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Chapter XXV. Jack Milton's Discovery.

JACK MILTON and his dusky friends camped that night with his old pals, and it was a long story he had to relate of his wanderings.

Rapid and long journeys day by day from water-hole to water-hole; in this, however, he had been more fortunate than most explorers, as the blacks knew where these were to be found, with such food as Nature furnishes for her desert children. Jack made a grimace as he recalled some of those feasts after his own provisions had been exhausted.

“Sometimes we lived like fighting-cocks when wallaby was about, or when we camped at water-pools where fish, fowl and other game were plentiful, sometimes we came down to snake, lizard, grubs and such-like delicacies; one thing I can tell you, mates, I seldom fell asleep fasting—and if those F.R.G.S. coons had only the natives with them, there wouldn't have been so many bungled expeditions across Australia. They go out with all their scientific instruments and blunder along, treating the natives as if they were fools, and never trying to make friends of them. They see the fires ahead of them, and never guess that they are being treated as Napoleon was when he


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crossed Russia, and that the people they've made enemies of are starving them out, and hiding their camping places from them.

“Any fool can cross Australia if the natives are his friends, as I have just proved, but I guess it will be a feat if they happen to be turned against him.”

It had not been by any means an uninteresting journey, nor one devoid of pleasure. Corroborees and love-making, hunting and fighting had filled out their days and nights, all of which Jack had taken a share in. At one time the marriageable young men had gone on a love raid, bringing back wives and wounds from their expedition; at another time the marriageable girls had been abducted from their own party, all taken as matters of course by the parents on both sides, and expected by the girls. Jack had qualified as a fighting-man when he knocked out those couple of front teeth, which considerably altered his appearance.

The evening passed while he narrated his adventures, and told how faithfully his friends had acted up to their promises and brought him safely to his journey's end.

“Beroki here said he would show me a gold mine, and, by gum! he has done it with a vengeance. I have looked on that to-day, which, when you see it, boys, to-morrow, will make your mouths water. No more need for us to break into any more banks. We can start one of our own now as soon as we can secure miners' rights. I never saw such a wonder in my life.”




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He was glad that Australia had been too strong a fascination for them to leave, and that they could keep this discovery in their own hands; also delighted to hear that the vessel was on the coast to be a refuge in case of discovery.

“There are only two of us need be afraid of arrest over that last job, and those are the Professor there and myself. I saw all the papers about it before I left New South Wales, and we are the only ones whose descriptions they have and know anything about, therefore we must lie low until my beard grows a bit longer and I can alter your appearance, if it can be done with such an uncommon physiognomy as yours is.”

“Well, Jack, I don't think there is anything peculiar about my face outside its brainy expression,” retorted the Professor.

“That's it, you know, Professor, we may shave your beard and cut your hair, but it's the forehead that'll give you away.”

“And the heyes, Jack. It's the heyes that reveals the man of intelleck—yet there's nothink so much again me as I knows of.”

“What, d'ye think Australians will ever get over those racing prophecies of yours, Professor?”

“Ah, I knowed that business would ruin us, Jack,” groaned Jeremiah dolefully.

“Never you mind how they may be thirsting for your blood, Jerry. The place that I'll show you to-morrow is as safe as quad to hide in.”

“But my occupation and spear of usefulness as a Psychometrist is gone; what can I do in a


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gold mine, I'd like to know, except tell you where the lode is likely to travel?”

“That's what many a man calls a real good business in these parts and likely to give you more popularity than fortune-telling by cards,” replied Jack earnestly. “However, we'll keep your skill for our own private use, and give you occupation enough, don't fret about that. You reckon from what you've already seen of these ranges and this gully, that gold ought to be found here.”

“Yes,” answered the Professor firmly. “It's all round us from where this chain begins to where it ends, and I should say should be richer lower down, only it ain't fossickin' ground, for the best of it lies deep, and all you get on the surface won't hardly pay. That's my opinion, knowing as I do how them rocks happen to be sticking out here among the sand hills.”

“You are right, Professor. We'll want machinery—boring and crushing, eh?”

“Yes, and I'll tell you what you are likely to find arter you get down far enough.”

“What?”

“A stratum of all sorts, through which that fused quartz was shoved, leaving the bulk of ore behind it.”

“Then it would be best to tunnel the range at its lowest depth?”

“Yes! I am of that opinion,” answered the Professor modestly; he always gave his opinion on geology with diffidence, although so blatant over the card-lore and palm lines.




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“Professor, you are a greater man than I ever gave you credit for. Every word you utter is gospel, and what is more, the tunnelling has been done for us.”

“Then you have jumped a discovered and worked mine?”

“Yes, but God only knows who or where the discoverers and workers were and are. I should say, that Beroki there and his tribe, with their ancestors, are the only human eyes that have looked upon it for the past thousand years, until it was shown to me. Listen, boys, to a fairy story, which you can prove for yourselves to-morrow. My friend, Beroki, who has chummed with me for the past six weeks, brought me to this gully this morning and took me into a cave or tunnel which I could never have discovered myself, for the entrance is no wider than what a man can squeeze into. Inside we went down at a pretty steep slant, until we came to a part where a deep well had been dug. Who dug it, or how deep it is neither Beroki nor anyone else can tell, but there it is, filled to the brim with cool sweet water.

