Desert perils . . . yellow gold . . . and the strange tale of the man whose honesty brought him to the edge of the grave
THE SKIPPER started it by telling us all about his narrow escapes from death during the War. His first two ships had been sunk under his feet by torpedoes, his third had been blown up round his ears by a mine, while a submarine had shelled his fourth command for two hours, and, when he abandoned the ship, his lifeboat was sunk by machine-gun fire. “That happened ten miles east of Kinsale,” said the skipper, “but I was born at Cork, so I swam home.” He concluded his saga by remarking that he thought himself lucky to be alive.
The chief engineer kept the ball rolling. Said he, “Faith ! If it’s close shaves we’re talking about, just you hear mine!” He then let himself go, and for two hours by the chartroom clock we heard how Macarthy had eluded death in all its known forms some hundred of times by dint of his unparalleled luck, sagacity, and agility.
When a competition of this sort is under way I do not like to be left behind. My exjxîriences, notably in a tunnelling company in France, had provided me with some pretty close calls. And I do not like to be out-lied by anybody— even an Irishman. Also, the ship was steaming down the Red Sea and the wind was north, and it was only midnight and much too hot to think of turning in. So I did my best, and I fancy I did well, because in a little while Macarthy held both hands above his head and cried “ Kamerad! You win. I pass. Was it the R.E.’s you say you were with, or the Horse Marines?”
“R.E.’s,” I said. “And an Australian company at that! Those Diggers were the toughest lot of lads I’ve ever had anything to do with. I’ve never been to Australia, so I don’t know how they are when they’re at home: but if they behave like the samples I met in Flanders, then it’s my considered opinion that the up-country Australian Digger is the toughest breed of animal there is on this earth.”
“He is.” said Mr. Sand ford, who up to then had said
never a word. “I íe certainly is.....including rogue elephants,
man-eating tigers, she grizzlies robbed of their cubs, and a red-headed woman scorned. And since the conversation seems to be concerned with close shaves, and the night’s still young, and you’ve brought up the subject of Diggers, I’d better tell you I once sjx'nt some years in Australia, where I had a very narrow shave for my life. I . . . ” "Hold on!” said the skipper. “Steward! Bring another jug of ice. And a bottle of Hollands. You'll excuse me interrupting you, Mr. Sandford, but I mistrust all small, silent, blue-eyed, red-headed men. When your sort do go into action, then I make it a rule to stand by for squalls. 1 think I did pretty well; the chief was bad enough, and our other passenger was just about the limit; but before you start I think we’d better fortify ourselves all round. Say when!”
“You needn’t be frightened,” said Mr. Sandford. “After listening to you three I propose to stick to the truth. I really
did have a very narrow escape. At least, I think so. But you shall judge for yourselves.
I’M A mining engineer. There are two sorts of mining engineer; the straight kind and the crooked. When I began to practice I decided I’d better run straight. I judged it would pay better. A crook can make money easily enough at my job. If he’s known to be a man who’ll write a biased report or sign a faked certificate, he’s sure of plenty of employment—from the owners of dud mines. And there are more dud mines in this world than there are good ones. But those sort of jobs don’t last. On the other hand, if you can only manage to get a reputation for bedrock honesty, then a man who’s got a good thing and wants the public to know it, he’s willing to pay a lot for your name at the bottom of a favorable report in the prospectus. If you play the game you don’t often get a job, but when you do it’s likely to be a good one. So I made up my mind to be a monument of probity—and advertise the fact.
“It’s a hard job, though, getting hold of a reputation for absolute honesty. When I started business, of course, I was quite unknown. The Westralian mines were booming just then, so I went out to the Coolgardie goldfield and hung up my sign in Kalgoorlie: ‘T. W. Sandford. M.I.M.E.,
Consulting Mining Engineer.’ It was done in gold leaf on black japanning and looked very fine, I thought. I was young then, and full of ignorance and optimism, and when I’d screwed that sign to my office door I walked inside with my chest sticking out and waiting for business to come rolling in.
“I waited a long time. My first job rolled in at the end of three months. It rolled in literally. The man was as drunk as a fiddle, and he dumped some hunks of rock on my desk and made oration. At the end of about ten minutes I said, ‘Am I right in understanding you wish me to make a quantitative analysis of this sample and assay its gold content?’ ‘My oath !’ said the fellow. And I said, ‘Well, my fee for that is ten guineas; but I’d better tell you at once your sample consists of sedimentary sandstone and it’s a million to one against its containing any gold.’ He then called me a cross-eyed cow, offered to fight me. and eventually went off singing. He took his samples with him; but, thinking better of it, he returned them to me via my windowpanes.
