The Enchanted Opal

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic


The opening story, one of thirteen, features a brave young Chinese lad named Digger lei, who sets out from Shanghai aboard a sailing clipper bound for the rough and tumble world of the gold fields
in Australia the 1858. Lei carries with a the Enchanted Rainbow Opal, a legacy from his grandfather's earlier voyage to the land down under. The legend says the Opal will lead him to his
grandfathers lost treasure mine but there are many obstacles in young Digger Lei's path to his fame and fortune.

Chapter 1 (v.1) - Th Enchanted Opal

Submitted: May 13, 2019

Reads: 145

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Submitted: May 13, 2019

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AUTHOR’S FOREWORD

 

 

A few years past it was a source of great pleasure for me to sit around with my grandchildren, and sometimes with their friends, for the telling of old fashioned tales of pirates and princesses and adventures of days long ago.

Because the stories were always verbal in format, there would often be slight discrepancies when the stories inevitably were told and retold. It was a constant source of amazement to me how even the youngest child would pounce on a minor change and demand a correction. If the hero had dark hair in one episode, he had better have dark hair in the next, or else. Ditto for a peg leg, animal name or any other innocuous detail.

A kind-hearted family friend suggested that it would be a good thing to commit the stories to print for the benefit of accuracy and possibly as a preserved trove of stories for future generations.

And so, the Alphabet series of twenty-three stories was born.

The challenge facing me as the writer and for the children as the listeners was to create a totally unique story for each letter of the alphabet from a motley assortment of spoken tales. Alas, I have been reminded several times by my junior critics that the conversion process from the spoken word to print often resulted in a fable they no longer recognized.

Be that as it may, some of the stories that were eventually created are contained in this first volume entitled, “The Enchanted Opal.” This book holds thirteen short stories, each one totally different from the others. It will be followed by volume two containing seven medium length stories and volume three with four of the longest ones.

Although the stories are each different, the goal remains constant. To provide an interesting, enjoyable and wholesome escape from an increasingly stressful outside world, for readers of all ages.

Lest you think, by the nature of their origin that these tales are fitting only for the youngest, I humbly ask that you connect with your inner child and take a chance. You won’t be disappointed.

 After all, isn’t life just a story too?

I hope you enjoy the first collection.

 

Wes Snowden

 

 

 

THE ENCHANTED OPAL

 

The stench from the lower decks was truly appalling.

A sickening odor oozed out of the smallest cracks and openings in the hull. The smell of misery and despair clung to every surface of deck and sail, stubbornly resisting the efforts of the fresh sea breezes to break its clinging grasp on the ship.

Forty-nine days out of Shanghai, China, the Clipper ship Sea Witch was making twelve knots under full sail through moderate seas. She had departed port on a sunny April day in 1858 and was outward bound for the southwest coast of Australia. Depending on the winds and sea conditions, Captain J.N. “Bully” Forbes anticipated another two or three weeks at sea before arriving in the Port of Robe, New South Wales.

Usually, the ships would dock in either Sydney or Melbourne. However, the Australian Government had recently passed a law to restrict Chinese immigration by imposing a head tax on new arrivals. This tax resulted in many ships diverting to the Port of Robe to bypass the authorities. Although this maneuver saved the head tax, it forced the impoverished new arrivals to march almost 200 miles overland from the port to the nearest gold fields.

Four hundred and seventy-eight pigtailed Chinese coolies, packed like sardines in the hold of the ship, were being transported to work in the gold mines of Bendigo, New South Wales. Many of the men and boys came from impoverished rural Chinese villages lured into making the voyage in hopes of a better life. Some joined with the organizers voluntarily while others were victims of kidnapping by unscrupulous organizers, just trying to fill a quota.

One of the young men who came aboard had two incredible secrets. His name was Wong Lei. He was unmarried and had just celebrated his eighteenth birthday. Although slight of build, Lei was a formidable fighter. His first secret was, since childhood, he had been a member of a secret society known as the Brotherhood of the Crimson Dragon. As Lei grew, he received extensive training in the ancient art of Silat Melayu. This deadly form of hand-to-hand combat had been brought to China from Indonesia many years ago. The Emperor of China had forbidden its use by commoners under penalty of death.

The second secret Lei possessed was given to him by his old mother the night before he boarded the ship. She confided in him, "Your grandfather traveled to the land far under, many years before you were born. When he returned, he told us wonderful stories of a lost treasure. A hidden mine filled with incredible precious stones."

