Harkives Summer Serial: ‘Called to the Bar’, Instalment VIII

Coolgardie_prospector_1900

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, 17 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 XX.—(Continued.)

“No, Bertie, listen to me. Rumours have got about – I cannot get genteel employment. What else can I do?”

Ore gets up and looks into the sitting room, where Giles has lighted a flare and the lamp, and he says, “Violet come in – your teeth are chattering.”

Lady Beaumont kneels down by the fire, spreads out her hands to warm, and looks dreamily at the red and yellow flames leaping and dancing up the chimney.

Presently Ore speaks from the depths of a lounge into which he has thrown himself. “I believe,” he says, “the proprietor of the Greenhills Hotel is a decent chap, but behind the bar you must hear disgusting language and accept drunken compliments.”

“Yes, and it can’t be helped,” Lady Beaumont says quietly. “I have thought it all over by day at the wash-tub and at night in my little hut, and I know there is nothing else for it. I have not money to go away. I cannot go back to my husband, for he is a brute. I have been here for a long time, and I know how little there is for a woman to do here. I am ‘Called to the Bar,’ and I mean to make the best of it. After all the sun shines here almost always. The field moves – I remember the time when I could not walk up Bow-street without being thrilled by the fierce money-making spirit that pervades it. I am young, and in spite of myself my spirits will effervesce. I daresay this bubble will burst, and I shall weep over a tiny speck of dirty water, but life cannot be all soapsuds to anyone gifted with imagination, and at any rate while the bubbles last some of them are beautiful to look at.”

“Which bubble, for instance.”

“Never mind about that. I mean to get all the happiness and good that I can out of the Greenhills Hotel and the Gipsy King. Won’t it help you a little bit to have me there, Bertie?”

“Of course, but – “

“But?”

“People will talk.”

“People will talk whatever we do, or don’t do, until they forget us. What are the people here to us or are we to them? Do you think they can understand us? Do you think they are capable of forming a right or wrong opinion about us? We shall be separated soon enough.”

“What will separate us?”

“Life, which is in our case development. My child will grow and want me. Your opinions will grow, and force you into action. It is not a pity that we have to cast our lives before we are old enough to understand the first rudiments of worldly wisdom? I acted as I thought best according to my limited experience and knowledge, and now I must take the consequences of youthful ignorance and folly. Did you ever hear of that hideous Chinese punishment, hanging a man over a growing spiked plant, so that the man must see the stock growing, coming on and on, and feel it cutting into him, and through him? That punishment is coming on me. I don’t know whether I deserve it or not, but I see it coming and I cannot go away.”

She breaks off abruptly.

“Can you tell me what the plant is like?” Ore asks in a rather husky voice.

“Near the earth its leaves are very soft and tender, Bertie, but as the stalk grows and hardens, the leaves become thick and luxurious, and put out beautiful flowers at their tips. The stalk grows hard and fast, and the leaves begin to throw shadows, so cool and delicious that the prisoner above the stalk longs to shelter himself under them with an unspeakable longing. But the leaves spread farther and farther each day from the cruel stalk, which comes on and on until the prisoner is, at last impaled upon it.”

 

CHAPTER XXI. – A LETTER

“The Gipsy King, Greenhills, W.A.

“My Dear Mother,  — I have just returned here from a three weeks’ tour of the field, and as I know you wish me to keep you posted up in all my doings, I will give you an outline of my adventures, avoiding technicalities which you can find in the Mining Gazette and the local papers, which I hope you receive all right, for Giles posts them to you every week. The old fossil is an awful nuisance, but a bit of home, and so I am glad to have him.

