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Chapter XXII. To Kalgourlie.

ROSA CHESTER and her husband, for as he was at present in the position of her pupil in Western ways, she had naturally taken the leadership of the expedition, therefore he became known at this point and ever afterwards, as her husband.

Rosa and her husband stayed for several days at Perth, looking after their goods and purchasing other articles required, and they lodged at the “Shamrock Hotel” in Hay Street.

Here Rosa, who was on the out-look for a barmaid, found one that just suited her, and as she offered much better wages than the girl was getting at Perth, she secured her services for Kalgourlie.

Mrs. Sarah Hall was a young widow with one child, a little girl of about three years old. Sarah was dark, remarkably good-looking, and exceedingly lady-like in her manner, therefore would make an excellent foil for her blonde and vivacious mistress.

They had written, previous to their coming, to their townsman, and found that Mr. Anthony Vandyke Jenkins, mining expert, who had secured for them a vacant area in Hannan Street, and acting on their orders, had also fixed up commodious premises in wood, corrugated iron and hessian

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canvas, so that all they had to do on arrival at Perth was to pay the bills for building, material, and painting, which their friend and agent enclosed in his last letter.

This was no light matter, for Jenkins had done the thing according to his customary style, when entrusted with a commission, and things were flourishing, that is, regardless of expense. A gang of workmen had invaded the rising township, with doorways, windows and frameworks all prepared beforehand. The foreman, under the direction of that enterprising little cornstalk, pegged out the ground and on it made his plan of rooms, store-houses, stables, and bars, etc. There was no stairway required, nor intricacies of that sort, as they had plenty of space to stretch back if more apartments were required, and the plan of construction was simple in the extreme.

On the first day the workmen were busy erecting a fence round the block of ground and putting up the frame. On the second day the building was complete, signboard and all, and the first coat of paint laid on the woodwork. On the third day the “Chester Hotel” was an accomplished fact, and the workmen who had built and painted it were either rushing off to Coolgardie or other places to execute fresh commissions, or else striking out for themselves as explorers and gold prospectors, for this is how business is conducted in the West of Australia to-day.

A photograph of the new establishment was sent along with the accounts by the energetic Jenkins,

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likewise a preliminary advertisement and descriptive puff in “The Western Argus.” A deep well had been dug and condensing plant erected, so that as the advertisement said, first-class mineral waters were to be manufactured on the premises. Billiard and concert rooms had not been forgotten. Stabling for horses and yards for camels were provided; in fact, Jenkins had proved his genius for business where money was no object, and had erected for them the most commodious and sumptuous establishment on the fields.

“We'll go partners,” Jenkins wrote to Chester, “as you are posted up in legal matters. I've fixed up an office next door to the bar, where we can work together.”

From the photographs Chester read on the sign-boards that ranged along the front, over the striped canvas awning of the verandah, “The Chester Hotel, Mrs. Rosa Chester, Proprietor, etc., etc.,” and on the other “Jenkins and Chester, Mining Experts, Advisers, Arbitrators, Mining and Titles Agents, Accountants, Auditors and Solicitors, etc.”

Arthur Chester was not at all averse to this partnership of the expert and legal combination, as it left him free to follow the profession he had been brought up to. Rosa also was pleased to have the hotel entirely in her own hands, and everything so expeditiously managed.

“Tony is a little marvel with his brassy assurance, one of those sons that New South Wales should be proud of,” said Rosa to her husband.

“Yes, he is smart—only I hope he won't speculate

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too recklessly now that we are partners,” replied Arthur. “That land-boom experience of his is a trifle dangerous.”

“Oh, you must keep him within limits, Arthur, only let him have a bit of line, for he is a lucky fellow, and even in the land-boom got out of it better than most. The mines are pretty sure, so don't be too cautious, for Jenkins knows the ropes, you bet. I'm also in luck to get such a taking help as Mrs. Sarah Hall. We ought to make a good business between us.”

