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Chapter II

Containing the Death and History of One Joseph Morton, of Yarmouth, England.

NOTHING of any consequence occurred for the next two months. I had tested Australian hospitality, both in town and country, to its utmost, and had not found it wanting. Existence appeared to be quite as uneventful in the new land as the old. All the wild life of former days had vanished, leaving behind it flourishing cities inhabited by sober, hardworking citizens.

It was shortly after my return from a visit to the famous goldfields of Ballarat that my cousin Hardwicke informed me of the serious illness of their old servant Morton, which, I must confess, seemed not of much consequence to me. But when he told of the extraordinary things the man had said and done, I began to understand the reason of his great interest, though at that moment I little foresaw how much the strange old fellow was to influence our future lives.

It seemed at one time the patient had become quite delirious, and for hours together he did nothing but rave of mountains, deserts, savages, dried-up water-holes, golden lakes, precious stones, and many other things equally mixed and curious. Once he awoke as if to reason, and peevishly demanded the key of his box, saying they should not rob him of his secret, nor would he rest satisfied till they had found it, and made it fast about his neck.

These things being reported to my cousin Dick, he evinced an anxious curiosity which, to my thinking, was perfectly absurd. Was he, after all, nothing but a dreamer, a visionary? I was at a loss to tell. It seemed strange that so apparently practical a man should dwell unceasingly


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upon the ravings of a fever-stricken brain. Yet so it was, and on one occasion when it had again been reported to us that the old fellow had repeated his talk of savages, deserts, and golden lakes, my cousin whispered to me—

“The lake again, you hear. He spoke of a golden lake.”

“Nonsense,” said I. “What does he know of a lake beyond the story he heard you tell that night? He has dreamt it, as all poor devils dream of gold. Besides, the blackfellow in your story never mentioned a golden one.”

But when a man has once made up his mind to believe a thing, it is a task of no little difficulty to dissuade him from it. He answered quite seriously—

“But do you remember he let the glasses fall—a thing I never recollect him doing before?”

I could scarcely help smiling at the analogy between broken glasses and golden lakes.

“An accident, my boy; nothing more.”

“Perhaps,” said he, and there the conversation ended.

The next day the patient was worse, but in the evening the high pulsation had ceased, and he was much better. About nine o'clock that night his attendant came to us with the information that she thought the old fellow was dying.

“He is quite calm now,” she said to my cousin, “and is anxiously inquiring for you, sir.”

I accompanied Dick to the sick man's room, and, as we entered, the old fellow slowly turned his head.

“Is that you, sir? Is that you, Mr. Dick?”

“Yes, Morton. You want to speak to me?”

He first waved the nurse from the room, then turned to Hardwicke.

“Take this key from my neck, sir. Thanks. It belongs to my trunk. When I am dead—don't shake your head, Mr. Dick, I know I'm going; when I am dead a—a fortnight, open it, and you will find a packet addressed to yourself.”

“Yes,” said Hardwicke.

“You promise not to open it before a fortnight, sir? I


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shall be well dead then, and you will be able to forgive my long deception.”

“I promise.”

“You and my dear mistress, God bless her, have been good to me, very good, and I'll make your fortunes. Yes, old Morton 'll make all your fortunes.”

Dick looked sadly on the white, withered face of the old man. Both he and I believed his reason had fled again, for he continued to rave on—

“Yes, Mr. Dick, your fortune, and a big fortune, too; as much gold as a ship could carry, ay, twenty ships. You spoke of a golden lake; you thought there wasn't one, well, there is—there is!”

He worked himself into a high pitch of excitement which Hardwicke in vain attempted to allay. Nature would brook no interference. She carried the old man to the very verge of frenzy, and then, swiftly stealing away, left him a livid corpse.

The old fellow was buried two days after, amidst the general regret of the Hardwicke family, for he had been a true and trusted servant to them for the last ten years.

I was about to start for Sydney, some few days after, to continue the tour of the world which I had mapped out for myself; but Dick, on whom the revelations of the dying man had a most pronounced effect, begged me to wait for the fortnight to expire, so that I might see what secret the old fellow had left behind. At this I was very much inclined to laugh, but as a week more or less made little or no difference to me, I decided to stay and see what the mysterious trunk contained.