“The affair was, indirectly, the making of me. That chap was run in for breaking the peace and my windows, and he swore he did it because I’d been trying to cheat him. I don't know if you understand Australian, but he swore under oath I was a snide snake-headed nark. And the Lowenstein Syndicate must have heard of that, and believed it. At any rate, within a week Lowenstein sent for me to go and report on his Golden Girl property. His instructions were short but clear. He said, ‘We want to sell the Golden Girl, mister. See? You dish up a good report and make the Girl look pretty, and there’ll be fifty pounds in it for you. It’s a lot more money than your name’s worth, but it’s the letters you’ve got after it I’m paying for.’
“I saw my chance then and I took it with both hands. I was nearly certain, from what I’d heard elsewhere, that the mine was a dud. The Girl wasn’t golden at all. she was only plated.”
“I’ve met gals like that meself,” said Macarthy. “Was she salted?”
“No,” said Mr. Sandford. “Her face was all made up, but her beauty was skin-deep only. That reef was rich at the outcrop, but the values diminished with depth, until at fifty feet, which was as deep as Lowensteins had sunk her. the Golden Girl panned out at less than ten pennyweight. Which, of course, was why Lowenstein judged it wise to sell the girl before probing more deeply into her character.
“I made up my mind to show Lowensteins up. It was risky, because they were the biggest people in the field in those days, and it wasn’t healthy for anyone who got in their way. I’m talking of a long time ago, remember. The Coolgardie field was the end of the world then. The route for the Transcontinental Railway had been surveyed, but the line hadn’t been built, so Kalgoorlie wasn’t on the map yet. The place was just a mushroom mining town, where anything could happen to a man. But I went out to the Golden Girl and dealt with her faithfully. I trusted no one. I surveyed the workings, took my own samples and assayed them myself. The result was as I’ve told you. Fifty pennyweights of gold per ton at the surface, decreasing progressively with depth, until at the bottom of the shaft I got only ten pennyweight.
“My report was enough to ruin any girl’s character, and when Lowenstein read it he said, ‘Ar! Gimme air! I thought I told you we wanted to sell the mine.’ He then told me to mizzle and to take my report with me and . . . Well, I’ll spare you Lowenstein’s language, for he was a rough, rude man. But he went on to say that if I wanted my fifty pounds I’d have to produce a report calculated to make the mouth of a Levantine company promoter water. Says he, ‘I’m not wanting you to perjure yourself, either. All I ask is for you to certify to the average value of the ore. Figures can’t lie and it's only the average that matters, so there’s no need for you to go into unnecessary details.’
“I said it seemed to me one detail which might interest a possible purchaser was the fact that, if the reef ran true to form, its gold content at the sixty-foot level might confidently be expected to be nil. So Lowenstein called me a dirty little ginger-headed double-crosser and other things. And I aired my opinion of Lowenstein. He told me to fade out of his office quick, unless I wanted him to kick me out. I said I wanted him to; but he didn’t. He mobilized the rest of the syndicate, and I had to retire in the face of superior numbers.
“They wouldn’t pay me my fifty pounds, of course, so I sued them for it. And, as I’d got nothing out of Lowenstein in writing, I lost the case. But the whole business gave me lots of publicity—which was precisely what I was working for.
THE first fruits of my artfulness fell into my lap a week later. A man kicked open my office door, took a good look at me. and came in and sat himself down on top of my desk. He had a battered piece of felt on his head that might have been a hat once, and he wore no coat and kept his hands in the pockets of a pair of corduroy trousers that were strapped below' the knees and ragged round the edges. I wanted to tell him to get to blazes out of that; but there were more than six feet and over 200 pounds of him, all bone and muscle and no fat. And his face was the face of a hanging judge, plus champion pugilist, with a good dash of burglar thrown in, all carved in weathered brick by a monumental mason inspired by gin. In fact he looked a very tough proposition, and when he said, ‘So you’re the guy what’s crooled Lowenstein’s pitch?’ I opened the drawer that held my revolver. You see, I thought I’d got one of Lowenstein’s bravoes to deal with and I stood by for trouble.
“ ‘They tells me yer a dead straight guy,’ says he. T never seen one, so I come to take a peep at yer. An’,’ says he, T think you’ll do.’
“I asked him what he wanted and said I was very busy. And he said, ‘Ar. Me foot! Cut out the kid stakes. Don’t pile on no dawg with me. You ain’t got no job. And you won’t get one so long’s Lowensteins can help it. That’s a dead tough crowd o’ crooks, and you’ve slung ’em lip and they’re out to stoush you.’
“I told him if he’d come to threaten me he’d better look out. And I put my revolver on the table. ‘Well, spare me bloomin’ days,’ says he. ‘Don’t get all wet. You leave me
to spout me piece and I’ll hand you the straight griffin. You’ve crooled yer pitch here. You’ve done yer dash and you’ll be wise to drop yer bundle and do a get. Savvy? You’d better float. Mizzle. Do a duck, see? I’m handing you the Dinkum Oil. You come along o’ me. I won’t wag me chin no more just yet; but this is the straight wire. Me and me cobber, Billo, we wants yer. We’ve got a job for yer.’
