter, which ran the whole length of the room, merely consisted of rough boards laid along the tops of casks, some empty and some full. The floor was bare earth beaten hard by the passage of countless feet. The stock-in-trade was stored in numerous bottles on the shelves nailed up against the walls, wherever the walls would bear shelves; and, for the rest, bags of flour, cases of gin and brandy, boxes of tobacco, kerosene, matches--in fact, all the necessaries of a digger's life--were piled up in the corners and on the floor in seemingly hopeless confusion.
It was early yet, and the place was comparatively empty. One or two idlers and loafers stood about, trying to cadge a drink or win a smile from the proprietor's pretty daughter, but in a desultory, half-hearted fashion. The business of the day would not fairly begin till the sun had set over the ranges in the west and the diggers came trooping in for a song and a chat, and, maybe, if Sailor Joe were there, and was not too drunk to play his fiddle, a bull dance would be attempted. Then, indeed, the competition for Jenny's hand would be keen.