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Title: In the Wake of fortune Author: Ivan Dexter * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1600971h.html Language: English Date first posted: Oct 2016 Most recent update: Oct 2016 This eBook was produced by: Maurie and Lyn Mulcahy Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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CHAPTER I.—ST. COLUMB'S COVE.
CHAPTER II.—THE TRENOWETH'S.
CHAPTER III.—THE WHEAL MERLIN.
CHAPTER IV.—THE CATASTROPHE.
CHAPTER V.—THE END OF THE WHEAL MERLIN.
CHAPTER VI.—FOLLOWING FORTUNE.
CHAPTER VII.—THE SOUTHERN LAND.
CHAPTER VIII.—THE ANTIPODES.
CHAPTER IX.—PIONEER PROSPECTORS.
CHAPTER X.—STRAITS ISLANDS.
CHAPTER XI.—A STRANGE QUEST.
CHAPTER XII.—BARREN ISLAND TIN.
CHAPTER XIII.—WHAT CLARKE ISLAND REVEALED.
CHAPTER XIV.—THE DISCOVERY.
CHAPTER XV.—THE TREASURE SHIP.
CHAPTER XVI.—THREE HUMMOCKS.
CHAPTER XVII.—TERRA INCOGNITA.
CHAPTER XVIII.—THE GREAT LAKE.
CHAPTER XIX.—THE RETREAT.
CHAPTER XX.—THE STRANGE MOUNTAIN.
CHAPTER XXI.—A TRIBAL CHARGE.
CHAPTER XXIII.—ONCE MORE.
CHAPTER XXIV.—SHATTERED HOPES.
CHAPTER XXVI.—THE QUEST.
CHAPTER XXVII.—AT LAST.
CHAPTER XXIX.—THE GELLIBRAND.
CHAPTER XXX.—OLD FRIENDS.
CHAPTER XXXI.—THE OLD STORY.
CHAPTER XXXII.—UPS AND DOWNS.
Within a dozen miles of Land's End, where the grotesque and imperishable rocks of the "Shark's Fin" and "The Armed Knight" leave the wild surges of the Atlantic, is situated the ancient hamlet of St. Columb's Cove.
The place is wild and picturesque in the extreme.
The ceaseless billows of the ocean rolling across from the shores of America have indented the Granite rocks which faced them into strange and uncouth shapes. Hollows and caves have been worn by the erosive action of ages, and at times when the sea was lashed to fury it howled and shrieked amongst them in doleful and appalling accents.
The little cove was hollowed out of a soft stratum in the iron-bound coast, and within it small craft could find shelter.
Looking from its cliffs on a fine day the dim outlines of the Scilly Islands away to south-west could be discerned, and lying between was the fabled submerged land of Lyonesse, over which King Arthur, of Round Table fame, and his knights used to hunt.
There was not a spot in the whole locality that was not associated with strange and weird legends.
Over at yonder black cliff was the dreaded place where the spectre of St. Columb's made its ominous appearance as a herald of evil to the little settlement. This portentous visitation took the form of a phantom ship, black and square rigged, followed by a shadowy boat, the whole being of unearthly aspect and worked by no human hands.
When the mists rose seawards over the calm ocean about nightfall the spectre ship was seen to glide silently towards the dark beetling cliff, and apparently sail right into it, disappearing as mysteriously as it had come.
The apparition boded woe to Columb hamlet, and the primitive residents, almost secluded from the busy world and superstitious to the last degree, placed implicit faith in the legend.
Of all peoples on the earth those of Cornwall are perhaps the most superstitious, and attach supernatural reasons to most commonplace events.
From King Arthur's time down to the latter end of the nineteenth century innumerable are the legends associated with Cornwall, and St. Columb's Cove was in the very heart of the mystic district.
To the north the coast town of Tintagel stood with its ruins of Arthur's celebrated castle, where the court of Round Table was held. The famous bells of Tintagel, with the weird romance attached to them, are still heard by credulous people chiming on occasions beneath the ocean.
Indeed, eminent men have heard the strange sounds as of bells chiming, but science now attributes the booming noise to other and natural causes.
Close by the town is the site of the battlefield where King Arthur met his death. Nearer to St. Columb is the celebrated morass which it was part of the doom of the wicked Tregeagal to drain, and within half a mile of the Cave hamlet were several strange granite rocks on an open moor.
Of course a legend is attached to them, and it is at the expense of a worthy man of former times, named St. Just.
This worthy man dwelt at the western side of the Promontory, and on the eastern side lived another good man called St. Keverne, whose name is still famous in Cornwall.
St. Just once paid his brother in righteousness a visit, but on his leaving St. Keverne missed some of his property. Waxing wroth—for even saints hankered after earthly riches—he pursued his late visitor, carrying with him from the coast a few granite rocks of about a ton weight each.
He overtook him near St. Columb. A colossal fight ensued and the rocks were used as missiles with such effect that St. Just was glad to disgorge the stolen property.
Such is the given reason assigned by the Cornish people for the presence on the moor of the strange rocks, and it is simply stated as a sample of the supernatural reasons to explain very natural circumstances.
From time immemorial the hamlet of St. Columb had been supported by mining.
Up to the year 1819 its output of tin had been considerable, but after that date the yield had gradually fallen off until in 1863, the year this story opens, it could scarcely be called a mining district longer.
Throughout Cornwall the stanniferous areas had become less, but the working of other minerals had taken their place.
Coal and iron were being substituted for tin and copper, and it was simply a change in the mineral, that made no alteration save for the better in the progress of the district.
With St. Columb's Cove, however, it was different.
Tin was the only mineral in the neighbourhood that had been found profitable to work, and once that industry became extinct there was nothing else to take its place.
The locality was not fit for either agricultural or pastoral pursuits.
The coast-line was sterile and desolate, and the salt spray of the Atlantic, which in rough weather swept far inland, precluded the growth of vegetation, save that of a marine character.
The fens and moors at the back of the hamlet were almost as unsuitable for agriculture, and nothing of a remunerative nature could be won from the earth by that industry.
As a fishing village the cove was also unsuitable.
The long wash of the ocean which beat upon the coast with terrific violence, whenever a slight storm arose, rendered fishing as a pursuit out of the question in that particular spot.
The cove offered few advantages in that respect, and as there were other parts not far distant which gave good shelter, fishing smacks sought them.
So treacherous was the coast that a vessel driven near it was inevitably doomed to destruction. It was caught in powerful currents when far off and sucked in to disaster and death.
In former times the reputation of the coast was extremely evil.
It was even said as a matter beyond dispute that the inmates of a monastery which was built near the Black Cliff, and could be seen a long distance to seaward, were in the habit of hanging a lantern out at night to entice voyagers to destruction.
The good monks of course maintained that the lamp was hung out as a signal of danger to keep mariners away. That might be, but there could be no disputing the fact that the religious brothers claimed and received their full share of the wreckage that was plundered from the ill-fated vessels lured on the rocks. In latter days without the hanging out of false lights the wrecks on the coast were numerous and disastrous enough to satisfy any lover of the sensational.
Of course the inevitable legend was associated with such disasters.
On stormy evenings a woman's shrieks were said to be often heard coming from seawards, and some few favoured individuals with powerful imaginations had even caught a glimpse of a female form floating along in the mist and calling for succor.
This was supposed to be the ghost of a woman who long ago had been the only person saved from a terrible wreck.
Her husband and family had all been swallowed up in the furious sea when the ship drove on the rocks, and she, caught by a huge wave had been thrown into a cleft of rock, where she was found unconscious by a party of wreckers.
Instead of dropping her back into the sea they had saved her, but it was soon found that her reason had been shattered by the awful experience of the calamitous night.
When she was able to get about she used to spend her time wandering along the beetling rocks and everyone pitied her sad case.
One evening when a storm was lashing the ocean against the cliffs she disappeared, but a miner making his way home had seen her end.
He had watched her go to the edge of the Black Cliff and gaze, apparently fascinated, into the tumbling billows below.
Suddenly she precipitated herself from the Cliff and disappeared for ever.
As her body was not washed ashore and she had a mystery attached to her and the vessel in which she was lost, the usual legend grew around the event.
It thus happened that in 1865 through the decline of the staple mining industry that the residents were fewer than in former times.
The remainder still clung tenaciously to the remnant of the mining work which remained. Centuries before the place had been famous for its output of tin.
It was at the Cove so many historians said that the old Phœnicians first landed in search of minerals, and long before the time of Julius Cæsar the precious metals and the baser ones also had been worked from their native ore.
All over the district could be found the remains of ancient workings. These had been abandoned long anterior to the local records, but from the extensive ruins they must have contained immense deposits of ore. In several places shafts of profound depth existed that had not been touched for centuries.
At what period or by what people they had been excavated no one could tell.
It was honestly regarded as beyond dispute that for twenty centuries mining had been carried on in the vicinity of St. Columb's Cove, and romantic stories were current of the fabulous riches that had been won from the earth there.
If B. Raleigh had lived a thousand years before he did there would have been no occasion—had half the stories been true—for him to seek the El Dorado in the mysterious recesses of a new world. In the Land's End he would have found the wealth for which he pined.
Even in the sixteenth century the bulk of the riches had been taken from the place, and as times rolled on the patient but persistent miner still further diminished the treasure which lay buried in the earth.
In the year 1865 the glory of St. Columb's Cove had disappeared, or was but a memory of the past so far as its mineral wealth was concerned, and in the whole district there was but one mine which was still worked.
This was called the "Wheal Merlin," and the site was supposed to have been pointed out as a profitable one to work by the famous enchanter of that name.
This mine was in 1865 owned by one John Trenoweth, and it had been in the same family for generations.
Almost as old as the hamlet of St. Columb itself was the Trenoweth family.
Tradition set them down as being of memorable antiquity, but whether the ancestors of John Trenoweth traded with the Phœnicians, or whether a later generation fitted out a ship and fought with Drake against the Spanish Armada is of little concern to this story.
There was little doubt that the family was of Ancient lineage, and it was also certain that the "Wheal Merlin" had been owned and worked by the Trenoweths for many generations.
John Trenoweth knew this to his cost, for in the year 1830, when his father died and left him it as his only possession, he found that the living to be obtained from it was likely to be a precarious one.
He was only eighteen years of age at his father's death and that event left him an orphan, his mother having died several years previously. Like all his predecessors he had no thought of leaving the old spot, but at once settled down to the lot which had apparently been destined for him.
He was thirty-five when he married Mary Treloar, a girl of the village whom he had known since childhood, and the result of the union was one child, who was named Edward, after his grandfather.
John Trenoweth was a man of greater enterprise in the working of the mine than any of his predecessors. The spirit of the nineteenth century was strong within him, and the rude and primitive methods of working which had been in use for centuries at the mine were soon discarded.
The lode ran to a great depth and the shaft was deepened considerably so that it could be worked more advantageously. The mouth of the main shaft was not more than a couple of hundred yards from the cliffs on the ocean beach, and hitherto the utmost precautions had been taken in working towards the west.
A safe distance had been left between the furthest drive leading that way and the sea, for the miners had no desire to be interfered with by leakages from the Atlantic.
John Trenoweth was more venturesome.
With the shaft one hundred and twenty feet deeper than it had hitherto been, he concluded that there would not be the least danger in driving beneath the ocean bed if necessary. This would give about one hundred and fifty feet of ground overhead if the drive were continued from the lowest level west, and the most experienced miners in the district considered with Trenoweth that westerly working under such circumstances was perfectly safe.
After consultation with the miners they expressed their perfect willingness to start a lower drive to the west and follow the rich ore that was to be obtained in that line.
Trenoweth was soon rewarded for his enterprise by the increased yield of the "Wheal Merlin," and it almost seemed as if the ancient grandeur of the family was about to be renewed.
The turn of luck did not, however, last long, for the ore turned out to be patchy and realised no more than a fair living for the owner after all expenses were paid.
Year followed year, and slowly but surely the underground workings of the mine became more extensive towards the west.
In fact in the year 1850 the whole of the operations were carried on in that side of the historic mine.
The generations of miners who had lived, delved, and died at the mine, had completely worked it out in every other place save the one they were afraid to exploit, and consequently John Trenoweth was forced to confine himself to the west or abandon the place altogether.
He had reason to be satisfied with the inheritance left him, for it was turning out fairly well with his improved working, and so it went on till the latter part of 1865, when an event occurred which completely changed the fortunes of the Trenoweths.
Before narrating this Edward Trenoweth must be referred to.
The reader has already been informed that the marriage of John Trenoweth with Mary Treloar resulted in the birth of a son, who was christened Edward.
This son was born in 1847 and grew up a vigorous youth.
His parents had a notion of placing him in one of the liberal professions, and in pursuance of that idea sent him to Eton to be educated. It was the first time that a Trenoweth of St. Columb had ever been sent out of the hamlet to be educated, and old people shook their heads in bodeful anticipation of what the result would be. It seemed like breaking the custom hallowed by centuries of observance and the wiseacres of the village concluded that Edward Trenoweth was destined to break the long period of family isolation which had shut out the race from the world beyond the district in which they lived.
It must be said that Edward Trenoweth himself did not fall in cheerfully with the exile from his native village, and he made no secret of his repugnance to life at Eton.
A wild strain was inbred.
The youth loved the lonely grandeur of the storm-tossed Cornish coast, and to him St. Columb's Cove was the one place on earth.
He had a further reason for this love of the hamlet, for he had given his boyish heart to a maiden of the place, and that made the enforced separation from home all the more intolerable.
The girl's name was Inez Jasper, and her history was a strange one.
She was in fact a waif of the sea.
One wild night in November, 1849, signals of distress were observed rising to seaward and the few inhabitants of the Cove gathered on the beach to give what help they could.
This was very little indeed. The few old boats of the fishermen were utterly useless in such a storm outside the cove.
The hardy men of the place well knew that it would be suicidal madness to put out to where they could see a great ship drifting on to the rocks.
The Cove had probably been sighted by those on board the ship during the afternoon and as a last hope they had made towards it.
They must have been strangers to the coast to have done so, for to a vessel of such tonnage the Cove was practically inaccessible.
The spectre lady had been seen to walk the night previous, so some of the superstitious villagers said.
This legend had been whispered from one to another until it was believed, and as they gathered on the beach with the salt spray lashing in their faces from the half sheltered Cove they had no hope that the ship would live through the storm.
They seemed in fact to look upon it as a matter of course that the ship was doomed. The few boats were manned at nightfall, and the men rowed out to the entrance of the Cove, beyond which they dared not go. From the course the ship was driving it was expected she would strike near the entrance of the little bay and all the men could do would be to lend a hand in saving any possible survivors.
A few persons took their stand on the jutting cliffs on either side of the Cove with ropes to throw to any clinging waif that might be dashed up by the waves on the lower ledge of rocks.
As the people expected the unknown vessel drifted almost into the entrance of the Cove.
Had she come fairly in many lives would doubtless have been saved, but it was not fated to be.
A treacherous current seized and bore her right under the Black Cliff where no human help could avail.
Huge fires had been lighted at the spot immediately it was seen the ship was going to strike there, and all night the villagers peered into the seething ocean by them and the fitful light in search of a possible survivor.
Not one was saved by them, and when morning dawned nothing but wreckage strewed the coast, whilst here and there a ghastly battered corpse was to be seen.
Though the people on the cliff had not succeeded in saving a single soul, an old fisherman named Michael Jasper had been more fortunate.
Early in the night he had put out to the mouth of the Cove in company with his three sons.
Jasper, the father, was nearly eighty years of age, and the sons were beyond middle age. Father and sons had been born at St. Columb, and had passed most of their lives mining, varied with occasional fishing when the sea was calm.
It was not long after the ship struck that Jasper and his sons noticed fragments of wreck drifting into the bay, and they pulled about in the hope of securing something valuable.
The people of the village regarded a wreck as their own especial property, and they had no qualms of conscience regarding the appropriation of anything that came within their reach from such a source.
Jasper and his sons were engaged examining a mass of floating wreckage when they were somewhat startled by the sound of a human voice to seaward.
It was but a faint cry, but to the practised ears of the men it told its tale.
It must be a survivor's cry to come from such a direction the men instinctively knew, and loosing the wreckage they had hooked the boat was instantly turned towards the spot the sound came from.
In a few moments a second feeble cry was heard, fainter than the first, but in the thick darkness nothing could be discerned, save the white crested waves that broke against the rocks.
They had almost reached the mouth of the Cove, and Jasper, who had ignited an oil lamp and was holding it above his head saw another pile of wreckage sweep by.
By the flickering gleam of the light the occupants of the boat saw a struggling object on the floating mass, which turned out to be a portion of the ship's bulwarks, but almost as they looked a huge wave dashed the timber against a jutting rock, and with a smothered cry the living object disappeared.
Impelled with the desire to save life the men pulled perilously near to the boiling cauldron of the entrance, and as they did so a sheet of the broken timber swept by the frail craft and a gleam of something white on it caught the old man's eye.
Stretching out his hand he caught the object, which seemed to be a bundle of clothes, and as it was of little weight he lifted it into the boat.
Examining it with the aid of the light they were astounded to find that it contained a child, and in a few moments Jasper was convinced that it lived.
The boat had by this time been drifting back into the Cove and knowing how necessary it was to provide warmth for the almost inanimate infant the men at once pulled back to the beach and landed amongst the wondering few who remained there.
Mrs. Trenoweth was the first woman that Michael Jasper saw, and when she took the waif so miraculously preserved her motherly tenderness was aroused and she claimed the care of the child.
This was at once conceded, for there were no women-folk in the Jasper household, and the care of an infant would have been awkward.
By dint of care the child was brought round and at daylight seemed little the worse for the awful experience of the night.
Out of all on board the ship the child was the only soul saved, and the wondering people of St. Columb regarded her—for it was a female—as specially under Divine care.
There is no doubt that the cries which first attracted Jasper's attention came from someone who had the child and was lost when the floating wreckage struck the rock.
There was never the slightest clue found to the identity of the lost vessel, and the only token discovered on the child was the name "Inez" broidered on one of its garments. Mrs. Trenoweth, after consultation with her husband and with old Jasper's consent, decided to adopt the little Inez, but the old man insisted on his name being given to her as well as that marked on her clothes. The Trenoweth's child Edward was but a year old at the time and thus the two children grew up together.
Edward was fourteen when he was sent to Eton, but the routine of school life was extremely distasteful to him, and he longed for the wild freedom of his Cornish home.
How he managed to remain two years at the great school it is not easy to explain, but during that time he paid several visits to the Cove and each time he saw Inez Jasper his boyish heart was more impressed with her.
She was certainly growing into a lovely woman. Her features were as Spanish as her first name, and there was little doubt she was of Southern extraction.
There was nothing in common between her and the natures of the secluded hamlet, and consequently she was not a favourite with them. Edward Trenoweth was a spirited and handsome youth and more to her liking.
The friendship that existed between them developed into ardent love on his part and some degree of affection on hers. At best it was but Love's young dream.
At the age of sixteen Edward departed from Eton, or, rather, was compelled to leave owing to a serious disagreement with one of the masters.
During his two year's sojourn there he had not wasted his time but had made fair progress with his studies. The spirit of his ancestors seemed to possess him, as he evinced a decided inclination for the life of a miner.
Both his parents tried to dissuade him from that pursuit, but it was in vain, and soon after he took part with his father in the working of the mine. This pursuit possessed in infatuation for him and he speedily acquired a practical knowledge of geology.
His theoretical knowledge stood him in good need, and before he was two years in the mine he was regarded as quite an authority by the rough miners. This was in the latter end of 1865, and no one guessed of the awful calamity that was even then throwing its shadows over the doomed hamlet.
One of the most ancient mines in venerable Cornwall was the Wheal Merlin. Its underground workings extended for miles and formed a perfect labyrinth likely to prove fatal to the uninitiated explorer.
Having been worked for hundreds of years, nearly every spot was hallowed or cursed by the memory of a fatal disaster. The awestruck miner would show the visitor places where human self-sacrifice had reached sublime heights, or mayhap where personal malice in vengeful mood had invoked aid of death to remove a hated rival or to gain a little wealth. Every subterranean gallery was filled with unwritten and unpainted legends, but to the superstitious miners and residents of the district they were infinitely more real and enduring than if wrought in marble or bronze.
Considering the primitive manner in which the mine had for ages been worked it was a marvel that the accidents had not been more numerous and more serious. Even with simple appliances in use a great depth had been attained, and the work of ages had caused the district around St. Columb's Cove to be honeycombed with underground drives.
In olden times the mine was noted for its rich yields and miniature battles had been fought for its possession.
An ancient representative of the Trenoweth family, who had been worsted above ground at the outpost from which he defended his property, took refuge below, and for several days fought the enemy in its drives. His better knowledge of these ramifications enabled him to triumph, but the victory was a hard one.
A villager named Penfold, who worked in the mine, was either bribed or forced into showing the enemy underground, and this man paid dear for his treachery. Having been captured, the enraged miners took him to the surface and then dropped him seven hundred feet to the bottom of the main shaft.
His was one of the ghosts that was said to walk by the credulous people, and whenever the phantom appeared it was looked upon as an omen of fast approaching evil to the people of the hamlet.
Such superstition as this may appear childish to the matter-of-fact people of today in Australia. It should not be forgotten, however, that even at this latter end of the nineteenth century there still lingers in many parts of Cornwall superstitious beliefs that ceased to obtain followers in other parts about the middle ages.
Mining is essentially a precarious and dangerous calling, and in such a remote spot as St. Columb's Cove—almost cut off from communication with the busy world, and in a locality where nature herself conspired to overawe man—there was nothing strange in the fact that the miners employed in the Wheal Merlin should still cherish the legends of their forefathers.
Indeed, they had some ground for the strange beliefs they held.
On more than one occasion weird predictions had been verified in a strange and remarkable way. Omens that could only have been of supernatural origin had, through the key of certain prior prophecies been interpreted, and they had been fulfilled.
More than one hundred years before the date on which this story opens an ancestor of Edward Trenoweth had met the phantom of Penfold in one of the drives of the Wheal Merlin. The spectre—so Trenoweth said—pointed menacingly in a northerly direction, and then, like the usual orthodox ghost, vanished.
This Trenoweth was a man more than ordinarily sceptical for a Cornishman, and he refused to listen to the appeals made to him by certain of the villagers when he told them of the apparition. They urged that he should not work in the mine for a week and a day or harm would befall him.
The period of a week and a day was universally consulted as the longest in which a spirit could exercise a malign influence.
Even Mrs. Trenoweth urged her husband to take heed of the warning given, but he was obdurate. He pointed out, like a shrewd, sensible man that he was, that he could not see how working the mine would precipitate his fate any sooner than remaining above ground for a few days, and perhaps having an encounter with some straggling smugglers or pirates who might drop into the Cove.
If his hour had come his bolt would fall equally sure above ground as a few hundred feet below the surface.
This is the view that the practical man of today would take in such matters, but the sequel showed that Trenoweth should have taken the kindly advice.
Next morning he descended the shaft in company with nine men who were embued with the courage of their master, but none of them ever came to the surface again alive.
Shortly after noon an outburst of air from the main shaft told the alarmed villagers that some catastrophe had happened, and they flocked to the mouth of the mine.
Some of the experienced miners, when they heard the rush of air, knew but too well the nature of the fatality. It was evident to them that an inrush of water had taken place, and this proved to be the case.
When a few of the more daring descended the ladders they found that the shaft was nearly half full of flood waters. It was thirty feet above the drive where Trenoweth and his men were working, and it was certain that they must have perished.
They were working in the main drive to the north and the fatality was soon found to have been caused by the bursting in of water from an old mine shaft had not been worked for a century.
It was weeks before the bodies were recovered, and the villagers went about their task as if obeying a command of fate. They shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders but said little, for they knew that Trenoweth had paid with his life his disregard of the phantom's warning.
And so from generation to generation these grim legends of spectial appearances and their results were handed down until they seized on men's minds and became clothed in the habiliments of reality, presenting themselves as infallible articles of flesh and blood.
It has already been stated that when Edward Trenoweth took charge of the mine he at once introduced an improved system of working. By deeper sinking he felt justified in believing that he would be able to follow the rich lode further seawards with perfect safety.
In years gone by drives had been put in westward as far as it was deemed prudent, but a large portion of the lode which was the richest in the mine had to be left unworked through fear of the sea breaking through.
When, therefore, Trenoweth put the western shaft down a hundred feet and made a survey, he calculated that he could drive a long distance under the Cove without fear of a burst. This he set to work to do with energy, and his enterprise was soon rewarded.
He bared a considerable portion of the lode and the returns it gave were richer than the oldest miner in the Wheal Merlin could remember.
In fact, it almost seemed as if fortune were about to smile once again upon the Trenoweth family, and Edward felt proud to think that ere long he would be in a position to offer Inez a home worthy of the girl he idolized.
It should be said that these two young people, growing up together, had come to love each other, and the villagers regarded it as a matter of course that some day they would marry. The choice for either Edward or Inez in such a place as St. Columb's Cove, was, it is almost needless to say, extremely limited, and to some extent this fact may account for the mutual affection which had grown up between them.
As the lode turned out so well Edward put as many men to work as could do so conveniently, and the drives were soon considerably extended. As the upper workings approached the sea they were abandoned and all the operations were confined to the lowest level.
Month after month successful work was expended on this drive, and it so well rewarded the owner that the almost extinct hamlet of St. Columb began to prosper.
A mild sort of boom had set in, and it only needed a few colonial "syndicators" and speculators to have established a fleeting city in the venerable place.
In 1869 the prosperity of the mine was at its height, and the Trenoweth family were considered to be on the high road to wealth.
In November of that year Edward made a survey of the lower western drive, and he calculated that it extended fully one hundred yards under the Cove.
His intention was to continue the workings to the outer edge of the Cove and then discontinue.
Prudence dictated to him that once the open ocean was reached it would not be safe to drive, although the level might be far below the sea bottom. He knew the Cove sufficiently to understand that the ceaseless beating of the Atlantic rollers on the iron-bound coast could not fail, after ages of effort, to honeycomb the cliffs.
In places where soft strata existed fissures would thus be worn to a great depth, and to drive in such a place would be to invite disaster.
Inside the Cove the case was, of course, different. Sheltered from the fury and force of the eroding waves the weight of the water above the drive was the main point to be considered.
At least that was the view which Edward Trenoweth took, and it was one which would be shared by most experts.
As Christmas time approached Trenoweth decided to celebrate the merry festival in a way worthy of his name.
He had reason to bless the fast dying year, for wealth and happiness had placed their benediction on him since the previous Christmas.
Inez Jasper promised to be his wife, and the Wheal Merlin had given up some of its buried treasure to him.
He was happy and he desired that the good villagers should share his joy in some measure.
On the 20th of December Morris Jones, the underground boss—as the position is colonially termed—met Edward near the main shaft, and spoke to him——
"There is a good deal of water coming up from the bottom of the west drive, sir, near the end."
"From the bottom?" Edward queried in surprise.
"I will go down and have a look at it. You must have struck a spring, surely?"
"It is a spring of salt water, then, sir," Jones replied.
Without further conversation the two men went below, and thence along the western drive.
About four feet from the face Trenoweth sure enough saw a small spring of water bubbling up from the floor of the drive. With the aid of the flickering lights he made a careful examination of the drive in the vicinity, but there was nothing to cause alarm. The roof of the drive was remarkably dry, and it was there that Edward looked for danger.
The men working at the face seemed a bit uneasy at first, but after Trenoweth's examination and his emphatic statement that there was no danger to be apprehended they were reassured.
As he turned to go back Edward stooped to examine the strange, bubbling spray.
It did not seem to be increasing in flow and the force was not considerable, so, concluding that it was only the outlet of a small natural cistern he went back again to the surface.
About noon on the 23rd of December the Trenoweths saw Jones coming to the house, where he had been during the morning assisting in the preparations for the Christmas festivities.
Inez Jasper was with him, and Edward looked the picture of radiant happiness as he came out to meet the foreman.
"What's the matter now, Morris?" he asked.
"Well, sir, the men in the west are beginning to get afeared. They say there is danger ahead. The night shift told me this morning that they heard queer noises, and that fool, Jack Pengelly, swears he saw strange figures standing at the entrance of the west drive and pointing down it."
"Of course," laughed Trenoweth, "we mustn't blame the poor fellow for that. Such superstition has been born in him. But if you think there is any danger," he continued, anxiously, "we must bring the men up at once."
"I don't know what to make of it, sir," replied Jones. "Sometimes I think there is no danger, and then again I don't feel sure of it. That spring is still running, and stronger than before—but it is not that I am afraid of it. There is occasionally a queer ring in the face of the drive near the lode and if left alone for a few minutes small pieces scale off without apparent cause. It is also getting much wetter; and, in fact, the whole face is weeping," (mining term for oozing).
"I will go back with you and see for myself," answered Trenoweth, curtly.
He went back into the house and acquainted Inez of his intention.
She made a slight demur at first, but finding he was resolved she poutingly asked him not to be long. She returned his kiss, and he rejoined Jones.
"What danger do you think there could be, Jones, in the position the drive now is?" he asked as they walked towards the shaft.
"I cannot say, Sir, unless there is some fissure in the Cove," was the reply.
"If that were so the water would most likely come from the top and not from the floor of the drive. We must be fully one hundred and fifty yards from the ocean, and from the soundings taken in the Cove our drive is more than one hundred feet below the basin," Trenoweth answered.
"Yes, sir; but you know this is a treacherous place, and one cannot say what may happen. Everything may be right and safe, but the men seem anxious, and I would like them to see you and have your opinion," Jones replied.
"They will not have long to wait for that, at any rate," laughed Trenoweth, who was in excellent spirits. "But," glancing down at his holiday clothes, "I must change these."
He went over to the engine-house and in a few minutes returned attired in the orthodox miner's costume, and then the two men went below.
Making their way to the end of the drive Trenoweth found the party of miners were grouped idly about, waiting for him.
They were looking keenly at the face of the drive, which since Trenoweth's visit of a couple of days previously had undergone quite a change.
At that time it was remarkably dry and hard, but now the water was exuding from it and carrying down large flakes of the soft rock.
The spring which had broken out on the floor of the drive was still there, but the flow of water from it was much stronger. It bubbled up fully six inches from an aperture above two inches in diameter and threw quite a stream into the drive.
As Trenoweth stood close to the face of the drive for a few minutes silently watching it he almost started as a queer sound fell upon his ears.
He could have sworn that it came from the opposite side of the face to where he stood, and the noise filled him with a certain indefinable alarm.
He could not say why he was thus startled, nor could he quite make out the character of the sound. It was like the sigh of a slumbering Titan or the fateful warning of a spectral guardian.
At least that was the feeling which possessed even the somewhat sceptical Trenoweth as he stood in that queer spot a hundred feet below the bed of the ocean.
"You heard that sound, sir?" asked Jones in a whisper, as he stood behind Edward.
"Yes; and I really don't like it," answered Trenoweth, with a forced laugh.
"It has been heard several times since eight o'clock last night, and the men were almost too scared to work," Jones spoke.
The reader, unaccustomed to mining below ground, will scarcely understand how an unusual sound will affect miners.
There are certain noises well known to such workers, and they are readily understood. When, however, the prevailing silence is broken by strange sounds the attention of the earth delver is at once fixed and in many instances mines have actually been abandoned from such causes. Burrowing deep into the mysterious bowels of the earth the imagination is given full play, and weird fancies are built up on slender foundations.
The western drive of the Wheal Merlin however, afforded indications of danger to the experienced eyes which could not be overlooked outside the uncouth sound.
The weeping face and the falling flakes unmistakably showed that water was near and that a softer stratum was being encountered. Possibly there was a small and harmless accumulation of water behind the face, but it was just as likely there might be a huge reservoir which a stroke of the pick might tap, bringing death and destruction with it. The small burst in the floor of the drive seemed to be a warning outpost of the main body of the enemy ahead.
At least this was the view the intelligent and cautious owner of the mine took of the situation, and he was not long in forming his conclusion.
"The men had better cease work Jones, until after the holidays. If there is anything wrong here," he said, pointing to the face, "it will have time to develop. Above all things we must not risk life."
He stopped abruptly, for the strange sound again smote his ears, and this time it rose louder and more menacingly than before.
"Yes; tell the men to gather up their tools and leave everything secure for the holidays. They can get to the surface as soon as they like after."
"Bring all the hands over with you," he concluded to Jones, "over to the house as soon as they are paid, so that we can wish each other a merry Christmas."
Jones gave his orders to the grateful men accordingly, and then he accompanied Trenoweth to the shaft and saw him into the cage.
"Now, don't forget, Jones!" Edward shouted as the cage began to ascend, and he saw his foreman turn back to the gang on the western drive.
The cage had just reached the surface and Trenoweth was in the act of stepping off, when suddenly a rushing, roaring noise sounded in his ears and the next instant he was precipitated head foremost out of the cage on to a heap of mullock close by.
Like a flash of lightning the heavy cage shot up to the poppet-heads, smashing them to pieces, and then it fell back into the shaft.
Struggling, half-stunned, to his feet, Trenoweth was conscious of a booming sound in his ears, and as he looked stupidly at the wreck he saw people wildly hurrying towards the shaft.
Something terrible had happened, and as the engine-driver reached his side he cried, in a voice quivering with horror——
"By Heavens, sir, there's been a burst, and the mine is flooded!"
For a few moments Trenoweth could not speak. He stood with his left hand pressed to his forehead, looking about in a bewildered sort of way, and as his full senses returned he realised what had happened.
"How many are below?" he gasped to the engine-driver.
"Sixteen I lowered this morning, sir, and may God help them, for we can't," answered the man with a sort of sob.
"Could—could they not get up to the old workings?" cried Edward, almost at the top of his voice.
"They be mostly working in the west, sir, and I'm frightened that's where the burst has been," returned the driver.
Trenoweth by this time well knew where the burst had taken place, and he realised the full force of the calamity which had overtaken himself and the village.
By this time a wildly excited crowd had begun to gather at the mouth of the now useless shaft. The dread explosion caused by the forcing of the air up the shaft before the inrush of water had been heard all over the place, and it had as much significance to the people as those worse explosions which sometimes appal the dwellers in colliery districts.
Men, women, and children made their affrighted way to the spot where their hearts told them sorrow and pain awaited them.
The scene which followed was awful and almost indescribable, and, fortunately, not often witnessed.
Those who had relatives below were frantic with grief, and in some cases hysterical wives and mothers had to be restrained from throwing themselves down the shaft. Fatherless children looked wonderingly at the scene, which was almost incomprehensible to them, and then joined their mothers in wailing, wailing more out of sympathetic contagion than from any knowledge of the loss they had just sustained.
The broken poppet-heads accentuated the disaster and the helplessness which had stricken the would-be rescuers.
"The pumps," Trenoweth curtly said, turning to the engine-driver, who still stood near him.
"Yes, sir," answered the man as he turned towards the engine-house. In a few minutes he came back and said, "They won't work, sir. I thought the cage would injure the pipes." Then as he turned back to look after the engine he muttered, "and little good it would do if they did work, I couldn't pump the ocean dry."
And he was right.
The sea had poured into the Wheal Merlin and all the pumping plants in Great Britain could not have lowered the water a foot.
After the first frantic and tumultuous rush to the mine an organised attempt was made by the experienced miners to afford rescue to those below.
The men well knew that nothing short of a miracle from heaven could possibly save the doomed ones in the mine, but nevertheless they set about to work with a will. It was just possible, they thought, that a few of the miners might have been able to reach the high levels in the eastern workings and get above the water level. Even then the compressed air would be so great as to render it almost, if not quite, impossible for a human being to live.
Moreover, the main body of men were employed in the west drive, which it was certain had been flooded.
As the winding gear was disabled one of the most intrepid of the men volunteered to be lowered by a rope and ascertain if possible the full amount of the disaster.
A windlass was improvised, and young Penfold allowed himself to be lowered into the fated mine.
With breathless interest, the agitated crowd watched the rope gradually pay out.
The hundred feet mark passed out of sight into the dark depths, and soon after the two hundred feet line on the rope also went down.
With strained eyes those on the surface still watched the descending rope, but their suspense was not of long duration. Scarce another ten feet had gone down when a signal from below told the men at the windlass to stop.
A wild cry from the watchers went up as the signal was given, for they well knew that the sea-level in the Cove at half-tide was about two hundred feet from the surface of the main shaft of the Wheal Merlin. Penfold's signal evidently meant that the rope had reached the water in the shaft, and this view was verified a few minutes after as he was hauled to the surface.
