|Newspaper Title||Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||The Wealth of the West|
The chief characteristic of the scenery was—that it didn't remind you of Swit-
zerland. Nature in this case was like the " higher " novelists. She dispensad with the effect of mere scene-painting and depended upon development of character alone. No vulgar display of colour—of hillsides, foliage, green plains, rivers, and flowers to distract the atten- tion. The face of nature was wrinkled and dull red. It was sprinkled over with hessian humpies, nondescript structures of corrugated iron, the biggest building a hotel—nothing striking about its archi- tecture—it also was of the hessian order and was built for drinks—and not orna- ment. Every here and there was a tent
with a home-made sign where luke-warm cold drinks were sold.
Yonder were long spidery-looking frameworks —condensing plants and poppet heads, where coarse men, who swore a great deal and drank a great deal more, toiled all day, some for the sake of the gold alone, and some for wives and little ones, with as much dogged prosaic heroism, as much actual crucifixion of the flesh, as much voluntarily incurred privation, as much industry and appli- cation and pluck, as the men who have led our forlorn hopes, or made pictur- esque charges, or died for the conversion of the heathen who didn't want to be converted, or striven to find the Poles in thrilling regions of thick-ribbed ice. They were great, hulking, horrid, selfish men, who didn't seem to comb their hair or wash often enough, who could be on occasion as gentle as a woman to a sick mate, who would hand over half their last pound to a friend who was on his uppers, who didn't worry over minor morals, who would fight their knuckles into a pulp on behalf of a little fellow, and were generally a very objectionable class because they would not dress respectably nor talk grammatically.
But as, on a modest computation, a diggings has been described almost as often as a storm at sea, it would be mere irritation to say any more.
This was at a time when as yet the railway was not, when even preaching, by even a bush parson, was a diversion ;
and theatrical entertainments unknown. It was two years since the events of the last chapter. The mine was the " Wealth of the West," and Conyers and Bates were among the candidates for fortune, but had not as yet drawn a prize.
It was getting towards evening. Camp fires were springing up. A crowd was forming at one corner of an anonymous street. A voice with a distinctly American twang was rising on the air.
It was the voice of the man who had
brought the first circus to the town and thus created an epoch. He was stand- ing and haranguing with an air of im- perturbable self-possession and was try- ing to make the crowd, which was every moment growing bigger, understand how many attractions his exhibition possessed.
" Well now, gents, as you will find displayed on my bills, my name happens, through no fault of my own, to be Hiram Skeggs. My genealogy has an ancient and sacred origin, and comes from Hyerosymus Skeggiensis which being interpreted means keeper of the Holy City, and my people gave up so much of their time to keeping that Holy City that they lost count how to keep them- selves ; and here's the scion and last and worthiest representative of that race lugging round a circus over a sand patch
for the edification of his fellow creatures.
This is the first experience I've had of your Western territory, and I tell you I don't quite know what this country; was
He had a way of his own in dis- tributing his emphasis, which it is not worth while to reproduce ; and he spoke with the regulation monotonous drawl— just a trifle exaggerated, no doubt, so as to come up to expectations formed of an American by the vulgar.
" I really do not, gentlemen ; but it's been pow'fully borne in on me that the Almighty meant your territory in the first place for the purpose of running it through old Father Time's hour glass, and he made it big, so it would last all through eternity."
There was a laugh from the crowd, who saw that a joke was intended. They had not had much to laugh at for a long time, and were thankful for even a little joke.
" It's my opinion your Mr. Billy Shakespeare had this here colony in his eye when he said ' san's everything,' only here it ain't ' as you like it.' Not much, it ain't, but just the identical way you don't like it. Savvey ?
" I've been a luxewrious man in my time—don't look it now, may be, but you must take my word for it—and so far as a man's taste goes, I'm luxewrious yet. I've walked on velvet pile carpets, gentlemen, in the stately homes of the corn, cotton, and bacon kings of my dear native land, ankle deep, with a koh-i-noor sparkling like dew at the end of every single thread, throughout a house of two hundred and one rooms, not including the kitchen and outhouses. That may startle you, may be ; I don't know ; it all depends on your disposition and what sort of experience and bring- ing-up you've had. But when you get right into nature's big drawing room and go sixty mile, ankle-deep in sand- pile carpet, with a cirkiss at your back made up of domesticated jy-raffes, trick ponies, educated alligators, and per-form- ing fleas, why it's a-piling of it up just a fraction too mountaneous—just a frac-
tion it is.
" I heard a gentleman in there remark about a moment ago that it was all right when you got used to it. Well, I don't know; as I said before, it depends largely on the disposition of the man operated on. Will you let me know just about when you do get used to it ? When a man does sixty mile—through sand, mind you—with the sun at 150, or a trifle over, and narry a drop in his water bag, it's just about then that getting used to it begins to kill—or so it seems to me.
