A Trip Toward Fortune

Submitted by Kerri Lee to Contest #6 in response to: Write a story about a family road trip.... view prompt

"A deep tin tub.” Alfie’s eyes rolled up toward the heavens as his hands formed into prayer. “Filled with warm water in front of a blazin' fire. That's what it'll be. Rose petals floatin' all around me arse, and me very own maid dabblin’ her hands in, right near me belly-button. She'll swirl 'er hand around, swooshin' away just to make sure it's all hot enough in there. Yup. That's what's comin' for me my lad... and bubbles too. There'll be lots of bubbles."

Alfie was a lanky, bedraggled, sun-dried old man who had dreams. He was most noted by those around him for his eyebrow. Only one of them though. It was the most expressive part of him, and had a lot more to say about life than its owner would ever have thought of. On the other side of his face was an eyebrow that had nothing to say, and kept its thoughts to itself.

"Dunno what yer talkin' about Alf, that's not what we got comin' to us," replied his brother Ernie. "I'll tell ya what's comin' mate. It'll be a house. A real house made outta bricks. Solid gold bricks you understand. We’re off to dig them up Alf, and it won't be long now mate, it’s just down the track a bit... and I'll have cats too, lots of cats. You know how I like pussy-cats."

“Puss in Boots... Piss in Boots! HA!” Alfie had taken off his boots and aimed at them to solve two problems at once, his full bladder as well as his sore feet. He giggled into his collar with one hand as he aimed at both leathery targets with the other. He’d heard that this way his feet would harden and the old shoe-leather would soften. Less blisters, less limping. There was a long way to go yet. Both diggers tramped on because Christmas time on the way to the gold-fields was hard work. The trail was hot, dusty, and well worn from all the diggers who had gone before them. These brothers were just like the track. Well worn, hot and dusty, but with a good measure of sweat and stink added to the mix.

Alfie pushed a rough-hewn wooden barrow which weighed as much as its contents and owners put together. 

The track from Geelong-Town to the Ballaraat gold-fields was well trodden, and more than a little worse for wear. Every mile they put behind them revealed half-buried and broken cartwheels. Bullock skeletons poked out of the dry earth where they had buried themselves alive in the bog of winter, abandoned by angry and unforgiving masters.  

It was whispered that an entire bullock team had been swallowed in a bog halfway to Bendigo, with only a pair of horns left above the surface. Alfie had been told that when gold diggers tramped over that spot, they could hear the sunken bullocky’s choked voice wafting faintly from the depths. Still cursing his stubborn animals, and threatening the other ‘bloody bastards’ on the road with what he’d do if they drove over the bloody top of him!

For three days Alf and his brother had pushed through the blistering heat, sleeping on ant ridden dirt under gumtrees on a ‘bush feather mattress’ – otherwise known as a pile of good old, half dried up Aussie gum leaves. Tonight was to be no different. 

As the sunset drilled into their eyeballs through the trees, the drunken duo heard a couple of chaps calling to each other. They were chopping up old dry wood for a campfire. So Alf and Ernie decided to doss down with these two ‘new chums’, straight out of America, tired of the dwindling gold supply of the California rush of ‘49. These two were also heading toward the new Australian gold. After they were kind enough to light the campfire, share some of their rum and enough heavy hints to drop a bullock, they also cooked the meal. They coughed, dodged the smoke, and burned their fingers in the wayward flames. The Aussies provided them with ongoing culinary advice, as they enjoyed the crackle and spit of the fire, and the smell of mutton in the pan. Alf and Ernie’s feet were bleeding a little, but they didn’t feel any pain, because they had a good supply of ‘spiritual comfort’ in their tin cups.

"You… No. You. You, are th’ v-e-r-y best brother a bloke could ever ‘ave." Alf had never been so earnest, not that he could remember. He was in no fit state to remember.

His brother Ernie was no better off. "And you! Ahm… Yeah, I know. Annnd… uum. Same." He raised his tin mug in salute and they resumed their song.

"Outside in the moon-light, by th’ garden gate, ‘ow I do remember th’ way she used to wait..."

Ernie looked up, "What do you say she was waitin’ fer Alf?"

"Dunno." Alf kept singing… "I saw ‘er walking in the street, I smelled her feet, but could not meet..." Singing this was too much for Alf by now, so he sank to the ground in a spasm of giggles.

Having expended their energy in this unique display of joyfulness, the men wound down into silence and deep sleep, Alf only rolled into the embers of the fire once. Throughout the night they were woken by the violent screaming of koalas mating, and in the morning, by the screeching of cockatoos.

Ernie threw a few leftovers from his breakfast at Alf, then picked him up and steadied him into place to where he could be of use - behind the barrow. Then he wrapped Alfie's calloused hands around the handles. After bidding farewell to their new found mates they took off, waving and grinning in their glory of leaving early, while the Yanks cleaned up the site.

