Novel: Black Gold

 Novel: Black Gold

The only novel John Tranter wishes to preserve is titled «Black Gold». Yes, there are several other books with that title, but I don’t care. It has 24 Chapters and is about 110,000 words long; it is set in 1876, mainly in the town of Wagga Wagga.

And yes, it is free to read here, being published under the Creative Commons Licence 4.0 (see: This means that it was written by and always belongs to me, John Tranter, and that you may do more or less what you like with it, as long as you note that fact on all the copies you provide.

[»»] Chapter 01 — In which newcomer to nineteenth-century Australia Paul Nouveau travels by coach to Yass and Gundagai, meanwhile meeting a fellow-traveller, an American sailor and deserter named Frank, who lives in Wagga and works on the Advertiser newspaper there.

[»»] Chapter 02 — In which Paul Nouveau continues his travels by coach to Wagga Wagga, though the coach is attacked by two bushrangers who kill the driver. Paul, using his stolen revolver and relying on his military training under the Dutch, kills them both. Frank takes over the reins and they go on to Wagga with the three bodies tied to the roof of the coach.

[»»] Chapter 03 – In which Paul Nouveau continues his travels by coach to Wagga Wagga, after killing the two bushrangers, and — half asleep — remembers his arrival in Sydney not long before, and his getting the Dutchman drunk and stealing his money and his revolver. He remembers watching an organ-grinder and his monkey, and a strange blackfellow, who stares at him. Then he sleeps.

[»»] Chapter 04 – In which Paul Nouveau continues to Wagga Wagga, has an interview with a Police Constable, and meets Alex Greenleaves with his new Remington writing machine. He meets Frank and Julie, and Jimmy Skylark, and goes with Julie Bell to her home, where he will stay the night.

[»»] Chapter 05 – In which Paul Nouveau talks with Doctor Bell and inspects his underground laboratory, and then with his daughter Julie. He meets Julie’s music pupil, Mary Cameron, then leaves to find Frank at the Advertiser office, after agreeing with Julie that he would stay the night at the Bell’s.

[»»] Chapter 06 – In which Paul Nouveau strolls to to the Advertiser office and meets Jimmy Skylark again, this time sorting type, who tells him the story of his uncle the police tracker and Kadjuk the black warrior. Frank and the proprietor, Luther Quoign, who has a wall eye, come back from the Agricultural Show, and Paul tells again how he killed the bushrangers. He accepts a drink of rum from Quoign.

[»»] Chapter 07 – In which Paul dances with Julie at the Bachelor’s Ball, interrupted by Mr Stern, who treats him roughly. Paul speaks to Jimmy Skylark outside, then smokes a quiet pipe in the dark. He is joined by Frank, then Stern appears and savagely beats Paul. Frank helps Paul walk away.

[»»] Chapter 08 – In which Paul Nouveau has his bruised cheek fixed by the application of Goanna Salve, by Doctor Bell. He and Frank walk to the gate in the mooonlight, and talk some more.

[»»] Chapter 09 – In which Frank leaves Paul alone in the front garden to smoke a pipe, when Julie surprises him. She apologises for her fiancé’s behaviour, and talks of the Wagga behind the scenes, the wife-beatings, the poor people her father visits as a doctor, of the anguish of poverty. She says she has travelled in Europe, and has had her writing published. Paul mocks her pretensions. She tells him of her time in Sydney, at the age of seventeen, trying to learn to paint, with no success; and of her forlorn affair with her art teacher, a fraud. Oh frauds, Paul says: I knew plenty of them, in Paris. And I had a friend who knew young artists in the 1850s who starved, and who killed themselves. They were frauds too. Julie and Paul kiss, then she breaks away and goes back into the house.

[»»] Chapter 10 – In which Paul Nouveau idly talks with Doctor Bell and his daughter over breakfast, then goes to the show. They stop at the shooting alley, where Julie excels, then the silhouette stall run by old Abe Latchett, and talk for a while. They each have silhouette made, then Barnaby the dog-breeder warns him about the Heeneys, family of the bushranger Paul killed. Later Barnaby drinks a beer then wanders off, and outside the photographers’ tent Paul finds himself talking with Mr Brownlee and Miss Dunn, a lady originally from Hobart Town, with Marcel, a small dog, on her lap. Miss Dunn encourage him to join the the Wagga Wagga Floral Art Society.