The evening of the fourteenth day at last arrived, and as the hand of the clock pointed to ten, that being about the time the old man expired, Dick looked at me, rose from his seat, left the room, and I followed. We wended our way to his bedroom, neither speaking. He seemed quite unlike his usual self, and, expectation being contagious, I suffered from the same complaint. To tell the truth, the words of the dying man had filled me with a


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strange impression. What it all meant I could not say, but fancy, ever willing to roam, sees far into the depths of its self-created future, and I was one of those individuals to whom imagination is allotted in no meagre extent, though whether it was of the first quality or not is another matter.

In the centre of the floor stood the trunk—old, iron-bound, and dilapidated. Dick took the key from his pocket, while I looked on from my seat on the edge of his bed.

“Now for the great secret,” he cried, and with a click the lock flew back.

He lifted the lid, but nothing in the shape of a packet of papers met his sight. He found some old shirts and a pair or two of trousers, with various other kinds of wearing apparel, which he threw out on the floor, but discovered no letter or packet. He seemed to grow more anxious, and peered with keener intensity into the trunk. Some books lay in one corner, and these he began to hand out, rather excitedly, I thought, for if he found no packet now, all Morton's talk was truly but the ravings of a delirious brain.

“Ah, here it is at last,” he suddenly cried, and turned to me with a parcel of papers in his hand.

His face was a perfect study, being a strange mixture of hope and fear. He held the envelope, or wrapper, up to me. It bore this inscription:—

  “FOR MR. RICHARD HARDWICKE.”

I was now participating in his strange excitement. I looked at the frail paper wrapper with as much interest as though it contained a recipe for the elixir of life. Hardwicke also surveyed it curiously, and held it as gently as though it were some precious sensitive plant.

“Open it, Dick.”

He inserted his finger behind the wrapper, and gently tore it apart. A sheet of paper, with writing upon it, was exposed to view. This was carefully wrapped round another bundle of papers, which bore the same inscription, “For Mr. Richard Hardwicke.” But it was this particular


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piece of paper that riveted Dick's attention. His breath came quickly as he read. Then he handed it to me.

“Read,” he said.

I took it from his hand, and read as follows:—

“There is a Golden Lake, Mr. Dick. I have seen it. I have stood within the secret chamber of the Great Cave, amid tons upon tons of the precious metal. Gold enough was there to ransom the whole world. It lies in the mountains over the great desert. If you can reach it and return in safety, your fortune is made, for there are thousands of fortunes there. I intended to revisit the place, but could never raise money enough for the expedition. People have thought me mad, but I dared not disclose my secret, and how I knew of the lake's whereabouts. If you should entertain the thought of seeking this treasure, these few directions, which I should have followed myself, will be of use to you. Remember, I only speak from memory, but as sure as there's a God above, there is a Golden Lake.

  DIRECTIONS

“Follow the main road from Port Augusta as far as Mount Arden; then strike a north-westerly course across the Great Salt Lakes till you come up with a long, low range of hills, which should be immediately in your path; climb them, and you will discover a big mountain lying to the south. If so far you have not seen all as herein written, tempt that wild country no farther, for the desert now opens with desolation upon desolation; but should you see these things, and be determined to push on, still steer the same north-westerly course, and you will strike more dry salt lakes. To the north of them I found water. From there you enter the Great Desert, but still steer the same course, and you will fetch the Great White City in the mountains. Climb the principal street, and then follow the river that loses itself in the sands at the foot of the Three Brothers. From there steer due west. I found water half way across the desert. In the next range of mountains that looms up you will find the One Tree Hill. Climb the south side of it, and you will see the Golden Lake.”

I read this aloud in an amazed and tremulous tone, scarcely believing that I could have deciphered the words correctly.

Dick looked on with wonder. “What do you think of it?” he said.

“I hardly know,” I replied. “It's a wonderful story, if true, and he seems sincere enough about it. But how did he cross?”

“How did the blackfellow?”




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“Then you believe the yarn?”

“I think so. There is no reason why the story of this untold wealth should not be true. As for the journey, unparalleled as it seems, it is not impossible, though I grant you it, it appears so. But is not some one always doing something that no one ever did before?”

