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Chapter XV. The Dream Mine.

“GIVE us that yarn about your mine, Wallace!” cried the boys as they sat inside the Hotel at Kalgourlie, on the next night. “By George! it was a lucky dream, and no mistake.”

“It was,” replied Wallace serenely. “Well, as you seem in want of conversation to-night, it may enliven you, so here goes.”

There were three of us on that prospecting job. Coolgardie Joseph, Forky Ben, and myself.

Forky Ben was a singular customer, of about fifty years of age, not bad as a mate, for he could cook well, and did not shirk his work, and was besides an entertaining companion, having seen a great deal of the shady side of the colonies, done various times for misdeeds in the past, and yet was about as honest as one can expect to find on the gold fields nowadays.

He had started his colonial experiences as a convict, and, having served his time, had likewise served his adopted country as a policeman, and won considerable reputation in the force. His bane had been his wife, who represented his evil genius in all his undertakings, until she left him, ruined, yet with a chance of doing better himself. We fell across

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Forky Ben when on the “Wallaby track” (the tramp), and as he showed up gamely then, we had stuck together ever since, through good and bad luck.

Not much good luck hitherto, I must say, for although Westralia has gold enough, it is the rich man's country, and you know what that means, the men who can afford to fix up machinery will make the coin all right, but as for nuggets and alluvial mining our show was not up to much, and we could not afford to play about the quartz.

I can tell you, though, I have seen that same quartz with the ore thick enough through it to make one's mouth water and wish that quartz-crushing machines didn't cost such a pile of money. I could lay my finger on spots of the map of Westralia where I am positive that fortunes lie pocketed, and I can tell you the boom isn't big enough. Westralia won't disappoint its backers, so far as the ore is concerned at least.

For all that, it isn't quite the place to bring a young, blushing and delicately-nurtured bride to yet, who may not have grown up to live on tinned sardines, condensed water, and such like luxuries exclusively. No, the bride mightn't like it much; besides, if she was a cleanly-inclined girl she would be apt to pine after a bit of soap, which would ruin her husband, as water is too expensive to waste that way.

Yes, you all know the truth about this land, boys, as I know it. The water is about as expensive

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as the whisky, sometimes more so. The tinned meat isn't always to be depended upon, and there are a hundred other inconveniences to be endured that I needn't mention at present, only the gold is here all right, also other natural means of wealth yet to be utilized.

My mate, Forky Ben, was an old colonial, he had seen three generations growing up, and as he said, each one seemed to be going back; “in fact, if the colonial goes on growing much more legs, and don't develop a little more body, the country will be to let in another twenty years.”

Forky was great on this point as to the decadence of the colonials. “I've watched 'em,” he would say, striking his pannikin on the log, “I've watched them a-growing up, and gradually losing all principle and humanity; the first lot as comes out for their country's good, may be a bit vicious at times, but they have hearts in them and stick to a friend, the second breed ain't so dusty, still they don't care much for their friends, nor do they think a man's word is worth considering, but the good Lord help us from the third generation; they'll sit on a fence all the blessed day planning out a mean robbery on a benefactor: they don't know what truth means, and as for faith or trust, they are sounds to laugh at with the young bred Australian; he knows how to bet on a horse or a cricket or a football match. Oh, yes. The youngest baby is up to that as soon as he can toddle, but as for work, or sticking to a pal, they

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couldn't see it and don't know what it means, they don't believe in a God, they have no country to believe in, and no traditions to uphold. They only credit the one who can get the better of them. All legs, conceit and bounce, without belly or brains, they are like stag-hounds, inveterate and sneaking biters.”

Forky Ben was a philosopher in his crude way, and he knew the people he talked about particularly well. He was a Sydney side colonial in the adopted sense, yet he did admit that the Victorian had not gone back quite so rapidly as the New South Welshers.

“They are rotten,” he would shout wildly sometimes. “What they want now, is to be conquered and wiped out.”

I was merely a trifler in the gold-finding business. I had left London for a time for my health's sake, and was merely waiting on a disputed legacy. The House of Lords would, in good time, settle my affairs; meanwhile, I thought I'd look round me a little and gain experience; therefore, as Westralia was on the table when I left, I thought I might as well take that portion of the globe. Africa tempted me for a time, but I finally decided to take it afterwards.