"And that was my last hit, gentlemen, and I did it or your sakes. I knew how all-fired lonely you would be out here, how your musical education would be neglected, and to save you, gents. I came right along with my big horse opera.
" Who was that said ' Yankee flap-
doodle ?' It's a fact, gentlemen. I know
human nature. I said these gentlemen have been educated at their mother's knee. May be some of you don't amount to much as a recommendation of the place you were educated at, but that's ong passong. And what did I do—what did I do, gents, but tramp those hundred miles with the Spotted Boy of Siberia; and the Hairy Cannibal of Inkyponka. to remind you of that same mother's knee, and of boyhood and happy days gone by. Didn't I know ? Why, of course I did. I said to myself, ' Hiram these gentlemen have known what it is to be awake o' nights and long for the consolations of religion and the sweets of matrimony.' And what did I do then ? Why, tramped those hundred and sixty miles with a troupe of per- forming fleas, et hoc genus homme. Again, why did I do this thing ? Why, to show how the sources of some of our mis- fortunes may be turned to holy and
At this point the landlord of the hessian hotel strolled up and joined the crowd. He was one of the ugliest men that Nature ever made in a joke. He was as much zoological specimen as he was human, and was just the kind of man to strike the eye of a showman, and the American began to take notice of him at
" Good evening. You, I think, have the honour of running the gin mill over yonder. I never forget a face, and though I haven't seen yours for a good thirty minutes, I remember it yet. I do, sir, I do assure you, though there is so little for the memory to cling to."
The landlord paused, and then re- moved the pipe from the nick he had worn in his teeth on the right side, and put it to the left, spat once with emphasis, and remarked :
" Some's born ugly, and some's made
" Then will you join the ' spotted boy' and the ' hairy cannibal ' as the most wonderful man that ever was, for, by thunder, judging by your ugliness, you must have been born first and made afterwards."
It was generally accepted as a joke, and there was a laugh in a variety of keys and tones; and the landlord and Skeggs, maintaining their gravity un- moved, glared at one another till the laughs died away. Then the landlord's face became a shade uglier in order to make room for the grin he gave, as he extended a leviathan hairy paw and shook hands with the American, who carried an irresistible twinkle in his eye that condoned personalities.
" I was just telling the boys Mr.———" " M'Tayish."
" Mr. M'Tavish—I met one man about
ten miles out on the sand plain beyond. He had water, and to spare. I bid for a gallon or two for the big jy-raffe of my show, who had a wife and family of
young jy-raffes depending on him ; but he said ' No, sir,' just as if he meant it. Now who might that person be ? "
" Warden Yeend for a moral."
" Glad to say I met another man tho', 'cross that rise, you call a hill—both of us making for camp. He didn't have much but he ante'd up on my hail like a Christian. He only had two water bags, and he had fetched it thirty miles, and he gave me one. Gentlemen that was a good deed tho' it was done in water. I take off my hat to that man before you all. Hiram Skeggs won't forget it,"
" And speaking of water reminds me —water kind o' plays with you out here. Here you are with a nice little sample in lakes, very likely the very same lake that the hart panted after in Scripter—and then what does nature do but go and make it salt. Five pounds of salt to the gallon I believe. Think of it ! more salt than water—like your mine over there where you got to knock the gold to pieces to get the quartz—and if you don't believe me I refer you to your prospectuses, which I guess are one haf poetry and the other haf prophecy. But
to return to the man with the water. I took his name, Frank Conyers—p'raps you know it ?"
They did. From the reception the name received Frank was evidently a rather popular man, and the landlord said with a representative air
" We do. Good fellow, Mr. Skeggs good fellow, sir. As for Mr. Yeend, the
" His ugliness, now, was it born or
" Always had it since he came here, and if you want him to patronise your show, mister, you'd hadn't better men- tion Conyer's name to him; they hate
one another like our boys hate biled shirts and top hats.''
" H'm, h'm ! Why do they love one another so—do tell."
The landlord was a married, man of a
delicate mind, though you would not have thought so to look at him. He drew Skeggs a little apart, and pointed indefinitely with a thumb which a palmist would call spatulate.
" You see that frame house—th' only, one you can see ? Well, that's where
he hangs out and his wife; you under- stand, his wife——"
" Which may be, in a manner of put- ting it, she mought hev a difficulty in producing her lines," said the American.
" Well, she's sort o' sick, so my wife tells me. And he ill-treats her, d'ye see? She's a half-Spanish, half-Eng- lish they tell me. Oncet, Mr. Skeggs,
he hit her with his whip. What d'ye think of that ? Where does the nobless oblige racket come in there ? '
" I know little Latin, sir, and less Greek, but I guess he's no bloomin' re-
publican, mister, and if my show can't get along without his corrupt patronage, I reckon I'll try the next patch. Pro- ceed, however, with your narrative."
