This year’s summer serial is a novel Harkness published in the Western Australian press, recently discovered by Terry Elkiss and made available thanks to Trove Australia‘s important project to digitise nineteenth-century Australian newspapers. Following her global travels earlier in the 1890s, Harkness relocated semi-permanently to Western Australia in the middle of the decade and established a publishing career in the Australian press based both on her literary reputation in Britain and her engagement with Australian themes and settings. ‘Called to the Bar: A Westralian Novel’ is set in a gold mining township in Western Australia, based on Coolgardie, where she lived; from its second instalment onwards it is explicitly subtitled ‘A Coolgardie Novel’. In its evocative observations and descriptions of an environment at once identifiable and unfamiliar for its probable readership it resembles both her slum writing and other reportage, such as ‘A Week on a Labour Settlement’.
‘Called to the Bar’ reflects the generic diversity that would define Harkness’s work for the Australian periodical press. While incorporating elements of the realism and naturalism that had characterised the novels she had published in Britain in the 1880s and 90s, it also uses devices from sensation fiction and adventure stories, and begins to show some of the experimental styles she would develop around the turn of the twentieth century.
Source: Western Mail, 10 September 1897. Available via Trove, the National Library of Australia.
OUR SERIAL STORY.
CALLED TO THE BAR.
A COOLGARDIE NOVEL.
By JOHN LAW, Author of “A City Girl,” etc.
[ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.]
CHAPTER XIV [sic].—(Continued.)
“To think I was jealous of the boy!” he says to himself; “that for a brief minute I rejoiced to know he was lost to her forever. My God! when I came out of prison and found her gone, I suffered all she went through when the boy was bushed. I was just as hopeless, just as restless. Talk of men being Polygamists, how can they help it when women are so incomplete? One woman is a mistress, a second a nun, a third a sister and a fourth a chum. But give me the motherly woman. Gladys rested me. Now I never rest, I stupify [sic] myself sometimes, but I get up just as tired as when I lie down, But Gladys must have sunk to the lowest depths at Mt. Elizabeth. She must have gone to the very devil in that[?] grog place.”
The following day at sunset Sadi’s familiar train of camels arrives at Mt. Elizabeth by a circuitous route, and avoiding the mining camp makes for the Quartz Blow, where under the rock the woman has been buried. The guide of the party, one of Jenkins’ mates, has been taciturn all the way, and during the night has tried to escape, so now he sits behind Sadi, on the camel that proceeds that of Ore and the Inspector. Just as the sun disappears the camels reach their destination, a mound of red sand, on which someone has placed a bunch of everlastings. The rude grave is marked by a bit of black cloth tied to a bit of stick, and above it the gum trees wave their heavy foliage.
“You had better leave us for a bit,” says the Inspector to Hoare.
So the expert walks away, and sits down with his back to the rock that has been Lady Beaumont’s “best thinking place.”
All the way he has been treated kindly by the other men, they have gone so far as to express sympathy with him, but he feels that between himself, the Inspector, the lawyer, and the doctor, their [sic] is a barrier of distrust, and his mind is too lax to rebound when striking against it.
Those who inherit criminal instincts soon find mates, but the man who creates dishonest situations and traffics in deceit because he can find no legitimate outlet for a superfluous intelligence has no chums. A half-way house can have no permanent inhabitants.
Hoare hears the men digging—the crowbar falls on the coffin.
“I can’t keep away—I must see for myself,” he says, getting up.
But before he can reach the Blow he hears shouts, and he sees the Inspector and Ore running into the bush, followed by the doctor.
“What’s the matter!” he wonders.
He walks to the open grave, and, seeing something beside it—something in a rude box—he bends down, and with a great effort, braces himself to look at it. There is an awful stench, but he seizes a lantern, and he looks steadily at the decomposed body. That crop of black curly hair, those glaring teeth—even death cannot have given such things to Gladys!
Her hair was grey in patches—he is sure of it, but this dead thing has a wig of short hair just like a lubra. It is a lubra.
