Bill Meilen
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CHANGO JADE

 

saw the late King George the Fifth replaced by his son King Edward the Eighth, and upon his abdication the enthroning of George the Sixth. Around the camp, signs showed evidence of loyal celebration of each event.

Now, with the weather warm, the harsh terrain became a forested green Eden, redolent with pine and cedar, with fishing for salmon and trout, pike and jackfish in the river and lake nearby. The men enjoyed the freedom to hunt bear or wapiti, moose, beaver, chipmunk, deer, or rabbits. Of an evening they played Mah Jong, threw their money away on Fan-Tan, played sad music on flute and erhu, sang songs about lost loves, wrestled, swam, canoed, raced, meditated in their own log temple, cried quietly to themselves from loneliness, wrote calligraphic poems, read the Analects of Confucius, took lessons, and planned hopeful futures with wives and children. The spirits of children yet to be lived in their stories.

All worked with the happiest will in the world, for each worker knew he would receive a percentage share of the net value of all rock taken from Mother Earth, once all work and transportation expenses were covered. This bonus was payable half to the worker, half to his family at home in China, by arrangement with certain friendly societies whose membership was a closely guarded secret. All of them enjoyed through their sweated labours some measure of that prosperity they had travelled across the Pacific Ocean to seek. It was a wild, barbaric land, but they all worked with a united will, joined by the expertly logistical mind of one imaginative man who understood coöperation.

Much of the rough-cut and bagged product of the jade quarry was carried out by hand in trays nailed together from roughly-dressed lodgepole pine splits. These were carried suspended by hemp lines from two larch poles shouldered by the lean-muscled porters, men born to carry. These worked fluidly in rhythmic unison, keeping their trays steady even when progressing at a fast trot, although there were occasional accidents, and here and there along the way men died or were injured. Then they were taken care of by men who had some idea of medicine. Thus, through mud and blood, they brought the dusty green stone ton by ton down the sylvan trails of the valley to the place where the raw curve of scree jutted out into the inlet’s waters. Here their cargo was left in the bush beside the strong cedar jetty to await loading. The porter gangs would camp the night in the bush near the jetty before returning to the quarry for another load. Thus was hundreds of tons of freshly cut rock transported to the railhead. When a sufficient stockpile had been laid by in loaded trays, a line of six towed steel barges were left one morning by a busy steamtug, which immediately cast off all lines and chugged away to infinity along the inlet’s cedar-lined waters.

Now those gangs of porters still camped at the site worked to load the cargo from the big trays into each empty barge, spreading the cargo evenly. Although each barge was laden quite shallowly with the heavy rock, it took several sweating dusty days of manhandling and swinging derrick-booms to load all the barges to a safe lading level.

When the tired workmen camped beside the water were woken just before dawn next day by the far sound of an approaching steam engine, they watched the tug return out of the dawning mist. The Gwailo sailors leapt from tug

 

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