“Yes, she is a most superior girl. Did she tell you what her husband was?”

“A remittance man—got his quarterly allowance from England and lived up to it, as these swells all do; then when he kicked out, she was left to make the best of her good looks and woman-wit. I only hope she won't be a fool and get married again up there too soon. She hasn't got over the loss of her husband and seems to live only for the little girl, so that this may keep her from entanglement for a time.”

Sarah Hall was certainly all that they described her to be. A young woman of about twenty-five, stylish and lady-like in her get-up, with quiet, amiable manners about her. Her language was more correct than that of most colonial women, that is, she did not indulge in slang as Rosa so constantly did, and in this as well as her personal appearance, formed a decided contrast, which was likely to keep them the longer friends.

She was tall and superbly formed, as most

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Victorian women are, with a mass of jet-black hair which she wore discreetly coiled up. Her eyes also were intensely dark, and her eyebrows strongly defined. Her features were regular and her colour fresh, giving her that peculiarly vivid look that characterizes the young daughters of Judah, and always suggests tropical flowers.

But she had a feminine softness which is not always present with those vivid Orientals, and although her dark eyes were penetrating in their glances, yet they were velvety and caressing as well. Her voice also was of a silky and musical texture, and the sensitive ripe lips curved pleasantly over the regular white teeth. She was in fact a very fresh and charming woman, who need not have gone far to find a lover, even with that encumbrance to which she was so devoted—her lovely little daughter, Alice.

This small maid of three years old was the most gipsy-like and flashing little elf that it was possible to imagine. Lively and quick as an eel, with all the vivacity and sharpness of a sun-bred colonial, she had passed her life in public-houses along with her mother, who could not bear to let her out of her sight. Dressed in the latest child fashions, her mother made all her dresses and was constantly using her needle when she was not drawing corks or pulling beer, and seemed to have no other desire or pleasure than that of making her child attractive and doll-like. Where she went, little Alice had to go also. They slept together at night, while during the day the inside

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of the bar was her playground, and the customers her only friends.

It was natural to expect that she would be oldfashioned and precocious, also that the language she heard was not the best education for a child, yet, to the credit of most of the customers, the presence of that little elf acted as a check on their profanity or obscenity, and it was but seldom that Mrs. Hall had to correct those who came for refreshment. A nudge in the ribs and a glance at the small listener generally stopped even the inebriate humourist from finishing his latest comic yarn.

It is astonishing how much the presence of a child in a bar can purify its moral atmosphere, to say nothing of such a barmaid as Mrs. Sarah Hall. When not wanted by the customers, she would sit quietly working at her seams, with an amiable smile for everyone, the child at her feet playing with her toys. If men told their questionable anecdotes in a subdued whisper, she could be conveniently deaf or engage the attention of Alice by speaking to her. She had always an affable answer to every question or address, yet only the new chums ever attempted to compliment her on her good looks, and when they did this once it was seldom that they repeated the offence.

She was not stern with these poor new chums, indeed a considerable amount of mild if contemptuous pity blended in the glance which her black eyes threw over them, yet it never failed to stop the commonplace and idiotic nonsense which one

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hears so often addressed to barmaids. The “bounder” generally returned to the sucking of his walking-stick handle, with his fascinating warble trailed off to broken incoherence.

“A devilish pretty girl, but what a know there is in her eyes; turns one inside out in a flash.”

That Sarah Hall was not one to be lured off her feet by flattery most of her customers knew after a little bar intimacy, and no one had as yet got beyond that stage in their friendship with her. What leisure she had was devoted to her child. It was seldom also that she had to say, “Stop that talk, will you, please?” as the men generally saved her the trouble, but when she did, the animal who provoked it did not soon forget the dagger-like look that flashed from her jetty eyes. If the masher read world-lore in the pitying glance, the filthmonger read a cut in the face if he persisted.

Rosa got a first-rate character along with Sarah. She could hold her own and keep order anywhere, and was withal a general favourite with the frequenters both old and young.