All that night the Inspector sits in the kitchen of the canvas house inhabited by the two women, listening to the miners’ evidence. Saunders, who has been caught, is fastened to a tree, and tomorrow he will be conveyed to the Fiery Cross handcuffed to a camel. Bertram Ore is with the Inspector, sifting the evidence, which is voluminous. Twenty men swear that they saw the woman lying dead, and at least fifty swear that they followed her to the grave. The grog-shop was looted, everyone was drunk before midnight, whisky galore on a holiday made them forget much, but that the woman was shot dead, and buried, they take their solemn oath kissing an old Bible produced for the purpose.
“Look over the things in the bedroom,” says the Inspector to Hoare, “and see if you can find there anything belonging to your wife.”
The bedroom is just as the women left it, only the bottles and cases of whisky have been taken away, the books and photographs, clothes and nicknacks [sic] are where the women left them when they tragedy took place. Hoare opens drawers and boxes, but can find no trace of his wife, nothing that belonged to Gladys. Just as he is giving up the search, his eyes fall on something black sticking out from under the pillow of the bed covered with the black satin quilt, and drawing it out he finds a stout little black shoe, without a button on it.
“I know where to look for her now,” he says to the Inspector, laying the little shoe on the kitchen table. “I know the only place where we shall find her now.”
“Where is that?” asks Inspector Maclaren.
“At the farm where the boy was bushed.”
“Then we must follow her,” says the Inspector. “There is no time to lose. We must follow her at once.
“Yes,” says Hoare, “we must lose no time about it.”
CHAPTER XVIII.—“PARDNER’S” FUTURE.
Ten days after that, a little before midnight, a luggage train creeps slowly into the Windsor Station, and out of the guard’s van step Hoare and Inspector McClaren [sic]. They have travelled night and day, by mail steamer and express to Melbourne, and finding that no passenger trains will leave until the next morning, they have come on by luggage train to the little settlement. Windsor is locked in sleep, the empty streets are so noiseless that the footsteps of the men echo behind them as they walk from the station, past the church, the hospital, and the shops, to the road leading into the bush.
“There is Deeming’s house,” remarks Hoare, pointing to a house. “Strange man, Deeming! He argued to the bitter end that the women he potted were to be envied, because he gave them pleasure while they lived, and painless deaths before they knew disappointment. He used to regret that only respectable girls attracted him. He could do everything he set his hand to, and he passed himself off as everything on earth except a mining expert, and no doubt he would have played that part had he lived long enough.”
The Inspector walks briskly beside his companion, his active mind is busily engaged with the business in hand, for he is trying to piece together, with the aid of common sense and past experience, the puzzle at Mt. Elizabeth. Hoare, who looks worn and place, swings his arms, and moves his whole body with his legs. His hat is pushed back, and sometimes he puts a hand up to his forehead, for suspense is beginning to tell on him.
They walk for a long time.
“I suppose no one at the Fiery Cross guesses that I am in this,” he remarks.
“Only Mr. Ore, the doctor, and myself,” says the Inspector, and I think you can trust us.”
Again there is silence, broken only by the rustling leaves and twigs, and the Laughing Jackasses.
“Here is the place,” Hoare says, at last. “This is the gate the child went through; here the shoe was picked up.”
Dogs bark, and a head is thrust out of a window above the verandah of the house.
“Who are you?” a voice asks.
“Strangers!” answers the Inspector.
“What do you want?”
“Has a woman been about here, lately, a good-looking woman, tall and dark, a woman who once lived at this place?”
“Do you mean the woman whose child was lost from here?”
“The same, my friend, has she been seen about here lately?”
“Yes, she came here last week. I have been told she is ill and in a hut half a mile further on. I meant to go and look for her to-day. I am going to-morrow.”
“All right, my friend. Good-night.”
The window is shut, and the dogs slink back behind the house leaving the two men at the gate.
“You were quite right in your surmises,” says the Inspector. “She has come here to look for the remains of her boy; as you suggested.”
“Yes; do you remember the Bulong murder case? The murderer was found a year after the murder cutting his name on the cherry trees in his father’s orchard.”
“Let us push on,” says Inspector McClaren.
A cold wind is blowing, whistling through the trees, and driving the clouds across the sky. Sometimes the moon is bright, again it is hidden, and then the bush is wrapt in darkness. They follow the road for half an hour, smoking in silence.
At last the Inspector says: “I see a red light.”