Lei was sure his mother was exaggerating, but she reached into her clothing and produced a stunning blue opal about the size of a robin's egg. She held it out for him to hold.

The beautiful stone seemed to glimmer and change colors before his eyes. “This is the Enchanted Rainbow Opal,” she said.

“But why is it enchanted, mother?”

“It is a very special opal. Grandfather Wong told us that the stone came from a mine of great wealth. The legend says the opal will become very warm, almost fiery red, the closer it comes to its place of birth. Take it with you, Lei, to that mysterious land so far away. May it keep you safe and guide you to the riches you seek.”

 

 

After almost two months at sea, the water barrels were already showing signs of green slime, and the miserly rice rations cut in half. Wong Lei was sure they would all perish before arriving at their destination. His friend Zheng Lok from the same village had developed a severe fever and need medical attention.

As Zheng’s condition continued to deteriorate, Wong Lei tried desperately to have the ship’s translator, Oxo, plead with the ship's doctor to help his friend, but to no avail. After requesting help, the doctor screamed at him in response.

 "Get the hell out of my cabin," roared Doctor Herman Horton, "I am too busy looking after this scurvy crew to waste time on you blasted animals!"

Doctor Horton was an ugly, toad of a man. Every day before preparing for surgery, he donned the same apron caked and filthy with a combination of blood, food, and stains of unknown origin. His pockmarked facial features and bulbous nose hinted at a lifetime relationship with his ample supply of ‘medicinal’ alcohol.

Appealing to the Captain fared no better. J.N.” Bully" Forbes, a man of stocky build and pugnacious manner, was notorious for his ill-treatment of passengers and crew alike. On his first voyage as Captain of the sailing Clipper Marco Polo, bringing immigrants to Australia from England, fifty-one children and adults had died from outbreaks of measles and influenza.

Lei knew he had to do something soon or Zheng would perish. Some of the passengers had resorted to catching and cooking rats, but now even the rodents were becoming scarce. The cramped, lower deck space for the sea-sick ‘coolies’ had no windows and very little in the way of fresh air. The only time the crew came into the area was to draw food supplies for the galley from the locked storage room.

Late one night, Lee heard someone coming down the ladder to the passenger area.

Through the feeble light filtering through cracks in the wall, LeI saw an inebriated Doctor Horton fumbling with the lock on the storeroom door. After several attempts, Horton managed to undo the latch and disappeared into the storeroom. Lei continued to watch and after a short time, saw the man emerge with a giant wheel of cheese and a bottle of the Captain's favorite brandy. As the drunken doctor made his way up the ladder, he lurched to one side, and the keys to the food locker fell on the deck below him.

Lei waited until the doctor was safely gone then ventured cautiously out and retrieved the keys to the food locker. He stared at the locked door overcome with indecision. He knew his friend Zheng badly needed nourishment, and he was starving himself. His mother's words from the dock at Shanghai still echoed in his ears. "Lei, you are going to a strange land, and you will face many temptations. You must always remember to act with honor and protect the family name of Wong at all times." Lei left the food storeroom locked and went back to his blanket to rest. He would wait until morning before deciding what to do next

 

 

“Sail Ho!" The cry echoed from the lookout perched above the main deck. The crew rushed to the port side deck railing to eagerly try and catch a glimpse of the newcomer. Through the morning rain and mist, they could barely make out the sight of a topsail on the horizon.

It was almost noon before the Captain exclaimed, “That looks like the Lady Penrhyn heading northbound for China. I would recognize the cut of her jib anywhere!” He was quite excited because his very good friend, William “Willie” Banks was in command of the visiting Clipper.

Soon the two sailing vessels were riding side by side in choppy seas. The Lady Penrhyn lowered a small boat, and Captain Banks made his way over to the Sea Witch.

“Welcome aboard, Willie, you fat old scoundrel. I haven’t seen you since that grogshop evening in Shanghai!”

Willie replied, “I have been trying to stay clear away from you, Bully Forbes, I don’t want any more nights like that last one. Unlike you, I at least still have some reputation left to protect!” They both laughed and retired arm in arm to Captain Forbes cabin.

The two Captains swapped tall tales for some time then Captain Forbes said, “I apologize for my lack of hospitality Willie, how about a nice glass of brandy to take away the chill?” He called his steward, Ernie, to go and fetch a bottle of his best brandy and some cheese from the storeroom. A few minutes later, Ernie returned with a stricken look on his face.