With a set face he told the crowd that the water was up the shaft to within a couple of hundred feet of the surface, and moreover he stated that it was sea water, for he had tasted it.
This intelligence supported the worst forebodings of the villagers.
About two hundred yards from the coast was the old shaft and the would-be rescuers immediately went in that direction.
The shaft had not been used for a couple of years, but it was in good order, and a second descent was made in it.
The same result followed.
With marvellous rapidity the sea waters had penetrated the most distant workings and filled drives and shafts alike.
The lowest levels of the famous old mine were seven hundred feet below the surface, so that the water had risen five hundred feet above them.
This fact made it certain that not one of the unfortunate miners below at the time of the flooding could possibly have escaped with their lives.
Of the sixteen men thus overwhelmed nine of them were married, with families, whilst the remaining seven were young single fellows with few dependent on them.
In a small hamlet like St. Columb's Cove such a catastrophe was of enormous magnitude and made a serious inroad upon the population of the place.
Almost every family was related to the victims.
For generations the practice of intermarrying had been adopted in the remote place and there was scarcely one in the village on that sad Christmas of 1869 who had not to mourn a relative taken from them by death.
The Trenoweth family had indeed met with no such bereavement, but it was the saddest family in the hamlet. Edward Trenoweth knew full well that the disaster meant absolute ruin to him.
Not only would he be compelled to prosecute a hopeless and expensive search for the bodies of the lost miners, but his rigid sense of equity and justice impelled him to make some provision for the widows, orphans, and others who were dependent on those who were lost. During the past three years Edward had managed to win a considerable profit from the Wheal Merlin, and in a few more months he regarded it as certain that he would have acquired a competence.
He had already dreamt golden dreams of the future and built many a bright castle of the coming days with Inez at his side.
He would take her to see the great world outside of which he had some conception but which she had never known, and together they would go down the vale of life.
His home would always be in St. Columb's Cove, where he would be a kindly squire to the poor villagers who had helped him to build his fortune. He had fondly imagined himself walking in the vanguard of the fickle goddess, but he now found he was far in her wake.
In a single instant, where his prospects appeared brightest, his cherished hopes had been ruthlessly blasted, and gloomy misfortune was hovering over him. He had meant to celebrate the Christmas time in a manner never before done in the village, and now his feast of joy was turned into one of sorrow.
These gloomy thoughts filled his mind as he stood near the old shaft watching the forlorn efforts of the miners to effect a rescue. From the outset he well knew what had happened and how in a few moments the men below had been swallowed up by the inrushing waters.
The strange sounds which he had heard at the end of the western drive were now made somewhat plain to him. Evidently a great body or reservoir of water was not far away from the face and must have gradually worked its way through. The uncanny spring on the floor of the drive was a warning of some danger ahead.
The strata of the district was of a most peculiar nature. Interspersed with rock almost hard as flint were soft strata of sandstone. In some places these soft veins were only an inch or two in width, whilst in others they were several feet across and ran for many hundreds of yards.
Without doubt one of these great soft veins had been tapped by the west drive. It must have come from the main ocean and ended where it was struck.
The noises he heard were caused by the booming action of the rollers outside striking the cliffs, and the small leak on the floor of the drive was no doubt a thin vein running from the large one.
A submarine drive, formed by the ceaseless action of the restless ocean in long ages, had been met by the artificial drive and a catastrophe brought about.
The wearing action of the ocean in this manner is no uncommon thing on exposed coasts like that of Cornwall.
On the south and west coasts of Tasmania, parts of the southern coasts of Australia, and many other places the strangest phenomena is thus produced.
The Devil's Blowhole of Tasman's Peninsula is a most notable instance of the erosive action of the ocean acting on soft strata in both a horizontal and a perpendicular direction.
Indeed, the average reader can readily understand how the ceaseless action of the ocean on such coasts will act.
These thoughts did not occur to Trenoweth as he stood with folded arms, like one paralysed, watching the weeping women and the hopeless-looking miners.
Everyone present instinctively knew how profound was his grief, not only for his own great loss but also for the bereaved ones, and they respected his grief.
He was interrupted suddenly in his gloomy reverie by a light hand laid on his shoulder, and, turning, he saw the face of Inez regarding him with a wistful gaze.
"What is the matter, Edward?" she asked, with a pathos in her rich voice that touched his heart.
For a moment he could not find courage to answer, and, as he hesitated, she again spoke.
"Let me know the worst, Edward. I hear the mine is flooded and all below are lost."
"You have heard truly, Inez dear. Sixteen honest fellows are gone from our little village, and I fear that I, too, am ruined and must leave too; but not by the road of death," he answered.
"What do you mean?" she quickly asked looking up strangely at him.
"Nothing, dear. I think the shock has unnerved me, and I scarcely know what I am saying."
"Can you do any good by remaining here? If not, you had better come home," she said.
"No! I don't suppose I can do anything of avail here," he answered; and then he beckoned to a man who was taking a foremost part in the hopeless rescue work.
When the man came up the young man said, "Pengelly, I can do no good here, nor, for that matter, can you. Will you bring all the poor people concerned in this—this trouble to my place at four o'clock. I want to see them all and speak to them."
"Yes, sir; I will indeed, sir. No one but God can do anything for Morris Jones and our comrades below," he added.
Without another word Edward Trenoweth and Inez turned away from the grief-stricken group and went home.
As they entered the house the preparations for the village feast were seen in active progress, and bitterly the young man turned to his companion and said.
"This is a changeful world. We bade our guests to a marriage feast, and now funeral meats must be served up."
Trenoweth had good grounds for his remark, for no such disaster had fallen upon the hamlet of St. Columb ever since it was founded. For seven hundred years the Wheal Merlin had been worked, and now its end had come in gloom and death. Not only were a number of gallant men and youths buried deep down in the watery depths of the mine, but those who depended upon them for food and raiment were left to mourn their absence.
No more would the bright, homecoming smile of fathers and brothers cheer the hearts of those desolate ones. And, worst of all—to people reared as those simple Cornish miners were—the mournful satisfaction of giving their loved ones Christian burial; of visiting Sunday after Sunday their quiet resting place in the old churchyard; and of planting and tending flowers on their graves, was denied them.
The first to meet Edward and Inez was Mrs. Trenoweth and she read trouble on their faces.
The news of the catastrophe had been carefully kept from her, but she had an inkling that something was wrong. A messenger had come to the house, but he saw Inez, who went back with him to the mine.
"What has happened, Edward?" his mother queried.
"There has been an accident at the mine, mother. A portion of the workings has been flooded," he answered, not wishing to unduly alarm her.
"May God grant there are no lives lost," Mrs. Trenoweth said, with alarm shining out of her eyes.
"I am afraid there are some; but it may not be so bad as we think. The rescue party are at work."
"The rescue party at work and you not with them, Edward," his mother replied looking severely at him. "Whoever are below must be past hope when you are not there to help in saving their lives, my son," she concluded, more tenderly.
"Yes, mother, they are beyond hope. In fact, a great disaster has befallen us, but we must not give way under it. Now is the time to show what the Trenoweths are made of," Edward answered, trying to put a courageous tone into his voice.
As he concluded he led the way to an inner room, where he narrated to his mother the full extent of the disaster.
"It means this, mother," he went on, "when we have provided for the widows and orphans, and complied with the government regulations in finding the bodies of those below we will have little left. There will be enough for you and Inez, but I must seek my fortune elsewhere. You know that Cornwall will be no place for me to do that, and though I have not yet made up my mind, I am thinking of that great mineral land of Australia. My training fits me for that pursuit, and I feel that my fortune lies in that direction."
His mother and Inez listened in amazement to the words that fell from Edward's lips, and for some moments neither spoke. They had been long used to understand that Edward always meant what he said, and once his mind was made up it was not an easy matter to alter it.
Nevertheless, the idea of the only son and sweetheart leaving them and going to the other side of the earth gave them both a violent shock.
The elder woman seemed the most disconcerted of the two, but she had a resolute spirit, and her only ambition was to see her son advanced in the world.
"Do not let us say anything further on so painful a subject just now, my son. There will be plenty of time to decide on our future course. At present our hands and hearts are full of sorrow without adding another pang. Whatever may happen in the future I am sure we will all bravely face it," Mrs. Trenoweth said.
"That is spoken just like you, mother, and, as you say, other matters claim our attention at present. I have asked Pengelly to bring the people here at four o'clock. I am then going to tell them that so far as our means will allow we will make provision for those left helpless by the death of their bread-winners. I am sure you agree with me in that course, mother."
"I do, my son. It is only our duty to do that, and we will do it as far as we can."
During this conversation Inez had remained silent, but with a deeply anxious look on her face. She was, of course, vitally affected by the tragic occurrence, for during the coming year she was to be the wife of Edward.
If he carried out his resolve of leaving St. Columb's Cove into execution her whole life might be altered. At least, the prospect seemed to point in that direction.
She waited for a few minutes until Mrs. Trenoweth left the room to countermand some orders relating to the Christmas feast, and then she said——
"Do you forget your promise to me a few weeks ago, Edward, for if you do I certainly do not?"
"God forbid that I should ever do that, my loved one. It is because it is burnt into my heart that I am going to act as I have said. Would you marry a pauper and live a life of drudgery, Inez? If not, the only way I can give you a home worthy of you is to seek a land where fortunes are made more quickly than in worked out Cornwall. I have spoken to Australians and did I not know they were truthful men I should have thought they were telling me fables regarding the mineral wealth of that land. Indeed, Inez, if it had not been for striking that fatal western lode three years ago I think I would have taken you and mother to that Southern land and made our home there."
"And could you not do so now?" she broke in eagerly, "why leave us behind?"
"Because there will now be enough left to keep you and mother in comfort while I am away, and without you I will be able to travel better in the rough country, and, I hope, make my fortune more quickly," he replied.
"I am not so sure of you making your fortune so rapidly as you think. I have read of Bendigo, Ballarat, and Forest Creek as places where gold was found in buckets-full, but those days are long since passed and you may not find the wealth you seek where now there are so many other seekers," Inez wisely answered.
"It is not gold I will go to seek at all, but tin, silver, or copper. These are the metals I know most about and from what I have heard Australia teems with such metals. In the thirst for gold the baser metals have not been sought, but believe me there is as great a wealth in tin or silver as in gold," answered Edward.
The girl said no more at the time, for there was something so emphatic in the manner of the young man's answer that it quite silenced her. Just at the moment a message came to the room that Edward was required, but before he left the room he took Inez in his arms and kissed her again and again passionately, and then without a word strode out of the room.
The young girl threw herself into a chair and for a minute or two sat with closed eyes. Then she muttered as if in deep communion with herself:—"I don't know that Edward is not right after all. A pauper's love, in spite of what sentimentalists may say, is really not worth having. At least I feel that love and poverty do not agree and I could not reconcile myself to it. Edward is brave and clever and in two or three years might do well in the strange land of Australia. Two or three years! It seems a long time to wait, but time flies, so it is said, and—well, yes I think Edward is right."
Her reverie was interrupted by Mrs. Trenoweth, who asked her to assist in getting the large hall ready for the villagers who would shortly arrive.
This was soon done, and the viands which were to form that evening's feast were ranged around. There were many who had lost dear relatives who would that day look upon food as a mockery, but others again had not tasted food since early morning and would be glad of nourishment. At four o'clock the hall was filled with the stricken people, and Edward Trenoweth addressed a few manly and kindly words to them.
He told them that his family had decided no one should suffer pecuniarily for the loss of their bread-winners. As far as the small fortune of the Trenoweth's would go, provision would be made for the widows and orphans of the deceased. Only a small allowance would be made for Mrs. Trenoweth and Inez. As for himself he feared he would have to seek his fortune in other lands, though he hoped not.
This was the gist of his address, and it brought fresh tears into eyes already dimmed with weeping. For generations the Trenoweths, as already said, were the chiefs of the little isolated community, and none of them were more beloved by their dependants than Edward and Mrs. Trenoweth.
Their generosity in thus making provision for the bereaved they could understand but to think that the last of the line should think of leaving St. Columb's was almost more than they could comprehend.
The Trenoweths were as much an institution of the place as the Cove itself, and as Edward spoke the last few words they stared stupidly at him as if they did not quite understand the full import of his words.
He saw their doubts, and hastily said, "Do not think of anything now, my dear friends, but our present position. You know we must do our best for the lost ones. Our Christmas must be spent in repairing the best shaft. I need scarcely tell you that I am afraid our task will be hopeless, but still we will be compelled to do it. In the meantime there is food and drink here. What you cannot eat take home with you. I thought this morning we would have had a happy gathering here, but—God's will be done."
"Yes; God's will be done!" fervently echoed several in the rooms, whilst above all, could be heard the suppressed sobs of those who had lost dear ones.
For nearly a month after that day the most strenuous efforts were made to recover the bodies of those lost in the Wheal Merlin. The government insisted on such being done, and no expense was spared. Divers were employed, but they could do little or nothing in such a depth of water.
A new shaft was sunk two hundred feet in a vain attempt to reach the top drive, but it could not be done as it was found that at high tide the top drive was covered.
In the course of the pumping operations two bodies came to the surface of the water in the main shaft, and they were the only two ever recovered. The Wheal Merlin was the tomb of the other fourteen, and there they will remain until the Last Trump sounds.
At last the work of recovering the bodies was given up, though not before Edward Trenoweth had been put to great expense. He immediately sold the machinery and plant, for the district was now thoroughly worked out. His next step was to make legal provision as he had promised for the helpless women and children, and he did not forget the other villagers who had to some extent been deprived of their means of living by the closing of the mine.
There was still sufficient for a small competency for Mrs. Trenoweth and Inez, and when this was secured Edward felt himself a free man and ready to face the world.
After the first shock of the catastrophe had passed, the young man soon decided on his course of action. He was naturally of a restless disposition and could not settle down to the humdrum life he would have to lead if he remained at St. Columb's.
The stories he had heard of far-off Australia made a deep impression on him, and he longed to be away to that El Dorado.
His love for Inez had not abated one jot, but he felt he must be able to offer her more in the way of wealth than he could in his now reduced position. Something in the girl's character—he could not define it—told him that she would not be completely happy unless she had wealth at her command, and he was determined that she should. This opinion strengthened him in his resolve to leave St. Columb's. His mother, when she knew his views, ceased her opposition to his resolution.
It was a fearful wrench to her tender heart to part from her only child, but Edward managed to persuade her it would be for all their benefit and especially for the happiness of himself and Inez.
She could not withstand this appeal, and it was soon decided that he should sail for Melbourne.
It was on the 12th of March, 1870, that he left his native village on his long journey. There is no need to tell the reader of the scenes which marked his departure.
Though the world was convulsed with the great Franco-German war such an event was scarcely heard of in St. Columb's Cove.
At any rate, if straggling, fitful gleams of news of the great struggle did break on the isolation of the place it was regarded as an event very trifling in its consequences to the departure of Edward Trenoweth.
The villagers gathered round him in tears after he had bidden a last farewell to his mother and to his affianced bride, and as he rode away they stood in a sorrowful group regarding him.
As he reached the top of the last eminence which would shut out his native village from sight, he stopped his horse, and, turning round, regarded the little place with tear-dimmed eyes.
"Ah, well—it must be," he muttered; and then, after the horse had made a few steps forward, St. Columb's and those he loved were shut out from his eager vision.
A week later he stood on the deck of the Celtic King, bound for Australia, and watching the fast receding shores of England.
Tens of thousands of voluntary exiles from their native land have stood upon vessel's decks and looked with dimmed eyes on the receding shores, even as Edward Trenoweth did.
Few, perhaps, had more cause for grief than the young Cornish miner.
He was leaving all that were dear on earth behind him. Mother and promised bride were all in all to him, and, in addition, dear old Cornwall, inhospitable as it was in many respects, was his country, and a pang smote him as he thought he might never look upon the rugged coast again.
Then a sense of his utter loneliness and isolation forced itself upon him and for a moment he regretted he had not taken the advice of Inez and brought her along as his wife.
The weakness was only momentary, for his native resolution and courage came to his rescue and he felt almost ashamed of himself for giving way, even for a moment, to what he considered selfish thoughts.
"Why should I drag her with me to a life of hardship," he mused. "Mother would have had to come too, and I think it would kill her to leave the old village. I could not leave her alone and I am sure I have done the best under all the circumstances."
Still, the uncomfortable thought would obtrude itself that he had not done the wisest thing he might have done, but he always stifled the idea.
As he was standing thus preoccupied and mentally oblivious to his surroundings he felt a hearty slap on his back, and, turning, encountered the cheery face of Captain Telfer.
"Your first voyage, my lad, I can see. You cannot keep your eyes off Old England and I'll bet you'll be looking in this way until we cross the Biscay—that is if you are able to stand up in a day or two," the skipper concluded, with an ominous twinkle in his eyes.
Before Edward could reply he went on, "It's rough over there,"—pointing with his right thumb across his shoulder—"and if it's your first voyage, my lad, I'm afraid you'll know what seasickness is. But it won't do you any harm—perhaps good; unless you die," he continued quite seriously, "and then there'll be a burial at sea. Worth seeing if you're not the principal performer."
Trenoweth by this time knew that the Captain was thus talking to distract his thoughts, and he could not help feeling grateful for the well meant attempt, though it took a somewhat gruesome form.
"I don't think my time has yet come, Captain," he answered.
"No, my lad, I hope you'll see many a long year of life yet. But you look so lonely, and I think are alone, as there was no one to see you off—that I thought I would come to your aid. Let us take a walk round and I'll show you the good craft that has to carry you to far."
The young man felt extremely pleased at this mark of the Captain's regard. There were over one hundred other passengers on board, and to be thus singled out was no slight honour.
During the tour Edward briefly told Telfer the circumstances under which he was leaving his native land. The Captain had heard or read something about the disaster in the Wheal Merlin Mine and he deeply sympathised with the young fellow in his misfortune.
Edward did not omit to tell him about his love affair—it was uppermost in his thoughts, and the bluff old salt did not hesitate to give his opinion on the point.
"If I had been you, lad, I would have married her and brought her out. You could have left your mother and your wife in Melbourne, or some other civilised place, while you went to where you pleased. I have seen a good deal, lad, in my time, and my advice is always to marry a woman when the chance comes. If she loves you no amount of 'roughing it' will shake that love, and if she is afraid of a little hardship then my advice is never to marry her at all."
The old captain looked as wise as Solon as he gave this advice and he appeared so preternaturally serious that Edward could scarce forbear to laugh outright.
As it was he checked himself, and replied:——
"I hope everything will turn out all right, and I did it for the best."
"Oh, I hope so too, my boy; but you know, 'There's many a slip between the cup and the lip.'"
With this rather Job-like answer he turned away to attend to some routine duty, and Edward, left to himself, sauntered amongst his fellow passengers.
It was quite natural that he desired to see those with whom he would have to associate for two or three months. Unless a man is an absolute misanthrope he cannot avoid making acquaintances on shipboard during a voyage from Liverpool to Australia.
A quarter of a century ago it was even more difficult to do so than today, for the time occupied on a voyage was twice as long. The ocean greyhounds of today make a great difference in this respect, and the tedium of the long trip is immensely relieved.
Yet those old three month voyages had their compensations. Acquaintances were struck up that produced lifelong friendships and led to important results.
As Edward sauntered carelessly up and down he noticed the usual mixed crowd that makes up every passenger list. Old men, with the weight of their years plainly stamped on their wrinkled features, rubbed shoulders with young men in the first flush of vigorous manhood, to whom the future seemed full of promise.
A close observer would have noticed that some of the passengers at least were not making their first voyage. Their businesslike actions and matter-of-fact way made this evident.
Others, again, by their cheerful expression, were setting out to rejoin the loved ones, but there was a goodly number—like Edward himself—who were evidently leaving home and kindred. It was the usual motley crowd to be met with in any assemblage either on or off a ship's deck.
He had not been strolling round more than a quarter of an hour when he came face to face with a young man whose good nature seemed to beam out of his countenance.
He was of stout build, about the medium height, clean shaved, and about 27 years of age. He seemed thoroughly at his ease, and as the two young men met he stopped and said, as he extended his right hand——
"It seems to me that you and I are not only sailing in the same ship but also in the same boat, so to speak, as neither of us appear to have relatives or friends on board. At least I have not, and I am glad to meet one in the same position."
Trenoweth took the proffered hand and shook it warmly, for there was something in the man's face which attracted him irresistibly.
"I am indeed like yourself. I do not know a soul on board, except the Captain. I am leaving kindred and friends behind me," Edward answered.
"Well, I am more fortunate than you, at any rate, for I am on my way to my native land and to my home. My name is John Barr, and I live in Melbourne," replied the jolly stranger.
"My name is Edward Trenoweth, and my destination is Melbourne, but I do not know a single person in that place. This is the first time I have left England."
"You know me," said Barr warmly, "and you will not be without a friend when you reach Victoria. I am glad to hear you are going to the same part as myself, as we can 'chum up.'"
It is a remarkable fact that hastily formed friendships—like love at first sight—are generally the most enduring, and so it was destined to be in the present case.
When John Barr and Edward Trenoweth thus made each other's acquaintance on the deck of the Celtic King they little knew how important the meeting was to be to at least one of them.
The veil of the future is not often lifted in these days to ordinary humanity, and the race of prophets seems to have died out.
The two shipmates strolled away together and with little difficulty managed to secure a cabin to themselves.
The Captain was, in fact, quite pleased that Trenoweth should have found so good a mate.
He knew Barr, for he had sailed from Melbourne to Liverpool on board the Celtic King, and was now returning by the same vessel.
Barr soon informed his companion that he was general manager of one of the largest firms in Melbourne, and he had been compelled to visit England on business connected with the firm.
It was of an important and delicate nature or he should have sent some one else, as he could ill be spared from the Melbourne management.
He also gave the young Cornishman a detailed description of the country he was going to, and dispelled some of the daydreams which Trenoweth had indulged in.
"It was a land," said Barr, "where there was room for everybody, and where the clever and industrious man in any line was bound to succeed and distance his fellows."
A great portion of the Continent was practically unknown, though intrepid explorers had for more than half a century pushed into the heart of the great unknown. Their tracks were, however, infinitesimal lines on the broad bosom of the land, and if the explorer ever did return his information was of little practical value. These researches were something like that of a flying column through an enemy's country. They made little impression even when they did succeed.
Now, however, the great army of settlements were moving steadily forward, and each year a portion of the terra incognita was being laid bare to the ken of man. From the regular settlements outposts were being thrown out and places which a few years previously had proved the graves of intrepid explorers were now the sites of squattages and homesteads.
Reports were frequently coming to the centres of population concerning the alleged finding of rich mineral treasures in remote and unsettled parts, but, as a rule, nothing came of the statements.
Barr expressed his opinion—though not as an expert—that in portions of the Continent immense gold, silver, tin, and copper fields would sooner or later be discovered. This, he said, was a very general belief among Australians.
This recital fired the imagination of the young miner, and he eagerly enquired how it was none of the deposits had yet been found in the interior.
Barr laughed as he explained what the interior of Australia really meant.
Without permanent water, practically unexplored, and devoid of means of communication, the isolated miner had little or no chance to compel nature to reveal her buried treasures.
He illustrated the difficulties by the tragic story of Burke and Wills, and Trenoweth little dreamt how near he would be in the not distant future to sharing the fate of the ill-starred members of the Burke and Wills expedition and almost in the same locality.
When Trenoweth told Barr his history—which he soon did—the Melbournite, with that keen discernment for which he was famous, at once saw that his companion intended to follow the life to which he had been trained in Cornwall.
Knowing this, Barr devoted all his efforts to describing the mineral resources and possibilities of the Continent, Tasmania, and New Zealand.
He was not, of course, a practical miner, but he had a large general fund of information on the subject. He had been born in Victoria, and lived in Australia all his life and was, therefore, a capable mentor of the hopes and fears of mining.
It was no doubt fortunate for Trenoweth that he met with such a companion, for during the voyage he acquired an excellent theoretical knowledge of the land whither he was going to seek his fortune.
Barr could have given him good employment in his warehouse, but that was not what Edward required.
Dull, plodding industry in that line would not make his fortune in a couple of years and enable him to go back to Cornwall and claim his bride.
The voyage passed as uneventful as it was possible so long a sea trip could pass.
On the morning of the 16th June, 1870, as Trenoweth and Barr came on deck they found a Port Phillip pilot in the act of boarding the Celtic King, and an hour after they were making their way through the dangerous "Rip."
A heavy mist had the previous day obscured the Otway, so that the first sight Trenoweth caught of Victoria was the Port Phillip Heads.
At 11 o'clock the same day the ship was berthed at the Port Melbourne Pier, and Barr insisted on his friend accompanying him to his pretty home at Essendon.
His arrival in Victoria was therefore a much happier one than he had anticipated.
His first act was to sit down and write a long letter to St. Columb's Cove, telling the loved ones there of his safe arrival in Melbourne.
As a mail vessel was sailing that night he had no time to describe the city in which he found himself.
The unassuming kindness with which the Barr family treated Trenoweth made the young man almost forget he was in a strange and distant land. He felt absolutely at home, save that occasionally he would miss the well-known faces of those he had left behind.
The programme he had sketched out for himself was a decidedly active one, but now that he was in Australia he felt bewildered as to how he should start to make his fortune.
It seemed that he had just as good a prospect in Cornwall as in Victoria, for neither gold or silver, or tin ore was to be picked up without labour—or, indeed, with labour—unless one was lucky enough to get on a reef or lode.
Barr advised the impatient young man to take matters easy for a week or two and become, as it were, acclimatised.
"There is no use moving before you are ready. Your time will come directly," was the advice of his friend.
On Barr's advice he also visited Bendigo and Ballarat, to see those historic gold-fields.
The firm of which Barr was manager had agents in every important town in Australia, and the letters of introduction which Trenoweth received to them were of considerable assistance.
At Bendigo and Ballarat Edward felt, if possible, still more helpless than he had done in the metropolis. There were fortunes, he was told, buried deep down in the bowels of the earth, but a fortune would have to be expended before they were reached.
Only a Crœsus or an army of shareholders were capable of successfully pursuing those carefully guarded treasures, and Trenoweth at once knew that in Victoria at least he had little or no chance of acquiring sudden wealth.
He also made a trip from Bendigo across country through Inglewood, Tarnagulla, Jones's Creek to Dunolly, skirting round by Moliagul and Berlin. This was the country of the great nuggets and Trenoweth hoped his practised eye might discover something that might be of use. This arduous tramp—for it was done on foot—was fruitless.
In fact the young Cornishman knew little about auriferous country, and he had to confess that the districts through which he travelled showed few stanniferous indications.
The day after he got back to Bendigo he was reading one of the local journals when an advertisement caught his eye which made him start.
It consisted of a few lines, and was as follows:——
"Wanted, four men, with a capital of £100 each,
to join advertiser in a prospecting expedition to
the northern part of South Australia.
William Grey, Victoria Hotel, Pall Mall."
As he read the notification over and over again, it began to dawn upon him that it was in the direction of prospecting unknown country that his only chance lay.
It was for that he had crossed the ocean, for it was utterly absurd to expect anything on fields that, if not already worked out, could only be exploited with the aid of expensive machinery and labour.
Barr had told him a great deal about the possibilities of the unsettled regions of the Continent, and he had not forgotten to point out the dangers which pioneer prospectors ran.
If the possible reward was great so also was the risk imminent, but men have staked their lives for a much smaller prize than Trenoweth had in view.
He had heard that the indications of metals such as tin, copper, and silver were often noticed inland, but prospectors were so eager in the quest for gold that they scorned the baser metals.
It was just in the latter that Trenoweth's skill lay and he well knew their value.
The Burra Burra copper mines had already proved a source of wealth to South Australia, and tin, for instance, was much more valuable.
As these thoughts flew rapidly through his mind he rose suddenly as it occurred to him he might lose his chance if he did not see Grey at once.
He imagined there would be a perfect rush of miners with £100 to spare to join the expedition, and hastily catching up his hat he inquired from the barman where the Victoria Hotel was.
"About a hundred yards to the south, sir. You can't miss it," was the reply.
With rapid steps he traversed the distance, and entering the place, inquired if Mr. William Grey was inside.
"He is, sir. What name shall I say?"
"Oh! tell him I wish to see him about an advertisement."
In a couple of minutes the waiter returned and politely asked Trenoweth to "step this way, sir."
Following his guide into what appeared to be the public sitting room the young miner saw a rough-looking man sitting at the end of a long table covered with the periodical literature of the day.
As Trenoweth entered the solitary inmate of the room rose, and with formality said:—
"I am William Grey, if you wish to see me. I am trying to form a prospecting party to search for minerals outside the usual area of such quests."
"I am glad to meet you, Mr. Grey," replied Trenoweth, "as my ambition is in the same line as your own. I wish to discover something that may be turned to immediate profit, and I know it is no use depending on settled districts for that. I saw your advertisement only a few minutes ago and I hastened at once to speak to you in reference to it."
Trenoweth was emboldened to make this rather long introduction by the appearance of the man before him. If honesty and industry were ever written on any human countenance it was certainly on that of William Grey.
A man of 48 or 50 years of age he was, grizzled in appearance, his rugged features yet could not hide the kindly soul that lived within. His horny hands gave evidence that he had not lived at the clerical desk all his life, and there was something undefinable in his clear eyes which showed he was a man to be trusted.
"Have you ever done anything in the mining line before?" was Grey's query.
"Not in Australia, I must admit," answered Edward, "but since I was a boy I have worked for metals in Cornwall, and my ancestors for well, I don't know how many generations, have done the same. In fact, the Trenoweths for seven hundred years have done nothing else."
"Oh? you are the very sort of man I want. Tin, I suppose you have been engaged at?"
"Yes, tin mining in the lode is what I am an expert in. I confess I do not know much about gold, as, until I arrived here a couple of months ago I was scarcely acquainted with auriferous country."
"Well," broke in Grey, "you are the very sort of pioneer I require. The districts which I desire to prospect are, I believe, more argentiferous or stanniferous than gold-bearing, and most of the colonials of today think about nothing else but gold. I put the advertisement which you saw in the Independent a week ago and though many persons have seen me not one have I selected."
"Why? How is that?" asked Trenoweth.
"There are many reasons for it. In the first place, some of them were not fit physically to undergo the hardships of such an expedition; for I must tell you," he added, suddenly breaking off, "that only the strongest could hope to bear the strain. It will be really as hard as a Polar expedition, with less of the comforts which usually attend such trips. Again, some of the applicants were destitute, and as I am not a man of great means I could not take them. Each member of the party must be able to provide his own kit and certain articles which are necessary to the party. The real secret of success in these searches is proper equipment."
"Well I, at least, can conform with one of your conditions," remarked Trenoweth, smiling, "That is, I have got £100 to spare."
"Yes; and if I am a judge of men you comply with the second condition. You seem strong enough to go through almost any hardships," laughed Grey.
"My heart is in the work, at any rate. If I thought success would crown our efforts I would really go through fire and water to attain it."
As he spoke Trenoweth's face lighted up with enthusiasm, for he thought of home and what success meant to him.
Grey eyed him keenly, but kindly, as he said:—
"I don't see why we should not succeed. I am no novice at this work. For thirty years I have scarcely lived within the pale of civilisation. I have been a companion to the aboriginal more than the white man, and one great advantage I have is that I know the interior as well as any person living. My mining knowledge is somewhat limited, or perhaps I would ere now be a Silver King instead of a struggling prospector. It is for that reason I want intelligent miners like yourself to accompany me to regions where I believe fortunes are to be found. You must clearly understand that the work is a dangerous and difficult one. We will be going outside the bounds of settlement, and if the season should prove unfavourable it may be that death and not fortune will be our lot."
"We must face that," broke in Edward. "I didn't come to this land to have easy times. I don't mind what danger and hardships we face if anything good comes from it."
"Ah! That is the way to talk," exclaimed Grey. "Faint heart never won fair lady, and timorsome milksops are not the persons to pioneer prospecting in Australia. I suppose," he went on, "that I may count on you as a mate?"
"Indeed you may," answered Edward, "and the sooner we get away the better I will like it. I feel that every hour we are here is lost."
"Oh, don't be too impatient," laughed Grey. "When you are as long here as I have been, and met with as many disappointments, you will take matters much easier."
"I have a reason for impatience that I may tell you of some day," replied Trenoweth.
"Well, so far you are the only one to answer my advertisement. We must have four at least to make success probable. I was thinking of having six, but we can do with four."
"It seems strange that you cannot get a score of men to go on such a trip. What is the cause?" asked Edward.
"The fact is, few miners who would care to prospect in such places as we will go have £100 to spare. Of course the expedition would not suit many men with wives and families, and though single men have come to me they have not had funds enough to warrant their inclusion. Depend upon it you cannot do anything much, even in the search for wealth, unless you have money to begin with," Grey concluded sententiously.
This was rather an item of information for Trenoweth.
That in Australia—the land of gold—half a dozen men could not be found with £100 to join Grey's party in the mineral quest seemed to him extraordinary. His ideas of easily acquired wealth which he had picked up in Cornwall were being rapidly dissipated, and the stern reality of colonial life was being forced upon him.
"If you can get a really suitable man for the party I won't mind finding his share myself," spoke Trenoweth. "For the sake of £100 we should not allow the expedition to fail."
"A couple of young fellows are coming to see me tonight from Inglewood. They wrote to me this morning, and from what they say in the letter I think they will be suitable. You might remain here and see them. If they accompany us you cannot make their acquaintance too soon," Grey answered.
Trenoweth eagerly compiled, and for the next hour the two men passed the time in conversation. The young man plied his elder companion with questions as to the physical features of the almost unknown country they intended to prospect, and the answers he received were clear, concise, and truthful.
At the end of about an hour the visitors from Inglewood were announced. Their names were Norton, and both of them were comparatively young men. The elder, Joseph, was about thirty years of age, whilst his brother Tom was a couple of years younger. They were really fine specimens of manhood and most of their lives had been spent on the Victorian gold-fields.
Their parents lived at Inglewood and were fairly comfortable, as the father and his sons had been lucky enough to bottom on a rich patch near Tarnagulla about a year previously.
They were just the stamp of men which Grey had been looking for. Bronzed with an Australian sun, their well-knit, yet lithe frames, showed they could endure no common hardships. Moreover they had the necessary capital, and within ten minutes of their entrance to the room it was agreed that they should become members of the Pioneer Prospecting Expedition.
It was not considered advisable to remain in Bendigo with a view to augment the prospecting expedition. The members came to the conclusion that four resolute fellows would have as much chance of making a discovery as a dozen.
A large party was not necessary for purposes of defence, as the aboriginals in the districts which it was intended to visit were not fierce or troublesome. In the far Northern Territory this latter aspect of the question would have to be considered, for there frequent murderous attacks were made on prospectors and explorers by the black cannibals of the region.
An important departure was, however, made in the original design of the expedition.
On the strong advice of Joe Norton it was decided to pay a preliminary visit to some of the islands in Bass's Straits, as he had heard tales of great mineral deposits that existed there.
An old "Vandemonian" was his informant. As the fellow had lived on the Straits Islands as an escapee it was probable there might be some truth in the statements made.
In the days of convict settlement in the southernmost colony numbers of escaped convicts, and even so-called free settlers, made their homes amongst the forbidding islands of Bass's Straits, and they had ample opportunities of testing the mineral wealth of the locality.
Of course, none but the richest finds would have been worked in the early times, as, through want of machinery, a market, and transport, it would not have paid expenses. In 1871 all this was changed, and mineral deposits which were valueless forty or fifty years previously were worth looking after.
Grey and Trenoweth readily agreed to the suggestion made by the elder Norton. Probably the Straits Islands might yield treasures sufficient to obviate the necessity of going into the arid interior of the Continent. At any rate, the trial was worth making, and if nothing came of it the original intention could be adhered to.
It was not an easy matter to reach the Islands which the party decided to prospect, as a vessel only touched at them once in six weeks. That, of course, only meant delay, and with the exception of Trenoweth, the members of the party cared little for that. They would require a few days to make their final arrangements, and, pending this, Trenoweth decided to get back to Melbourne and acquaint his good friend Barr with his intentions.
In a week's time a steamer would be sailing for Launceston and it would be necessary for the expedition to first go to that place in order to reach the islands.
These were under the jurisdiction of the Tasmanian Government, who despatched a boat every six weeks to them for the purpose of victualling the few half-castes who resided on them, and also a couple of lighthouses which were on the headlands.
The Government vessel carried passengers whenever they desired to visit the islands—a very rare occurrence. The fare then was £2 for a six hours' trip.