For a while at least, Alf pushed the barrow along, but rather more slowly than yesterday. Ernie watched as Alf became thoughtful, at first furrowing his brow, then scanning the barrow's contents. An idea was forming… 

"This is heavy. Too hard to push even for a man as tough and hardened as my own good self". He staggered to a halt and stared into the distance to settle his thoughts. After rummaging in the barrow for a moment Alf located a fried mutton chop, plucked it out and stuck it in his mouth. He passed the bone to Ernie and resumed the push. “Ahh, that’s better, lighter now.”

On that barrow was more than food and liquor. There was also a shovel, a pick, and all sorts of equipment that they had been advised to be essential to a gold miner of any standing. There was also a coil of rope. The main coil had draped itself over the handle of the shovel and the end of it trailed loosely on the ground past Alf's feet, so that every third step he took was sideways in order to avoid it. The 'Dastardly Diggin’ Duo’, as they called themselves, had purchased it to tie equipment to whatever it might be useful to tie it to, to make them look as if they knew what they were doing, and also to change the course of their lives. 

This last purpose was unknown to both of them at the time. 

They were moving along at a slow but steady pace. Then the track turned against them. It had been kind for the last hour, all even and level, but now it developed a steep downward slope with ruts as deep as a builder's bum-crack.

A loud voice came from behind, "Hey! Move on over to the side you drunken old vagabonds, we’re coming right on through, ya’ll hear?"

Alfie's eyebrow shot up, took a nosedive, and landed back down to settle on his brow like a flipped-over question mark. He stood stiff to a standstill and looked behind. There were the two 'new chums' that they had spent snoring alongside of last night. Ernie also came to a halt, grabbed onto Alf's sleeve and got close to his ear, "but they was still wakin' up by the time we took to the track. What the 'ell are they doin' passin' us Alf?"

“Bloomin’ foreigners! That’s the problem Ern, them blasted Yanks are tryin’ to outdo us pure-bred Aussies. Get a leg on mate”. So the dehydrated duo took up a bit more speed.

Again, the voice from behind, "Ahh, you bloody giddy-assed reprobates!" As the space between got closer they yelled out, "Yer'll never make it to the next ale-house let alone the gold-fields, so give it up!" The two Americans laughed out loud as they pushed their way past. One of them spat on the ground as they went. The other, the one on barrow-pushing duty at the time, veered close by Alfie’s barrow to intimidate his loud-snoring, lazy, roaring and off-key-singing opponent. The Americans’ barrow ran over the end of the trailing rope and flipped it off to the side to where Ernie was. Ernie's foot landed right where it had no business landing... at the very end of the rope. That is when the rope decided the future of two grown men, who should have known better than to be on the road to the goldfields.

The rope wrapped itself around one of the two ankles that were both securely attached to poor Ernie, the other end still committed to the contents of the barrow. The American new-chums forged ahead without challenge, singing in triumph at the top of their voices.

That is exactly the moment when the barrow wheel hit a downward sloping rut in the track, giving it momentum and a life of its own. Cradle, trowel, fossicking pans, and the metal teapot all vaulted and buck-jumped as if stung in the arse by a swarm of march-flies. Ever the hero in times of great stress, Alf took flight and leapt in front of the mad beast of a barrow. He threw himself spread-eagle before it in an effort to halt its momentum, while Ernie, slack-jawed, both eyebrows leaping skyward, was yanked along by the rope behind the barrow... ankles first. 

Unfortunately, a tree had decided to grow itself just where Ernie got flung to. He got wrapped around the tree and the tree refused to move. A nasty jagged rock at the lower end of the evil rut went and put itself in front the barrow and propelled the whole broken-up kit high into the air, which wouldn’t have caused any injury at all, had not Alf so gallantly placed himself on the landing pad in front of the entire catastrophe.

The barrow found itself in quite an untenable position... caught between a tree, a rock and an idiot. So it decided to have a bit of a breakdown. Once the entire load had settled into the dust, and Alf regained his wind, he commented rather more quietly than was his custom... "Mutton chops aside mate, it’s still bloody heavy."

When relating the story in years to come, they would describe that moment as "twenty tumblin' jumbuckin' minutes of mayhem.

Three months later on the very same slope on the track, a pub with lodgings was to be found. Inside that pub was two rough and ready bartenders, swilling as much as they sold, and regaling all and sundry with their amazing and triumphant deeds. The pub was built, not of golden bricks, but of plain old mud bricks which had been dug, dried and laid by any passing 'new chum' willing to share in a pint or a dram from the still. Once the establishment had been built the lodgers had to be willing to entertain the ten scraggy flea-bitten cats which rubbed up against them, and they all did... very happily, because their only other option was that they submit to the indignity of checking whether Alfie’s bath water was warm enough.

That, my friends, is the history attributed to the founding of the duly named 'Dastardly Diggers Wayside Hotel'.

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