"Sorry Captain but the keys to the storeroom are missing, and I can't get in!" 

Bully Forbes was noted for his violent temper, and this disturbing news in front of his friend caused him to fly into a rage. He was about to start beating the unfortunate Ernie when someone knocked on the cabin door.

“What the hell do you want?” he snarled at the trembling crewman at the door.

“Sorry to disturb, Captain but one of those coolie fellows is out here on the main deck with the keys to the food locker!”

Forbes anger surged at the news. He stormed out of the cabin and started screaming at Wong Lei. “You bloody heathen crook, I’ll have your head for this!" Lei could not understand the English words, but he certainly got the meaning.

Bully Forbes snatched the keys from Lei’s grip, then brutally seized him by his hanging pigtail. Lei tried to explain in Cantonese that he was returning the keys to the locker after finding them on the floor. No one understood him, and there was no sign of Oxo, the interpreter, to help explain in English.

Captain Forbes headed for the storage locker dragging Lei behind him by the hair. He was oblivious to the screams of pain and terror coming from Lei. The Captain used the key to unlock the door and checked inside. At this stage of the voyage, the storeroom was almost depleted. It was immediately apparent that a bottle of brandy and a wheel of cheese were missing from the few supplies remaining.

Oxo, the interpreter, hastened up onto the main deck and tried in vain to convince the captain that Lei was innocent. Oxo was not an accomplished interpreter. His voice also stuttered with fear, making him even more difficult to understand.

“Liar!” screamed Captain Forbes, as Oxo trailed into silence. “Your pack of heathen thieves has stolen supplies from my ship, and this culprit must pay the price. Fifteen lashes will teach Mr. Lei a lesson he won’t ever forget!”

Unfortunately, by this time, Captain Willie Banks had returned to the Lady Penrhyn. Willie was a temperate man and one of the few people that could reason with Bully Forbes when he was in one of his rages. With no help on hand, Lei was left alone to suffer the consequences.

Captain Forbes roared, “Prepare the prisoner for immediate punishment!”

The announcement panicked Lei. There was no time to prepare and no time to hide his valuables. Lei stood with his head down, muttering a silent prayer to his ancestors. He desperately wanted to attack the crew using his hidden skills at Silat Melayu, but he knew that it would be a mistake to prematurely reveal his deadly fighting knowledge in front of the whole ship. He must not be exposed as a member of the Brotherhood of the Crimson Dragon.

As the bosun ripped Lei’s shirt from his back in preparation for the punishment, the movement dislodged the Enchanted Opal from its secret hiding place in Lei’s shirt. It fell with a crash, rolling halfway across the deck. It came to rest, lying gleaming in the morning sun.

Doctor Horton rushed forward with greedy hands to pounce on the glittering stone, but Captain Bully Forbes got there first. He pushed Horton aside and said to the crew, “It’s only justice. He stole food supplies from me so this is my payment,” he roared, holding the stone high over his head.

Stripped to the waist with the crew all standing at attention, Lei was bound to the mast at hands and feet. Captain Forbes ordered the punishment for theft to begin. The first of the fifteen lashes given by the bosun was excruciating, but, by the fifteenth, it didn't matter because Lei was unconscious.

The coolies aboard all knew that the real thief was the odious Doctor Herman Horton, but all attempts to report this to the Captain through Oxo, the interpreter, were rebuffed. The despicable Doctor had sailed on many a trip with the Captain becoming his friend over the years.

Horton had a sadistic streak. He had looked forward to attending the punishment on deck and had snickered when the blood began to fly. The watching Chinese made a collective pact that they would take revenge on Horton at the first opportunity.

 

 

Several days later, Lei awoke to the cry of “Land Ho!” from the lookout above. He gingerly made his way up the ladder to the main deck, still suffering intense pain from the lashing he had received.  Looking out the hatchway, he saw that the crew were all lined up at the ship's railing hoping for the first sight of land. It was a dull and dreary morning with the ship ghosting slowly over leaden seas. Lei could barely see the outline of the Port of Robe ahead. It was not an inspiring sight.

After returning to his squalid sleeping space, Lei silently stroked the empty spot under his shirt where the Enchanted Rainbow Opal normally lay. The opal had represented the future for many generations of the Wong family. Lei made a promise to himself, “I will never give up. I will recover the opal and then strike out at the first opportunity in search of the lost treasure mine that my Grandfather discovered.”

