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Chapter XXIV. Chester Takes a Month's Leave.

ROSA CHESTER could not possibly have fixed upon a better moment than she did to come to Kalgourlie and establish a hotel like this, and before a couple of weeks were over, she had proved that she possessed the necessary qualities for the post.

Before her advent, men had been satisfied with paying long prices for drink and food served up any way. Kalgourlie was yet in its embryo stage, its lights at night being paraffin oil and candles, although the Mayor, John Wilson, had just gone to London to arrange, with other matters conducive to the township's future welfare, the lighting of it by electricity.

Gas is an impossibility for the goldfields of Western Australia. They must have the latest and the best in everything. At present Hessian huts satisfy them, while they are arranging and waiting for the genius to utilize their waste quartz crushings and make these into sculptured domes and palaces. In olden times the mining owners employed geniuses to cut out their marbles. The West Australian money maker pulverizes every ounce of stone about him for the wealth it contains, leaving the future artist the finest of crushed

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powder to make casts of and bring back again to impervious stone. There are hundreds of thousands of tons out there of this magnificent powder, blowing about and choking the inhabitants at present, which will before long eclipse the marbles of Italy for purity and the bronzes for endurance. A very simple process will make it once more impervious quartz. The sculptor will cast columns, friezes, and statues which Time cannot destroy. Great and cool buildings, richly decorated, will rise out of this quartz débris. Streets will be paved with its enamel linings, watertanks coated with it, while gardens and terraces eclipsing those of Babylon will rise out of the sandy desert. West Australia has only commenced her career. She is building up her proppings and bulwarks with gold, by-and-by they will begin to decorate, for the men who are there like refinement and comfort because they have matriculated in England and are not over-colonial. The West Australian colonists are seldom seen on the goldfields. It is the Rothschilds and other capitalist kings who rule the roost there.

Rosa went on the ordinary lines for the first few days, and found her customers content enough to take what she gave them, so long as she made no mistake about the quality of the drink. Then, having walked down Hannan Street in the cool of the evening, and looked from the outside at some of the Japanese refreshment shops, she held a consultation with her husband, Jenkins and her importation, Sarah Hall.

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“We must alter all this,” she observed severely. “The boys know what they'd like, only they can't express their wants. Red hot lemonade at these Japanese slums isn't good enough for Europeans to indulge in long without surfeiting them. I'll tell you what, now, I'm going to run this shop. We'll have some good cooks imported. I can cook a little. Can you, Sarah?”

“As well as a woman is expected to do,” replied Sarah, modestly.

“That's right. Japanese girls are interesting. Sir Edwin Arnold found them so. We'll have Jap waitresses and a Jap chef. They can turn tinned meat into anything. We'll import fruit and vegetables. Have ice made on the premises, as well as aerated waters, and make this the flash hotel of the West.”

Anthony Jenkins was enthusiastic, for he had a Napoleonic mind, and when Chester saw the results of the drawings, he also succumbed, and thought that Rosa might with all safety launch out a little, therefore, that indefatigable young woman began her operations, and in a couple of weeks had expended a considerable portion of the money they had brought, but she made the place a big success.

More bedrooms were added to the hotel, which was easy to do by canvassing the rear verandah and raising up fresh frames round the yard, for they had plenty of space to fall back upon. The kitchens were enlarged and carried farther from the house. Refrigerating machines were added to

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the condensers. Palms and other shady plants and shrubs imported to make the hotel comfortable and luxurious as well as roomy, and the public showed their appreciation of these efforts to please them by coming often and staying long in this Hessian temple of Venus and Bacchus.

The taste for display which prompted Rosa to long to make a “splash” in Sydney, she was able to indulge in with profit at Kalgourlie, for although gentlemen will swallow champagne whether it is warmed or iced, they naturally prefer to have it cooled, also to quaff it from proper glasses instead of pannikins, and to have the surroundings clean and tastefully arranged. They enjoy their drink all the more if it is poured out for them by pretty young women instead of parded ex-prize-fighters, and the “Chester Hotel” was the one place in the district where all these comforts could be had without extra charge.

A wide verandah stretched along the front, covered on the top by striped awning, with Japanese blinds to pull up and down at desire. A line of tubs filled with good-sized palms were ranged outside, with pots of exotics inside to give it the look of a conservatory. Rosa had spent a lot on these feminine adornments, for, like most colonial women, flowers were a necessity of her existence. Lacquered tables, bamboo and canvas deck-chairs, with other pretty nick-nacks, filled the interior of the verandah, which, with the tasty hangings of bead-work and muslins, offered so strong a contrast to the other houses of the kind.

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The other portions of the hotel were furnished in the same tropical and artistic style. Punkahs waved from the ceilings of the public room, while the tables of the dining saloons were covered with the whitest of linen and brightest of glasses and other adornments.

The servants, of course, were all Japanese, as it was nearly impossible to get Europeans to serve as menials, and the Japs were strictly prohibited from acting as miners, but Rosa had to own, in spite of her colonial prejudices, that she could not have been better served than she was by these deft, silent and obedient hirelings. The girls were pretty, young, and adaptable, and the men industrious and unobtrusive; quick to grasp her orders, and giving her no trouble or cause for complaint.