“I won’t inflict any more of Reay’s brand of conversation on you. Tim Reay was his name, and he spoke like that because he knew no other language. He was the real thing; Sydney tough and up-country Digger. He’d spent his days digging in the back blocks of all Australia, wandering in the bush and prospecting for gold or anything else he could find in the never-never country.
“And Reay had found gold. He produced about a pound weight of gold dust in an old tobacco tin to prove it. And then he went out and came back with a five-gallon paraffin can full of quartz that was veined with gold like a ripe Stilton. He said the sample came from a reef dis-
covered by himself and partner He said they’d stumbled on the outcrop by mere chance, and there was only a yard or two of it showing. But they’d trenched across the line of strike and proved the existence of the reef for a length of half a mile. He said they’d then proved the reef in depth by sinking three eighty-foot shafts into it. He said the job had taken the two of them over three years. He said it had been a tough job, because the nearest water was twelve miles from their camp and the whole district was a desert. He said they had to pack in all their supplies on camel-back. He said, 'It was hard yakker, and when we get the soft sores and the sandy-blight I was all for dropping the bundle and doing a duck. A fair cow, that was. But Billo says he means to stick it out, so I had to.’
“That was Reay’s story in about his own words. A plain tale. But I fancy, if a man who could handle words had told it, it might have sounded very like an epic. Think of it ! Three years. Digging in a burning desert, twelve miles from the nearest water and ten days per camel from the nearest grub. Sinking three eighty-foot shafts through solid quartz with pick and shovel. Not forgetting all the trenching. Yes. Hard yakker, as he said. And with sandy-blight to complete things. I’m quite prepared to believe it was a fair cow, too.”
“It sounds that way,” remarked the skipper. "What’s sandy-blight and soft sores?”
“Ophthalmia,” said Mr. Sandford. “Blindness, brought on by an overdose of sand and sun in the eyes. It’s bad enough being blind; but sandy-blight is agony as well. And soft sores are one symptom of scurvy.”
“Cripes!” exclaimed Macarthy. “If those two stuck that and stuck to the job, I’ll agree they were tough. But where do you come in?”
T CAME IN after the hard work and suffering were over,”
continued Mr. Sandford. “Reay and Bill had done their job and they couldn’t do more. They’d proved there was a quartz reef in the desert. They’d developed the reef for half a mile in length and eighty feet in depth, and proved it was rich in gold within those limits. When they’d done that they’d done all that muscle and guts could do, because you can’t extract gold from a quartz reef unless you’ve got lots of money. And by that time Reay and Bill hadn’t got tuppence between them.
“In the ordinary course of events that wouldn’t have mattered. When you’ve staked your claim and registered it and proved its worth, you can sell it. or find a partner with money, or form a syndicate or a company to work the mine. But Bill’s and Reay’s trouble was they hadn’t legally staked their claim and couldn't register it, because the district their claim was in hadn’t been proclaimed as a mining area by the Government. Before they could do anything to establish their claim the area had to be proclaimed; and before they could get it proclaimed they had to prove it contained gold in payable quantity. And I want to ask you what chance you think a chap like Reay had of successfully conducting an intricate piece of business of that nature.”
"He’d get stung,” I said. “For a certainty. He'd have to make public the fact he'd found a lot of gold he had no legal claim to. He’d have to state the precise location of his discovery. And then the officials and jxiliticians would get to work, and so would all the rogues, thugs, and shysters in Australia. And Mr. Reay would get done brown. He’d get left. And it's a million to one he'd find in the end he wasn't even left holding the baby.”
“Precisely.” said Mr. Sandford. “And that’s just about how Reay and his partner figured the thing out themselves.
I gathered from Reay that they saw quite clearly their three years work would be wasted and their hope of fortune would vanish unless they took every possible precaution and had a lot of luck. He didn’t put it quite like that, but that’s what he meant.”
“I'd like to hear what Reay said, though,” remarked the skipper. “What did he say?”
“He said,” continued Mr. Sandford. “ ‘Billo reckoned we’d got to find some dead straight bloke, who’d crack hardy, know the ropes to pull and sjxnit his piece, and beef it out all boshter. So I mooches along here and my cobber stays behind so’s to stoush any thug who feels like jumping the joint. I hears about you and Lowensteins and I sees yer dial and says Ribuck, I 'll take a chance on yer.’ That’s about how he put it, skipper; but I tell you I felt proud to hear it.
