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

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, 24 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 XXIII [sic].—SUCCESS.

The next day Ore reaches the Fiery Cross in time for breakfast. The town has changed very much since he came to it. Stone offices and hotels and banks have been built, and large shops with the latest Perth fashions adorn Bow-street. A prison and a new club are in course of erection; in fact, the Fiery Cross is growing fast and showing signs of permanence. Suburbs have made their appearance, and people are locating themselves according to their purses. Many men have built wooden houses for their wives, and these smart villa residences evolve smartly dressed ladies who are qualifying for a place in colonial society and a trip to Europe. He goes to the Prince of Wales Hotel for breakfast, and there he sees many strangers, for the leading men are ripening fast into capitalists, and have their own establishments. Dr. Witz has obtained earthly immortality in the shape of a son, and now if he is disappointed with his own life he can build his hopes on this new edition of himself. The Editor of the Miner is brooding over another paper, to be established in a better climate and more congenial surroundings. Oram, the Democrat, is going into Parliament, and will be a thorn in the side of the Premier, and a scourge to the Government if he lives long enough. Mr. Metcalfe grows in favour both on the field and in the capital, thanks to his reticent habits. And Messrs. Cooper and Oakley are spreading themselves all over the field and absorbing all the best shows, with the approval of a generous public. Only Scott remains faithful to the hotel, and by him Ore sits down for breakfast.

“Allow me to congratulate you on being made a J.P.,” says Ore, politely.

“Thanks!” replies Scott. “Reminds me of a good lady in the bush somewhere in Victoria, whose husband was made a magistrate. When a man called to see him the following day, she said, “His Majesty will be here directly!”

After breakfast Ore goes to an assay office to find the proprietors of the Credit, with a view to purchase.

“Where is Mr. Thornall?” he asks a clerk.

“In a shed at the back,” is the reply. “Shall I tell him you are here?”

“No, thanks,” replies Ore; “I will go to him myself.”

In a wooden outhouse he finds the assayer busy at work, crushing stone to a fine powder, weighing, fluxing, and putting it in crucibles, placing the crucibles in a furnace and taking them out again when smelted, separating the flux from the metal, and placing the latter in cupels, upon which the gold and silver remains as a small button. This button he divides by freeing the silver from the gold by solution with acids, and he then weighs the remaining gold with delicate apparatus, and estimates the value of the stone per ton.

“Can you spare me a few minutes?” Ore asks.

The assayer leads the way to his office, and dismisses the clerk.

“I have come to offer you £500 for for [sic] your lease, The Credit,” says Ore, “I want to drive South, and shall be glad to buy it, if you see your way to meet me. I have come on nothing good yet—neither have you, I think—but your property is convenient, and I can work it with my lease if you are willing to part with it.”

“It does not belong to me entirely,” replies the assayer. “There are two others in it with me, but I have their power of attorney, and I think I can accept your offer, for we cannot get protection for the mine, and so far we have lost heavily by it.”

“Well,” says Ore, “will you accept my offer—£100 down and the balance in a fortnight?”

“Yes.”

It is midnight when Ore mounts his camel, for a new company happens to be at the theatre and he is invited to a send-off given to a local magnate en route for Europe. Once alone in the solitary bush he begins to think over his prospects.

“I will keep one thousand pounds,” he says to himself; “all the rest shall go into those leases, and if I do not find the reef I must start afresh. It is a lottery on a goldfield. One man goes up and another down. Or is it Kismet? Did not two men fall into a costeen four feet deep on my property last week, and one escape without a scratch, while the other killed himself? I am not the sort of man to enjoy a gamble, but in mining it can’t be helped. And if I have to begin again, look at little Violet! What she has gone through here would have broken the spirit of most women and have sent many a man to the bar, not to work, but to drink there.”

The camel trots fast, and soon the shadows begin to shorten, and the moonlight faints into the coming day. No birds usher in the dawn that comes creeping on; no frogs croak a welcome; the bush puts on its morning dress in absolute silence. A breeze plays in the heavy tops of the gum trees, but the leaves make no sound, and in the dim light the wind can only be felt and its playfulness guessed at. So an hour passes, and then the gray daylight chases away the yellow rays of the moon and day breaks.

Ore comes to a steep hill with big stones on either side of it—a rough place that the camel strides over with contempt, and on the brow of this hill he meets a buggy carrying the men belonging to the Greenhills syndicate.

Peters, who is driving, pulls up and says—

“We want to see you about your property, Mr. Ore. Will you take the five thousand we offered for it?”

Ore shakes his head.

“I have just bought the Credit,” he tells them.

Peters eyebrows meet together in a heavy frown.

“Well, what do you want for the two leases?” asks another member of the syndicate.

“Thirty thousand pounds apiece.”

“Nonsense; you have not even got the reef.”

“No, not yet; but I shall have it very soon. Good morning.”