“Of course we had to make a light to see all this, but at this part, where the well lies, is a pretty large chamber, with borings in all directions, like passages spreading from it. Where they all take to I don't know yet, but the one I went down brought me to just such a stratum as you described, Professor. See! I picked up that specimen and brought with me.”

Jack took out of his shirt a piece of quartz so


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thickly impregnated with gold, that the metal predominated over the stone.

This was passed round amidst cries of admiration.

“I saw lots more like it all round me, and as easy to pick out as plums from a bit of Sunday duff. If the other tunnels show up like this did, Mount Morgan isn't in it with this one. There isn't a Jack amongst us as won't be Vanderbilts in no time, only we must have our miners' rights, and the place pegged out without a day's delay. I could hardly tear myself from it.”

“What made you leave it?”

“One of our watchers outside came in to tell us that there were white fellows close at hand, therefore I hurried off to find out who you were, and mighty pleased I was to drop upon you instead of strangers.”

All were now in a passion of eagerness for the night to pass, for the fury of gold was upon them. Seeing that sleep was out of the question, they discussed how the business was to be managed, and it was finally decided that the Captain and Barney would start as soon as possible with the blacks to guide them and get to the nearest warden. There they were to take out miners' and explorers' rights for the whole party, including those left on the ship, purchase camels and stores, with tools, and hurry back, while those left were to peg out the ground on each side of the ancient tunnel, and erect a hut in front of it.

“We'll load the vessel before we spring our


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mine and make a rush; then we can show our specimens and purchase the ground. Fortunately, we have the rhino to pay our preliminary expenses.”

At the first sign of approaching day they were up and following Jack and the natives down the gully, fearful lest some other prospectors might have already discovered their find, but all was as he had left it—a solitude, and, as yet, their own.

At this point the bottom of the stream bed was reached, and the valley branched round a lower range of hills. The punctured mountain rose above those round it, the upper portion bare and gleaming quartz, and the base clothed with dwarfed yet pretty close scrub.

Experienced prospectors would possibly have paused here and fossicked about amongst the sands, as it was a likely place for gold to be found in pockets, but with the bushes covering it and filling it up, it was unlikely that they would have discerned the hole, which the natives used for the water it contained, regardless of the other treasures.

Fortunately they had a fair supply of candles with them, therefore, leaving the blacks to mount guard outside, and the horse with its hobbles on to feed on what it could find, they crawled one after the other, Jack leading the way, into the tunnel.

It was no chance aperture they could see, for it had been roughly cut by the hands of some ancient miners through the solid rock, and was therefore firm and dry, and as Jack had told them, slanted


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downwards at a steep angle in irregular and rude shelves or steps.

To reach the chamber where the well was a considerable distance had to be crawled, for it was impossible for any one to have gone down it in an upright position, the roof not being more than four feet from the ground, but once here they could all stand and look about them. They were now more than fifty feet below the bed of the gully.

“By George, Jack, when rains do come to this district and the creek rises, this hole will be swamped out unless there are some outlets to drain it off,” observed the Professor, as he looked round him.

“Yes, it would be rather a bad trap for a man to be caught in during a flood, only there isn't much of that sort of thing in this part of the colony.”

The well was a large one, almost like a plunge-bath, and from the blackness seemed to be fathomless, yet the water was good, fresh and cold. It stood in the centre of the chamber or vault, with over six feet of rock margin round it. The roof also was about fifteen feet above their heads, while there were five passages pierced in the walls at different angles, as if the unknown miners had gone several directions in search of the gold. These passages all slanted downwards to lower depths.

No markings on the sides gave them any clue as to what race of people had done this engineering, although there were several native paintings on


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the rocks, which had been executed by the tribes visiting this abode of fresh water and mystery.

It was an unornamented mine and nothing more.

Jack led his companions with their lighted candles into the passage which he had previously penetrated where, after going with stooping heads for several hundred feet, they came to the vein he had spoken about. Before they quitted the rock-cutting, however, the Professor stopped at one point and cried:

“I say, boys, here is something that strikes me is a discovery, if we could make it out.”

He held his candle close to a portion of the quartz upon which some marks had been cut.

Where the Professor had paused, they were still within twenty yards of the termination of the quartz-reefs, so that the sides, floor and top were composed of solid granite.

On a portion of this solid mass, the marks were engraved, deep, bold and rugged. It was only by going a little way from them that their connection could be seen, and then they looked thus:

image

The men, eager as they were to see the gold, stopped before this strange device, if device it was, and regarded it with curious eyes.

“Well, Professor, what do you make that out to be?” enquired Jack, a little sneeringly.

“Them's Howrografficks, that's what them are,” replied the Professor solemnly. “If you asks me


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what they mean I answers: ‘Just wait till I consults my sperrut guide,’ but if you asks me who printed them on this ere stone, I says: ‘The lost tribes of Israel.’ They is the boys as made these 'ere cuttings, for why?—they always managed to find out and boss the ‘oof’ business when they got a square show, the same as they do at present.”

“Bother the Sheenies now or in the past,” replied Jack, passing his candle carefully over the outer edge of this singular device. “I'll have another examination of this part later on; meantime, come and have a squint of the pretty show of ore that lies a few paces farther on.”

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