“I took some of the gold dust from Reay’s tobacco tin and put it under the microscope. The grains weren’t waterworn, but sharp and angled. That's unusual, so I asked Reay how he’d got the stuff. And will you believe it, those two men had extracted that gold from the ore by hand! You see, there they were, sitting on top of a gold mine worth several fortunes if only they had money to work it; but worth exactly nothing to them because they hadn’t a cent between them. But they did have a pestle and mortar. It was only a little one, for pounding up samples for assay. But they got down to it. They crushed the ore to a fine powder. They shook and sifted it in a frying pan, and they blew at the stuff like blazes until they’d blown away most of the quartz powder and left the gold. They kept at it until the pestle was worn out and the mortar broke, and by that time they’d got the tobacco tin nearly full. I weighed it and there was nearly one and a half pounds of gold. Then I assayed Reay’s samples of ore and found they averaged about a hundred pennyweight. And when I’d realized just what that meant I said. ‘Good heavens! To get a pound and a half of gold you must have crushed at least two tons of ore!’ And Reay said, ‘Ribuck,’ which means correct. I said, ‘Holy Moses! How long did that take you?’ And he said, ‘Working on and off, it took us two years.’ He added it was a dry job, especially the blowing.”
The skipper ejaculated “Great Cinders!” and, putting some more ice into his tumbler, he took a long pull at it.
“Yes,” said Mr. Sandford. “The Ribuck Mine was a thirsty place. That’s what they’d christened it—The Ribuck; All Right, All Correct, Okay. The first thing I had to do, of course, was to go and have a look at it. If I found half a mile of reef proved to contain 100 pennyweight of gold per ton to a minimum depth of eighty feet, I knew I’d have no trouble in getting Ribuck proclaimed as a mining area. I’d have to trust to my own wits and the best lawyers I could get hold of in Australia to see that Reay’s and his partner’s interests didn’t suffer. And as for finding capital— Well ! A hundred pennyweight proposition is to money what honey is to bees.
“When I asked Reay where the Ribuck was he wouldn’t tell me. I didn’t blame him. The less people there are in a secret the more likelihood of its being kept. Reay wanted to trust me, but he didn’t know much about me, after all. And he didn’t propose to strain my trustworthiness unnecessarily. I’d know where the mine was soon enough when I got there, and if I didn’t know where I was going before I started, there wouldn’t be any chance of my giving the show away before I got back. As Reay said, ‘It’ll take a month to mooch out and do the job and slope back again. And I’ll know more about you by then. And my cobber, he’ll have seen yer. I warns yer, Billo don’t miss much.’ Says he, ‘We’ll do a get termorrer. I ’ll get some scran and clobber and load up and get the camels here by daylight. So long.’ ”
“Camels!” exclaimed Macarthy. “D’ye tell me all this happened in Australia or on Arabia’s burnin’ sands? They don’t grow camels in Australia, that I’ve heard.”
“No. But they import them,” answered Mr. Sandford. “I wish they didn’t. Did you ever ride a camel? Well, don’t! Be warned by me and don’t let anything induce you to. It’s the foulest form of locomotion. It breaks your heart and your back and wears out your skin and your spirit. I rode the first day; but after that I walked—until we came to desert, with soft sand that only a snlayfooted brute like a camel could tackle. That whole journey was pure hell, but the desert part was beyond description. We were burnt alive all day and frozen all night.
“We had no tent. We slept on the sand in our blankets. We drank tea. We ate damper and bully beef. And our lives were governed solely and entirely by the habits and needs and stupidity of our four ridiculous camels. They wouldn’t eat this and they mustn’t eat that, and the question of where they would or couldn’t drink controlled our whole route and the time and length of our marches. And before you could do a blessed thing about anything you had to hobble the devils, or unhobble ’em. The silly, surly, supercilious brutes! I tell you a camel’s the worst . . .
“What I’m trying to tell you about is the narrowest escape from death even you and Macarthy ever heard of. That trip took us ten days and into the most frightful brand of country I ’ve ever been to. The farther we went the worse it got, and my trouble was I didn’t know where we were going. Reay wouldn’t say anything, and all I had to go by was the sun. We began each day’s journey before dawn, and when the sun came up he rose out of the desert
ahead of us. or a few degrees to our left, so I knew our general direction must be east with a touch of south in it. I hadn’t any map, but I knew an easterly course from Kalgoorlie must take us into the Victoria Desert, and when I realized that, I began to think of excuses for backing out of the business. I thought of lots of excuses; good sound ones, too. But somehow I didn't mention any of them to Reay. He never complained of anything.”
A/ÍR. SANDFORD paused and took a long drink. For a little while, perhaps a minute, he was silent, and nobody else said anything because Mr. Sandford was obviously seeing something he didn’t like. His eyes were on me, as a matter of fact, but I know he did not see me. I think he was looking at a memory. Then he shook himself and sighed. He said, “Thirst! Have any of you men ever felt thirst?”