It is little or no use arguing with a man who is convinced. You might as well tell a Papist that his form of worship is false, or a Protestant that the Pope is infallible.

“Perhaps that other packet will throw more light on the subject,” said I. “Open it.”

He did so, and answered, “Yes; I believe it's a history of his life.”

“Then read it, old fellow,” and, lighting a cigar, I threw myself back on the bed, while he, unfolding the manuscript, commenced—

  “FOR MR. RICHARD HARDWICKE.”

“Being an old man now, and feeling that the hand of death is upon me, and no longer dreading the law, I, Joseph Morton, of Yarmouth, England, swear that what I am about to write is as true as the Gospel, and call the Almighty to witness.

“My father was a prosperous man in his own rank of life. He owned several of the finest fishing boats that sailed out of the port of Yarmouth, and, as a consequence, we were in pretty easy circumstances, and I was the recipient of an education considerably above that which falls to the lot of most young men of my own class. Unfortunately the tide of our happiness ebbed slowly out. First one boat was lost, then another, and as calamities usually crowd quickly upon the heels of each other, we soon found ourselves fallen from simple affluence to comparative poverty.

“When the horizon of our fortunes was darkened with its blackest clouds, my father died, and I, to maintain my mother, entered a merchant's office as a clerk. I got on so well, and became such a favourite with my employer, that


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I was soon upon the high road to an honourable career. Fate seemed at last to have grown weary of persecuting us, and I looked forward with pleasure to a happy, though uneventful, existence. Alas! how little I foresaw my destiny. Four years after my entrance into the confidence of my master, my dear mother took ill and, in great agony, died.

“I owe my fall to her untimely death. While she lived I had some one to love, to work for, to live for. After she was gone I became as the others about me. Perhaps I was naturally bad, perhaps my evil inclinations would have shown themselves sooner or later. I drank, gambled, and committed all sorts of extravagant excesses—for all the world like a gentleman!

“But why need I enter into these particulars? I owed some money on a horse race. I was pressed by my creditors. All who know anything of gambling know full well the sanctity of so-called debts of honour. I forged my master's name. I had hoped to save up, to pay the money back, and then throw myself on his mercy. But before these good intentions could be accomplished, the forgery was discovered and I arrested. I was tried two months after and sentenced to transportation to the Swan River settlement for twelve years.

“The misery I endured in that court, which was full of my former friends, all come as it were, to gloat over my misfortunes; the horror of the voyage out in the convict ship; the forced labour on the public roads, chained like a wild beast, to the leg of another man, are things too overwhelming with horror for me to dwell on even now.

“After serving full five years of my sentence, and in the meanwhile, bearing a good character, I was allotted by the government to a Mr. Williams, a rich squatter. This gentleman was more than good to me, and I should have been content to have lived with him for the remainder of my life, had heaven been pleased to spare him. But he died, and another bought his land, a brutal bully, named Carson.




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“The overseer of this station on which we lived was also a convict, but one of the most thorough gentlemen that ever walked in two shoes. Mr. Williams treated him as a friend, and I was always pleased to do his slightest bidding, so agreeable was his manner of speaking. He was a fine-looking man, with yellow hair and beard, an open, honest face, and physical development that did credit to the country of his birth. He, unlike most of the convicts, was married, and dwelt in a neat little cottage, which he himself had built, with his wife—a poor, delicate creature, and one child, a pretty little fairy-like thing with her father's blue eyes and golden hair.

“Harold Mayne was his name, and he—as I learnt shortly after my arrival on the station—had been transported for appropriating large sums of money. He was the manager of a bank in London, and many thousands of pounds being missed, suspicion fell on him. He was arrested and accused, and though he pleaded innocent, as only an innocent man could plead, he was found guilty, principally through the evidence of the chief cashier of the same bank, and convicted. He never spoke of his misfortunes, never tried to right himself. Every convict says he is an injured man. The officials only laugh. But a settled melancholy pervaded all Mayne's actions, and I could see that his great sorrow was slowly killing the noble spirit with which nature had endowed him.