He also swore a blood oath to make Bully Forbes and the evil Doctor Horton pay for their despicable treatment of him and the others. To seal the promise, Lei cut his index finger and used the dripping blood to make the sign of the Crimson Dragon on his forehead.

Revenge of the Brotherhood has arrived in the land down under.

 

 

The new arrivals from the Sea Witch were housed in temporary quarters while they waited for the departure to the gold mines at Bendigo. The conditions were not much better than aboard ship, but at least the weary travelers had access to fresh water and could bathe and wash their filthy clothing.

Lei knew from talking to the others that the 200-mile trek to Bendigo was grueling and dangerous. He understood that the path to the gold mines was littered with roadside skeletons from travelers who did not complete the trip alive.

Lei’s friend, Zhen Lok, was recovering rapidly from his fever and was anxious to get started, despite the risks. "I know they beat you unfairly Lei. And the voyage on that hell ship was terrible. But, we are here, and now we have a chance to make our fortunes and return home as rich men!"

Lei wasn’t listening; he was still brooding over the loss of the opal. Word had arrived at the holding camp that the Sea Witch would depart for Shanghai in three days. Lei knew he would have to act fast if he wanted to retrieve the stolen Enchanted Rainbow Opal. If Captain Bully Forbes left Australia with the precious stone, Lei knew he would never see it again.

 

 

 

Camp gossip revealed that the Captain and his drinking buddy, Doctor Herman Horton, spent their evenings carousing in a notorious waterfront grog shop called The Devil’s Pulpit. The two usually stayed until closing time at midnight before departing for the ship, arm in arm, singing bawdy sea shanties at full volume along the way.

The coolies were cooking their evening meal of rice and green tea over open fires when the camp boss, Eric Grisham, announced, “Get your gear together boys, we leave for Bendigo at dawn tomorrow.”

Lei was panic-stricken when he realized that he only had one chance remaining to take back the Enchanted Rainbow. It would have to be tonight.

It was a bright moonlit night with many of the tents and outbuildings casting dark shadows. Lei, dressed in the full black traditional garb of the Silat Melayu warrior, moved silently from darkness to shadow as he departed on his voyage of revenge. Lei arrived at The Devil’s Pulpit unseen by any of the locals. Cautiously, he stretched to his full height and peaked through the grimy windows. Sure enough, Captain Forbes and the Doctor were sitting together at a rough table. Rum bottles and discarded chicken bones covered the table top.

Lei watched as the Captain pulled the Enchanted Rainbow Opal from his stained tunic and waved it proudly to the crowd. Forbes laughed out loud as he repeated the story of Lei's whipping and how he had taken the boy’s stone in payment. Most of the customers applauded the story and returned to their drinks. However, two of the more evil-looking specimens in the bar stared greedily at the opal and exchanged knowing nods.

The rotund publican announced, “Closing time gents, clear out or take a beating!” Forbes and Horton gulped down the rest of their rum and staggered for the doorway. Lei watched through the window as the Captain and the doctor were followed closely by the two who had shown such interest in the Enchanted Rainbow. A dark, garbage strewn lane, ran directly behind the tavern. Outside, Lei waited patiently in the shadows. He didn’t have long to wait.

In short order, the two villains had the Captain and doctor pinned against the wall at knifepoint. They were demanding the opal when warrior Lei made his appearance. Although Lei could not speak English, the translator Oxo had taught him some basic phrases.

 "Go now or die!" Lei growled at the robbers.

Lei in his full black outfit with the Crimson Dragon outlined on his forehead, appearing from nowhere, must have seemed like a demon from Hell to the would-be criminals. They dropped their knives and disappeared into the night.

Lei turned to Bully Forbes and Herman Horton who were both trembling with shock. Horton was so frightened it was apparent that he had wet his pants. Lei stood motionless, staring at the pair for a full minute before removing his black face mask so they could see his full features and the sign of the Dragon.

 “You!” exclaimed the Captain.

 "Yes Captain, and now you must pay the price for dishonoring my friends and me."

 

 

The next morning, back in the Port of Robe, the town street cleaners were beginning their rounds. At first, they thought two drunks were lying in the lane behind The Devil’s Pulpit, but then they heard the groans. Captain Forbes and Doctor Horton were still alive, but barely. The two had many cuts and bruises, along with several broken limbs. On their foreheads, the cleaners could make out a ghostly outline traced in fresh blood. It appeared to resemble a Crimson Dragon.