On reaching Melbourne Edward at once repaired to his friend Barr and told him of his contemplated trip. The latter did not oppose it, nor did he give the young man much encouragement.
He fully concurred in Trenoweth's assertion that it was of little or no use to remain in Victoria in the hope of picking up a fortune from the earth, but he warned his friend not to be too sanguine of his luck in other localities. More than one prospecting expedition had set out with high hopes for the unsettled districts, but in nearly every instance failure had met them.
There was no doubt immense mineral deposits existed in Central Australia, but the difficulties of discovery were prodigious. The Golden Apples of the Hesperides were not more jealously guarded than were the natural treasures of the Continent.
The bold adventurers who sought to win the prize of wealth would have to face dangers in the shape of sudden deluges or frightful droughts in trackless wilds in which Famine stalked.
Of all the inhospitable regions on the face of the earth Central Australia was one of the worst, so Barr said, and he impressed on his friend above all things to have a proper base of operations, and not penetrate too far into the wilderness unless full provision was made to get back again.
The region of South Australia in which the party were to prospect was really in the locality where Burke, the explorer, had perished ten years previously in spite of the precautions taken to prevent such an untimely ending to that ill-starred expedition.
This was the gist of Barr's advice, but Trenoweth pointed out to him—on the strength of Grey's information—that during the decade which had elapsed since the death of Burke considerable settlement had taken place in the hitherto wilds.
The "squatters," or large pastoralists, had pushed out into the interior, and even in 1870 a station was established as far west as Cooper's Creek.
This, of course, was true, but even with that possible aid in the way of nearer settlement it was certain that the prospecting expedition in their quest would be a hard one.
Barr laughingly told Edward that the firm had not yet agents in Central Australia, nor on the Straits Islands, so that he could not assist the party in that direction.
Of course this was not expected, and Trenoweth set about his arrangements for the trip. As it would be mostly carried out on foot it was necessary that no encumbrances should be taken save what was absolutely necessary.
Provisions for the island prospecting would be got at Launceston, and the nearest town or store to the fringe of settlement in South Australia or New South Wales would be their market place for those colonies.
The party had arranged to sail for Launceston on the 3rd of October by the Otago and on the previous day Grey and the two Nortons arrived in Melbourne.
They had already made their preparations for the expedition, and on reaching the metropolis they went on board the Otago and took their berths.
Barr made a present to his friend of the latest maps and information available relating to Australasia. He added to this a splendid compass, and the best advice at his command.
Next morning he went to the wharf to see Trenoweth off, and the latter introduced him to Grey and the two Nortons. Barr was very pleased to see the stamp of men that Edward had secured to accompany him.
"Honest and determined fellows," was his silent comment as he saw them for the first and, indeed, the last time.
They impressed him most favourably, and he took consolation that Trenoweth was in good company, and if the party did not command success they would at least deserve it. His few minutes' conversation with Grey convinced him that the leader of the expedition knew what he was undertaking to the fullest extent. He was an old bushman, and one who had experienced the terrors that surround the explorer.
As the boat moved off Barr stood on the wharf waving his handkerchief until the forms of Edward and his friends were lost in the distance down the river.
He turned away with something like a sigh, for the impression forced itself on his mind that Trenoweth would find Fortune still coy and elusive. Barr's colonial experience convinced him that only by patient industry could the fickle goddess be wooed.
Extraordinary luck, it was true, sometimes met people half way, but to one thus favoured ten thousand had to remain in the rear and go down to the grave as poor as they started life.
The Otago made the usual uneventful voyage across the Straits to Launceston. Neither then or now was the danger of this twenty-hour voyage of moment.
The passage up the Tamar was, in fact, more perilous than the run across the Straits, but as it was made at night neither Trenoweth or his friends saw the difficulties that in those days were met with in the navigation of that river.
At daylight on the morning after leaving Melbourne they found themselves alongside the Launceston wharf, and an hour after they were having breakfast at the George Hotel.
The appearance of Launceston put Edward in mind of some of the English towns he had seen, though it must be confessed he took little notice of the place.
In three days' time the Government vessel Flora would make her usual trip to the islands around the Tasmanian coast, and the four men knew there was little time to be lost in making their final preparations. They just made all possible enquiries as to the probability of minerals existing on the islands, and their hopes were to some extent confirmed by what they heard.
It was currently reported that considerable deposits of stream tin were to be found on Cape Barren and Flinders Islands, whilst gold was said to exist on Clarke Island which adjoined the two first named.
Some of the "old hands" also contended that silver was to be found on some of the islets, and the expedition were struck with the fact that whilst all this mineral wealth was lying so close at hand no one seemed to have the energy to work it. They afterwards found that they were wrong in this supposition, as spasmodic attempts had been made to develope the mineral deposits.
Close to Launceston a Mr. Burrowes had erected furnaces and concentrators for the treatment of tin, and a visit was paid to the works. On the mainland to the east of Launceston a considerable quantity of stream tin was found, and Burrowes treated it, and also purchased the metal. He expressed his readiness to do the same with any which Grey's party might find on the islands.
Every six weeks, he pointed out, they could send the material back by the Government boat, consigned to him, and he would give them the highest local market price for the tin obtained.
If none of the party cared to run over to Launceston he also expressed his willingness to act as agent for them in the matter of food supplies.
This latter was, in fact, a very important point. There was little or no food to be obtained on the islands. At a certain season of the year mutton birds could be easily caught, and no doubt some fish could also be hooked, but that would have been an exceedingly precarious food supply to depend on.
Grey thanked Burrowes for his offer, which was accepted, and the party on leaving felt they had done a good day's work by their visit to the smelting plant.
On going back to the town they set about obtaining supplies. A couple of sides of bacon and a barrel of salted beef, with half a ton of potatoes and a similar quantity of flour, formed the substantial nucleus of their larder.
A chest of tea, with sugar and condensed milk, was added; and last, but not least, a large sack of salt was obtained.
A quantity of fishing tackle was also bought, and a hundred and one miscellaneous but useful articles which would be needed. Before leaving Melbourne tents, clothing, tools, &c., had been obtained, and when the impedimenta of the expedition was placed on board the Flora it formed quite an imposing baggage train.
They were the only passengers, and, of course, they were viewed with some degree of curiosity by the officers and crew of the Flora.
Captain Forbes, who had charge of the Government vessel, had been running to the coastal islands for a number of years, and no man knew them better, so far as their topography was concerned.
He was perfectly ignorant as to their mineral resources, for he expressed himself as ignorant on that subject "as a cow about the orbit of a comet." This simile conveyed such an absolute lack of knowledge that Grey and his party thought it useless to converse with the captain as to their prospects in that direction, but they took full advantage of his general knowledge in other directions.
He told them that all the larger islands had a small population of half-castes, with an occasional white Government schoolmaster thrown in.
Some of the islands were only inhabited by two or three whilst as many score lived on others. In the early days of Van Diemen's Land many of the aboriginal inhabitants had either been forced to live on the islands by the settlers, or had taken refuge there from the bloodthirsty persecution which was made against them. The blacks had died out, but the white intermixture of half-castes remained, and they were in a sense wards of the more humane latter-day Tasmanian Government.
Captain Forbes stated that they were a really intelligent class of people, but they seemed to cling to their comfortless island life.
This was narrated as the Flora ran across to Cape Barron Island, and on the afternoon of the 8th October Grey and his party were put ashore in a little Cove between Clarke and Cape Barren Islands.
As the Flora drew into the tiny bay which indented the forbidding coast of Barron Island, schoolmaster Ryan and about a dozen of the swarthy residents were assembled on the beach to meet the vessel.
It was a rather important event in the life of the little community, for not only did the boat bring over a fresh supply of provisions but it also acted as letter-carrier with the outside world.
Even these isolated people were thus not quite cut off from civilization, for not only did a limited correspondence exist, but even a small trade was maintained with Launceston. This was in mutton birds, which were caught, killed, salted and sold on the mainland.
When the residents saw the newcomers by the Flora they were somewhat surprised, for the party were equipped in a manner which seemed to denote that they had come to stay.
With unfeigned delight Ryan bade Trenoweth and his friends welcome and pressed them to remain at his house for a day or two. The schoolmaster's residence was the most commodious on the island, and the dominie himself was anxious to hear news of other parts.
There was a small pier running out in the cove and the baggage or Grey and his party was landed on it. Ryan's house was half a mile away but willing hands soon transported the provisions to it.
"These are all my boys, and they are as honest as the sun," the chief Government resident said, pointing to the half-castes.
Some of the "boys" looked older than Ryan himself, but the party understood what was meant and they felt pleased at the evidence of affection which existed.
On reaching the cottage it was seen that the schoolmaster was married, as a vigorous looking woman was introduced to them as Mrs. Ryan.
Both Ryan and his wife were considerably on the shady side of forty, but they appeared perfectly contented with their somewhat solitary life. They had been on the island for sixteen years, and during that long period had not been absent more than half a dozen times for a few weeks.
There was a Miss Ryan, too, but she was being educated at Launceston.
Trenoweth had noticed a pretty girl come on board the Flora a few hours before the boat sailed and give a large package to the captain. At the time he thought it was Forbes's daughter, as he seemed so familiar with her, but he found out it was Miss Ryan, who never let the boat leave Launceston without sending some token of her love to her parents.
The old couple were proud of their "Nelly," and many times referred to her during the course of the evening.
Gray and his party were entertained with a rare hospitality, and they soon enlightened Ryan as to the purport of their visit.
The schoolmaster informed them that there was undoubtedly tin on the island and on others in the vicinity, but whether it existed in payable quantities he could not say.
For several years imperfect attempts had been made to develope the mineral industry, but it was not successful. Not being an expert he could not say what the cause was. He further stated that there would be no difficulty in getting from one island to another, as the half-castes had several boats large enough to cross them.
In fact, they occasionally made trips as far as Launceston, but such a voyage was risky, as if a storm arose it would mean certain death.
About three miles to the east of where he lived, Ryan said, was the most likely place to begin their search.
There was an abandoned hut there, which would be ample to accommodate them, and from there they could get at the heart of the most likely mineral district in the whole island.
The old schoolmaster also said that it was rumoured a half-caste had discovered a gold reef on Clarke Island, but he could not vouch for its truth.
He would, however, arrange that Grey and his party should see the man alluded to, and try what effect the offer of a small bribe might have upon him.
It was far into the night when Ryan and his new friends separated, and as Trenoweth slumbered he dreamt golden dreams and saw himself once again wandering through St. Columb's Cove with Inez by his side, and his mother looking out from the porch of the old house on them with happiness on her face.
Then the vision changed, and he felt himself shot upward as the fateful burst took place in the Wheal Merlin. All was terror and confusion in a moment, and he could hear the wild cries of the frantic villagers as they rushed to the doomed mine.
He was wrestling in his sleep when he became conscious that someone was laughing at him, and sitting bolt upright, he saw, as he opened wide his eyes, that his friend Grey was standing beside him and looking down in a somewhat amused manner.
"Why, Ted, you sleep soundly. I've been trying to rouse you for five minutes, but all the answers I could get were sighs and groans. There is a deuce of a wind blowing, so that we will not be able to do much today in getting our stores around to the hut."
Trenoweth, now wide awake, sprang to his feet with a forced laugh, as he answered.
"I was dreaming of home and love, Bill—and some more things that I would sooner forget. Whew!" he continued, as a gust of wind made the house shake, "it does blow here. I wouldn't care to be out in one of the open boats now."
He was interrupted by the appearance of Ryan at the door. He seemed considerably agitated, as he said——
"Two of the Clarke Island people are out in the channel, and I don't think they'll ever reach the cove. What the devil made them come over on such a morning, I don't know."
While he was speaking Trenoweth had rapidly dressed himself, and he hurried out after the schoolmaster and Grey.
Down at the end of the pier about a score of people were assembled, gazing helplessly at a small boat tossing outside on a storm-swept sea.
There were two occupants in it, as could by seen with the naked eye, but with the aid of an excellent telescope Ryan was able to distinguish the identity of the men.
"It is Charleston and Parsons," he exclaimed, "from Clarke Island."
"Can we do nothing to help them?" cried Grey and Trenoweth simultaneously. "They seem to have lost an oar, by the way the boat is drifting."
"What can we do?" answered Ryan. "They may manage the entrance to the cove, and then they would be safe."
It was evident, however, that the occupants of the open boat would not be able to reach the haven without aid. This was caused by the fact that one of their oars had been swept away. The sea was so rough in the comparatively narrow channel that it seemed almost a miracle that the boat was not swamped.
If it were once swept beyond the mouth of the cove nothing could save the occupants from death.
The cliffs rose abruptly from the water to a height of fifty or sixty feet, and there was not the smallest ledge or nook to which a possible survivor might cling.
The rollers dashed with tremendous force on the iron-bound coast and the small boat would not offer as much resistance as a nut-shell.
Trenoweth had been brought up face to face with the fury of the ocean on a wild coast, and old Neptune in his angriest moments had no terrors for him.
Most of the half-castes were splendid boatmen, and recognising the deadly peril of the storm-tossed waifs he decided to attempt a rescue.
There were several stout boats moored alongside the pier and with skilful eyes he at once selected the best.
In a few words he made his intention known to his mates and the schoolmaster.
Each of them tried to dissuade him from what they considered a foolhardy attempt, but he was inflexible.
Seeing his resolution and knowing there was not a moment to be lost, Ryan called the half-castes around him and asked for four volunteers to accompany Trenoweth on the attempt at rescue.
The latter would not allow Grey or the Nortons to accompany him. In the first place they were not such skilled boatmen as the island residents, and secondly, if lives were to be lost he preferred there should be some survivors of the white party.
With admirable courage nearly every man on the pier expressed his willingness to go out to the rescue. Ryan soon selected four of the best men, and within a minute Trenoweth and his swarthy companions had cast the boat off and were making for the open sea.
By this time nearly every resident on that part of the island had gathered at the cove and were watching with breathless anxiety the gallant attempt made by the rescue party.
The entrance to the cove was scarcely one hundred yards wide and a tremendous sea broke through it. The cliffs rose sheer on either side, and as Trenoweth looked at the passage his heart almost misgave him.
The oarsmen were, however, well used to the passage, and it was simply due to their splendid skill that it was safely negotiated.
As the boat sank into the trough of the sea after a giant roller had lifted it high up those on shore thought it had foundered. As it rose again on the crest of a wave just outside the entrance a cheer broke from the spectators, but it was unheard by those in the frail craft, as the roar of the angry ocean silenced all other sounds.
Edward was kneeling in the stern of the boat and directing the rowers towards the practically derelict boat. This was rapidly being swept past the entrance to the cove on to the treacherous cliffs, and the stout-hearted Cornishman knew it would be a hard task to intercept it in time.
Urging the oarsmen to the utmost be seized a line that lay in the bottom of the boat and made his way to the bows.
If he could only get the line to the drifting men and make it fast, they could then probably be towed into safety.
With such a sea the task Trenoweth had set himself was an extremely difficult one. Some of the waves stood the craft in an almost perpendicular position, but fortunately very little water was taken in.
At last the rescuers got within twenty feet of the drifting vessel, and Edward cast the line.
To his chagrin it fell astern, but hastily gathering it in he made another attempt.
This time success crowned his efforts, and with feverish haste the men made it fast to their boat.
By this time both craft had got dangerously near to the cliffs.
Those on shore thought it impossible that they could get off, and, seizing ropes, they made for the top of the rocks, to the point at which it was expected the two boats would be dashed to atoms.
They had a vain hope that perhaps they might be able to afford succor to those below.
When the rope was made fast Trenoweth ordered the men right about, and then the struggle for life began.
The hungry ocean was forcing them on to the cliffs, but they were not the men to tamely submit to such a fate. For half a minute at a time, in spite of the most strenuous efforts, not an inch of way would be gained. Then, as a back wash assisted, a little progress would be made. It was human skill and strength pitted against the power of the wind, assisted by the ocean, and the result hung in the balance.
At last it was seen that the boats were drawing slowly but surely away from the dangerous spot. If the men could only hold out a little longer victory would be theirs, but the strain was terrible. One of the rowers showed visible signs of exhaustion and Trenoweth at once took his place.
His unimpaired strength aided considerably, and the people on the cliff became almost frantic as they saw the boats were now out of the imminent danger, and were heading for the entrance. If they were swamped going through, rescue would be possible, as the boats would be swept into the cove.
The spectators now got back to the pier, and the remaining boats were manned in readiness to afford help should it be needed.
Providence, however, seemed to watch over the two boats, as they were safely brought into the comparatively calm waters of the cove.
Fully fifty people were assembled, and they gave way to their feelings of joy in a much more ostentatious manner than might be expected.
The two rescued men were especial favorites on the Furneaux Group of Islands, and as they lived in a sort of brotherhood it was as though dear relations had just been saved from a watery grave.
As Trenoweth stepped on the pier he was almost overborne with the crowd which pressed around to pay him tribute for his bravery.
Ryan, meanwhile, had taken possession of the rescued men, Charleston and Parsons, and, as they were thoroughly exhausted, he at once took them to his house, after asking Grey to bring along Edward and the men who manned the rescue boat.
Grey had made up his mind that little or nothing could be done that day in the way of prospecting. The abandoned hut where they were to make their headquarters was three miles to the east, and their stores would have to be conveyed there by boat. The rough and ragged nature of the country made land carriage quite out of the question, and until the gale subsided and the sea moderated they could not use the boats.
He meant during the day to make the ascent of a neighbouring hill and take a survey of the surroundings.
On going to the schoolmaster's residence with Trenoweth and the Nortons, they were agreeably surprised to find that Charleston, whose life had just been saved, was the man who was reputed to have discovered a gold bearing reef on Clarke's Island. This was good news, for the party now felt assured that the alleged discoverer would not hide any information from the man who had just saved his life.
Mrs. Ryan had prepared a good breakfast—her larder having been supplemented from the stock of Grey and his party—and the whole of the visitors had an appetite to do justice to it.
Ryan at once told the arrivals from Clarke Island the mission on which Edward and his friends were bent, and the two men gratefully expressed their desire to help the party to the fullest when they went across to their island.
Charleston readily stated that he had made a discovery of value and that he would show his friends as much as he knew himself. This was a cheering piece of news, especially for Trenoweth, who was fervently eager to make a rich discovery.
The castaways also narrated how they came to be in such a plight as they had just been rescued from. It appears that very early in the morning the men had put off to intercept the Flora, which was expected to pass.
The storm had not then arisen, and when they were about midway in the channel it struck them with great suddenness. As the wind blew from the south it was hopeless to expect returning to Clarke's Island, from which they had put off.
Their only chance lay in reaching the cove on Barren Island, and for this they made. The sea soon became very rough, and then misfortune overtook them, as one of the two oars they had was swept away. They were now practically at the mercy of the storm, but as they had a most intimate knowledge of the channel—having crossed it hundreds of times—they managed to steer a course which brought them opposite the cove.
How they were rescued the reader already knows.
As the day wore on the storm abated, and by sunset a deep calm had succeeded.
After consultation, Grey and his mates decided, now they had reached Barren Island, to thoroughly prospect it before crossing the channel to Charleston's district.
If the latter had discovered anything of value, a few week's delay would make little difference, and it would not be a wise plan to leave one place until its mineral resources were tested.
During the course of the day the party, accompanied by Ryan, ascended the hill already mentioned, but they did not receive much enlightenment from the visit. Away to the north and north-east great ranges towered one above another. They were on the summits mostly bare of vegetation, and presented tablelands or peaks of solid basalt. Bleak and dreary they looked, and afforded ample proof of the severe storms which so frequently swept through Bass's Straits.
For a considerable distance upwards the sides were clothed with a dense, tangled and stunted vegetation. In the hollows and gullies almost impassable swamps existed, so Ryan told them, and he also narrated some gruesome stories of prospectors who had ventured into the interior of the large island and were never heard of again. It was surmised they had been swallowed up in some of the treacherous swamps; for there were neither wild beasts, human savages, nor dangerous rivers by which they could have met their fate.
Some of these swamps were deep morasses, partaking of a quicksand character. Search parties sent to discover the lost men had found out this fact, for on two occasions members of the parties would have lost their lives had it not been that prompt assistance was at hand.
As well as he was able, Ryan, from the summit of the hill, pointed out the locality of these mantraps, and Grey took their bearings.
To the eastward, along the course of the channel, the abandoned hut which was to be the headquarters of the expedition was to be seen. It was built near the edge of the sea on a stretch of low sandy shore, and no difficulty would be experienced in landing their stores.
Next morning the water was sufficiently smooth to allow of a start being made. The men were all eager to test their luck, and nothing could be gained by remaining longer under the hospitable schoolmaster's roof.
A boat, owned by a resident named Burgess, was hired, and it did not take long to put the stores into it. Burgess himself was also engaged to accompany the expedition, and at 10 a.m. a start was made from the pier amidst the hearty cheers of those assembled.
Ryan promised to take a run round in a few days and see how his friends fared.
The pull along the cliffs was an easy one, as a slight breeze aided them on their way. Two queer-looking indentations were passed, which it was decided they should explore on some other day. Being heavily laden with the stores it was not thought wise to risk loss in running into them on that occasion.
Within two hours their destination was reached, and the building was found to be in a tolerable state of preservation. It was soon cleaned out, and the stores transferred to it.
Whilst Burgess and Tom Norton were engaged in making improvements to add to the comfort of their temporary home, Edward and his two mates made a tour of inspection.
They soon found that a considerable quantity of sluicing work had been done in the vicinity in the search for tin, and the indications of stanniferous deposits were very plain to the experienced eyes of Trenoweth. Long races had been made from a strong flowing creek in the vicinity, and a large area had been sluiced away.
"Either the work has been badly done, or the tin is not in payable quantities," Trenoweth remarked to his companions.
"We will soon test the point, now we are here. This seems rich enough, at any rate," he continued, as he bent down to one of the sluice-boxes and lifted out a handful of material that contained about 80 per cent. of ruby tin.
"Yes. If we had enough of that sort it would do," answered Edward, as he critically examined it. "But I would like to know how much stuff has been put through to get that lot."
Going along the creek they found it would be easy enough to get an unlimited supply of water for sluicing purposes. If after trial the material was proved to be rich enough to treat, the party had made arrangements with Ryan to obtain labour from the residents.
When the mutton bird season was out the islanders were practically unemployed, and would be glad to supplement their scanty earnings by mining work.
The watercourse mentioned came tumbling down to the sea from a steep range a little more than a mile inland, and it had force enough to drive the largest mill-wheel. The water was beautifully fresh and clear, and this was, of course, a distinct advantage to their little settlement. A hasty inspection showed that a weir could easily be thrown across the stream, from which their water supply could be obtained without fluctuation.
After a careful search for a ground, Trenoweth selected a piece within two hundred yards of the hut, and there it was determined to make a start the following morning.
The remainder of the afternoon was occupied in rigging up bunks in the hut and making arrangements to properly store the provisions.
A rough table and a couple of long seats were thrown together in a very short space of time by Tom Norton. He was a handy fellow—a sort of bush carpenter—and proved exceedingly useful.
That evening they dined in true camp fashion, amidst a solitude that would have depressed less stout-hearted fellows.
Joe Norton had a battered little piccolo, which he invariably carried with him, and as he could play fairly well, he charmed melancholy away as they sat outside and watched the shadows steal slowly up the scarped hills of gloomy basalt from the darksome gullies below.
There was an unlimited supply of firewood lying about, and a huge fire was made on the sand outside the hut.
The prospect around was not the most inviting that could be imagined, but that hope which springs everlasting in the human heart whispered tidings of joy to them.
Whilst Joe Norton blew on his reed to the approving nods of Burgess, the other three men reclined silently around, and built from the depths of their imagination golden castles in the air.
The one thing which sustains the poverty-stricken "fossicker," delving year after year in abject misery after phantom riches, is the ever-present thought that to-morrow perhaps a stroke of the pick might reveal to his exhausted eyes a "Welcome Nugget," or a "Molliagal Lump." Eternal hope sustains him amidst the reverses of fortune, but how often, alas! the "to-morrow" never comes.
Life flickers out and he sinks into the grave with a vague hope that to-morrow may yet come; and, perhaps, as old Charon ferries him across the Styx, he questions his grim conductor as to the probability of his bottoming on a "Jeweller's Shop" in the Kingdom of Shades.
So it was with Edward Trenoweth.
He was now face to face with the possibility of wresting a rich prize from Nature's lottery, and his hopes soared high indeed.
He was slightly disconcerted that others should have prospected the place before him and his companions, but he consoled himself with the reflection that they did not understand the work, and had gone away leaving a fortune behind them.
Burgess told them that the whole of the operations had been carried out by a fugitive from justice, and his son, who had spent a year and a half on the spot and had taken away eight tons of tin.
To the experienced Cornishman it seemed incredible that work of the magnitude he saw could have been carried out by a man and a boy in so short a time, yet it was not impossible.
The fact that nearly £800 worth of tin was obtained made it still more incomprehensible that work had not been continued, for it proved, if true, the richness of the deposits.
He got into a deep reverie as he weighed over the various possibilities which lay before him, and occasionally his memory would take him on wings of lightning across thousands of leagues of ocean to his far-off home in Cornwall.
He could see his mother and Inez—far clearer than his mates beside him—as they sat in the well-remembered room, and spoke of the absent one across the seas. Yes, they were speaking lovingly of him, and——
"By the mysterious Bunyip, Ted—not to use a stronger oath—you must be badly in love. I've been speaking to you for the last five minutes, and you haven't taken the least notice of me or my remarks."
It was Grey who thus interrupted his reverie, and Edward almost blushingly apologised for his absence of mind.
"Never mind, my boy," replied the leader, with a hearty slap on the shoulder, "you cannot have more sacred or better thoughts than those of home. But, by-the-bye," he continued, "did you think of home when you risked your life yesterday to save Charleston and his mate?"
"There was so little time, you know, but of course I did," Ted answered, deprecatingly.
By this time Joe Norton had blown himself to a stop and put Burgess and his brother into a sound slumber.
All the party had worked hard during the day, and, as sleep meant strength for the next day's labour, the order to turn in was given by Grey, who roused the half-recumbent slumberers.
Next morning the prospectors were out of their rough bunks before daylight, and Grey proved himself an adept at cooking. His damper was pronounced most palatable, and rashers of bacon cooked on the fire proved a luxurious addition.
The inevitable "billy" of tea was also brewed, and Burgess made them almost feel like gourmets by stating that he would be able to get them a stray mutton-bird or two for dinner.
These semi-marine birds are somewhat curious creatures. They make holes in the earth along the coast, like shallow rabbit warrens. The hunters put their arms into these excavations and seize the helpless bird, which is at once despatched.
The novice in the search is as apt to seize a venomous snake as a mutton bird when he thus plunges his arm into these holes, for the islands are infested with reptiles who make their abode in the retreats of the bird.
The experienced fowler can always tell by a very simple device whether a snake or a bird is to be found at the bottom. If the entrance is warm a bird is below, but, if cold, either it is empty or a snake is snugly coiled in it.
The mutton bird is very fat, and when properly cooked makes a very fair dish. It forms, in fact, the staple article of diet for the islanders.
After the early breakfast, Grey and his party at once started work by throwing a rough weir across the creek. This, by working at high pressure, was accomplished by nightfall.
The creek was only some twelve feet wide, but the strength of the current—through the rapid fall—made the construction of the weir a matter of some difficulty.
That night the prospectors slept the sleep of the weary. Even Joe's piccolo was silent, and the roast mutton-bird could not rouse the party to enthusiasm.
Next day the work of race-making was begun.
The water had to be carried a little more than one hundred yards, where a good-looking patch was to be sluiced.
Tom Norton was kept busily engaged making sluice boxes. There was ample material lying about for the purpose, and the prospectors did not scruple to make use of it. Sawn wood and several sheets of galvanised iron were stacked near the hut, and it had evidently been brought there from Launceston, or some other place, by previous prospectors. There were some old sluice boxes in the races, but they were of little use, and new ones were necessary.
It was nearly a week before everything was got in readiness for operations.
During the time, Ryan had made a trip across to them, and spent a day giving them what help he could.
Fully twenty tons of the likely looking stuff was sluiced through the following week, but the results were most disappointing.
The stuff did not average a half per cent. and was quite unpayable. Discouraged, but not disheartened, operations were again renewed, and for a month trials were made in different spots, but failure attended them all.
It became at last evident that they were simply wasting their time prospecting the place, and they decided to discontinue operations. Years after—it might be here mentioned—Trenoweth found out what caused the operations at such a sterile place.
A rumour reached Launceston that stream tin had been found at the place, and a couple of shrewd speculators, hailing from Melbourne and Hobart respectively, turned the rumour to profitable account.
They applied for a mineral lease, and, by means of "booming," successfully floated a company.
Operations were begun, and, aided by a few "cooked" reports, the original promoters—or first robbers, as they are now usually termed—unloaded their shares on a credulous public, who were left lamenting.
As soon as the real character of the "rich find" was discovered the duped shareholders summarily stopped operations.
They could not see the use of throwing good money after bad, as they put it, and they had practically no redress against the promoters.
The injury did not, however, end with the deluded company.
Rumours—more or less unreliable—got abroad that tin ore was to be found in large quantities on the Strait's Islands, and in after years many parties expended money and labour in its quest.
Though disappointed so far, Grey and his mates decided to launch out in a new line and prospect inland. There might be rich reefs in the almost unexplored interior, and, after little hesitation, it was decided to go right across to the north side.
Tom Norton and Burgess were left in charge of the hut and the remaining stores, and on the morning of the 16th November 1870, Grey, Trenoweth, and Joe Norton made a start from the hut due north.
They each carried a heavy swag of provisions, and, in addition to guns and ammunition, each man had a serviceable hatchet.
In some of the gullies through which they would have to go, the undergrowth was so dense and tangled that they would literally have to cut their way across, and the hatchets would be most useful.
The season of the year was quite favourable for the contemplated journey, as the weather was mild and dry.
The ascent from the coast was rather abrupt, and the first day's journey was a toilsome one. As evening drew on they found themselves near the summit of the great range which seemed to intersect the island from east to west. Selecting a sheltered glen, the party determined to camp for the night.
They had not traversed more than eight miles of country, but the route had been a rough one, and their prospecting operations had delayed them.
Every piece of likely-looking stone or rock was chipped to ascertain if it contained any valuable mineral, but during the day they had met with no encouragement in that respect. They were somewhat chagrined also to find that the ubiquitous prospector had preceded them.
In every direction there were visible evidences that the clipping hammer had been in use before. There was scarce a rock left untouched, and it was evident they must be following in the wake of previous mineral explorers.
The following day their troubles began in real earnest.
The tableland seemed to consist of a chain of morasses. Wading waist deep through these watery jungles was a most unpleasant experience, and, bearing in mind Ryan's warning about lost travellers, they had to exercise the greatest care.
They walked through these swamps in Indian file, each man taking the lead alternately. The mineral indications through this desolate region were practically nil, and their journey was apparently a case of labour in vain.
On the fourth day the party reached the northern shore, and in the misty distance they could see Flinders Island towards the Victorian coast.
They remained at the seaside for a couple of days to recruit after the arduous journey. Their food supply was getting short, but they supplemented it by fishing, several good hauls being made.
They decided to take a different route back, so that fresh country might be traversed. They believed that if a thing was worth doing at all it was worth doing well. It was quite possible that they might have passed rich mineral deposits which another route would reveal to them.
In pursuance of this view they travelled eastwards along the coast for nearly three miles, and then plunged directly into the interior.
If possible, this route was rougher and more inhospitable than the one they had come across on. The jungle was simply fearful, and the morasses more dangerous. The warm weather was also revivifying the snake world, and several narrow escapes were experienced. Recovering from their long hibernation the reptiles were hungry and fierce. Roaming in search of food the prospectors came across them every few hundred yards, and killed them until they were weary of the work.
It was on the second day out that they met with a hideous adventure, which well illustrated the perils of a prospector's life in such a region.
They were crossing one of the worst swamps they had yet encountered in their travels. A deep, gloomy gully, which apparently extended in length for miles between two steep ranges, had to be passed, and, contrary to expectation, it was found to be a quaking morass. It was overgrown by a rank jungle, tropical in its luxuriance, which had to be cut through in places to make a passage.
Overhead the thick branches met and interlaced, shutting out the sun, and throwing a deep twilight around the traveller.
It was Joe Norton's turn to take the lead across this place, and he was doing his duty manfully in the face of fearful difficulties. When almost across they reached a ravine which ran down the opposite range.
A strong stream of spring water coursed down it, and after cutting a way for itself for a short distance became swallowed up in the morass. After heavy rain a large volume of water was poured down the ravine, and it was only the roots of the tangled scrub which prevented a well-defined creek being cut in the swamp.
Norton was some six feet ahead of Trenoweth, who was immediately followed by Grey, when a startled cry from the leading man suddenly roused his followers.
Trenoweth had been walking with bent head to avoid the overhanging branches, but Joe's cry instantly called him to attention. At first, Edward thought his mate had stepped into a quagmire, or come into unpleasant proximity with a snake, but, as he looked ahead, he saw at once that neither of these suppositions could be right.
Norton was staring fixedly ahead, as if fascinated by some terrible sight, while, with his left hand behind him, he waved his companions to him.
In a couple of seconds Trenoweth was behind him, and looking over his left shoulder.
He could scarcely repress the cry which rose to his lips, but strangling it in his throat, he gazed speechless at the object which had petrified his companion.
Less than twenty feet ahead the torrent from the ravine had cut away a huge slice of the morass to a depth of nearly ten feet. The strata, or rather vegetable mould, stood out bare, as if only recently subjected to flood action.
Standing erect in the face of the wall, and protruding several inches outwards, was the perfect skeleton of a human being.
It was face outwards, and the horrible, grinning skull, which the water had washed clean to the bony frame, seemed to the astounded men sentient with a hideous life.
Grey had his hand on Trenoweth's shoulder, and, mute with surprise, the trio of prospectors stood silent for the space of a couple of minutes.
Grey was the first to speak.
"It may be the skeleton of an aboriginal, lads, who has been dead a century or two," he said.
There was a brief pause, and then Norton replied——
"No, I don't, think so. I believe I can see some clothes or rags; and what is that sticking out of the bank a couple of feet lower down? It looks like a piece of iron." As he spoke he pointed to a projection which they had at first mistaken for the root of a tree.
Their attention being directed to the object, they had little difficulty in seeing that it was apparently a piece of hollow iron.
"It may be the remains of one of those poor fellows Ryan told us about. How one man could venture to prospect in such a place as this, I cannot understand," he added, with a shudder.
It did not take Grey and his men long to recover from their surprise, and they soon took action.
"It would not be a Christian act to leave those remains there," Trenoweth at length said.
"Can we not give them decent burial?"
"That we can," re-echoed his companions in a breath.
The task was one of no small difficulty, however.
The bed of the little stream was very yielding, but once they got a footing—which they did by throwing in a few logs—they soon excavated the skeleton.
This they did with as much care as a scientist would exhibit in digging out some strange fossil from its antique bed. The projecting iron which they saw proved to be an old musket in a wonderful state of preservation.
Stranger still was the fact that on the side not exposed to the air and water the very garments of the dead man were found nearly intact. Two sovereigns, some silver coins, and a powder horn, and a jack knife were also discovered on the skeleton.
There were no papers to establish the unfortunate fellow's identity, but the powder horn and musket, which the party took on with them, were sufficient for that purpose.
When Ryan saw them he stated they belonged to a miner named Michael Brady, who had been prospecting on the island ten years before, but who had mysteriously disappeared.
Grey and his companions managed to get the skeleton out of the swamp, and, digging a rude grave close to a huge sheoak tree, they placed it reverently in.
A subsequent inspection of the morass convinced them that the solitary miner had got entangled in a sort of quicksand and been smothered. The washing away of the ground by the rivulet had laid it thus strangely bare.
After this the party did not waste much time in getting back to their comrades at the hut.
They were half-starved when they reached it, as their provisions had been exhausted for a couple of days.
No time was lost in breaking up camp, and the following afternoon they embarked in Burgess's boat and got back to Ryan's hospitable roof.
Their opinion of the valuable deposits of Cape Barron Island stream tin was certainly not a favourable one.
In fact, they began to think that they had been wasting valuable time in visiting the islands at all, and began to cast longing eyes on the possibilities that Central Australia presented.
There, at all events, were new fields to prospect, new possibilities of obtaining the wealth which they all so eagerly longed for.
Edward Trenoweth, particularly, with the feverish desire that ever possessed him to get back to England—and Inez—felt very regretful at what seemed the wasted time.