“I started from Goorlie and went to Broad Bow, via the Bow Lake, on a camel. Sand and mulga scrub made the journey monotonous and uninteresting, although I passed through what the experts here call ‘like auriferous country.’ The Broad Bow is like all other small mining townships. It consists of one street with hotels and stores, in the midst of hessian houses and tents. It has its little progress committee, composed of the most pushing men of the place. A progress committee ‘dressed in a little brief authority’ is very funny, for the people who compose it are always in such deadly earnest and consider themselves of so much importance. These ‘little tin gods on wheels’ spend most of their time in writing letters to the Minsters of Perth, confusing the authorities there by demands and letters, and thus delaying business so the inhabitants are wont to pray, ‘deliver us from our self-made, self-complacent progress committee.’ Then there is the Government Hospital, composed of a few tents, now full of fever patients, chiefly young fellows whose constitutions break down on tinned dog. Old hands are careful, but the young fellows who come to the field are careless of their health and let the fever grip them before they lie down. Private hospitals run by ‘ladies’ in these outside places do well, for there is no local policeman to enquire what the men have on them when they go to the hospital and some men carry all their capital sewn up in their waistcoat or in the knapsacks. An inspector of police told me as an interesting trait of human nature that the thousands of enquiries received on the field concerning the men who succumb to fever are all to the same tune, ‘How much did he leave, and where is it?”

“I went from the Broad Bow to Mardoc and the flies were an awful pest all the way, in spite of a fly-net and other precautions. Here I found water very scarce, and was met with the old joke, “Will you wash in lemonade or beer?’ As a fact both were cheaper than water. Things are going ahead fast here, and the mines are only waiting for machinery to pay good dividends. I was shown one nugget of enormous size, but the alluvial is almost worked out and it is becoming a rich man’s show. I returned to the Broad Bow, and here a tragedy took place in the hotel where I had located myself. A gentleman who had sold his property with advantage, and was about to join his family in Perth, had had a send-off, that is to say, all his friends had come together and got drunk. The coach was to leave at four o’clock the following day, and he lay down on the balcony at midnight rather intoxicated, to wait for the porter to call him and other passengers. When the bell was rung at three o’clock he thought it was time to climb the coach, and he stepped over the balcony railings, and was picked up dead on the footpath.

“From the Broad Bow I went to the Yellow Flag, across a dry salt lake to the find, and then back to the Fiery Cross via Mount Kate. Rain fell in torrents for a day and a half, and I came to my destination deafened by thunder and encircled by sheet-lightening. Storms here are most exhilarating, and sunsets after storms are more magnificent than any I have seen in Europe.

“You have had full accounts of the large mines in my previous letters, with the depths of their shafts and the average of the crushings, so I will only tell you about my adventures in the less well-known places – Moongarrie Lake is one of the most beautiful sights on the fields, being covered with powdery white quartz, that looks like snow in the distance. The land is sandy and timbered with mulga scrub, but there are no large trees, and there is little grass. The district was formerly famous for alluvial, and considered in consequence a poor man’s field, but now it is settling down into a reefing centre, and the crushings average two ounces to the ton. Any amount of water can be obtained here at a depth of from seventy to eighty feet. ‘Miners’ wages average four pounds a week all over the field, and there is abundant work for all the men willing to take the risks and endure hardships. The men knock down most of their wages in the nearest hotel, for the strain is great and the monotony almost unendurable. A labouring man deserves all that he makes here, and if he has a little luck specking, or in shares, no one should grudge it to him. Many men leave their bones in the sand, through thirst, fever, and sunstroke. I myself have come on more than one skeleton in the bush – a boot here, a water-bag there, and the owner of these things face downwards on the sand. ‘Alone’ is the epitaph of these men, and the mind recoils from their sufferings.

“Pushing on with my camel for some one hundred miles, I came to Mt. Hudson, where the niggers are troublesome and dangerous. A favourite trick of theirs is to send a gin into a white man’s camp to discover the run of the place, and then they come along and ‘shake’ or spear the horse or do other mischief. During my stay I saw a blackfellow fastened to a tree, and the ‘boys’ preparing to mete out summary justice. All men are called ‘boys’ here till their hair turns grey; then they are called ‘boss’ if they have money.