“Yes, tread soft when we come to it.”
The light does come from a hut such as the woman at the house indicated. The door is open.
“I see a figure sitting by the fire,” says Hoare.
“Yes,” says the Inspector, a woman with her hair down her back.”
“Hush,” says Hoare, she is singing. Stand still for a minute.”
“Little Boy Blue come blow your horn,
The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn,”
sings a quavering voice.
Then the woman coughs, shivers, and draws nearer to the fire, wrapping her dress carefully about something on her lap.
“Hark, hark, the dogs do bark,
The beggars are coming to town,
Some in rags, and some in jags,
And some in silver gowns.”
She sings in the same quavering voice, rocking her body backwards and forwards, in time with her singing, and bending her head down over the thing on her knee. The men creep on.
“See saw, Margery Daw,
Sold her bed and lay upon straw.”
they hear her quaver, and the wind carries her words into the dark forest.
Then Hoare suddenly stops.
“My God!” he exclaims, “do you see what she has there on her knee?”
“No man, what is it?”
“My God, its [sic] a skeleton. My God, the skull is on her breast, My God, it is Gladys.”
“Naughty, naughty man in the moon,
You will be caught, sir, very soon.”
quavers the woman as they come to the fire, and she presses to her naked breast the skull of the skeleton.
“You had better go to her,” says the Inspector to Hoare, “I will wait here.”
Then Hoare stumbles to the fire, and kneels down there beside his wife. “Gladys don’t you know me?” he asks.
She turns upon him eyes that glow in the firelight, but she makes no response, her lips are parched, and he can see her emaciated body, for a thin dress hangs loosely over it.
“Oh Gladys!” he says, and he lays his hand on her.
But she pushes him away, saying, “You’ll hurt my baby.” With a groan he gets up, and goes back to the Inspector. “She does not know me,” he says hoarsely. “We must get her away, and bury the thing she is nursing. Her mind is gone. She has lost her reason.
“Go back to the house and see if they can take her in for the night,” says the Inspector briskly. “If you offer them money enough they will do it. Hist man, stir yourself.”
CHAPTER XIX.—“PARDNER’S” DEATH.
“We have found the woman,” says Inspector McClaren. He is in Bertram Ore’s office, and the door is shut. “We found her in one of the suburbs of Melbourne, quite mad, with the skeleton of a child on her knee, and singing to it. We brought her here, poor creature, and she is dying.”
“Dying!” exclaims Ore.
“Yes, dying in the Government hospital. It seemed cruel to drag her here, to bring her so far, but for the other woman’s sake we had to do it—you see she had to be identified.”
“What is the cause of her death?” asks Ore hastily, “has Mrs. Gibson anything to do with it?”
“No, the bullet glanced over the bone, and lodged under the scalp. I guessed something of that sort, for it is a cheap American pistol, not likely to do serious mischief, and I found out from the man who sold it to Mrs. Gibson that he let her have it cheap, knowing the nature of it. The shock stunned her; she was unconscious for an hour at least, and the men thought her dead, but the surgeon in Perth who extracted the bullet (I have his evidence in my pocket, signed and witnessed) told me she had quite recovered from the effects of the bullet, when he let her go on to Windsor. Exposure to the weather, and the shock of finding her child’s skeleton, put the finishing touch to a long spell of disipation [sic] and trouble. Now she has inflammation of the lungs, and other complications; she may live for a few days perhaps.”
“Is she conscious?”
“Yes at intervals, but she takes no notice of her husband; in fact, she does not seem to know him or anyone else. I want Mrs. Gibson to come to the hospital, for there are several links in the chain of evidence missing, although a man named Jenkins has come in and turned Queen’s evidence.”
“Yes, do you know him?”
“Never mind, tell me what he says.”
“Well his story is that Nicodemus encouraged the miners to loot the house and get drunk, and that the woman was carried to his house to be put in a coffin, and when she came to herself he offered her a large sum of money to go away. His hatred of Mrs. Gibson seems to have made him lose all reason and common sense. I suppose he was in love of jealous, Jenkins smuggled her to a place on the line, and sent her down to Perth. After that Nicodemus put a poor girl in the coffin, a wretched creature he had kept like a beast in an outhouse, and who happened to die that day—at any rate we have no evidence to prove that she did not come by a natural death. You see the Jew let his love of revenge carry him into dangerous waters, but when passion gets hold of a man, he generally makes an ass of himself. We have the Jew safe, and his confederates, but Jenkins we cannot touch, because, as I said, he has turned Queen’s evidence.”