The non-success which had attended the prospecting operations on Barron Island was quite expected by Schoolmaster Ryan and most of the residents.
The old man told Trenoweth that if any really valuable mineral deposits existed in the locality he felt sure they would have been discovered long before.
The half-caste residents were keenly alive to the benefits which would result from such a discovery, and for many years they had not been slow to make search.
On Clarke Island the position was somewhat different, as most of the island was in the hands of a couple of men, and the population was exceedingly limited. It was nearer the mainland, also, and it was quite possible the Ringarooma deposits might extend to it.
Altogether, Ryan took a more cheerful view of the prospects on the neighbouring island than he did of his own district.
The Flora was daily expected to arrive, and Grey and his mates decided to wait the advent of the vessel, as they expected further supplies from Launceston.
They had not long to wait, as three days after their return to the old schoolmaster's the smart little government vessel hove in sight.
The next day was all bustle and confusion.
Supplies had to be got on shore, letters read and answered, and all the gossip of the outside world retailed.
The Flora remained for twenty-four hours and then left for other stations.
Burrowes, the Launceston agent, had sent the Pioneer Prospectors some needful supplies. Not only was the food supply pretty well exhausted, but their clothes were in a sad condition from the rough usage to which they had been subjected. Not all the skill of the most expert tailor would have been sufficient to make them presentable. Tom Norton fared best in this respect, as he escaped the trials of the overland journey.
The young men were considerably mortified, therefore, when one of the first to step ashore on the arrival of the Flora was Nelly Ryan.
Her parents did not know she was coming, for she only took the thought into her head at the last moment, on the invitation of Captain Forbes.
Edward Trenoweth and his mates certainly presented a woe-begone appearance from a dudish point of view. Their garments had been clumsily patched with textures of many hues.
It was comfort they wanted and not mere outside show, so Grey said; but even he felt that his coat partook too much of the motley as the young girl came to him, introduced by her father, to shake hands.
Trenoweth was, however, the most abashed, for he had been used, even in his quiet Cornwall village to study his dress.
Whatever misgivings the visitors might have had were soon set at rest so far as Nelly Ryan was concerned. She had been too much used to the rough life of the place to pay much attention to foppishness in dress, and she roundly declared afterwards that she liked her friends better in their variegated suits than in the "slops" which the Flora brought over for them.
Burrowes, it must be confessed, had little eye for a "good fit," and the result of his wardrobe purchases for Trenoweth and his mates was appalling to behold.
In spite of a vigorous but well-meant attempt on the part of the recipients to make their new clothes fit them somewhat different from the rags on a scarecrow, dismal failure attended them.
The two Nortons and Grey had a better sartorial knowledge than Trenoweth, but it was soon evident that none of them could trust to their tailor for effect.
The trail of civilization seems to hang over all, and even the stalwart, honest prospectors could scarcely rise superior to the goddess of fashion.
A sort of select dinner-party was given by Mr. and Mrs. Ryan in honour of their daughter's visit, and Grey's party made painful efforts to look presentable.
When they saw their host, however, clad in a rough Crimean shirt and unmentionables of the same rugged sort presiding at the table, they felt that they had been making an offering to Vanity, and in the general good fellowship they soon forgot their misshapen attire.
Not since leaving home had Edward enjoyed such an afternoon as that of Ryan's festival.
Most of the guests were half-castes, but they were thoroughly intelligent, good fellows.
As vis-a-vis Trenoweth had Nelly Ryan, and he certainly made himself agreeable.
The absence of formality and the honest faces of the guests made him think of his native village and similar gatherings that himself and his father had presided at, and this gave him a happiness that he had long been a stranger to.
The old schoolmaster intended his hospitable dinner to be not only a welcome to his daughter, but also a valedictory gathering in honour of Grey and his party.
It was arranged that, weather favouring, a start would be made next morning for Clarke Island. Burgess was under a standing engagement to the party, and he was to take them over.
The old fellow more than hinted that he knew of vast deposits of valuable minerals but they were in the far west of the Straits, fully one hundred and fifty miles from Cape Barron Island. As he had been fifty years roaming the Straits it was possible he knew of places worth prospecting, and it was agreed by the party to stick to him as long as they could.
His boat was a thoroughly seaworthy one, and no man living knew more about the navigation of the place than old Burgess—or, as he loved to call himself, "The Tasmanian Devil."
Since the rescue of Charleston and Parsons the coloured residents regarded Edward Trenoweth as something of hero, though it was really members of their own body who were chiefly instrumental in the rescue.
At the dinner, and, subsequently, they paid special attention to him, and they did not forget to tell Miss Ryan, in hyperbolical language, of the deed of daring performed by Edward.
He modestly refrained from referring to himself, but, on being questioned by the young girl, he gave her an account of the rescue, ascribing most of the credit to the coloured oarsmen.
Never did an evening pass more pleasantly.
Joe Norton's piccolo was pressed into service, and, with the aid of what might be called "the resident" musical instruments, there was no lack of harmony, and, indeed, it might be said, of discord either.
At daylight next morning the residents were astir to bid hearty God-speed to their departing guests and visitors.
The Ryans had an early breakfast ready—for the morning wind was favourable—and after it was partaken of the four wanderers bade their good friends adieu.
The boat had been loaded the previous day, and at 7 o'clock, amidst the sympathetic cheers of the crowd, the prospecting party put off from the little pier and soon got through the passage into the open channel.
Each and all had made faithful promises to some day pay a flying visit to the island but—Man proposes and God disposes.
With a single exception, they were fated never again to look upon the faces of the hospitable islanders.
The Ryan family stood upon the end of the pier waving adieu until the boat was lost behind the beetling cliffs, and a quarter of an hour after the flag-like signal of a pocket-handkerchief, wafted on the breeze from the top of the cliffs, caught the eyes of the boat occupants.
"I believe that's Miss Ryan waving to us," said Trenoweth, as he took out his dingy "wiper" and replied.
And Miss Ryan—for it was she—stood on the coast-summit and waved farewell to her new-found friends until boat and occupants were swallowed up in the misty distance.
The day was peculiarly favourable for the trip, and excellent progress was made, Clarke Island being reached shortly after midday.
Charleston lived about a mile inland, but he had seen the little craft making its way across the channel, and he was on the beach to welcome the occupants. He guessed it contained the prospecting party, and therefore his rescuer, and his kindly greeting soon set at rest any doubts the miners might have had as to their reception.
Clarke Island was not famed for its hospitality, for the "white man" had in former days been seen at his worst in that place, and his memory was not revered.
Charleston's parents had been victims to white rapacity and cruelty, and it might be expected that the son did not cherish kindly feelings to those he looked upon as his natural enemies.
Trenoweth had, however, saved his life, and all his enmity was forgotten in that action.
"Pull your boat right up here, Burgess," he cried to the party, pointing as he spoke to a small creek.
Burgess did as he was told, and it was found that the little stream was navigable nearly as far as Charleston's house.
The latter walked along the bank and chatted with his friends until the anchorage was reached, and then he assisted them to convey the stores to his residence.
Parsons and the two other residents had also arrived and gave their help, and in half an hour everything was transferred to the house.
Clarke Island, it might be here said, is very much smaller than Cape Barren Island and there was consequently no necessity to have a second base of operations, as in the latter place.
All parts were easily accessible from Charleston's house, and the latter, in fact, was practical owner of the island.
The storm-swept waters of the Southern Ocean, rushing through the marine gorge of Bass's Straits, is still further narrowed by the intervening islands of the Furneaux Group. The largest of these is Flinders, Cape Barren, and Clarke Islands.
The latter is situated nearest the Tasmanian coast, and the terrific currents—not to speak of storm-tossed rollers—which for ages have swept with irresistible force through the broken channel, has had a strangely erosive effect on the islands, and especially on the one named Clarke.
A similitude can nowhere be better found than that of Tasman's Peninsula, on the south-east coast of "The Tight Little Island." The great sweep of the Antarctic has hurled itself for thousands of years on that exposed coast, and even granite and basalt has crumbled beneath the Ocean Destroyer. Where the strata has been soft the hungry sea has eaten it out, and thus formed strange and grotesque samples of Neptunic masonry.
Capes Pillar and Raoul, the Devil's Blow Hole, and the Austral repetition of the Giant's Causeway, which meet the eye of the observer on every side as he sails round Southern Tasmania bear testimony to marine action.
In Ireland—that land of imaginative orators and brave soldiers, where every hill-top is an altar of liberty and martyrs might be found to-morrow—the peasantry erect strange and uncouth legends around each natural monstrosity.
The Giant's Causeway was built by Titanic personages of prehistoric origin, in order to wrest back a ravished maiden or wreak vengeance on an enemy who—like some of our latter-day boomers—were trying to "put the seas between them." "The Devil's Gap," in McGillycuddy's Reeks, is popularly supposed to have been made by Satan in a fit of pique at losing a soul. As a sort of soporific bolus he, therefore, bit out and swallowed a few thousand tons of basalt and thus made the gap.
There are a hundred other obvious cases in point in which marine or pluvial action is overlooked and mundane causes attributed to supernatural origin.
At Clarke Island the supernatural or diabolic might well have been invoked to account for some of the strange physical phenomena to be seen on the west line, but the prosaic islanders did not dream of such an explanation.
They had little else to do but watch the vagaries of the intrusive ocean, and they knew as one cleft after another became scooped out until it gradually assumed the dimensions of a cave that the marine rollers were responsible for it.
They did not understand the meaning of the word superstition, and with a light heart Charleston told his visitors that after they rested that day he would bring them to where he had made his discovery.
The prospectors soon found that Charleston had almost as comfortable a home as Ryan, and, like the schoolmaster's, his residence showed signs of permanency.
He was a widower, with a family of two sons and three daughters. None of the sons were resident on the island, but two of the daughters kept house for him. They were quadroons but excellent girls, and the comforts of the place were grateful to the travellers.
Charleston proved himself a capital host, and before retiring to rest he had sketched out the next day's work. Their journey would lie to the south-west on a promontory which jutted out a short distance into the worst part of the Straits.
It was there, Charleston declared, lay his discovery, and if there was anything in it his visitors were welcome to participate in the profits.
He said this with dubious air which struck Grey as somewhat peculiar, but, though the latter subjected his host to a somewhat direct cross-examination, he could not extract any admission going to show that Charleston had not made an important discovery.
The prospectors slept little that night, for the restlessness of anticipation filled their minds and kept slumber from their eyes. They were all in one large room, and for the greater part of the night they discussed the chances of their expedition on the morrow. None of them could quite understand why—if Charleston had really discovered anything of value—he had not long since turned it to account.
They were emphatic in the opinion that their host was not deceiving them in his statements, for there was no earthly reason why he should. One of the party had saved his life when it was in deadly peril, and the least the rescued could do would be to discard treachery. The problem was somewhat puzzling, but as one after another of the miners dropped off to sleep they entered the domain of Somnus with the sincere conviction that a valuable discovery awaited them with the dawning day.
Their host did not rise with the sun, and the visitors were out of bed a full hour before Charleston greeted them. Breakfast was already waiting them, and after they had partaken of it arrangements were made for an immediate start. The headland lay six miles off, so that they had no time to lose if they wished to explore it and return that day.
In order to provide against contingencies it was decided to take with them sufficient provisions for twenty-four hours. The weather was favourable for camping out, and if the exploration could not be made in the one day the next could be pressed into service.
At eight o'clock the party, accompanied by Charleston alone, made a start for the promontory.
The way lay over an exceedingly rough kind of country. It was barren in the extreme but the half-caste assured them that a few inches underneath the soil valuable deposits of vegetable gum was to be found.
This gum was considered much more valuable than the kauri gum of New Zealand, but through the out of the way position of the island it had been little worked. The gum was supposed to have been deposited ages before by the grass tree, which, at the time now spoken of, was almost extinct on the island.
Coming to a favourable looking spot Charleston began turning the rich mould over with spade he carried, and, sure enough, he was not long discovering a ball of the precious gum. It was about the size of a billiard ball, semi-opaque, and of a sherry colour. It was remarkably light, and according to the half-caste, could be used for a variety of important purposes.
The gum was given to Trenoweth as a sort of keepsake, and the party went on its way, some of the members thinking that there might be other natural deposits as valuable as gold, silver, or tin worth seeking.
It was near midday when they reached the neck of the promontory, or rather peninsula, for such it really was. They could see to south and west the ocean stretching out, and far away, in a south-westerly direction, a blue haze rose which Charleston said was the Ben Lomond ranges on the mainland.
The view was magnificent, but the fortune hunters had no eye for either landscape or seascape beauties. Though scarce a breath of wind was blowing, a long, heavy wash beat against the fantastic cliffs which formed the coast line. Thunderous echoes were occasionally awakened by the play of the waves in the caverns, and they sounded as weird as the death drums of the Sahara.
As the men walked further along the reverberations seemed to sound now and again right under foot. Charleston explained this by saying that in places the peninsula was quite undermined by the ceaseless action of the ocean, and this information filled all with a vague dread that the hollow earth might give way and swallow them up, like the wicked spoken of in the Old Testament.
The spot to which their steps were directed was a huge mass of jutting rocks almost on the extreme point of the headland. It towered, conical shaped, fully one hundred feet high, and spread out broadly at the base. It had evidently been formed by marine action, as it jutted out some distance into the sea, and was almost cut off from the mainland.
Charleston, of all the party, seemed to be the only one thoroughly familiar with the queer looking locality. Taking the lead he rapidly threaded his way through a maze of narrow intricate passages between the frowning rocks. In places it was almost as dark as night, and most ominous sounds came from below through the blowholes worn in the rocks.
"If it was anyway stormy we would have a job to get along here, as those blowholes would throw up water like fountains," coolly Charleston remarked to his companions.
"This seems to be the last place where I should expect to find a gold reef. The indications are, so far, quite absent," Grey at length said.
"It is certainly an extraordinary looking place, but for that reason we cannot tell what we may expect," replied Trenoweth.
By this time the party had gone a considerable distance through the huge pile of conglomerate, and a deep twilight surrounded them. Through occasional crevices and rents in the rocks gleams of sunlight descended, and illuminated in a weird fashion the grotesque and fantastic shapes in the caverns. The whole pile was honeycombed throughout, and it was apparent that at some period this excavating was done by the sea.
After penetrating for upwards of one hundred yards Charleston stopped and called up his companions. Just ahead there was a most extraordinary bridge of rocks over a chasm that seemed of enormous depth.
The eye could not penetrate its dark recesses, and it was to warn his followers that Charleston spoke to them——
"You must be careful here and imitate me. If you slip in there you may say good-bye to life," he said.
The narrow bridge of rock was slippery with moisture, and as he spoke Charleston went down on his hands and knees and proceeded to creep cautiously across.
His companions did the same, and when they crossed they found themselves on a terrace of rock which sloped downwards.
The wash of the ocean on the cliffs could now be distinctly heard, and it was apparent they were nearing the beach.
The appearance of the place puzzled the prospectors exceedingly, for it scented impossible auriferous deposits would be found in such a spot. The difficulties of transport and working would necessarily be so great, as to render operations so costly that little profit could be expected.
After going about sixty yards further down the slope the party emerged suddenly on a channel of the sea that barred further progress.
The scene around was of an extraordinary character. The channel ran from the open ocean between a cleft of two mineral rocks which rose sheer on either side.
At the spot to which Charleston had led them a natural roadway seemed to exist almost to the water's edge, but at no other place was it possible to reach the channel.
Although the day was calm the waters boiled cauldron-like in the mysterious passage, and in places near the end sharp rocks jutted out of the sides and bottom of the marine gorge.
The monstrous towering rocks threw a deep gloom on the water, and around the adjacent cliffs were in a dark shadow almost to their summits.
At first the gloom prevented the men seeing an object to which Charleston pointed but as their eyes got accustomed to the dim light a queer-looking, misshapen appearance like a gigantic grotesque rock seemed to bar the end of the channel.
It jutted out a few feet from the rocky wall which formed the abrupt end of the strange channel, and against which the angry water impotently threw themselves.
"That's where my gold mine is," Charleston said, with a laugh.
Grey suppressed an oath as he replied, "A gold reef there? Why, it's impossible, and I don't see any fun in such a practical joke," he concluded, with anger in his tones.
"I tell you there is enough gold in that wreck to make us comfortable for life, if we could only get it," Charleston answered.
"A wreck?" his listeners queried.
"Yes; that is the wreck of the Gellibrand, a little barque on which most of the gold stolen from the Nelson in Hobson's Bay was placed. The crew were apparently making for the Tasmanian coast when they were overtaken by a storm, swept into this channel, and death. You see what the place is like in calm weather, so you can imagine what it would be with a fierce southerly gale. The Gellibrand has been lying there for over fifteen years. I have located the wreck two years ago, but I have never been able to do more than stand here and look at it."
"But how do you know it is the vessel you say, and that gold is on board?" Trenoweth asked Charleston.
"My father saw the wreck take place. He was standing on the cliffs watching the vessel in distress. He saw it swept right underneath where he stood and disappear apparently in the solid cliffs. Two days after when the sea was smooth enough we pulled round in our boat and saw the strange channel. It would have been certain death to venture up it, and we decided to search from the land side for the lost barque. We did not know for a couple of years that the Gellibrand had gold on board but when we did we made further searches. We could not find the slightest trace of the missing vessel, but I kept up the quest, and by an accident discovered the passage through which I brought you today. Your ingenuity might help us to find means of getting at the treasure," Charleston concluded, looking at the prospectors.
"If you could not manage it, I don't see what chance we would have," Trenoweth replied.
Old Burgess appeared to be the most deeply interested in the strange discovery. With practised eyes he narrowly scanned every point from which the wreck might be reached, but the observation was not a satisfactory one. At length he said to Charleston.
"Have you ever tried to enter the channel?"
"Yes," answered the latter. "I made the trial once under the most favourable circumstances, and I narrowly escaped with my life. There is an extraordinary suction in it which would swallow up anything."
"If you are sure the gold is on board I wouldn't mind risking it," Burgess answered.
"The gold is there, but if you take my advice you will not try by sea. It might be possible by means of ropes to get down to the wreck, but you would have no chance in a boat," the man answered.
The gathering gloom reminded the party that night was approaching, and it would be necessary for them to get out of the labyrinth in daylight.
This brought the discussion to an abrupt end for the time, and the return journey was begun.
When the open country was again reached it was decided to go back to Charleston's house that night. There was nothing to be gained by camping in the vicinity of the wreck, as they could do no more the next day than they had done in the way of exploring the treasure ship.
Burgess, in fact, had fully made up his mind to enter the channel in his boat, and Trenoweth and Grey seemed inclined to bear him company in the hazardous attempt.
There was no more experienced man in the Straits or around the Tasmanian coast than Burgess. This was generally admitted, but Charleston spoke from experience of the imminent risk of attempting a passage as suggested. All his remonstrances, were, however, of no avail. The temptation to seek for the fatal gold seemed well nigh irresistible, not only to Burgess, but to Grey and Trenoweth, and they thought lightly of the supposed dangers.
It was late in the evening when their host's residence was reached, and all the party were pretty well fatigued with the journey over the rough country. They remained together, however, until a late hour, discussing the advisability of the proposed undertaking on the following day.
The party were equally divided in their views.
Charleston and the two Nortons were opposed to it, while Trenoweth, Grey and Burgess were as strongly in favor of risking it.
It was near midnight when the discussion ended, it being arranged that if the weather was favorable the three latter should leave in the morning by boat, while the Nortons and Charleston took the overland route to the scene of operations.
At daylight, therefore, the three men were in the boat and, dropping down the creek, were soon skirting round the coast in the direction of the headland.
The day could not have been more favorable for such a venture.
The sea was perfectly smooth and not a breath of wind arose to disturb its surface. The boatmen had a long pull before them, but on such a day it was almost a pleasure and not a task.
Half an hour after they put off the two Nortons and Charleston made a start. The latter was most apprehensive as to the result of the expedition. He made no secret of his fears, and took with him a couple of coils of stout rope, which he found at the house. On the way across he explained to the brothers the cause of his rather extraordinary anxiety.
It was quite certain that a remarkable suction existed in the channel, probably caused by the the fact that there was subterranean communication between the apparent end of the channel and the main ocean eastwards.
The only attempt he had made was in company with his father; and it was only after the most strenuous efforts that they got clear of the current which was sweeping them up the channel.
During the night he had decided on his course of action for the day. He would at least do what he could to avert disaster to his friends, to one of whom he was indebted for his life.
It was noon when the land party reached the side of the channel from which they had a view of the long-lost barque.
The Nortons were better able to observe the surroundings than they had been on the previous day.
They made the most minute observations, but their survey only confirmed them in the opinion that it was next to impossible, without elaborate preparations, which would involve a large expenditure, to reach the wreck.
Even then the labor and danger might be futile, as perhaps the vessel was thoroughly broken up and only the end shell remained. If so, the gold would, of course, be past recovery, as it would be swept away by the current.
Charleston, however, did not share this view. He felt convinced that the hull of the vessel was still intact and the gold boxes on board.
At best, it was all surmise, any way, for, from their position, they could not really tell much.
Charleston did not expect the boat party to reach the entrance to the channel until two o'clock, and the land party had thus a couple of hours to spare.
This time was not wasted, as it enabled them to see important points not previously observed. It was seen that various kinds of flotsam—such as sea weed, pieces of wood, &c.—were swept into the channel with great rapidity.
The strange part was that this stuff did not return. Evidently there was a passage somewhere to the outer ocean beyond the cliffs.
This fact suggested a course of action to Charleston, which years after was adopted by himself and Trenoweth with some slight success.
If a small cannon could be brought to the spot where the vessel was viewed from, it might be possible to dislodge her from the place she was jambed. The current would then carry the hull along to the open sea, where it could be secured.
It was probable that this operation might result in the loss of the treasure, but it left a chance of obtaining it.
While the land party were thus building up theories as to the best method of obtaining the gold, those in the boat were making their way around the coast as fast as they could. The pull was a long one, but the excitement consequent on the proposed attempt prevented them feeling fatigue.
The scenery was not of the most inviting kind, as where it did not consist of long reaches of low sandy coast, deeply indented with shallow bays, frowning cliffs met the eye. At times a piece of fantastic natural carving on the iron-bound coast relieved the monotony, but until they got close to the headland, in the recesses of which lay the treasure ship, the scenery was exceedingly tame.
It soon changed when they reached their destination, however, and at once became impressive.
Whether it was the knowledge that a ghastly tragedy had long before occurred amongst those pillars of granite and basaltic mounds, or whether it was the naturally forbidding aspect of the place, Trenoweth and his companion could not but say that they visibly felt the depressing influence of the scene.
Burgess, on the contrary, was as immovable as the Sphinx. He had been round the headland scores of times previously, and his familiarity had bred either indifference or contempt. Occasionally he broke through his taciturnity and intimated points of interest.
"We drove thirty blacks over that cliff in '36," he once ejaculated, pointing to a precipice about a hundred feet deep falling sheer into the sea.
"Drove them over that place?" repeated Trenoweth, in amazement; "why, they must have been killed."
"Of course they were; that's what we did it for. They'd have been killed if they did not jump, too," he added, with a fierce scowl.
Edward had not read of the frightful atrocities perpetrated on the aboriginal inhabitants of Tasmania in the early days, and he felt thoroughly horrified at the matter of fact slaughter of thirty unfortunate blacks.
Burgess laughed as Trenoweth expressed his feelings on the point, and said to the young man:—
"Why, that is nothing. We sent two hundred over a cliff at Circular Head twice as high as that place. It was the best day's fun I ever had. We pricked them with our bayonets until they were glad enough to jump.
"They were rounded on to the narrow promontory like a lot of sheep, and not one escaped. Oh, you should have been here fifty years ago. There was some fun then," he concluded, addressing himself to Trenoweth.
"Thank goodness I wasn't, if that's what you call fun," replied Edward.
Burgess chuckled quietly to himself, and nothing more was said on the subject, as they were rapidly nearing the point where the entrance to the strange channel should be found.
In former trips round the islands, Burgess had not observed the entrance, probably because he had not looked for it or had no reason for doing so. Now that he was aware that it existed, he had no difficulty in finding it.
The boat was kept fully a quarter of a mile out, and, in turning the last angle of the headland, the quick eyes of Burgess immediately caught the object he was in search of. It appeared like a huge cavern in the cliff. It rose in an arch about thirty feet high, and for nearly one hundred yards was roofed over by the cliff.
On getting in a line with the entrance daylight could be clearly seen beyond; and it was at once evident that this was the open space which they had seen on the previous day.
While the party were thus inspecting the strange opening in the cliff, they had ceased rowing, and were so much absorbed in contemplation that they did not observe that the boat was drifting rapidly towards the entrance to the channel. Burgess was the first to notice the situation, and they were scarcely one hundred yards from the mouth at the time.
"There is a strong inward current here, but, as everything is favorable, I suppose we had better make the venture at once," he said, questionally.
"You are the best judge of that," replied Grey.
While they were speaking the drifting of the boat was accelerating, and they were almost rushing into the cavern. Burgess seized the oars and tried to check the speed of the small craft. He soon saw that he was powerless to do so.
The boat seemed to be in the grip of a giant, and, after the first few strokes, Burgess, with a rather serious look on his face, said:—
"Well, mates, whether we like it or not, we must go into the channel now. Keep cool and we'll go through all right, though I don't quite like this current. It's the worst I've ever been in."
Even as he spoke a gloom fell on the occupants, as the craft was irresistibly drawn into the cavern.
Burgess noted with relief that the channel seemed to be clear of rocks, and their safety depended on keeping in the centre of the rushing stream. With extraordinary skill he guided the boat, the speed of which was each moment becoming greater.
Suddenly they swept out into daylight again and a long reach of water lay before them. On either side walls of rock seemed to reach the skies and almost meet at the top; and, as the party were swept on, they began to realise that they had been caught in a sort of trap, and that they were in imminent danger.
The old man stood erect with an oar in his hands, with which he kept the boat head on to the stream. His eyes were fixed ahead and his lips were tightly set. Courage and determination were plainly written on every lineament of his face.
From their position they could now see the dark end of the marine gorge and the mouldering bows of the Gellibrand, sticking out of what seemed to be a solid wall of rock.
Trenoweth was kneeling in the bows of the boat with an oar. He could see the jutting rocks near the end, and his object was to ward the boat off the dangerous rocks.
Grey was in the stern, and he likewise held an oar to render assistance.
Both the prospectors were now fully alive to their danger, and it broke upon them that chances of escape were small.
At the rate the craft was going on, she would inevitably be dashed to pieces against the rocky end. Even if she withstood the shock, it would be impossible for them to get back again, and they would have to perish in that awful gorge.
This thought almost unmanned the two men.
Suddenly a shout aroused them and, as they looked up, they saw Charleston and the two brothers Norton, who were standing beside the channel, not more than twenty yards ahead.
Charleston and Joe Norton had each a coil of rope in their hands ready to throw to the occupants of the boat. The channel at the place was not more than twenty feet wide, and the men on the bank called loudly to those in the boat to watch for the ropes and save their lives.
Their calls roused Trenoweth and Grey to full sense of their situation, but old Burgess seemed to be completely oblivious of danger.
"We are going to certain death, Burgess, let us try to save ourselves," Edward said to him.
"Tut, lad!" the old man replied; "I am going through. If you are afraid try for the rope."
"I do not see why we should wantonly throw away our lives," Trenoweth replied.
"Take my advice and come off with us," he pleaded.
By this time the impelled boat was almost abreast of the land party. Trenoweth had moved into the stern, beside Grey and, as Charleston threw the rope, both men seized it and jumped overboard.
Tom Norton helped Charleston, and it took their united efforts to pull the two men out of the channel.
Meanwhile, Joe Norton had thrown his rope to Burgess. It fell in the old man's hands, but he proudly declined to take hold of it.
"I'm going right through with it," he shouted, waving his oar.
As Trenoweth and Grey scrambled out of the water the five men turned their eyes after Burgess.
The boat had now swept amongst the jagged rocks with tremendous velocity, but the solitary occupant piloted it along with wonderful skill.
The onlookers held their breath as a moment later it reached the apparent end of the channel. Instead of dashing against the dark rock, it was seen to rise in the stern and then disappear.
As it did so Burgess made a grasp at the bows of the Gellibrand. For a moment he clung to a piece of timber, but it was rotten, and a second later he dropped into the seething cauldron and was swept out of sight.
A week later his battered body was discovered about three miles away on the open beach.
Trenoweth and his friends gazed silently for several minutes at the spot where poor Burgess had disappeared.
They were absolutely powerless to render any assistance to the lost man; and they keenly regretted that he should have thus thrown away his life, as it were.
"We can do no good here, mates," said Charleston. "Let us get away at once, as our friends cannot be comfortable in their wet clothes."
Taking a last look at the dark recesses of the gorge, the party silently turned away to retrace their steps through the dangerous and devious passages.
The disastrous results of the expedition were very strongly felt by Trenoweth and Grey. They considered themselves in some degree to blame for the fatal ending, as they would not listen to the advice of Charleston and so aided and abetted, so to speak, the action of Burgess.
If the old man had taken the rope thrown by Joe Norton, his life would doubtless have been saved; but it was too late to think of that now.
Life in the straits was somewhat precarious to those engaged in seafaring work; though, judging by the experience of Burgess, it was not a dangerous calling.
For sixty five years he had been about the coast, and though his escapes were many and narrow, he had avoided a fatality until that day. Though having led a wild and rough life for half a century he was widely respected and possessed many sincere friends.
By the time Charleston's house was reached the clothes on Grey and Trenoweth were quite dry, and, after an ample meal, they began to discuss their future movements.
They would not be able to leave Clarke Island for nearly a fortnight, as they had no suitable boat, and the interval they arranged to fill up by searching for the body of Burgess and doing a little prospecting. They did not hope for much from the stone in the district, but still something of value might be found.
If it was only gum, they need not be idle: and many parts of the island were almost unexplored.
Charleston was strongly of opinion that before leaving the straits a visit should be made to The Three Hummocks Island. This was a small islet situate on the western side of the straits, near Circular Head, and about one hundred and fifty miles distant from Clarke Island. The distance would not signify, as if nothing was obtained at the place it was on their way to Adelaide, whither the party was ultimately bound.
A boat could be got at one of the north-west ports for South Australia without much trouble, and they would have the satisfaction of knowing whether there was anything of a remunerative prospect on Three Hummocks Island.
Charleston was very anxious to find where the current from the channel gorge led to; for that it did come out into the sea again he was convinced. For that purpose, he decided to go to the south-west part of the island and camp for a few days. It was too far to allow of their returning to the house each night, and it would facilitate their observations if they stayed close to the beach.
Accordingly, a camp was made on the beach about a couple of miles from where Burgess was engulphed, and each day the beach was thoroughly examined for wreckage.
On the second day the searchers were rewarded by finding Burgess's boat stranded and almost uninjured.
Evidently the passage through which it had come could not have been a rough one; and this confirmed Charleston in his opinion that it might be possible, even yet, to get at the treasure on board the Gellibrand.
The position where the boat was found was carefully marked and an anxious search kept up for the body. This, of course, might never come ashore, as it might be devoured by sharks or destroyed in some other way.
However, within a fortnight, the remains of the poor old man were found not very far from the spot where the boat was found stranded.
The body was interred in the little cemetery on the island; and, this last duty being performed, Grey and his party felt anxious to get away into some more promising locality.
For another week they remained waiting, waiting for the arrival of the Flora, and during that period they thoroughly prospected the island, though with very small results.
When the Flora arrived they went back to Launceston, where they remained a week, after which they took passage for Circular Head.
The Three Hummocks Island was only a few miles from the latter port, and, on the day after their arrival, they engaged one of the small trading boats of the place, and, with a fortnight's provisions, were landed on the island.
This place was even more rugged and wild than the eastern islands. The great sweep of the Southern Ocean, which has eaten into the west coast of Tasmania, plays with full force on the Three Hummocks, and has reduced it to the condition of a granite islet. Huge masses of the imperishable material offer their resistance to the waves, and for centuries a war has been unceasingly waged between the two forces.
Whenever the soft strata existed it had been eaten out and strange, fantastic caverns formed in the walls and plateaux of granite. At low tide the occasional low stretches of beach presented a beautiful appearance, as the denudations from the granite have been washed white and are interspersed with glittering mica.
At the first sight of the island Trenoweth was filled with hope that valuable deposits of tin would be discovered on it, the appearance seeming to indicate the presence of that mineral.
The first care of the party was to select a suitable camping place as their head quarters, and little difficulty was experienced in this.
On the north-west portion of the island a beautifully sheltered spot was found between some cliffs and a couple of tents were pitched. Experience had taught them how to select the most suitable provisions for the expedition, and these were agreeably supplemented by plenty of fish. The waters around the island were teeming with excellent fish, which were easily caught, and Trenoweth acted as provider in this respect.
Next morning it was decided to try a few prospects from the debris on the shore, at the foot of the cliffs. The miners well knew that in such a position they would be able to obtain a fair idea of the composition of the rocks in the vicinity.
In almost every dish they washed excellent prospects of gold were obtained, but the tin yields were not satisfactory. This was somewhat of a surprise to them all, as it had been thought by them that the stone contained most tin.
A couple of days were spent in searching the small bays in this manner; but, with the exception of gold indications, nothing was obtained.
There was one peculiar granite formation near the centre of the island which looked worthy of closest investigation.
Out of a high cliff a peculiar wall or lode ran for fully half a mile. It was splendidly defined and over twelve feet wide on the average. At the place where it jutted out of the cliff it was ten feet high and looked almost like an artificially-built stone wall made to form a rampart.
As it ran further away it sank gradually until it became on a level with the surface and then it could be traced for a long distance. A quarter of a mile from the coast it dipped out of sight, but far down on the cliffs it could be seen running out into the ocean.
It was a true reef and apparently it had never been tested.
To this point, therefore, the energies of the prospectors were devoted for nearly a week. In places the results were disappointing, but in other parts magnificent samples of tin ore were found.
They were so rich that it really seemed worth while to work the lode in a thorough manner; and, had it not been for an unexpected obstacle, this might have been done.
Before finally deciding to remain at The Three Hammocks Island permanently, it was agreed that the most exhaustive tests should be made.
This was of the utmost importance, as, unless the lode was fairly permanent and extensive, it would be waste of time, energy and capital to remain on it.
For the purpose operations were commenced on a larger scale.
It was agreed to take out ten tons of the most likely looking ore and ship it to Launceston for proper treatment. A shaft was also commenced to lay bare a portion of the lode and ascertain its depth, or at least far enough down to make it sure of sufficient material being present.
The surface indications were very favorable to denoting permanency, but Grey's motto was, in this case, "Better be sure than sorry."
It would take a month at least to do the necessary work, and a passing boat was engaged to bring a further stock of provisions, Grey and Joe Norton going in it to Circular Head for the purpose.
On their return the whole party set themselves out for work and operations were vigorously pushed on.
The ore was found somewhat difficult to quarry; but, almost on the surface, good progress was made. In a week's time they had ten tons at grass, and then the shaft was run down to a depth of twenty feet beside the wall of stone.
The permanency of the lode seemed to be certain, though its patchy character was not promising.
About three weeks after their arrival on the island the prospectors received a somewhat unpleasant surprise.
They were engaged in the laborious task of conveying the ore to a little bay, so that it might be loaded without delay, when a boat hove in sight.
This, of course, was not an unusual occurrence, as quite a number of boats were kept at Circular Head for trading to Devonport and other places.
It was seldom any of them put into Three Hummocks, except for shelter, but this one made straight for the bay.
When the miners returned with a load of ore they were met on the beach by a little, old-looking, wizened man and two others, who seemed to be boatmen.
"What the deuce are you fellows doing here?" was the unfriendly greeting which the little old visitor gave to Grey and his mates.
"Doing a bit of prospecting, my friend," replied Grey, good-humoredly.
"I've not given you permission to prospect here, and you are simply trespassers—do you hear?—I say you are trespassers, and I order you to leave the island at once," returned the man, sharply.
"And who may you be?" broke in Joe Norton, indignantly. "If you were a little blacker I should take you for King Billy."
"I am the lessee of this island, and I could have every man Jack of you arrested for robbing me in this manner," was the reply.
"Oh, no, you could not. We hold miners' rights from the Tasmanian Government, which entitles us to enter any Government leasehold lands and prospect for minerals. You have no claim whatever to such minerals, as they are the property of the Crown," returned Grey.