[»»] Chapter 11 – In which Paul Nouveau cleans his revolver. Julie returnes from shopping, upset. She had remembered her mother, who had died long ago. Paul tells her about his past — some of it. How he had seen a dead body when he was young, and how his father had left the family when Paul was very young. They drink their tea in silence, and it grows dark. It was time for Paul to visit Verheeren.

[»»] Chapter 12 – In which Paul Nouveau visits Verheeren in the town’s Chinese opium den. He has a long conversation with Mr Lee, the Chinaman, about how Lee came to from Java to Australia looking for gold, the difficulties he faced, and the Chinese Buddhist goddess of Mercy, Guanjin. Finally Paul meets Verheeren, explores Verheeren’s time in Java, and gives him an amulet he has been carrying for this purpose. Verheeren shows fear, and Paul dislikes him intensely.

[»»] Chapter 13 – In which Paul Nouveau begins by walking Julie to Church, but soon veers off to visit Mr Axel Greenleaves, the local hermit, who lives in a vast, old estate. Greenleaves has recently returned from Paris where he took the paintings of a friend in an attempt to interest some of the Impressionists in them. He failed, and comments caustically on artistic fame in the colonies. Paul discusses his favourite historian Michelet, to little effect. Greenleaves has an ironic view of life, a view unsuitable to his position as a citizen of Wagga Wagga. Paul leaves, mentally stimulated.

[»»] Chapter 14 – In which Paul Nouveau walks back from Greenleaves’ place, and finds himself in the Masonic Hall, which disturbes him. Later he sleeps, and absorbs the rhythms of Mrs Angel who cleans Julie’s house. He reads the bizarre stores of the disasters and triumphs of the people of Wagga Wagga, in the Advertiser. He remembers his time in London, years ago. He and Julie embark on a boat trip up the river, to an aboriginal midden ground, ending in their making love. Julie cries out, having seen a black man or someone like a black man watching them from the shadows. ‘But no,’ she said, and shook her head. ‘They’re long gone.’

[»»] Chapter 15 – In which Paul Nouveau meets Jimmy Skylark, argues about the direction of the sun’s travels in the southern hemisphere, attends the Magic Show, drinks a brandy or two with Mr Dobbs the banker, and sleeps through most of the show. He later harangues Miss Dunn, catches her and Brownlee quarrelling in the dark, and meets Verheeren, who seems paranoid and unhinged. He walks Julie home, and thinks how lucky he is.

[»»] Chapter 16 – In which Paul Nouveau argues with Frank and Julie, and stalks off to visit Verheeren at the Chinaman’s house. Lee, with his Deringer, surprises Paul at a window, and they talk of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Guanjin. Paul leaves, and visits Miss Mackenzie’s boarding house, where they are all eating dinner, and where he is nearly surprised by Alice, the maid. He watches Verheeren go off to bed, and climbs up by a tankstand to watch him through the window. He reflects how easy it would be to kill the old man.

[»»] Chapter 17 – In which Julie sleeps badly because of a nightmare, and is woken by a loud gunshot, or so she thinks. She goes to the kitchen and talks there to her father, who has also heard the shot. Julie has broken off her engagement to Mr Stern. Bell goes to his laboratory, and Julie goes back to bed. Paul Nouveau creeps in at dawn, and explains to the Doctor that Heeney’s younger brother had tried to stab him, but Paul had defended himself with his revolver. The Doctor patches up Paul’s cut, and shows him Jane Dorlac’s hands in formalin, then her hanged husband’s hands. Paul tells him of a dream he has had, about an Egyptian priest. They go to bed, and the next morning Frank arrives with the news that Mr Verheeren has been shot in his locked room, with the open window showing how the murderer escaped. He and Bell leave, and Julie and Paul go to visit Mrs Mackenzie at the boarding house. The unspoken question hangs over them: did Paul shoot Verheeren?

[»»] Chapter 18 – In which Paul Nouveau goes with Julie to visit Miss Mackenzie and takes tea with them, after almost being robbed by Miss Mackenzie’s monkey, Bob. Miss Mackenzie tells them about the judicial killing of two Wiradjuri aboriginal runaways, a story sent to her by Mr Gow. Paul asks to see Mr Verheeren’s room, and takes Julie with him.