I picked up my chum on the road. I was riding along when I fell first upon Coolgardie Joseph, as we always called him. The country was arid. I was hot and thirsty, and my knacker ditto, when, as I passed a portion of the gulley, I heard a human voice, husky and doleful as despair and

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pain could make the voice human; it was a moan—a groan and a curse combined—the sound men utter when God seems to forsake them, and they repudiate the Forsaker.

I went over to where he lay and lifted him up to my saddle beside me, and then, when I had carried him to where I could give him some succour, he told me his yarn, which somehow endeared him to me.

He had left England in a fit of spleen—had grown sick of his club-friends, likewise those who tried to get nearer to him, to use his own words:

“I loved a woman, but she didn't seem to care much for me, so I left. When love gets hold of a man, it seems to blot out all the rest of life's interests. I didn't care much for anything else after that woman, she seemed to comprise my all. My friends—yes, I liked them, but I didn't want to see them just then, I wanted to be by myself with my special wounds to doctor, therefore, I came away from England. The boys knew my woman and knew me, therefore that was enough; they knew that I didn't want to say good-bye to them, and so they let me go quietly.

“I had a mighty craving on me just at that time. I had relations in Australia, in Sydney—a brother and two sisters, to whom, as a boy, I had felt tender, therefore I thought, like the prodigal of old, I'll go to my father's house, and peradventure they will receive me.

“I was no prodigal in the sense of the husks,

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for I had done work enough to make people who owned me, as I fondly thought, proud enough of me. Well! at Albany I got a letter from this brother, repudiating me utterly—he thought I was coming out to ask help from him, and he told me, in language forcible and terse, to go to the Devil.

“I went to Sydney and interviewed him, and the rest of the domestic crew; he repeated in language what he had written, and with an effort I plucked him out of my heart. My other relations were kind after a style, yet I had not represented the family dignity, so they also gave me the cold shoulder, with their middle-class parvenus relations; they were rich so far, and they politely ignored me; in fact, I was a pariah amongst these wretched provincials.

“I studied the vile crew, I had grown accustomed to aristocrats as my friends, and as I saw the paltry tricks of these wretched menials, I gave the game up and said to myself—let me out to the wilds once more, where I can see men and women as God made them and meant them to be. I cut all that by blood belonged to me straight out of my heart, and, mounting my horse, rode off free and so far happy.”

This was the tale of Coolgardie Joseph, my mate. He was personally to me a more interesting character than Forky Ben, because he felt a strain of poetry, and had experienced a touch of heart bitterness, which, as I have also felt it, always appeals to me.

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In this fashion we got together, the three of us. Forky Ben, Coolgardie Joseph and myself; we never quarrelled, and we always worked for the common end. The making of money enough to get home and enjoy ourselves—for, after all, England is the place for Englishmen.

The story of Coolgardie Joseph, however, was not much more edifying than that of Forky Ben, and considerably less amusing, for while some humour may be extracted out of the wily ways of a tricky spouse, with the hundred and one dodges that a man has to take to in order to live in the side paths of colonial commerce—the quarrelling between uncongenial and unfeeling relatives is too commonplace and sordid to get anything like a grin out of.

I did not of course endorse this wholesale condemnation of Forky Ben respecting the third generation of New South Welshers; there must be good, bad and indifferent specimens in this section of humanity, as there are in other communities. What I have studied of their politicians, hasn't greatly impressed me as to their probity. The shopkeepers' notions of fair dealing may, to put it mildly, be just a little vague, and there are certainly an overwhelming proportion of bounders and larrikins amongst them, yet, for all that, the parent colony of New South Wales has its points, and many a warm dispute we had about these, Forky Ben and Coolgardie Joseph siding against me, while I stuck up for the condemned section as well as an impartial man could do.

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Forky Ben had a face, old and seamed as a piece of crackle ware, with crow-blue eyes and a neck like an English terrier; his figure also was thin and spare, but wiry.