When it was known she was going up to Kalgourlie, little Alice got numerous presents, while general regret was expressed throughout the town. Detective Wilmore, who was one of her oldest and most attentive customers, came to say good-bye.

“Well, Sarah, I'll miss you, but I wish you luck. We have known each other a tidy time now, and the longer our friendship, the more I respect

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you. By George, little Alice there has done wonders.”

“You have been very good always to me, Mr. Wilmore,” answered Sarah, with quiet emotion.

“By George, not a bit more than you deserve, Sarah. Had anyone told me three years ago that a girl of your abilities could have knuckled down to the life you have, I wouldn't have believed them—don't blush, you are the cleverest woman in Australia, barring none, and it isn't many artists who could have strength of mind enough to give up old habits as you have done.”

“Oh, love can work miracles, Mr. Wilmore,” replied Sarah, looking softly at her child.

“Good luck to you, my dear, keep on as you are doing and there's no fear; the little one will grow to be a credit and a comfort to her plucky mother. I respect you, Sarah, because I know you; a deal more than I do some who consider themselves your betters.”

And Detective Wilmore meant all he said, for it had been part of his secret duty to look after Sarah Hall since her coming to Western Australia, and he was now giving her her freedom from surveillance, and pledging himself to bury her past as far as he could.

There was a considerable amount of liquor consumed at the “Shamrock,” indeed visitors were but coldly received who were at all disposed to temperance. Its locality also was not of the most law-abiding, particularly on a Saturday night, when free fights were an ordinary occurrence, so that

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both Chester and Rosa were glad when their business was over and they could leave their own crowded and evil-smelling quarters, even although the change meant dust, heat, and shortness of water, the auriferous sand desert.

The Hon. Billy and his friends joined them on their train journey and made things as pleasant as possible for the ladies. The carriages also were comfortable, and the canvas water-bags which they carried with them a decided novelty to Rosa, who had never been through a waterless land before.

They had not proceeded many miles on their way before they seemed to be whirled into another land with many features different to unromantic Australia. Caravans of camels with their picturesque Afghan drivers could be seen lining the sandy landscape outside. New arrivals plodding along with their swags, bound for the gold centres, bullock teams, horses, cycles, coaches—every one in a mad hurry to get along, and all consumed with overpowering thirst.

The train was waited eagerly for at every station by such of the population as were not under the ground, so that the platforms were crowded. Introductions and hand-shaking, likewise liberal libations. Chester, Rosa, and Sarah Hall were made intimate with every man of consequence in the land, and each promised to visit Kalgourlie and patronize the new hotel. If Mrs. Chester ever entertained any doubt about her idea being a success, such doubts were laid for ever at rest now, when she beheld the evidence of that everlasting

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and slakeless thirst. The “sand-gropers” were like the sands they groped amongst, capable of absorbing moisture to an unlimited extent. The gold fields might yield a golden harvest, but nothing compared to the mine she was about to float—in champagne.

There is nothing to look at from the windows as they rush over that dust-filled country, while the flies swarm in such irritating clusters that any other occupation except constantly shifting them is out of the question; but this provides them all with exercise sufficient to make them long for rest when at last the journey is over and Coolgardie is reached, after which they drove the eighteen miles to Kalgourlie.

A festive crowd met them as they entered the town, from the mayor downwards, and here Jenkins becomes a personage to be courted as the “boys” press forward eagerly, to be introduced to the pretty newcomers.

They are escorted to their new premises where they find everything in readiness for them, for Jenkins has done his duty and forgotten no items. He had hired Japanese servants, and prised open several of the cases of provisions, wines and spirits, so that after a wash, Rosa and Sarah came down to find both bar, dining, billiard and concert rooms crowded with thirsty well-wishers. That night she acts the hostess for the first time, and as no charge is made on this evening, the “boys” assemble in force, and the “Chester Hotel” is declared a success.