“Thirst is my trouble,” said Macarthy. “ ’Tis the way I’m constructed. Me thirst’s continuous and bitther !”
“I mean, real thirst,” said Mr. Sandford. “It must be the most awful thing a man can suffer. I don’t know much about it, because I’ve only been fifty hours without a drink. That was on our last lap to the Ribuck. A water hole Reay was counting on had dried up. I found out a little about thirst then. D’you know? Thirst hurts. It’s terribly painful. Your tongue and throat swell, and it’s agony. Your mouth gets furred and caked and your lips stick together, and you tear all the skin off them when you try to open your mouth . . .
“I was glad when we got to the Ribuck. I don’t remember seeing the camp in the distance, or approaching it or anything like that. All I remember is being thrown off my camel and seeing Reay and a strange man fighting with our four mad beasts. They were all mixed up with some paraffin tins, and one of the tins was upset. The sand all round it was brown, and I smelled water. The camels were between me and the tins, and they were plunging about and kicking and stamping and making the ground shake. But I didn’t care. I crawled straight through the middle of those mad legs—and drank. And then I was seized by the seat of my breeches and flung away from the tins. It was Reay who did that to me. and if I’d had the strength I’d have killed him. I wanted to kill him and drink all the water in that tin.
“The only good thing about thirst is, it doesn’t take long to recover from it. When I woke up next morning I felt a bit wobbly and weakish, but otherwise all right. The first thing I did was to have a drink. Then I looked around. The camp was in a dip between two sand ridges. The ridge to the north had three big heaps of stone and a lot of little heaps scattered along it. The southern ridge was just sand dune, completely bare of anything except the tracks made by our camels.
“That camp was the most desolate and Godforsaken spot I’ve ever seen. The place was just bare sand. No trees, no bush, no grass—nothing. Just sand, and those heaps of stone along the ridge where Reay and Bill had been digging. There was a crazy sort of hut made of bits of packing case and sacking and tin cans hammered fiat. There were some picks and shovels lying about, a hammer and anvil and some drills, and a circle of dead ashes with a billy and a frying pan in the middle of it. And that was all there was there, except a heap of rusty tin cans, and Reay, asleep on the ground, rolled up in a blanket.
“I was cursing myself for coming and wishing I’d never seen Reay or heard of the Ribuck and wondering where Bill and the camels had got to, when Reay woke up. He was one of those men who come straight out of deep sleep to full wakefulness without even yawning. He grinned at me, but I wasn’t feeling cheerful, and I said I didn’t see much to grin at myself.
“Reay made breakfast. Boiled tea. with sweet condensed milk. But it was nectar. And bacon, biscuits and jam. They went well. Reay’d pulled a piece of the hut down and chopped it up for firewood. He told me Bill’d gone off with the camels to the water hole, and by the time we’d got our pipes alight, Bill appeared, leading two camels. One w'as loaded with the water tins and the other had a load of brushwood lashed on its back. When we’d off-loaded them they each got a kick in the stomach and trotted off. I was horrified. I thought we’d never see them again, until Reay explained they’d only go back and join their mates at the water. That was the only place for them to go. It seems that water hole was the one spot within sixty miles of camp with water and bush that a camel could eat.
“That piece of new's made me think. And when I’d grasped the full significance of it. it gave me a nasty shock. It appeared that for sixty miles all round us there was nowhere, except for that one water hole, where even a camel could live. And where a camel can’t scratch a living there isn’t much else that can. I wished Reay had told me the Ribuck was as isolated as all that before we’d started. If he had, of course I’d never have come.
“I had a good look at Bill while he was eating his breakfast. I’ve told you Reay was a tough-looking specimen; but Reay was a choirboy, a rosy-cheeked cherub compared with his mate Bill. I haven’t a notion of Bill’s age, but I’ll put him down at round about sixty. He was Australian built; long and thin, about a yard across the shoulders, but rangy in the legs. All the hair on his head was long and white, including his eyebrows; but around his mouth his beard and mustache were stained dark brown and yellow' with tobacco juice. And the last time he’d cut his hair and trimmed his beard. I should say he’d done it with a blunt knife. His growth of hair hid most of his face, but his nose stuck out of it like a great bone-hook, with a couple of pale and baleful-looking eyes away down at the bottom of two holes on each side of the precipice.
“Bill’s looks would have daunted anyone, but I’ll admit he scared me. When I’d said good morning to him. he’d looked at me for as long as a minute without saying a word or even smiling. And w'hen I got embarrassed and smiled a sickly smile at him, he just turned his head away quite slowly and spat. He was tough, all right.