He lifts his hat, and the camel trots on to the Gipsy King, grunting with satisfaction when it passes familiar landmarks and nears its destination.

Half an hour later the camp is reached, and without a “houstah” the faithful beast lies down outside the tent, where the cloth is laid for breakfast.

“The boss of the north shaft wants you, sir,” say [sic] Giles, when he brings in the coffee-pot.

“Does he? What for?”

“I don’t know, sir, but he said please would you go there as soon as you come back.”

“All right. Get me my mining togs and a bath.”

But before he has finished breakfast, Smith, the boss of the north shaft, appears at the tent entrance.

“Well, Smith, what is it?” he asks.

“I’ve sent the man for timber,” says Smith. “Yesterday we came on quartz.”

“A reef?”

“Yes, gold’s thick in it. I took the men off at once; they’re new chums and didn’t notice, though they’d sense to see we’d got through the country rock ad come on something different.”

“Well, I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

Smith goes away, and he finishes breakfast.

“Going down alone?” Smith asks, when he comes to the shaft.

“Yes; let me down in the bucket.”

“Here’s a pick.”

He jumps into the hide bucket, the rope swings, then the windlass lowers him quickly into the dark hole, at the bottom of which lies the gold he covets. He lights a candle, and follows the drive some 100ft., and there, at the end of the drive, he see [sic] the reeft. Only a small part of it has been exposed, but in the amber quartz he can see the gold—gold in little streaks and rough specks—gold that glitters and dances before his eyes, and sends miser-like thrills running through him.

He takes the pick and naps, and the specimens all show gold, and he knows that he has the famous Greenhill reef at last—no salted mine, no pocket.

He is not the sort of man to spend time analysing his sensations; but to go up into the daylight, and see faces, and talk, is impossible at present. So he fastens the spider in a place where the light falls on his wealth, and he stretches himself on some logs that lie ready for timbering, and he looks at the gold glittering in the candlelight. It means to him the realisation of so much—not only the achievement of what he came to do and the credit and satisfaction attached to success, but progressive years leading to the climax of his hopes and ambitions; in fact, the carrying out of the plan of life which he has made for himself. He does not stop to dream over the future, to make plans; he merely places himself securely in the saddle and presses his feet in the stirrups. And then a great sadness comes over him, for he sees himself alone in the middle and end of his novel, and he thinks of the force that set him to work, that is and has always been the mainspring of the horse he is riding.

Friendship! It has no lasting tie, for what is so frail as human sympathy? Sympathy between men and women is hot-house plant that withers and dies in the stress of life, unless loving hands and lips cherish it. He knows all this. To see her, his little Violet, in an invidious position here is bad enough, but at home it would be altogether too painful. And he can do nothing for her, although she has done so much for him. He must see her poor and struggling, and subject to slights and insults; he must stand by with his wealth, while she is in want—ill, perhaps.

He gets up, saying to himself that he will only tell Lady Beaumont a little about the reef, that he will not leave the goldfield while she is here. And he puts the specimens in the bucket.

“Do you think it’s the Greenhill reef?” Smith asks.

“I don’t know,” he answers. “Shut down the mine, and put the men on a night shift for the south shaft. I trust you, Smith.”

Then he goes to his tent, dresses with unusual care, and tells Giles that he will not be at home for dinner.

He walks to the hotel, thinking how much he will tell and what he will keep to himself, and he goes to the bar.

Lady Beaumont is not there.

“Mrs. Gibson is lying down,” says the proprietor. “She had some news by the English mail that upset her very much, and she is lying down. She asked me to give you this letter if you called. Will you be here for dinner?”

“Yes,” replies Ore. “I will come back.”

He leaves the hotel, opening the envelope.

Inside is a letter from Messrs. Horan and Moore, Sir Robert Beaumont’s solicitors, announcing the sudden death of their client. He was thrown from his horse in the Park, and killed on the spot. The house in Grosvenor-street is left to Lady Beaumont, and £1,000 a year for her lifetime, but both will revert to her child on her death. To the child everything but the title and family estate is left, and they beg Lady Beaumont to return at once, as the child is an heiress and reported to be in delicate health. “You are left sole guardian of the little girl,” they say, “so we feel sure that you will see it is your duty to come back to England without delay. We enclose a draft for £500 on the Bank of New South Wales, and more money will be sent if you cable for it.” The letter closes with a few words of professional consolation for her loss and polite regret for their client’s untimely death.

Ore reads the letter twice, then puts it into his pocket, and goes thoughtfully back to his tent.

 

CHAPTER XXIV.—THE END.

A year has passed.

Mr. Hoare, the expert, is alone in his back office, walking up and down, with the stem of an empty pipe between his teeth. On a table stands a kerosene lamp, and its light falls on some English newspapers and periodicals. One paper, The Sketch, is open, and it shows a likeness of Lady Beaumont in full evening dress. Hoare stops to look at it.