"We shall see what power I've got. We shall see," roared the little man, almost furious with passion. "You are robbing me, and the state will protect me." As he spoke he beckoned to his two companions and strode towards the boat.
As he was getting into it those on the beach heard him order the boatmen to go back to Circular Head as fast as they could; and, as the craft disappeared round the cliffs, the prospectors looked at each other and burst into laughter.
"That is the first ugly customer we have met since we started out on our expedition; but he can't do us any harm," spoke Joe Norton.
They reckoned, however, without their host.
Next morning a Government official put in an appearance from Circular Head, and informed the astonished miners that, although the lessee could not prevent them prospecting, it was illegal to remove anything from the lease unless certain formalities were complied with.
"I suppose we can easily do that," said Trenoweth.
"Unfortunately, no," answered the official. "You must go to Launceston before you can obtain the necessary authority, I am sorry to say."
"That is awkward," spoke Grey. "But I suppose that there will be very little delay there?"
"One month's notice is required to be given."
The men looked blankly at each other. This would mean a delay of fully two months, and in the end the results might not pay expenses. Moreover, it was a monstrously vexatious system of dealing with men who were trying to develope the mineral wealth of the country.
"I wouldn't stop in the place five minutes," impetuously burst out Trenoweth. "If we are to be hampered in such a manner, the best thing we can do is to go to another colony."
"I think so, too!" the others replied in chorus.
The decision was acted on with a promptitude that quite surprised the Government official. On being asked if he would kindly send over a boat during the day to take them off, he courteously placed his own boat at their disposal.
Within two hours the camp had been struck and the articles placed on board, and they were on their way toward Circular Head.
Some of them were fated never to see Three Hummocks again.
The disappointment felt by the prospectors was of the keenest nature. It would not have been half so bad had the test been made and the ore found valueless. They would then have had the satisfaction of knowing what the lode was worth, but now they had neither the one nor the other.
From appearances, they were being debarred from exploring what seemed to be a valuable discovery; and perhaps they had only found it to be turned to advantage by others.
They had labored for over three weeks, and just as fruition was about to crown their efforts a miserable lessee stepped in and frustrated them.
The man only held a licence for mutton-birding, the official told them; and this made the matter all the worse. Had it not been for the fact that they had fully resolved on going towards the interior of the continent, they would certainly have remained on The Three Hummocks and got the necessary authority to remove the material.
The Government official sympathised with them, and stated that the Ministry of the day were even then engaged in liberalising the mining laws. He expected that before the session was over, the obnoxious clause which had just affected them would be removed from the regulations.
This was small comfort, indeed, to the checkmated prospectors; and they inwardly cursed the stupidity which had baulked them. It was such a monstrous absurdity to allow men to raise ore, but prevent them removing it for treatment from a desert island without a tedious delay for authority.
Trenoweth was the most disappointed of all the party, for he was feverishly eager to return to Cornwall and claim his promised bride. On reaching Circular Head he wrote a long letter to John Barr, giving him a detailed account of his wanderings since he had parted from him. He alluded to the treasure ship, but gave a graphic account of the dangers of the channel. He also asked Barr to kindly send any letters which might have arrived at the latter's place for him to the general post office at Adelaide, as he expected to be there within a week or so.
This duty over, he felt more at ease, and slowly the disappointment began to die out of his mind.
He reflected on the adage that "it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good," and thought that everything might turn out for the best.
He had a sort of blind infatuation as to the mineral wealth of the continent, and expected very great results to follow from the visit himself and his mates were about to make.
He took altogether an extremely sanguine view of the expedition; and, as he conversed with Grey and the Nortons, who were disposed to view in rosy colors the prospect before them, Trenoweth actually felt glad that they had practically been turned off the island.
They might have squandered the time on it without doing any good, and it was well they were now on the high road to their original destination.
It was ten days before they could get a boat for Adelaide, and the time was occupied in prospecting the dense forests at the back of Circular Head.
The country pleased Trenoweth immensely; and, in fact, he narrowly escaped finding the magnificent tin deposits of Mount Bischoff.
He and the other members of the party had got into the very neighborhood of the deposits the day before they had to leave Circular Head. Trenoweth himself obtained a splendid sample of stream tin, but there was no time to follow up the discovery. If they had had another week to spare it was almost beyond a doubt that they would never have left Tasmania on their terrible expedition.
As it was, Edward formed the very highest opinion of the west coast of Tasmania as a mineral district, and his knowledge afterwards stood him in good stead, as will be seen.
Returning to Circular Head, the Adelaide boat was caught, and in less than two days they found themselves in the pretty capital of South Australia.
The weather was terribly hot—it was the month of January, 1871—but the prospectors did not take much notice of small inconvenience.
The first thing Trenoweth did was to go to the G.P.O. and ask for any letters that might be there.
He was somewhat disappointed to find only one, but on opening it he was delighted to find it was from John Barr, and conveyed the brief intimation that that individual was himself in Adelaide, staying at the King William Hotel, and would be delighted to see Trenoweth and his friends as soon as they arrived.
Edward lost no time in going to the address given by his friend Barr, and the meeting between the two was extremely cordial.
"I simply came over on business to see our branch here. I run over two or three times a year," Barr said.
This was really true enough, but the present visit was made more to see Edward than to inspect the branch.
The fact was, that Barr had some misgivings as to the expedition on which the party was bent. The season was not a favorable one by any means, though one advantage was that during the preceding year heavy floods had taken place in Central Australia, and, as a matter of fact, nearly all over the continent.
This ought to ensure a supply of water but, if the reports in the press were to be believed, such was not the case. Lamentable accounts of the loss of stock were being continually published, and this was an ominous sign for a poorly-equipped prospecting party.
Barr insisted on Trenoweth and his mates having dinner with him that evening, and he took advantage of the gathering to have a serious argument with the members of the expedition. He plainly told them that they were risking their lives in such a season; and, in view of recent reports from the interior, it would be courting death to go to the districts indicated.
Grey, who spoke from experience, was extremely sanguine as to the outcome of the trip. He ridiculed the idea of danger and urged that never before had the chances of a prospecting party been more favorable.
Barr drew his attention to a number of clippings he had from newspapers as to the fearfully deplorable condition of the interior. It seemed he had cut out every unfavorable notice he could find as to the state of the out country, and he had quite an album full.
This mark of interest in his movements was not lost on Trenoweth, who silently thanked his friend for his solicitude.
Grey insisted that the reports were mostly false, got up by interested squatters to keep back settlement. He said it was an old dodge, as he had travelled through districts plentifully supplied with good water that had been represented as arid deserts at the time.
The old prospector spoke with such an air of truthful sincerity that his arguments almost carried conviction to the mind of Barr himself, and quite convinced his other listeners.
Barr saw that it was simply wasting breath to argue the matter further, and he wisely desisted and exerted himself to entertain his guests.
He remained in Adelaide for a week longer, and, as the prospectors did not wish to make a hurried start, they saw him off in the Aldinga, for Melbourne.
Trenoweth was somewhat disappointed at not receiving any letters, but Barr explained that there was yet scarcely time for an answer to reach him. Mail arrangements were not nearly so perfect in those days as they are now, and a few months' delay might be expected in getting a reply from so outlandish a place as St. Columb's Cove.
Two days after Barr left Grey's party started inland.
For close on three hundred miles they could use the railways, and this means of transit was availed of to the very utmost limit. They had a considerable amount of baggage, though not an ounce more than was absolutely necessary.
Grey's knowledge had been especially useful in this respect. He knew just what to take and what to discard, and the result was that only the requisites which could not be dispensed with were taken.
At Farina the railway was discarded, and it was then necessary to purchase horses.
Very much depended on getting hardy animals, for the work which would devolve on them would be of the most trying nature.
Camels were just coming into use at the time, but they were almost exclusively used for exploring purposes in the far north. They were very costly, also, and not easily managed by Europeans.
The Nortons were fairly good judges of horseflesh, and in a few days they managed to get half a dozen really good animals at a reasonable price. They seemed just the sort for the work required from them, and their equipment was soon finished.
In spite of the opinions held by Grey, it was apparent even at this stage of the journey that a great drought had fallen on the land. There was scarcely a blade of vegetation to be seen anywhere, and the fervid sun poured down on the cracked and scorched plains.
Fearful duststorms, revolving with cyclonic fury, were to be seen on all sides while the sun shone; and it was plain that if a change did not take place further north the prospectors would have an exceedingly hard time of it.
The opinion of the country people who were spoken to on the subject was that further north the effects of the drought were much worse.
That was only to be expected, as the rainfall, except in rare seasons, was always small and the heat greater.
Grey, however, still hugged himself with the idea that they would find the country in a better condition in the districts he had decided to prospect. He argued this because his former experience had led him to the conclusion.
His companions had full trust in their leader; and, as they had no far-inland experience of their own, they were fain to accept Grey's theory.
After a stay of a week in Farina, a start was made due north, towards Mount Attraction.
Little travelling was done during the daytime, but full advantage was taken of the moonlight nights, and good stages were covered.
The heat during the day was intense, and both riders and horses were kept out of it as much as possible.
There were a few homesteads to be met with on the route, and at these nourishment was obtained for man and beast.
There was not the slightest trace of food for the horses to be met with on the way, for even the salt bush, which had been growing in small isolated places, was entirely eaten up.
A fortnight after leaving Farina the uttermost fringe of settlement was reached and a plunge would very shortly be made into the unknown—or, at any rate, the unsettled—parts.
Without food for the animals, it seemed very rash to make the venture, but Grey was obstinate on the point.
At the last station, that of Mulwa, the manager was particularly emphatic in his warning to the party. He told them that it was simply courting death, under the circumstances, to go further inland. There was no food for the horses and the wells were mostly dried up. Even if there was water, there was nothing to support the horses; and, without them, the prospectors would have a very poor chance of either going ahead or getting back again.
This was the pith of the experienced manager's warning, but it fell almost unheeded on the ears of the miners.
Grey was deaf to reason, and the other members of the party were too anxious to push on to where fortunes were supposed to be to listen to the voice of warning.
They consented to remain at the station for a fortnight, to recruit; and the manager was in hope that during that time the weather might break up and rain fall. The hope was vain, however, for the heavens remained like molten brass; and when, on the 18th of February, the expedition started out from Mulwa, the country was scorching under the sub-tropical sun.
Anderson, the manager, and one of the boundary riders accompanied the party a few miles on their way, and gave them all the information which might be useful to them.
As they parted on the edge of a vast plain, Anderson's companion turned to him and said:—
"Well, sir, they be dead men."
"I am afraid their chances are small if they persist in pushing on. I did all I could to keep them back."
As Anderson spoke he turned in the saddle and took a last look at the four adventurers, who were then being rapidly swallowed up in the gloom of the coming night.
It was not without considerable misgivings that the prospectors turned their backs on civilization.
They could not disguise from themselves the fact that the season was unfavorable to their enterprise so far as they could judge up to the present. Without vegetation it would be extremely hard to make much progress. Certainly, they had brought along with them a week's supply of horse fodder, and before it was exhausted there was a probability of getting into better country.
They were all inclined to be hopeful, and each was imbued with a fixed determination to succeed if possible in the quest on which they had entered.
During the night they kept steadily on in a northerly direction, and for a couple of hours after sunrise continued their lonely march.
When it began to get too hot, they rigged up a shelter with the flies they carried, for there was no sign of vegetation as far as the eye could reach. The tents kept the direct ray of the burning sun off, and the horses were also sheltered.
Food was sparingly distributed to all, and also water, which had been brought along in large canvas bags. It was expected that a natural well would be arrived at on the following day. At least, the manager of Mulwa had so stated, on the authority of some blacks who occasionally visited the station.
Since leaving the fringe of settlement not a single aboriginal had been seen. This was a very bad sign, as it showed that the drought must be severe toward the north. The blacks kept near the permanent supplies, and did not care to venture across the vast, waterless tracts of country which were to be met.
As the day advanced the prospectors were treated to a typical summer experience in the interior of the continent. They lay panting under the canvas shade, which seemed to fairly glow under the red sun, while it broke in dazzling streaks on the heated plain.
In a score of directions whirlwinds of dust were rising heavenwards and making the atmosphere murky as though filled with smoke.
All nature seemed dead.
The horses hung their heads motionless, and it almost appeared as if the last day had come, in which the heavens were to be rolled up like a scroll.
The prospectors had brought along two thermometers, and they registered under the shade 116 degrees. This heat would have been simply unbearable, were it not for the extreme dryness which characterised it.
As evening came on the nearly exhausted men and animals tried to snatch a brief rest, but a hundred different sorts of insects filled the air and tormented them. Where they came from so suddenly no one could tell; but there they were, filling the air with a humming sound. In such a waterless district it was unusual to be thus invaded by myriads of the insect world.
Sleep was entirely out of the question, and it was agreed to saddle up and push on.
No one cared for food after the awful heat, and it was a positive relief to once again get on the march.
All that night they tramped onward. At times they dismounted and led the horses for miles.
When the sun shot its first rays across the horizon they began an anxious watch for the expected water which they were told was in the vicinity of where they now found themselves.
As the sun rose they saw nothing to indicate the presence of water, but they kept on, and at last they were rewarded by seeing in the not far distance slight signs of scrub.
For two hours longer they had to march before they reached it, and at first they felt that a disappointment was in store for them, and they had only come across the so-called waterless scrub.
This is a barren bush which flourishes on the most sun-baked plains in an extraordinary manner. Investigation seems to show that it lives by means of an unusually long tap-root, which penetrates to underground stores of water. It is a useless plant, being quite unfit for food.
After passing through the scrub a short distance, Grey, who was in advance, gave a joyful call to his companions to hurry up at once.
The inspiriting sound quickened their movements, and as they came up the leader was found standing beside a waterhole that contained about a dozen gallons of what might be termed liquid mud.
Bad as it was it gave them hope; and, dismounting, they got their shovels to work and soon scooped out a small well in the centre. The muddy water flowed into it rapidly, and as soon as a bucketful could be dipped out they began to give it to the horses to drink.
The animals were famishing with thirst, and drank an enormous quantity of the tepid fluid.
While Joe Norton was attending to this duty the others were busy erecting a more substantial shade than they had been able to get the previous day. The scrub was pressed into requisition for the purpose, and an excellent protection was provided.
Buckets of water were taken out of the hole and allowed to settle, when the liquid was drawn off and was fairly palatable.
Grey's bush experience had taught him that if there was any animal life in the vicinity it would visit the waterhole, and he pitched his camp where he could command a view of the place. He was not mistaken in his calculation, as towards evening a medium-sized kangaroo hopped boldly down to the edge of the hole.
Tom Norton was in wait and at the first shot brought the animal down.
This was a welcome addition to the food supply, as portions of the kangaroo are excellent eating. The portions that were not to be eaten at once were cut into strips for jerking or drying in the sun.
It was agreed to remain at the water for another day, as even the two nights' march had proved very fatiguing under the circumstances.
A wallaby was added to the larder during the following evening, and later on a start was made again.
So far the country passed through gave no indications of mineral deposits, but further on high ranges existed, in which it was expected prospecting might repay those who sought.
At daylight the following morning the adventurers were astonished to see on their left what appeared to be a vast inland sea.
A mist was rising from it, thick and heavy; and the men looked and rubbed their eyes more than once before they were convinced that it was really water and not a mirage they saw.
The country was flat, and Grey well knew what illusions are sometimes seen on the interior deserts.
There could be no mistaking this, however, for anything but what it really was, and Grey led the way towards it.
"I think it must be Lake Eyrie, though our course should take us further east than we are, if it be really that sheet of water," Grey said.
"Is it not better for us to be near water in such a desert as this?" questioned Trenoweth.
"Not such water as this probably is. It is salter than the sea, and more likely to produce sickness than health," was the answer.
"Salt! Ah, that alters the case. What a godsend a body of fresh water like that would be in this place."
"There would very soon be a settlement around if it were fresh water," answered Grey.
As they rode close to it a steam seemed to arise and there was a total absence of the vegetation that might be expected in such a place. Far as the eye could reach stretched a vast expanse of clear-looking water; but a glance was sufficient to show how shallow it was.
In places ripples marked the tops of mud banks just protruding above the surface and showing how rapidly the drying up process was going on.
The water looked so clear that Trenoweth could hardly bring himself to believe it was unfit for use, and he dismounted to satisfy himself. He had scarcely got within a dozen yards of the edge when he sank up to his knees in a sort of impalpable ooze.
Nearer the water he could see what appeared to be accumulations of pure salt, and he soon found out that it was really such.
The sun continually playing on the shallow water evaporated it and left the salt behind.
Finding that he would have to wade through such stuff, he was glad to beat a retreat, for the mud was semi-warm and not calculated to cool one.
As the spot where they first struck the lake was not a suitable one for making the camp, the party skirted along in a northerly direction until they came to a low scrub of what looked like a kind of salt bush.
Here a halt was made and the same kind of arrangements made as before.
The meat of the kangaroo and the wallaby was hung out in the sun to dry, and the horses were allowed to crop the shrubs before mentioned.
This they did for a few minutes, when they seemed to become satisfied.
A couple of hours afterwards the prospectors saw with consternation that the horses were affected by their new food. They showed extreme restlessness and irritability, and gradually got worse.
Everything possible was done to quieten them, but in vain. A sort of greenish froth exuded from their mouths, while their tongues lolled out in a helpless sort of way. Their eyes became bloodshot and filmed, and at last one of the animals broke away and galloped madly in the direction of the lake. In a few seconds it was followed by the others, and, to the consternation of the miners, all the animals floundered into the briny water and appeared to drink copiously of the fatal fluid.
Grey looked at the scene with a set face, and then broke the silence with the remark:—
"Our horses are lost, mates, and we will need courage and skill to save ourselves."
It was apparent to them that Grey spoke the truth.
The shrubs must have been poisonous, and perhaps were of the same species as those which killed Captain Sturt's horses on one of his expeditions.
After drinking deep draughts of the saline water the maddened horses plunged out further into the steaming lake.
The remorseless sun beat down vertically on the animals and the rays from the surface met those falling and formed a blinding heat which nothing but a salamander could long withstand.
Within two hours of the fatal plunge all that could be seen of the horses was their dead bodies floating in the shallow mud and water.
The four men looked on as men in a dream at the strange sight that was being enacted before them. They well knew that probably it was but a prelude to a greater tragedy, in which they would have to play the principal parts.
Considering the way in which they must be, fully one hundred miles from Mulwa station, and in such weather, it was improbable they could reach it.
They had only a single day's supply of water, and it would take a week to reach the station on foot. The stock of provisions was ample, though it would be difficult to transport it without the horses; but water was of greater consequence than food in such weather.
Trenoweth was the first to call his companions' attention to the situation.
"There is no time to be lost, mates. What is best to be done?"
Joe Norton looked up as he said:—
"The best thing I see is to try and get back to the station. We ought to be able to manage it."
"Yes," answered Grey, thoughtfully, "it is our only chance. We should be able to get back in five days, and if we are lucky we might manage. It might, indeed, rain," he added, looking up at the burning sky, as though to seek for hope there.
"Will we go right back now?" Tom Norton asked, anxiously.
"No; it would be the worst thing we could do. The heat would shrivel us up," replied Grey.
This decision was the most sensible he could arrive at, and he added to it by urging on his mates to look upon their position hopefully.
"You know," he concluded; "that if you give way to excitement or fear, it will increase thirst, and that is the enemy we must conquer."
He got out a little food and served about a gill of water to each man, and then they stretched themselves under their impromptu abode, and gave way to gloomy reflections.
The brave fellows had not a particle of bitter feeling towards Grey, however, although he was actually responsible for their being in their present unfortunate position.
For several hours the silence was unbroken. Trenoweth, for a wonder, slept soundly, and the rest was of great assistance to him. Notwithstanding the heat of the day, he slumbered on until aroused to help in packing the stores. He sprang to his feet quite cheerfully and fully refreshed, and looked with surprise on the worn-out appearance of his mates.
"Why, its near sundown. How I must have slept," he exclaimed.
"Yes; you have slept well, my lad," replied Grey, sympathetically; "and will feel the benefit of it tonight. I wish we all did the same."
Active preparations were now made to start. The saddles and other harness were left behind as useless, and only the straps were used in the packing. Everything was put in the most convenient form, and any article not absolutely wanted in the journey was cast aside.
Half an hour before sunset the party began to retrace their steps. They intended doing a long march that night, in the hope of reaching the waterhole before it was too late. If they could get a single bucketful there it would save them, but it was exceedingly doubtful if they could even squeeze out that modicum of fluid.
The distance was fully twenty miles, and the country was not easy to get over, but life or death depended on haste, and they kept up a good speed during the whole night.
At daylight they found themselves within two miles of the desired place, and in less than an hour they reached it.
The first thing they saw in the dried-up hole was a dead wallaby, that had apparently perished of thirst.
This was not a pleasant introduction, but they did not despair.
They took the animal out and at once began digging at the bottom, which was intersected by huge cracks in the baked earth.
Although not more than forty hours had elapsed since they got water at the place, it was now as dry as the Desert of Sahara. Several feet deep, they laboriously excavated, but there was not the slightest indication of water. The ground was perfectly dry, for the hot air had penetrated the crevices and sucked every drop of moisture up.
Still the prospectors worked on, for they all felt that their very lives depended on finding water.
It was near noon when they abandoned the task as hopeless, every drop of moisture seeming to have shrunk into the earth in terror of the heat.
The exertion of digging under such a sun caused an intolerable thirst to afflict the party.
Though any one of them could have drunk the whole supply half a dozen times over, they had to be content with merely moistening their lips.
A draught was entirely out of the question.
All save one tent had been left behind and spreading this over some bushes the wearied men crept under it to remain until the sun got low in the heavens.
They tried to sleep; but, worn out as they were, they could not obtain the rest which was so necessary to keep up their strength. For a while they tossed restlessly about and then, as if by a common impulse, they rose and made arrangements to continue on their journey.
Before going Trenoweth and Grey went and looked down the well they had sunk to see if perhaps a miracle had taken place and water flowed in.
It was as dry as a hearthstone, and they turned bitterly away.
Time was now of supreme importance, and it was agreed that they should travel day and night until exhaustion compelled them to rest.
Strapping their loads on, another sip was doled out, and they started about four o'clock in the afternoon.
Grey advised them to take a piece of the scrub along with them and chew it, but it was found to be so salty that it rather aggravated than allayed their thirst.
Through all the long night they went staggering on, and when morning broke they were on the great plain.
A halt was called, for they felt they must have rest; and the wearied men could hardly erect the sunshade.
Their lips and tongues were swollen and cracked, and in husky whispers it was decided to at once drink the remainder of the water.
Some of it was being lost through evaporation, and a frightful longing possessed the stricken travellers to quench the burning thirst which was devouring them as if in a furnace.
It was a pathetic sight to see Grey measuring out the precious fluid in a small pannikin, while, with eyes of terrific longing, his mates watched him.
The leader's loyalty to his comrades will be understood when it is said he reserved the smallest quantity for himself; and, as water carrier, he could at any time have drunk the contents of the bag.
The homœopathic draught had a reviving influence on the men, who were able to eat a little food after it; and then, one after another, they sank into a wildly-fevered sleep.
It did not last very long, however, for the heat was dreadful, and they awoke with bloodshot eyes and a sensation of choking. Their finger nails seemed to be cracking off, and their hair felt brittle as glass.
It was past noon when they awoke, and silently, they took up their loads for another start.
Without a word Grey took the lead, and, under the full force of the pitiless sun, they headed across the apparently interminable plain.
Sunset came, and with it a slight cessation of the heat; and, with the energy of despair, the doomed prospectors struggled on.
All that night the power of human endurance was exemplified, for the monotonous tramp was kept up.
When daylight came Trenoweth looked round as if waking from a trance, for he had only two companions. He looked hard at them to see who they were, and he recognised in a dim sort of way that they were the brothers Norton. Grey was missing, and Joe and Tom appeared to be quite unaware of it.
Half dead as he was, Edward could see that there was a look in the eyes of the brothers which seemed strongly indicative of insanity. The swollen tongues and lips of the men refused speech, but by signs it was decided to rest.
Mechanically the shade was put up and the three exhausted travellers crept under it.
In a few minutes Trenoweth had fallen into a deep sleep, which held him in a trance for hours. With a start he awoke to his misery, as night was falling on the earth, or that horrible portion of it where he then was.
He looked round in a dazed and stupid fashion, as if expecting to see others about him; but, save for a few buzzing insects, he was alone. He staggered to his feet and walked round the raised screen, but no human form met his wild eyes. He laughed to himself at his position. What an excellent joke it was to be left alone in such a place! How he would rally his comrades upon it when he saw them?
Yes, it was most amusing to have such a trick played on him; but, of course, it was only a joke. Ah! what about the water bag? Where was that? He must have a drink! He recollected in a sort of phrenzy, as he dashed madly under the screen where it was usually kept.
Groping on his hands and knees, he sought in vain, and in his search he scattered the contents of three swags which lay on the ground.
In his delirium he picked up a round tin containing preserved sheeps' tongues, and imagined it was full of water. With eager haste he brought his jack knife into use, and soon had the top of the tin off.
Seizing the tongues he slowly devoured them and also the jelly which was with them. They were very juicy, and were grateful to his parched throat, for the soothing effect produced partly restored him to his senses.
He again glanced round for his companions, but not seeing them, commenced a search outside. Then, in a voice that was more like the croak of a raven, called them by name, but no answer came.
The echoes of the hoarse call echoed over the desolate, parched plain, but those called were as mute as though Death had placed his hand upon them.
It would have been merciful if he had thus saved them from an awful, lingering death by thirst.
The stars were shining out brightly in a cloudless sky, and Trenoweth looked up to them as if in silent appeal for help and companionship. Then he stood like a statue for fully half an hour, until, as if rousing himself from a reverie, he went hurriedly back to the shelter and began doing up his swag.
With curious cunning, he carefully took with him half a dozen tins of the preserved tongues which lay about.
Then, recollecting that night was marching time, he sallied out, leaving the shade as it was, and started off on his lonely journey.
He kept on at a rapid pace all night, and when morning came opened another of the tins and voraciously devoured the contents, although he almost choked himself in the act.
About a mile to the east he could see a small clump of trees on the side of a conical-shaped hill.
Towards this he made and reached the grateful shade before the sun's rays became too strong.
As he stood under one of the stunted eucalypts and looked towards the summit of the hill, a keen desire possessed him to ascend it and see if human habitation could be seen from it.
He instantly acted on the idea and slowly began the toilsome ascent. It took him over an hour to gain the top, and when he did he saw he was on the edge of an extinct crater, which sank to a considerable distance.
As he looked into the abyss a fascination seized upon him, for far down below he could surely see water shining.
Yes! It was no delusion! The crater held a small lake in its centre which could easily be reached.
Who can describe the haste with which the suffering man descended to that which was more precious to him than all else upon earth.
In a few minutes he was beside the water and swallowing it as if he would drain the crater. It was a wonder that he did not kill himself, for the water was totally unfit for human consumption, and he must have drunk a gallon.
Nature, however, came to his relief and he got sick; a fact which no doubt saved his life.
The cool liquid, also, had an instantaneous effect on his blackened and swollen lips and tongue. In a few minutes they became soft and reduced in size; and, creeping under the shadow of an overhanging piece of lava, he again had recourse to the tongues. This time he ate them with a relish, and a few minutes afterwards he sank into a refreshing sleep.
The sun, in its westerly course, pouring its rays on the slumbering wayfarer, awoke him from his strange bed. He got up refreshed, though with a heavy sense of his desperate position, and decided to take a small drink of the volcanic water. He filled the empty tin which lay beside him and drank a few mouthfuls.
It had a most unpalatable taste; but a man in his position cared very little for such a trifle as that. After this he again filled the tin and then climbed up the crater to get another view of the surrounding country.
In fact, he had seen nothing in the morning save the water at the bottom of the crater, and once he had realised its presence he had wanted for nothing else.
The day, though intensely hot, was clear, and Trenoweth got an excellent view. To the west lay a vast plain, which he had a dim recollection of crossing. In a southerly direction the country was also level, while to the north it was broken by a couple of small mounts. Easterly he could see a great range of hills stretching for many miles and rising to a considerable altitude.
It occurred to him that this would be the most likely direction to meet with fresh water, as such an important range could not fail to have springs or affluents. He was quite lost as to the nearest way to civilization, but concluded that he would reach a station as soon to the west as if he went due south.
As he looked across the great plain he wondered what had become of his late mates and how he had managed to get so far to the east.
Evidently the party had been going in the wrong direction for some time, as, on the outward journey, no hills were visible at all.
It then flashed across his mind that Grey had disappeared a day before the unfortunate brothers, and he remembered the awful look of insanity in the eyes of Joe and Tom Norton. The whole of them must have wandered away in delirium in search of water and perished miserably.
Yet, how did he, the least experienced, go through the ordeal? It must have been, he thought, with rare lucidity under the circumstances, the splendid sleep he had on the banks of desolate Lake Eyrie, which fortified him for the trial.
This was undoubtedly the case, but a few minutes' reflection convinced him that his trial was by no means over.
He was sitting on the summit of a small extinct volcano, alone, with the shades of evening gathering round, in a desolate and (to him) unknown spot. It was simply another form of madness to congratulate himself on his escape from a frightful death, when all the horrors of it were probably before him.
The gathering gloom did not tend to inspire cheerful thoughts, but, with an effort, he shook off his heavy load of forebodings and got on his feet.
"If I only had a companion!" he cried, "I would not feel the position half so much. Yet, God knows, I must be selfish to wish a second person to share my misfortune."
Then, for the first time, his thoughts reverted to his home, and he wondered what his mother and Inez would say if they could see how he was circumstanced that evening in March.
"It is better they should not know," he murmured; "but for their sakes I will make an effort to get back to civilization."
As he spoke he went slowly down the eastern slope of the hill, with his swag strapped to his back and carrying the tin of water in his hand.
Trenoweth was absolutely ignorant of the district in which he was wandering, for the maps and charts had been carried by Grey, who had disappeared so mysteriously. The lost man felt a feverish desire to keep moving; and, as his faculties had not quite played him false, he kept in a fairly straight line.
One of the most remarkable incidents attending those lost in the awful Australian bush rendered delirious by thirst, is the well known fact that they wander in a circle and inevitably perish if left to their own resources.
More than one cause has been urged as the reason for this circular motion.
It is gravely laid down by scientists that the left leg of ninety per cent. of the human race is shorter than the right pedal appendage, and that when reason ceases to govern the physical movements a circle will be described by the wanderer.
It is more likely that the whirling brain of a delirious person is more responsible for the act than the first-mentioned theory.
One point is, however, certain, as it has been proved hundreds of times, and that is, that a person utterly lost, and with reason unhinged, will wander in a circle.
Another discovery which often gives a clue to the death of those whose skeletons are found long years after in the Australian deserts, is that persons suffering from the last pangs of thirst will invariably strip themselves of all their clothes.
This fact, which has so often received fatal proof, is more easily explainable than the former.
Deaths from thirst in the interior nearly always take place in the hottest portions of the year.
The suffering itself almost sets the body on fire, and when, in addition, the thermometer is at such a height, it makes one almost desire, as Sydney Smith said, 'to take off your flesh and sit in your bones,' it is little wonder that a sufferer from thirst divests himself of his clothes.
And, unless rescue speedily comes, this taking off of garments is only the prelude to the operation Sydney Smith mentioned. It is not long before all that is left of the man is a bleached skeleton lying on the interminable waste.
It was this terrible fate that overtook Grey and the brothers Norton. The great scorched plain, over which they had travelled with high hopes, had proved their grave. During the second night of the retreat, Grey's mind had become unhinged, and he had unconsciously wandered away from his companions, to meet his dread death on the tractless waste. The following day Joe and Tom Norton went off in the same way.
A curious fraternal feeling kept them together, even in death; for, six months after, Anderson, of Mulwa, hearing from the blacks that three skeletons lay on the plains, made a search. He had no difficulty in identifying two of the hideous heaps of bones lying within a few yards of each other as the brothers Norton. Papers and personal articles found in the vicinity fully corroborated the identification.
Less than two miles away the body of Grey was found; and the kindly manager, in the presence of the station hands, gathered up the relics and laid the three skeletons side by side in one grave.
It was two years later before Trenoweth heard of the end fate of his former comrades.
* * * * * *
As Trenoweth went slowly down the sides of the volcanic hill, with the darkness fast gathering round him, something caught his eyes in the direction of the far-off range.
It was either the rising moon or a fire.
It was several miles distant, he could easily tell, but it was a small stretch, considering what he had lately been accustomed to. As he got near the foot of the hill the light disappeared, and he rightly reasoned that some elevation intervened between it and him. As he got into the hollow the ground became rugged, and, as the moon had not yet risen, he decided to wait for better light.
This necessitated an hour's delay; but, though he chafed under it, he knew it was safest to do so. It struck him that if he met with an accident such as breaking his leg he would be in an awful plight.
It is said that there is nothing so bad but it can be worse, and Trenoweth reflected that, unfortunate though his lot was, it might be much worse.
As the moon rose he saw by the shadows it cast that he was wise not to go on in the dark. Huge jagged pieces of lava and scoria lay around and in some places there were abrupt plateaus of volcanic debris with a precipitous fall of six or seven feet.
This escape impressed upon him the necessity of caution, for the district he was entering was evidently a rough one.
As the moon got higher he was able to make better progress, and for several hours he kept on in as straight a line as he could make.
He was now beginning to feel the effects of the bad water he had drunk, and, as the night advanced, he felt so fatigued that he decided to rest. He was anxious not to go too far, through fear that he might overshoot the fire he had seen.
Sleep again came to his relief, though when he awoke, with the sun beating its fervid beams upon him, he did not feel much refreshed.
About a mile ahead was a thinly wooded eminence, and after trying to eat another of the tongues, which, however, nauseated him, he moved on.
He soon began to see that his strength was gradually failing him, but he had little difficulty in reaching the summit of the hill. He fully expected that from this point of vantage he would be able to make the important discovery that he was within reach of human help, but blank disappointment met him.
Several miles in front rose a peculiarly rugged mass of ranges, which towered far upward. They were broken into huge clefts and pinnacles, and apparently barred the way in the direction he wished to go.
Scanning the immediate horizon below him, he saw that it was a solitary waste.
The deep bed of a dried-up watercourse lay between him and the high range, but not the remotest vestige of human presence could he detect.
For half an hour he strained his eyes in the hope of meeting a breath of smoke rising from the fire which he felt certain he had seen on the previous night—but in vain.
There was sufficient shade at hand to partially shelter him from the heat; and dragging himself to it, he threw himself on the ground in an agony of despair.
He must have slept again, for when he recovered himself the sun was far down on his western course. He felt terribly thirsty and he eagerly drained the remainder of the water he had brought with him.
This only aggravated his sufferings, and the sight of the watercourse below filled him with the hope that he might obtain enough to quench his thirst.
Going down to it, he walked along the bed for nearly two miles, when he came to a deep depression, shut in by high cliffs. In the lowest place the earth seemed moist and he hastily scratched a hole in it with a stick.
To his infinite joy, when little more then a foot down, a tiny stream of water began to trickle in through a sand stratum.
He tasted it and found it was not salt, though rather brackish. He held the tin under it and took deep draughts, and then, for fear it should disappear, like fairy gold, he filled the tin and put it aside.
His life had again been prolonged—but for how long?
He decided not to leave his new-found treasure until next day, and as he looked lovingly at the tiny pool of water, a reflection crossed his mind which caused him to laugh a low, bitter laugh.
He had come out to seek for wealth, and here he was hoarding up a pint of dirty water as if it were the greatest and only treasure on earth.
In very truth, it was so just then.
He got up impatiently at the thought and walked slowly down the ravine, to see what lay behind the great cliffs which stretched for a few hundred yards and then ended abruptly. He must have gone for a quarter of a mile in a preoccupied fashion when he decided to turn back to the water.
He had got beyond the high walls and found that the bed of the creek ran through a small plain quite devoid of timber.
The prospect was not encouraging, and as he was going back, something caught his eye on the left bank of the creek which caused him to start.
It was like the flutter of a garment disturbed by the slight breeze which had risen.
With mingled feelings of fear and expectation, he went towards the spot, and each step convinced him he was about to make a discovery.
As he neared the place he began to realise what he had half suspected. He could see the form of a man stretched out on the exposed bank. In such a place, it could not be that of a sleeper.
The truth was soon apparent—the object was that of a dead body—dead, evidently, for a long time, though the sun had partly mummified the corpse, lying as it was, on a bare, exposed rock.