The Inspector rises to leave the office.
“I will bring Mrs Gibson to the hospital,” says Ore.
“Do, and tell her from me I am glad the business is panning out so well. I have watched her here for a long time, and I am sure she had no idea what grogging meant when she went to Mt. Elizabeth. We all make mistakes.”
“She has been heavily punished,” says Ore beneath his breath—“heavily punished.”
That evening, a little after sunset, a hansom drives up to the hospital, and Lady Beaumont steps out, followed by Ore. The goldfield has taken heavy toll of her; it takes toll of all except capitalists. She leans on Ore’s arm, and her little pale face looks strangely childlike and pathetic. Boys grow slowly into manhood, and remain men; but girls develop quickly into womanhood, and then retrograde into children again.
“I will wait for you outside,” Ore says, leading her to a tent, “Do not stay long, or tire yourself.”
She goes softly into the darkened tent, and sees there a figure propped up with pillows.
“Don’t trouble her with any more medicine or poultices,” the doctor is saying to a nurse.
Then he goes away, and the nurse beckons to Lady Beaumont to come close.
She sits down on the bed, and takes the woman’s emaciated fingers in her trembling hand, and presses them to her lips. But Pardner’s eyes are shut, and her stertorous breathing seems to mock sleep by its noisy efforts. Masses of grey hair lie loosely on the pillow, her nightdress, open at the neck, shows the familiar gold chain and locket.
“Do you think she will recognise me?” Lady Beaumont asks the nurse.
The nurse shakes her head, and says, “I scarcely think it.”
In the town bands clash, hymns mix with airs from operas, life is surging in Bow-street. But in the tent the stillness is only broken by gasps for breath, and now and again a broken sentence. Bending quite close Lady Beaumont cannot piece together the words that pass through Pardner’s dry lips, but sometimes she catches a name, and she hopes, oh she hopes so much, that Pardner will know her once again, for on the woman’s forehead is a scar, and on her own heart is its stigma. Presently she sinks on her knees beside the bed, and she prays like a little child that Pardner will look and recognise. All the tragedy of the woman’s wrecked life, the craving inherited, the salvation lost, are branded on her consciousness. Then some men pass by the hospital fence, singing a familiar chorus.
“As we go rolling home!” they shout, just as the boys used to shout it at Mt. Elizabeth.
Pardner opens her eyes, and she sees Lady Beaumont kneeling beside her.
She gasps, and lays her hand on Lady Beaumont’s head. “Plucky little devil!” she says.
“Pardner, dear Pardner, look at me—say you forgive me!” pleads Lady Beaumont.
But consciousness is fading fast, and all that the dying woman can do is to repeat again—
“I think you had better go away now,” the nurse says. “She will not know you any more.”
Lady Beaumont slowly leaves the tent and as she goes out a dark figure shuffles in, and takes her place.
“I cannot leave her alone,” Lady Beaumont says to Ore. “I cannot leave her to die by herself.”
“She is not alone,” replies Ore; “her husband is there. Come away, Violet.”
CHAPTER XX.—A CONVERSATION.
“I’m very sorry, Bertie, but I really cannot help it. I must laugh, or sing, or dance, or do something foolish. Here’s a cartwheel, for you Bertie, and here’s another, and oh! Bertie, Giles is watching us.”
Lady Beaumont suddenly stops her antics, and kisses her hand to Giles, who beats a hasty retreat. Then she seats herself on a low chair beside Ore. They are under the verandah of his house, and she has been imitating the daughter of Herodias. “I wonder why it is,” she says, “that I am in such wild spirits. Here I am without money or character on this goldfield, with every reason to be miserable and yet I cannot help laughing and singing. Whatever is the matter with me, Bertie?”
“Youth,” says Ore, drawing his chair nearer to her. “Nevertheless, your mirth is rather thin and very brittle, and as your doctor I order champagne. Here is Giles with it. Giles, draw up the verandah blinds and light a fire in the sittingroom, and bring Lady Beaumont a wrap of some sort.”