“Humph!” he says, “dress makes a difference.”

Then he paces the room for a minute. Presently he takes up another paper, and reads a paragraph: “A marriage is arranged, and will shortly take place, between the Hon. Bertram Ore, brother of Lord Dunsville, and Lady Beaumont, widow of the late Sir Robert Beaumont.”

“That’s satisfactory,” he remarks, with a cynical smile, half hidden by the beard he is growing. “I like people to be happy when they don’t come in my way, and I believe the little woman was fond of Gladys. That’s why I got all the rot.”

He reads another paragraph – “We understand that the Hon. Bertram Ore, who lately made a large fortune in Westralian mines, is about to contest Granboro in the Conservative interest. This place, which was for many years a pocket borough of the Dunsvill family, he will probably carry, although he is opposed by a local lawyer who represents the radical interest, and the labour organisations threaten to split the vote unless he promises to support an eight hours day, the payment of members, &c. Mr. Ore is to be married on the 20th inst to Lady Beaumont, a lady formerly well known in London Society. The marriage will be solemnised at the Pro. Cathedral by His Eminence Cardinal Vaughan, assisted by Monsignor Ore, Mr. Ore’s uncle. The reception will be held at the Dowager Lady Dunsville’s house, in Brooke-street.

Hoare pushes the papers aside, and says: “But for me that boy would never have heard of the Gipsy King. I made him. No man does any good on a goldfield if he comes to it raw and fresh, until he gets a spill, and I made him. Well, he was worth troubling about, and I only got these things for the sake of Gladys.”

Then he takes a prospectus out of his pocket, and spreads it out before him.

“I wonder why,” he says, “I wonder why only one man in a thousand has inspirations, ideas! Nine hundred and ninety-nine men live on the brains of this one man, and hate him.  Where do ideas come from, and why does one brain incubate them, while the majority of men can only appreciate them when they are hatched? I am proud of this prospectus. Now that British capital is so scarce it was a stroke of genius to think of floating a battery here with local capital to put up 40 head of stamps, with motive power and gear, for £13,000, and cyanide works for £5,000-£20,000 altogether. How the small fry rushed for those shares, owners of mines going two ounces—how eager they were directly I issued my provisional prospectus! One ounce to raise and crush, one ounce to the good, they thought; and they were quite right, for if a battery is put up here, they will make a good living, and be able to sell when the boom comes, and reports of the crushings will do more to hurry on a boom than anything else, by giving the British public confidence. Well, I had no difficulty in getting the names of the ‘leading men’ on my prospectus as provisional directors, they cottoning to the idea at once, ‘their high average of intelligence’ could grasp the importance of my idea when it was hatched. ‘Why has no one thought of this before,’ they asked, ‘now that so many mines are flooded out at it has been proved that water can be had by sinking for it? Now that the Government loan for a water supply will only be put on the market as an electioneering dodge, why has no one thought of putting up a battery here before? If I had tried to float a mine they would have been suspicious—but a battery! So I issued my provisional prospectus with all the ‘leading men’ of the Fiery Cross as my provisional directors, Cooper and Oakley as my solicitors, and for my brokers all the best known firms in the colony; £25,000 was called, 5s. on application and 5s. on allotment, and the money flowed in and was banked by me.”

He takes a cheque from his pocket.

“Now I consider my idea worth all that money. I have given the idea, and this is my price for it. More money can be raised without much trouble, the battery can be put up, and I will leave it to Western Australia as my monument.”

He goes to a sage, and takes out a cash-box. One a chair lie a khakee suit and a soft felt hat, and by the chair on the floor are a black billy, an empty water-bag, and a blanket, rolled up and fastened with a strap. He takes a penknife, and rips open the front of the waistcoat, and this done he replaces the cash-box and shuts the safe.

“Well,” he says, “I suppose, by and bye provisional directors will be required to pay more attention to the companies they sponsor, and put their names to cheques drawn on trust accounts. I know one many here who has fifteen trust accounts in his own bank, and although the law provides that, at latest, four months after the floating of a company and its registration a meeting must be called, and directors, secretary and auditors appointed, and, of course, if a man wishes to stay on here he is obliged to account them for every farthing, a man can levant with a good big sum, if the mood so takes him. To-morrow is the first general meeting of the Fiery Cross Public Crushing Co., so the papers announce, and to-morrow I, promoter and secretary, shall be en route for Europe.”

He dresses himself in the khakee clothes, and turns to a looking glass.

“Now,” he says, “for my hirsutic adornments. This beard, changes me very much; this moustache makes all the difference. I look like a miner just recovering from fever. The beard and moustache increase the natural pallor of my countenance. And with this hat”—he covers his head—“I hide my forehead, I shall soon be sunburnt for I must tramp most of the way, but at ’Frisco I become the gentleman. Six months of London and Paris will freshen me up, and show me the drift of the money market, and I shall be ready then for New Guinea, or any other rush. What time is it? Then. I shall just catch a luggage train at the siding; here is my permit.”