At dawn, outside the holding camp, the long line of coolies formed up and began the 200- mile trek to Bendigo. The ill-tempered camp boss, Eric Grisham, was in the lead urging the men to pick up the pace. The men walked with heads down, and there was little chatter. They were thinking of the unknown challenges ahead. Lei and his friend Zheng Lok marched side by side in silent contemplation too.  Lei was happy because the Enchanted Rainbow Opal was nestled safely, where it belonged, in a secret compartment in his shirt.

 Oxo, the interpreter, was being bombarded by a barrage of questions from the tired travelers. On their behalf, Oxo approached the boss, Eric Grisham, very cautiously, well aware of the man’s temper. They had now been on the trail for almost five days, “Honorable boss, men want to know - how long to goldfields?”

Grisham was sitting outside his tent, a full glass of dark rum in hand, “I don’t know why this pack of stinking scum is so anxious to get there. They’ll find out soon enough what a living hell looks like! Tell them three more days.”

The boss was unhappy because he had a new woman waiting for him back at the Port of Robe. Paid in advance for this job, he felt little obligation for the safety of a bunch of foreign heathens as he called them. As the night slowly passed and as the rum bottle slowly emptied, he made up his mind. His tent was vacant when Oxo brought him his morning coffee.

The leaderless band began to argue, literally coming to blows in a discussion about the next best moves. Everything changed though when Lei, using his extraordinary martial arts, fought off a pack of dingoes that threatened the group. These Australian wild dogs were very vicious and without Lei’s intervention, could have caused considerable damage to the unarmed men.

 

After the men voted to elevate Lei to the role of Group Leader, he led the weary travelers for the next three days until they finally descended into the deep outback valley that contained the goldfields of Bendigo.

“Black Jack” Norton had been the pit boss at the Bendigo gold mines for eight long years. He had seen many rivals for his job come and go, but Norton stayed on top by being ruthless in his treatment of the miners. When Black Jack saw Wong Lei walking proudly at the head of the column, he knew instinctively that this man was a leader and could cause trouble unless he broke him.

There was no break for the dazed newcomers. After being given a rough blanket and assigned to their sleeping sheds, the men assembled at the pit head. Black Jack shouted instructions through his translator, “You men must work hard or suffer punishment. No work, no food!”

He singled out Wong Lei and motioned for him to come forward. He gave the boy a hard stare. Lei stared right back until Norton finally broke off his gaze. The pit boss gave instructions for Lei and Zheng Lok to be taken down into the deepest and most troublesome section of the mine.

The mine tunnel was very hot and extremely dark. Candles, every few feet, cast a feeble light on the rock facings of the mine. Lei and Zheng were given picks and instructed to crawl into one of the small openings branching off the central tunnel. Once in place, they proceeded to chip away at the vein of gold-bearing material. Because it was such back-breaking labor, the two exhausted young men could hardly walk when they returned to their bunks after the 12-hour shift ended.

Several days passed by before Black Jack appeared in the section of the tunnel where Lei and his friend were working. He pointed to a section of the tunnel that had been closed off and gestured for the boys to take their picks and work in the new area. To gain access, Lei and Zheng had to remove a rope barrier with a sign hanging from it. With no English reading skills, neither lad was concerned that the sign read: “CAUTION, EXTREME DANGER, KEEP OUT!”

They had only been working for a short time when the first ominous rumbling sounds started. Small rocks began to fall from the tunnel ceiling, and soon cracks in the timber support appeared. Lei was not a seasoned miner, but he could tell something was wrong.

 “Run Zheng!” screamed a terrified Lei. The two boys headed for the tunnel exit as fast as they could run. Lei was in the lead, and he dove headfirst through the opening, just as a section of the roof collapsed behind him. The rubble filled the tunnel from floor to ceiling, creating an impassable wall. The air was thick with dust and particles of rock.

Zheng Lok did not escape.

The screeching alarm signaling a cave-in summoned dozens of the Chinese miners to the site of the disaster. Lei yelled to them, “Zheng Lok is still inside. He might be alive. Grab a shovel and help me dig through the wall!”