3UT THE worst thing about Bill was, he never spoke. I don’t mean he was dumb. Bill could talk if he wanted to. Bm he didn’t want to. Thought it safer or less trouble to keep his mouth shut, perhaps. I think he considered ordinary talking as needless, childish chatter and not a thing grown man w'ould do. Even with Reay be confined his conversation to negative or affirmative grunts, and not too many of them either. According to Reay, Bill w'as a ‘Boshter Bloke.’ He said. ‘Billo’s the kingpin, so long’s he ain’t shickered. But give him air when he’s full of snake-juice.’ After I’d had a look at him, I decided I’d give Bill all the air I could—drunk or sober.
“When Bill finished his breakfast I said I’d like to look at the reef right aw-ay. I said I’d just make a rough survey of the workings first of all. and take a few samples and assay them, and see where we stood. I did not tell them that even doing that much was work wasted and that I meant to get the job done quick, put them out of their misery, and then get to blazes out of that cursed desert as soon as I possibly could.
“I spent the day looking round and taking my samples and marvelling at all the work those two men had put in. They’d sunk an eighty-foot shaft on the outcrop, they’d traced the run of the reef for a quarter of a mile on each side by digging trenches in the overlaying sand. And they’d sunk a shaft at each end of the reef and gone down eighty feet on both of them. They’d proved as clearly as it was possible to prove it, the existence of a big ore body. They’d done a job of work that couldn’t have been done better. Three whole years of simply terrific labor just wasted! And
when I thought of it. it made me want to weep.
“By the end of the first day I’d taken all the samples I needed. I turned in early, because I didn’t want to talk to those two then. I was up by daylight, and got busy at once, assaying the samples. I crushed them, weighed them, and melted them down with flux in my retort. By the time I’d finished it was dark. I was glad it was dark. Reay was cooking supper and Bill was chopping wood by the fire. And as I walked up to them I knew the time had come to say what I’d got to say and get it over. I said, ‘Well. I’ve finished my job. The outcrop samples run all the way from fifty to ninety pennyweight. No. 1 shaft gives eighty at the surface, ninety-four at fifty feet, and 106 at the face. The other two shafts give about the same values and they show a progressively richer ore body with depth. But all that doesn’t matter. The fact is . . . It’s a crying shame, and I hate to have to tell you . . . But the truth is, the mine's unworkable. The Ribuck is no good!’
“Bill dropped his axe, and the frying pan fell out of Reay’s hands. They both stood up and stared at me. I said, ‘I’m terribly sorry, but I’ve got to tell you your mine’s valueless. You’ve wasted all your work.’ I expected a bit of a scene. When you tell a man a thing like that . . . But Bill just continued to stare at me, and Reay said, ‘Ar. Guff,’ which means nonsense. I said I wished to heavens it was nonsense. I explained that the mine, though undoubtedly rich, was quite unworkable because of its situation. To extract gold from the ore they must have machinery, coal, boilers, and a battery of stamps and all the rest of it. And it would have needed a reef of solid gold to pay the expenses of transporting the necessary machinery from Kalgoorlie across 200 miles of desert.
“When I got as far as that, Reay laughed. Bill didn’t. He looked at Reay, jerked one thumb at me and spoke for the • first and last time during the whole business. Bill said, ‘Tug? Or Mug?’ And Reay said, ‘Both, it looks like.’ Then Bill went on chopping wood and Reay picked up the frying pan.
“I was surprised. It seemed such a rummy way to take my bad news. I said, ‘I suppose you men understand what I’m telling you? Your claim's rich, but it’s so far away from anywhere that it’s useless. It’s tough luck, because the Ribuck would be one of the most promising properties in Australia, if there was any way of getting at it. But there isn’t. You can’t cart boilers and stamps about the desert on camelback, and you’re well over 200 miles from the nearest railway. The long and short of it is, you’ve wasted your time, and my considered opinion, which I give you professionally, is—abandon the Ribuck now.
“That’s about what I told those two. I put it as straight as I could. I felt awfully sorry, and I don’t mind telling you I felt a bit apprehensive, too. The disappointment must have been terrible, and they were such a very tough couple. And the bearer of bad news is never exactly popular at the best of times. So I wasn't quite sure what they might do. At the very least I expected to get the finest cursing I’ve ever had. But, if you’ll believe it, those two men never said a word ! So I shut up, too. I’d given them a nasty shock and I felt the best thing I could do was to keep quiet until they got over it a bit.
“We ate supper in dead silence, and w'hen I’d finished mine I told them I knew they must be feeling pretty hard hit, so I proposed to turn in and leave them to talk things over together. I said, ‘It’s no use crying over spilt milk, and I think the sooner we get aw'ay from here the sooner we’ll forget it. My advice is, make tracks for Kalgoorlie tomorrow.’