With something of awe Trenoweth drew near.
When the Great Reaper places his seal on humanity, there is something impressive in the sight, even to those not deprived of companionship. To the solitary prospector—alone in an unknown wilderness, and with Death haunting his footsteps—there was something indescribably dreadful in being thus brought suddenly face to face with death.
It seemed to him an omen of his own impending fate, yet he could not resist the fascination before him.
The dead man had evidently been a European and a bushman, judging by what remained of his dress.
It did not look, either, as though he had died of thirst; and, in fact, with water so close, that was not a probable solution of how he met his fate.
There are many ways of making the journey to the grave, Trenoweth thought, even in such a place as he then was.
As the young man took in the surroundings, he noticed that, clenched in the dead man's hand, was a large piece of rock.
Looking narrowly at it, he was amazed to see that it was, in reality, a magnificent specimen of silver ore—one of the finest he had ever seen.
Here, then, was a partial solution of the mystery.
Like himself, the still form had been attracted to the inhospitable place in the search for wealth, and he had found, not fortune, but death.
If he—the living—only knew where that piece of ore came from his quest would be at an end, perhaps.
After all, might there not be a special providence working in his favor to lead on to fortune?
"I don't care to rob the dead," Edward muttered, to himself, "but in this case I am surely not doing any harm."
With an effort at self-control, he knelt down and seized the ore. With a cracking sound the dead fingers released their hold and yielded up the rich specimen almost as Trenoweth touched it.
As if smitten with dread, the kneeling man rose to his feet and, with a last look at the body, hastily retraced his steps to where he had found the water.
Taking another long drink, he filled the tin; and, ascending the hill, walked away rapidly in the direction of the high ranges.
He kept on his journey all that night, only stopping once to appease his appetite; and when morning dawned he saw that he was in the vicinity of the rugged hills.
He had a queer sort of feeling that all was not right with him. Either the sun or his privations had affected his brain to some extent, he was certain, though the thought occurred to him in a dreamy kind of a way.
He did not pause when the sun rose, but kept steadily on towards the foot of the mountains. Perhaps they were the last barrier between himself and civilization, and if so he would soon ascertain.
At noon he was sinking with exhaustion, but a little water was still left, and this he swallowed and also ate a little food.
The sight of the rugged peaks in front inspired him with a false strength, and he began to climb one of the most forbidding of the pinnacles.
About half way up he sat down on a ledge to rest, but he had scarcely done so when he sprang to his feet in alarm.
The ore he had taken from the dead man's hand seemed to mock him, for all around he could see argentiferous stone. He had been carrying the piece in his hand, and he looked at it as if it had been a basilisk.
Then his eyes wandered to the rocks at his feet, and in a hundred directions a repetitions of the ore he held leaped up before his astonished vision.
The apparition was too much for him.
Worn out with hunger, thirst, fatigue and the awful nervous depression caused by his solitary and desperate position, he sank down upon the hard rock in a deep swoon.
For nearly an hour Trenoweth remained unconscious; and when he did begin to get better it was only a partial recovery. It seemed to him that he must have been dreaming, for he felt certain that Grey was standing over him and speaking.
Then it would be the faces of the brothers Norton he recognised and, of course, he knew what they were saying to him. They wanted him to pack up and make another start, so that Mulwa station could be reached before all the water gave out.
Water! Ah! Water! He could feel the thirst just then; and yet there was plenty of water—pure, limpid streams flowed around—but, like Tantalus, he could not quench his thirst.
In another moment the streams of crystal water would be transformed into solid masses of silver ore, and he would feel that at last fortune had smiled upon him, even as he slept.
The form of Inez Jasper rose before him and he was just stepping forward to playfully greet her when a hideous spectre came between them and beckoned him back. He shrank away in terror, for the spectre took the form of the dead whom he robbed of the ore.
Quick as imagination changes her mental panorama, the slide of memory would shift and new pictures unfold themselves.
He was standing on Cape Barren Island and Nelly Ryan was laughing merrily at him. A moment later he was looking with horror at old Burgess being engulphed in the marine gorge; and so the mnemonic kaleidoscope went on.
At last he felt certain that Grey was standing over him, but as he looked the face appeared to be of shining blackness.
Yes, it was a black face that was looking down.
Struggling to a sitting posture, his mental vision cleared somewhat, and he saw a hideously ugly aboriginal leaning on a spear a few feet away. For a moment a fear came over Trenoweth, but it speedily vanished, and he laughed quietly to himself at his strange position. Evidently he was not in his right mind altogether.
The blackfellow spoke some unintelligible words to the sitting man, who only stared back. Then the native turned and pointed into the valley, and, making a step forward, motioned to Trenoweth to follow him. The latter struggled to his feet and, docile as a child, did as he was bidden.
Here was human companionship, at any rate; and perhaps it was that wondrous sympathy, a touch of which makes the whole world kin, that told the forlorn Cornishman that he had met a sable brother in the companion he was now following.
As he walked away from the spot on which he had sunk unconscious, Trenoweth did not dream that he was leaving the greatest silver deposit the world had ever seen.
Yes, strange irony of fate, he had all unconsciously hit upon the famous Broken Hill lode for the first time. His overwrought mind had given way under the strain, for the face of the dead man, lying on the bank of the creek was ever before him.
When his eyes rested on the mass of silver ore he thought it must be an hallucination and not reality.
Had his mind been a little stronger he'd have found his fortune and started Broken Hill ten years before the mineral treasures of that region were made generally known to the world.
The lofty hills which had caught Trenoweth's eyes from the volcanic peak were, in fact, the Stanley or, as they are now known, Barrier Ranges.
The desolate man did not dream that in a few short years that rugged wilderness would be overrun with tens of thousands of eager men and that the hum of industry would resound night and day amongst the hills. Yet so it was.
The treasures of Broken Hill had been within the grasp of Edward Trenoweth, but he had failed to retain them.
The tall aboriginal led the way cautiously down the rugged sides of the mount, and Edward followed without a word.
As they came near the bottom the guide branched to the left and, turning a huge overhanging rock, Trenoweth found himself almost in the centre of a camp containing as near as he could guess ten Aboriginals. There were two gins, five children and three males.
They manifested little surprise at seeing the white, or, at least, if they did Trenoweth was not in a state to notice it. His kindly guide led him to the centre of the camp and motioned him to sit on a log lying there.
A terrible thirst was eating up the young man, and, as if an inspiration had seized him, he put his hand to his mouth and pointed to his throat.
The tall black apparently understood the sign, for going to where there was a small cavern in an adjacent rock, he took out what appeared to be a huge hollow knot of wood and brought it to Edward. It was full of fairly good water, and the thirsty man seized it with avidity, half draining its contents.
The owners made not demur, and when it was handed back the sable host returned with some food on a white piece of bark, which the recipient thought must be fish, it tasted so delicious; and the hungry man devoured it eagerly.
It is said that what the eye don't see the heart don't grieve about, and Trenoweth would probably not have relished his meal so much had he known that his dish consisted of roasted snake.
He still had a couple of tins of tongues left, and opening one of them he invited his host to partake of them.
These nutritious preserved tongues had palled on the young man's appetite, but the blacks did not seem much surprised at the articles of food.
They were a little taken aback at the way in which they were stored in the tin, but the flavor appeared to be quite familiar to them.
It was certainly not the first time those in camp had tasted such delicacies, for they were a portion of the Barcoo tribe, and sheep stations extended right back to that remote continental river.
After his draught of good water Trenoweth began to collect his scattered senses. He could see that he had fallen in with friendly blacks, and he felt that a great danger had passed away from him.
Perhaps his dusky friends would be able to bring him back to civilization. And even if they could not, he would be to some extent secure from hunger and thirst. Whether he could live as the aboriginals did he scarcely cared to consider; but, at any rate, there was something so infinitely comforting in the reflection that he was not now a solitary wanderer, that he was inclined to take a roseate view of his position.
As evening approached—though the heat was intense—the blacks made a fire and, as it blazed up, Trenoweth concluded that it was probably the camp fire of this sable band of wanderers which he had seen the previous night.
In spite of the jabbering that was kept up the wearied prospector fell asleep soon after nightfall, and slumbered peacefully until awakened by someone shaking him.
He sat up and saw that it was the leader of the blacks, who was offering him a drink. When he finished it he saw that the camp—such as it was—had been struck, and everything was in readiness for a move.
The gins had the smallest piccaninnies strapped to their backs, as well as the baggage of the camp. They acted, in fact, as beasts of burden, while their masters stepped on unimpeded by anything more than spear, nulla, or boomerang.
Trenoweth did not like this way of doing things, and, going to the nearest female, he made signs that he wished to relieve her of a portion of her load.
Her indignant looks convinced him that he had made a mistake, and he recollected that it was only a custom of the country and he should be careful how he interfered.
During the morning he tried to elicit from his friend of the previous day where they were going, but all he could get from him was the solitary word—or rather grunt—"Barcoo," as he pointed in a southerly direction.
The white man concluded from this that the tribe were going to some place called Barcoo, which might, indeed, be a station; and, as his only course was to accompany them, he resigned himself to whatever might eventuate.
In some mysterious way the blacks seemed to get water and food, and they were generous enough to their white friend.
One thing that particularly astonished Trenoweth was the method they had of cleansing themselves. Washing in water—in such an arid region—was out of the question, but for this they had a substitute, which might be called an ash bath.
Wherever a fire had been and left fine ashes in any quantity, they went to the place and rolled in the debris, throwing the ashes over themselves something like a hen does. Trenoweth tried this novel form of cleansing himself, and found it not only effective to a certain degree, but also refreshing.
The third night out, as Trenoweth lay musing, he felt something in one of his pockets and, taking it out saw that it was a piece of silver ore of remarkable richness.
His face became at once troubled as he tried to recollect where he had obtained it, and at last his memory cleared and revealed to him the tragic scene on the banks of the dried creek.
Then he wrestled with himself, as if to still further penetrate the recesses of his mind, but he could get nothing definite or tangible to go on. It rose like a phantom before him that he had found something else than the small piece of ore, but as he sought to grasp the shadow it eluded his hand.
For half the night he kept awake, vainly trying to lift the dark veil which had fallen across his memory, but the struggle was futile; and, when at last he fell into a troubled sleep, it was to dream only of a dry watercourse and a rigid form lying on its bank.
The marches made by the blacks were not such as to fatigue a European, and Trenoweth had little difficulty in keeping up with them. For at least a fortnight—the young man had lost accurate time and date—the party kept steadily on in almost a straight line, and at last they came abruptly on to what at first sight resembled a Dutch dyke, but which was found to be the bed of a large river.
The silt which for generations had been carried across the sluggish plain through which the river ran had deposited on either side of the current and formed natural banks, which in some places were fully ten feet above the level of the plain.
About a mile from either side the country slowly rose in a sort of low plateau, and formed a large basin.
As they stood on the banks of the watercourse, in which here and there were to be observed stagnant waterholes, the aboriginal pointed along it and said, "Barcoo?"
This, then, was the destination to which the party had been making, Trenoweth thought: and he felt grateful to think the inland journey had ceased.
The aspect of the stagnant river was uninviting enough, but not more so than some of the localities he had recently passed through.
The taciturn aboriginals, after making an inspection of the waterholes, returned to the southern elevation a mile away, and began to make preparations for a more permanent camp than usual.
Mia-Mias of bark and a couple of "lean toos" were put up with little trouble, and it struck Trenoweth that the blacks were going into winter quarters.
This was apparently the case, for four months passed away (they seemed to Edward twice as many years) and the camp still remained. During that period only two strange aboriginals made their appearance, and they did not stay long.
About the month of September or October, as nearly as the lost man could calculate, it commenced to rain with tropical violence.
By dint of care and attention Trenoweth had made his mia-mia as comfortable as such a structure could be; but his lot was miserable enough when the rain came.
For two days and nights it rained with terrible violence, and Edward was astonished that the surrounding country was not entirely flooded. It seemed, however, to drink up the moisture as quickly as it fell, and, outside of the narrow watercourse of the Barcoo, little water was to be seen.
On the third day the rain had almost ceased, but a couple of hours before daylight the white waif was awakened by a most unusual noise in the camp.
Going outside, he found that a more than ordinary fire had been made; and it was apparent that something was expected by the blacks.
The tall fellow, whom Edward knew by the name of Kallakoo, pointed north-eastwards along the course of the river, and denoted that as the direction from which the excitement was to come.
As daylight broke gloomily over the scene, the young man saw that the depression between the edge of the plateau and the river was still in the same condition as the night previous.
It seemed as if the monotony of his life was never to change, and for a time he gave himself up to the gloomiest of thoughts. It was eating out his soul to think that he should be imprisoned in the interior of the continent, and perhaps lost forever to those whose interests he desired serve.
He was startled from his moody thoughts by the dull boom of a thunderous sound, which came floating heavily on the morning air. The blacks had heard it some time before, and were in a state of great and unusual excitement.
As he listened the strange noise grew momentarily louder, and in response to his questioning look, Kallakoo only pointed to the river. For several minutes Trenoweth could not comprehend, but at last it flashed across his mind that it must be one of those extraordinary floods peculiar to the "continental" rivers which was rushing down.
He was soon confirmed in his surmise, for as he looked in the direction of the ever-increasing noise he could see, far away, a mighty tumbling yellow wall.
It was one of the strangest sights he had ever looked upon. The enormous yellow wave came rolling on with considerable speed, and carrying everything before it. In all directions, dark objects could be seen on the bosom of the mighty flood, which extended right across from plateau to plateau, and quite covered the raised banks of the ordinary watercourse.
Cattle, sheep, kangaroos, and other smaller animals were mixed up with trees, logs, branches, and all sorts of debris, on some of which snakes tried vainly to cling.
As the rolling torrent came near it presented a terrific spectacle, and Trenoweth felt alarm as to whether it would not sweep away the camp. There was no need for this, however, as it did not rise within half a dozen feet of where the experienced blacks had erected their mia-mias.
As it came abreast of the camp it made a noise like thunder—the very earth seemed to shake. It presented a solid wall of water, fully fifteen feet high, and nearly two miles in width.
As Edward gazed on the moving sea, he was pleasantly surprised to notice how little loss had been occasioned by the great pluvial wave.
Although there were a number of carcases of cattle, sheep and a few horses in the tide, it was nothing like what might have been expected.
The pastoralists had, of course, provided against such a contingency, by removing their stock from the track of the devastating wave, which was annually expected, under certain conditions.
When the first rush of the watery vanguard was over, the blacks amused themselves by rushing into the still seething flood and pulling out anything which might be of use.
Amongst the spoil was the carcase of a sheep, and no time was lost in cooking a portion of this. This was acceptable to Trenoweth, for, in truth, the fare of the blacks was not to his liking.
During the whole of the day the flood rolled by, and formed an agreeable change from the dead monotony which had characterised existence for several months past.
It was now apparent to the white man why the aboriginals had come to the Barcoo. It was to get an easy food supply and indulge in their annual recreation. The men acted as light-hearted as boys during the day, and were scarcely out of the flood for an hour during the whole time.
About a dozen drowned sheep were secured and near dark the carcase of a bullock was seen coming slowly down the swollen stream. It had become more sluggish since its first impetuous rush, and the blacks essayed the task of landing the huge body of the recently defunct bullock.
It was a long time since Trenoweth had tasted beef, and he could not resist the temptation of lending a hand to his black friends. With this object he plunged into the stream.
Near the shore the current was light, but, as he neared the spot where the bullock was drifting he found it required all his strength to resist its force.
The aboriginals had already reached the carcase, and were making great, but partly ineffectual, efforts to land it.
When Trenoweth reached it he got on the upper side and, as the blacks inch by inch piloted it out of the current towards the land, he could not but confess to himself that he was more encumbrance than assistance.
After strenuous efforts, the beast was got ashore a couple of hundred yards below the camp, and it was soon skinned.
Trenoweth noticed that the blacks skinned all the animals and put the skins carefully away. He thought at first that this was done to provide mats, but he afterwards found such was not the case.
He fared sumptuously that night off roast beef, and was in a much more cheerful state of mind than usual.
He did not know, as he stood on the bank of the vast stream, with the moonlight flickering on its muddy waters, that the huge volume was being carried into that great lake on the side of which the sufferings and misfortunes of himself and his mates had started. Yet it was so, for the stream was really Cooper's Creek, called further east the Barcoo.
It did strike the young man, probably enough, that Australia was a land of acute extremes. A few weeks ago he was perishing with thirst, yet here was sufficient fresh water going to waste to supply the continent, if conserved.
He turned into his rough bunk that night more fatigued than usual, and the sun was high in the heavens when he awoke next morning.
On going out, he saw that the flood had considerably subsided, but it still covered a vast area.
The blacks had been busy and had brought to shore a number of sheep and a few kangaroo.
He could see in places, both up and down the river, that the bodies of many cattle were stranded, but the blacks did not touch them. They had as much meat as would last them a long time, and they were too lazy to skin the animals for the mere sake of their hides.
In the course of four days the flood waters had almost run off, and Edward thought that when the carcases of the drowned animals putrefied the camp would not be a pleasant location.
He conveyed this idea to his good friend, Kallakoo, by signs that could not be misunderstood, but the latter replied by simply pointing up the course of the stream for the third time.
"Surely there is not another flood coming down to wash away the stranded carcases," he thought. It was such a strange country that he would not be surprised even if such an event took place; but the next visitation was destined to have more important consequences for him than merely bringing down a welcome supply of beef and mutton.
He noticed with some surprise that the aboriginals were now actively engaged in taking the hides off the cattle and spreading them out to get the mud off.
On the sixth night after the flood the barking of the dogs in the camp so disturbed him that he could not sleep; and, as the night was a beautiful one, he got up and went for a walk. The full moon rendered objects almost as visible as if the sun were above the horizon; and Trenoweth wandered on, a prey to his miserable thoughts.
The melancholy fit was on him again, and no wonder, when his isolated position is considered. An intense longing had seized him to get back to civilization.
He thought of Inez and his mother as seldom as he could—or, at least, tried to stifle memory in that respect, for the reflection almost drove him mad. That melancholy night he could not prevent his memory going back to Cornwall, and, as he thought, a light seemed to break in upon him.
Why not ask the blacks, who were so kind to him, what he so ardently desired? he asked himself. Kallakoo never yet refused him a request, and next morning he would put his wish before him.
"We cannot be far from settlement, surely. The white man is not far away from where carcases come from," he said to himself, looking at the wide waterway of the Barcoo. "If I followed the river up it should bring me out of this wilderness. If Kallakoo won't help me I will make the trial myself."
He sat down on an old stump to think the matter out, and while he was silently musing he jumped to his feet as if electrified, for he could have sworn that he heard the voice of Europeans speaking his own language strike faintly upon his ears.
He listened, rigid as a statue, and drops of perspiration stood on his forehead with the intensity of his suppressed excitement.
Alas! it must have been the voices of demons mocking him, or perhaps his overwrought imagination was playing him false, for he heard the sounds no more.
With leaden footsteps he retraced his way to the camp, and lay in broken slumbers until daybreak.
After a slight breakfast, he sought Kallakoo, and, with all the eloquence that deep sincerity could command, both in voice and gesture, besought him to lead the way back to civilization.
Kallakoo seemed to understand, but before Trenoweth had finished, some of the younger blacks, who were out a little distance on the place lately flooded, began to shout lustily and point up stream.
Without uttering a word the tall aboriginal took Edward by the arm and led him out to where the youngsters were. Far up the watercourse, as Trenoweth followed the pointed finger, he could see figures as of men moving slowly.
"Who can they be? Ah! great God! perhaps they are more blacks," Trenoweth hissed in his excitement.
Kallakoo pointed to the young man and then to the hides on the bank, and then went through the pantomime action of removing them.
Gradually the truth dawned on the white waif. These must be station hands coming down the river to secure what hides they could from the drowsed beasts. The blacks had gone to the trouble of skinning them for that purpose.
The thought made him tremble, and his hearing the voices the night previous further convinced him that at last he was about to be released from the wretched life he had led so long.
For an hour he stood and watched the approaching figures, until he was satisfied they were white men.
He soon observed that they had horses and drays—or, rather, spring carts—with them; and when they got near the camp and found others had been at work they came rapidly down.
Trenoweth stood beside Kallakoo as they came up.
In front of the carts was a horseman—a big, burly fellow, with long brown beard, clad in Crimean shirt, tights and Wellington boots.
He almost drew rein as he noticed the uncouth form of Trenoweth standing beside the aboriginal; but his surprise was only momentary, as, putting spurs to his horse, he dashed up and said:
"Mate, what the devil brings you into this God-forsaken quarter? Where did you find him, Kallakoo?" he concluded, looking at the latter.
The black seemed to understand the purport of the question, for he pointed south and said, "Barrier."
During this time Trenoweth stood dumb, but as the horseman leant over and seized his hand and shook it warmly, he said, in a hoarse voice:
"Saved at last! Thank God for His mercy!"
"Saved? I should think you will be all right now, though it is a long way to civilization. But you'll be all right with us, mate, I warrant you," the leader of the station party said, with a hearty laugh, that was almost contagious.
By this time the others had arrived and they stood around looking with wondering eyes at the strange being who, with bare feet, a shirt made half of kangaroo skins and half of rags, a trousers of the same mixed material, but a luxuriant growth of well matted hair and beard, looked upon his white friends with dumb pleasure.
In truth Edward Trenoweth did not recognise that his personal appearance seemed "outre," until the station hands stood around him.
The general reader will know that dudish dress is not held in high estimation by station hands in the interior, but the new arrivals were perfect Bond Street mashers compared with Trenoweth. Everything in the world is really a matter of comparison, and the lost Cornishman had only his black friends by which to compare the relative merits of their personal adornment. Beside these he was certainly entitled to regard himself with a considerable amount of complaisance, but he now saw his self-esteem was rather out of place.
In spite of the almost solemn position in which he was then, a momentary thought passed through his mind as to what Nelly Ryan would have said had she seen him in this attire. And yet it had served him well and, at least, had fulfilled its purpose.
"I see you have not been idle, Kallakoo," the horseman said, as his eyes fell upon the hides.
The words roused Edward from his reverie and he said:
"I forgot to tell you. My name is Edward Trenoweth. I left Adelaide a long time ago—yes it must be a long time ago—in company with three others, to go prospecting in the north, but we lost our horses and then thirst fell upon us. I don't remember very much until my kind friend, Kallakoo, found me," and he looked gratefully at the black.
"Whew! you must have had a time of it to get this far. When did you leave Adelaide?" queried the leader.
"It was somewhere about Christmas time, I know."
"Well, we'll have another Christmas here in about a month, so that you must have been out nearly a year. I met Kallakoo here last flood time, and you were not with him then. He tells me he found you at the Barrier. That is a long way from here, to the south. It is fortunate that you met so good a fellow as Kallakoo. He was chiefly instrumental in saving poor King's life, after Burke died, ten years ago. By the way, my name is Long—Jack Long."
The burly man spoke this with great volubility, and with an expression of sympathy on his face for the awful sufferings through which he knew the young man must have passed.
"I might add," Long went on, "that we come from Poole Station, which is about one hundred and fifty miles along there"—pointing due east. "Once there, you can spend the Christmas with us, and we can pass you on to Wentworth. There are good stages all the way, so that you need not fear being lost. I know," he added, apologetically, "that when a fellow's once been like you have been lately, it makes him feel a bit skeary."
"I think I shall recover myself in such company as yours, Mr. Long," Trenoweth said, with a smile.
"I hope so; and now let us to work, boys. I'll look after our friends, here," Long called out.
At this the men, assisted by all the blacks save Kallakoo, at once made for the hides and began to load them.
Meanwhile, Long had gone to the provision cart and taken out a huge damper, a large piece of which he handed to Trenoweth and another to the black.
"I'll make you a pannikin of tea," Long said to Edward, who was greedily devouring the damper.
He had not tasted bread for eight months and the sodden damper was to him an inconceivable luxury.
Within five minutes he held a pint of hot tea in his hands; and, as he sipped the delicious nectar, he felt that, after all, life was worth living.
The beverage he drank was certainly only "ration"—better known as "post-and-rail"—tea. It was milkless, and the sugar was almost the color and consistency of treacle; but it was tea, anyhow, and a prized luxury to the man who for so long had to put up with bad water.
Plenty of meat was cooked over the fire to go round; and, when the loading was completed, everyone—black and white, old and young—sat down to what, in Edward's opinion, was the most cheerful meal he ever had.
Long had decided not to go further down the river in search of hides now that they had discovered a "wild white man." The carts were already well filled, and, as no one was in a desperate hurry, it was agreed to make a return start on the following morning.
Trenoweth was eager to hear news of the great world, and it took half the night for his discoverers to satisfy him in that respect.
At last Long abruptly said:
"What could have become of your mates, Grey and the two Nortons?"
The question almost startled Edward.
"I should think—at least, I hope—that they must have got back to Mulwa station. We became separated somehow, and I have no idea in what direction they went. Grey, I believe, had some knowledge of the districts, and the brothers, being together, would have a better chance than a solitary wanderer. I must have gone in the wrong direction to have reached the spot I did," Edward concluded.
"Well, let us hope so. I wouldn't like to bet they got back to the station, for they must have been delirious to have left you as they did. That is a sure sign the mind is gone. Are you sure it was not you who went from them?" Long asked.
"I can remember Grey left the three of us, and I am sure Joe and Tom Norton left me under the shade of the tent the following day. Yes," the young man added, thoughtfully, "I recollect leaving the tent behind me, and there was no one in or around it. I called out their names but got no answer."
"Oh, then, it's touch and go with them," was the laconic reply.
In the morning the preparations for departure did not take long; and, as the time drew near, Trenoweth almost felt reluctant to leave the blacks who had saved his life. Thirty-six hours previously he had been calling upon high heaven to rescue him from his miserable life, and now he felt a certain sort of regret at his wish having been granted. Such is the mutability of the human heart.
Before leaving Long made plentiful distribution of tobacco and pipes to the blacks.
That was the only thing they seemed to care for, as Kallakoo was a favorite at Poole station, and could have had anything in reason for the asking.
Before getting into the cart in which he was to ride, Trenoweth walked round and bade good-bye to each of the blacks, old and young.
To Kallakoo, in particular, he offered his kindest wishes in a manner the black could not misunderstand. Never amongst white people had more real kindness been shown him then by the untutored savages he was leaving. Black or white skin made little difference to him, provided the heart was clean; and this remnant of a once numerous tribe had given no cause to be classed amongst brutal savages.
Kallakoo and his few followers stood and watched the departure of the men until a bend in the road hid the party from their view.
Edward turned round from taking a last look at his dusky friends with a suppressed sigh.
"You almost seem sorry to leave the camp, old man," Long said, banteringly.
"It is not exactly that, but when a man has saved your life and hunted food for you for six months, it is impossible not to feel regret at leaving him in such a wilderness as that," Trenoweth replied, pointing back towards the camp.
"Yes, you are right, in one way. But don't let those thoughts grieve you. If you were the greatest enemy of Kallakoo and wished to do him the worst injury, the way to do it would be to bring him out of yonder wilderness and take him to Melbourne. His natural home is the wilderness," Long replied.
The truth of this was so apparent that the young Cornishman recognised it at once and ceased to grieve over his black friend.
Each mile that brought him nearer to Poole station made him feel more anxious to get back to settlement. He did not present such an uncouth appearance in the cart as he did when first met. A sort of general levy was made upon the station hands, and enough clothes gathered to make him comfortable until the homestead was reached.
This journey alone would occupy four days. This period was but a fleeting minute to Trenoweth in comparison with those of his solitary wanderings from Lake Eyrie. In good companionship the long journey was scarcely felt, and when the station was reached he had almost recovered his former cheerful demeanor.
At Poole he received a most hospitable welcome.
It was within a week of Christmas time, and as no one would think of leaving until after that festive season, he was glad enough to stay with his friends.
With the aid of a razor and a pair of scissors his unkempt hair and ragged beard were brought into something like subjection, and there was also an ample wardrobe at the station to provide him with an outfit.
He had some of the money left with which he started from Farina; but, after one or two attempts, he saw the futility of offering payment for the articles given to him.
Christmas day was kept in that far-off region as merrily as in the old land.
The thermometer, it is true, stubbornly refused to drop below one hundred degrees in the shade, but all present were used to that sultry temperature.
Trenoweth had undergone such a trial that he was perfectly weatherproof.
On the 3rd of January, 1872, a team left Poole for the Darling river, and it conveyed Trenoweth from his friends. They accompanied him on horseback for several miles, and gave him a most enthusiastic send-off.
A three-days' journey brought them to the river, where a barge was met bringing up stores, and on this Edward voyaged down to Wentworth. Crossing over to Swan Hill, he took coach to Inglewood; and it occurred to him that he would visit the address which the Nortons had given him as the residence of their parents. He found it after some difficulty, but the house was unoccupied and he could get no information as to where the old couple had migrated to from anyone around.
This seemed a favorable omen, for probably the sons had returned safely and taken their parents away with them.
The railway to Sandhurst was not then opened, and next morning he had to take the coach again over the intervening thirty miles.
He felt somewhat fatigued with the long and dusty journey, and remained in Sandhurst until the first train for Melbourne next morning.
It was eleven o'clock when he reached the Victorian metropolis, and he decided to go straight to the office of his friend, John Barr.
He was longing to see him; not only for the deep friendship he felt towards him, but also because he would probably have an accumulation of letters from St. Columb's for him.
Rapidly he covered the distance between the railway station and Barr's place of business, in Collins Street. He ascended the stairs leading to the first floor two at a time, and in half a minute was standing before the open door of his friend's office. Barr was sitting inside with his head bent, deeply cogitating over some correspondence.
"A happy new year to you, my dear friend!" Trenoweth cried, in the fullness of his heart at the sight of Barr.
If a pint of nitroglycerine had exploded at Barr's feet he could not have been more astonished, though he might have been more seriously hurt. He sat up rigid in his chair and his face became livid.
"Why—why, Trenoweth, I thought—at least, how did you get here?" he gasped.
"By coach and rail and a little boating, too. But what is the matter?" he went on, as he noticed the agitation Barr was in. At the same moment he saw a black band on his friend's arm, and he concluded a domestic bereavement had fallen upon him. "Ah, I see, I am very sorry indeed for your trouble, Barr."
"My trouble!" rejoined the latter. "My trouble has only been about you. It has been officially reported that you were dead, and I concluded it was a fact."
"What an ass I am. I might have known that," Trenoweth replied, in a tone of vexation. "Of course I have been dead to the world for nearly a year, but I have come through it safely, as you see."
Barr stood up, and, seizing his friend's hand, wrung it as though he would shake it off.
Closing the door of the office, Barr put Edward into a seat and insisted on hearing the whole story of his terrible wanderings. He listened for more than an hour with breathless interest, and when he had finished said:
"Then you don't know what became of your mates?"
"I have not been in a position to find out where I have been, but I hope to do so now. In fact, I will make it my first duty to do so."
"I really do not think you will have far to search," replied Barr, looking fixedly at him.
"Have you heard anything?" queried Edward, in a tone of alarm.
"Yes; it is public property now, as it has appeared in the press. I may as well tell you that your former good comrades are supposed to have perished on the plain which so nearly proved fatal to you."
"Ah!" gasped Trenoweth, "Jack Long told me so."
Barr opened a desk and took out a few newspaper slips, which he handed to his friend. They were headed, "Terrible Deaths From Thirst," and gave a circumstantial account of the finding of three skeletons, the details of which are familiar to the reader, which had been fairly identified as those of Grey and two brothers named Norton.
The accounts concluded with a few lines to the effect that although the remains of the fourth member of the prospecting party, one Trenoweth, had not been found, there was no doubt that he also had perished miserably.
For a few minutes Trenoweth sat, overwhelmed with the news, though to some extent it was not unexpected; then he suddenly said, with a white face:—
"You have not sent my mother this news, have you?"
Barr lifted a half-finished letter from under a sheet of blotting paper. It was the letter he had been so engrossed in when startled by Edward's voice. As the latter glanced at it he saw that it was addressed to his mother, and contained a full account of the tragic death of her son.
"Another day and you would have been too late to stop that," Barr said, in a husky voice.
"It would have killed her. Thank God I was in time."
"In one hour I can go home with you, if you care to wait. If not, you know where the house is. I have several letters from home for you," Barr said.
"Oh, I can wait for an hour, I assure you. I have been well schooled in waiting lately," smiled the young man.
Barr, however, did not put him to the ordeal of waiting even the hour, for in half that time they were speeding in the Essendon train towards the former's home.
"They think you are up aloft," whispered Barr, as they neared the house; "I must go first and let them know the truth, or they will perhaps object to my bringing a ghost home with me."
In a few minutes he came to the gate with Mrs. Barr at his side and beckoned Trenoweth up. Mrs. Barr's greeting was a cordial one, for she looked upon him as one really risen from the dead.
Before he was allowed to shut himself up with his letters, his host insisted upon his having lunch, and, that over, he made hastily for his room and opened his budget of letters. He took them according to the dates on the envelopes, and thus he had a consecutive history of events in St. Columb's Cove.
The letters from Inez were of an affectionate character, but the later dated ones were mostly written by his mother.
The last one he had to open was very voluminous, and he found that it was dated from St. Columb's Cove, on the 5th of September, 1871, and from his mother. It was as follows:—
"My dearest Son,—
"It is only a sense—a very strict sense—of my maternal duty to you which impels me to send you the information contained herein. Knowing me as you do, you can well believe me when I say that I would rather be in my grave than be thus forced to inflict the pain which I know this will give you.
"Not to keep you in suspense, I may as well tell you at once that Inez has proved unfaithful to you (oh, that I should live to have to say it!)."
Trenoweth put down the letter at this juncture and stared vacantly at the wall in front of him.
The news was so sudden that it fell upon him like a thunderbolt,
He had never even reckoned on the possibility of such an ending to his love dream. The awakening was a rude one.
For twenty minutes he thus sat, and then, slowly lifting the fatal letter, he began to read again.
"It is as well that you should know the whole story that it is my
painful task to tell to you. I begged Inez to do so, as it was her
duty, but she refused.
"In the beginning of June two strangers—tourists—made their appearance at St. Columb's Cove. They were staying near Tintagel and spending the summer along the Cornish coast. On the 4th of June our friend Edwards drove them over here and, being visitors of some distinction, he brought them to our house. On learning that they were from Australia, I gave the heartiest welcome, for I thought I might possibly learn something of my beloved son in that far-off land.
"Inez was at home, of course, and we entertained them for the greater part of the day. They said they were what in Australia were called 'squatters' and both Inez and myself were so interested in their descriptions of the region you are now in that we probably prevented them seeing many of the points of interest in the neighborhood.
"To remedy this, I asked them to pay another visit, and arranged to get Pengelly to act as guide for them.
"They readily consented to this, and three days subsequently Charles Simpson and John White—for such were the names they gave—again visited St. Columb.
"I did not notice that either of them paid more attention to Inez than might be expected under the circumstances; and, as their general bearing was most gentlemanly and respectful, I had no idea that anything would happen from the visits.
"I might say, that on the first visit I told Charles Simpson of the intense interest I felt in Australia through my only child being there. I further said that Inez was your betrothed.
"I did this so that there could be no possible misunderstanding; but at the time I had no idea that Inez was likely to prove fickle.
"On several other occasions the tourists paid visits to St. Columb; but, as there are so many places of legendary interest to be seen, I did not attribute the slightest importance to the visits.
"On several occasions, I now recollect, Inez was away from home for two or three hours at a time; but, as she was in the habit of visiting the villagers as you know, I could not be expected to connect her absence with the Australian tourists. I afterwards learnt that, at least twice, she went to meet Charles Simpson.
"At the end of two months I began to notice a change in the demeanor of Inez. She seemed dissatisfied and irritable in an unusual degree, and her absences were more numerous and more prolonged than before.
"I bore with it all until one day the truth was most unexpectedly revealed to me by old Peggy Penhaven, who nursed you, and who has loved you like a second mother.
"The good soul came to me as a sort of accredited messenger of the villagers to let me know that all was not right—Inez Jasper was almost daily in the company of one of the visitors who had lately driven over to St. Columb.
"The jealous villagers had watched the meetings, which took place near the Black Rock, on the road to Tintagel. It was beyond doubt that the pair met as lovers, and the villagers, knowing that I must be ignorant of the action taken by Inez, resolved that I should know.
"I can assure you, Edward, that at first I was incredulous, for I could not bring myself to believe that the child I had reared could act so treacherously.