Coolgardie Joseph was a tall, good-looking fellow of about thirty-three, without much flesh to his bones, and mostly serious in his demeanour. Possibly this habit of regarding things too earnestly was the cause of his taking so much to heart the paltry meanness of his own kindred.

Where I had found him on the point of giving up the game, was as lonely a gully as one could well imagine. Desolate and bare, with an odd patch here and there of dried-up scrub, and nothing but stretches of hot dust and sand on either side of it.

He had been on the tramp with two other colonials whose acquaintance he had made on board the steamer coming round, and they were all pushing on to get to the gold-fields, forty-six miles distant from where he caved in. His feet had given way, and after one or two rough remonstrances, his mates had left him to die and be done with it, which was the only course they could have taken, unless they desired to share his doom likewise. There are no almshouses or pauper establishments in the colonies, so that when men and women get played out there, they are at liberty to hang or drown themselves, get into jail or the infirmary, and die as soon as possible, no one else cares how soon, for each is fighting for his own hand. The soil of Australia is more productive of cynics

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than philanthropists, and humanity is not quite so highly valued as sheep and cattle.

He had dropped to earth and there they left him, without more than a backward glance to see if he was not following. Two days afterwards they reached the goldfields and got a job at four pounds a week each. Joseph also might have got a job on the same terms, only that we decided to do a bit of prospecting on our own account, for Forky Ben was an experienced miner, and when he spoke hopefully, we believed in his prophecies.

We prowled about here and there as far away from the general camp as we could get, and with varying luck; sometimes we picked up enough to keep us in grub, sometimes we worked to a dead loss, and at odd times we made enough in one or two hours to keep us going for a fortnight or three weeks.

We were working on the dry system, yet Forky Ben had a keen touch and slight, and seldom allowed many specks to slip through his hand. During the day the heat was intense, while the nights were cold and bone-piercing; the water also which we had to purchase was bad, and, as I have said, the provisions were worse even than the water; so that there was only hard work and little comfort to be got out of the life we were leading, and I, for one, had almost made up my mind to give it best and return to civilization.

One night we were lying in front of our tent, trying to extract what comfort we could glean out

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of our pipes, after a supper of damper and tinned salmon, which was not conspicuous for its freshness. None of us had washed for a week past, and then it was only the end of a damp towel passed over the eyes to clear the sand out, which we dignified by the title of a wash.

Coolgardie Joseph, who was always of a sentimental turn, had been telling us about that young lady of his in the old country whom he yet hoped to marry, if ever he was rich enough, and some other fellow didn't get before him, and then, his yarn over, he turned round with a yawn and fell asleep.

Forky Ben lay on his back and dilated on the delights a small and snug country inn would be to a man at his time of life, and with his vast experiences. He was content to talk, and did not ask too much attention from his hearers, so that I lay half dozing and looking at the moon which was just appearing over the distant range, when all at once my mind became concentrated on the gully where first I saw Coolgardie Joseph.

The actual scenery seemed to vanish from my eyes and instead of the half moon a bright glare of daylight pervaded the scene. I saw the spot where Joseph had lain when I rode up, but where his body had covered was now a hole, and in it a man digging and throwing up the earth.

He had not got far down, but he was working with a purpose and as I strode over to the edge and looked in, I recognised Coolgardie Joseph himself pegging away. I picked up a handful of

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the earth that he was shovelling out and as I filtered it through my fingers, the sun-rays glistened on the yellow specks—it was thick with gold-dust.

Next instant the fancy picture vanished, leaving me lying in front of the tent with Forky Ben still gabbling about that old English inn where he meant to end his days, and Coolgardie Joseph grunting in his sleep like a pig after an extra feed.

A moment afterwards, and while I was still rubbing my eyes, he started up with an exclamation:

“By Jove! but I have had a dream, to be sure.”

“What was it?” I asked curiously.

“You remember that gully—where you found me?”


“Could you find the spot where I was lying?”


“I dreamt just now that I was back there and digging a hole from which half the dirt I flung out was gold dust.”

“Ah,” said Forky Ben, “dreams always are to be read contrary fashion, so that dream of yours means nothing.”

