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Chapter XIV. Jack Milton Makes for the West.

TO the mind poetic, artistic, romantic or retrospective, Australia is not the land for the development of these imaginative faculties, and I much fear will not be for ages, or at least generations, to come. Yet if ever Apollo condescends to honour this vast continent of gold with his presence or those of his handmaids, I fancy that they will avoid those latitudes between 30° and 35°, for it is there that Pluto holds his empire.

Opals and other precious gems, gold, silver, copper, iron, coal, and all the other hard gifts which the god of the nether world offers to his serfs, are to be found here to those who can wrest them from the Genii of the fiery and waterless desert, yet the streams and woodlands so necessary for the existence of the gentler deities are wanting.

Truth may perchance be found at the bottom of an artesian well, as trusting people will persist in believing that she dwells with the mining expert, but the Naiads are not be found beside the condensed water tanks. The skies are too metallic in the hardness of their lustre for Poesy to soar through, the gum trees too shadeless and avaricious in their thirst, for Dryads to disport under.

And yet, who knows? Perchance in the far and distant future an Australian race may come into

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existence who will in some sense resemble the Greeks in their art instincts, as now they do in their vices. It may yet come to pass that suitable and fair cities may fringe those sapphire seas, instead of shapeless blocks and arid streets.

When they have dug gold enough out of the flinty soil to satisfy even their eucalyptine souls, they may begin to patronise native-bred sculptors, painters and architects. The art instinct seems already dawning in Victoria, albeit the pioneers of art there are likely to be martyrs. In New South Wales it is as yet darkest night.

But, if the great ideas and noble aspirations which have made the Greeks the admired of nations, and those tender and pretty fancies which render England and Germany such haunted lands, are absent from this dry-as-dust and materialistic continent, no one who has visited its sadly uninteresting shores can deny that, as far as worldly prosperity and rude vitality go, it is stupendously great. The present possessors may be girded inches thick with callous selfishness, and totally devoid of originality and ideality, but they are undoubtedly robust and go-ahead in their blundering and heartless manner. Ready to endure untold hardships and discomforts to gain their aims and win a position. Existing only for lucre in its most sordid sense, they force nutriment even from the most arid sand-desert. For this strength of purpose and indomitable will-force, they must be admired, if they fail to win affection. Their country also, to those who can exist without

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traditions or sympathy, is great, and must yet be greater as it is developed and its resources fostered. Sensitive and poetic hearts may be broken, but Australia must advance as she desires to advance, in worldly prosperity, aggressive materialism and ostentatious parade. Every Australian, male or female, is born with the one great desire, which bears down every other passion, to become rich in worldly goods. He or she can only respect wealth, therefore they have no room in that land for a Socrates, a Buddha, or a Jesus Christ. They are plutocrats to the inmost recesses of their souls.

When a man is hard up in Australia, there are but three courses open to him, for the fourth, that of trading upon the sympathy or benevolence of his fellow creatures, is an utter impossibility. If hope still clings to his heart, he turns his face towards the wilderness, and with his pick and shovel, attempts to force from Mother Nature her gifts. He knows as he steps out, that he will probably die of starvation by the way, yet that fate is as certain in the city, if he lingers after he has lost the only thing that can win him a smile or a hand-shake from his fellowman; there is no disinterested friendship in Australia, which is the cause why so many turn criminals there. He may join the school of Jack Milton in whatever branch his talents lie. House-breaking, pocket-picking in its simple or more elaborate methods, that is, he may dip his fingers directly into the pockets of his fellows and get a trifle now and again dangerously, or he may become

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the speculative adventurer, start offices or enter Parliament. There are a hundred different openings for the inventive thief, who is reduced to trade on his talents, but not one for the honest man who has become destitute.

The third course is suicide if he has not courage to face starvation and the Wallaby track, and too much sentiment to go in for robbery. One thing he may be sure of, neither his relations, his so-called friends, nor Society at large, care one iota what becomes of him.

Thus he learns to live for himself, as his wife, children, and other relations are doing. When he is rich he buys his pleasures with callous disregard. When he is poor he has to learn to do without, so this knowledge braces him up in the hour of his adversity, and he goes forth with a hard laugh, and renders him impervious to pity in the hour of his prosperity. It is not the philosophy of Socrates I will admit, nor does it tend to make humanity a lovely contemplation, yet it is a philosophy of its kind. The philosophy that comforted that ancient band of refugees who left their wives and children to the mercy of the foe, satisfied that there would be no difficulty in finding women and raising children wherever they chanced to settle.

Jack Milton was too much experienced in colonial city life, as well as colonial prisons, to play the folly of Lot's wife and look behind him as he went on his journey. What the future held for him was alone the subject to speculate upon. He had committed the mistake of giving way once to

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sentiment, possibly he would do so again, for that he had chosen housebreaking instead of the more lucrative and respectable game of swindling, proved that he had a weak strain of sentiment about his composition, which was decidedly anti-colonial. Yet the past, as far as this weakness, Rosa, was concerned, was as much beyond recall as last week's dinner.

At Euriouie, a small township fifty miles from Silverton, which was the first place at which he ventured to rest after leaving Pooncaria, he got a glance at some of the late Sydney papers, and read an account of the divorce and knew that he was now once again free from the noose of Hymen, although still within the reach of the more speedy noose of Ketch.

He had still his false beard and wig on, but they were getting sadly worn and would soon be useless as disguises; however, the small population of this township being mostly rough-and-ready miners, they were not too inquisitive. Indeed, their main desire appeared to be to induce him to move on as quickly as possible, being fearful that he had come to look for work.

They told him they were on half-time themselves, and even that at reduced wages, so that there was no use his applying if that was his intention.