When the men started to dig, Black Jack Norton halted their efforts “Get back to your diggings! I can’t waste a shift looking for some damned missing coolie. He’s probably dead anyway.” After Oxo translated, the men reluctantly turned and left the scene, but Lei remained. He glared at the pit boss with hate in his eyes.

Sensing that Lei would not give in, Black Jack left the tunnel saying, "Stay if you want to, but it will be on your own time, not mine!"

Lei ignored him and started to dig into the base of the rubble wall. He would not give up as long as there was at least a chance that Zhen Lok was alive. When the other miners finally finished for the day, they could still hear the sounds of Lei digging tirelessly away at the wall of rubble.

 

 

Early the next morning, three of the Australian supervisors were standing at the pit head having a smoke, discussing the cave-in. They were astounded to see Wong Lei emerge from the elevator supporting a filthy, but alive, Zheng Lok. One of the supervisors pointed and said, “It’s incredible, that bloke has been digging all by himself for almost 24 hours. He’s got to be one hell of a digger.”

Everyone at the mine site agreed, and that’s how the name of “Digger” Lei became famous on the goldfields of Bendigo.

Digger Lei hated Black Jack with a passion but managed to hold his temper by just concentrating on the job at hand. At least that was the case until the proverbial last straw happened. After enduring days of insults and cruel treatment at the hands of Black Jack Norton, Lei finally exploded.

The triggering event happened when his friend Zheng Lok accidentally hit his right foot with his pick-ax. It had slipped from his grip while working on a particularly steep slope. His cries of pain drew a crowd of miners, and Black Jack soon showed up.

Despite the gaping wound, which was now bleeding badly. The pit boss just snorted and ordered the injured lad back to work, but when Zheng Lok did not immediately respond, Black Jack raised his heavy work boot and stomped down hard on the injured man’s foot. Zheng shrieked in agony.

“Now you’ve got something to moan about,” the pit boss said with a laugh.

Lei saw red. In a blinding rage, he launched a lightning fast Silat Melayu attack on the bully. With a flurry of fists and feet, Lei pummeled the larger man without mercy, until he lay like a broken toy on the floor of the tunnel.

“Lei, you must escape this place. If the other bosses find you they will whip you to death for killing one of their own!” sobbed Zheng Lok.

Although Lei didn't think he had killed Black Jack, he knew instinctively that his friend was right. He decided to pack his meager belongings and set off in search of his Grandfather’s mysterious lost treasure.

“Please Zheng, get away from Bendigo as soon as you can. Try and get back to our village in China. Tell my Mother I miss her and that I’m still searching for Grandfather Wong’s legacy. She will understand the message.”

 

 

Three days later, Lei was wandering through the dusty outback countryside. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for. His mother had told him the Enchanted Rainbow Opal was from the lost treasure mine. She also said that the stone would gradually turn warmer and increasingly bright red as it came close to its original birthplace.

He remembered another cryptic clue his mother had given him. She said, “On his deathbed, your Grandfather muttered something about a treasure mine guarded by the Birds of Stone.” She assumed it was the fever talking and didn’t put much faith in the information.

He came to a crossroads and saw a dirty sign hanging from the post. Although Lei couldn't read the English writing, the town name Andamooka on the sign, seemed to beckon him in that direction. After walking for a few more hours, he saw the outskirts of a small town appearing on the horizon. There wasn't much to see when he finally walked down the dry and dusty main street. A shabby tavern and a general store seemed to make up the core of the town.

Lei was dying of thirst so he stopped at the general store to see if he could beg for a glass of water. When he entered the gloomy interior, he was surprised to see an elderly Chinese man standing behind the counter. Lei bowed his head and said, “My name is Wong Lei, my friends call me Digger Lei. I have just arrived from the gold mine at Bendigo.”

The old man replied, "My name is Lowe Kong Ming, but you may call me Ming. I also came from the gold mines, but that was many years ago.”

 

 

For the next few hours over several cups of green tea, Ming proceeded to tell Lei about his years of work in the goldfields, saving every penny of his wages so that he could return home a successful man. He said to Lei that when he had arrived at the Port of Robe to board his ship for the return trip to China, the ship's Captain had given him a letter. Ming said he was apprehensive as this was the first word he had received from home since his departure. The news was devastating. His entire village had been wiped out in a plague.

"It broke my heart," old man Ming said to Lei. "I decided to stay here in Australia, and I used my wages to buy the general store. Andamooka is only a small town, but I still make a living and always have rice in my bowl. Because I have learned to speak the language, the people are kind to me."