"When the old nurse went away I sat down and pondered deeply over the communication I had just received.
"The more I thought the more firmly was I convinced that it was my duty, both for your sake and for hers, to speak to Inez on the subject.
"It was six o'clock when she returned, and as she passed me to go to her room I thought she seemed somewhat agitated.
"When she returned I asked her in the kindest way where she had been.
"'I just went to see Mother Penhaven,' she answered.
"'Was she at home?' I asked.
"'Oh, yes,' replied Inez.
"This answer confirmed my worst fears, for I well knew that Inez had told me a lie.
"I went to her, and, taking her hand in mine, said:
"'Do you remember, Inez, when Edward bade you his last good-bye? Do you remember promising to be faithful to him and that only death would part you?'
"'People, when they are young, promise many foolish things which never come to anything,' she answered with a forced laugh.
"'People, young or old, should not break solemn vows without abundant cause,' I said sharply.
"'And have I not abundant cause?' she broke out in a torrent of passion. 'I have not heard from Edward for more than a year; and it seems to me I will have to wait until I am grey-haired if I wait for him to get rich and marry. But I am not going to wait. I am engaged to Charles Simpson, and arrangements are already made for our marriage at Tintagel to-morrow.'
"The suddenness of this revelation gave me a shock. I dropped her hands and was about to turn silently away, when I remembered my duty to you. Turning to her, I said:
"'Will you do your duty as far as you can and tell Edward what you have done? It will spare me a trial.'
"'No!' she answered, passionately and decisively. 'I will tell him nothing, nor hold communication with him. He treats me with neglect and I will return it.'
"I said no more, for my heart was too full. I went to my room, and when I came down in the morning I found a curt note on the table from Inez, telling me that she had left St. Columb for ever, as she was to be married that day and, with her husband, would immediately take her departure to Australia.
"Thus without a kind farewell to myself or the villagers, she fled from our midst. She came amongst from we knew not whence, and she has gone from us we know not whither.
"My dear boy, I have now told you all, and I pray you may be strong and not allow this most unfortunate event to blight your life. We are all in God's hands, and He does everything for the best. You always have the blessing of your affectionate mother, and I pray God you will soon forget your false love and find a faithful heart to take her place. When may I expect to see you? I am very lonely now."
The letter concluded here, and in his despair Trenoweth crushed it convulsively in his hand.
He must have sat in the room for nearly three hours, when he was roused by someone knocking at the door. Recollecting that he was a guest, he tried to calm his agitation, and at once opened the door.
He was confronted by John Barr, who jokingly reminded him that time was flying and suggested that he must have found his correspondence interesting. In the dim light he did not notice the pallid face of his guest, but as he stepped into the passage the change in his features was apparent.
"What! Bad news? I am sorry for that."
Trenoweth took him by the arm and led him into the room, handing him the letter as he did so.
Barr hastily glanced through it, and then, taking Trenoweth's hands in his own, said:
"I don't want to be severe on you, but let me say that, instead of being thus plunged in grief, you should thank God at having escaped being linked for life to a woman such as this. She is one not only insensible to true love but also to gratitude. Are you going to wreck your life for one so unworthy of any sacrifice? I will say no more now, but think tonight over what I have said. If you do not care to leave your room I will send you something."
Trenoweth did not care to leave his room, and Barr left him to himself to fight out his own salvation. Even as Jacob wrestled with the angels, so also did Edward Trenoweth struggle with his passion that night; and, ere morning dawned, he had obtained the victory.
The guardian angels of good sense and fortitude came to his rescue, and he registered a vow that he would blot the image of Inez Jasper entirely out of his mind for ever.
When Trenoweth appeared in the breakfast room next morning Mr. and Mrs. Barr were surprised to find the young man in such good spirits.
As he shook hand with Barr, he whispered:
"I have taken your advice, my good friend."
"Good! Be firm!" replied Barr.
"You will want the day to yourself to answer your mother's letters and give an account of your long silence," his host said to Edward as he was leaving. "And mind," he added, turning back, "the mail goes to-morrow."
Trenoweth was anxious to write to his mother and explain his long silence, and he sent away an unusually long epistle, which it was feted she would never see.
He touched lightly on the dangers he had gone through, so as not to unduly alarm the good soul at home. He announced his intention of returning to St. Columb's Cove within a few months.
His idea was that, if his mother did not like to leave the old home, he would remain there also; but, if she would emigrate, he intended coming back and taking up his permanent residence in Melbourne or some other part of Australia.
The sunny southern land was beginning to charm him, in spite of the trials and disasters he had experienced. The progressive character of the people and the boundless resources of the land convinced him that he would do much better in the young country than in old Cornwall. The associations at St. Columb could not but be painful to him, and his resolution was fixed to return provided his mother was agreeable.
The next morning, as he was glancing over the daily paper before breakfast, a telegram from Launceston caught his eye which made his heart beat faster.
It was a simple announcement that valuable deposits of tin ore had been discovered in the north-west of Tasmania, not far from Emu Bay and in close proximity to Mount Bischoff.
A slight description of the locality followed, and as he read Trenoweth knew that it was in the vicinity of the place where he and his mates had found favorable indications of stanniferous areas after leaving the Three Hummocks Island.
His resolution was instantly taken.
"Do you know if there is a boat going to Circular Head, Emu Bay, or any of the north-west ports of Tasmania today?" he asked of Barr.
"I will soon tell you. But what do you want to know for?" replied his host.
"If there is I am going there at once. Read this."
Barr took the paper with some surprise and read the telegram carefully. Then he said:
"I thought you had had enough of this prospecting work for a time. The west coast of Tasmania is not a pleasant place, though not quite so bad as central Australia. You can get plenty of water, at any rate; but the food is scanty, and the forest and scrub are awful."
"I have been to this locality, as I told you, and I am sure that a vast deposit of tin exists there. In fact my intention was to go to the place in a few days and further prospect it; but you see there is no time to be lost if I want to make anything," Edward answered. "Besides," he went on, "there is sure to be a rush to the place, and there is little fear of anything bad happening to me."
"Yes, I dare say you are right," returned Barr, who had been closely examining some papers. "I find the only boat leaving for Tasmania today goes to Launceston; but you can join a service there which will take you to Emu Bay, or you can get overland to Bischoff. The boat sails in two hours from now, so that not a single moment is to be lost."
The preparations which Trenoweth had to make were few, for Barr told him he would send a cable message to his agent in Launceston to buy the necessary outfit and also secure a berth in the coastal steamer.
Bidding Mrs. Barr a hasty adieu, Edward and his friend went into the city, and two hours later the former was steaming down the turbid Yarra on his way to Launceston. Early next morning he was at the Tamar settlement; but, early as it was, Barr's local agent was awaiting him.
The latter knew him through his former visit, and, having heard of his reputed death, was a good deal surprised to see Trenoweth, for he thought Barr—which would be most unusual with him—had made a mistake in the name he sent.
"I was under the impression," Fraser said, as he cordially greeted Trenoweth, "that I would never meet you again except in the kingdom of shades. It seemed almost certain that you must have perished in that confounded place."
"Well, here I am at any rate! and with much more experience than when I last saw you," said Edward.
"Yes; I believe that."
The boat to Emu Bay did not leave until noon. Fraser had already engaged a passage on it for Trenoweth, and the necessary articles were obtained and put on board.
As Edward was walking up the street in a somewhat abstracted frame of mind, he was surprised to hear a sweet voice—at least it seemed sweet to him—call:
Turning, he found himself confronted by Miss Ryan, of Cape Barren Island. She looked even more surprised than he did, as she said:
"I was almost doubtful that it could be you, but I was determined to make certain. I have been watching you for five minutes. You know, Mr. Trenoweth, we heard such—such very bad news."
"I am most delighted to meet you, Miss Ryan. How are your father and mother and all on the island?" volubly enquired Edward, as his face lighted up with real and unfeigned pleasure.
"They are all well," the girl answered; "but we heard such bad tidings of yourself and party. Of course, we took a great interest in your expedition, and we watched the papers for information, knowing where you intended going. Six months ago we read a dreadful account of what had happened to you; but I am so glad to find that it was a mistake."
"So far as I am concerned, it was a mistake; but, I am sorry to tell you, that I must believe my good mates, Grey and the brothers Norton, perished in the wilderness."
Neither of them spoke for a minute or two when Miss Ryan said:
"Are you going to stop here for long, Mr. Trenoweth?"
"I sail in an hour for Emu Bay, and from thence I am going to Mount Bischoff. You see I am still in quest of fortune."
The girl looked greatly disappointed, as she said:
"I suppose you will not be able to visit us again at the island? It is such an out-of-the-way place."
"I hope that in a few months I will have time to see you. I will certainly take the first opportunity."
Seeing Fraser approaching, the conversation was brought to a close, and Trenoweth went down with his friend to the vessel. Soon after, the boat lifted her anchor and went down the stream, and in the evening Emu Bay was reached.
Considering the importance of the find—or, rather, considering the importance which Edward attached to it—he was surprised to see the little stir it made.
In Launceston no one was apparently aware of the discovery, and even at Emu Bay the few inhabitants took very little notice of it.
The fact was, that the intelligence which Trenoweth read in the Melbourne paper was the first that was sent from the scene of the find, and, of course, it was not generally known.
At daylight in the morning Edward set off alone for the district in which he knew from previous experience that tin was to be found. He was going to play a lone hand, so to speak, for he had certain ideas of his own.
For some time he followed the course of the Emu River and was particular to note the appearance of the country. The district was sparsely settled, and he passed stretches of magnificent agricultural land.
With a perfect climate and rich soil, he thought the place should be a second Eden. Belts of forest containing giant eucalypti were passed through; and, as night came on, Trenoweth selected a suitable place to camp. He had covered fully twenty-five miles in his march, and was now in the neighborhood of the new find.
A short distance ahead Mount Valentine towered four thousand feet high, and a long range of great altitude ran from it for fifty miles along the coast. The range was thickly wooded, and numerous rivers ran from it on both sides. The rainfall to support so many large streams was, of course, great, but that would be all the better for tin mining operations.
Next morning Trenoweth reached the spot where he had previously obtained such favorable indications.
It was as he had seen it last.
As he stood in a deep gully he could see the misty peaks of the huge range rising one upon another until the rugged heights were lost in the cloud-capped distance.
As he looked he decided to ascend Mount Valentine and obtain a panoramic view of that strange west land of Tasmania.
Far to the south the snow-topped Frenchman's Cap pierced the clouds with its hood of eternal snow, looking down in its marble purity on that sin-stained spot, Macquarie Harbor, for ever infamous in British annals.
Still further south another peak in veiled drapery lifted its mighty head to the skies. This, he concluded, from the map he carried, was Mount Humboldt.
Far as vision lay, crested mountains raised their heads to heaven, and to the west he could see the white-tipped rollers of the Southern Ocean.
Although he was at such an altitude, a huge backbone, almost on a level with the mountain on which he stood, ran across the island from north to south; and it seemed to the spectator that between it and the coast, if mineral treasures existed on the globe, they would be found there.
The whole vista was clothed in a level green sward, it seemed, except in odd places where the bare, scarped granitic peaks of the mountains reared themselves in desert solitude, as if desirous to leave the everlasting clinging embrace of vegetation.
In a hundred places Trenoweth could trace in silvery streaks the course of creeks and rivers, which flowed in tortuous courses to the sea. In places they appeared to get lost in the primeval forests, which clothed their sides, and then come winding out like a huge python in search of prey.
To his left was the lake country, that queer "terra incognita"—so to speak—on the very verge of settlement.
Trenoweth could not help reflecting, as he leaned against a huge boulder in the pure rarified air in which he was, on the slumbering apathy of a people who allowed their great inheritance to thus lie waste.
To the active man it seemed a sort of sacrilege that, in a small island, the best portion of the country should only be known as the home of the former convict and bushranger.
He had read, certainly, strange stories of attempted escapes from the penal station of Macquarie Harbor, and how men became cannibals in order to support life in that inhospitable west coast; but, as he looked, he thought it must surely have been the licence of the novelist which prompted such narratives.
To the young man it seemed as if all nature smiled and held forth with outstretched hand her choicest gifts to those who chose to take.
He little thought at the time that from his vantage point on Mount Valentine he was looking down on one of the richest spots on God's earth. The day was to come when the secret places of the dim forest would be bared and the roar of mining machinery would awaken the echoes of the surrounding hills and dells.
After taking his long survey, Trenoweth descended from the mount and began his search.
Like an experienced miner, as he was, his climb had not been for mere spectacular purposes. He wished to see the trend of the watershed of Mount Bischoff and the neighboring hills, for he well knew that stream tin, like alluvial gold, would lie in the lowest levels of the alpine gorges.
After his brief survey of the surrounding scenery he therefore turned his attention to the formation of the underlying country. His practised eyes soon rested on a ravine which appeared to him worthy of investigation.
It was at the foot of Bischoff, and a huge hill reared itself on the opposite side to the height of nearly a thousand feet. The place was thickly overgrown with a dense vegetation, out of which great bare rocks peeped.
Edward concluded that the ravine was the natural drainage of the hills, and formed an elongated basin.
As he descended the mount he took particular notice of the stanniferous indications, and the result was supremely satisfactory.
It is almost superfluous to tell latter-day Australians that all minerals come from a matrix. Until a few years ago, this point was disputed.
Places like Ballarat and Forest Creek (Castlemaine), where the richest alluvial deposits in the world were found, were supposed to be independent of reefs: but subsequent working has conclusively proved that the enormous "gullies" and "leads" of gold were simply debris from the action of water.
So with tin. In Cornwall Trenoweth worked a lode, but long ages before the alluvial, or stream, tin had been exploited.
As the young man noticed the favorable indications of a matrix, he became more than ever convinced that he was at last on the right path.
Selecting a suitable place in the ravine, the seeker pitched his camp, for he meant to give the place the fullest trial.
The spot where he had the year before found the favorable indications was about a mile further north, but in the same trend of country. It was near this place that the smoke from the other prospectors' fires rose.
So far, he had not seen the first comers, but he intended going to their camp the following day.
Though alone in the gloomy forest, Trenoweth had no sense of loneliness such as sat upon him like lead in his Australian bush wanderings. The feeling that human help was near if required gave him a sense of security unknown in that awful journey he had made until the face of Kallakoo looked down on him on the Barrier reef.
That particular episode in his life seemed blotted out, for the tablets of his memory were unconscious at the time, and the impression, like the sensitive plate of a camera, had not yet developed.
After a hearty meal, the young man took off his pilot coat and commenced his work of prospecting.
A limpid stream ran down the centre of the ravine, and where—as frequently happened—miniature waterfalls occurred, Trenoweth lifted the bottom strata and in every instance found magnificent ruby tin.
Step by step he followed up the rivulet, and dish after dish that was washed only emphasised the fact that the surrounding area must be stanniferous.
At last he came to a spot in the gorge where the water coursed down a sloping shelf of rock some twenty feet broad. The water, which was clear as crystal, was only a few inches in depth, for it spread out at the top by means of a sort of natural gutter.
Trenoweth's first glance at this place was a revelation to him. The bed down which the water flowed was black as jet, and gave a peculiar appearance to the water.
The western sun was striking directly on the shallow cascade, and its scintillating beams were reflected in a thousand shapes from the bed on which the water flowed.
In his excitement Trenoweth tried to climb the surface of the slope, but the effort was a failure, as it was as slippery as a sheet of glass.
Finding he could not get to the summit in that way, he stood and gazed at the sight before him, rapt in an ecstasy of astonishment. The broad lead on which the water ran was simply a solid rock of almost pure tin ore.
The shining black prisms reflected back the beams of the sun dancing through the crystal water, until the light almost dazzled the spectator's eyes.
Probably no foot of white man had ever trod that spot before; certainly, no Cornishman had looked on such a sight. If so, Bischoff would have been discovered at the time.
It is somewhat surprising to reflect how few people, even in the mineral land of Australia, know certain minerals in the native ore. Out of a thousand educated men it is safe to say that not one half could identify tin ore if they saw it. Unlike the shining white metal in its pure state, the ore is jet black, and bears no resemblance to the tin of commerce.
It is almost a natural faculty with a Cornishman to perceive stanniferous indications. From the days of the Phoenicians until the present tin has been a staple of that ragged end of Britain where Edward Trenoweth had been reared. Never, in the best parts of the west drive of the Wheal Merlin, had the young man seen such a rich deposit as that which he had just dropped on.
A great wall of tin ore lay in front of him, and he knew that at last his quest had been fruitful.
For a few minutes he looked as one fascinated at the shining black slope, and then, as if seized by a sudden impulse, he ran to the side of the running water and commenced to dig away furiously at the rank vegetation which fringed the side of the lode.
Yes! the ore extended, as he thought, beyond the bared surface of the cascade.
Gradually he cut a path through the scrub and then, in eager haste, made a shallow excavation along from the water's edge. The black deposit was unearthed the whole way, and then, out of breath, the young prospector rested.
Going round the head of the slope a few minutes afterwards, he attacked the opposite side, and here he found that the lode went down.
Thoroughly satisfied that it was permanent, he climbed on a rock a few yards up the ravine, and took a survey of the place.
His previous knowledge of Tasmanian mining regulations had been of benefit to him, and he was now thoroughly conversant with the rights under the Act.
During the interval of a year in which he had been absent the mining regulations had been much liberalised, as the Circular Head official had foretold, and the rights of prospectors had been secured.
Indeed, it had been decreed by the legislature that a man who opened up a new mineral field was a public benefactor, and stringent regulations were laid down conserving to such pioneers certain rights and privileges.
A scale of distances was drawn up, in which it was provided that the further away from an existing field a discovery was made the larger area would be the prospector's right.
This wise provision was no doubt inserted with a view to open up the unexploited districts of the Island.
His practical knowledge told him as to the most likely trend of the ore, and after a long look he descended. It was an easy matter to get stakes in the neighborhood and, making his way through the dense scrub, he soon had an approximate area marked out. Tearing leaves out of his pocketbook, he marked his name in lead pencil, with the necessary particulars, and secured them to each of the four posts.
This done, he again made his way back to the slope and mounted his rock, feeling somewhat like a Robinson Crusoe as he proudly glanced round at his newly-acquired possession.
He, of course, did not know the exact extent or value of his find, or had he done so he might have justly felt prouder than he did.
For the first time since the earth was young the wondrous riches of Bischoff had been laid bare to the vandal hand of the white man. For centuries, no doubt, the sable owners of the soil had clambered up that watery slope and had seen their hideous faces reflected back from the sombre cliff; but to them it had no charm.
It perhaps struck them as congenial. The organic and the inorganic had the same hue, and if a soul did not quicken those wondrous prisms of ebony yet their dead eyes gave back glance for glance of the living dead.
Trenoweth sat for a considerable time in self-satisfied contemplation, and then it struck him that he would go down to where a thin column of blue smoke rose straight, like Abel's sacrifice, to heaven. It was a beacon that told him that a peaceful invasion was taking place in that wild district. The men below were, like himself, in the Wake of Fortune—oh, no! not now in the Wake, thought Trenoweth, but rather in the Van.
He smiled to himself, and then a shade of sadness crept over him, which he speedily banished. It is idle to say that he did not think occasionally of Inez, and, of course, his mother was enshrined in his heart. Yet his regret about Inez was not so poignant as it formerly was. In the altar of his heart a new image was unfolding itself, and henceforth he would worship at a new shrine.
His thoughts soon fled, and dropping from the rock, he got his swag and went down the ravine.
When he came to his camp he left his shovel and other impedimenta and took his way in the direction of the smoke. Soon he came on a rude clearing, which apparently had not many weeks been denuded of the sylvan giants which surrounded it.
He saw four men working on the watercourse—or rather beside it—that ran down from the slope he had left.
A couple of others were engaged outside a tent, cooking.
As the prospector walked out of the belt of timber which fringed the clearing he was immediately observed, and a man who was in the act of lifting a huge can off the fire called:
Trenoweth returned the cheery salutation, and in a moment he was standing beside the two men near the fire.
Close by a large heap of tin ore was stacked, but it looked quite insignificant in Trenoweth's eyes after the riches he had just left.
This monosyllabic query was put to the newcomer by the man who had first spoken.
"Yes," answered Trenoweth; "I am, like yourselves, in search of tin. I see you have met with some luck."
"Rather! We have got on to one of the finest tin fields in the world. We have only been here a fortnight, and as soon as we discovered the stuff we let the world know. We've got our own block and we are not selfish," the rough-looking man said with a laugh.
"We've done pretty well for a fortnight," broke in his companion. "I suppose there's half a ton of tin in that stuff," he added, pointing to the ore.
Trenoweth smiled as he answered, "I do not think you have got on to the proper place yet, mates. I could show you a spot where you could do better."
"Do better!" the two men simultaneously exclaimed. "Do better! Why, mate, I don't think we could do much better than we have done. Don't you see that we are only opening up that deposit in the hill side, and we have had a great amount of dead work to do. I think we have hit upon a fortune."
"I think so, too," returned Trenoweth; "but you have only struck the outskirts of the deposit. I can show you stuff twice as rich as this."
The two men stared at him in incredulous manner, as if they doubted the sanity of the speaker.
"Yes, mates," continued Trenoweth; "I have got stuff ten times richer than this"—pointing to the heap of stream ore. "But"—as if a sudden thought had taken possession of him—"who sent the telegram to the Melbourne papers about your find?"
The first speaker almost blushed as he said:
"Well, mate, I did that. I went into Emu on Wednesday for some tucker and I thought my mates would not blame me if I let our folks know. Of course, half-a-dozen men cannot hope to work all this great place, and I've got friends in Melbourne who'll be glad to come here when they know it's worth coming for. You don't blame me, Bill, for what I did, do you, now?"
This query was addressed to his mate, who energetically replied:
"Blame you, Jack! Blame you! Not at all. Although we are not going to start a public-house here, we would like to have some of our comrades. You see, there is room enough for all."
This was spoken to Trenoweth, and the orator waved his hands towards the hoary mountains and then, with a round sweep, took in the whole horizon.
During this short colloquy, Edward had been revolving a most liberal thought in his mind. Here were the men standing before him to whom he was indebted for his late find. They were delving on the outskirts of the real deposit, and he had been lucky enough to strike the heart. Had it not been for the magnanimity of Jack, he'd now be mooning his time away in Melbourne. Why, then, should he not share his good fortune with these men who had placed it within his grasp?
His resolve was soon taken.
"Mates," he said, "I want you to spare an hour and come along with me. I will show you that you have only got the edge of the field; and, as I am indebted to you greatly, I am going to share my luck with you."
It took him several minutes to convince his friends that he was in earnest, but at last they agreed to accompany him to his find.
In half an hour the seven men stood before the wonderful cascade, and they were almost paralysed at the sight of the stanniferous riches. In mute wonder they surveyed the scene and then Trenoweth took the leader by the arm and walked to the nearest peg which he had put in.
"You see this?" he said to the men. "Now, as you all come in with me, this will be our joint lease, for it is to you in a great measure I owe this fortune."
"You are indeed a mate," broke in Bill; "but we have got an area, too, and let us club the lot."
"Yes; let us club," echoed the men. And so it was decided.
Next day it was decided that Trenoweth and "Jack" should go to Launceston to make the necessary arrangements.
Before doing so, other areas were taken up, in addition to the prospectors' pre-emptive rights; and, practically, the seven men held the whole of the Bischoff field.
On reaching Launceston, Trenoweth found that a vessel was about leaving for Melbourne, and he sent a letter to John Barr, detailing the events which had occurred since he landed.
He strongly urged his friend to watch the Stock Exchange, and if—as was certain to be—Bischoff stock was placed on the market, to invest in them.
As soon as the Governmental details were arranged the particulars of the discovery were published in the Tasmanian papers and the correspondents sent the news far and wide across the continent.
A few months more sufficed to prove the richness of the field, and then the hub of the universe—London—was made acquainted with the discovery.
In six months from Trenoweth's first visit to Launceston a town had grown up in the primeval forest, called Waratah; and the hum of busy industry resounded in the once silent place.
The Bischoff mine was founded, and the discoverers could count themselves amongst the richest of Australians.
The companies which were floated paid them £150,000 in cash for the leases, and 50,000 paid-up promoters' shares were also divided amongst the lucky discoverers of the field.
It was surmised by interested journals that the field would prove an evanescent one, but as one development succeeded another all these conjectures were completely blown to the winds.
Gradually the immense deposits of tin ore were laid bare and the success of the discovery assured. In the short space of twelve months ten thousand souls were located within a mile of Mount Bischoff and the place became of national importance.
The Government turned its eyes towards the place, and it was deemed advisable to lay down a railway from Emu Bay to the tin field.
This was a work of considerable magnitude, for the route of the line lay through a rugged country. Trenoweth and the original finders took the subject up in a practical fashion and volunteered heavy subscriptions to assist the enterprise. As usual, red tape, departmental apathy and circumlocution barred the way, and Edward decided to go to Hobart and personally exert himself.
With that characteristic spirit of curiosity which marked him, he insisted on making an overland journey instead of going to Launceston and taking rail from thence to Hobart.
Accompanied only by "Jack" Howe, one of his co-finders, he left Waratah and plunged into the ranges at the back.
The country beyond was really terrible to cross. Keeping on the summit of the mount they at last reached Cradle Mount, an eminence in the range which gave birth to the Dove River.
Leaving here, they plunged into a gloomy valley to reach the separate range in which Mounts Rugged and St. Clair rose.
This journey well nigh proved fatal to the two of them.
In the depths they encountered a terrific obstacle in the bauri vine, which in places interlaced over deep ravines and formed veritable mantraps. Howe fell down through one of them, and in trying to rescue him Trenoweth nearly lost his life.
They next struck the Surprise River, and passed over country teeming with mineral riches. They just missed Mount Lyell, or that mass of ore could have been revealed twenty years before it was.
Skirting round the huge peak of the Frenchman's Cap, they crossed the Hobhouse range and entered the heart of the wildest country in Tasmania. Howe, who had not the explorer's enthusiasm which was implanted in Trenoweth, inwardly cursed his folly in making such a gratuitous journey. At Wyld Crags he openly rebelled, when Edward expressed his intention of keeping to the west coast until Port Davey was reached. He stoutly announced his intention of going due east to the overland railway to Brighton. By skirting the River Jordan, which was some thirty miles away, they could easily reach the rail.
At first Edward demurred, but on reflection he agreed to fall in with his companion's wishes. In fact, it was forcing itself upon him that they were running imminent risk of starvation. The food they took with them from Waratah had long since run out, and the inhospitable region afforded little or nothing in the way of sustenance. The few stray Tasmanian devils and opossums which were met with were not by any means the kind of animal to which an epicure would turn.
Though Trenoweth had lived with his friend Kallakoo on snake and other delicacies of the sort, it was not by choice, but of necessity.
Taking their course from Wyld Crags they reached settlement in a couple of days, and, after getting the railway, they arrived at Hobart next day.
This journey was their first ever undertaken from Bischoff over such a route; and, though no discoveries of importance were made, it proved the practicability of a small and poorly-equipped party crossing the island.
In the early days of Van Diemen's Land, when bushranging was a recognised pastime, some few expeditions had penetrated the Lake country, but had never gone beyond the great dividing range into the district that ran down to the sea.
The west was practically, even in 1872, a terra incognita, though a few intrepid men connected with the Lands department had made flying incursions. Bischoff and others had gone from the coast and given their names to rivers and mountains, but no practical good had ever resulted.
The unusual amount of moisture which the winds from the Southern Ocean brought up, and which was intercepted by the high lands of the interior, produced a vegetation that, like that in Brazil, almost defied the efforts of man to cope with it. Nothing but the magic power of gold or the other valuable minerals could clear the wilderness, and in later years that power was invoked.
In Hobart Trenoweth and his friend soon smoothed the difficulties which barred the way of the Waratah rail-road, and that settled, Edward decided, as a sort of relaxation, to visit Melbourne. Nearly a year had passed since he had seen his friend Barr, and he felt a sort of irresistible longing to again clasp his hand.
He had received but one letter from his mother during that twelve months, and that somewhat surprised him. Barr had sent the letter to Launceston and Fraser, the local agent, forwarded it on to Waratah.
When he reached Launceston after leaving Hobart, Trenoweth was somewhat surprised to find a letter awaiting him from Barr. It was a brief epistle, and simply intimated that the writer had something of importance to communicate and would like to see Trenoweth.
At first Trenoweth thought the request had reference to some transaction in Bischoff tin shares.
It might be mentioned that that Barr had not neglected the advice given to him by Trenoweth when the discovery was first made, and he had realised a considerable sum from his judicious investments.
Two days after his arrival in Launceston Edward took boat for Melbourne, and the following morning he was shaking hands with his friend.
"I have something important to tell you, Trenoweth, or you may depend I would not have sent for you. I would have gone across only that I could not well leave just at present," Barr said.
Trenoweth wondered somewhat at the serious tone of the speaker, and asked if it was in referents to shares that he wished to speak.
"No, it is not that. The fact is, I got a letter from St. Columb's Cove a couple of weeks ago. It was really intended for you, but the address indicated that it was for me, and I opened it."
"From home?" Edward eagerly asked; "I was wondering why mother had not written. Is she well?"
"Yes," Barr replied in a hesitating way; "she is well, Trenoweth, but she will never see you again."
"She is dead, as you will see," answered Barr.
As he spoke he took a soiled letter out of his pocket and handed it to the young man. It was a fearful scrawl, and Trenoweth did not recognise the handwriting.
Looking at the signature, which, like the body of the letter, was scarcely decipherable, he read:
It was a brief, if labored, note, and was to the effect that Mrs. Trenoweth had died the previous June, somewhat suddenly. She had not recovered the shock that Inez Jasper's treachery had caused her, and the villagers could see that it made a deep impression on her.
The last word she uttered was her son's name, and old Pengelly took it upon himself to communicate the mournful news to Trenoweth. The little properly was now, of course, Edward's, so the letter ran; and, pending his instructions, it was being taken care of by Pengelly.
This was a severe blow to Trenoweth. He had definitely made up his mind to pay a visit to St. Columb in a few weeks' time, but this intelligence quite upset his plans.
His mother was well advanced in years, but she was strong and healthy, he thought; and the news was most unexpected. He had not taken into account the fact that three years' absence and the severe trials that Mrs. Trenoweth had experienced would necessarily have an injurious effect on her own situation.
Barr recognised his friend's distress with evident sympathy, and then broke the silence by saying:
"What do you think it is best to do? Will you go home?"
"I don't think so. I can do no good now. My intention was to sail in a few weeks, but this alters everything. I am now alone in the world," answered the young man, mournfully.
"That is so," assented Barr; "but you must have expected this some day."
"Yes, of course, some day, but not so soon."
Trenoweth, left alone with his grief, began to revolve his future movements in his mind. He could not very well make up his mind as to what he should do, but he knew that action would best assist him to forget his loss.
At last an idea entered his head. He would pay a visit to Cape Barren Island and see his old friends. Perhaps Nelly Ryan would be at home, and somehow that thought gave him pleasure.
As he pondered, the thought of the treasure ship came into his mind.
Charleston had confided to him his idea of getting at the gold, and now such an undertaking, which promised some excitement, would be a positive relief.
He acquainted Barr with his resolve, and the latter applauded the idea.
"I wish I could accompany you," he said; "but that is impossible."
A week later Trenoweth went back to Launceston, where he soon picked up an old brass cannon, which was easily portable. He hired a small schooner to take him to Clarke Island, and when he arrived he found the place almost the same as at the time of his first visit.
Charleston told him that the wreck of the Gellibrand was in the same position, as he had seen it a week previously. He was delighted that Edward had taken steps to test the plan of removing the wreck, for he felt sure that it would succeed.
As it was not considered desirable to take others into the secret, the schooner was dismissed as soon as the cannon and stores were landed.
Edward had not forgotten his friends on the island, and he had brought quite a cargo of presents.
The following morning Charleston, Parsons, and three other half-castes in the employ of the former, accompanied by Trenoweth, set out for the headland in which the wreck lay.
The journey was an arduous one, for they had to take along with them the heavy six-pounder and a supply of balls and ammunition.
As there was no hurry, easy stages were made, and it was nightfall before the huge mass of rocks was reached. A comfortable camp was formed, and at daylight next morning the severe work of taking the cannon to the edge of the channel was commenced.
The labyrinthan passages through the honeycombed rocks were difficult enough to unencumbered travellers, and Trenoweth soon found that the task the party had set themselves to accomplish was a most formidable one.
It was noon before they reached the peculiar bridge of rocks which spanned the awful chasm already mentioned. This, of course, was the crux of the whole passage. Once across there, the remainder of the work would be comparatively easy.
Ropes had been taken along and elaborate precautions were taken to convey the cannon across the slippery bridge.
Trenoweth, Charleston and two of the attendants crossed to the opposite side, the last man taking with him a rope which had been attached to the cannon.
Parsons and the third man remained behind to guide and steady the heavy piece of ordnance whilst the others pulled it across the bridge.
The preparations were soon complete, and, exercising the utmost care, a start was made. Slowly the cannon was dragged inch by inch until past the centre of the natural bridge. Parsons and his man, on their hands and knees kept at either side of the piece guiding it fairly in the centre.
The passage was almost complete when the brass piece suddenly swerved as though on a pivot, and in an instant Parsons was brushed off the rock as though he were a fly.
A few half-stifled cries reverberated down amongst the rocks for a few seconds, and then a deathly silence reigned.
The tragedy had not occupied half a minute, and it was not in human power to have saved the man once he fell.
The half-caste on the rocky bridge was speechless with terror, and by mute signs he begged them to pull the cannon over so that he might get away from his perilous position.
This was easily done, and when accomplished Edward leant over the side of the chasm and called to Parsons loudly by name.
There was no answering response, and it was evident that the unfortunate man had met his death.
"It is impossible that he can be alive," Charleston said, at last. "That place must be a hundred and fifty feet deep at the least. I have tried it by dropping stones and taking the time they occupied in reaching the water."
"What is to be done? Can we do nothing?" asked Edward.
"We can do nothing for him," Charleston returned, pointing down the abyss; "but, now that the cannon is over, we should go on with the work we came for. Two lives have been lost already over this business and we should see to it that no others are sacrificed."
"How can we do that?" the young man asked.
"By getting the wreck entirely away. That is the best thing to do. It will be no trouble now to get this to the channel," said Charleston.
For several minutes the men lingered around the fatal spot, but at last, seeing the futility of staying longer, they lifted the heavy cannon and laboriously conveyed it slowly down the sloping rock to the water's edge.
They had a clear view of the wreck, which, apparently, had not altered in the least. It was not more than one hundred yards distant, and it seemed an easy enough matter to break it up.
Little difficulty was experienced in placing the weapon in position where it was secure and from which it could be fired without danger.
Trenoweth was the first to take aim, but it was trained too high, and the ball struck the cliff several feet above the wreck.
The noise made on firing was extraordinary.
The echoes resounded from cliff to cliff and from cavern to cavern until it seemed as if a broadside from a line-of-battle ship had been given.
Charleston, who was the next to lay the gun, did not do much better than his friend but Trenoweth's next attempt resulted as desired.
The ball struck the stem fairly, and the whole mouldering fabric seemed to at once collapse.
The strong current seized one shattered plank after another and tore them away, until, with a crashing sound, the Gellibrand finally disappeared beneath the frowning cliff.
The men looked on in breathless anxiety at this disappearance, for it seemed like a desecration to thus sweep away the visible evidence of a long-past tragedy.
"I wonder if we will ever see it again?" Trenoweth said.
"We know where to look, at any rate. I should think the current will throw it up in the place we know. It is very doubtful if we will find anything in the old hull if it does come up," replied Charleston.
As evening was now approaching, a return start was made.
The now useless cannon was left behind, as it was not considered advisable to risk taking it back.
In fact, when the chasm was reached where Parsons met his death, considerable difficulty was experienced getting one of the half-castes to recross. This was the man who had been with Parsons when the latter was swept off the bridge.
If the cannon had swerved the other way he would have met the fate that befell his companion, and the thought filled him with horror.
He was at last induced to make the venture, and soon the whole party were outside the winding passages.
In order to give intelligence of Parsons' death, it was decided to return to Charleston's place at once; but next day Trenoweth and his host returned to watch for signs of wreckage.
The fate which had overtaken Burgess, three years previously, had revealed to the watchers the direction of the current which flowed through the fateful channel. They thus knew exactly where to look for any wreckage that might be cast up by the sea, and they pitched their camp accordingly.