“And Reay grow'led at me. He said, ‘Ar, stow' yer bleedin’ mag.’ That w'as the first rough word I’d had from him since I’d known him; but I made allowance for what he must be feeling and didn’t say anything. I got my blankets and walked off a little wfay and turned in. It was a gxxl while before I could get to sleep. I could see those two men sitting by the fire and hear the sound of Reay talking. They were still there when I fell asleep.
INVOKE UR some time before it was light and couldn’t get off to sleep again I was bothered alxnit those tw’o unfortunate men. I thought of their terrible disappointment and the three years of dreadful hard work they’d absolutely wasted. I wondered what they’d do now. and whether they’d follow my advice and clear out tomorrow. Or when? And how long it would be before 1 could get back to Kalgoorlie. Then I got thinking of the beastly journey I’d had with Reay, and my two days thirst and all that. I began to picture the three of us moving back across the desert and finding the water holes all dried up. Or supposing we lost the way ! I was so full of all that sort of vague and silly worry I simply couldn't sleep. I thought of the 2(X-(xld miles we’d got to cover before we got to Kalgoorlie. I’d come due east with a bit of south in it, so the way back was west and a bit north. 1 wondered if there wasn’t another and a better way.
“Then 1 had a vision of my office in Kalgxrlie, with my big map of NVestern Australia hanging on the wall. There was Kalgoorlie, and there. 2(X) miles to the east and south of it. somewhere on the southern edge of the Victoria Desert, was the Ribuck. And there, running pretty well east by south from Kalgoorlie and cutting across the southern edge of the desert was —the straight, pecked tine that marked the surveyed route for the Transcontinental Railway! That woke me up. I tell you ! 1 ’d forgotten all about the railway. It wasn’t built yet; but it certainly would lx? built some day. And if its route passed anywhere near the Ribuck—if, by any thundering miracle, it did pass within reach of the Ribuck -even within twenty miles or so . . . Well, you see?”
“Holy Muckings!” cried Macarthy. “Did it?”
“Too much of a coincidence,” I said. "I thought you said this was going to be a true tale?”
“He’s jealous," said the Skipper. “Don’t
you take any notice of him. I believe you. Go on.”
“Truth is stranger than fiction,” continued Mr. Sandford, with his bright blue eye on me. “For instance, I w'ent to sleep at once after I’d had that brain wave. And it took the sun in my face to wake me up. I jumped up with my brain storm still going strong. Bill wasn’t anywhere in sight; but Reay was there, emptying the tea leaves out of the billy. That meant they’d had breakfast and hadn't called me. I thought it was funny, but I was so full of my bright idea I didn’t waste time wondering what they’d done a thing like that for. I trotted up to Reay and I said, ‘By gad, old man. I’ve had an idea ! Don’t build too much on it. I mean, it may be a washout. But—I do believe there’s a chance of the Ribuck turning out all right yet!’
“I expected a little enthusiasm from Reay when I told him that; even a show of excitement. But not a bit of it ! Instead, Reay gave me one of the dirtiest looks I’ve ever had shot into my eyeballs. There was fierceness hale in his look. It was like a sudden, savage punch in the face—from a friend. It shook me.
“NYhen I came to I said, ‘NVhat’s the matter with you? I gave you bad news last night; but it’s not my fault, and there’s no reason for you to look as if you wanted to cut my throat. And I tell you now, I’ve got some gxxl news. At least, I think it’s news that may change the whole situation. ” And Reay snarled at me, ‘NYhat yer getting at now?’ says he. ‘NYhat’s yer game now, yer dirty little nark !’ And he spat in the sand at my feet.
“That made me mad. I let myself go and told Reay what I thought of him. I gave him my opinion of two men who’d waste three years of their time and a month of mine by working at a property that never could be worth a red cent to anybody. I told him a baby would have had more sense, and. if he’d told me where his mine was situated in the first place, I never would have come within 200 miles of the blasted thing.
“I let rip properly. I tell you. I said, ‘You’ve called me a dirty little nark, because you aren’t man enough to stand hearing the truth when I tell it you. I told you last night what you ought to have known yourselves. I told you the Ribuck was worthless because it’s 200 miles from the nearest rail w'ay. And so it is. But I’ll have pity on you tw'o brainless fools and tell you what I thought out last night. I don’t suppose for a moment two ignorant mugs like you know' anything about the Transcontinental Railway. It’s a line that isn’t built yet, but you can take it from me it’s a line that’s going to be built in a year or so. Anyhow, I know' it’s been surveyed and I think its route runs direct from Kalgoorlie across the southern edge of this desert. And, if that means anything to you two fatuous asses, you’ll both get busy and prospect to the north and the south of here and pray you don’t have too far to go before you find the railway survey beacons. And that’s what I came to tell you. Mister Reay, when you spat at me. To the devil with you!’