“Further on I had a little sport, coming on some grassy spots where wild turkeys had nested. Here ironstone hills overshadow a well-watered district, and the grass is knee-deep.

“Then I reached Lake Mary, which is 60 miles long by an average of 25 miles broad – a grand lake, with mirages that keep you spell-bound, strange outcrops of quartz, and fantastic coloured breakaways. I wished my lot had been cast In this country, which is like Paradise, when contrasted with the rest of the field, ‘gabbie’ being plentiful and vegetation luxurious.

“You can form no idea, my dear mother, what the constant want of water means to us, the economies in baths and clothes to which all must submit when outside a town. And the men who die of thirst! No death can have greater anguish. Once I came on a poor fellow who had lost the track. He was naked and delirious and dancing, with an empty waterbag in one hand and an empty tucker-bag in the other. In his mouth was a sixpence that he had bitten into holes, to coax the saliva. This is no solitary instance of what takes place on this field, and the flies make any breakdown doubly horrible. I will not harrow your feelings any more, but you want to know things as they are, and this is the picture.

“Continuing in a south-westerly direction through salt-bush, mulga and sand, Lake Rachel was the next point. It is a long narrow salt lake. Then I passed on to Jerilla, where flat rocks form a natural catchment, and the water drains into gnamma holes – holes natural found in these rocks, or made by the aborigines. Here I ran short of matches, and had to carry a fire stick in native fashion until I hobbled my camel and rolled myself in my blankets. The following morning I was obliged to do without billy tea, or a pipe until I came to Yedong. I was alone for the last part of my trip, my mates having been drawn off by the report of a new find. But at Yedong I picked them up again, and here I saw a curious sight – the burning in effigy of the man who had given false information about the discovery of gold and caused a rush. I think he did it under the influence of liquor, but a local paper gave credence to his reports, and at least 200 men threw up their billets and went to the place. The find proved of no importance, and when the prospectors came back to Yedong they made effigies of the man who had misled them and of the newspaper editor, and burnt these things in the principal street. They then smashed the windows of the newspaper office and threatened to lynch the editor, who was armed inside and protected by a policeman. The informer was smuggled out of the town. The following day everything was forgotten, for on a goldfield men have very short memories.

“Now, my dear mother, I must answer your last letter, which is rather a difficult task, as I cannot let a lady’s name pass through the Post Office. I consider that there are circumstances under which a woman is justified in leaving her husband. What these are I must leave you to conjecture. The child is best in a convent, for reasons I cannot explain in a letter, but which to my mind are all-sufficient. That a goldfield is no place for a lady, I agree with you. The ladies with very few exceptions, who are in what is called ‘society’ here, would not be asked by you to meet our family solicitor, and the ladies out of society are of such nondescript position and antecedents that I doubt very much if your housekeeper would sit down with them to dinner. But here she is, and here she must stay, for she has no money, and nowhere to go to even if she had the money to leave the goldfield. She has been very plucky, but very unfortunate. If she had not been what she is, her personal charms and her talents would have soon filled her pockets in a place like this, for she is more charming than ever, and you know what she was when you saw her last. She is the only woman I have ever cared about, and as we have been thrown together here by Fate or Providence, I have had the opportunity to see what she is under the most trying circumstances. We are friends; to talk of being brother and sister would be foolish – we are friends, with our eyes well open and our actions well under control. And so we shall remain, I hope, while we live. At any rate, she has my friendship for life, if she wants it. Her idea is to make a little money, and take her child upon the Continent. As things are, you know the child must be an heiress, and, unfortunately, it is very delicate. She says you can see it in the convent, and I wish you would do so for she frets a good deal about it. All that you say about the future, about my marrying, etc., is true enough. But, mother, we are young, and we live in the present – that, at any rate, belongs to us.

“My love to all, and tell them I shall not come home without the £60,000 I came to make – not even for a trip.

“Your affectionate son,

“Bertram.”