The first day's search showed them a number of planks belonging to the vessel, which were strewn along the beach. This was somewhat disappointing, for it pointed to the conclusion that the Gellibrand had gone to pieces.
They were consequently agreeably surprised when on the third day, at low water, they saw the waves breaking over the old hull of the barque that had so long been entombed in the gorge.
They swam out to it, but as the sea was getting rough, they could do nothing more than make a hasty survey of the wreck.
They had not calculated on the fact that it would be extremely difficult to get into the hold of the vessel in the position she was stranded, but it seemed fortune was in their favor. During the night a strong southerly gale rose, accompanied by particularly high sea; and when daylight dawned, to their joy, they saw the Gellibrand had been washed far up on the beach. At low tide the vessel would be high and dry, and patiently they waited for the water to recede.
With something of awe in their hearts they approached the barque when the tide went out, and they were astonished to find the vessel in such an excellent state of preservation. They fully expected to have seen a battered old shell, but in some places the stout planking was quite sound. Save at the stern, which had been exposed to the atmosphere, there was little sign of decay.
A strange peculiarity, also, was the almost total absence of barnacles. In that terrible marine gorge, apparently, not even a barnacle could live.
All of the masts, the bulwarks and a portion of the decking were missing. The masts had been snapped off on a level with the deck, no doubt when the vessel was swept under the rocky lodge where she caught.
The hulk was lying broadside on where it had been swept up, and as they clambered up they saw that the hull was actually watertight and full of water.
The two gold seekers had brought with them an axe, saw and other tools, which they thought would be necessary, and they at once eagerly set to work to let the water out.
This they found was not such a very easy matter.
The wood of the hull was as tough as leather and of extraordinary thickness, and they were fully two hours occupied in displacing a plank where it had to be taken out.
This work done, the drainage of the hull went slowly on; but, as the tide was rising, they were compelled to cease further exertions until the next day.
That night, as Trenoweth and his friends sat beside the huge fire they had kindled, they speculated as to what would be the outcome of the following day's quest.
Charleston was particularly sanguine, but Trenoweth did not have such high hopes as his comrade. It was not at all certain, he argued, that the gold stolen from the Nelson had been put aboard the Gellibrand. In fact, it was currently reported that most of the stolen treasure had gone in a ship that had sailed for America the night the robbery took place, and a portion had remained in Victoria.
Charleston, however, was firm in his belief that the hulk so near them was the boat into which the gold had been taken. He had no doubt about it, as years before he had received information which placed it beyond argument.
Thus the night bore on, and both men were so excited that sleep was out of the question.
Charleston occasionally relieved the subject by narrating to his companion some of the strange stories of life in the early days of settlement in the straits, and when darkness waned and the first blush of morning suffused the eastern sky he was still talking glibly of singular scenes he himself had witnessed.
Two hours later the seekers left their camp and wended their way to the hulk of the Gellibrand, or what they supposed was the Gellibrand, for the name had long since been washed away.
When the tide receded sufficiently they got to the vessel and found that the water was sufficiently low in the hold to allow of an examination being made.
In order to permit of this being properly done, it was decided to take out some of the deck planks.
This was not a difficult job, as much of it had been loosened by the breakage of the masts.
In an hour's time a considerable opening had been made and sufficient light was admitted to banish the gloom inside.
They had provided themselves with a rough ladder and, placing it in the hold, Trenoweth descended. He had a lighted candle to assist in the search, and he went into the uncanny place with something very like fear in his heart. It was, he thought, like entering a grave; and he half expected to see the spectres of the runaway crew, who must have been drowned when the vessel drove into the awful channel, rise before him.
There was still two or three feet of water in the hold and he had almost reached it, when a frightful splashing close to his feet nearly caused his heart to stop. It seemed to him as if a dozen of men were floundering in the water and trying to get at him. In descending he had dropped his candle, and the light which came down was but feeble.
He called on Charleston, who was standing alone, to come down, and his comrade hastily descended, crying as he went:
"It is only fish, man! Do not be frightened!"
This reassured Trenoweth, and, though the floundering still continued, he recognised the real cause.
When Charleston handed Edward the light he at once saw the cause of his alarm. An enormous king fish had by some means got into the hold and, as the water ran out, the huge fish was partly stranded.
The two men got off the ladder and began their search in the hold.
It was at once apparent that the barque had not been laden when wrecked, and this seemed to confirm Charleston's belief that she had been run away with for some important purpose.
With the exception of the stone ballast, there was nothing in the main portion of the hold, but the after part was partly boarded up, the partition being some six feet high.
There was a door in it, the iron of which was rusted away. The vessel was sunk at the bows, and this drained the part that was partitioned off. This portion of the hold was not lighted at all, but with the aid of the two candles sufficient illumination was obtained.
The first object that met the seekers' gaze gave them somewhat of a shock, though it was not quite unexpected—a human skull lay just inside the doorway, but no other portion of the skeleton was visible.
Charleston stooped and picked it up, and found that it was in a fair state of preservation. As was natural, both men looked keenly at it and noticed that the top was broken in, as if by a terrific blow.
At the time Trenoweth thought the injury had been caused after death, through being washed about; but he afterwards learned something which put a different complexion on the case.
A rumor reached his ears that there had been a scene of murderous assault on board the Gellibrand shortly before the wreck took place, and that the only man on board who understood navigation had been foully murdered.
When the gold-robbers seized the barque they put all on board, with one exception, into a boat and sent them off. This exception was the captain, and they ordered him to take them to the Tasmanian coast.
He was forced to comply and when, two days later, the coast was actually sighted, they deliberately murdered him, thinking they could manage for themselves. A storm rose before they could effect a landing and blew them back to Clarke's Island, and their doom.
The retribution was certainly a speedy one.
Trenoweth and Charleston carefully examined round for any other ghastly relics which might exist, but not another bone could they find.
Going cautiously forward they found evidences that the place had been used as a sleeping apartment.
A good quantity of horsehair was strewn around, but the canvas that probably held it had long before disappeared.
Some broken wood, like the rungs of chairs, was also scattered about, but the devouring sea had eaten up everything else.
The seekers were about to go to the other end of the boat, when something caught Trenoweth's eyes at the extreme end of the apartment which caused him to make a closer scrutiny.
Jambed against the stem, he saw that there were several small boxes piled one above the other and secured by a board which ran from the floor to the bottom of the deck.
This gave the appearance that it had formed a portion of the stern, but he found it was not so.
Calling Charleston, he proceeded to try and get the board away.
This was not hard to do, as the sea water had eaten away the nails which formerly held it.
Both of them at once saw that the long-wished-for discovery had been made. There were six strong boxes, such as were used for the carriage of gold by the early escorts. The thick iron bands which had at one time bound them had completely rusted away, and even the iron of the locks had gone.
Lifting the top one down, Trenoweth easily pulled off the top and, as the light shone in, it revealed a mass of rough, dull gold.
The second one contained smelted gold, and the remainder, on examination, were found to hold loose gold chiefly, though some bullion was also in them.
Three years previously Trenoweth would have leaped with joy to have thus a fortune in his grasp, but now the discovery had little charm for him. He was already a wealthy man, with riches far beyond his wants; but, as he looked on the glittering metal he could not repress a thrill of satisfaction that he had achieved success in his quest after the treasure.
He wondered how many lives had been sacrificed in trying to get possession of the gold. He knew of three at least, and there were probably a dozen others. It was certain that all on board the Gellibrand were lost, but it was never known exactly what the number was.
"You see now that I was quite right in what I told you," Charleston at last said, with pardonable pride.
"Yes, we have the gold; but what are we going to do with it? In fact, I have some compunction in taking it at all," replied Trenoweth.
"It is very easy to dispose of," answered his companion, picking up a bar of bullion and looking fondly at it. "We are halves, of course," he added.
"I suppose we can soon circulate it if we like. By the by, we must not forget poor Parsons' family," Edward said.
"We can provide for them. That will be our first duty," answered Charleston.
"And, as for your claim to it, is it not 'treasure trove?'"
"Yes, so far as you are concerned, for you found it; but it is not 'treasure trove' to me. At any rate, you take half and do what you like with it and I will do the same with my share," Trenoweth replied.
After this conversation, the two men began to carry the boxes out of the apartment to the foot of the ladder, and soon after they had them all out of the hold.
A further search made in the boxes revealed nothing of importance, and the next step was to transport the gold to the camp.
Next morning Charleston went to his place and returned with a horse and cart, and during the night the boxes were safely lodged at his residence. The old hull of the Gellibrand was not interfered with, and it gradually got broken up and tilted over.
At the present moment the visitor to Clarke's Island may see some of the remains of the stout hull at the spot where it was stranded.
It did not at first occur to either Edward or his friend Charleston that the gold they had so strangely obtained was not their property. In fact, Charleston regarded it as "treasure trove" and as such rightfully belonging to them, in spite of Trenoweth's remonstrances. The original owners it would, no doubt, be difficult to find, even if it were desirable to seek them.
With the gold in their possession, they began to feel how awkward it would be to turn it into current coin. If such a large quantity were taken to Launceston it would excite suspicion when they desired to sell it.
Melbourne would be the best place to get rid of the stuff, they both concluded; and even then the first difficulty that confronted them would be the transportation thither.
This difficulty ripened in Edward's mind an idea that had been germinating for some time. He had long wished for some speedy means of reaching the straits islands—or, rather, if the truth must be told, of reaching Cape Barron Island.
Somehow, the image of Miss Ryan frequently rose before him, and since his last affliction the thought of his loneliness pressed more heavily on him.
He was in a position to solicit the hand of the proudest woman in Australia, but no such thought as a marriage for wealth or to better his social standing ever entered his head.
To pay a visit to Cape Barren Island and return took almost as long as a trip to Europe and back. Though only forty miles from Port Dalrymple, at the mouth of the Tamar, a period of twelve weeks was occupied in going and returning. No vessels save the Government steamer called at the place, and Trenoweth determined to be independent of the Flora in the future. His idea was to buy a comfortable yacht, in which he could cruise about as his fancy dictated.
The transport of the gold decided him in his resolution. If they put it on board the Flora it would be noticed, for such cargo from the island would be most unusual. The boxes spoke for themselves, and it would be a difficult matter to get other receptacles for it.
He immediately took Charleston into his confidence and his co-partner in the find applauded the idea.
"You will have to go to Melbourne for a good boat. You can easily pick one up there, I am sure. Money will get you anything," Charleston said.
Having arrived at this conclusion, Trenoweth decided to run across the channel and see his friends the Ryans during the two days that would elapse before the calling of the Flora, by which he would return to Launceston.
Charleston's boat was pressed into service, and, with a couple of his men, his boat rowed him across.
The day was beautifully fine and the trip a most pleasant one. Trenoweth could not help contrasting it with the day he saved Charleston from a watery grave, and the latter was not slow to appreciate the courageous act of the young man.
"Only for you, my friend, I wonder where I would be now," he said.
"In heaven, perhaps," laughed Trenoweth.
"My bones would be tossing down there," said Charleston, pointing to where the waves softly lapped the huge cliff.
Mr. and Mrs. Ryan and several of the half-castes were on the pier awaiting their arrival.
The boat had been descried a long way off, as such visits were expected and watched for. The greeting was a cordial one, but Trenoweth was rather disappointed that Miss Ryan was not at home. That young lady was in Launceston, having gone there in the last trip made by the Flora. She was not expected back for a couple of months, but Edward reflected that in a few days at most he would see her in the Tasmanian city.
Charleston returned home the same day, it being understood that Trenoweth would make his way to Melbourne and return with a yacht, even if he had to get one built.
He told the Ryans about the finding of the treasure, and the sad fate of Parsons. The latter had been well known on Cape Barren Island, and the news of his awful death caused general regret.
The good old couple did not appear much concerned about the gold. That is, the fact of obtaining such wealth did not affect them, though they listened in wonder to the strange narrative.
Mrs. Ryan, indeed, rather upset Edward by exhibiting considerable anxiety to know what had become of the huge king fish which had startled him in the hold of the Gellibrand.
"Oh, we killed the big fellow and had a portion of him for dinner," he replied.
"Well, that was better than to let it die a lingering death in the ship," the sympathetic woman said.
A couple of days later the Flora entered the little harbor and Trenoweth bade his friends adieu. He did not tell them what his intention was, as he wanted to give them a pleasant surprise.
He was entrusted with a message to Miss Ryan, and when, a few days later, he reached Launceston, he had an excellent excuse for calling on the young lady. In fact, during the three days he was in Launceston he saw her several times, and at each interview his good opinion of the fair Nelly was increased.
When he got to Melbourne he went at once to his ever staunch friend and guide, John Barr, and told him what he was in search of.
The genial Barr was pleased with the notion, and introduced him to a naval friend of his named Captain Schultz. The latter was a thoroughly experienced mariner, and just the man to make a wise selection.
An advertisement was inserted in the leading Melbourne papers, setting forth Trenoweth's want, and in less than a week he found himself the proprietor of a beautiful little thirty-ton yacht, named The Flinders.
Captain Schultz also carefully selected a very efficient crew for the boat, and a fortnight after his arrival in Melbourne Trenoweth was again ready to sail for the islands.
He did not tarry long in the Victorian metropolis, for after taking a few friends round the bay he gave his skipper orders to sail for Clarke's Island.
The yacht was an excellent sea boat and sumptuously appointed, and as the fortunate young Cornishman reclined on deck as the vessel skimmed along, he could not help contrasting his ease and luxury with those dark days of anguish and suffering when he was lost in the parched interior.
Suddenly he started up, and going to his cabin, opened an old portmanteau and took from it a carefully wrapped parcel.
Going on deck he opened it and revealed a lump of magnificent silver ore.
For a full hour he gazed at the specimen, while his face bore a speculatively-troubled look. What memories did that lump of heavy ore recall to him? They were evidently no pleasant ones, for the expressions on his face was not that of pleasure, but rather that of pain.
Trenoweth knew in a dim, vague way that there was something connected with the ore that was poignant with consequences, but, for the life of him, he could not crystalise the thoughts which floated in confusion through his brain.
What a mystery memory is?
The genius of man can penetrate beyond the solar system into stella worlds lost in the infinite depths of space; it can harness the lightning from heaven and make it entirely obedient; but memory is altogether beyond its reach.
No scientist, no inspired investigator has yet been able to explain the mysterious workings of that godlike faculty we call memory. The old man can sit on the brink of the grave and unfold from his mental treasury the panorama which stretches in a long vista to the cradle. He can conjure up in a moment all the events of his life, yet he knows not how it is done.
And so with Trenoweth.
He was puzzled to think why he could recollect the finding of the piece of ore in the dead man's hand and the face of Kallakoo looking down on him, and yet not be able to fill up the short gap between the two events.
He was certain that there was a gap.
Something in his inner consciousness told him so, but he could get no further. With a sigh he got up and, going back to his cabin, replaced the piece of ore.
When Clarke's Island was reached no time was lost in placing the boxes of gold on board the yacht and, with Charleston as passenger, sail was made for Cape Barren Island.
The residents of this out-of-the-way place were somewhat surprised to see a stately yacht steering into the little bay, and their surprise turned to pleasure when they found who was owner of the pretty craft.
It had been many years since a pleasure boat had touched at the place, and they felt it somewhat of an honor to entertain those on board.
To Trenoweth's extreme pleasure, he found, as the boat came near the pier, that Nelly Ryan was standing beside her mother, waiting the approach of the strange sail.
When anchor was cast he insisted on showing all hands over his purchase, and he felt more than repaid when he saw the delight which appeared in the bright eyes of Nelly Ryan.
A week was spent on the island and, when leaving for Melbourne, Trenoweth insisted on Mr. Ryan and Nelly going with him to the southern metropolis. He argued in the most eloquent fashion that the old schoolmaster must need a change of scene, and a rest from his routine labors.
Ryan said he had been already in Melbourne; but, as he admitted that it was fully a quarter of a century previous, Edward brushed the objection aside as being valueless.
Mrs. Ryan favored the young man's suggestion, and between them it was decided as Trenoweth wished.
The trip across was a delightful one, and the schoolmaster had not been an hour at sea when he mentally congratulated himself on having been persuaded to fall in with his friend's desire.
As for the fair Nelly, she was more than delighted, not so much with the sea trip, as she was used to that in her frequent visits to Launceston, but with the prospect of seeing Melbourne.
She had never yet been across the straits, and her wish was to see the city of which she had heard so much.
When Barr heard of his friend's arrival he insisted that he and those with him should all stop at Essendon, and he unceremoniously removed them from the hotel where they had put up.
As soon as Charleston had disposed of his share of the gold, Trenoweth decided to deal with his portion.
He went to the Victorian Treasurer and laid all the facts before him, and the reply he got reassured him.
"Divide the money amongst the charities, my friend. The Government could not claim it, and it would be practically impossible to find the rightful owners. If you make it public you will have a lot of bogus claims sent in and no end of trouble."
The authorities at the Melbourne Mint were considerably surprised at the large quantity of the precious metal which was offered them by the islander, but beyond a formal question or two the surprise was not manifested.
The gold was assayed and found pure, the regulation price paid, and the transaction ended.
Various of the charities benefited by Trenoweth's generosity, and a large sum was kept for similar purposes to be expended in Tasmania.
Neither was Charleston a niggard with his new-found wealth. His tastes were simple and his wants, on Clarke's Island, few. The fact that he was now a comparatively wealthy man did not seem to have the slightest effect on him. He was one of those few men whom riches does not demoralise.
It occurred to Edward at this time to try and ascertain what had become of the parents of the Nortons.
He knew that Grey had no relatives in the colony, but he felt particularly anxious to know if the old couple who had been so suddenly bereaved of their sons were still alive.
The "missing friends" columns of the leading colonial papers were laid under contribution, and in less than a week the advertiser was surprised to be waited on by the couple he wished to see.
The story they told was an exceedingly affecting one.
When intelligence reached them at Inglewood of the supposed tragic fate of their sons they realised the little money they could and set off for Adelaide.
From there they started into the interior, and actually travelled as far as Mulwa station, determined to set at rest all doubts as to the fate of their sons.
At Mulwa they saw manager Anderson, and from the information given by him, and also by the remnant of clothes and articles found near the skeletons, they knew that death had swept the loved ones for ever from them.
The kind-hearted manager drove them out to the grave on the plain, and they had the melancholy satisfaction of knowing that at least decent burial had been given to the dead.
Broken in heart and with almost empty pockets, they managed to get back to Melbourne, where they were making a precarious livelihood.
Trenoweth told them the story of the fatal expedition, as far as he knew; and he took care that the childless old couple should never want again as long as life lasted. He made a provision for them that placed them in an independent position, and he felt that never had he derived more pleasure from the expenditure of money.
The days went swiftly by after this with Trenoweth.
In the society of Miss Ryan he seemed to forget all the troubles of his life, and he became again the happy youth he had been when he worked the Wheal Merlin and his life sky had never a cloud to mar its sunshine.
It seemed as if he had quite forgotten his promise to Mrs. Ryan to bring her husband and daughter back to the island in a couple of weeks' time.
The old man himself, it must be confessed, did not appear in a hurry to return, and his daughter took an almost childish delight in seeing the sights of the city.
She never seemed to weary, and she taxed the ingenuity of her friends to find her new places and scenes.
How long this blissful state might have continued it is difficult to say, had not an untoward event happened which caused Edward to bring his Melbourne visit to an end.
It was the month of November, and the beauty and fashion of Australia was gravitating to the Victorian metropolis to assist in the great racing carnival of the year.
Usually staid people seemed for the month to be afflicted with a mania in the direction of horse-racing. They spoke of little else than the Melbourne Cup, and the universal topic of conversation was betting. The secular newspapers were filled with quotations of the "odds," and minute descriptions of the last fast gallop.
One day it would be announced that the favorite had a bad leg, and a thousand times more interest was manifested over the condition of that horse then if it had been the most powerful crowned head of Europe.
The religious journals thought the time opportune to denounce in scathing terms the frightful vice of gambling, which seemed to have fixed its demoralising grip fast on the hearts of the people.
Reverend editors wrote columns of those denunciatory articles, and then they actively assisted at their church bazaar and encouraged the begging young ladies in their monetary assaults on the purses of the bachelors. It was, indeed, a strange time altogether. For the period man bowed down in worship to the horse and forgot aught else.
Of course, it was arranged that Trenoweth and his friends should go to the Melbourne Cup, as half the population of the colony was going to do likewise.
A select party was formed, consisting of Barr and his family with Trenoweth and his guests.
The young man, it must be said, took but little interest in horse-racing; and, had he consulted his individual taste, he would not have gone to the Flemington course at all. The weather for the great racing event of the year was all that could be desired, and the course alone was well worth going to see.
The schoolmaster, used to the quietude of the isolated island, was driven almost bewildered by the rush and roar of the mighty crowd in which he found himself at Flemington. He had never in his life seen anything to approach the excited multitude, and it took Barr a considerable portion of his time to look after his elderly friend.
Trenoweth, of course, devoted himself to Miss Ryan, and was extremely assiduous in his attentions.
The operations of the "Ring" at last attracted their notice.
They had been on the course for a little more than an hour when the brass-throated gentry, who make a living by "laying the odds," caused the pair to pause in their peregrinations.
The Cup was the next race to be run, and it was on this event that the wagering was being made.
The din of voices resembled the confusion that must have prevailed at the Tower of Babel, and it was quite incomprehensible to both Trenoweth and Miss Ryan, at the first.
As they listened it became more intelligible, and gradually they were able to distinguish what all the shouting was about.
One man in particular was particular for his brazen throat, and Trenoweth gave a start as he heard him called Simpson by a gentleman who had just taken the odds from him. Why he felt any surprise at the mention of that name he could not tell at the moment.
It was, as the reader knows, a man named Simpson who married Inez Jasper, but since that event Edward had met a number of people bearing the name.
He looked at the fellow in front of him with considerable curiosity, and the more he scrutinised him the more confident he got that he had met with some one who had crossed his life. The face of the bookmaker was not a pleasant one, by any means. The skilled physiognomist would have no difficulty in reading evil in that face, and vice had marked it in no uncertain manner.
He was evidently betting heavily, as he could scarce find time to book the numerous wagers which were flowing in on him. The description given by Mrs. Trenoweth in her last letter to her son rose up in Trenoweth's mind, and to a great extent it corresponded with that of the man he was looking at. The difference could easily be accounted for by the lapse of time and the wild and dissipated life which the bookmaker had led.
Then Trenoweth recollected that his mother had said that Charles Simpson was a squatter, or had represented himself to be such.
It was quite feasible, though not at all probable, that the former squatter had, by reverse of fortune, retrograded into a bookmaker; but it was still more likely that the Simpson of St. Columb's Cove had falsely represented himself to Mrs. Trenoweth and Inez.
If his object was to win the latter it was morally certain that had been done to gain his point.
He was so engrossed in his study that Nelly Ryan spoke to him twice before he answered her, and he had to apologise for his fit of abstraction, as he called it.
He reflected that if Simpson were really the man he suspected him to be, his wife, if alive, would almost certainly be on the course.
In a crowd of sixty thousand persons it would not be easy to pick out a single individual, but if Inez Jasper was anywhere about Trenoweth felt sure he would see her—even if the crowd numbered more than a million.
When the race was run the young man noticed that bookmaker Simpson appeared ill at ease. His face was decidedly pale, and his lips twitched nervously, as though something unforeseen had happened.
For a wonder, a red-hot favorite had won and there was a settled gloom on the faces of a good many bookmakers. Their boisterous demeanor was now subdued, and it was apparent that many of them had been heavily hit by the result of the Cup race.
Trenoweth and Miss Ryan strolled on to the lawn, and the young lady could not help enquiring what made her companion look so serious.
He was fain to protest that nothing was the matter with him, but his face belied his assertion.
They met Barr and the old schoolmaster on the lawn and had just turned away from them, when Edward came face to face with one that caused him to stop suddenly and utter an exclamation of surprise.
Not ten feet away stood Inez Jasper, or rather Mrs. Charles Simpson. She was staring full at him, with a peculiarly sarcastic smile on her lips. She had altered somewhat, but not for the better. There was that indefinable expression in her looks which spoke of unhappiness, and care sat heavily on her.
For half a minute Trenoweth returned the stare of the woman who had jilted him, whilst his companion regarded him with silent surprise.
Then, with an abrupt apology for conduct, he offered Miss Ryan his arm and, with a muttered excuse, turned back with her towards the spot where her father and Barr were standing.
"I believe I have seen ghosts today," he said, with a sad smile, to his companion. "Twice this afternoon I have been startled by seeing people I thought I knew, but it was only fancy."
As the young couple turned away Mrs. Simpson regarded them with an eager look, and remained motionless for several minutes. Then, with a half suppressed sigh, she turned and went off towards the grandstand.
Trenoweth had quite lost his spirits for the afternoon, though he made a brave effort to be cheerful. Before the last race was run the party left the course to avoid the great crush of the homeward crowd.
Trenoweth did not breathe a word to his friends concerning the unexpected meeting he had. Nothing could be gained by it, but he made a mental determination to leave Melbourne as soon as he could conveniently do so.
On the Tuesday following the Cup race Barr drew his attention to some prominent sporting paragraphs in one of the daily newspapers.
These were to the effect that the "Ring" had been heavily hit during the Spring Meeting and that more than one bookmaker had proved a defaulter. The worst case was that of a man named Charles Simpson, who had bet very heavily and, losing, had taken French leave of his creditors.
He had, of course, been "posted," but that was little satisfaction to those he owed money to. It was broadly hinted, also, that the man Simpson had been guilty of practices that might bring him within the pale of the criminal law. In fact, it was stated that steps were being taken by certain persons, who felt that they had been swindled, to bring Simpson to book; and it was expected that a warrant would be immediately issued for his apprehension.
And this was the man for whom Inez had cast off the friends of her life! Trenoweth thought.
From private enquiries he made he ascertained beyond a doubt that Charles Simpson, the bookmaker, was identical with the Simpson of St. Columb's Cove. He also found that the man had lived by his wits all his life, and never at any time had followed pastoral pursuits. The nearest approach he had made to that line of life was his occasional indulgence in that work known as "fleecing the lamb," but this animal was invariably a two-legged one.
Edward could not help feeling a pang of regret when he thought that the girl he had once loved was linked to such a man as Simpson evidently was; but it was of her own free choice, and against the advice of her foster-mother.
Towards the end of the week it was agreed to return home on the following Monday. Already the old schoolmaster had out-stopped the allotted time, though it had passed briefly with them.
In answer to enquiries from his friend Barr, Trenoweth could not say what his future course of action would be.
He would stop a few days with his friends of Cape Barren Island. From thence he would take a run over to Launceston and also to Emu Bay, when he could go to Bischoff. After that he might perhaps return to Melbourne, but he could say nothing for certain. His movements would be irregular, he thought, as he had no fixed plan.
On the Monday the party left Melbourne for the islands, and, after putting Charleston off at Clarke's Island, the little bay near Ryan's was reached once more and the anchor dropped.
Mrs. Ryan was mollified for the prolonged absence of her relatives by an abundance of useful and ornamental presents which had been brought from Melbourne for her. She was exceedingly pleased at the thought which prompted Trenoweth to take such an interest in her.
Day after day the yacht remained in the bay, and it seemed to the crew as if the owner was determined to make the desolate place his permanent home. There were, indeed, few attractions on the Island, but the men amused themselves by catching mutton birds and fishing.
Meanwhile Trenoweth was busy with his own affairs, or rather, interesting himself in the affairs of Nelly Ryan. It was scarcely a surprise to any one when it became known—how none could tell—that Edward Trenoweth was engaged to marry Nelly Ryan.
Three months afterwards quite an imposing ceremony took place on Cape Barren Island.
Trenoweth would not hear of the marriage taking place in Melbourne or Launceston, but for a couple of weeks the yacht was kept busy bringing visitors from those places.
Prominent amongst them were Mr. and Mrs. Barr, and when the imported clergyman gave the united couple his blessing, there were no more sincere congratulations than by Edward's shipmate friend and his worthy wife.
The course of Mr. and Mrs. Trenoweth's life, when they started along it together, did not appear to have many thorns upon it.
Fortune had undoubtedly been kind to the young man, and the worst trials of his life were apparently past. He was exceedingly wealthy, and his home—or rather, his chief home—at Launceston was one of the finest in the whole island. A good deal of their time was occupied in visits to Melbourne and to Cape Barren Island.
Nothing would induce Mr. and Mrs. Ryan to leave that bleak spot. It had become endeared to them in some unaccountable fashion, and there they decided to live and die.
One year succeeded another without being marked by any event of unusual import.
The first cloud—if it could be called a cloud—took place in the latter end of the year 1880.
This was the death of the old schoolmaster.
It had been expected for some time, for the old man had been gradually fading out of life. The hours of his existence ebbed slowly away, and those he loved best were gathered round his deathbed.
For weeks previously The Flinders was at anchor in the little bay, and his daughter, with her husband and family, were with him.
His end, as might have been expected, was peace; and when they laid him in the little rude cemetery overlooking the Southern Ocean every person on the island knew that they had lost their best and most disinterested friend.
Trenoweth and his wife tried hard to induce the widow to accompany them to their Launceston home, but she would not go.
"My place is here. I promised him I would be with him even unto the last, and I could not be happy away from the spot," she said.
It was futile to try and shake her determination.
Beyond an occasional visit to Launceston and one to Melbourne, she would not leave the place that had been her home for so many years.
In the beginning of 1883 a rumor reached Edward Trenoweth which caused his memory to suddenly awaken from the long trance which had enchained it.
Away in the far west of New South Wales, near the border of South Australia, came the news of the finding of silver ore in immense quantities.
A full description of the locality was given and, as Trenoweth looked again on his treasured piece of ore, the buried past became revealed and he saw what had been so long hidden from him. The great silver lode on which he fainted had been no mere vision, conjured up by a startled and distorted imagination, but a reality.
He had long since told his wife the story of his wanderings, and when he read the report of the new find he decided not to be left out of the discovery. He invested largely in the original Proprietary Company, and in a few years his income from silver was as large as that from tin.
When Broken Hill was fairly started, he could not resist the temptation to pay the place a visit.
What a wonderful change there was, to be sure! In place of the frightful wilderness, tenanted by a handful of blacks, the district swarmed with bustling life. There were twenty thousand people clustered around those rugged heights on which he had so nearly perished. The roar of great machinery sounded day and night, and a pall of smoke from the furnaces and smokestacks hung darkly over the place.
A city had grown up as if by magic out of the desolation, and a railway had just been completed, forming through communication with Adelaide.
Three newspapers were being published daily, and all the adjuncts of civilization were present. Hotels jostled each other at the street corners, and churches lifted their spires heavenwards.
Trenoweth mounted one of the highest peaks of the range and took a long survey of the surrounding country. He fancied he could see in the blue distance the volcanic peak from which he first caught sight of the Barrier. He almost thought he descried the deep watercourse, on the banks of which he made the unpleasant discovery of the dead body.
He had brought the piece of ore with him and compared it with that on the hill. It was identical, and he had no doubt but that the man had found it on the Barrier Range.
There were some pleasant surprises for him at Broken Hill to compensate for the sad thoughts which certain associations revived.
The first day in the place he met a grizzled aboriginal, and the recognition was mutual.
He had no difficulty in telling that it was his friend, Kallakoo, though how the keen eyes of the latter recognised him Trenoweth could not say. Yet the moment the black met him he knew who stood before him. Eagerly he pointed to the particular part of the lode where he had found Trenoweth lying, and by signs expressed his satisfaction at the meeting.
Edward was no less pleased to see his dusky friend, and in every possible way he tried to show his high appreciation of the old man's great kindness to him in the past.
He elicited from the townspeople that Kallakoo only paid occasional visits to the place, and then he almost invariably came alone. He had a sort of intuition that contact with the white man was fatal to his race, and he kept his handful of followers away from danger.
Trenoweth saw the black many times before he left for his camp, and though he wished to make him some useful presents the old fellow did not seem to care for anything save tobacco.
Trenoweth gave him a supply of the best procurable—not "sheepwash"—and he could do no more.
The third day that Edward was on the Hill he was walking down Argent Street, when he was hailed by a hearty voice calling:
The tone had something familiar in it, and, turning round, he was confronted by "Jack" Long.
The whilholm manager of Poole Station was a little more bronzed than when Trenoweth last saw him, twelve years previously, but otherwise there was very little change.
"Mr. Long! How glad I am to see you! How do you do?" Edward gasped, seizing his hand and shaking it warmly.
"So am I to meet you, old man! But what are you doing up here?" replied Long.
"I have an interest in the Proprietary, and I thought I should like to see the district once again. You know I was here once before."
"Yes, by Jingo! Of course, I recollect now. It was here that Kallakoo picked you up. Pretty different place now to what is was at that time. What an extraordinary change, eh?"
"Yes; it is extraordinary! Do you know, Long, where our friend Kallakoo found me?"
"No, I don't know the spot exactly. Anywhere near?"
"Yes; he found me lying in a fainting fit, just on the big lode there," Edward answered, pointing to the Proprietary lease.
"That is a very singular thing. But did you not know there was silver there at the time? You ought to have known, being a miner."
"I had a sort of dim knowledge of it for all those years, but I could never get the exact facts into a proper focus until I read of the finding of the lode; then it all seemed to come back to me. The whole affair is most singular. But, by-the-bye, what might you be doing here?" Trenoweth abruptly asked.
"Like yourself, I've got an interest in the big mine. Several of the station hands around are interested here you know. We did not live in the wilderness so long without knowing something, and when the news first reached us about the silver we came down. We were in time to pick up something good, I can assure you," Long smilingly replied.
"I am very glad to hear it, my friend. A few years' life in the interior should be quite enough for any ordinarily constituted man."
So the conversation went on, and the two friends decided to make a tour of the neighborhood next day. Trenoweth particularly wanted to ride over to the volcanic hill and to the side of the dry creek where he had got the piece of ore in so tragic a manner.
Long was pleased with the idea, as riding across country was just in his line.
Next morning they secured a couple off good horses and started. Edward felt the huge difference between that journey and the one he had made thirteen years before. Well mounted, and with a companion like Long, it was a real pleasure trip.
It was noon before they reached the creek which Trenoweth knew so well. He had often seen it in his dreams.
The tall cliffs, which jutted up at a particular spot, were a guide to the men, and they soon reached the place where the dead man had lain. There was no sign of the skeleton, but a little mound close by showed where burial had been given it.
With the rush that had taken place when the silver was first discovered, the remains could not have lain long without attracting attention. The district for fifty miles around had been thoroughly prospected, and no doubt some one of the parties had decently buried the skeleton.
Leaving the horses tethered at the foot of the hill, the travellers made the ascent, and once again Trenoweth had a view from the summit. The crater still contained water, and, descending to it, the friends tasted it. It was almost as bitter as gall, and Trenoweth wondered how he had ever managed to get it down.
It was evening before Broken Hill was reached, and next day Trenoweth took the train for Adelaide.
He first extracted a promise from Long that he would visit him on the first favorable opportunity, and then the friends separated.
When Trenoweth reached Melbourne Barr had some information for him in the shape of a letter.
When Edward broke the seal he was astonished to find that it was from Mrs. Simpson, who was even then residing in Melbourne.
The letter was a pathetic one, revealing a married life of terrible misery. Inez had been a widow for more than a year, but the release had been a happy one for her. Simpson had been killed through falling down a shaft at the Temora diggings. He had turned out an utter rascal, leading his wife, whom he had married under false pretences, a terrible life. She had been left quite penniless, having to earn a precarious livelihood as a "ladies' companion." She wrote to Trenoweth, not for sympathy, but to express the feeling that she had been rightly served.
Trenoweth showed the letter to Barr, and then said:
"I think I was somewhat to blame in this matter. I remember you told me so on shipboard. Don't you think I should help her?"
"How can you do so?"
"If she liked to go back to St. Columb's Cove, the old house is still there and only John Pengelly and his wife in it. I could settle an annuity upon her," replied Edward.
"I rather like that idea, Edward," answered Barr.
The latter conducted the negotiations, and so it was decided that Inez should return—a waif once more—and take possession of the old Trenoweth home.
Edward settled a competency on her; and, a couple of years after, when he with his wife and family visited St. Columb's Cove, they found her thoroughly contented with her lot.
The people of the little village had cause to bless that visit, for the Silver King was royal in his benefactions.
He visited the little cemetery where his parents were buried, and breathed a prayer for their happiness.
Edward Trenoweth has long since got out of the Wake of Fortune, and, blessed with riches, and what is even greater—happiness—he is content to go down the stream of life holding out the hand of help to all in need.
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