[»»] Chapter 19 – In Verheeren’s room, in which Paul Nouveau goes through Verheeren’s letters, from Verheeren himself and from his wife in Antwerp, and finds nothing of value. Stern arrives, argues with them both, and ransacks the satchel of letters. Nothing. Julie tells him their engagement is over, and says she knows about Stern’s debts. He tells them about his father, a Jew who was never made welcome either in Melbourne, or in Wagga. Wagga is full of debt, he says. They all leave.

[»»] Chapter 20 – In which Paul Nouveau goes to meet Jimmy Skylark, waits, grows impatient and goes to Greenleaves’ place, where to his surprise he meets a gang of schoolchildren under the supervision of Mary Cameron. Greenleaves tells Paul that they have been studying the geography of South America. The two men withdraw to the study to talk. Greenleaves tells Paul of meeting a young Paul Morphy, the American chess champion, in Paris, who easily defeats Greenleaves at a game of chess. Paul is very interested in the way Morphy has withdrawn from the world of chess, somewhat in the same way that Paul has withdrawn from the world of writing. Greenleaves reminds Paul of the evening at the Café Tabourey. Paul tells of being shot at, in Belgium, and Greenleaves tells him of his uncle Ebenezer’s death, and the value of a new human life.

[»»] Chapter 21 – In which Paul Nouveau leaves Greenleaves’ place and returns to the Advertiser office. There he meets Jimmy Skylark with a bluetongue lizard, and Jimmy tells Paul that he has found his tracks at the back of the boarding house, and that Paul is under suspicion for the murder of Verhereen. Paul talks Frank into visiting Solomon Goldstein, the pawnbroker, and discovers that Verheeren had tried to pawn some stamps. They go back to Verheeren’s room and Paul discovers that the stamps on Verheeren’s letters are not genuine, and are in fact very valuable. He has been collecting rare first editions and misprints, and no one has guessed that the stamps are not the real thing. Stern and Constable Sloessor arrive, and they take Paul off to the Police Station to answer some awkward questions. Just as Sloessor is starting to question Paul, a distraught youth arrives with an urgent message: two masked men had knocked out the stable boys and made off with two horses. Paul is locked in the cells and Sloessor goes to investigate.

[»»] Chapter 22 – In which Paul Nouveau dozes in his cell fitfully, and is woken by the arrival of Barnaby. Paul recognises him as the dog trainer whose kelpies would bring him fame. He has taken on a few drinks too many, and enthuses at length about Professor Culpepper’s miraculous Magnetical Water, which — from a source under the Himalayas — is guaranteed to make you well and strong. Miss Dunn arrives with some meat loaf for Barnaby — and none for the French foreigner, who could well be a murderer for all Miss Dunn knows. Constable Sloesser arrives hot and bothered and sorts things out. Paul sleeps again, fitfully, and is woken by Barnaby, who reminisces about poor Larry Lecouter, who shared a cell with Barnaby, and who was hanged at Darlinghurst Jail, and a year later found to be innocent. Paul is comforted by the thought that Frank may rescue him later that night.

[»»] Chapter 23 – In which Frank helps Paul Nouveau escape from Gaol in Wagga, and they make their way back to Doctor Bell’s house. Doctor Bell muses on Paul’s problem, and discovers the duplicitous solution to Verheeren’s odd death — Paul is in the clear. Paul decides to return to Europe. Frank agrees to go to Sydney with Paul, and goes off the fetch the horses. Paul and Julie talk in the garden, and a lot is revealed. Frank returns.

[»»] Chapter 24 – In which Paul Nouveau clambers onto the buggy, and Julie joins him beside Frank, in order to bring the buggy home. Jimmy Skylark joins them, with an old flintlock revolver. They set off for Junee in the moonlight, but soon young Heeney and another horseman attack them. Paul retrieves his revolver and loads it, as young Heeney attacks Frank. Paul shoots Heeney’s horse, and they escape. In Sydney, Paul sells Verheeren’s stamps for a large sum, most of which he gives to Frank. He thinks of returning to Europe where he belongs. Frank should go back to Wagga, and to Julie, whom he loves.