CHAPTER XXIII. –– AT THE BAR

“If only things would go on as they are!” signs Lady Beaumont. “I can scarcely believe it is six months since I came to this place, for my life had been so smooth and pleasant. I remember the time when my prayer would have been for change and excitement. Now all that I ask is to be left in peace. But life is a kaleidoscope; sometimes an angel gets held of it, and we have a good time, then a devil comes along and gives it a shake, and we swear – or suffer. I am afraid my theology will not pass muster, but fortunately we are not responsible for our ideas of the universe. Really it is to be hoped that the deity is humorous, for our attempts to ‘place’ him are even more grotesque than our good deeds and short comings and our little conceits are so very ludicrous.”

She is at the bar of the Greenhill Hotel, resting her elbows on the marble slab, and her chin in the palms of her hands, and she is watching the setting sun, that is streaking the sky yellow and red, and banking the horizon with masses of purple and violet. The doors and window are all wide open, to catch the breeze, and the heat is great, for it is just before sunset. Hot air is borne to her across the bar, but shadows begin to creep about the paraphernalia of Bacchus.

The hotel is very quiet, for the proprietor, Mr. Wallas, is asleep, and there servants are having tea. The miners are still at work, and only a casual passer-by comes to the bar for refreshment. In half an hour she will be free, for it is her evening “off duty.” Soon the sun stains the sky opal and god-violet, leaving it a dream of soft colours and delicious tints, and she feasts her eyes on it.

“I am growing accustomed to red and yellow and hard, glistening green,” she says to herself. “I suppose gold must have a barbaric environment, but these sunsets seem to carry one far away from the goldfield to some place that is neither heaven nor earth. I wonder if sunsets made men invent Paradise. Well we all lead a dual life, one part of us doing the daily drudgery and the other growing, expanding, and adding to itself. The religion of self-development is waiting for its prophet. That prophet will not be found here, for we are all in too great a hurry. We think of nothing but making money and getting away. And yet, in spite of ourselves, we develop. In fact, the goldfield seems to force character in a wonderful way, and I sometimes wonder how we shall get on outside this hothouse. I know it has changed me very much. I seem to have been thrown against the tide, and to have battled with it for my very life. I know – I feel, that all I have gone through here has strengthened my character. I have more self-control. I am less anxious to have my own way if it interferes with anybody, and I think I am ––. Well what does it matter what I am? And Bertie! How he has developed! A good-looking boy, fond of sport, malleable under feminine influence, in no way out of the common to all appearance, lazy as you make them when not in the field or with his gun, who could have guessed or imagined that he would grow into the sort of man that makes England what she is – the self-controlled high principled, strong, level-headed man who is the very backbone of English politics? There is a cruel irony, a refined torture, in our having been thrown here together. But I would not for all the world have missed this friendship. The fact that Bertie has trusted me throughout has been my salvation I think for if he had misjudged me, I should have seen it in his eyes, and have heard it in his voice, and then I must have ‘gone under.’ Only Bertie knows the sackcloth and ashes that must always lie about ‘Pardner’s’ memory must remain all my life. How can I ever forgive myself. To forgive means to forget. There can be no forgetfulness without forgiveness from others, but not from oneself when the grave covers those we have sinned against.”

“A door opens behind the bar, and the proprietor of the hotel comes to her – an elderly man, one of the innumerables who knew better days before the bank smashes. He has grown-up sons and daughters in the twenties, so he is fatherly, polite and considerate.

“Going to the Gipsy King?” he says. “Bring Mr. Ore back to supper if he will come. Tell him that some of the Green hill Syndicate will be here, and that they have been asking for him.

She nods, and disappears down the passage. Her bedroom is the best in the house, and in it is everything she wants – an escritoire by the window, shelves filled with books, an easy chair, some plants, and a cage full of blue parrots. The housemaid, who is waiting for her, hovers about while she dresses, and jerks out items of gossip, throwing all the time admiring glances at her reflection in the looking-glass. She has a happy knack of setting her inferiors at east in her presence, while keeping their respect, and, as she herself says, “servants titillate one’s vanity.”