Lei liked the old man and began to tell him about his misadventures on the Sea Witch and the fight with the pit boss at the mine in Bendigo.

 "Why are you staying here surrounded with so many troubles?" exclaimed Ming.

Lei then told the old man about his grandfather and the Enchanted Rainbow Opal. Ming became quite excited. "I have heard many local stories about your mysterious grandfather and the magic opal. The people around here believe the story is just a myth.”

According to Ming, the local folks told a legend about a wandering Chinaman who supposedly discovered a great treasure mine in the area. The ancient story stated that he had staggered into town one day, hands full of opals, almost in delirium with fever. Despite many attempts to discover the location of the mine, all had failed.

The sick Chinaman spoke little English, but he did make constant references to the Birds of Stone. The town residents were at a loss until they voted on an acceptable solution. They decided to send the sick man back to China using his opals as payment for the voyage. It seemed that grandfather, although sick, had cleverly hidden the Enchanted Rainbow in his boot for safety. It was still with him when he reached the safety of his village.

"You look troubled young Lei, what is the problem?" asked Ming.

"I want to find my Grandfather's legacy, but I have no supplies or money. I left everything behind when I escaped from Bendigo."

 By now, Ming was quite impressed by the young man and was thoroughly enjoying the company of a fellow countryman. "Don't worry Digger Lei. I’ll let you have the supplies you need from my store. You can pay me when you find your treasure.”

 

 

Fully equipped with supplies, Lei set off to search for the hidden mine. The countryside surrounding of Andamooka was barren and uninhabited in all directions with no apparent hints of which path to take. Lei decided the best strategy would be to walk in ever larger circles around the town using the Enchanted Rainbow Opal as a compass. For several days he continued to walk in bigger and bigger circles without any success. He was starting to run low on supplies as the days passed.

At first, Lei thought it was his imagination. On the morning of his tenth day, he had a feeling the opal was becoming warmer. Sure enough, when he took the stone out, he could see that traces of red were breaking through the blue sheen on the surface. Lei could feel his heart pounding wildly. As he started walking to the east the red color disappeared. When he headed due west, both the red color and the warmth returned. Lei was sure his grandfather’s lost treasure was somewhere nearby.

He continued walking to the west, head down, concentrating on the Enchanted Rainbow. Although the stone became very hot and had turned a brilliant red, he could still see no sign of a lost mine. Lei was so busy watching the opal, he tripped and rolled down a steep embankment. He struck his head on a rock, and everything went black. When he woke, the sun was almost setting. As his vision finally cleared, a ripple of superstitious fear vibrated through his body.

The setting sun was hitting several rocks on the top of the ridge. They had been eroded by the winds of ages, into grotesque shapes. The shadows the stones cast on the valley floor looked exactly like a flock of large black birds in flight!

Lei immediately recalled his Mother telling him his grandfather’s last words. “The treasure is guarded by the Birds of Stone.” He searched the area and before long, discovered a hidden entrance to a narrow tunnel. With shaking hands, he lit a candle from his backpack and entered the mine.

At first, he was disappointed. A layer of grey dust that had accumulated over many years covered everything in the cave. He picked up an old cloth and started wiping the dust away. Just like magic, everything he dusted turned into spots of multi-colored brilliance even in the dim light of the candle. He worked for hours, astounded at the sheer quantity and diversity of the opals. His grandfather must have collected them for years.

Lei selected several of the most beautiful stones and started the return trip to Andamooka. He couldn't wait to tell his benefactor, Lowe Kong Ming, about the treasure. The young man was able to save time by taking a direct route back to the town. His excitement built to the point that he just had to break out in a run. He approached the general store, still running and burst through the door.

He came to an abrupt halt when he saw Ming standing behind the counter with blood running down his face. "Ming, what's wrong?"

Before Ming could reply, his old nemesis Black Jack Norton stepped out of the shadows. He was holding a gun. “I thought you Chinamen might stick together. You are just like Dingoes, always in packs!” laughed Norton.

He spotted the sack Lei was carrying and waved the gun. “Let’s have a look at what Digger boy here is trying to hide.” He grabbed the sack from Lei. The stones broke loose and fell to the floor. Black Jack’s eyes bulged when he spotted the treasure. "Well, well. I just came to kill you Digger Lei, but it looks like I may have hit a double jackpot!”