“With the arrival of our new master, things underwent a disagreeable change. No one seemed to please him. We could do nothing right, and one day while Mr. Mayne was having his after-dinner smoke under the cool shade of a tree, Carson came along, and seeing him sitting there, he blurted out that he would have no lazy convicts skulking about his land. I saw Mayne's fair face flush to a vivid crimson, but he said nothing. That very quietness which all men admired in him, but angered Carson the more.

“From that day he never addressed Mayne with a civil word, and shortly after caused him to be removed from the post of overseer to that of labourer.




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“ ‘You're no good,’ he said. ‘You dont suit me; you don't know your work.’

“ ‘I'm very sorry, sir,’ answered Mayne respectfully, though I could see his blood was boiling, ‘that such should be your opinion, for Mr. Williams thought me competent, and I don't think I ever betrayed his trust.’

“ ‘Williams was a fool, then!” he coarsely replied. “I don't think you competent, and I don't trust you; d'ye see? And that's enough for you.’

“ ‘I'm sorry, sir.’

“ ‘No back answers, —— you! Go about your work, and don't let me catch you idle; don't, if you value your skin.’ He turned to go but stopped suddenly, ‘And get that wife and brat of yours out of the house; I want it for the new overseer.’

“ ‘But, sir, it's mine,’ said Mayne; ‘I built it with my own hands.’

“Yours, —— you, is it? We'll see about that, my fine fellow. A pretty state the country would come to if we allowed the filth and scum of England to live as gentlemen.'

“ ‘You dog!’ said Mayne advancing threateningly towards him, as though about to administer a thrashing. But luckily he remembered himself. ‘I dare not touch you, Carson,’ he continued, ‘but I can tell you, to your face, that you are a contemptible cur, and if it were not for the cursed bonds that weigh me down, I would thrash you within an inch of your life.’ And he turned on his heel and departed. Carson smiled diabolically, for he knew that Mayne, being a convict, dared not lay a finger upon him for fear of severe punishment at the hands of the government.

“Mayne was forced to quit his house, and for some time he lived with his wife and child in a poor, mean hut. How they managed to exist at all, God only knows, for the winter was now upon us, and the cold in the evenings bitterly intense. But, as I foresaw, the change was too great for his delicate wife; she sickened and died. From that time a mighty change took place in him. He was


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another, an entirely different man. The genial smile of old was seen no more upon his face. He nodded ‘good morning,’ but never spoke it.

“This life continued for about eighteen months. His daughter was now nine or ten years of age, and as beautiful as a piece of new gold, quick and strong in limb, and active in intellect. I being the only one with whom he ever associated, he would now and again ask me strange questions of her. Did I not think she was exceptionally strong for her years? or if I thought she would be capable of enduring great fatigue? To all these questions I answered, as in duty, Yes. Though having not the least conception at what he was driving, I had marked the strange, anxious, almost nervous spirit which had come over him of late, and one day, while we were working together sawing timber, he revealed the cause to me by inquiring if I had ever thought of escape. In truth I scarcely had, for I knew not to what place we could escape. Then, after a little fencing with the subject, and after I had vowed secrecy, he unfolded his plan. If I would go with him, we were to take some of the station horses, well provision them, and start right across the Continent to the Eastern Colonies. Had I then known the dangers incident to such a journey, I doubt if I should ever have undertaken it; but, not knowing, and hating with all my soul the life I was then leading, I consented. He swore that he was determined to risk it, even if I would not, for his life had now become a torture to him, and he would die rather than live on so.

“Well, we easily completed all arrangements, being allowed, as we were, so much freedom, and one April night we stole away, we three—Mayne, his little daughter, Ada, and myself. We were well armed, and otherwise well equipped, and pushed on at a rapid pace, for we knew the police would be after us, and that, should we be taken, our escapade would end upon the gallows. Mayne vowed, with clenched teeth, that he would never return to suffer such degradation, that he would kill himself first; and


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there was a look in his eyes which boded no good to himself or his would-be captor.

“We travelled for days, weeks, months, till at last our horses sank exhausted, and we were forced to walk. No fear had we of the police now, but in their place two still more cruel enemies assailed us—hunger and thirst. Even food we might have done without, but the want of water caused us indescribable anguish, and the possibility of discovering it was so remote, the country through which we journeyed being nothing better than a sandy waste, that I could have laid down and died with very grief.