“Well, Ben, just at the time Joseph was having his dream, I also saw him on the same spot digging away, and I specimened the earth to find it as he has described—crowded.”

“Did you dream that, mate?” asked both

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Coolgardie Joseph and Forky Ben with eager interest, sitting up and looking at me open-mouthed.

“Well, boys, I don't know whether to call it a dream or a waking vision, but I saw it and handled the dirt.”

“Then by the Lord Harry! dream or vision, that's the spot for us to fossick. Two men can't dream a lie at the same time. It's a revelation, that's what I call it,” cried out Forky Ben, excitedly.

We did not sleep much that night you may depend, and when morning came we were off to the camp for a month's supply of stores, and then packing up, we went on the backward track, without mentioning the matter to anyone.

The gully was easy to find, and it did not take me long to peg out the place where I had found Joseph cursing the Providence that had brought him to his fortune, for the first two hours of digging showed us that our dreams had not been delusions, then each bucket came up, filled with earth, thickly impregnated with gold.

Curious how nasty bad tinned salmon and condensed water taste when luck is hanging back, and how little we are apt to consider such trifles when good fortune is with us. The camp lay forty-six miles from us, and our single horse had little enough to eat in that desert; every drop of water had to be carried from the camp, so that although we were most economical over it, still the water bags had to be replenished every third or fourth day, which meant a waste of time that we grudged,

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so eager were we to pile up the dust, before the rush came.

And we got it too, in minute specks at first, yet plentiful, then as we went deeper into the earth, the nuggets kept growing bigger—pennyweights, then half and whole ounces, with occasional lumps which were worth the lifting.

We knew the big nuggets were all right, but we were better pleased with the tiny specks and dust, for those meant a long bit of business. After we had satisfied ourselves with the one hole we struck out in other directions, to find that we had discovered a field. There were quartz ridges round us on every side, and doubtless they also were seamed as the soil was with the precious ore.

In two months we had made three thousand pounds apiece, which would be enough to carry us to England and float our company; therefore, like wise men, we sat down to consider our future plans. We must purchase the ground first and then seal it up, without raising suspicion, not an easy matter amongst gold seekers.

I was deputed to work the oracle while with Winchesters and Colts my mates mounted guard over our future property, and I fancy, for a new chum, I managed fairly well to pull the blinkers over the warden, so that cautiously we purchased the entire gully, after which we pitched aside all disguise and exhibited the field.

Gracious Heavens! what a magic power gold has to transform a man in the eyes of his friends. Coolgardie Joseph, who had been metaphorically

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vomited out of Sydney, returned to it before he sailed to England, a king. The narrow-minded provincials wallowed before him and literally worshipped him, without winning a spark of respect or regard from him in return. It is difficult to blind even a millionaire by flattery, who has had the reverse side of the picture presented to him in the days of his adversity. In England he found this young lady still waiting for him. Certain malicious persons told him that she had almost got married to the wrong man during his absence, only that the wrong man had gone away without committing himself, but that is the way of the malicious world, and Joseph had the good taste not to believe them, so that he married his own true love, and I think they are bound to be happy, for they are very wealthy, and wealthy people are always happy, are they not? His relations write every mail gushing letters to him and his bonnie bride, but Coolgardie Joseph does not answer these affectionate epistles.

Forky Ben has reached the height of his ambition—a cosy inn, situated in one of the most charming parts of dear old England, yet he is not quite happy because, singular to relate, after a twenty years' absence, his dear wife turned up to manage the bar for him. They met, as spectres are supposed to meet on the shores of the Styx, both having been dead to each other for so many years. Forky Ben looked aghast, panted for a few moments, and recognised the good lady. Mrs. Forky likewise started back, at the sight of her dear and lamented one, but she had come upon

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him prepared, for a rich man cannot hide his light nor his name under a bushel. After her first start of surprise she asserted her rights, and Forky collapsed. She now manages the country inn, and her respected husband makes the best of the situation.

I have nothing personally to grumble at either, for we are garnering in the golden grain, and our field has a considerable boom in the market, with the shares steadily rising and eagerly sought after, as you all know.