She was much happier, acting as the mistress and hostess in this establishment, where she was flattered from morning till night by her customers, than she could possibly have been presiding over a mansion at Pott's Point and vainly trying to get inside the conservative rings of Sydney society. Sarah Hall also pleased her immensely, for while helping her mistress in every way, with her experience and quiet management, she never attempted to rival Rosa with the men. They were all respectful to the dark-eyed, black-haired manageress and fond of the sprightly little maid Alice, but when they wanted a bit of flirtation, they sought out the mistress.

Chester and Jenkins were up to their eyes in work, and coining money hand over fist. Litigation

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was common in a community like this, where gambling and speculation were the occupations of their lives, and bets and bargains were constantly being disputed, and legal arbitrations were required.

It is difficult for an Englishman who has not been on a new gold field, to grasp the colossal profits which may be made in a day by lucky speculation, although he may be able to comprehend the unwillingness to part with thousands to the one who may have speculated only a few shillings. The purchaser of twenty pounds' worth of possibilities will naturally expect his hundred thousand when the result turns up trumps, while the seller will as naturally hunt about for any loophole of escape from his liabilities. In such cases the lawyer steps in, arranges a compromise, and gets his own fat commission from both sides.

Jenkins brought customers of this kind constantly to his partner, and from the office to the bar, the litigants proceeded with their advisers, and over the flowing bowl settled the dispute to the satisfaction of all parties. What mighty cheques were drawn up and signed at these lacquered tables, while Rosa, in her cool, perfumed dress, went about smiling and gracious; the sedate Sarah, sitting behind the counter filling the till with sovereigns as the pretty Japs carried round the liquid and iced gold.

It may have been arid and dusty outside, where Afghans, aboriginals, swampers, camels and horses lay about in the shadeless rays, blackened over with flies, baked in dirt, and with the everlasting thirst

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upon them all, but inside that verandah, shadow and comfort were to be found for all who could afford to push aside the rustling hangings.

The first outlay had been the strain, but Chester had brought sufficient money with him to cover all that, and leave a fair surplus for current expenses. This store he had no need afterwards to touch upon, for from the first day of his arrival, he was able to add to it by his own commissions and speculate also discreetly. He was not a plunger, like Anthony, who had the true gambler spirit, yet both were remarkably successful in all their speculations, therefore their business was a stable one, and themselves highly-respected citizens of Kalgourlie, in spite of all the chaffing of that anti-Sydneyite and mine-owner, Wallace.

In about six weeks' time the Chesters were considered to be old hands in this mushroom population, and knew all the residents, and all the ropes, when an event happened which caused the solicitor to pack his valise and apply to the Municipal Council for a month's leave of absence from his public duties. He having been appointed to several vacant posts and holding leases, required this public announcement of his intention and permission, otherwise his rights would have been forfeited, and himself possibly stopped from proceeding further than Albany on some charge of debt.

The event that hurried him off at a moment's notice was a telegram which he received from Sydney, informing him that a fire had taken place there, and that his house was burnt to the ground.

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He did not tell Rosa, although she guessed it from his concern, where he had hidden the last plunder, but he felt devoured with anxiety to be on the spot, therefore promptly wiring back to his agent to permit no one to touch his property, he posted with all speed back towards his native town.

Rosa was quite complacent about her husband's absence, not that he interfered with her liberty in the slightest degree, but his constant presence about the hotel made her friends shyer than they might be when his back was turned. The boldest admirer is apt to feel awkward in his attentions to a married lady, before even the most blind and complacent of husbands. Now all such foolish restraints were removed with him, and she could begin to have a high old time of it. Rosa liked admiration, adored presents, and appreciated perfect liberty of action; if she got these she did not mind letting Sarah Hall carry off the barren respect of their customers.

Mr. Chester drew a good sum of money from the Kalgourlie bank before he left, and reached Adelaide with due expedition. Here, however, he received a shock which forced him to change his intention and destination.

It was an announcement in the papers of the discovery of stolen property by the police at Sydney. With eager eyes and a heart filled with agony and fear he read the full account as it was at that time known. And as he read, he cursed his own stupidity in placing Jack's share of the pawnbroker's jewellery beside the bullion and

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stamped gold, through which the hoard had been identified. His house was mentioned as the place where the plunder had been discovered, but no word showing that they suspected him was as yet printed.

The wisest course and the one a bold man might have taken, would have been to proceed openly to Sydney, and deny any knowledge of this plant. It would not have been impossible to place the blame on the shoulders of the missing housebreaker; at least, if he had courted investigation it was possible to evade conviction.

For a moment he thought of doing this, then he remembered his fatal wire ordering his agent to let no one disturb the burnt ruin; and as he remembered this, he shuddered with horrified anticipation.

He had taken his ticket to Melbourne, and was just waiting on the train leaving when he read this item of news. With a muttered curse he caught up his valise, and leaving the station, took a cab and drove down to the port.

In the offing lay two ocean liners, both ready to start; one represented the Orient Company and the other the German Lloyd. The Orient steamer would call at Albany for the mails, he knew, but this was the last Australian port that the Prinz Luitpold would touch. In a few more moments the second husband of Rosa was being rowed towards the German mail steamer.