“At last we struck a long, low range of mountains, and here, worn out and almost dead, with the little girl like a small skeleton child between us, we threw ourselves down upon the rocks to die.

“We had not lain long thus before the poor child aroused me from my semi-slumber by gently pulling my sleeve.

“ ‘Mr. Morton,’ she murmured in a voice so feeble that I could scarcely catch her words, ‘I can hear such sweet music. It is so pleasant, so cool.’

“I thought she was dying, and took her hand in mine, and pressed it gently. I could not speak a word in answer to her plaintive tones. My heart was bursting. This brave child had been my only comfort throughout our dreary march; and now she was dying—was going from me for ever.

“ ‘Go over there and see who it is,’ said she, ‘and tell them, if they please, to come a little nearer, for I love their music, oh, so much!’

“I could not tell her it was the angels who were waiting to bear her sweet soul away to a bright land far beyond the regions of the great wilderness, so I staggered to my feet and tottered in the direction to which she had pointed. I had not proceeded many yards before I saw the cause of the music. It was a small, silver waterfall that rushed sparkling over a ledge of rock, and dashed itself at my feet. Though I had fully believed the music she heard was heavenly, I hope it is not profane to say that I was glad


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it was of the earth. I filled the bottle I had round my shoulders, and hastened back to them. First, I put it to the dear child's lips. She drank greedily of it, smiled sweetly upon me, and then fell into a peaceful sleep. I immediately turned to my companion.

“ ‘Come, sir,’ said I, ‘here's water at last.’

“He neither moved nor made answer to my words, but stared up into my face with fixed, glazed eyes. I put the bottle to his open mouth, and yet he gave no signs of life. I passed my hand across his face. It was as cold as a stone.

“And then I knew that he was dead, dead! and that I was alone, alone in the centre of the great unknown desert, far, it seemed to me, beyond the reach of God or man. The burning tears rushed to my eyes, and I prayed that the Almighty would strike me dead as well. And even as I prayed my eyes fell upon the sleeping child—poor, wee, helpless thing—and a new spirit entered my despondent breast, and I knew that I would go on—go on till I died, if only for her sake. My natural energy returned in the moment, and, for fear that her sweet eyes should witness her dear father's corpse, I moved the body of my unfortunate companion a little on one side, and, for the lack of implements and better material, covered it with stones.

“After the child had completely rested her worn-out, wasted frame, we continued our journey up the mountains, but had not proceeded far before we were suddenly surrounded by some half a hundred blacks. Fully armed were they, and carried, in addition to the boomerang, spear and waddy, great stone axes which possessed a most formidable appearance. I fully expected to be murdered on the spot, but instead of offering any violence, they evinced nothing but a profound curiosity. This was so exceedingly strange that I immediately began to improve the shining hour by making tokens of amity and good-will, to which they responded by gestures equally as friendly. During this time several of them held a confab among themselves, and then he who seemed to be the leader of


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the party advanced to me, and saying something, pointed up the mountain, and the whole party immediately set out, Ada being carried on a rude stretcher which had been hastily manufactured by the blacks.

“When we reached the top of the mountain a most curious sight presented itself. Right at the foot of the great valley down which we travelled, sparkled the waters of a considerable lake; and upon its bosom floated many canoes, while a good-sized native village nestled cosily on its margin. The nearer we drew to the water the greener became the country, trees and shrubs of many descriptions being abundant. As the news of our coming had spread with rapidity through the village, we were met, upon our arrival, with its almost entire population. The people showed unbounded astonishment at my presence, I being the first white man they had ever seen. But that astonishment was changed to absolute wonder and amazement when they beheld Ada's beautiful golden hair. One woman took it in her hand, felt it carefully to see if it was real, then held her own arm beside it, upon which sparkled a gold bracelet, and made some remark to her companions, at which several of the women followed her example, and I saw, to my surprise, that nearly all the women wore either a bracelet or anklet of roughly beaten gold; while many of both sexes wore pretty red stone ornaments, which might be rubies. These I afterwards discovered were the principal personages of the place. The women, however, offered her no violence, but on the contrary surveyed her with enthusiastic reverence. I was delighted at this unexpected turn to our fortunes, and so that I might impress them the more with the wonder of her being, I knelt before her and devoutly kissed the hem of her dress, which afterwards caused her no inconsiderable annoyance, for she had no peace until every man, woman, and child in the village had done the same. I own that my action was a piece of irreverence, and, perhaps, cowardly in the bargain, but when men are placed in desperate straits they are not usually fastidious as to their manner of getting out of


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them. Anyhow, my action was not without its effect. The primitive souls really believed she was of some superior origin, and our safety from that moment was assured.