Fortunately she knows the track to the Gipsy King, for it is almost dark when she leaves the hotel, and she is delayed at every tent by miners, for women are scarce in the district, and the sight of her sets some men thinking of home and loosens the tongues of others concerning the kids and the missus. Most of the men will turn in to the bar for a glass and a gossip a little later. Now they are cooking the evening meal, washing down damper with billy tea, or shopping at the little store, or fetching weather.

Bertram Ore’s tent is on a hillock by itself, and here she finds Giles busy with the cookery book. She miles and tells him that to be a good chef is more difficult than to engross on parchment. Then, hearing that Ore is down a shaft she goes into a tent where dinner is laid for two.

These little dinners, when she is “off duty,” keep Giles in a constant state of excitement, for he is very susceptible to compliments, and to be told, after he has boiled a cloth in a kerosene tin and ironed it on a box, that he is a splendid laundry man, makes a smile creep over his parchment countenance and lose itself in his yellow moustache. Ore’s tent is very comfortable and home-like. It is lined with linoleum, and the floor is covered with oil-cloth. In one corner is a bed, over which a large opossum rug is spread; opposite is an office table, littered with books and specimens. Half a dozen armchairs and lounges show that visitors are welcome, and invited to stay as long as they like, and to take the rest they need in a hot climate.

Lady Beaumont lays aside her hat and gloves, and settles herself in a comfortable place, beside a lamp that Giles provides for her, and she thinks how many happy hours she has spent in this bachelor establishment.

“After all,” she says to herself, “we must live in the present, and squeeze every bit of happiness that we can out of it.”

Suddenly Ore’s tall figure appears before her.

“Violet,” he says, with suppressed excitement, “I have such news for you! Will you have it now or after dinner?”

“Now, of course.”

He carefully closes the door and then draws a chair near to her.

“Well, Bertie, be quick. What is it?”

“they have not got the Greenhill reef in the Duke of York after all – only a feeder and this has ‘petered’ out.”

“Then you have the reef yourself?”

“Yes, see here, Violet.”

He takes a notebook out of his pocket and draws a sketch.

“This, “ he says, “is the Greenhill reef, running parallel with the reef I am working in the Gipsy King. And this is the feeder in the Duke of York that has petered out. The Greenhill reef underlies to the east; it drops, I believe, and is hidden by alluvial, but I must have it, and I shall cut it with one of the drives I have put in, if not at one hundred feet, then at one hundred and fifty feet, I think. The syndicate was deceived by the out-crop on the Duke of York property, and not being able to trace the reef further east, went south for it, but the syndicate men are finding out their mistake now. Peters, one of them came to me to-day, and after a lot of parleying, he made me an offer for my property. The showed me how the wind is blowing, and I questioned him about the Duke of York, and he told me the feeder there has petered out, and that the manager has notice, and the men will be sent quietly away, and the mine shut down.”

“How much did he offer you for this lease?”

“£5,000. I told him I would give him my answer in a few days. To-morrow I am going to the Fiery Cross, to buy the Credit, the lease on the south of my property, for I am convinced that the Greenhill reef runs through my lease into it. And I can buy now cheap, for the owners of the Credit are quite sure that the Greenhill reef runs into the Duke of York.”

“The proprietor wants you to come to supper to-night to meet some of the Greenhill syndicate men, who are staying at the hotel.”

“I had better not, for if they have their eyes on my lease they are quite sure to make a bid for the Credit, and I want to reach the Fiery Cross and buy it before they get back. I shall be off at daybreak.”

“What will the Credit cost, do you think?”

“A thousand, perhaps.”

“And then you will have to fulfil labour conditions, unless you can get partial exemption. It will be a big risk.”

“Yes, but it’s neck or nothing now. I stand to win or lose all by these leases, and I must have both the Gipsy King and the Credit.”

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