“The mines all round here are over-crowded, the work is killing, not one man in a hundred can stand these mines longer than nine months, so take our square tip and clear out while you can.”

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Jack thought this advice wholesome in more ways than one, although he sneered a little at the narrowness of these New South Welshmen. No, strangers are not made welcome where there is any work likely to be had, in any portion of that colony.

He enquired his way north and was directed to Milperinka, the township of the Albert Gold Field near Mount Brown, and after a good night's rest and with a fresh stock of provisions, he shook the dust of Euriouie from him and set off on the coach track for another hundred and fifty miles.

From Milperinka he passed through Tibbooburra, twenty miles' distance, only waiting at each of these gold centres long enough to refresh himself and his horses, and then, crossing the borders, he found himself at Wompah in Queensland; at last he was out of the dreaded colony, although still too near it to be able to breathe safely.

He had now shaken the blood-hounds off his scent, and need go no farther north. By making careful enquiries at Wompah, he learnt that due west a hundred and fifty miles, he would reach a small squatters' settlement called Tinga-Tinga in South Australia, with outlying stations for another couple of hundred miles north-west beyond the top of Lake Eyre. He announced to the residents of Wompah that he was on an exploring expedition, therefore he was received with great kindness and furnished not only with every information, but presented with another good horse and as much provisions as they could carry.

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“You have a roughish bit of country to cross before you reach West Australia, but this isn't a bad time of year to take it. The rains may be on any day now and fill the creeks, and there are water-holes on the way if you keep well to the southward. Look out for the natives, that's all, for they are a bad lot about these quarters.”

He had now four pack horses, two laden with food and sleeping blankets, and two with water kegs. These were all in first-rate condition, and as the route to be taken was pretty clearly mapped out, he resolved to get on to Giles' lower track as soon as he could make it. Once out of the reach of the telegraph posts and out of sight of men who studied newspapers and public descriptions, he could afford to cast aside his disguise and be himself.

Of course the natives were to be reckoned as one of the formidable dangers in crossing that vast track alone, but Jack had before now been amongst natives, and he had a theory of his own respecting them. It was well known that whereas they often fell upon parties, yet they had been known to extend their patronage to the solitary traveller. With the probable risks of death from hunger and thirst, the risks of a spear-given quietus must be also taken.

Therefore, thanking his kindly friends for the hospitality and gifts they had so freely bestowed upon him, he bade them adieu and rode into the wilderness.

He had no intention of touching upon Tinga-Tinga

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if he could get past it without being observed, for he had now provisions enough to last him a couple of months, and a fortnight's supply of water, as he meant to use them. For the past fortnight he had been training to do with as little food as could carry him along, and had succeeded wonderfully in restraining from liquids. He now resolved to limit himself still more and only boil his billy once every two days. He had read that the Arabs who have to cross the deserts make a rule to eat and drink only once every-twenty-four hours, and what an Arab could do, he meant to try.

The temperature was hot and dry, but the atmosphere was clear and exhilarating, in the latitude in which he was. The ground also well covered with grass, so that he had no trouble in finding his horses.

He was still within the belt of civilization, and might at any time come upon a party of outlying police, for there was a large reward offered for his capture, therefore he kept as much as he could within the cover of the bush, avoiding such open tracks as were used by the sheep.

He made a long journey each day, starting at daybreak and only resting when night came on. At times the sky would be filled with heavy clouds as if rain was coming, but as yet none came. In six days' time he came to what he guessed was Cooper's Creek, which, although pretty dry, had yet some well-filled water-holes along its channel. Here he rested for a full day to

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refresh his horses, then, filling his kegs, he went on, keeping north-west as he had been told.

During those seven days he had met no one and seen no signs of habitations, although he could tell from the ground that flocks of sheep had been feeding there; therefore he still wore his disguise, although longing to cast it aside.

On the tenth day he saw in the distance a shepherd's hut, and at the sight his desire for companionship grew too strong to resist. He had been feeling the depression of isolation like a nightmare for the past two days, and could have parted with half the gold he carried to hear the sound of a human voice; therefore he made for the hut and about sundown came up to it and was hailed by the shepherd with as much eagerness and pleasure as he himself felt. These shepherds lead terribly lonely and monotonous lives in such isolated back stations as this was, often seeing no one from year's end to year's end.

After supper the shepherd, who was a man of about sixty, and appeared stupid with his dreadful existence, informed him that his was the last white face he would see this side of Western Australia. In another day Jack could with all safety cast aside his disguise.

The hut he was in was built of rough slabs, yet the owner had papered the walls with prints cut from old illustrated papers and such cuttings of poetry and specimens of humour as these papers give.

As Jack was looking over these listlessly his

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attention was suddenly attracted to a wood-cut of himself, and under it a full description with the reward offered for his apprehension. It was a police sheet, and had only recently been stuck up.

“What have you got there, mate?” he asked carelessly.

“That,” answered the man, looking at it stupidly for a moment, then brightening up somewhat. “It was left me the day before yesterday by a party of traps who came here with the trackers. A big bank robbery and murder at Sydney by a fellow called Milton.”

“Have they tracked him this way?” asked Jack quietly, yet with the perspiration breaking out on him.

“No, they are merely patrolling this district and leaving the description at all the stations, in case he may try this road out of the colony—have you not heard about that business?”

“No, I haven't been near a newspaper this two months past.”

“He's not likely to come this way,” said the shepherd. “With all that loot, I reckon he's been smuggled away in some vessel that was ready prepared for him.”

The shepherd as he said this flung himself on his bunk and fell asleep, while Jack still sat smoking and thinking.