“I stayed for more than twelve moons with these curious people, and could tell many strange stories had I the time and inclination; but these being useless and discoverable of themselves, I will hasten to what most men would think the most important point of all.

“I had observed, as I have said, that nearly all the women wore anklets or bracelets of gold. This was the cause of much speculation to me, and I wondered from what source the metal was procured. But all my attempts to know were nevertheless in vain till I had broached the subject with the chief of the tribe, an old, good-hearted fellow, who, with the chief priest, equally as good a man, had taken Ada and myself under their special protection. He informed me that it came from the secret chamber of the god; that none but he and the chief priest knew of its whereabouts, and that none but they were allowed to behold it. At this I appeared, and was, much concerned, and entreated, ay, implored him to show me the wonderful chamber, and at length prevailed upon him so with my arguments, that he consented to lead me to the chamber on the condition that I went there blindfolded.

“And I did go, and I remember crossing water, and entering some cavern, through which the wind rushed like a hurricane; and when the bandage was removed from my eyes, I stood in the golden chamber and saw more of the wonderful metal than man has ever dreamt of. The chief knew not its value, neither did I tell him, but he informed me that it was taken from the mountains ages before, and that the chief priest and he were its sacred guardians. My eyes were then bandaged once more, and when the covering was again removed I was back in the village.

“At last I made up my mind to continue my journey eastward, for though the people were kind enough, in all conscience, I could not settle down to such an existence. Therefore I made known my determination to the chief,


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who expressed considerable sorrow at my departure, but told me that I was free to do as I pleased. But when I asked him if he would allow me to have some bearers to carry Laughing Hair (for so they had named Ada), his dark face assumed a blacker aspect, and he peremptorily informed me that she should not leave the village. She was the good spirit of it, he said, and the warriors would never sanction her departure.

“Of this I spoke to Ada later on, when, to my astonishment, she absolutely refused to accompany me, saying that she would never live to cross the dreadful desert again. What was I to do? To leave her there seemed cruel; yet had I attempted to force her into going, the natives would have slaughtered me without compunction. I told her that I would go alone, and if I reached the other side in safety I would get relief for her; if not, she was to know that I died in crossing.

“We parted with many tears, for she had got to love me dearly. As for myself, had she been ten times my own child, she could not have been more beloved. I waited till the rainy season began, and luckily for me it was a good one, or I should have left my bones to whiten amid the sands of the Great Desert. The natives paddled me across to the eastern side of the lake, and taking with me the one man who had decided to accompany me, I launched out upon my awful journey.

“I will not attempt to narrate it here. Suffice it that I speak the truth when I say that it is one long way of indescribable desolation. I took mental notes of the principal landmarks as I journeyed on, for I was determined to re-visit that lake, should fortune so ordain. Those notes I have already marked down. If you find them false—should you attempt the journey—turn back, for who can say that chance will lead you aright? and the land of the setting sun is the white man's tomb. I have only this to add, the black fellow whom the surveyors you, Mr. Dick, mentioned picked up, must have been the companion of my dreadful journey, the person whom I lost in


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the desert between the great White City and the Salt Lakes. We separated to look for water and I never saw him again.

“It is now fifteen years since I left the lake. If Ada is living, she is a woman. I would have helped her, I would have gone back; God knows I meant to! but when I mentioned my belief of great wealth in such and such a place, every one laughed, and I had no money to organise an expedition of my own. I was afraid to tell my story outright, to tell them what I had seen with my own eyes, for fear of being sent back to the Swan River—to chains—to the lash—perhaps to death. I have been a coward. God forgive me! But now that death is drawing around me its cold shroud, for the first time in my life I am not afraid. God rest my soul.

   “JOSEPH MORTON.”

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