“Now, Violet,” he continues, when she is wrapt in his fur-lined overcoat, “I want to talk to you about myself.”
“I am going to sell this house, and the buggy, and life on the Gipsy King. I have spent a lot of money on it, and I am not going to ‘give it best’ to use the slang of this colony, I am going to costeen, and drive and thoroughly prospect it.”
“Dear boy, you are so obstinate.”
“Yes, I am. I have been taken in, I admit, about the Greenhill reef—at least to all appearances, although I have not given up the hope of coming upon it yet. I daresay the story you heard at Mount Elizabeth is true, and the mine was salted. Nevertheless, I am going on with it, if I spend my last penny piece on it. I may come on something good yet.”
“Bertie, do you think this field is permanent?”
“I do. I think it will take two years to develop the mines, and make them pay good dividends, and until the mines pay there will be no boom of any importance. Last year we had a brokers’ boom; the brokers’ hands are now full of paper, for which they can find no market. It will take a year at least to develop the field, and make the dividends from the developed mines large enough to attract the British public. Batteries must be erected, good mines tested, duffers weeded out, and the water supply made efficient. Each day more water is available. I do not think it will be necessary to wait for the Government water scheme, which is clumsy, to say the best of it. Freight must be reduced, labour conditions altered, and much hard work is done with patience. But I believe that want of water and other difficulties have been good for the field, Violet, for without these obstacles it would have been over-rushed. It is a rich field, if not the richest the world has ever witnessed.”
“Of the mines floated how many are good, do you think?”
“Under present conditions about six per cent.”
“And of the leases taken up all over the field, how many are worth anything?”
“Three per cent, I should think.”
“And at how many dwts. will mines pay to develop, Bertie?”
“In the future at from eight to ten dwts. Now mines have to be abandoned if they do not yield fifteen or sixteen dwts., but later on, when we have machinery and water, many of these mines will be taken up again and worked with advantage. I have not been successful here, I am not influenced by my own good prospects, but common sense and knowledge convince me of the field’s permanency.”
“I suppose your mine has cost you a good deal Bertie.”
“Nearly £3,000. Another £2,000 have gone on horses, trips and living expenses. I have £5,000 left.
“And how much do you want to make?”
“Well, I intend to turn the £10,000 that my father left me into £60,000 before I go away. I cannot do with less in English politics, and I am determined to go into the House of Commons. I care for no other profession; politics seem to me to embrace all mental activities and to keep them at concert pitch. And—well Violet, you have made me ambitious.”
Lady Beaumont’s eyes fill with tears.
“Bertie,” she asks in her soft, whimsical voice, “do you know where I was last week?”
“In the little house that I hired for your from the agent at your request.”
“Yes, by night—but by day?”
“Resting, I hope.”
“No, dear boy. I have been in a laundry. I had not a sixpence when I came out, so I went to a laundry, and it was quite a funny experience. The woman and her husband did not think I was worth my hire, so they pointed to a pile of quilts in the washhouse, and said, “Try them there.” They watched me like hypnotised lizards while I washed the quilts one by one and mangled them; but my right arm is not good for much—you remember when I broke it—and I staged when the quilts were finished, so they set me to wash linen. The other women watched me, and they said they would like to know what I was thinking about, for I seemed to change my thoughts every minute. Oh! Bertie, I am such a hypocrite! I can throw anguish into my eyes when my heart feels hard as nails, and make them all stony and cold when my heart is aching.”
“All of which proves that you are quite unfit for a goldfield.”
“Thank you, Bertie; you can on occasion be so delightfully commonplace. Well, dear boy, would you like to know my plans?
“I would very much.”
“I have accepted an engagement at the Greenhill Hotel as barmaid. I had no idea that you thought of living at the Gipsy King, but I wanted to see you sometimes. I dreaded the isolation and loneliness of going quite away. I thought you would come to Greenhills sometimes, and I should see you and talk to you. Then, I know the proprietor of the hotel is to be trusted. He has hired me knowing that I will only do my work at the bar. After all there must be some decent hotelkeepers—what do you think?”
Ore silently looks at her.
(To be Continued.)