" And Conyers and his matey Bates they spins a coin to see who'd take a f all outen him—anyhow Bates did, and it falls to Conyers. and he ups and he downs his man. I see him do it. He got mauled a bit himself and came in for a varegated eye, but he downs his man in the end. Three romping rounds, Mr. Skeggs, and Conyers cross-counters like a bally artist, and down goes the warden. Then Bates he steps in and pulls Conyers in sunders, and says, being a fresh man, to equalise matters he'll finish off the warden with his left, his right tied
behind him. And a few of us we gets hold of Conyers, and blame me if Bates,
who must have been educated some- wheres in the old country, or else is con- stitootionally a left-hander, don't finish off with eclat in ten minutes more— whew !"
" And by herrins I'll do as much by you if you don't get inside and mind your pub in pretty short order, Mr, M'Tavish," called a crackled contralto.
And the landlord, without turning to look, and pointing over his shoulder,
"Allow me to introduce you to my wife, Mr. Skeggs."
" Don't you trouble Mr. M'Tavish, I'll introduce myself to all the people I want to know without you shoving your apology for a nose into the thing. How do you do Mr. Skeggs. And now you get inside, and yank that beer handle and get things ship shape for the Colonel and the three ladies. If you had enough education to read the figgers on a clock you'd know the coach was due in half
an-hour or less."
" Who's the Colonel, mister? " said Skeggs. "I knew one or two in the States and I had a younger brother who was apprenticed to one."
" Colonel Page, sir, dont come from no States, and he don't wear his title for the price of getting it printed on his visiting cards. He's the representative of a English syndicate, and you walk inside that hotel Augustus M'Tavish and learn as you make your living out of drinks and not hanging round street corners discussing crops with a man that tramps around with performing fleas and trick monkeys."
" I reckon a man can hitch on to wuss
things, missus, judging by appearances. Who's the gals ?"
" ' Rooms for self and daughter ' was what the telegram said and was enough
for a woman who minds her own business,
Mr. Skeggs, and I'm proud to make your acquaintance."
" Don't mention it, marm. As your Augustus would say, some's born proud and some has it shoved on 'em in spite of their disposition. You'd better " get," Augustus. The other gals, gentlemen, are better than a colonel or the daughter of a colonel, and like our friend Augus- tus's wife, they're proud to have my acquaintance too, only they announce it quietly in red and green six-foot letters in the bills, and don't go whooping round the street to make the fact known viva voicy—not much. They're each a whole battalion in themselves. They're the crown and the apex and the coping stone and finishing touch of my galaxy of talented artists—Maximiliana Sorboni
and Flotilla Flotempski, and to-morrow night I shall have the pleasure of intro- ducing you to the sunshine of their smiles while they ride wild horses, lift Herculean weights, execute broadsword exercise, write Italian sonnets with their feet, and figger out your fortunes in their minds eye—which is an honour and a heavenly pleasure, even if it don't come
off—all at one and the same time, at five, four, and three, and a ten shilling bit for reserved chairs. And, by the
hokey! there's the coach topping the rise now. In you go, Augustus, and you too, marm. I've figgered out the accom- modation of your gin palace pretty exact, and I reckon if you've got any reserve rooms you must have them packed up and put away in lavender somewhere, but you must produce them from some- where, for I'm not the hoosier who's going to have any sort of neglect visited on members of his troup in this particu- lar God-forsaken corner of the universe.
And now, gents, we'll just procesh down to that 'bus and give the gals a recep-
There was an aureole of dust around the coach, but as the procession approached it died away. The coach was stationary, and in difficulties. The driver cracked his whip and expressed himself in the vernacular, and the horses plunged and strained, but the coach did not move. The crowd de-
ployed and then surrounded it, and the American went up to the window, and
" That you, Flotilla, and you, Maxi- miliana? Hadn't you better step right out and give the bosses a better holt of the road; and you'll be as good as a drink to my friends here, who have been wilting on the stalk all the time for a sight of love and beauty of just the superior brand you can shed on them. Come right along. Gents, Mamsel Sorboni." He paused with a pleased smile till the cheers were finished. " And Mamsel Flotempski—tha-at's right, and a tiger. Now, Colonel, you can move on with your boss and cart. Your daughter. I opine. If you'll just put your head
out the window, miss, you'll be perform- ing a service to ennuied humanity by the sight of you."
The Colonel, who was still a reader of human character, took the whole th...
for insubordination and impudence, and,
seeing the dawn of mischievous purpose in his daughter's eyes, frowned and said severely:
The horses were encouraged into another effort, a multitude of shoulders and arms of indefinite horse-power was applied to the coach, and it rolled on its way. Skeggs brought up the rear with a lady on each arm. Various members of the crowd had seized on every package that had any resemblance to luggage, and formed again into procession till they reached the hessian hotel, where the coach had already arrived. There Skeggs, with the imperturbable gravity of one of his own presidents at a Fourth of July celebration, took leave of the ladies and, being of a social nature, joined the crowd again.
(To be continued.)