Norton’s threat was quite simple. Either Lei would take Black Jack to the lost treasure, or he could watch Norton shoot his friend Ming. Ming translated the threat, then shook his head slowly, "Don't do it, Lei, I am an old man. I have lived out my life already." 

Lei remembered his Mother’s words to act with honor at all times. He knew he could never live with the guilt of Ming's death on his conscience. He agreed to the terms, waved a sad goodbye to Ming and left to lead Black Jack to the lost opal mine.

The journey to the mine was uneventful. Black Jack Norton kept his gun handy while talking continuously about the many ways he would torture Digger Lei when they got to their destination. It didn't matter; Lei could not understand a word he said. On their arrival, Lei entered the tunnel first carrying a lit candle.

When Black Jack saw the light from the candle reflecting off the immense treasure, he lost all control. He fell to his knees and started stuffing the precious stones in his many pockets. Even though he had more gems than he could carry, his greed overtook him when he saw Lei standing against the wall holding the radiant Enchanted Rainbow Opal in his hands.

“Give me that!” Norton yelled waving his gun.

Blackjack reached out as Lei threw the stone to him. Lei was accustomed to the intense heat of the magic opal, but Norton was not. He caught the Enchanted Rainbow Opal and immediately threw up his hands in pain from the burning heat of the stone.

This was the break Lei had been waiting for. Norton’s gun was still pointing at the ceiling when the first Silat Melayu blows hit him. This time Lei knew his own life was at stake and he intensified the attack with deadly force. When he finished, Norton lay crumpled and lifeless on the dusty stone floor. As a parting gesture, Lei drew an outline of the Crimson Dragon beside the body.

Lei gathered up as many opals as he could carry and left the mine, resealing the entrance as he went. He traveled quickly through the moonlit night arriving at Andamooka as the morning sun was rising. The general store was closed, but Ming came to the door quickly when he heard the knocking. "Praise to Buddha, you are unharmed!" Ming exclaimed. He engulfed Lei in a warm embrace.

Lei told Ming about the fight at the opal mine and the death of Black Jack Norton. "You must get out of the country Lei before the authorities discover he is missing."

Lei agreed it would be foolish to try and remain in Australia. Because Ming had just received a shipment of merchandise, he knew the Lady Penrhyn was in Port of Robe and would soon sail for Shanghai, China.

With the opals safely packed. Ming and Lei boarded Ming's old horse-drawn wagon, waited for nightfall then departed to the port. For the first part of the bumpy ride, Lei was silent. He felt terrible about the death of Black Jack Norton, but he was satisfied in his heart that, If he hadn't stopped Norton, both he and probably Ming would be dead too.

When the port came in sight, Lei said to Ming, "I'll never be able to return to this land again, Ming. The stones I carry with me will be worth a fortune in my village and they are all I need. I want you to keep the Enchanted Opal. Someday, my friend, it might lead you to that lost treasure mine as well.

Ming knew that this made sense, so he replied, "I will keep the magic opal safe and perhaps one day in the future, it will help the needy."

Tears rolled down old Ming's weathered face. He was standing on the pier, waving a last farewell to Digger Lei as the ship moved slowly away from the dock. Standing at the ship’s rail, Lei had tears in his eyes too. He had grown fond of the old man and realized he would never see Ming again. A young Chinese man stood beside Lei with a broad smile on his face. Ming was sure this must be the friend, Zheng Lok, that Lei had mentioned.

After the ship sailed out of sight, Ming returned to the old general store in Andamooka. He slowly climbed the stairs to his lonely bedroom. The old man's hands trembled as he slowly wrote the whole story of Digger Lei and the magic opal on several sheets of parchment paper. When he finished, he carefully wrapped the note and the stone in a silk cloth, working it gently through the narrow neck of his prized Ming Dynasty vase. He pushed extra silk into the top to ensure the Enchanted Rainbow Opal was secure and would not rattle.

 

Ming was very tired. He was an old man and the events of the last few days had wearied him to the bone. Ming undressed and climbed into his comfortable old bed. He prayed that Wong Lei would make it safely back to his village in China. Then he fell into a profound sleep and never awoke again.

In the vase at his bedside, the magic opal, Enchanted Rainbow, also went into a very deep sleep. It would be more than 100 years before the magic stone awakened again.

The End.

(Follow the future path of the Enchanted Opal in this book under the short story EMMALINE)

 


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