“Reay said, “ When d’yer say yer saw' a light?’ I said, ‘Last night, when I couldn’t sleep through worrying about your silly troubles.’ And Reay reacted at last. He called upon his Maker to spare his blooming days. He gave vent to many strange oaths and slapped his leg and grinned at me. Then he suddenly became serious, and, ‘Brother!’ says he, ‘you saw that light just in time. Holy wars if you didn’t.’
T ASKED him what he meant by that, *■ and he looked sheepish and grinned and said Bill was already making preparations for my departure. I said he’d better go and stop Bill and tell him the news. I said, ‘But if he’s gone to get the camels, it’s just as well, because then you two can start off at once looking for those survey beacons.’
“Reay said, ‘Strike me green! Blowed if it isn’t the straight griffin!’ Then he sat down in the sand and laughed until I thought he was going to be sick. And when he’d quite done he got up and said, ‘You come along o’ me, brother.’
“He walked off and I followed him, because I wanted to see what Bill’s reactions would be when he got the news. Reay walked up the southern ridge, but just before he got to the top he stopped and put his hand on my shoulder. Savs he, ‘That last day coming here—when we was out of drink—wasn’t you sittin’ up an’ takin’ any notice?’ I told him the only thing I remembered about that day was my thirst. He said, ‘That’s right. That’s atxiut all I remember. It is the straight griffin!’ Then he walked up to the crest and stretched out his arm and pointed. I saw a black-and-white staff on a mound at the bottom of the valley. I said. ‘Hullo! NYhat’s that?’ And Reay said, ‘Number three-seven-two survey mark for the Transcontinental.’
“It was, too,” said Mr. Sandford, smiling at me. “I walked down to have a look at it. The staff was branded as Reay said, beneath a broad arrow. And in case you think it’s too lucky a coincidence, I’d better tell you it wasn’t a coincidence at all. Bill and Reay had helped to put up that survey mark themselves. They’d been working for the railway surveyors. That’s the only reason they’d ever got to that forsaken spot. The surveying party had made camp for the day after putting up that beacon, and Bill and Reay, wandering around, had stumbled on the Ribuck outcrop. They kept their discovery to themselves, of course. They stayed with the survey party until it reached Kalgoorlie. and when they were paid off they bought camels and stores and returned to develop the reef as I’ve been telling you.
“NYhen Reay’d explained all that, I asked him why the deuce he hadn’t told me about it the night before, when I’d been making such a song about the Ribuck being absolutely isolated. He said, as I’d passed a dozen of those survey marks during the last day’s trek to the Ribuck, he took it for .granted I must have seen them and knew what they were. ‘An’ I’ll tell you something else, cobber—now' says he. ‘NYhen you comes bresting up to me and Billo larse night, with yer bloomin’ considered opinion the Ribuck can’t be worked an’ yer bleedin’ professional advice that we’d done our dash an’ had better drop the bundle . . . NYell, we both naturally thinks yer plays yer game so’s to get us outer the light, meanin’ to jump the joint yourself later. That's why I calls yer a dirty nark this morning. But I takes that back now. I’m sorry.’
“I said I was sorry, too. to hear he thought I could be such a dirty crook as all that. I said, ‘And what’s more. Bill still thinks I'm one!’ I didn’t feel comfortable at the thought of a man like Bill running around loose with the notion in his head I was trying to rob him of three years work and a fortune. So I told Reay the first thing he’d got to do was to explain to Bill there’d been a mistake.
Reay grinned at that, and, ‘My oath, you’re right!’ says he, and started for camp. When he got to the camp, though, he kept straight on up the northern ridge, and I asked him where he was going. I said, ‘Hasn’t Bill gone to fetch the camels? I thought you said he was making preparations for my departure.’ ‘Ribuck! He is.’ says Reay, and kept on going. When we topped the ridge, there was Bill. He was a few yards down the slope, hard at work.
digging a short length of trench. When he saw us he dropped his spade and put his hand in his hip pocket. Reay sang out. ‘Knock off, Billo. He ain’t no crook. The bloke’s dead straight and we’ve made a bleedin’ error. He’s all right. Ribuck !’ “Bill looked at me in silence for a little while. Reay said. ‘It’s the straight wire, Billo. The Dinkum Oil.’ Bill’s hand came away from his pocket. There was nothing in it. He spat into the trench and kicked some sand in after it. Reay began to laugh. I looked at Reay, and he only laughed more. Then Bill walked up, and I looked hard at him. Bill winked. Then I walked thoughtfully down the slope and looked into that trench. It was six feet long and three feet wide and five feet deep.” “Begpr!” exclaimed Macarthy. “ ’Twas your grave the man was digging!”
Mr. Sandford arose and stretched himself. He smiled at me. “I wouldn’t say that,” said he. “But remembering Bill was supposed to be making preparations for my departure, I think the size of that trench was—quite a coincidence.”