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Chapter 1

Frank Morrissey had been riding from dawn to dusk for the last twelve days, from the San-Francisco harbour to the end of the earth, through lush valleys, fertile meadows, rocky mounts and arid deserts. He had followed the tracks out of the city, and then lost them. He had found another set of rails to guide him to Augustine, and from there to the Gallagher and Wang Mining Company camp at the Fairy’s Hollow copper mine. That’s where he was headed, that’s where he was expected, impatiently waited for by over two hundred Chinese workers and their families. Not that they gave a hoot about him, what they held their breaths for was the brown loaf of raw opium he carried in his saddle bag. The Chinese miner used opium like the white men used tobacco; they chewed it, smoked it, and became nervous when they ran out of it. But when they had enough to go around, they were the best workers in the world, and they could perform any back-breaking labour without resting, without eating, relentlessly scratching the earth to gather copper ore in baskets which they carried on their backs; the copper ore to be processed in the ‘factolli-baln’ as they called the only wooden structure of the mine. The factory-barn was the place where the magic was performed, where the greenish earth, containing the copper ore, was turned into oblong ingots of pure copper ready to be made into steam engine boilers, valves, rivets, pins and the hundreds of intricate parts that formed the marvellous machines pulling civilisation towards the nineteenth century at dizzying speeds. Copper was also used to make telegraph cables, driving information travel even faster than trains; making the world an ever shrinking place. The news of federal taxes arrived from the north, faster than the agents who were sent to collect them. Copper plates were used to print money and newspapers; copper was the future, it was going to bring the progress to every corner of the earth whether the corners of the earth wanted progress or not.

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