He goes to a drawer, and takes out a stout little shoe and a woman’s photograph.

“I would not set fire to things of this sort. Private houses may hold things no one can replace—life’s hall-marks, but offices, more especially those of solicitors and mining agents, benefit by a conflagration, and a mining town springs up again so quickly that a fire is of little consequence. So here—and he sets fire to the papers under the lamp. Then he leaves the office by the back door, with the blanket on his back, and carrying the water-bag and the billy, and he goes towards the siding, avoiding the public street.

It is a dark night. A strong wind is blowing, and the dust is sweeping in clouds over the ground, suffocating and blinding the few men who are out on pleasure or business.

Suddenly the fire bell clangs loudly above the wind, and strikes sharply the news that a fire has broken out in the principal street.

He turns and sees a light in the neighbourhood of his office. Then he hears shouts and rushing footsteps. Men dart out of doors, and seem to spring from the earth, while the fire bell clangs its horrible message.

“Fire! Fire!” the people shout, rushing madly pas him to Bow-street.

He stands still, looking at the white clouds bulging into the dark sky, the red and yellow tongues of the flame shooting up into the rolling smoke, and the lurid light illuminating the township. He has been in many fires before, and he knows all that is taking place—the wild fears of the women, the suppressed excitement of the men, the emptying of offices, the piling up of things in the street, the hacking down of walls, the hoarse shouts and foolish orders, the wild demands and mad requests, the seething, joking sightseers, and the dispassionate police. He has seen it all often before in mining townships, and he turns away quickly.

For a mile he follows the railway line, turning from time to time to look at the body of flame behind him; then he reaches the siding. He has not long to wait. A luggage train comes from the town, and he holds out his permit.

“Jump up on the engine,” the guard shouts from the van. “The fire has made us late.”

He swings himself up on the engine, beside the driver and the pilot.

“Going to Perth?” the driver asks.

“No, only to the Cross.”

He leans against the rail, watching the white and yellow lights in the distance, and listening to the talk of the men on the engine.

“The fire will take half Bow-street,” says the driver.

“If the wind hadn’t shifted, it would have taken the whole of it,” says the pilot.

They pay no attention to him. They think he is just one of the mob that comes and goes, lives and dies on the field—a miner, with a pair of hands and a stomach.

The wind beats against the engine; the darkness is intense. Now and again the driver opens the door of the furnace and dashes coal on the red embers, then the door is shut, and all is black. The light in the distance grows less and less, and at last he loses sight of it.

He stands with his face to the furnace and his back to the line along which the engine is rushing, dragging a few empty cars behind her. The train sways and jolts, and seems to groan as she dashes along, and the howling wind cuts the expert’s face.

***

Day breaks. A cold dawn creeps along the horizon and into the silent bush. Two bats flap against the trees and fly close to the earth, and touch a man lying there, and touch him again, and then flap back into darkness.

The man moves, and groans, and lifts his hand to his forehead, which is covered with blood and sweat. He tries to raise himself, but falls back, and his eyes shut. How did he come here, he wonders, trying to recollect and the cold morning air fans him into conscious [sic]. Ah, yes. There was an accident. They ran into another train or something, and he dragged himself from the wreckage, and he came here to die. He opens his eyes, and stares through the gum trees into the grey heaven.

Death has him, and he knows it. Life is wishing him good-bye, dragging picture after picture from his memory to leave his mind the blank it was when birth placed him at the feet of circumstance. Life tugs at his brain, removing bit by bit the things he inherited, the preconceived instincts, and desires and vices, and then life drags at the things that he did himself with his received and receiving apparatus.

He writhes on the earth.

To move is torture, for he is mortally hurt, to think is pain that he cannot endure.

The red sun rises in silence from the womb of the unfathomable universe, bringing no message with it, no hint at the interpretation of the riddle set to the brain of each poor little manikin, and as it dyes the trees and lights up the sky, he is conscious of a terrible thirst that swallows up his other sensations, and makes his brain reel and darkens his eyes, and sets every nerve of his body quivering.

Life tugs fiercely at his brain, and begins to reproach him; sweat and blood stream from his forehead, his mangled feet contract, and in despair he groans the word, “Gladys.”

Then a strange unearthly calm takes possession of him, and with all his might he fastens his thoughts on his wife, clings mentally to her, and will not let her go, and—at last—a smile of conquest creaps [sic] over his face.

“O, Death, where is thy sting; O, Grave, where is thy victory?” he asks, “when a dying man can thus hypnotise himself?”

He stretches his arms out, and one last whispering word passes into the silent bush.

“Gladys.”

THE END.

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